Bordeaux is renowned for being the wine capital of the world, conjuring up images of slow, sleepy vineyards where honeymooners and retirees flock for a peaceful trip to France. Whilst this can be the case, Bordeaux is actually anything but slow and sleepy: it’s a city full of things to see, do, taste, and experience.
Bordeaux is a thriving, dynamic and cosmopolitan city, and here are just 25 things to do in Bordeaux whilst you’re there.
1. Sip some of the world’s best wines
Of course, no trip to Bordeaux is complete without sipping on some of the very finest wines in the world. Whatever your budget, and whether you prefer red, white, or rosé, there is no shortage of wine in Bordeaux. You don’t need to be a connoisseur to appreciate the quality and range of Bordeaux wines, and you don’t even need to go straight to the vineyard: you won’t find an establishment in the city that doesn’t carry a selection of divine Bordeaux wines.
2. Ride the rails to one of the region’s many gorgeous vineyards
If you want the full Bordeaux experience, however, it is so easy to get to one of the region’s many vineyards, châteaux, or manoirs by train. The Bordelaise are proud of their status as France’s most revered winemaking region, and so you will find yourself more than welcome in any of the vineyards for a tour, a guided wine tasting, and the opportunity to buy a bottle (or ten) to take home with you as a souvenir. I personally recommend taking the train to St Emilion: a scenic little village with cobbled streets and a plethora of wine tasting opportunities, easily accessible by train from the city of Bordeaux.
3. Explore the history of Bordeaux at the Place de la Victoire
Just one of Bordeaux’s triumphal arches can be found in Place de la Victoire, where you can also find a red marble and bronze obelisk, and two huge bronze turtles. This square is rife with sculpture and historic landmarks, as well as a number of hugely popular bars, cafés, and restaurants, where you can sit and soak up the ambiance of this, one of Bordeaux’s most bustling squares.
4. Snap a picture at Bordeaux’s most iconic landmark: Place de la Bourse
Place de la Bourse is Bordeaux’s most famous visual landmark, a masterpiece in grand architecture along the banks of the Garonne river. Alight the Bordeaux metro at Place de la Bourse to feel like you have truly arrived in this magical city: take in the surroundings of the glistening waters and towering buildings before you cross the threshold into the city proper, but not before you’ve captured this beauty in a photograph.
5. Watch the locals glide and skate past you at the Quais de Bordeaux
The Quais de Bordeaux is a fantastic place to stop and rest without feeling as though you’re missing out on a minute of Bordeaux. On a sunny day, take a stroll along the Garonne and find a spot where you can sit and watch the world go by. Maybe bring a picnic, or a bottle of wine to share with your friends, as the Bordelaise teens wow you with their skateboarding skills, and families take their children out for a scenic bike ride, or even roller skating. Feel free to join in, if you have the skills.
6. Enter a different part of the city through the famous Porte de Bourgogne
Built in the 1750s as the entrance to the city, this Roman-style arch is yet another of Bordeaux’s famous landmarks, marking a de facto separation between the older and newer sides of the city. The Porte de Bourgogne is not only a handy point of reference for exploring the city on foot, but yet another of the city’s monuments that speak to its history.
7. Hear the chimes of the past from the Grosse Cloche de Bordeaux
La Grosse Cloche de Bordeaux (literally: the big bell of Bordeaux) is one of the oldest belfries in France, and can be found in the very heart of the city of Bordeaux. Cast in 1775, the Latin inscription inside the bell reads: “I sing for happy events and weep for the dead”. When strolling through the streets of Bordeaux, it’s easy to stumble upon this formidable sight. However, you have to be exceptionally lucky to hear it sing, as it now only rings around 6 times a year for celebrations such as Bastille Day, or else on the first Sunday of every month at noon. Time your trip right!
8. Reflect on your time in Bordeaux at the water mirror
Though it’s weather dependent, the water mirror in Bordeaux is a sublime optical illusion of a landmark, creating beautiful sights that make perfect photographs. Directly opposite the Place de la Bourse, just before the river Garonne, you can find the water mirror and see the reflections for yourself. Play with angles and light if you’re a keen photographer: the effects vary depending on the time of year and time of day.
