Last Updated on 11/14/2023
With a history as royalty’s summer resort destination and the birthplace of surfing in Europe, Biarritz perfectly marries luxury with laid back. I’ve visited on two separate occasions in July and 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.
The town with a local population of around 25,000 feels more like a village. On my second visit to Biarritz, I kept seeing the same people across town. I saw a woman working at 1001 Fromages getting her morning coffee at Lobita in Les Halles (both are places you should visit too!). While having a drink down in Le Port des Pecheurs, I recognized one of the employees from when we were waiting for the rain to pass in a cafe. Then, when we were having lunch at Cafe du Commerce, I saw a woman that I had seen earlier working at an espadrille shop.
All to say, even though Biarritz is it a top tourist destination in the Basque Country, it still feels like a small town. While the main things to do in this seaside town are relax on the beach and enjoy the shopping and local food, there are also a few sights 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.
*This post was first written in 2021 and updated in July 2023 after my second visit. Yes, this place is so wonderful I’ve been twice. This post also contains affiliate links at no cost to you. Thank you for your support and help running this site!*
- EAT: Cafe du Commerce & Crêperie Sarrasin
- SWIM: Plage du Port Vieux
- SEE: Grand Plage
- SURF: Côte des Basques
- SHOP: Espadrilles
- VISIT: Les Halles & Port des Pêcheurs
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 July or 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.
If you are in town for Bastille Day (also known as La Fête Nationale) on July 14th, you’ll also see a military parade. The celebrations also include parachuters landing on the main beach and an impressive firework show at night.
Where to Stay
I’ve written a whole post on the best hotels in Biarritz, but these are a few suggestions…
The Experimental Group just completed a full remodel of Le Regina in June of 2023. Choose one of the 72 rooms in the historical Art Deco building built in 1907. While it is on the outskirts of town, Regina Experimental is worth considering for those seeking a beautiful interior design complete with a glass-roofed atrium, brasserie and heated pool. Check pricing and availability.
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. Check pricing and availability.
The Hôtel Littéraire Jules Verne is an excellent mid-range choice (but can also be quite expensive during the high season). The location is 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.
This was a bit of a bucket list item for me, so I emailed the listed contact on the Biarritz tourism page. It took 15 email exchanges to navigate the French bureaucracy of renting one for the day. I’ll save you a few emails.
Here’s what to expect: A woman named Nelly will send you the contract for you to sign and return. The tent is 15 euros for the whole day, an additional 10 for two chairs. Payment can be sent via wire transfer and nonrefundable in the event of rain. The day I reserved was not exactly beach weather (see below) – sigh.
My disappointment can be slightly curbed knowing I can pass along the process and information to you, despite missing out on the experience myself and being out 15 euros.
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.
Want to get a peak at the beach as it is right now? Check out the live webcams!
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.
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.
4. Go Shopping
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.
5. Enjoy the local food & restaurants
With Biarritz so close to the Spanish border, 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 restaurants with more traditional French specialities.
Crêperie Sarrasin Biarritz serves galettes that are made with buckwheat, naturally gluten free and make 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!
With Cafe du Commerce being open from 8am to 2 am you can literally have any meal here and drinks in between (may I suggest the Hugo spritz). The menu features tapas, French cuisine and charcuterie. Get the French fries!
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. Join the line of chic French women and surfers for coffee at Lobita. Open every day 7:30 am to 2:00 pm with additional evening hours during July and August.
While you’re in the area, stop at Maison Dezamy for really delicious ice cream.
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. Take the Petite Train
If you’re short on time (or just fancy a fun drive around town like me), catch the Petite Train down at the Grand Plage near Dorin cafe. Not only is this fun for kids, the 30 minute journey passes by the top sights in Biarritz. The 7 euro ticket includes an audio guide that gives information about each place. You can also choose the longer itinerary for 8 euros that goes all the way to lighthouse. See more information about routes and the schedule.
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.