Ideas for autumn half-term holiday break with children in Toulouse

The cosmopolitan capital of Occitanie offers museums, adventures in space, play areas and cafés - we share money-saving tips

The little train is a hit with all ages; Cité de l'Espace shows off real space kit; Toulouse is named La Ville Rose due to its pink brick buildings
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The autumn half-term holiday is a great time for a quick getaway; the summer heat and crowds have gone but the sun still lingers in the south.

In October, Toulouse rejoices in average temperatures of around 16C and around seven hours of sunshine a day.

Unlike many other French cities, Toulouse has no other large city on its doorstep; it is indisputably the centre of everything and has all the self-confidence of a capital city.

Historically the capital of Languedoc and the Midi-Pyrénées, today it is the capital of Occitanie as well as Haute-Garonne.

Read more: Fifteen dinosaur-themed parks and exhibitions to visit in France

High-tech history

La Ville Rose, so called because so much of it is built from blush-red bricks, is the fourth largest city in France after Paris, Lyon, and Marseille, and is the European if not the global capital of the aeronautic and space industries.

The link goes back to 1890 when a Toulouse engineer became the first person to fly a heavier-than-air machine. He called it an avion, from the Latin avis, meaning bird.

The city was the base of the world's first airmail service after WW1, and in 1969, the very first Concorde flight took off from Toulouse, which today is home to Airbus, and CNES (Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales).

The two industries employ upwards of 85,000 people in 700 different companies.

Read more: Hundreds of iconic Airbus A380 parts to be auctioned in France

Cosmopolitan and relaxed

This high-tech industry is layered over Toulouse's more ancient heritage as a centre of cultural learning.

Troubadours were poet-musicians (both male and female) who flourished in the area from the 12th century onwards.

They promoted values of courtly love, equality, courtesy, and conviviality.

They believed that manners and learning were of more value than bloodlines or money, in complete contrast to the Catholic church and the French monarchy.

The troubadours are long gone, but perhaps something of their spirit lives on because the atmosphere in the city is cosmopolitan and relaxed, and the cultural offering is vast.

Even in October there are numerous festivals

Toulouse les Orgues (5-16 Oct) celebrates the city's church organs with concerts by international stars.

Cinespana (6-16 Oct) is a festival of Spanish cinema during which more than 100 films will be screened in and around the city.

Polars du Sud (7-9 Oct) is an international festival of detective fiction.

Africlap (13-22 Oct) celebrates African cinema with open-air screenings and events in various cinemas.

Lumières sur le Quai (20 Oct-6 Nov) explores the theme Fiction ou réalité, and that's only a fraction of what's on offer.

Getting around is easy

Getting around the historic centre is easy because so much is pedestrianised, and it's all on the flat.

The public bicycle scheme is called velÔToulouse, and you can sign up for this online before you leave home.

The public transport system, Tisséo, has a fabulous website (also in English) and app explaining the various tariffs and tickets available.

In the centre of the city, look out for little white mini-buses; they are free and although they do have fixed stops, you can hail them anywhere.

Read more: Toulouse opens brand new €82million cable car service

Another tip if you're coming in from the airport is not to bother with the airport shuttle (€8.50 one way), get the tramway instead (€1.70).

There are plenty of ways to get orientated; red tourist buses, a petit train, guided walking tours, cycle tours and even Segway tours, plus a selection of boat trips.

Children will love all of them, and for some of the modes of transport it's a chance for the adults to sit down.

Plan activities ahead and save money

The Tourist Pass can be very good value if you intend to use public transport and visit lots of attractions.

It costs €18 for 24 hours, €28 for 48 hours, and €35 for 72 hours. For best value, plan ahead carefully.

It wouldn't be worth buying one and then spending the whole day at one of the large museums outside the city centre (like Aeroscopia, Airbus, La Cité de l'Espace, L'Envol des Pionniers and La Halle de la Machine).

Magazine full of kids activities

Pick up a copy of Optimôme free from the Tourist Office to get a comprehensive idea of what's on offer for families with kids. (Optimôme is a pun on the word môme, meaning kid.)

It is a full colour A5 format magazine containing listings for anything and everything that could amuse and entertain them.

Cinema, theatre, workshops, trips, festivals and exhibitions... it even contains pages for children to colour in.

Here are a few highlights. For fun, they're divided into age groups, but most are suitable for families of all ages.

Toulouse for tots from crèche

It might sound a bit mad at first, but Toulouse has a fabulous centre where kids as young as two years old can explore basic science.

Le Quai des Savoirs, very close to the Musée de Toulouse, organises science workshops for children from ages 2-7, from 7-10 and from 10 up. Their accompanying parents are as glued to the Quai des Petits activities as their offspring.

