Bordeaux has perfected the balance between old and new, creating an enthralling mixture of beautifully restored historic buildings, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, and innovative modern architecture.
Either by luck or the design of the energetic city government, "La Belle Bordeaux" is a city where everything seems to come together. It's an economic powerhouse, selling wine and financial services far and wide. It's a lively student town, a cultural hub, and a UNESCO-protected historical site. In other words, quite a destination.
Prepare to be delighted. Whether you just fancy sampling some of the world's finest wine, need an injection of historical knowledge, or just want to experience French culture at its finest, Bordeaux is the ideal place to visit.
Among the most impressive features of Bordeaux are recent regeneration projects like the Wet Docks (or 'Bassins à Flot'). Left to decay for years, the Wet Docks are know one of Europe's hottest night spots, with great cafes, music venues, and restaurants.
Bordeaux has a stunning array of historical architecture (hence its UNESCO status). Tour gorgeous neo-classical buildings like the Grand Théâtre, medieval monuments like the 11th-century Bordeaux Cathedral, and 18th-century spaces like the Place de la Bourse, probably Bordeaux's most photogenic spot.
Across the world, the name "Bordeaux" is synonymous with (dangerously) drinkable red wines, or clarets. You can take vineyard tours and visit inner-city wine bars, but there's more than wine to savor. From steak cooked in wine to superb shellfish and decadent Cannelés pastries, Bordeaux is a gastronomic delight as well.
Art has been a huge part of Bordeaux's rise to greatness, and with the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, the city has two of France's best galleries. October's Bordeaux International Arts Festival (FAB) is a great time to find out why the city has become such a prominent part of the global cultural scene.
Getting around Bordeaux is so easy that it should almost be listed as a major attraction. From buses and trams to river ferries (which are a great way to see the sights), reaching every corner of the city is simple, and the center of town can be seen on foot as well.
The beautiful Cathedrale St. Andre dominates the city center of Bordeaux. First consecrated in 1096, only a single wall remains from this period and the bulk of the cathedral dates from the 14th and 15th centuries. This Gothic masterpiece is considered the largest and most beautiful religious building in all of Aquitaine. Its two towers soar to 265 feet and inside you will find the superb Marcade collection of 42 illuminations and other religious artifacts. Alongside the cathedral, the bell tower of Tour Pey Berland presents an opportunity for a challenging climb and fabulous views.
The Opéra National de Bordeaux is housed in the superb Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux. This imposing building was inaugurated in 1780 and has since hosted countless ballets, operas, and other performances. The theater was designed by Victor Louis to be a temple to the arts and the architect has certainly achieved that. From the huge entrance hall and staircase to the soaring auditorium itself, the scale and skill of the building's construction is truly breathtaking. It is also one of a very few wooden-framed opera houses in Europe not to have been damaged by fire and to still exist in its original form. The interior was brought back to its original vibrancy by a restoration in 1991.
The stunning Place de la Bourse is perhaps the most iconic sight in Bordeaux. It was built by Ange-Jacques Gabriel, Louis XV's First Architect, from 1730 to 1775 and dominates the banks of the Garonne. This elegant square is loved by both visitors and the local Bordelais and makes a fine place to take a stroll. The vast rectangular place is bordered on three sides by the Hotel de la Bourse, Hotel des Fermes, and the central pavilion, while the fourth side is left open to the river. In the center of the square you will find the spectacular fountain of the Three Graces, which was installed in 1869. The square is a favorite spot for souvenir photographs and is a must-see on any trip to Bordeaux.
The church of St. Seurin Basilica dates from the 11th century and is one of the oldest buildings in Bordeaux. It was built by the local monks to provide accommodation for pilgrims on the Saint James de Compostela pilgrimage route. The church was added to in the 13th century with the construction of the Gothic entrance on the south facade and again with the construction of several chapels in the 14th and 15th century. A huge pipe organ was installed in the 18th century. The large structure and surrounding grounds make for a peaceful oasis in the city center.
The Pont de Pierre is a landmark bridge in Bordeaux that connects the left bank of the Garonne at Cours Victor Hugo with the right bank at Quartier de la Bastide. The bridge is located close to the Place de la Bourse. Constructed from 1819 to 1822, this was the first bridge to be built across the Garonne at Bordeaux and was originally planned under orders from Napoleon. Indeed, the 17 arches of the bridge commemorate the 17 letters in the name 'Napoleon Bonaparte'. A walk across the bridge in the evening under its ornate streetlamps is lovely and romantic.
