First time in Bordeaux (France 🇫🇷): how to get there, what to see, where to stay…
You want to visit Bordeaux and you absolutely don’t know what to do or what to see there? This guide will help you prepare your visit to Bordeaux in one weekend. It’s based on my 2-day trip in this city, so feel free to share your tips and useful addresses in the comments to complete this article.
- Before you leave: prepare your Week-End in Bordeaux
- What to see in Bordeaux: the must-see attractions
- Getting around Bordeaux
- Where to sleep in Bordeaux: the different districts
- Where to go out in Bordeaux / Where to eat
- Visiting Bordeaux in 2 days: an itinerary
- Visit the surroundings of Bordeaux
- What to bring back from Bordeaux
- My opinion on Bordeaux
- Useful links
Here are some advice based on my experience since I just returned from a weekend in Bordeaux: book your hotel in advance! I booked my room on Friday morning even though I was taking my TGV in the evening, I can tell you that I paid!
Of course, remember to book your TGV ticket or plane ticket in advance.
When to go to Bordeaux? The best months in terms of climate to visit Bordeaux are June, July, August and September (There’s less tourists in June and September!).
Where is Bordeaux in France? Bordeaux is located in southwestern France, in the Aquitaine region. The city is nestled around the Garonne river, and is only about 200km far from the Pyrénées (and Spain).
How far is Bordeaux from Paris? By car, it takes around 6 hours to get from Paris to Bordeaux. By fast train (TGV), it takes only 2 and half hours.
How many days in Bordeaux? I spent only 2 days in Bordeaux but I would suggest to stay 3 or 4 days in order to visit the surroundings and go on a wine-tasting tour.
🎯 One thing to know before going to Bordeaux: there is a tourist pass that gives access to different sites all around the city, the CITY PASS. It costs 29€ for a 24-hour period, 39€ for 48 hours and 46€ for 72 hours. Try to get up early to enjoy all the attractions included in the pass: a city tour by tourist bus, the Cité du Vin (before noon), unlimited access to the tramway, bus and river shuttle, a guided tour of the historic centre… The pass also includes free admission to sites such as Saint-Émilion and La Citadelle de Blaye.
City map: you will find a map of Bordeaux on this website in PDF format (you can pick it up at the tourist office or on arrival at Bordeaux-Saint-Jean station).
Finally, remember to check the meteo to see what the weather will be like!
Here is a top 10 things to do and see absolutely in Bordeaux if you are going there for the first time. The entry of most of the tourist sites on this list is included in the City Pass (which is worth it):
- The city of wine (by river shuttle): this should be on top of your list, it’s one of the most interactive museums I’ve visited in the world, and a glass of wine is also offered! The entrance fee is 20€ without the City Pass, so you see the interest to take it… Attention: if you have the City Pass, the entrance fee will be charged after 12h (5€). So in summary, if you have the City Pass you must visit the Cité du Vin imperatively BEFORE NOON! Even if you’re not a wine lover this museum is worth a visit.
- The Place de la Comédie and the Grand Théâtre: admission to the Grand Théâtre alone costs €7. Very beautiful building.
- The monument to the Girondins and the Republic (located on the Esplanade des Quinconces): a large fountain that reminded me of the Bartholdi fountain in Lyon.
- Sainte-Catherine Street: the longest shopping street in Europe.
- The Place de la Bourse and the water mirror: funny to see when the misters are on.
- Take a bike (Vcube) and admire the view from the right bank (and take a look at the Darwin centre)
- The Cailhau door
- The Chartrons district: visit the CAPC and have a drink on the terrace in the market square.
- The Big Bell: quite impressive, I must admit…
- Go to the top of the Pey-Berland tower & visit Saint-André Cathedral: for sports enthusiasts! the view from the top is magnificent.
And if you have more time:
- The Aquitaine Museum: the part on the first floor concerning slavery is very interesting.
- The Museum of Fine Arts: what to do if you are interested in art and painting.
