Although I have traveled extensively throughout France, I had never been it to Bordeaux! So when Dan and I spent 10 days in France this past summer, we made Bordeaux the highlight of our trip, spending 4 days and nights exploring Bordeaux and the surrounding area. We had a wonderful time, and found Bordeaux to be a lovely, beautiful and manageable city!
Bordeaux is sizeable city on the Garonne River in Southwestern France. In additional to being what many would call the wine capital of the world, Bordeaux is a university city that has a very young and very French feel – and in a great way! Despite its wine fame, Bordeaux is not overrun with tourists and offers a realistic French experience, especially as opposed to many of France’s other big tourists sites.
In terms of tourism, Bordeaux boasts a compact center encompassing most of what a tourist would want in a French city – gorgeous buildings, great food and cafe lounging – and a super easy and inexpensive public transportation system. And lots of wine! I really cannot believe it took me this long to visit Bordeaux, and I certainly recommend the city to anyone visiting France. I was planning to do a trip report on my visit to Bordeaux, but I think it is is more helpful to list my highlights and post some pictures! If you are planning a trip to Bordeaux, check out some of my favorite Bordeaux things:
The Wine. Almost anyone visiting Bordeaux comes for its tasty wine! And its everywhere! The city of Bordeaux is surrounded by high quality vineyards producing the famed Bordeaux wine and wine shops, bars and activities are ubiquitous. My favorite wine wine activities in Bordeaux were a wine course, visiting the châteaux and exploring le Cité du Vin!
Of all the wine related activities, I recommend starting any Bordeaux adventure with a Bordeaux wine course! Wine courses are 1 – 2 hour classes that give you an introduction into Bordeaux wines, including their history and classifications, and a tasting. We started our Bordeaux tour with a tasting at Max Bordeaux – right in the heart of Bordeaux. Even if you do not participate in a wine course, Max Bordeaux is great, as it allows one to taste many expensive wines in the glass format (albeit a very expensive glass!).
Visiting a Château
Most tourists will also want to visit one of Bordeuax famed vineyards, called châteaux in France. Unfortunately, and possibly surprisingly, for tourists planning to spend all of their time in Bordeaux proper, there are no châteaux or vineyards in the city of Bordeaux. Instead, the châteaux are located in small towns surrounding Bordeaux. If you do not join an organized tour, you will need a car and almost all of the châteaux require advance reservations for tours and tastings. We toured both Sauternes and Médoc with the Bordeaux Office of Tourism. I recommend Médoc for reds and Sauternes for whites! And Bordeaux is in the process of expanding its tram system extend to Médoc, which will make the Médoc châteaux much more accessible in the next few years!
Now, if you are anti-tour and lack a car, you can visit the charming town of St. Émilion by train, but you should allow a full day for this adventure. The great part about visiting St. Émilion is that there is a direct train from Bordeaux and there are two châteaux right in old town St. Émilion. Dan and I LOVED St. Émilion and I vote it as a must-do day trip from Bordeaux. I loved it so much that wrote about it here AND here. If you plan to take one day trip from Bordeaux, St. Émilion should be it!
La Cité du Vin.
La Cite du Vin is another of my favorite wine activities in Bordeaux. La Cité du Vin is Bordeaux’s newest museum, and it is completely dedicated to wine cultures around the world! It just opened in June 2016 and it is absolutely fantastic! Located right on the Garonne River just north of the main touristy area, it is definitely worth a few hours of your time and easily reachable by tram. I wrote an entire post about La Cité du Vin here.
Aside from wine, Bordeaux does have a few bucket list sites. We visited these sites on a guided tour with the Bordeaux Office of Tourism, which unfortunately turned out to be a big mistake! While we saw some gorgeous sites, the tour was half in French and half in English, and our guide did not speak either language well. We ended up cutting out a bit early. I recommend picking up a map or guide book and seeing the sites on your own! Bordeaux is much more manageable than other big cities, such as Paris, and most tourists should be able to manage without a guide. Plus, the Bordeaux Office of Tourism is quite modern, well-staffed and English-friendly (as well as a number of other languages). They will certainly be able to give you a map. Despite our bad tour, Bordeaux does have some really beautiful sites!
Of all the sites in Bordeaux, my favorite is Bordeaux newest attraction, Mirror d’eau. Mirror d’eau is the world’s largest reflecting pool and was built in 2006 between the Palace du Bourse and the Garonne River. The pool turns into a water fountain every 15 minutes and gives tourists and locals quite a show. Be prepared to get wet if you wan to fully enjoy the pool!
To really feel like you are in fairytale Europe, be sure to walk by the Porte Cailhau, which looks like it came straight out of a castle! Porte Cailhau dates from 1494 and was built to commemorate Charles VIII’s victory in Fornovo, Italy. Porte Cailhau was later incorporated into Bordeaux town walls. Porte Cailhau is totally free and definitely worth a walk by!
Esplanade des Quinconces
While not terribly exciting, Esplanade des Quinconces bears mentioning, as it is right next to the Bordeaux Office of Tourism and serves as the meeting point for many tours. The centerpiece of the square is the below column, which does serve as a good meeting point. The column was built over 100 years ago to commemorate the Girondists who who feel victim to the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.