Numbers are limited, and sessions are age appropriate. Going along on the off-chance, especially during the school holidays, is a recipe for disaster. It's always best to phone ahead to book your place and turn up five minutes early. Check the agenda on their website.

Having exhausted the pleasures of the Musée de Toulouse and the Quai des Savoirs, don't skip the Jardin des Plantes. It's beautifully laid out and has several children's play areas.

Read more: Gardening in France: The history of Toulouse’s Parma violets

The play area parents love best, however, is in the centre. The Place-Saint-Georges has a glorious wooden play dragon which is surrounded by lively cafés where you can enjoy an apéro while keeping an eye on your junior dragon slayers.

Another central play area with benches is tucked behind the Capitole building, which dominates the central Place du Capitole.

The Place Charles de Gaulle also contains the Tourist Office and a nice fountain. (There are public loos underneath the Place du Capitole by the way, at the entrance to the car park.)

Toulouse for kids from Primaire

Any child going through the space phase will adore the Cité de l'Espace.

It's out of town and is an all day affair if you want to see everything, because where else can you fold yourself into the seat of a real Russian Soyuz capsule? Or find out how astronauts go to the loo? Or find out what the earth looks like from space?

It's not a theme park, there are no gimmicky rides, but you can walk through real space rockets, experience weightlessness, discover exactly how the first humans made it to the moon, and if you're really lucky, you might even get to chat with an astronaut.

It's thrilling.

Check the website because there are regular talks and conferences, both at the Cité and in the centre.

Read more: French scientists thrilled to hear the sounds of Mars for first time

The beautifully kept Jardin Japonaishas a lovely red bridge over the water which never fails to appeal to children. (Pooh sticks, anyone?)

There is a tea pavilion, a stone garden, a koi pond and plenty of squirrels to spot, too.

Although it has a metro stop right outside the entrance, once inside and far from the noise of the city, it is a real haven of peace and quiet.

If it's time for ice-cream, try Glaces Moustache on Place Saint-Pierre, where flavours include lemon meringue, Nutella, Kinder Bueno, tiramisu and salted caramel, as well as all the classics.

The terrace has a nice view of the river.

Afterwards, walk along the river to the Place de la Daurade where there is a great play park with a wooden rowing boat.

There are also some nice cafés overlooking the river if more refreshments are required.

Nip into the Eglise Notre-Dame la Dauradeto see the black Virgin Mary wearing one of her many sumptuous designer outfits. (Check out the organ while you're there.)

Afterwards, carry on walking alongside the river until you get to the Pont Neuf.

Look carefully at the stone structure and you'll spot a little scarlet figure sitting on the stonework wearing a hat with donkey's ears; L'Enfant au Bonnet d'Ane by James Colomina (born 1975).

Cross the river and turn left into the Prairie des Filtres, which has plenty of space for running about, plus another playground.

Toulouse for tweens from Collège

The Musée de Toulouse is a fantastic natural history museum set at the entrance to a beautiful park. It has evidently been curated with school trips in mind.

There are plenty of facilities for children, and who doesn't want to see a human skeleton galloping along on the back of the skeleton of a horse?

Don't miss the outdoors section (open until October 31st).

Check out their agenda online because they run workshops for kids from three years old upwards, and often have quizzes to complete as you go round the museum.

Aeroscopia is an aviation museum, which children love because you can go inside so many of the planes.

It has a very early Concorde and several Airbus planes (not surprising since the factory is just down the road).

It has interactive displays and a flight simulator where you can test your piloting skills.

To see everything takes 2-3 hours, but if you want more, just next door, Les Ailes Anciennesis a smaller museum run by enthusiasts, dedicated to vintage machines.

Together, the two museums are an aviation feast.

The Place du Capitole has some of the most expensive café prices in Toulouse but if you have well-behaved kids, check out the Café Bibent, which is possibly the most beautiful.

Founded in 1843, it is one of the oldest establishments in Toulouse.

Read more: Assassination plots, Coco Chanel: Tales of two French ‘grands cafes’

Don't sit outside, go indoors so that you can really get an eyeful of the luxurious vintage decor.

If you're on a tighter budget, go mid-morning or afternoon for a coffee, or enjoy an apéro there in the early evening.

Back out on the square, there is a giant bronze Occitan cross set into the paving.

Look closely and you'll see that the artist, Raymond Moretti, decorated each of the twelve points of the cross with an astrological symbol, replacing the more traditional twelve apostles.

Wander through the Arcades du Capitole (on your left if you stand with your back to the Capitole building itself) and look up at the pictures by the same artist.

The cross is tricky to see on Wednesdays though, when the Place is taken over by the Marché des Aveyronnais de Toulouse, where you can buy lots of local produce to enjoy at home, or possibly even to stash away for giving as Christmas presents.

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