- Go to the top of the tower Saint-Michel: the view is the same as at the top of the Pey-Berland tower
Click here to see all these places on Google Map or directly on the map below:
Bordeaux Mérignac International Airport is located about ten kilometres west of the city centre. The “30’Direct” bus commutes to the Saint-Jean station in about half an hour. The departure is in front of Hall B and operates from 8am to 11pm every day (and between 6am and 9pm from the Saint-Jean station to the airport). The one-way ticket costs €8. You will find updated information on this site.
If you arrive by TGV at Bordeaux Saint-Jean station, you can either take the tram if you have a lot of luggage, or you can walk to the city centre along the banks of the Garonne river if the weather is nice (it takes about 20-25 minutes – that’s what I did without getting too tired).
The tram is very easy to use, a ticket costs €1.60 and is valid for one hour. Don’t forget to scan the ticket in front of the yellow terminal, and if you have the City Pass it will be in front of the white terminal.
It is also possible to take the river shuttle BAT³ (Bat Cube) to cross the Garonne and go from one bank to the other, or to go to the Cité du vin (which I recommend you do). The passage under the Jacques-Chaban-Delmas bridge before reaching the pontoon of the Cité du vin is really nice to do.
Finally, it is also possible to borrow self-service bicycles, the Vcub. It costs €1.60 for 24 hours and a deposit of €200 by credit card must be deposited at the ATMs of the various stations. Bordeaux has many bicycle paths, it would be a shame to do without them. More information here.
You will find many hotels on Booking.com, remember to book in advance!
I get this information from the owner of the apartment where I stayed, so if Bordeaux residents are reading this article please confirm:
- Saint-Pierre: it is the tourist district, where there is the highest concentration of monuments but also restaurants and bars.
- Chartrons: a beautiful district where 80% of Parisians live
- Saint-Paul: the Hipster district of Bordeaux
- Saint-Michel: the cosmopolitan district of the city.
The ideal would therefore be to sleep either in the Saint-Pierre district to be able to start your visit of the city in the morning, otherwise towards Saint-Paul. During my weekend in Bordeaux my apartment was about twenty meters from the Cailhau door, and I had the bad surprise of having party people singing under my window every half hour until 3am… a tip: read the opinions on Booking to see if the hotel you are interested in is isolated from the noise, especially if like me you wake up at the slightest noise.
Finally, don’t worry too much about finding THE ideal place to stay because Bordeaux is a fairly small city and everything can be done on foot. Just avoid staying on the right bank unless you have found great accommodation there, because if you only have one weekend you will waste too much time travelling to the tourist area.
I would like to point out that this is only my opinion based on my weekend in Bordeaux, if Bordeaux residents or travellers know of good deals that they do not hesitate to leave a comment!
In the space of a weekend I didn’t have the opportunity to test all the restaurants in Bordeaux, and since I’m not a food critic, I’m counting on the travellers who went to Bordeaux and who will read this article to share their good tips in the comments. I found the quantity and diversity of restaurants quite amazing. There is something for everyone. Of course, there are an incredible number of wine bars.
Here are the restaurants I was able to test:
The Japanese restaurant Fufu: like a good sheep that I am and because I love Japanese cuisine I was fooled by the crowd rushing in at the entrance. In the end it’s not crazy (sorry). On the other hand, their Asahi beer is served iced, it’s fabulous to drink it after walking all day. Otherwise average cuisine, not bad but does not leave an unforgettable memory (I tasted the ramens that look more like soup and the tori yakisoba.
What a pity that I didn’t walk 10 meters further because the restaurant Maison Darnauzan offers a dinner on weekdays at 19.90€ which looks very appetizing… if I go back to Bordeaux I would try it.
I also went to La Table Bordelaise: correct meal, very good dessert. I don’t think I’d want to go back there though.
Finally, I tested Edmond Pure Burger’s hamburgers, a very good place to eat if you’re a burger addict. Excellent fries!