9. Dine at some of the city’s most exquisite Michelin star restaurants
Bordeaux is home to over 30 restaurants that are recommended by Michelin, with eight of them possessing Michelin stars. No wonder Bordeaux has a reputation for being a gastronomical hotspot. Whether you want to push the boat out and dine on some of Bordeaux’s most elite and creative cuisine at its highest end restaurants, or whether you want to simply dine on traditional French fare, cooked with style, passion, and class, Bordeaux’s restaurant scene comes highly commended. Try La Grande Maison de Bernard Magrez for the former, and La Tupina for the latter.
10. Delve deeper into Bordeaux’s relationship with wine at Cité du Vin
If you want to experience Bordeaux wine culture to the fullest, a trip to Cité du Vin is a must. Entrance can be a bit on the pricey side, but it is the most comprehensive way to learn and understand the history and culture surrounding Bordeaux as a wine-making region. With permanent and temporary exhibits showcasing a range of films, and the obligatory sample glass of Bordeaux, Cité du Vin is a dynamic day out for aficionados and novices alike.
11. Pay reverence at the UNESCO World Heritage Site Bordeaux Cathedral
Bordeaux is bristling with formidable cathedrals, but the Cathédrale de Saint-André is perhaps is most beautiful and biggest. The official seat of the Archbishop of Bordeaux, this Roman Catholic church sits beside the Bordeaux Hôtel de Ville, marking one of the most culturally significant, and beautiful, parts of the city. With such a long and important history, a visit to this cathedral is definitely one of Bordeaux’s greatest hits.
12. Marvel at the grandeur of the Grande Théâtre de Bordeaux
First inaugurated in 1780, this imposing opera house has been the cultural hub of the arts in Bordeaux for centuries. Acting as the venue for a number of different operas, ballets, and plays, this neo-classical building is a source of beauty in the city, both inside and out. If you consider yourself a lover of the performing arts, check to see if this grand theatre is performing anything during your visit to Bordeaux.
13. Take in the largest city square in Europe at Place des Quinconces
Place des Quinconces is the largest city square in Europe, and so makes for the perfect open space to stroll around whilst admiring the lush trees that line it, its stunning monuments, and look out across the river to the other side of the city. Laid out in 1820, the original purpose of this town square was to prevent rebellion in Bordeaux, with guns turned to point inwards to the city. Nowadays, however, it is simply a gorgeous space near the river, where people often flock to soak in yet more Bordelaise history.
14. Indulge in some retail therapy along Rue Sainte Catherine
Rue Saint Catherine is nearly 3km long, making it the longest shopping street in Europe! Like all good European cities, Bordeaux is a paradise for shopaholics, with Rue Saint Catherine boasting a wide collection of stores, from favorite French and international chains, to independent boutiques and shops that are immensely popular with Bordeaux’s plentiful student population. You’re certain to return home from Bordeaux with the perfect souvenirs that you find on this shopping street.
15. Educate yourself at the Musée des Beaux-Arts
The Museum of Fine Arts in Bordeaux is one of the largest art galleries outside of Paris, and is home to a number of celebrated pieces by French and Dutch artists. Founded in 1801, the Musée des Beaux-Arts is a fantastic place to be surrounded by beautiful artworks, including a host of paintings that were looted during the French Revolution. If you want to get the full French experience during your time in Bordeaux, a visit to this sublime art gallery is a must!
16. Intrigue your mind at the CAPC
If classic art isn’t so much your thing, then maybe a visit to CAPC (Museum of Contemporary Art) is more up your street. The hallowed halls of the CAPC makes for a really interesting exhibition space, where you can see some thought-provoking and powerful pieces on display here by some of the world’s biggest modern artists. With exhibits changing regularly, you’ll be surprised and intrigued each time you visit.
17. Sample some of the world’s finest oysters from Arcachon Bay
Part of being a culinary capital is having access to some of the world’s best oysters, fresh from nearby Arcachon Bay. Bordeaux is lucky with its geography, being so close to fabulous soil for vineyards, and the Atlantic ocean for sumptuous oysters: it helps that the two go hand in hand! In the city of Bordeaux, and in the wider region, you will find an abundance of delicious eateries that offer you a selection of some fresh oysters, traditional accoutrements, and a bottle of Bordeaux bubbly.
