On my trip to Southwest France, Bordeaux was the city stop of a longer 7-day itinerary. As much as I wanted to see the wineries of the countryside and the beaches of the coast, I also wanted to see the architecture and learn about the history of the largest city in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region.
Since I visited in late August, I was expecting the streets to be more quiet since it’s a popular time to vacation to the beach in France. However, Bordeaux was still full of people and things to do.
From visiting wine museums, to wine bars on every corner and easy day trips to wineries, Bordeaux offers endless actives for wine lovers. In this guide to Bordeaux, I’ll share how to get there, where to stay, things to do, where to eat and a few wine bars you can’t miss.
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How to get to Bordeaux
By plane: Bordeaux Airport is located about 25 minutes from the city center by taxi, costing about 30 euros. Air France/KLM offers daily flights and is probably your best bet if traveling from the States, but budget European airlines like EasyJet and RyanAir are also great options. I use Google Flights to weigh all the options.
By train: Gare de Bordeaux Saint-Jean is the main train station and is just two hours from Paris on a high speed TGV train. See timetables and book your ticket on SNCF.
By car: If you prefer to take the scenic route like I do, you can drive from just about anywhere in Europe. Driving from Spain, we did hit a number of tolls from the border to Bordeaux.
Where to Stay
InterContinental – Le Grand Hotel: Le Grand hotel is the luxury choice for those wanting to relax at the indoor pool or get a treatment at the Guerlain Spa. The rooftop bar has beautiful views of the National Opéra of Bordeaux across the square. Excellent location just steps from great wine bars, shops and restaurants (or have dinner in the hotel at the Gordon Ramsey restaurant). Check pricing and availability.
Villa Victor Louis: This luxury guest house is located in the Saint-Seurin district, just a short walk to the main sights of Bordeaux. The guest house was fully renovated in 2016, but retains the style and charm of an 18th century villa. Complete with a small garden terrace in the back perfect for sipping rose on a warm day. Free bikes and breakfast available for charge. Check pricing and availability.
Grand Hotel Francias: I choose the Grand Hotel Francias for its prime location, price point and pet-friendliness. They were not great about explaining the parking discount situation before hand, and I would never recommend anyone with a car larger than a Yaris use their preferred parking lot. However, the hotel was an excellent value for a spacious room on the top floor. Breakfast available for charge. Check pricing and availability.
Things to do in Bordeaux
Shop at the Brocante: If you are lucky enough to be in Bordeaux on a Sunday, you can’t miss the brocante in front of Saint Michael’s Basilica. The square is filled with vendors of varying quality ranging from expensive antiques to flea market bargain bins. Some larger pieces really had me wishing we had more trunk room in aforementioned Yaris (we chose to prioritize wine).
If you can’t make it to the market, there are many antique and home furnishing shops around the square and along Rue Notre Dame.
Try a Canéle: While Bordeaux is world famous for its wine, a lesser known by-product of the wine production is the canéle cake. The wine industry used egg whites to seal the barrels, so with an excess of egg yolks the nuns at the Annonciades convent created these fluted, molded cakes. Today, you can’t walk down the street without passing a shop selling them.
Visit the Bordeaux Cathedral: The Bordeaux Cathedral is mentioned in documents as early as the 9th century. However, it was officially concentrated in 1096. It was the place of the royal wedding between King Louis XIII and Anne of Austria. During the French Revolution the cathedral was vandalized and eventually it served as storage for military horse feed. After many years of restoration leading into the 20th century, the structure has been restored to the beautiful cathedral that you can visit today.
See the Miroir d’eau: Built in 2006, the world’s largest reflecting pool has become a symbol of Bordeaux. I’ve seen countless photos of the miroir d’eau, the mirror of water, with a still layer of water making a reflection of the nearby Place de la Bourse.
I visited in late August, and it might as well have been a city pool. Countless kids were running and rolling on the wet pavement. Dedicated to get the shot, I went back around 10:00 the next morning (when it “opens” according to Google) to find it being pressure washed by city workers.
All to say, I’m not sure when that picturesque serene moment happens at the miroir d’eau, but I didn’t see it. It was definitely one of those Instagram vs. Reality moments for me. So, I hope you have better luck or join the fun if you brought your bathing suit. The square and the buildings surrounding it are still worth visiting regardless.
Porte Cailhau: Construction started in 1493 when Porte Cailhau served as the main entrance to the city from the port. Towards the end of construction in 1495, a statue of Charles VIII was added to commemorate his victory in Italy. “Victory” is a loose term as he really won the the battle of Fornovo on his return to France, only to be defeated a few days later when the Spanish arrived in Naples.
