Planning a Trip to Bordeaux
This name needs no introduction to viticulturists, but Bordeaux also delivers a range of surprises, from exceptional architecture and cuisine to innovative tech startups and barista culture. This 2,000-year-old port along southeast France's Garonne River is the nation's sixth-largest city and can be reached easily with a high-speed train from Paris in just over two hours for those looking to make a quick weekend jaunt. This is a year-round destination with steady tourism throughout the year—visitors aren't interested in the weather as much as they are in the fermented grapes! You'll find excellent wine museums and wine bars across the city (there is even a wine bar crawl, which you'll see below).
Bordeaux is also known for its culinary scene and savoir-faire (no surprise given its nickname: "Little Paris"). History buffs can spend several days exploring historic gems in the largest UNESCO World Heritage Site in the world, awarded in 2007, thanks to its exceptional architecture that has been well-preserved over the years. Bordeaux is as dedicated to its heritage as it is to major urban projects. Millennials add a creative vibrancy to the urban landscape thanks to a lively university population and burgeoning tech industry. As you walk around the city, take note of how Bordeaux's architectural masterpieces from the 18th and 19th centuries blend nicely with sleek additions.
To get around the city, consider picking up a Bordeaux Metropole City Pass with options including 24, 48, or 72 hours. Besides free access to many monuments and cultural attractions, you will get unlimited access to Bordeaux's public transportation system for your selected period of time (think tramway, bus, and river shuttle).
Of course, Bordeaux is located in the heart of the fine wine region of the same name and is an ideal starting point to discover the region's glorious châteaux, famous sun-drenched vineyards, and charming towns like Saint-Émilion—in a nutshell, the more time you have to spend in the area, the better.
Bordeaux in 1 to 2 Days
You can accomplish a lot in just a day or two. Perhaps you'll head first for the Place des Quinconces, one of the largest city squares in Europe, with wonderful fountains and monuments from the days of the French Revolution. Due to its large size, the venue offers a wide variety of events throughout the year, so this is a great place to get your feet wet. Another important square is Place de la Victoire, a pretty place with cafés, restaurants, and bars. In the middle of the square is a marble column made by the Czech sculptor Ivan Theimer—the first monument built to recognize viticulture in Bordeaux. Like Place des Quinconces, Victoire is a lively place with regular events and concerts, so you'll get a taste of the local culture here.
Another key spot for first-timers is Place de la Bourse, designed by Jacques Gabriel, Louis XV's favorite architect. This is where you'll find Miroir d'Eau (water mirror), created by the landscape artist Michel Corajoud. This is said to be the largest reflecting pool in the world. With shallow water, it creates a mesmerizing, mirroring effect that reflects Place de la Bourse. Make sure to stay 20 minutes in order to catch all three of the sequences: fog, mirror, and pool.
If you enjoy wine, head for the futuristic Cité du Vin, the world's largest wine museum. Here, you can spend an entire day soaking up information on Bordeaux's vineyard history. You can also purchase high-quality wine and attend cultural events and conferences about wine. Finish your excursion in an appropriate way and head to the top of the museum to order a glass of wine at the bar with stunning views of the city (there's also a restaurant for lunch).
For dinner, consider sampling the rich and sophisticated Bordelaise cuisine. Look for a classic steak with Bordelaise sauce (a demi-glace made of red wine, butter, and shallots). Food lovers will also want to visit Marché des Capucins, a covered food market also known as "the belly of Bordeaux." Here, you'll find bakers, snack bars, and food stalls selling cheeses, fruits, veggies, meats, and seafood. This is a great place to check out the local goods and pick up some edible gifts like canelés—small pastries which come boxed and travel well.
Consider this weeklong France itinerary that includes two days in Bordeaux, followed by the Loire Valley and Paris.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Bordeaux in 3 to 4 Days
With a few more days in Bordeaux, you'll have plenty of time to use public transportation to get around the city. Spend some time taking a stroll in the Jardin Publique de Bordeaux, a beautiful English-style park from the 18th century with historical statues, bridges, fountains, and a large lake—great for leisurely picnics. The upscale neighborhood around the park is called Les Chartrons and offers a village atmosphere with lively bistros, wine bars, and boutiques selling stylish clothes and homewares. Also in the neighborhood: the cutting-edge Cap Sciences Museum with hands-on exhibits and the CAPC Museum of Contemporary Art featuring international artists.
Another notable museum in Bordeaux is the Musee d'Aquitaine, with large galleries featuring a collection of objects, carvings, and documents from thousands of years of history in the Aquitaine region,
Make sure to carve out some time to visit the city's best historical monuments in the largest UNESCO-listed site in the world. The two 15th-century medieval entrances to Bordeaux include, La Grosse Cloche and Porte Cailhau, provide great photo ops with Gothic and Renaissance elements. You can also step inside to see the interior of the Bordeaux Cathedral, a medieval Gothic edifice located in the heart of the city built between the 12th and 14th centuries. The neighboring Pey-Berland tower deserves a climb (229 stairs) to the top, where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city.