Bordeaux has the kind of cultural and architectural attractions that make it a year-round destination. Perhaps the best time to visit is between April and June, when the weather is mild and the vacationing crowds from other parts of France haven't materialized. If not, try October for a fall break, when room rates should drop considerably.
Bordeaux-Mérignac Airport (BOD) is connected to North America via London Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle, so it's easy to reach. Fast buses run into the city center every 45 minutes and cost EUR7.40, and Hello Shuttle door-to-door services are EUR8.30. However, it might be better to catch a local bus for just EUR1.50. Look for bus route 1, just outside the Arrivals area. Expect a taxi to cost around EUR30.
Bordeaux has excellent high-speed rail connections with Paris and other European cities. However, be aware that the Gare Bordeaux Saint Jean is a couple of miles outside the city center, so a taxi or tram ride may be needed.
If you are driving to Bordeaux from Paris, simply take the A10 Autoroute and it runs directly into central Bordeaux. From Barcelona, take the E15, the A9, and then the A62. If you are picking up a rental car at Mérignac, take the E5 ring road northbound and leave it at Junction 7, towards 'centre ville.'
Bus companies running services to the terminal Rue des Terres de Borde include Eurolines, Megabus, and Flixbus, with affordable fares from all major French cities (and plenty of European destinations as well).
Central Bordeaux has a wide range of wonderful hotels and guesthouses. The Hôtel Particulier on Rue Vital Carles is a great boutique option, with excellent service and beautiful furnishings. If you need to be at the heart of things, the Hôtel du Théâtre is near shopping and cultural attractions on the Rue de la Maison Daurade, while the InterContinental Bordeaux Le Grand offers 5-star accommodation, a spa and wellness center, and a city center location.
The Bassins à Flot - Bordeaux's wet docks have been transformed in recent years, with incredible results. Now, it's home to the remarkable La Cité du Vin museum and tasting center, cool underground venues like the Submarine Base, and plenty of cafes, bars, and eateries.
Saint-Pierre - upscale, elegant, and full of character, Saint-Pierre oozes Gallic charm. As well as hundreds of independent stores, it's also home to the gorgeous Place de la Bourse and historical highlights like the 15th-century Porte Cailhau.
Saint-Michel - right next door to Saint-Pierre, Saint-Michel is Bordeaux's gastronomic hub. Attractions include the Marché des Capucins indoor market and exceptional restaurants like La Brasserie Taverne du Passage, along with Japanese and Moroccan alternatives.
Bordeaux's public transportation system is a joy to use, with trams, buses, and bike hire services available. Single bus or tram tickets cost EUR1.50, but it's a better idea to buy packs of 5 or 10 tickets for EUR5.90 or EUR11.30. Tickets can also be used on the river ferries, which provide memorable views of the bridges across the River Garonne.
Taxis in Bordeaux are rarely needed, with a compact core and all-night public transportation. If you do need a cab, the best option is to use Uber, who charge a meter drop of EUR1, then around EUR1.5 per mile.
Renting a car makes sense in Bordeaux. Even if you aren't staying in an out-of-town chateau, with your own car you can access rural wineries and nearby historical attractions like the Château de Duras. Rental companies in town include Thrifty, Sixt, and Hertz, and you should be able to find rates of EUR15 per day or less.
Bordeaux is a heavenly shopping destination, and not just for wine lovers. Head to the pedestrianized city center for the best shopping opportunities. The Rue Sainte-Catherine and the Rue Saint-James are lined with apparel boutiques, jewelers, and fragrance stores. Check out fashion boutiques like Petrusse and Wolford, and small perfumers like Parfumerie de l'Opéra for a range of classically French luxury goods.
If you need to stock up on groceries and other essentials, department stores like Galeries Lafayette are handy for clothes and accessories, while Auchan and Carrefour offer a huge selection of food and drink. Prices are fairly moderate, at EUR3.30 or so for a gallon of milk or EUR2.70 for 12 eggs.
Eating out in Bordeaux is an incredible experience, if you pick well. Thankfully, there are hundreds of exceptional brasseries in town waiting to take your order. Belle Campagne in Saint-Pierre offers a fine seasonal menu, Le Flacon on Rue Cheverus is a fabulous gastro-wine bar, while Miles fuses French ingredients with a cosmopolitan portfolio of chefs. For true 5-star treatment, give Le Pressoir d'Argent at the Regent hotel a try - you won't be disappointed. Prices vary significantly, from around EUR10 for three course meals to upwards of EUR60 at the finest restaurants.