The statue was destroyed during the French Revolution and later replaced in 1880. At the same time, the central structure was detached from the adjacent buildings. I just admired it from the outside, but you can also go inside for a fee. Open daily from 10-1, 2-6. 5 euros.
Grosse Cloche: This arched gate is another rare monument in Bordeaux from the same time period as the Porte Cailhau. The current bell was cast in 1775 and weights around 8.6 tons. It rings on the first day of the month and 6 special occasions throughout the year.
Take a Day Trip: In the heart of the wine region, you can easily take a day trip to Saint Emilion (read my guide on the top things to do there) or go north to the Médoc region. Book a day trip with transportation and a guide.
While you’re in the city though, there are still plenty of wine related activities.
Visit Wine Museums
Musée du Vin et du Négoce is a small museum housed in the personal wine cellar of a former merchant’s home built in 1720. Not only does the museum tell the history of the wine trade in Bordeaux, but it also explains the evolution of wine making from first being centered around merchants to later shifting to the chateau.
As a lover of graphic design as well as wine, I particularly enjoyed the old wine labels and records with old cursive handwriting. Although the tour is self-guided, the knowledgeable staff give a short lesson at the end during the tasting. Open 7 days a week. Entrance fee and tasting 10 euros per person.
If you have time for another wine museum, visit the new Cité du Vin. This museum opened in 2016 and is in a contemporary building offering an interactive experience. It covers the history of wine as a whole, not just regionally. End your tour at the Belvedere on the top floor with a tasting and unparalleled views of Bordeaux. Between the restaurants, shops and permanent exhibition, you could spend the majority of the day there.
Purchase entry tickets ahead of time and skip the line. Open 7 days a week (closed on Mondays in January).
After you’ve spent a few hours learning about wine at the museums, continue the wine experience and enjoy the offerings at one of the city’s amazing wine bars.
Best Wine Bars in Bordeaux
Julo Wine Bar: This wine bar came highly recommended by my friend Hannah on Instagram, so it was our first stop. I won’t soon forget the burrata or the wine the owner recommended from his unique wine list. Grab a table in the small square if weather permits and after, take a bottle to go from the large selection of wine bottles for sale.
Le Bar à Vin: For a classic and upscale wine bar, choose Le Bar à Vin on the bottom floor of the Bordeaux Wine Council. Wines are organized by different areas of the region. With tastes (15cls) starting at just 2 euro, it is a fun comparison game for tasting different Bordeaux wines.
Aux Quatre Coins du Vin: If you like wine tasting, you’ll be like a kid in a candy store at Aux Quatre Coins du Vin. It might be a self serve wine bar, but it’s not lacking in knowledgeable and friendly employees. At the press of a button, you can choose a taste, a half glass or a full glass. Then, you’ll be charged accordingly. It’s also right in charming St. Peter’s square.
Where to Eat
With only a few days in Bordeaux, I really didn’t have enough time to adequately sample the varied food scene. With outdoor terraces spilling out onto the squares and every sidewalk filled with tables, Bordeaux has no shortage of restaurants.
Le Noailles: I saw Yolanda Edwards (founder of Yolo Journal and former Creative Director at Condé Nast Traveler) recommended Le Noailles in her stories on Instagram. So naturally, I did not hesitate to make a reservation for dinner. Not only did I love the classic bistro food and ambience, but I also took note of the other patrons.
A double date sharing a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, a table of women having a long over due catch up conversation, and then one older and incredibly chic woman eating by herself. No cellphone, completely content to enjoy a meal to herself. God, I love French women. Make a reservation.
Dunes Blanches Chez Pascal: For a regional speciality, try the dune blanches. The “white dune” is a crunchy pastry filled with cream and dusted with powdered sugar. The son of a famous baker in Cap-Ferret created these sweet pastries in 2007, and now has several shops in the Bordeaux area and one in Paris. My husband AKA Medium Suitcase may or may not have eaten a box of four in one sitting.
Aux Merveilleux de Fred: I first discovered their famous Merveilleux cakes when I was looking for gluten free sweets in Paris. The chain bakery has expanded from its origins in the north and I could not have been more happy to get my favorite delicious treat in Bordeaux.
BAG Boulangerie: I can’t eat gluten, so finding a gluten free bakery is high on my priorities when visiting a city in France. If you also need gluten free treats, BAG (Bakery Art Gallery) is a must stop. A line was already forming before they opened at 10 am.