18. Experience brunch the French way
With so many great eateries to choose from in Bordeaux, it’s no surprise that you are spoiled for choice when it comes to even the most American meal of the day – brunch. However, don’t be fooled: French brunch isn’t quite what you’re used to, but it is exceptional. Cafés all over the city offer a sort of set menu option for brunch. The brunch pictured above was from Cofete. B, a delicious little café that offered coffee, juice, salad, eggs, yoghurt, fruit, and a pastry as part of its brunch menu.
19. Party the night away on Bordeaux’s thriving nightlife scene
Bordeaux may be particularly popular with older travellers, thanks to its rich history and natural beauty, but it is also a bustling student city, with nightlife to boot! In fact, if you take to the streets of the city centre on a Saturday night, you will discover countless trendy bars and colorful nightclubs, as well as the party crowd that flock there. Whether you want a French boogie or an edgy dance party, all tastes are catered for on Bordeaux’s nightlife scene.
20. Immerse yourself in the flavors of Bordeaux at its stunning restaurants
If Michelin star dining is out of your price range, there is no need to worry. In Bordeaux, there is another delicious establishment around every corner, from the brasseries that line the streets opposite the train station, to the small bistros that you find on the cobbled streets further in the centre. Some of my favourite restaurants that I went to were Berthus, a traditional bistro serving up Bordelaise classics with elegance, and Chez les Ploucs, for rustic French classics made with fresh produce, in a whimsically rustic atmosphere.
21. Discover that Bordeaux is more than just wine at its pubs
Everyone knows Bordeaux for its wine, but few people realise that Bordeaux is something of a haven for beer drinkers too. With a surprisingly large ex-pat community of Brits, there are a number of British and Irish style pubs that have popped up in the city to cater to this pub culture, as well as being the perfect place to watch any big sports games for tourists and locals alike. There is a branch of the Frog & Rosbif pub chain, a humorously titled and popular chain of bars throughout France, and a British pub called The Charles Dickens, serving up a selection of tasty beers that could rival the pubs of the UK.
22. Cross the Garonne to discover the city’s stunning Botanical Gardens
The Jardin Botanique de Bordeaux is open every day and is completely free to enter, making it a fantastic spot to visit towards the end of your trip when you’re trying to watch your Euros. Home to over 3000 species of plants, this Botanical Garden is as educational as it is beautiful, and makes for a wonderful escape into some greenery.
23. Socialise with friends old and new at the Marché des Capucins
Marché des Capucins is incredibly popular for something that isn’t right in the city centre, but there’s good reason for this. Here, you can find a selection of fresh, local produce, delicious street food, and bars serving fine Bordeaux wines. It’s the perfect place to go to reconnect with friends, and make new ones. Sample the delicious fare they have an offer, and share a bottle of excellent wine in their convivial dining setting.
24. Merge your city break with a beach holiday
Bordeaux literally translates to “by the water”, so it’s no surprise that there is a choice of beaches nearby where you can escape to for a dose of vitamin sea. Another thing that makes Bordeaux the almost perfect city break spot is that you can transform it into a beach holiday, perhaps by visiting the popular beaches of Arcachon Bay, or even by remaining in the city of Bordeaux and paying a visit to the Bordeaux Lac. Either way, you can relax on sandy beaches and let the soothing proximity of rippling water lull you into full holiday mode.
25. Taste Bordeaux’s specialty pâtisserie: Canelé
Before you leave, you have to make sure you try a canelé, or maybe buy a box to take home with you. This deliciously delicate little cake is quintessentially Bordelaise, and you will find bakeries and cafés selling them all over the city. Traditionally flavored with rum and vanilla, there are now a number of different flavor iterations you can try them in. Ensure you don’t leave this beautiful city behind without a sweet taste in your mouth.
Bordeaux has a strong identity and the optimistic energy of a big, cosmopolitan city, whilst still retaining the understatedly beautiful vibes of a smaller French town. This is what makes Bordeaux one of my favorite cities, and now you know 25 things to do in Bordeaux!