Lourdes, France… a must-see destination of Catholic pilgrims and a place of wonder for the rest. During one of our family camping road trips across Europe, we made an effort to visit places special for their wonderful landscapes, historical significance, world-known monuments and also of religious importance. Lourdes was one of these places, by all measures, and a uniquely important one to believers.
Here, in pictures, are the main things do or see in Lourdes, France whether you are travelling with your family or by yourself. And if you want to get more information, scroll down to the end of the pictures to read more about it.
Why Visit Lourdes France?
Mother Mary showed herself here, apparently. This was the site of Saint Mary’s apparitions to a teenage peasant girl, Bernadette. Back in the 1850s the girl from this part of the Basque country apparently experienced 18 apparitions which in the years to come were recognized by the Vatican.
Lourdes quickly became a pilgrimage spot with people coming from different parts of France (and later, the world) in hopes of being healed by the holy waters that sprung from under the rock, in the very spot where St. Mary stood.
This, of course, depends on whether you believe in miracles or not. There have been many cases of healings with the most recent one approved by the church in 2011.
Things to Do in Lourdes France
Grotto at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes
We had already been to Fatima in Portugal before and are familiar with both the religious and the touristic sides of pilgrimage destinations. Also this time, it turned out to be true. The actual site of apparitions is kept close to its original modest look.
A beautiful statue of St. Mary overlooks the pilgrims lining up to touch the rock and the water of the grotto. You can purchase candles and place them in the assigned venues.
There are several rows of benches, where you can have your peaceful moment, either praying or just meditating, whichever you choose. The atmosphere is very pleasant, cheerful and hopeful.
At the riverbank, very close to the grotto, you will also find faucets with the holy water straight from the spring that originates in the spot of the apparitions.
The atmosphere changes once you get to the other side of the grotto, or to be exact to the top of it.
Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary
The “chapel” which was build at the request of St. Mary, in spite of its undeniable beauty, has been in our opinion commercialized. It sits on top of the cave-like grotto and, from a distant, the Basilica’s Baroque-looking grandiose architecture seemed to overshadow the simple majesty of the grotto.
There are vending machines with memorabilia inside the church. Obviously, you can choose to ignore it and just take in the extraordinary atmosphere.
Money is king in Lourdes
Money is truly the king it seems like, even in places like this. Plentiful stores full of souvenirs, all with the image of Our Lady of Lourdes, on cups, shirts, hats, pants, keyrings, scarfs.. you name it. . . even a stick to scratch your back!
Rather expensive restaurants around and scarce grocery stores (for a cheaper alternative) in the immediate neighborhood to the basilica and the grotto. Especially the latter made it very difficult for us, operating on a tight budget, to satisfy our two little hungry “monsters” 😊
Either way, the further in you go into the actual town center, the more evident becomes the ugly truth about our world.
In the end, after scrambling for some affordable food, we ended up ordering a hotdog from a street booth! This is the hard reality that a town accommodating even 5 million visitors a year will try to make the most out of.
It comes in a stark contrast to the very nature of the second main character of the apparitions – the humble and very poor peasant girl.
Let’s just say, the grotto side of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is THE place to spend most time at.
Same is true when it comes to accommodation.
Affordable Way to Visit Lourdes: Go Camping
We did not even consider renting a hotel or an apartment due to the cost. We were also very much used to sleeping in a tent by then because this was our second weeks-long family camping trip. So, a camping site was the logical choice.
We stayed at Camping de Loup, a very basic and affordable camping site in a walking distance (20 min) from the grotto. In fact, this is the closest camping site to the Grotto—the main attraction in Lourdes—at the same side of the Ousse river.
Although the facilities were minimal and the employees unpleasant at times, we did appreciate the fact that we were able to get a spot (considering the number of tourists in the city).
So, if you do come by caravan or by tent, make sure you book in advance instead of just showing up. This is the one of the few times that we actually did book our camping site ahead of arrival. And we were glad we did because there were none left when we arrived in the late summer (August).
The added benefit was fresh bread delivery in the morning. There’s a van that stopped by the camp who gave us (literally!) “our dailybread”.
Note: we are not getting paid for mentioning any of these campsites. It’s just helpful to potential campers in Lourdes, like you maybe, to have them here in one spot as alternatives.