Wine aficionados will likely want to visit some wine chateaux in the Bordeaux wine region. A great day trip includes Saint-Émilion, a charming small town (also UNESCO-listed) that is responsible for some of the most prestigious and expensive wines in the world with old stone streets, ruins, and Romanesque churches. As for the wineries themselves, there are many options for different tours, and a good place to start your research is by visiting the city's Tourism Center, which offers a map of the vineyards. Typically a guided tour involves being shown vat rooms and cellars while learning about how wine is made and stored from the winery's representative. During summer months, tasting sessions are often held outside in the various châteaux's beautiful grounds.
Back in the city, you can do some shopping on Rue St-Catherine, one of the longest pedestrian shopping streets in Europe. There are more than 250 stores, or you can sip a coffee or a glass of wine and watch the tourists. For more upscale brands, head to Cours de l'Intendance, a chic street in Bordeaux that never gets too crowded, where you can slow down and enjoy window shopping. While here, check out Le Pressoir d'Argent, Gordon Ramsay's two-Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant, and next-door brasserie.
This unique France itinerary travels from the Normandy region to Bordeaux, where you can learn to make the traditional canelé cake.
Bordeaux in 5 to 6 Days
Now that you've become acquainted with the city, you can hop on a bike and travel through its many pedestrian streets and bike lanes visiting many sights that are close together. A great place to visit on two wheels is along the beautiful waterfront called Quais de Bordeaux on the left bank of the Garonne. Pedal at a slow pace and check out majestic UNESCO-listed facades of grand neo-classical buildings that line this riverside promenade. This popular area also offers boutiques, restaurants, cafés with outdoor seating, deck chairs, benches, flower beds, and plane trees, not to mention a merry-go-round and ice cream parlor. This is definitely a place locals like to spend their weekends.
While exploring the river, check out the beautiful arches of Pont de Pierre, as well as the Pont Jacques Chaban-Delmas—the tallest vertical lift bridge in Europe and one of Bordeaux's most recent landmarks. The best time to admire it is at dusk when shimmering lights shine over its columns.
You can also attend a ballet or opera performance at the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux. Built in 1780 when Bordeaux was at the height of its wealth, this beautiful rectangular-shaped structure— adorned with 12 Corinthian columns and 12 statues (nine muses and three goddesses)—ranks as one of the city's glorious edifices. Marvel at the ornate interiors, including a grand staircase that is said to have the one in Palais Garner in Paris. If you can't see a performance, guided tours run twice weekly.
La Cité du Vin, listed above, isn't the only wine museum in Bordeaux. The city's sleek tram also offers a stop at the Musée du Vin et du Négoce (wine and trade museum), housed in a wine cellar of an 18th-century building that once served as a wine merchant's home. Here you can see a mix of old equipment from the past 2,000 years plus new technology of wine production in the region—and, of course, indulge in tastings.
Another great way to experience the local wine industry is to take a city-based tour of Bordeaux's wine bars. This 100% urban tour, called Urban Wine Trail, visits a range of cozy bars and larger, more sophisticated establishments in all four corners of the city. Meet fellow travelers and learn how to order items off the à la carte menu that pair best with the wines you're tasting along the way.
With more time, serious oenophiles will want to drive through the "Chateau Route" of the Medoc peninsula on the left bank of the Gironde estuary. This is a global wine powerhouse, home to four of the world's most prestigious wine villages: Pauillac, Margaux, Saint-Estèphe, and Saint-Julien. A guided tour will include a visit to a Great Classified Growth estate, where you'll receive detailed explanations about their winemaking process while enjoying a tasting of the estate's wines served with some French delicacies.
Oenophiles should consider this five-day Bordeaux for Wine Enthusiasts itinerary.
Bordeaux in 1 Week or More
There is plenty to keep you busy for a week or more in the Bordeaux region. Spend leisurely mornings or afternoons walking or jogging in the Parc aux Angéliques and enjoy breathtaking views over the Garonne River. Here you'll find green space with shaded picnic spots.
You can also take the opportunity to further explore city neighborhoods you may not have had time to do on a shorter trip, like La Bastide. Located on the right bank of the Garonne River, this once-overlooked neighborhood offers a bohemian, hipster vibe. Spend time exploring the innovative Darwin Ecosystem, where renovated warehouses feature film festivals, pop-up bars, restaurants, and gig space. Also in the neighborhood is Place Stalingrad, a charming square with a handful of small cafés where patrons can while away the afternoon watching locals go about their daily routine.
Day trips near Bordeaux that don't involve wine include Arcachon Bay—a famous swimming destination just under an hour away from Bordeaux, surrounded by sand dunes and fragrant pine forests. Start by climbing Pyla's Sand Dune—the biggest sand dune in Europe—and then swim at the beaches, walk through the forests, and drive past beautiful 19th-century homes. Complete the trip with a stop to slurp down fresh bivalves at a local producer known for Arguin Banc Oysters.
For more inspiration, here is a list of kimkim's current France Tours & Itineraries.