Port of Toulon
If St. Tropez, Cannes and Nice are your idea of the Cote d'Azur, Toulon might come as a surprise. Depending on your tastes, it'll either be a very pleasant discovery, or a bit of a shock. Toulon is devoid of glitz and glamour; more akin to its huge neighbor to the west, Marseille, than the showy towns further east along the coast.
Toulon is a naval town first and foremost, home to around 60 percent of France's fleet (the rest being in Brittany) and wears that association with pride. The naval military complex encompasses a vast part of town, a city within a city really, stretching some eight miles west along the harborfront. You can visit the grounds on a guided tour aboard the city's 'petit train' or take a boat around the harbor where a guide will point out all the naval hardware.
Toulon's other big claim to fame is rugby; in fact the first thing you'll spot as your ship docks is the Mayol rugby stadium, home to RC Toulonnais, or Toulon for short. The rugby team is a major player and has won Europe's top-club rugby union competition, the Heineken Cup, a record three times.
There is also a large fishing fleet, which you can spot from where your ship is moored, and seafood appears on most of the restaurant menus, especially those along the harborfront.
Toulon was first put on the map in Roman times when the area's tiny sea snails (known locally as murex) were used to extract a purple dye to color imperial robes.
Today, Toulon is a bustling, vibrant, multicultural town, with a large population hailing from the former colonies. Although you might well be tempted to take a tour into Provence, it's well worth spending a day here, walking the streets, stopping for a cafe au lait in one of the many squares and stocking up on lovely local produce such as pate, sausage and wonderful perfumed soap, before getting back onboard.
Toulon's cable-car system offers a breathtaking view of the city from Mont Faron
Some visitors might feel underwhelmed with the lack of famous historic sites
The tastes and scents of Provence are prevalent in this modest seaside town
Find a Cruise to the Mediterranean
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Where You're Docked
Cruise ships dock at the Quai Fournel, just a short walk to the center.
The cruise terminal itself has little in the way of facilities and no shops, though it does have a surprisingly good market which springs up when ships come in, selling authentic local goods like scented soaps, glassware and ornaments.
A tourist hop-on, hop-off sightseeing service, the 'petit train touristique', operates from the quayside and offers a city tour or a visit to the naval base (the only way you're going to get to see it on land). It's an excellent option for those who have restricted mobility or if you have a strong interest in military history. It's also a good option for visitors looking to visit the beaches east of the city. (February 14 to November 18, 9.30 a.m. to 3.30 p.m.)
Good to Know
Toulon is a busy city, and people should look out for traffic on the congested roads. A lot of the older parts of the city have pedestrianized zones, allowing visitors to explore in safety, but some of the thoroughfares around the port can get quite jammed.
On Foot: The city lies about five minutes' walk from the cruise terminal, and while Toulon is a large city with a bustling port, the city center is compact, with attractions like the opera hall, stadium, naval museum and art galleries, all accessible without needing public transport. The streets are easily navigable and if you're willing to step off the main drag, you'll be rewarded with small squares and plazas only accessible on foot.
By Bus: Toulon is well served by bus routes and visitors can use them to get around the city and to travel further afield. The bus station, La Gare Routiere (+33 4 94 24 60 00), is a few minutes' walk from the town's main square, Place de la Liberte. A number of bus services run out of this depot with regular routes to destinations including Saint Maximin, Brignoles and Aix-en-Provence.
By Taxi: There is a taxi rank right by the port and others are dotted throughout the city. Companies include Taxis Region Toulonnaise (+33 4 94 93 51 51), which operates a service within the city and also offers sightseeing services, Access Central Taxi (same number) and Chavry Charles Taxi (+33 6 12 11 53 26).
By Car: Toulon can suffer from heavy traffic and driving in the city can be difficult. If you're only in the city for a brief period, it's not worth it to rent a car. If you have longer to spend in the area and particularly if you're planning to visit other towns and cities in the region, renting a car is a good option. Sixt Rent a Car (+33 4 94 166 165), Avis (+33 4 94 00 84 40), Europcar (+33 4 98 01 00 00) and Hertz (+33 4 94 00 84 48) all operate within the city, and have offices at the train station.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The euro. Most cruise ships will have an onboard bureau de change but there are plenty of banks in the city center; the nearest ATMs are in Place Louis Blanc, the large square which marks the start of the open-air market and home to the town's tourist office, a few minutes' stroll from where you're docked. Most shops and restaurants accept credit cards, though not American Express.
French, although many people -- especially in the city's museums, restaurants and shops -- will speak English, but this should not be relied upon. It's worth learning a few French words and phrases to make your stay more enjoyable.
Food and Drink
Toulon is full of restaurants, many of which line the harborfront, with the rest tucked away in the side streets and squares. Broadly speaking, if you are after fresh seafood, opt for the harborfront eateries; if game and local meat are more your thing, then the city center restaurants are a better bet. They vary in price largely depending where they are in town (i.e. they are pricier in the main squares and cheaper near the harborfront). Note: Most restaurants will offer a menu du jour, which is a set menu and always good value.
Les Tables de Fontaine: Tucked away on a pretty little square with a small fountain in the center, this reasonably priced, family-friendly eatery is just a few minutes' walk from the Place de la Cathedrale. It specializes in local meat and homemade pasta, burgers and bread, and has just 24 covers including a couple of tables outside. (Place Gustave Lambert; +33 6 59 25 37 28; Tuesday through Sunday, 11.45 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 7.30 p.m. to 9 p.m.)
Le Chantilly: In a prime position at the top of the Place de Puget, this upscale restaurant offers plenty of seating space indoors, or outdoors, right in front of the beautiful fountain. The food isn't particularly special but the setting is lovely. Expect to pay around €15 for a main, or a few euros more for a menu du jour. Wine starts at a very reasonable €2.60 per glass (it actually works out better to drink by the glass than order a bottle). (5 Place Pierre Puget)
La Feuille de Chou: This gorgeous little place is tucked into a tiny square off Rue Emile Zola. This is your archetypal French restaurant: small, crowded and noisy, serving fresh local produce at reasonable prices. The only non-French aspect of it is the service -- which is attentive and very friendly. A real gem. (5 Rue de la Glaciere; +33 4 94 62 09 26)
Provencal soaps and perfumes are a favorite memento in this part of France. These can be found in the cruise terminal itself, or at the stalls lining the street market on the Cours Lafayette, a few minutes' walk from the port, as well as in some of the shops along the Cours and in the adjacent streets. Provencal produce is prized in French cuisine, and you'll find plenty of stalls selling local delicacies such as pate and cured meats, as well as olive oil and local cheeses (check with your line whether you can take these onboard!). You'll also find servers and bowls made out of olive wood, and even chocolate made with olive oil.
The drink of choice on the Cote d'Azur is pastis, an anise-flavored spirit often sipped as an aperitif. Similar to the Greek ouzo and the Turkish raki, it's usually served with a glass of water and turns cloudy when mixed together. Knock one back in one of the alfresco cafes opposite the opera house on Place Victor-Hugo where you'll find a piece of street art depicting two local characters drinking pastis.