With a history as royalty’s summer resort destination and the birthplace of surfing in Europe, Biarritz perfectly marries luxury with laid back. I visited in August, when both the surfers and vacationers were at their peak. Fashionable, yet relaxed, French holiday goers strolled around the city that seemed to have a Carla Bruni playlist on repeat in the background.
While the main thing to do in this seaside town is relax on the beach or at a cafe, there are still a few things that you just can’t miss. Luckily, most of the main things to do in Biarritz are all along the main beach path that you could easily stroll within a few hours. In this quick guide to Biarritz, I’ll share how to get there, where to stay, when to visit and the top things to do.
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How to Get to Biarritz
Biarritz is served by two airports: San Sebastian Airport (EAS) and Biarritz (BIQ). The latter airport is closer, but with the San Sebastian airport just 30 minutes by car, it might be worth flying into Spain depending on your departure airport.
Bordeaux is about 2 hours away by car or by train, so Biarritz could easily be part of a longer itinerary in southwest France or Basque Country. You’ll also want to read my Guide to Bordeaux if that’s your plan.
When is the best time to visit Biarritz?
The best time to visit Biarritz is between May and September. For a beach destination, temperatures are quite mild compared to other hot summer destinations. Surprisingly, Biarritz actually has more precipitation and days of rainfall than London. Although, it is warmer and has more hours of sunshine per month than London.
All of the photos in this post were taken in August. By the clouds and preppy sweaters wrapped around everyone’s shoulders, you might think it was spring or fall. The summer months are quite crowded though with August being the height of vacances. Europeans generally take vacation in August and Biarritz was full of families enjoying a holiday.
Where to Stay
Hôtel du Palais was first built for Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie in 1854 as their summer residence, then known as Villa Eugéine. The villa was sold and converted to a hotel and casino welcoming guests in 1892. Over the years, the famous hotel has hosted celebrities and European royalty including Coco Chanel and Queen Victoria. The Hôtel du Palais was recently renovated and reopened in 2021. Check pricing and availability.
Once an 18th century house, the Hotel Edouard VII is a great choice for its central location and character. Choose one of the 18 unique rooms with private terraces, Art Deco wallpaper and modern comforts. I’ve had my eye on this place for so long, but sadly they do not allow dogs. Check pricing and availability.
The Hôtel Littéraire Jules Verne is an excellent mid-range choice (it was actually far from budget pricing when I visited during the high season). The location was perfect for free parking up the street and easy access by car, but still just a short walk into the town center. Helpful reception, clean, nicely decorated and dog friendly! Complete with complimentary Nuxe toiletries. (You could say I am somewhat obsessed with French skincare.) Check pricing and availability.
Things to do in Biarritz, France
Now that we’ve covered some travel tips, let’s get into the things you can’t miss in Biarritz. Luckily, the seaside town is easy to tackle by foot with a beach path that strategically brings you right along all the main sights in Biarritz.
1. Visit Grand Plage
Beach lovers, don’t delay and head straight to the postcard worthy Grand Plage. The main beach spans along the west coast of Biarritz bookended by Hôtel du Palais and Casino Barrière. Colorful striped beach tents that run alongside the promenade can also be rented for the day.
Want to get a peak at the beach as it is right now? Check out the live webcams!
2. See Plage du Port Vieux
The much smaller beach of Port Vieux is no less charming. With its horseshoe shape, it is more sheltered from harsh waves and is full of swimmers.
Eden Rock Cafe along the rocks is also known for being the ideal spot for an aperitif. I was hoping to get a drink there, but it appears they also take a vacation during August because they were closed. If you ever go, please let me know how it is!
3. Go to Côte des Basques
Biarritz is the birthplace of surfing in Europe with the first surfers arriving in 1956 on Côte des Basques. Producer Dick Zanuck and screenwriter Peter Viertel were on set for the film adaptation of The Sun Also Rises. With one look at the waves, they had Zanuck’s surfboard shipped from LA.
Peter Viertel is believed to be the first surfer in Europe and one of the pioneers of the surf community that would grow in the following years. Read more about the history of surfing and festivals in Biarritz.
Whether you are an experienced surfer, taking a lesson for the first time, or just a bystander watching, Côte des Basques has something for everyone.
4. Have Cocktails
Right along the promenade that runs parallel to Côte des Basques, you’ll find a few bars with prime outdoor seating for surfer/people-watching. I chose Carlos for its innovative drink list, prime views, beautiful interior and trendy (but not pretentious) vibe. Drinks were great, and the servers were friendly. Take a seat on the cushioned steps facing the ocean and watch the sunset.
5. Eat at the Restaurants
With Biarritz right next to Spain, you’ll find a thriving tapas scene with restaurants serving pintxos and bocadillos.
Since I live in Spain, I get plenty of Spanish food. So, I opted for a more traditional French speciality at Crêperie Sarrasin Biarritz. Galettes are made with buckwheat, naturally gluten free and an absolutely delicious savory meal. The galettes were so good that they rivaled my favorite gluten free restaurants in Paris. Complete with a stylish interior, friendly employees and local cider. Make a reservation!
Bar Jean has been serving tapas, paella, fish and traditional dishes since the 1930s. This place (along with neighboring French restaurant Le Cafe du Commerce) was packed when we walked by in the evening. Open all day, 7 days a week, a rarity in France and Europe in general.
Les Halles is a historical food market hall that first opened in 1885. Today it features stalls selling meat, fish, pastries, cheese, flowers, produce, coffee and more. Foodies can’t miss this market. Open every day 7:30 am to 2:00 pm with additional evening hours during July and August.
6. See Villa Belza
It is pretty hard to miss the Neo-Medieval palace jutting out on the rocks as you walk along the main path. Villa Belza was built in the late 1980s and named after the owner Ange Du Fresnay’s wife. The villa underwent many transformations as the decades passed. It was a restaurant that hosted lavish dinner galas, a hotel, a bunker during the Nazi occupation and then apartments.
A fire in the 1970s left the villa in a state of disrepair and it wasn’t until the 90s that the villa was restored to the luxury apartments it is today. One recently sold for 40,000 euros a square meter (breakdown for my fellow Americans: about 11 square feet in a square meter, current exchange rate at 1 to 1.18, that’s over 4,000 USD a square foot)!
7. Go to the Churches
Sainte-Eugénie Church of Biarritz sits on the hill above the port. Construction started in the late 19th century, but the location was previously the site of Notre-Dame-de-Pitié. Step inside to get a look at the stained glass windows
Biarritz also has a Russian Orthodox Church that was built in 1890 in the Neo-Byzantine style for the Russian community that frequently visited the city.
8. Stroll through Port des Pêcheurs
From the elevated position of Sainte-Eugénie Church, you could easily miss Port des Pêcheurs below. Be sure to take the pathway down to the marina that also passes Rocher du Basta. Along with restaurants serving fresh fish and local specialties, the port is also home to charming “crampottes” (small fishermen huts).
9. Walk to the Rocher de la Vierge
The Rock of the Virgin was historically used as a lookout point for whale watching. According to legend, the Virgin Mary statue was placed on top in 1865 after whalers were guided back to shore during a storm. Then, at the instruction of Napoleon III, the rock was joined with the mainland by a wooded footbridge and later replaced with a metal one.
After you cross the metal bridge, you can look back to see the Grand Plage, the Côtes des Basque and the Villa Belza.
10. Go to the Shops
Boutique shops are plentiful in Biarritz. You can find local specialties like espadrilles and Basque textiles, along with goods from French department store Galeries Lafayette. The juxtaposition of surf shops selling flip flops right alongside designer stores like Hermès is just another example of how Biarritz blends the two styles.