Bordeaux is world-famous for its fine wines. However, its recognition as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2007 is due to its impressive concentration of historical monuments and a particularly homogenous architecture, which stems from the proud façades ordered by Haussmann and its spectacular squares.
Undeniably elegant, to the point of often being nicknamed the Sleeping Beauty, Bordeaux has nevertheless been able to renew itself in recent years. Driven by demographic dynamism and the emergence of contemporary neighbourhoods, the city is constantly reinventing itself, bringing constant cultural and urban renewal.
Bordeaux is not only the city of wine: it is the ideal destination for a long weekend, both in summer and winter. Its pedestrian streets, its shops full of delicious pastries, its famous rue Sainte-Catherine, its cosy restaurants, its Christmas market, its riverside and its neighbourhoods invite you to discover this city of a thousand faces.
The city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007 for its huge historic centre, almost half its surface area, which brings together more than 300 monuments: they are all united by an unparalleled architectural coherence, a superb collection of perfectly restored classical and neoclassical buildings.
Built in 1720, this symmetrical royal square is one of the symbols of Bordeaux. Today, however, it has become even more spectacular thanks to the addition of a contemporary work: the water mirror.
This spectacular work by landscape architect Michel Corajoud has covered the space of the square with a thin carpet of water. The surrounding façades are reflected on its surface, as well as the sky and its changing colours. This poetic place is undoubtedly a must in Bordeaux, which will particularly delight photography enthusiasts.
The fountain works on a cycle rhythm, i.e. for 15 minutes the mirror fills with 2 cm of water, then empties and remains empty for 5 minutes, before giving way to 5 minutes of mist. And the cycle begins again. This encourages micro changes in the perception of the space and the square, providing wonderful views.
Two important buildings overlook the square: the Chamber of Commerce and the Customs Museum, which tells the thousand-year history of trade in Bordeaux.
Inaugurated in 2016, the City of Wine has quickly become a real must when visiting the city. Inside this monumental and contemporary building lurks an exciting museum on the art of wine: a journey through space and time to trace the rich and living history of wine and its place in the world’s cultures.
For the incredible architecture alone, the Wine City is worth a visit. But the museum tour is just as interesting, to discover wine in its cultural dimensions, how it developed in different civilisations, as a heritage and universal. Awaiting you are 3,000 m² of exhibition space, with 20 interactive thematic areas. The visit can last from 3 hours to a full day, depending on your interest, and includes 4 thematic routes and more than 120 audiovisual productions.
But the real treat is the 35-metre high belvedere where you can enjoy a glass of wine with a panoramic view of Bordeaux and its surroundings.
Built in the Romanesque style in the early 11th century, Bordeaux Cathedral suffered the consequences of France’s tumultuous history and was rebuilt in the Gothic style in the 14th century.
Although the interior is not particularly interesting, what is striking about the cathedral is the beauty and majesty of its conformation, 124 metres long and 23 metres high, with five chapels radiating outwards.
The Gothic-style Royal Portal, embellished with bas-reliefs depicting the Last Supper, the Ascension and the Triumph of the Redeemer, framed by twin 81-metre-high towers, is marvellous.
The Pey Berland tower in particular is not only a jewel of Gothic art, but also offers a breathtaking view of the city. Don’t be put off by the 231 steps to access the terrace, as it will give you an unmissable panorama of Bordeaux.
The most striking feature of St. Michael’s Basilica is certainly its bell tower, soaring 114 metres above the city, detached from the rest of the main body of the church.
At the base of the tower is a crypt that serves as an ossuary for the thousands of mummified bodies that were found after the cemetery was removed.
Begun in 1350 and built over three centuries in the flamboyant Gothic style, the church consists of three naves with 17 chapels dedicated to brotherhoods or guilds. The most visited chapel is that of St. James, a popular stop for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela.
Rue Sainte-Catherine is the shopping street, with almost 300 shops spread over more than 1 km, from Place de la Comédie to Place de la Victoire: it is one of the longest pedestrian streets in Europe .
