Things to do in Bordeaux often involve the region’s famous wine appellations. Lying in the southwest of France, near the Atlantic Ocean, Bordeaux conjures up images of rolling vineyards, serene chateaux, and clinking glasses of ruby-red wine.
Bordeaux is very much the France you see on nostalgic postcards, all chic cafés and elegant boulevards. There’s also cutting-edge architecture, an old quarter brimming with UNESCO World Heritage sites, and fabulous shopping opportunities to uncover.
From exploring its many museums to sampling the region’s famous wine, discover the 11 best things to do in Bordeaux below.
Wander Historic Old Bordeaux
Cross the Napoleon-commissioned Pont de Pierre, the oldest bridge in Bordeaux, to reach this characterful quarter. Spread over a central area on the left bank of the River Garonne, Old Bordeaux consists of St. Pierre, St. Colombe, St. Michel, and St. Croix.
There are plenty of things to do in the old quarter to keep you occupied all day. Start by climbing to the top of the 15th-century Porte Cailhau, one of the city’s medieval gates that resembles a small fairytale castle. Porte Cailhau offers fantastic city views from 115 feet above the city.
Tour the Grosse Cloche, the Big Bell—ringing out to mark Bastille Day, V.E. Day, and other special occasions—and peek inside its eerie dungeons.
Visit Bordeaux’s Gothic Saint-André Cathedral, built between the 12th and 14th centuries. Admire its pearly twin spires, the freestanding bell tower, and the extraordinary collection of art and antiquities inside.
The nearby Saint Seurin Basilica is the oldest church in Bordeaux, originating in the 6th century, although it was added to in the 12th and 14th centuries. The Basilica of St Michael, meanwhile, has the tallest spire, standing at 374 feet.
Other historical French landmarks of Old Bordeaux include the Grand-Théâtre, with its imposing 17th-century stone columns, and the 18th-century Place de la Bourse, a wide-open square shimmering in the Miroir d’Eau, an enormous reflective pool opposite.
Simply strolling the city’s lively streets, stopping for coffee or a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, and browsing the many stores is one of the best ways to spend an afternoon in the city.
Spend a Day at the Seaside in La Rochelle
The picturesque Atlantic town of La Rochelle, once known as France’s principal salt and wine trading port, makes for a compelling seaside day out.
Steeped in history, three 14th and 15th-century stone towers—once used to accommodate prisoners—watch over the Old Port. Climb the spire-topped Lantern Tower to take in La Rochelle’s terracotta rooftops and the glistening ocean views.
In the Old Town, discover La Rochelle’s ancient arcade streets, with their delightful crooked buildings and period architecture.
Marvel at the Old Town’s beautiful religious landmarks, including the Cloister Of The White Ladies, Saint Louis Cathedral, and Saint Saviour Church of La Rochelle. Peek inside the cathedral to view the ceiling frescoes by artist William Bouguereau.
Once you’ve explored the alleyways and meandering streets, head back to the harbor for food and drinks. Savor a chilled Cremant de Bordeaux, the delicious sparkling wine of the Bordeaux wine region, at Bar André as you polish off a plate of rich Atlantic oysters.
Taste Gourmet Fare at Marché Des Capucins
Things to do in Bordeaux typically involve food, and the city’s belly is the vibrant Marché des Capucins, a covered market in the Saint-Michel neighborhood.
Jostle with locals over the market’s butchers, bakers, fresh fruit and vegetable stalls, chocolate makers, wine merchants, cheesemakers, and fishmongers.
Taste regional cheeses, cured meats, and fresh shellfish before picking out a selection of Bordeaux’s favorite patisserie: canelés, vanilla-flavored, rum-drenched, sweet pastries with a soft sponge center and caramelized crust.
From freshly baked croissants and a range of pâtés to seafood straight from the Atlantic Ocean, Marché des Capucins is a must-visit for the gourmet traveler in Bordeaux.
