Set in the countryside of the south of France this small city is a major tourist attraction. Walking into Carcassonne is like walking through a time portal to Medieval times. This 13th century city existed long before the modern age and you can feel that every second you're there.
Carcassonne is really one very large castle that is acting as a city. Everything just as it was in the Medieval era is contained within the castle walls. The countryside lays low outside the citadel so you can see it from far away. The massive structure welcomes you with multiple defensive walls, a moat, heavy portcullis, and a drawbridge.
Inside those high walls is a world of weaving alleyways, towering turrets, and tiny shops selling their wares. The streets of Carcassonne seem like they have not changed in centuries except for some modern marvels of convenience. The setting is so authentic it almost doesn't feel real, like you've stumbled through time or ended up in Medieval Disneyland.
While it seems like an ancient small town masquerading as a fairytale village, it has the problem of becoming a tourist destination as much as an honest retelling. As Carcassonne booms as a tourist favorite, it loses some authenticity while trying to please so many visitors. As a result, there are a lot of gift shops and overpriced restaurants. However, there are still plenty of stores to explore that are selling authentic souvenirs, and you'll have no problem finding a great place to eat.
If you are a history buff looking to experience the real deal, then you've found it. It's heavily restored but it still stands with thousands of years of history in its roots. If you want to experience the lush French countryside, it rarely gets more beautiful than Carcassonne with its architecture and stunning views.
My recommendations are inspired by my trip there in 2011. You should take the time to walk around and experience the citadel and royal keep. You can walk atop the city walls and experience breathtaking views of the surrounding areas, or wander the winding streets brimming with life. While you're there, eat some of the local specialties that are part of the history of the people of this region, and get yourself a souvenir if your heart desires.
photo by jenny h.