Fashionistas will not miss the opportunity to shop in the incredible number of boutiques, shops and malls alternating with bars and restaurants to spend an afternoon shopping.
The Grosse Cloche is one of the most emblematic and photographed buildings in the city. It is the bell tower of the old town hall, built in the 15th century on the remains of the old Porte Saint-Eloy. It consists of two 40-metre-high circular towers connected by a central body.
The current bell was cast in 1775 and weighs 7800 kg and is 2 metres high. To hear it ring, you must be in town on the first Sunday of the month, at noon. The Armande-Louise bell, that is its name, rings six times a year on the occasion of major celebrations: 1 January, 1 May, 8 May, 14 July, 28 August and 11 November at 11 a.m. and the first Sunday of each month at noon.
The gate is fundamental not only from a civil point of view, but also from a religious one: it is, in fact, one of the main stops on French soil of the famous Way of Santiago de Compostela.
It is unthinkable to visit Bordeaux without taking a tour of its quays along the Garonne River, true symbols of the relaxed lifestyle that reigns in this beautiful city. Recently renovated, the quays of the Rive Gauche, also called the Port de la Luna (Moon Harbour) due to the shape of the river, invite you to stroll and discover beautiful monuments, some of which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The area stretches from Quai de Bacalan to Quai de Paludate in the city centre and also includes Place de la Bourse and the Marché des Quais. Surrounded by old red brick buildings, the former river goods warehouses have been perfectly restored and transformed into places of culture, sports and entertainment. The quaysides are home to parks, gardens, cycle paths, but also shops, bars and restaurants in which to linger, especially in the late afternoon, and then admire beautiful sunsets over the river.
Athletes go to the sports park or the skate park while for children there is a large play area. The quays host annual parties and are also the starting point for river cruises to discover the Bordeaux region.
Housed in an underwater base dating back to World War II, this living museum is a breathtaking site. With 4 pools 110 m long, 12,000 m² of projection surface and 90 video projectors, the Bassins de Lumières is recognised as the largest digital art centre in the world.
From the walls to the ceiling, passing through the surface of the pools, paintings by the great masters of art stretch out and come to life, forming a superb sound and light show. During a unique sensory experience, you will plunge into the heart of the masterpieces. For these reasons, the Bassin des Lumières is a must-see in Bordeaux.
The artists alternate in time: after Klimt, Monet, Renoir, Chagall, whatever the theme, which changes every year, visitors will witness a veritable ballet of dazzling colours. Invading the floors, water reflections and walls, the dazzling and powerful colours overwhelm the space and blend in with the monumental architecture of the Base Sottomarin. To the sound of musical compositions, the works come to life.
Also called Old Bordeaux, the Saint-Pierre district was once the city’s river port, where ships laden with goods docked before leaving for the various provinces, inhabited by the merchants who settled in large numbers in this district.
The street names still evoke the trades of yesteryear: rue des Argentiers (goldsmiths), rue des Bahutiers (chest merchants), rue du Chai des Farines (grain warehouses). Today it is a lively and buzzing area, especially at night, to hang out in the city’s best clubs.
Not to be missed is the Cailhau Gate, dating back to 1495, its appearance reminiscent of a castle and once the main city gate.
Located north of the old town, the Chartrons district is a mix of bourgeois class and bohemian spirit and is one of the most Instagrammable districts in all of Bordeaux, with wonderful shops, boutiques and quaint shop windows.
Thanks to the redevelopment of its architecture and cellars, the diversity of its activities and the dynamism of its inhabitants, it is now a picturesque corner, a sort of Parisian Marais where trendy shops and boutiques mingle with the scent of jasmine and wisteria that runs along the façade of antique shops. Various souls intertwine here: the vintage souls of the second-hand shops and antique dealers, the hipster souls of the craft breweries and the shops of new designers, to the ethnic restaurants of all cultures and the gourmet patisseries.
Every Sunday the unmissable event is the Chartrons market on the quayside. Browse among the 60 stalls, before having a picnic on the banks of the river, after a walk with a breathtaking view of the right bank.