Shop on Bordeaux’s Rue Sainte-Catherine
Paris might have the Champs-Élysées, but Bordeaux has rue Sainte-Catherine. Unlike Paris’s main shopping thoroughfare, however, rue Sainte-Catherine is pedestrianized, cutting through the city’s historic quarter with a mix of designer, big brand, and independent stores.
Browse chic French brands Sandro, Gérard Darel, and Soeur at the department store Galeries Lafayette.
The immaculate Promenade Sainte-Catherine offers a mix of food outlets and international brands over two stories around a central open-air courtyard.
For a thoughtful gift to take home, pick up copper canelé molds from the divine Maison Baillardran, and treat yourself to a selection of sweet treats as you shop.
Enjoy a Day Trip to Cognac
The charming commune of Cognac, home of the silky brandy that bears its name, lies midway between La Rochelle and Bordeaux.
Cognac is surrounded by the region’s rolling green vineyards, while the town is home to winding cobbled streets filled with centuries-old buildings that France is known for.
Enjoy morning coffee on Place François 1er and check out the kaleidoscope of fresh produce at Place d’Armes, Cognac’s covered market.
Wander the beautiful old quarter between Saint-Léger church and the River Charente, which runs through Cognac. The ancient streets are filled with boulangeries, chocolatiers, bistros, and bars.
Admire the pretty shuttered houses and browse local boutiques as you stroll to the 10th-century Château de Cognac, on the banks of the river.
You could visit one of the big four distillers—Hennessy, Martell, Rémy Martin, and Courvoisier—for a tour and tasting session. Alternatively, opt for a tour of Château de Cognac’s cellars to understand the backstory of the French castle and taste the varieties of its amber-hued drink.
Sip Wines at La Cité du Vin
Bordeaux is the largest, oldest, and, arguably, most respected wine-producing region in the world, so sipping on a selection of prestigious wines is something you can’t miss here.
Châteaus Cordeillan-Bages, Margaux, and Mouton Rothschild are among the biggest names in Bordeaux wine, but at the jaw-dropping La Cité du Vin—a museum dedicated to wine with tasting rooms and restaurants—you can sample an array of wines from the region and beyond.
The striking building was designed by architects Anouk Legendre and Nicholas Desmazières of Paris’ XTU Agency in a curving, futuristic style.
Visitors can learn about the history of wine at the permanent exhibition, while the eighth-floor Belvedere is the place to take in views reaching across Bordeaux and sample the local vintages.
La Cité du Vin also has a program of concerts, screenings, lectures, and a boutique where you could pick up a range of gifts, including objects for the home, books, wine-related items, and gourmet treats.
Once you’ve explored the exhibitions and browsed the gift shop, feast on dishes at La Cité du Vin’s sophisticated Restaurant Le 7. Opt for the sublime white asparagus with matured comté cheese and roasted pistachios, paired with a wine recommended by the sommelier.
Discover Exceptional Museums
If you’re thirsty for a day of culture, visiting Bordeaux’s outstanding museums is time well spent. Not only do they contain fascinating collections of art, antiques, and artifacts, but they’re housed in magnificent buildings.
The resplendent Bordeaux Museum of Fine Arts, located on the edge of Jardins de la Mairie, showcases wall-to-wall collections of paintings, sculptures, and drawings from the 15th to the 20th century. Browse works by some of Europe’s most prominent artists, including Chardin, Delacroix, Van Dyck, Le Pérugin, Matisse, Picasso, and Renoir.
The Museum of Contemporary Art in Les Chartrons explores the works of modern artists, including Christian Boltanski, Keith Haring, Richard Long, and Max Neuhaus.
For a history lesson on Bordeaux, the Museum of Aquitaine traces the city’s past from prehistory through to the present day. Wander the exhibitions to explore artifacts, texts, portraits, and statues.
The 16th-century tomb and cenotaph of Michel de Montaigne, a Renaissance writer and philosopher, are a highlight of the Museum of Aquitaine.
