Trying to decide what the best things to do in Bordeaux, France are? Look no further!
With culinary delights to entice the senses, rich French wine to sip and savor, and historic architecture and monuments second only to Paris, you’ll find yourself utterly enchanted by the Southwestern French city of Bordeaux.
Bordeaux has a lot to offer and is often overlooked by many travellers. However, I’m here to show you why you should spend at least a weekend in Bordeaux by sharing 10 best things to do in Bordeaux!
To break down your perfect weekend in Bordeaux, here is what I’m talking about in this article:
With its thoughtfully preserved 18th-century urban areas and its graceful port on the Garonne River, Bordeaux was given the title of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, hence protecting its old town. Thanks to its crescent geological shape, Bordeaux has been nicknamed Port of the Moon. The city is primarily known for its Bordeaux wine, but there are so many more amazing features in this French gem.
Bordeaux City Pass
Most of the attractions that we visited during our two days in Bordeaux were covered by the Bordeaux CityPass. This tourist card is available with 24, 48 and 72-hour options, and have amazing benefits including:
- Free public transportation on all trams, buses and the river shuttle
- Free access to 7 museums and 2 monuments
- A free visit to Cité du Vin – the Wine Museum
- One free tour of Bordeaux
- Discounts on wine tours, cruises and more
With the 72-hour card, you even get to enjoy two additional free tours and a discounted tour:
- Guided Tour of Underground Saint-Emilion
- Guided Tour of the Citadel of Blaye
- Boating Around on the Bird Island (discounted)
The three cards are €29, €39 and €43 for the 24, 48 and 72-hours options respectively. Considering that a visit to the Cité du Vin itself would already cost €20 ($22), we found the Bordeaux City Pass to be extremely value for money. This would be a must-get for visiting Bordeaux and making the most out of the city and its offerings.
1. Walk on the world’s largest reflecting pool
Located opposite the Place de la Bourse, between the Quai de la Douane and the Quai Louis XVIII, this spectacular work was designed by landscape designer Michel Corajoud and Pierre Gangnet as part of plans for the revitalisation of the Bordeaux urban waterfront.
\The square is actually made up granite slabs covered by two centimeters of water. It creates a mirror effect (hence the name Miroir d’Eau, which means Water Mirror in French) and gives off an extraordinary beautiful reflection of the surrounding architecture.
I came here during sunset and there were so many tourists and locals alike frolicking around and playing with the water mist. An invitation for you to take off those shoes and literally walk on water!
2. Be surrounded by art at the Bassins de Lumières
If you come to Bordeaux but not come here, you are TOTALLY missing out! Not farfetched to say that the Bassins des Lumières was the main highLIGHT of our weekend in Bordeaux.
Once a submarine base built by the Germans during WWII, today the Bassins de Lumières is the world’s largest digital art exhibition dedicated to historical and contemporary art. At our time of visit, there was a special exhibition on the Italian city of Venice.
The entire exhibition was a completely immersive experience, and it was just SO. DAZZINGLY. BEAUTIFUL! The art paintings are projected all over the walls of the basins, and reflected in the glimmering waters of the 4 pools. I’m not an art lover or art gallery goer but this display was simply spell-binding.
Walking in the dark, the lights and music immerses you into the art completely, without being too loud or too much for the senses.
This is an art experience is definitely a feast for the eyes and ears, and certainly a must visit in Bordeaux! I’m even more heartened by how an old submarine base once with a dark historic past, can be transformed into a cultural site emitting the beauty and light of art.
3. Learn about wine at the Cité du Vin
Our favourite museum in Bordeaux has got to be the Cité du Vin wine museum. To say this is a state-of-the-art museum would be an understatement. The amount of information given is massive, from the history of winemaking to the different crops all over the world.
Nearly all of the 20 exhibits and informational displays are interactive, which makes it really fun and interesting to learn more about wine. The most interesting ones for me was the Buffet of 5 Senses where you can smell the different scents of wine, as well as the digital vine where you can click and learn about the different grape varieties!