With its unmistakable red-coloured arches, Pont de Pierre is one of the symbols of Bordeaux and from here you can admire one of the most enchanting views of the city. Particularly impressive at sunset and in the evening, when it is fully illuminated, for a long time, some 150 years, it was the only link between the two banks of the Garonne.
Inaugurated in 1822 and built at the behest of Napoleon I, the bridge has 17 arches, in homage to the number of letters in Napoleon Bonaparte‘s name. Made of stone and brick and characterised by the peculiarity of having internal voids, today it has to compete with mobile and decidedly more modern bridges, but it retains a special place in the affection of the inhabitants of Bordeaux, who appreciate its undisputed elegance.
The interior of the bridge can be visited once a year, on the occasion of the European Heritage Days.
Built by order of Marshal Richelieu and inaugurated in 1780 with a play by Jean Racine, the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux is considered one of the most beautiful in the world.
Its interior structure, composed mainly of wooden pieces, guarantees almost perfect acoustics. Check the calendar to attend a live opera or you can discover it inside during one of the visits organised on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons.
At 12 hectares, this esplanade on the banks of the Garonne is also the largest square in France. At once sober and monumental, it is largely wooded, perfect for a refreshing break during which you can admire the statues and columns that decorate it.
Indeed, the monument to the Girondins, two huge rostral columns and statues of Montaigne and Montesquieu. It is a lively place where various events such as concerts, fairs and markets are regularly organised.
Dating back to 1881, the city’s Museum of Fine Arts is second only to the Louvre in Paris in terms of its rich collection of works, divided into two large areas, created between 1400 and 1900 and classified in chronological order.
Among the various artists present are Picasso, Matisse, Renoir, Titian and many Dutch artists.
For history buffs, the Aquitaine Museum is a must-see in Bordeaux. It is one of the largest provincial history museums, with rich collections of archaeology and ethnography ranging from prehistory to the present day.
You can immerse yourself in the rich and turbulent history of Bordeaux and its region. In particular, we recommend the well-documented section on trade routes and slavery. In addition, the museum regularly hosts temporary exhibitions and lecture series.
This is the largest covered market in Bordeaux, open from Tuesday to Sunday, where stalls overflow with delicacies from the region.
You can buy food products or taste them directly on the spot, in one of the many little cafés inside.
Beyond the Unesco perimeter, where classicism merges with the urban fabric, today’s architects have been able to indulge in new forms and unusual architecture. The undulating curves of the Wine City are a perfect example. But across the river, a new area has developed, a dynamic and modern version, characterised by a redefinition of its cultural identity through constant architectural innovation.
We can cite La Méca17, a multifunctional and dynamic art space, an extraordinary work by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels. Located on the docks of Paludate, the building rises 37 metres high and offers from its open-air terrace, one of the most evocative views of Bordeaux.
Or MMM, the Maritime Museum18, designed by Bordeaux architect Olivier Brochet. The building constitutes a monumental complex with a total area of more than 13,800 square metres, on 7 successive levels, and rises to a total height of 45 metres. Based on a rich collection of works of art, marine objects and models of ships from every era, it traces the history of navigation techniques and unfolds in space the wealth of knowledge put to use by sailors from all over the world over the centuries.
Or the Grand Arena19 described by the architect himself as a functional and beautiful building in tune with its time, which together with Corbusier’s Unesco-listed Cité Frugès20 work, enriches the city’s suburbs.
Also belonging to the new Bordeaux is the Darwin ecosystem, a city within a city. This ambitious urban project occupies a redeveloped former barracks on the right bank: it is an unprecedented sociological experience that is difficult to summarise as it brings together innovative projects and different functions.
Darwin is a living place: people work there, come here to have lunch (organic, of course), have a drink, take a walk, read books, discover street-art works, experience spaces for children where even the animals are lovingly raised. Darwin is a rich, creative, alternative, lively, stimulating place.