Here are the other campgrounds in Lourdes
Camping D’Arrouach Lourdes was described as an eco-responsible camping about 36-minute walk to the grotto. This is north of the river Ousse (not in the same side of the river as the grotto).
Camping de la Forêt Lourdes is further out to the west and the center of Lourdes, about 10 more minutes of walking west of Camping de Loup.
There are a few others but are farther than these three.
Tips for travelers (with or without kids)
Here are some things to remember to make your visit more comfortable, efficient and fun for yourself and the entire family.
- Have some extra plastic bottles prepared in case you want to get the water from the holy spring. You can find the place to get the holy water here. If you are not a believer, you can always just drink it for necessity when you hit the road again or just dump it.
- Visit the Tourist Center at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes (located east of the Basilicaand between the port/entrance of Saint Joseph and the Statue of the Crowned Virgin of Lourdes). There you can watch in multiple languages (including English of course) a short documentary about St. Bernadette. You can also get more information on the schedules of religious events in the sanctuary. I believe there are guided tours provided in various languages as well.
- Bring your own food, if you travel on budget like us. It will save you money. Restaurants are expensive and stores are hard to come by. And the food that you get at either one is none too special. Come on, a small hotdog for 4,90 euros???!!
- If you travel in the post-COVID times and are religious, go to the Torchlight Marian Procession that takes place daily at 9 pm. It starts at the Grotto and continues to the Rosary Square (in front of the Basilica). There you will have a chance to light a special candle, just like the little Bernadette and pray the rosary with many other people. And the atmosphere at nighttime can be quite… peaceful to say the least. Make note that from Camping du Loup and Camping de la Forêt, you will have to go through the wooded and dimly lit paths. So, best to go with someone else.
- You need a full day, possibly two to explore the Sanctuary and its surroundings, and really absorb the atmosphere. We are a slow-go family camping tourists and have found that rushing about takes away from the fun of visiting places, especially when you have people with short legs (children and husband) and long-sources of reserved energy (children yes, husband—HE*L NO!)
- Engage with those volunteer docents, or guides, who are typically senior citizens with blue vests with an “i” and “SANCTUAIRE” written on their backs. Ask them questions. They love to share their knowledge and could be quite knowledgeable.
- Playground for children: Once your spiritual needs have been fulfilled (or curiosity for the non-believers or outright heretics ; ), head to a park with your kiddos for a playtime. We went to an excellent playspace a few minute drive from city center called Aire de Jeux L’You Park (Jardin de l’You)with playgrounds, little library and tables to reset and eat.
Other Things to Do in Lourdes, France
Here are some of the other things that you can do in Lourdes as a family with young kids.
Lac de Lourdes—a swimming lake with an adjacent golf course and a restaurant. Located northwest of the grotto.
Funicular—a cable car to carry you up a side of a tree-covered mountain with some hiking trails for picturesque views of the town of Lourdes. Located south of the grotto and town.
Château fort de Lourdes—a prominent castle on a hillside on the other end (to the east) of the long open space (an esplanade) across from the Basilica.
Musée Sainte-Bernadette. You… guessed it! It’s a museum and it’s all about the life of Bernadette. Located southeast of the grotto, across the Pont Vieux bridge.
Castle Fort Pyrenean Museum—a medieval castle with a museum that is all about the history and folk culture of the Pyrenees. Located southeast of the grotto, across the river.
Lourdes is More than a Day Trip
We did not get to see them this time around but certainly will check them out in our family camping road trip in the future.
We visited Lourdes with the sole purpose of seeing the grotto and the huge religious complex for pilgrimages in which you can easily spend a day whether you are religious or not.
If you are a believer, there are the healing baths (Lourdes Baths), several chapels and churches that you can practically attend mass all day, the Basilica’s crypt—the only place that Bernadette saw before heading out of Lourdes to become a nun.
The complex also has big open spaces and lots of wooded areas that could be a pleasant experience even for non-believers. You can simply roam around walk along the quiet river, getting lost in your own thoughts, appreciating the serenity of the place, especially those far from the main points of interests.
Take it easy. Go slow. Leave some for the next time, as my grandma used to say.