The fact that Bordeaux is like Mecca for wine lovers is certainly what drew us to come visit this city and worship at the altar of some of the world’s best wines. But Bordeaux is more than just sipping Grand Cru at châteaux; it’s a beautiful and compact city who’s been getting a shiny facelift over the last few years. Known as the Sleeping Beauty, Bordeaux’s 350 listed buildings now gleam a honey-gold. There are new attractions popping up all the time, and there’s no shortage of excellent restaurants, pâtisserie, bars or cafes to rest your weary feet in. The only problem is narrowing down what exactly you can fit in to your Bordeaux holiday. And luckily, locals know best. We’ve compiled all the best things to do in Bordeaux:
Museums & Attractions
1. La Cité du Vin
La Cité du Vin is a must for wine enthusiasts. France’s premier wine museum is an interactive experience engaging all of your senses, ending with a wine tasting on the top floor and a panoramic view over Bordeaux.
The permanent exhibition takes you on a journey through the greatest wine regions of the world, wine making processes and techniques throughout the centuries and a sensory experience of everything but tasting wine. But don’t worry, because you do get to taste on the top floor at the end of the visit.
There’s also events, temporary exhibitions and various wine classes. One of our favorite events is the Ciné Gourmand, which happens on the first Wednesday of each month and pairs a movie with a delicious movie-themed tasting dinner with wine pairings.
La Cité du Vin is open daily April 1 – June 30 from 9:30am – 7pm, July 1 – August 31 from 9:30am – 7:30pm, week days September 1 – March 31 from 10am – 6pm and weekends September 1 – March 31 from 10am – 7pm. Closed December 25.
2. Visit the cradle of Christianity in Bordeaux
The foundation of the Saint-Seurin Basilica dates back to Gallo-Roman Bordeaux and the 6th century, though the church we see standing today dates from the 11th century with many additions to it through the 18th century. A gothic style entrance was added on the south side in the 13th century, the 14th and 15th centuries saw the addition of several chapels including the Notre-Dame de la Rose chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and the pipe organ is added in the 18th century.
The crypt dates from the fourth century and was discovered on accident during excavations. UNESCO declared Saint-Seurin a World Heritage Site in 1998 as part of the monuments along the Saint James de Compostela Way.
One of the really interesting things about Saint-Seurin Basilica is that you can visit the ancient crypt to see the Merovingian marble sarcophagi. The crypt gives us a look into the earliest French Christians, or the very cradle of Christianity here in Bordeaux.
There are two parts of the crypt which can be visited. One is the archaeological site, which has a small fee to enter. The second part of the crypt can be accessed from a stairway down in to it from the center of the Basilica and is free to enter, along with the Basilica itself.
Saint Seurin Archaeological Site is open June 1 – September 30 from 1pm – 6pm daily. Entry is €5.
You’re locked in a room and you have just one mission: to solve a mystery by working through a series of clues before the clock runs out.
You get a small group of at 3-4 friends or family together and test your detective skills while attempting to solve the mystery. You have an Escape Hunt guide who watches from outside, and is there to help with additional clues when you get stuck.
Escape Hunt Bordeaux currently has four different mysteries to choose from and they are both in French and English. We’ve done Jack the Ripper and Saint-Émilion, where we were only a few minutes from solving it to unlock the door. We’re addicted now and will be back to do all the mysteries.
Escape Hunt Bordeaux is open daily from 10am – 11pm. Book online.
Bordeaux is home to the world’s largest reflecting pool, Miroir d’Eau. Opened in 2006 as a public art instillation designed by landscape artist Michel Corajoud and water technician Jean-Max Llorca,it was inspired by the flooded sight of Piazza San Marco in Venice.
It’s set across the street from 18th century Place de la Bourse, the very symbol of Bordeaux. The square represents Bordeaux’s break from medieval Bordeaux when the city was surrounded by walls. Originally the square had an equestrian statue in the center, which was briefly replaced by one of Napoleon. Since 1869, the Fountain of the Three Graces has dazzled visitors.
The water mirror quickly became a favorite spot for locals and tourists alike to cool off on a hot summer’s day. Children are always seen running and splashing in it, there’s often salsa dancing on either side and it’s a favorite meeting place for lovers. The water goes through a programmed sequence of 3 minutes of fog, 3 minutes of mirror and 10 minutes of pool.
