Bordeaux basks by the Garonne River in the southwest of France.
The city has a fascinating history. It was once the capital of Roman Aquitaine, and later ruled by the Celts, the Vandals and the Franks. From the 17th century it was a major European hub for the transportation of slaves and sugar from the West Indies. Today Bordeaux is of course renowned as one of France’s top wine-producing regions.
Bordeaux’s stunning neo-classical architecture makes a simple stroll through this UNESCO World Heritage-listed city feel very grand indeed.
Enjoy this Bordeaux travel guide.
Bordeaux for history lovers
Many visitors to Bordeaux are understandably interested in the history of one of the world’s most famous drops.
Grapes have been harvested here since Roman times. Learn more of the history of wine production in the region at Musée du Vin et du Négoce de Bordeaux, or head for the architecturally-stunning La Cité du Vin — which opened its doors in 2016. Enjoy a wine tasting at the rooftop bar after you’ve perused the state-of-the-art exhibitions.
The collection at Musée d’Aquitaine chronicles the general history of Bordeaux from prehistoric times to the present day. There’s an interesting section devoted to the city’s role in the slave trade of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The lucrative trade gave rise to the opulent city you see around you.
Take a stroll past the Palais Gallien — the atmospheric ruins of a Roman amphitheatre (circa 100 AD). It’s located just outside the city centre.
Top cultural experiences in Bordeaux
Culture vultures are well catered for in Bordeaux.
The Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux stages opera, ballet and theatre. Afterwards, enjoy a hot chocolate on the terrace of Le Grand Hôtel opposite. Take in the hip hop kids trying new moves in the square, the shiny blue trams gliding past, and the locals enjoying an evening promenade.
Bordeaux has several cultural institutions worth visiting, including the fabulous Musée des Beaux-Arts (Museum of Fine Arts), Musée d’Art Contemporain (Museum of Contemporary Art, also known as CAPC), and the Base sous-marine. This former Nazi submarine base is now a cultural facility, and hosts various exhibitions, concerts and events.
You may also have the opportunity to attend a concert at a wine chateau, where a glass or two of the home drop is usually included in the ticket price. Check with the Bordeaux Tourism Office for options during your visit.
If you feel like taking in a flick, the quaint Utopia cinemas show both French and foreign films in their original language.
Great places to eat in Bordeaux
Eating is taken very seriously in Bordeaux.
Both lunch and dinner are often three course affairs with sides and wine.
Thanks to the region’s amazing fresh produce, the agreeable climate, the relaxed environment and the quality of the local drop, Bordeaux attracts plenty of high-profile chefs. Le Bordeaux Gordon Ramsay at Le Grand Hôtel offers various specialties of the region with a British twist.
For those with holiday budget to burn, try Michelin-starred Le Bistrot du Gabriel or dine amongst the vines at Château de Candale. Traditional specialities include confit de canard (duck confit), entrecôte bordelaise (steak cooked with red wine, spring onions, pepper, thyme and, bien sur, butter!), and escargot (snails).
With its close proximity to the Atlantic coast, Bordeaux enjoys great seafood. For dessert or an afternoon snack, try the famous canalé — a spongy caramel-flavoured cake that can quickly become addictive!
Wine lovers — head out and explore one of the five wine regions within easy reach of the city. You can stop off at your choice of cellar doors for tastings, and perhaps pick up a bottle or two to enjoy later. An organised wine tour takes the guess-work out of which chateaux to visit.
Where to shop in Bordeaux
The Bordelaise and Bordelaises certainly love to shop!
On Saturdays they pack the city centre, loaded up with designer shopping bags.
Start your shopping expedition with a shot or two of coffee (‘un café‘ for a short black, ‘café noisette‘ for a dash of milk, or ‘café crème‘ for a milk coffee) at la porte Dijeaux. Then hit rue de la porte Dijeaux, rue Saint Rémi, and the pedestrianised rue Sainte Catherine. Vuitton, Hermès, Saint Laurent and friends congregate on Cours de l’Intendance.
Along the Bordeaux quays, you’ll find historic warehouses that have been converted into boutiques. They often offer discounts on last season’s fashions, designer kitchenware and more. For arts, crafts and trinkets, head to the historic Saint-Pierre district, which also has a number of picturesque squares and a tonne of cafés.
Ways to relax in Bordeaux
A visit to Bordeaux will leave you feeling relaxed and revitalised.
The city is quite flat and bike riding is a popular way to get around. There are plenty of hire shops and a public bike hire system. Book a bike tour for a guided introduction to charming parts of the city you might not find on your own.
A cruise on the Garonne River is a delightfully relaxed way to see the city, especially when you combine it with a welcome aperitif and three-course lunch. An afternoon could otherwise be spent strolling by the river or walking barefoot across the Miroir d’eau (the world’s largest reflecting pool).
The Bordelaise/s love to get out of town if the weather is nice, and many have a second home on the coast at Arcachon or Lacanau. Either option is perfect for a relaxing drive — or head for the sandy beaches of Le Porge.
Do you have any tips to add to our Bordeaux travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock/Photodune
About the writer
Ruby Boukabou is a travel, culture and food writer based between Europe and Australia. Ruby has written for The Age, The Australian, Qantas, Issimo, The Diplomat, Paris Voice and Inside Film. She has also produced culture and travel stories for the ABC, SBS and Screen Australia. When Ruby’s not writing, she’s probably tap dancing — and is a founding member of the Paris Tap Crew. She’s also a member of jazz/world music group Le Shuffle Project, which records and performs in Paris and beyond.