As I said before, Bordeaux is a fairly small city and you can walk around it quite quickly. Here is a suggested itinerary based on my own stay in Bordeaux, with some possible improvements:
- Arrival on Friday evening in Bordeaux, drop off the luggage at the hotel and then restaurant and/or wine bar. Walk along the quays in front of the Place de la Bourse (towards the water mirror).
- Saturday: get up early in the morning, have a coffee and then head to the tourist office to buy the City Pass 24H.
- Book an afternoon schedule for the bus tour included in the pass, then take the river shuttle to Quinconces pontoon to the Cité du Vin.
- Visit the city of wine, then return to the centre (boat or tramway). If you are coming back by tram, stop at the CAPC stop to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art.
- Then return to the centre and visit the various monuments on foot or by bus.
- If you hesitate between going to the top of the Flèche Saint-Michel or the Pey-Berland tower, I recommend the latter. There may be a bit of a queue because the number of visitors at the top is limited to about ten people. The view is a little clearer than the Flèche Saint-Michel (which is also worth it, especially for its creepy crypt where you could find mummies).
- On Sundays: take the bus to the village of Saint-Émilion, then return to Bordeaux and leave Bordeaux. Alternatively, rent a bike and explore the Chartrons district, and go to the right bank across the stone bridge to take a look at the Darwin Centre.
- Another idea: organize a boat cruise on the Gironde.
As mentioned above, make a priority visit to the pretty village of Saint-Émilion if you have time. It is 50km from Bordeaux and it takes about an hour by bus to get there. If you are travelling by car, there’s also plenty of vineyards where you can stop for some wine tasting.
If you have your own vehicle, here are some day trips you can make from Bordeaux:
- the old town of Cadillac
- the citadel of Blaye
- the medieval city of Saint-Macaire
- the Arcachon basin and the Pilat dune
- The medieval castles of La Brède and Roquetaillade
- the cities of Libourne and Pauillac
Check all these places on Google Map directly on the map below:
Obviously you have to bring back wine, but if there is one thing you need to make your loved ones taste, it’s the Bordeaux cannelés: caramelized pastries made with rum, vanilla and cane sugar. When they are fresh, they are incredibly good, but when they are a little old they are hard and dry, they stick to your teeth, not so great… there are several stores that sell them, check with the locals who will tell you where the best ones are!
Bordeaux people, don’t read the following: I had been sold Bordeaux as a magnificent city, maybe I expected too much… still I found the city pretty but not to the point of wanting to go back there a second time. I went around it very quickly, the monuments are pretty but nothing that got my jaw off and I saw similar ones in many other cities of France, moreover it’s for good reasons that Bordeaux is nicknamed the mini-Paris. What do you want, I’m a jaded traveller…. (for those who are discovering this blog, know that I am French, and I have already visited many cities in France so that’s just my opinion).
Strangely enough, the configuration of Bordeaux reminded me of Shanghai, the only things missing are ultra-modern buildings on the right bank. For those who are considering going swimming, know that the Garonne has a very high flow rate and the water is dangerous.
One thing that surprised me quite a bit was the number of homeless people on the streets (especially on Sainte-Catherine Street). I think it’s the city in France where I was most approached to get a Euro coin…
Let’s talk about the positive points: Bordeaux has a fairly young atmosphere, there are a huge number of really stylish restaurants and wine bars. The living environment seemed very pleasant on the whole and I can understand that many people want to come and live there (real estate prices have doubled in 10 years). I really loved the Cité du vin (especially the river shuttle trip) and I encourage you to visit this museum, even if you know absolutely nothing about wine.
If you are wondering if Bordeaux should be placed on your France travel itinerary, well I would say yes, provided you take time to visit the surroundings (ideally with your own vehicle).
Instead of doing it at the last minute, book your hotel in Bordeaux now on Booking.com
- Bordeaux Tourist Office website
- Site of the shuttle 30′ Direct which leaves from the airport
- Information on the City Pass
- Saint-Émilion village site
- Bordeaux self-service bicycle website
- Buy the Lonely Planet Bordeaux guide
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