Lourdes is a large town in the French Pyrenees. It is a global centre of Marian pilgrimage, receiving hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Catholics believe that the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, appeared 18 times at the Grotto to a young girl, St Bernadette Soubirous.
Originally a sleepy market town on the road to the spas of the Pyrenees, Lourdes has grown into the largest Marian pilgrimage centre in the world. The town has two sections: the international portion by the river, consisting of the spiritual area containing the Grotto and churches (known as the Domaine or the Sanctuaries), and the "French" portion, centered around the Marketplace & Hotel de Ville.
There are several trains and buses connecting Lourdes to other French cities. It is also easily accessible by car, and close to the border with Spain.
Lourdes is about 9 h from Paris via Toulouse and the A64. Lourdes is easily accessed by car, although the narrow streets around the holy sites can become quite congested at weekends and holy days. Roads from the South-West of France and from Spain are also good. On your satnav, make sur that you put the silent s with no apostrophe or you may end up in a village far away (there are several of them). Many foreigners make mistakes to the amusement of the other villages.
Lourdes train station is just a few hundred metres from the town centre, and offers easy access and clear signs to the Domaine area(look for signs indicating "La Grotte" and "Massabielle"). For information on trains to and from Lourdes, visit the SNCF website .
Several trains travel to Lourdes, including TGV service from Paris (six hours) and many trains to and from Pau, Bayonne/Biarritz, and Toulouse. The small SNCF station offers minimal services, but there are free toilets, a small coffee/pastry counter, vending machines, and an adjacent cafe and quick service restaurant (service can be rather surly, even for France). Accessibility is excellent due to the large number of infirm and disabled pilgrims who visit Lourdes and many trains passing through Lourdes offer special services for the disabled.
Night trains from Tours and Paris are available; however, these can be quite uncomfortable as they feature standard, non-reclining seats rather than berths or beds, and lights remain on throughout the trip. However, travel in first class allows for a T4 compartment (2 bunkbeds). Lourdes is a stop rather than the terminus, so know what time you are supposed to arrive and listen for the announcement for Lourdes (there will probably be many others going to Lourdes, especially the elderly or infirm, so you can watch rather than try to decipher the often-unintelligible PA announcements).
Coach arrivals from the UK and Ireland into Lourdes are charters, run by specific travel agencies for organised Pilgrim groups.
The main organisation is ACROSS who travel weekly by special coaches designed for the purpose. www.across-uk.org
Across cover the whole of the UK and can also arrange pick up locally. These special coaches are fitted out with hoists, special hospital beds and can take several wheelchairs. Medical care is available for the duration of the trip provided full disclosure is given to Across in advance of the trip. Costs are fully inclusive on a full board basis. Importantly for disabled the Insurance is also included in the cost. Trips for disabled to other destinations can also be arranged. ACROSS is a registered charity.
The nearest airport is Tarbes-Lourdes , approximately twenty minutes' drive from the town itself. Air France operate a daily scheduled service from Paris, while a large number of charter flights from all over Europe use the airport also. During the summer season, Ryanair operates flights to Tarbes-Lourdes from London (Stansted) and Milan. Bus number 2 operated by Maligne  runs regularly between Tarbes-Lourdes airport and Lourdes town centre (2€ per person for a one-way ticket).
Other airports that can be used to access Lourdes are:
- If you arrive in Toulouse there is also the possibility of a transfer by minivan. Ophorus  also organises day tours departing from Toulouse towards the holy city of Lourdes with a guided tour included.
- Another possibility is the shuttle TOURSUD , which can take up to 7 passengers from Toulouse to Lourdes (or Lourdes-->Toulouse). Look at the website to find out all the excursions organised by the driver-guide Arnaud (in English, Spanish, French).
Lourdes is a pedestrian friendly city with several pedestrian only streets and it is very easy to get around the town centre. It really is worth walking and exploring. The town is also used to disabled visitors, help is also readily available.
Lourdes has a complicated one-way street system around town and, because many streets are pedestrian only, it can be confusing and time-consuming getting around town. There are many places to park on the outskirts of the city (especially off the rue de Pau) and walking to the grotto is easy so, if possible, park and walk is the easiest way to get around.
Visit the sacred sites, including the Grotto where St Bernadette saw Mary. Attend mass (dozens on offer in almost every language in the world) somewhere in or around the holy sites. Visit one of the many Bernadette attractions (several museums, her former home, etc.) and best of all: watch the astonishing numbers of pilgrims from all over the world. The Underground Basilica of St. Pius X, a church constructed entirely underground, is especially interesting architecturally.
Especially interesting is the International Mass, held in six languages (English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, and Dutch) simultaneously in the Underground Basilica of St. Pius X Sunday mornings. Arrive early to get a seat. One wonderful experience is to arrive about 1 1/2 hours early to be part of the choir (open to anyone who arrives early to rehearse). You get to sing with people of all 6 languages and have a excellent view of the Mass.
Don't miss the nightly candlelight procession (buy your candle beforehand from one of the souvenir shops) in front of the Basilica and around the main square, with singing, prayer and a rosary said in many languages (alternating half-decades in English, French, Italian, etc.). The procession of the sick to the Underground Basilica each afternoon is particularly moving, as well. Other religious activities available include confession (available in French, English, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch), adoration, stations of the cross (in the underground basilica), candle lighting near the Grotto, and rosary in front of the Grotto each afternoon (in French) and at other times/places in other languages.
If you have a car, spend a day in the wonderful Pyrenees. Roadtrips to Pont d'Espagne, Gavarnie or de Col de Tourmalet offer breathtaking mountain scenery and lots of opportunities for hiking. There is a historic chateau on a hill visible from the town, as well.
Lourdes has an enormous number of shops selling all sorts of kitsch and religious souvenirs like statuettes of saints, rosaries, candles, containers for storing the water from the source near the Grotto, mugs and fridge magnets. If items like these are your thing, the large Palais du Rosaire offers an enormous selection and will wrap items for you to take home.
Many shops will close for 1 1/2 - 2 hours around lunch; be prepared to be shooed out of the store or hurried along with your purchases if you are shopping around 12:30pm.
Shops often have flags or signs outside indicating the languages (besides the obvious French, usually English, Spanish, and Italian, although sometimes German and Dutch) spoken there.
The famous water, of course (free!). Bring your own bottles, or buy one of the thousands containers or jerrycans (or one of the tasteful plastic bottles in the shape of a Mary statuette) available at almost every shop in town.
Lourdes offers dozens, if not hundreds of hotels in and around Lourdes. There is a special youth village on the left side of the Gave river offering accommodation and facilities to young people.
Because of the large supply, accommodations can be found for extremely cheap, with double rooms in hotels rivaling hostel prices (for example, 40 euros for a double room, 20 split between two people).