Thanks to its stunning location deep in the pristine French countryside, Lourdes is more than just Europe’s most renowned pilgrimage site.
This important religious town is best known for its curative spring waters, but can also be enjoyed as a base for exploring the mountains, waterfalls and beautiful lakeside locales that surround this iconic town.
It’s very doable with kids- just make sure to stick together amidst the crowds.
If unsure on what to do in Lourdes, you’ll want to start with the Massabielle Grotto, where in the 19th Century the Virgin Mary is purported to have made multiple appearances.
The curative waters of the grotto represent one of France’s most important tourist attractions. Bathing at Lourdes is an important experience for many devout Catholics, though there are many more things to do near Lourdes France than just try out the healing properties of the grotto.
Arguably one of the most important facts on Lourdes is that it’s surrounded by some of the most stunning peaks of the Pyrenees. This makes the town a great starting point for exploring the mountainous landscape beyond.
If you’re visiting Lourdes with kids, you’ll find no shortage of child friendly activities.
Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes and Massabielle Grotto
Over the past two centuries, Europe’s most famed pilgrimage site has evolved from a small town legend to an international phenomenon. Indeed, for most visitors to the town, the site of Lourdes’ famed miracles, Massabielle Grotto, is the sole attraction.
Over 5 million pilgrims visit this grotto every year, with Easter being the peak season. If you arrive during Easter season (or any other major Catholic festival, for that matter), expect vast crowds jostling for a chance at the curative waters of Lourdes.
To reach the healing waters themselves, start by reaching the expansive Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes.
This large complex includes numerous chapels, a large public square and various facilities for visiting the grotto at the heart of the site.
On arrival, the first thing that’ll likely catch your attention is the impressive Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Bearing a passing resemblance to a Disney palace, the basilica was constructed with the intention of appearing like it was literally growing from a hillside above the sacred grotto itself. From here, it’s possible to tour the other churches within the sanctuary, before proceeding to the grotto itself.
Behind the basilica, the lavish religious decor fades as visitors descend into the solemn, largely unadorned cave where the source of the healing waters can be found. If you’re visiting Lourdes with kids, take care they stick to the assigned pathway and remain respectful during the visit.
For many of your fellow travelers, a visit to this religious site likely represents an important spiritual experience. Further along on the western side of the grotto is where you’ll find the pools, which can be used by visitors to bathe.
Volunteer workers are available and very willing to assist the movement impaired in entering the bathing pools, though visitors are likewise welcome to simply wash their hands or faces.
Be aware that filming and photography are strictly prohibited here.
Chateau Fort de Lourdes
Apart from the sanctuary and grotto there are more than enough things to see in Lourdes to keep a family occupied for a week or more. The Chateau Fort de Lourdes, however, has to be at the top of the list.
Recognized by France’s cultural ministry as a site of historic significance, this 12th Century fortress overlooks the town from its perch on a rocky outcrop. If you’re visiting Lourdes with kids, then the little ones will love the historic costumes on display, not to mention the views from the ramparts.
Within the fort itself, you’ll find a nice museum with local folk art and history.
Funiculaire du Pic du Jer
Lourdes tourist attractions aren’t only religious and historic. From the town itself, you’ll probably be able to spot the imposing Pic du Jer, a 951 meter summit topped with a large cross.
That glowing cross can be seen from town in the evenings, and makes for a good target for a day trip in the mountains. The peak itself is accessible from town via an early 20th Century funicular.
This odd, vertical train will intrigue the kids, and is itself one of the most interesting places to visit in Lourdes.
Pont d’Espagne and the Waterfall Walk
Outside town, the French countryside beckons with its idyllic green and pastels. Of all the things to do near Lourdes, the obvious place to start is the Pont D’Espagne, a humble stone bridge in the heart of the Pyrénées National Park.
Historically, this bridge was an important border crossing between France and Spain; today, it’s neatly within French territory and serves as a useful starting point for day walks deeper into the national park.
For those visiting Lourdes with kids, a day out of town in the fresh air might be just what you need after the hustle and bustle of the shrine and churches.
To get to the Pont D’Espagne, follow the well marked path through the national park to the Cascade du Lutour, a pristine waterfall that’s a good place to stop for lunch.
Great views of the waterfall can be found a little further along- you’ll know you’re nearing the bridge itself once you reach the carpark past the waterfalls. From the bridge, there are multiple returning paths that offer an afternoon or two of adventure.
Grottes de Betharram
Few things are exciting for kids as exploring caves. Deep, dark caves that is. And if they have a river, even better.
Just about 10 minutes out of town, heading towards the mountains and -admittedly- not very well marked, the Grottes de Betharram are a refreshing day trip that will be fun for all the family.
The caves are visited in groups (mandatory), and not without a reason: they are much longer and bigger than what one would expect.
Once you arrive to the parking lot buy your ticket, wait for the next departure, and when the time comes hop on the bus and follow instructions.
The visit lasts about an hour, and includes some walking, a brief boat ride and a short train ride too, covering about 3 km overall.
Tip: make sure you bring some warm clothes, as it does get chilly . Temperatures drop to around 10C or less!
If you’re still looking for things to do in Lourdes as a tourist that don’t involve the notable religious sites around the grotto, consider a day at the lake. Far from the hub of activity in the center of town, the glacial lake just 3 kilometers out of Lourdes is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.
Watersports like paddling and canoeing are possible, or just soak up the atmosphere with the 6 kilometer hike/bike circuit around the lake.