It’s a contemporary UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most photographed place in Bordeaux. With just three minutes to capture a photo during the mirror sequence, it’s becoming more and more of a challenge to capture one like ours above without any people in it.
5. Picnic in the Jardin Public
The Jardin Public was designed in the French style by X and inaugurated in 1746. The garden was built in an area where the land was deemed not suitable to grow quality grape views and was meant to give the Bordelaise an open space to relax away from the city.
It was re-designed in 1856 in the English style around a central pond and is much as we see the Jardin Public still today.
You can bring a blanket and have a picnic, relax with a book or maybe play a game of pétanque. In summertime, there’s a puppet theater for the kids. There’s also a playground and carousel for children.
Behind the building that seems to frame the back of the Jardin Public, there’s actually a small botanical garden that is free to visit as well.
6. Eat your way through Marché des Capucins
Mountains of fresh herbs. Pungent goat cheeses. Piles of fresh oysters. Stacks of custard-y canelés. Grab a French market basket and pick out some picnic essentials alongside some of Bordeaux’s chefs at Marché des Capucins, the city’s largest market, and you’ll feel like a true Bordelaise.
Known as the “belly of Bordeaux,” the first market was held in this spot in 1749. Though, it would have looked quite different then. Cattle were sold along with food and the services of carpenters, roofers, shoemakers and blacksmiths. The market hall was officially launched in 1863, but the structure we see today wasn’t completed until 1881.
The areas on either side of the glass arcade have permanent vendors with their various stalls lining the rows. The center aisle often changes as vendors receive their spot by auction daily.
Tip: for great photo spot over the market, go up the steps to the car park. There are bridges that cross the center aisle and have an excellent view of the market and hall.
7. Shop ’til you drop on Europe’s longest pedestrian shopping street
The 1.2 kilometer long Rue Saint Catherine is the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe. It runs from the Grand Théâtre on Place de la Comédie to the Thermier Column on Place de la Victorie. It’s been an entirely pedestrian-only street since 1984, though a shopping street also ran along this same stretch when Bordeaux was called Burdigala in Roman times.
Rue Saint Catherine has over 250 stores, plus cafes and restaurants. Aside from shopping, some points of interest along it are the Galerie Bordelaise, a covered shopping arcade that was designed in 1834, and Place Saint Projet.
8. Admire France’s largest city square
Place des Quinconces is the largest city square in France and one of the largest in Europe. It’s often the home of pop-up events, outdoor concerts and festivals in the heart of Bordeaux.
Laid out in 1820 on the site of Château Trompette, a castle-fortress that once stood court in the city, Place des Quinconces was intended as a defense to prevent rebellion. The guns were pointed toward the city center, as opposed to enemies that might advance from the Garonne.
The trees that were planted in staggered rows lends the square the name, Quincones. And the Monument aux Girondins honors the Girondists that were victims of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. There’s four scenes on the fountain: Triumph of the Concorde, Triumph of the Republic, the Tribune and the city of Bordeaux. The central column is topped with a statue of liberty.
Monuments Worth the Entry Fee
9. Climb the second tallest church bell tower in France
For an entirely different view over Bordeaux, climb the 114 meter tall Saint-Michel bell tower. And if you really want to impress the locals, refer to the bell tower simply as La Flèche.
It was built in the 15th century over 20 years from 1472 to 1492 by Jean Lebas. His son took over the building of the spire in 1496 and at the time that it was completed, it was 120 meters high. It’s the second tallest bell tower in France, after Strasbourg Cathedral’s at 142 meters high.
It’s practically a miracle it’s even still standing. It was hit by lightning in 1574, nearly demolished by Louis XIV in 1675 and a spire was swept away in a huge storm in 1768.
After nearly a century, a project to restore the spire was finally underway and the rebuilt spire was inaugurated in 1869. So perhaps with all these trials and tribulations, you can see why La Flèche is a source of pride for the Bordelaise and a key monument of the city.
La Flèche Saint-Michel is open from April 1 – October 31 daily from 10am – 1pm and 2pm – 6pm. Entry is €5 and children under 12 are free.