Bordeaux owes much of its success to its strategic location on the Garonne river, and you should definitely take advantage of it while in Bordeaux. The river is also a great vantage point from which to view the city. We took a river cruise from Sauternes (I wrote about it here). A river cruise also allows you to see Bordeaux new, modern bridge, the Jacques Chaban Delmas bridge, which opens and closes to let large ships in and out. I am not a big bridge person, but I found this one pretty interesting!
In addition to these sites, Bordeaux has a handful of other interesting sites, including some beautiful churches, gorgeous squares and Rue St. Catherine, a pedestrian street with lots of shopping (even a Galleries Lafayette department store!).
Even better than the wine and the tourist sites, might be Southwestern French cuisine. I am surprising myself by saying this, but seriously, the food in Bordeaux may have outshone the wine! Bordeaux is located in the Southwest of France and thus, many, many Bordeaux restaurants specialize in Southwestern French fare, which consists of delicious fat! Think duck, foie gras, confit, but also farm fresh vegetables and the most delicious tomato gazpacho that I have ever tasted! Bordeaux is also very close to the Basque region (a small area on the French/Spain border) and the Spanish border. As such, Bordeaux offers tourists a great opportunity to try Basque and Spanish food. Don’t leave without trying the Spanish jamon! In addition to Southwestern fare and Spanish treats, Bordeaux is home to a ridiculous number of Michelin starred restaurants.
Some of my food highlights were these farm fresh vegetables and white beans at La Tupina.
Also, awesome French-Asian fusion at Dan.
And Spanish jamon and Manchego cheese at Los Dos Hermanos.
One note on the food, people love to dine out in Bordeaux! If you want to eat at a popular restaurant, make a reservation before you leave home. Many restaurants have easy online reservation systems (similar to OpenTable) and the remainder usually have email. I emailed in English and had no problem.
If you need another reason to visit Bordeaux, Bordeaux is easily reachable and has an easy and cheap public transportation system. Despite being located in Southwestern France, Bordeaux is very easy to reach. Bordeaux is located on a main French train line from Paris. The trip takes about 3.5 hours and a number of trains run between Bordeaux and Paris daily. Bordeaux has one main train station, Bordeaux St. Jean, which has a few restaurants and a number tracks. Get to the train station at least 20 minutes before your train, earlier if you are an inexperienced traveler.
In terms of getting around Bordeaux, the primary public transportation system is a series of three tram lines (A, B and C) that wind through the city. The trams are extremely easy to use and also very clean. To use the tram, you need to purchase a ticket from the vending machines at each tram stop. One way tickets cost €1,50 and you should correct change to buy from the vending machine (multiple tickets can be purchased at once). There are a variety of passes available (5 trip, 24 hours, etc.) that may be worthwhile depending on your itinerary. Run the math. After buying the ticket, you must validate it when you get on the tram! Stick your ticket into the yellow box on the tram. The box will stamp the ticket and spit it back out. Keep the stamped ticket until you leave the train.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Max Bordeaux: 14 Cours de l”Intendance, 33000 Bordeaux. T: +33 (05) 57 29 23 81. E: firstname.lastname@example.org. Open Monday – Saturday, 11:00 – 18:00. Public transportation via Tram Line B, “Grand Theatre” stop. Our wine course cost €35,00/person through Bordeaux Office of Tourism.
La Cité du Vin: 150, 134 Quai de Bacalan 1, esplanade de Pontac, 33300 Bordeaux, France. E: email@example.com. T: +33 (0)5 56 16 20 20. Open daily 9:30 – 19:30 June – August, slightly shorter hours the remainder of the year. Easily accessible via Tram B, Cité du Vin stop. Tickets to the permanent collection and other events, tastings, etc. can be purchased online or at the museum. Oddly, it bears mentioning that la Cité du Vin offers left luggage services at the front desk.
La Tupina: 6, rue Porte de la monnaie, 33800 Bordeaux. T. : 05 56 91 56 37. Reservations can and should be made online here. Be sure to make reservations at La Tupina and not one of its sister restaurants. To ensure a reservation, make it 2-3 weeks in advance online. The menu is available on its website.
Dan: 6 rue du Cancéra, 33000 Bordeaux. T.: 05 64 28 59 73. Reservations can and should be made online. Open Tuesday – Saturday 19:30 – 22:30.
Los Dos Hermanos: Los Dos Hermanos: 52 cours Victor Hugo, 33000, Bordeaux, France. Reservations can be made on La Fourchette. Closed Sunday.
ON A BUDGET
Bordeaux is a good budget option if you are looking to visit a French city, and it is certainly less expensive than Paris! Plus since Bordeaux is a university city, there are lots of student-budget friendly activities. Of the items listed here, most of Bordeaux sites are inexpensive and in terms of the mentioned restaurants, Los Dos Hermanos is certainly the most budget friendly!
If you are on a strict budget and wanting to visit a château, the Bordeaux Tourism Office offers daily half-day wine tours from Bordeaux, advertised as the Châteaux and Terriors: On the Bordeaux Wine Road on their website. In short, the tour claims offers transportation between Bordeaux and one of the famous wine regions, such as St. Émilon or Médoc, and back, a visit to two châteax and a wine tasting. I did not love the Bordeaux Tourism Office’s tours that I took (see other Bordeaux posts), but this seems like a viable budget wine touring option. The cost is around €38,00 euro a person for the transportation, 2 châteaux tours and wine tasting. That’s about as cheap as you will find it!