Alongside magnificent works of street art that occupy huge walls, there are areas for urban sports such as skateboarding, BMX and rollerblading, antique and second-hand shops, vegetable gardens, farms and beekeeping, craft brewers, Europe’s largest organic bistro, cafes, bookshops and hipster shops.
Like any self-respecting good village, Darwin offers regular entertainment for all: concerts, parties, exhibitions, screenings, sports competitions. In short, a paradise for families, young people and lovers of alternative culture.
A port for all the world’s sailors, this peripheral suburb of Bordeaux welcomed the largest ships carrying fruit and grain in the 19th century. An important industrial centre, with its floating docks and renovations, this historic site has always managed to retain its very special identity.
Cosmopolitan and lively, the district is still pervaded by this popular memory and is home to two souls. That of the Bacalan district, popular and over the years become a focus of contemporary art, and that of Bassins à flot, which has managed to redevelop the entire area through modern architecture, a district completely dedicated to the sea, the marina and port activities.
Hence the importance of places such as the Cité du Vin, the Submarine Base, the Science Museum, the Marine Museum and also the Vivres de l’Art and Halles de Bacalan, a real Bordeaux culinary gem, home to some 24 local producers from the south-west, who will let you taste their products on site.
Le MUR de Bordeaux is a new space of artistic expression set in the urban context, infusing the city with an aesthetic, poetic and cultural aspect.
It is a 35m² wall that is renewed approximately every month with works by international artists, emblematic figures and young talents who borrow their format and rituals from billboards.
This wall is made available by the Pole Magnetic association, whose aim is to make aesthetic culture accessible to public space through events, innovative projects and urban exhibitions.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
Long nicknamed Sleeping Beauty because of its tranquillity, Bordeaux has woken up in recent years and has even been voted the ‘trendiest’ city in 2017 by Lonely Planet.
World-famous as the capital of wine, Bordeaux boasts such a wide range of accommodation that it will be difficult to choose between luxury hotels, Bed&Breakfasts and flats of all kinds.
The city centre is the historical heart of Bordeaux and is the ideal place to sleep. There is no lack of accommodation offers, although prices are more expensive. It is undoubtedly the most touristy district, but also the most convenient for visiting the main monuments and museums.
Located north of Bordeaux’s historic centre, the Chartrons are situated along the Garonne. This is Bordeaux’s bobo, or bohemian , quarter and by far one of the city’s liveliest and most characteristic. Between trendy bars, antique dealers and organic shops, you will find a charming atmosphere. Hotels of all styles are springing up here, from luxury hotels to quaint B&Bs, with prices well below those in the centre.
A true green lung of Bordeaux, La Bastide has undergone an urban metamorphosis: today it is home to the Botanical Garden and is an ideal neighbourhood to get away from the hustle and bustle of Bordeaux. Being on the other side of the Garonne, the supply of accommodation is a little less spread out but the rates are affordable, thanks to its slightly secluded location. This is where the hipster and alternative Bordeaux is concentrated, which finds its greatest expression in the Darwin centre.
Meriadeck is a district located west of the centre. It is the commercial area, nestled between historical buildings such as the Saint-André Cathedral and the Tour de Pey-Berland. The imposing Palais Rohan, now the town hall, completes this atypical district. The accommodation offer is more limited but the hotels are cheaper than in the old town.
Bassins à Flots represents one of the most modern areas of Bordeaux: situated on the banks of the Garonne River, the district fits into the circuit of modern Bordeaux, especially from an architectural point of view. The city’s most modern hotels are located here.
The quickest and cheapest way to get to Bordeaux is by plane. In fact, the French city is connected with flights from all over Europe, which provide low-cost connections all year round to Bordeaux airport. Once you land in the wine capital, a shuttle will take you non-stop to the Bordeaux train station in just 30 minutes. Alternatively, if you also want to visit the surrounding region, you might consider renting a car.
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The following are the most popular tickets and tours in Bordeaux that we recommend you don't miss.
Famous for its prestigious wines, Bordeaux is a port city on the banks of the Garonne River in south-west France.
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