Nevertheless, I did felt that it was a shame there wasn’t a section dedicated to explaining more about Borderlais wine. Especially considering that Bordeaux is world-renowned for its top grade wine and visitors would have came to the museum hoping to learn a little more about the unique traits and specialties of wine from this region.
Before you leave, don’t forget to head upstairs to the top floor to the Belvèdere bar! Your entrance ticket comes with a free wine tasting. Clink your glasses and toast to the beautiful panoramic view of Bordeaux outside at the terrace!
4. Shop till you drop on Europe’s longest pedestrian shopping street
Nestled in the heart of Bordeaux, the Rue St. Catherine is the the longest shopping street in Europe. Stretching all the way from Cours de l’Intendance to the Place de la Victoire, it spans a distance of 1,250 m.
Here you will find over 230 stores, from fast-fashion chains like Zara, H&M, COS to local french brands boutiques. You’re bound to leave with your hands full of shopping bags by the time you reach the end of the street!
5. Admire the Monument aux Girondins at Place des Quinconces
This site is the largest city square in France, and is named after the quinconces trees planted in staggered rows on each side of an esplanade.
It stands on the grounds of the former Château Trompette, a castle-fortress built during the reign of King Charles VII. You would have thought that such a mighty fortress must have been built for defensive purposes. But in fact, it was meant to curb internal rebellion, with the guns pointed inwards towards the city centre and its inhabitants. It was demolished after the French Revolution.
Located right at the centre of the square is the impressive looking Monument aux Girondins, which was built commemorate the Girondists (one of the first republican political faction to openly denounce the French monarchy. There’s four different scenes on the gushing bronze fountains (Triumph of the Concorde, Triumph of the Republic, the Tribune and the city of Bordeaux) and its column is surmounted by a Statue of Liberty breaking her chains.
Today, the Place des Quinconces is used to hold concerts, festivals, carnivals all year round in the heart of Bordeaux. At the time of our visit, there was even a fun vintage car show going on!
6. Immerse in Bordeaux maritime history at Musée Mer Marine
Having opened its doors just in 2018, the Musée Mer Marine is the newer kid on the block in Bordeaux’s cultural scene. It is a fascinating site to visit, especially for those who love the sea and ships and boats. I was particularly impressed by the sculpture at the entrance of the first floor exhibition, a display of vintage boat models hanging down from the ceiling!
The first floor is devoted to the history of civilizations from all continents as well as the history of Bordeaux and great French navigators. On the second floor, there’s a large collection of ship models, and even a replica of the Titanic. However, I felt that the content here is less interactive as compared to the ones at Cité du Vin, and some of the exhibits are shown only in French, so it might be less kid-friendly.
There was also a highly informative temporary exhibition “Planet or Plastic?” by the National Geographic which opened our eyes to the harmful effects of plastic pollution and its impact on the oceans.
7. Take a river cruise on the Garonne
If you are looking to explore Bordeaux from a different perspective, a guided river cruise tour would be a perfect option. Even better, this activity is also included in your Bordeaux City Pass!
We went for a 1.5 hours historic tour, where the tour guide presented to us the history of its maritime and port activity and its wine trade. It was a relaxing way to appreciate the waterfront facades of Bordeaux, while getting our bearings of the city.
We sailed past several landmarks including the Quai Richelieu, Pont de Pierre, Place de la Bourse and the Basilica of St Michael.
As we had other activities lined up for the day, we took the cruise at 2pm. Unfortunately it was quite hot in the mid-afternoon (this was during end of summer). I would say that a better time for the cruise would be closer to evening time.
And in case you were wondering, why does the Garonne river look so..MURKY? Well, I had the same thoughts initially too! Well, its definitely not DIRTY, in fact the Garonne is one of the cleanest rivers you can find! Our guide explained to us that due to the oceanic tides, the river comes up against the incoming current made up of salty seawater and sediment (clay), thus giving it its natural brown colour.