10. Get a look at Bordeaux during the Middle Ages at Port Cailhau
After nearly three centuries of British occupation, Bordeaux’s fortified walls are opened with a monumental gate facing the river. Porte Cailhau was built between 1493 and 1496 as an arc of triumph dedicated to King Charles VIII to show loyalty to the kingdom of France after the Battle of Fournoue.
Though the gate is elegant, it also had many defensive features. The name “Cailhau” has two possible origins: it could refer to the stones found on the site where it was built, or perhaps from the family name Cailhau, who birthed several mayors of Bordeaux and whose family mansion was located just next to the gate.
The gate serves as a small museum that tells the story of Bordeaux in the Middle Ages, and in to the 18th century when stone quarries and the Renaissance began to significantly change the style of architecture in the city.
Porte Cailhau is open daily from 10am – 1pm and 2pm – 6pm. Entry is €3 and children under 12 are free.
11. Glimpse the remains of Gallo-Roman Bordeaux
The Roman Empire’s reaches were far and wide, so it’s really no surprise that Romans once occupied Bordeaux (then called Burdigala). They even made wine here.
The remains of the amphitheater are the oldest Gallo-Roman ruins in Bordeaux and it dates from the third century. It was probably built on the occasion of a visit of Caracalla to Aquitaine. It’s believed it was a unique amphitheater, and unlike other Roman amphitheaters, only had wooden bleachers.
Only a fraction of the arena remains today, but at it’s time the ellipse-shaped arena would have held some 17,000 spectators for gladiator games. That would have been nearly twice the population of Burdigala.
It’s thought that it was set on fire by the Franks of Gaul and that it burned for two days. It was then abandoned until the 18th century when it became a refuge for prostitutes and hoodlums. Finally, steps were taken to preserve it and it became classified as a historical building in 1911.
A monumental entrance still stands, along with some arcades and ruins even lie in the cellars of the houses that surround it today.
Undoubtedly a Roman amphitheater, it got the name Palais Gallien in the Middle Ages when in 1367 it was named for Charlemagne’s wife, Galine.
Visit Palais Gallien on a guided tour from June 1 – September 30 at 10:30am or 3:30pm, or at 9:30pm on Saturdays in July and August. Entry is €3 for the day tour and €5 for the night tour. Purchase the tickets at the Tourist Information Office.
You can’t come to Bordeaux and not visit the very châteaux that this city is built upon. Wine making dates back to Roman times here and while the 1855 Classification of the Médoc was politically fueled at the time, it put Bordeaux on the map as one of the greatest wine regions of the world.
The classification has never been revised, with one exception, and the wines would hardly even be recognizable today. But the 1855 classification chateaux are some of the most impressive to visit. Beautiful, stately homes sit on stunning estates surrounded by vines that produce some of the best wines in the world.
13. Take a day trip to Europe’s highest sand dune
You might not think of Bordeaux and beautiful beaches, but one of The Guardian’s 50 Best Beaches in the World is right here in the southwest of France. It’s Dune du Pilat and it’s the highest sand dune in Europe, towering above the Atlantic over 100 meters high.
A mere 30 miles from the city of Bordeaux, you can often find us at the Dune in summer. A staircase helps visitors climb the Dune for a stunning view over the Arcachon Bassin. And in summer, the adventurous can paraglide off the top of the Dune – just remember that you have to drag yourself and your chute back up the Dune.
14. Try some of the world’s best oysters
It wasn’t just grapes that grew here in Bordeaux since the Roman times; back then oysters grew wildly in the Arcachon Bassin. Though just a fraction of France’s annual oyster production comes from the Arcachon Bassin, 60% of the oysters eaten in France come from the 350 oyster farms here.
All of the farmers are small scale producers and the oysters aren’t sold to supermarkets or exported. And the fact that the oysters are sold directly to people and restaurants keeps their cost low.
You can visit many of the farms that sell their oysters fresh for you to slurp up right there on a small terrace. Or you can eat plates of six with a bit of bread and butter and some white Bordeaux at the various markets like the Sunday Marché des Chartrons, where the lot will cost you just €5.
Some activities and attractions visited are in partnership with Bordeaux Tourisme in order to bring you this story. However, Luxe Adventure Traveler maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for travel are entirely our own.