Bordeaux’s National Customs Museum, set on the spectacular Place de la Bourse, charts the history of French customs, while Musée Mer Marine, just around the corner from the Cité du Vin, reflects on the region’s maritime heritage. Atlases, model ships, drawings, maps, and navigational equipment are on display.
Relax in Bordeaux’s Bucolic Public Garden
Established in 1746, just a pebble’s throw from the river, Bordeaux’s family-friendly Public Garden is home to the Natural History Museum, a puppet theater, playgrounds, and a large pond.
The park spans almost 27 acres, and visitors can wander among the horse chestnut, Italian stone pine, Lebanese cedar, English walnut, and tulip trees.
The old-fashioned-style merry-go-round is enchanting to watch, while the city’s original Botanical Gardens (a newer botanical garden lies across the river), opened in the 1850s, is home to 209 flower beds.
Enjoy a boat ride on the pretty pond followed by a picnic of delicious local produce, including a selection of charcuterie, cheese, and fresh bread, picked up on rue Fondaudège, to the southwest of the park.
Explore Château de la Roche Courbon
Lying a one-hour drive south of La Rochelle and roughly 90-minutes north of Bordeaux, between Saintes and Rochefort, Château de la Roche Courbon is a beautiful castle and sumptuous gardens.
La Roche Courbon took its present shape in the 17th century when the Courbon family transformed the existing castle on the site into a magnificent chateau, featuring a Mansard-style roof design, four towers, and a large keep.
The imposing chateau has been abandoned and restored over the centuries and continues to be privately owned, though it is open to the public.
Join a guided tour of the castle and gardens to make the most out of your visit. Explore the ornate period architecture and interiors, including sculptures and a vast collection of art.
The formal gardens—listed as one of the Notable Gardens of France—are a masterpiece of landscaping, with exquisite topiary, statues, an orchard, flower garden, geometric flower beds, and lawns surrounding a lake.
La Roche Courbon’s permanent exhibition traces the chateau’s history, revealing ancient caverns that weave beneath the grounds and the mammoth restoration works that took place in the 20th century.
Cycle Around the City
Lace up your sneakers to cycle around Bordeaux. With 734 miles of cycle paths in and around the city, lush parks, and many central attractions clustered close together, Bordeaux is a wonderful city to explore on two wheels. More to the point, it’s flat.
Bordeaux’s V3 is a network of 186 bike stations, with around 1,000 electric and 1,000 manual bikes available for rent.
Opt for a loop of the wide River Garonne, cycling along the scenic and leafy right bank to the modern Chaban-Delmas Bridge to reach the left bank. Follow the river south through the buzzy Chartrons neighborhood to Old Bordeaux, where many of the city’s most significant landmarks are.
The right bank boasts the leafy Parc aux Angéliques with a selection of riverside cafés and restaurants to enjoy drinks and a bite to eat, along with some of the best views of Bordeaux.
Drive to the Ancient Town of Saintes
A colossal Gallo-Roman amphitheater once dominated the western fringes of Saintes, a medieval city with a village-like old town in western France.
A remnant of the Roman Empire, the town’s amphitheater once saw thousands of spectators pile into its stands to watch gladiator fights, animal hunts, and other forms of “entertainment” of the day.
Centered around the River Charente, Saintes is a walkable city and perfect for exploring on foot. The pedestrianized center is dotted with ancient churches, interesting museums, and cute cafés.
From the amphitheater, walk to the 15th-century St. Peter’s Cathedral, with its elaborate but unfinished tower, topped with a domed bell that can be seen from afar, towering above the city.
Browse the city’s Museum Échevinage, housed inside the beautiful former town hall, where you can view paintings, sculptures, ceramics, and Sèvres porcelain ranging from the 15th to the 20th century.
Cross the river to the striking Arch of Germanicus, a 2,000-year-old Roman structure consisting of two arches, before taking in the relics of the city’s Archaeological Museum.
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