Finally, if you fancy some dining on the cruise, Most of these cruises on the Garonne include wine tasting, an aperitif or even an evening 3 course meal!
8. Go on a daytrip to medieval village of St Emilion
Wine-enthusiasts would certainly need no introduction to St Emilion, as this is another famous region in France. This picturesque medieval village is a mere hour away from Bordeaux by car, and a favourite choice amongst tourist for a daytrip out to visit the chateaus and grape vineyards.
However, if you’re interested in a tour (even a basic one), you usually have to either make an appointment or book online. So it will require some advance planning, but I highly recommend visiting at least one chateau when in this region. We had a guided tour at Chateau Pressac and also visited the monolithic cellars of Chateau-Rochebelle.
9. Visit Europe’s highest sand dunes
I had never associated Bordeaux with sandy beaches, but in fact one of The Guardian’s 50 Best Beaches in the World is right here in the southwest of France! At just an hour’s distance from Bordeaux, the Dune du Pilat is the highest sand dunes in Europe and is a great adventure for a daytrip option.
I had only been to the Lancelin Sand Dunes in Perth, Australia in the past, but the Dune du Pilat is truly an incredible sight to behold.
It is quite physically challenging to climb up to the top of the sand dunes and during the afternoon, the sand can be quite scorching on the feet, but persevere on…because the views are well worth the exhaustion.
At the top you will find a jaw-dropping landscape over the blue ocean, the green forest and Arcachon Bay. It’s unforgettable.
10. Snack on some cannelés!
When you think of France, macarons, croissants and baguettes would probably come to mind… but the cannelé is THE ultimate emblem of Bordeaux! Flavoured with rum and vanilla, this cute French pastry has a tender custard centre and a dark, thick caramelized crust, and I assure you that they are simply mouth-wateringly addictive. I snacked on at least 5 of these during my short 2 days in Bordeaux!
I got my cannelés from Chez La Toque Cuivrée: they have multiple outlets and there’s also one right smack on Rue St Catherine, they even have an outlet at the Bordeaux airport for your last minute purchase. But there are also other popular traditional establishments like Chez Baillardran (you can find this at the airport for last minute purchases!) and St Nicolas pâtisserie.
How to Get to Bordeaux
From Switzerland, or any major city in France, the fastest way to get to Bordeaux is by plane. We took an EasyJet flight and it took us just under 1.5 hours to arrive in Bordeaux.
From Paris, the flight duration is about an hour as well. If you choose to come by the TGV train from Paris, this would take you about 2 hr and 15 minutes.
I would recommend renting a car if you are looking to combine your city trip in Bordeaux with daytrips to St Emilion. It makes it easier especially if you want to visit specific vineyards in the area, which can be pretty inaccessible since there’s practically no other public transport options.
Best time to Visit Bordeaux
The best time of year to visit Bordeaux is between late August to early October. This is especially if you are keen on exploring the vineyards within this famous wine region, since this would be the period of the grape harvest.
Where to Stay in Bordeaux
Our accommodation at Bordeaux was at Mercure City Centre. Admittedly, I did felt that in terms of location, it was not entirely ideal: while it is situated within the Mériadeck business district, it is still about 15 minutes away from the city centre, and at night, the roads were not very well-lit, I would have felt a little unsafe if I were heading back by myself.
However, since the hotel was close to the tram line, the walk was not a major issue for us. Besides, the comfort and its sleek, modern facilities more than made up for the further distance.
The bar and lounge at the lobby looks newly furnished and the breakfast buffet had such a huge delicious spread every morning, I made sure to have my stomach well filled before I set off for the day!
Are you planning a trip to Bordeaux? Let me know in the comments below which is your favourite activity! Bon voyage!
View my other Swiss itineraries here:
L’Office de tourisme et des Congrès de Bordeaux Métropole
Contact: +33 5 56 00 66 00
This post is made in collaboration with Bordeaux Tourism. All opinions are my own.