A great city break if you’re looking for a bit of la belle France, get the low down on 48 hours in Bordeaux.
Famous for being in the heart of wine country, Bordeaux is an elegant city packed full of interesting architecture, art and of course food and wine. In fact, the city is such a beautiful example of neo-classical architecture that building buffs won’t know where to look.
I headed to Bordeaux in late September to see what the city has to offer.
Getting In To Town
There is an express bus which heads into the city every half hour, which costs €8. This takes around half an hour. However, the standard service bus runs every few minutes and takes only a 40 minutes and costs €1,60. Considering the cheap bus turned up while I was wondering what to do it turned out to be a no-brainer.
You need to buy your ticket at a machine and then frank it as you board the bus. This is the case with all of the transport in the city including the trams and the boats.
The bus stops at several points in downtown Bordeaux. I jumped out at Place Gambetta, next to Porte Dijeaux one of the many gates to the old city.
Most cities in France look gorgeous and of course, Bordeaux is no exception. There is a UNESCO themed walking route you can take at your leisure, which takes around 2 hours.
However, the city is very walkable anyway. You can easily wander the streets of the centre and see all the key sights at a leisurely pace.
The main wonders of the city are:
- The Place de la Comedie with the Grand Theatre.
- Place de la Bourse and the miroir de Eau.
- Porte Cailhau.
- Palais Rohan and the Musée des beau arts.
- Cathedral St André and Tour Pey Berland.
- The Mounment des Girondins.
- The Cité du Vin (City of Wine) – which isn’t a UNESCO site but is quite a sight to behold.
Place de la Bourse
One of the pleasures of any French city is wondering the narrow streets, finding a spot to drink a coffee and watching the world go by. My first day was mostly spent doing just that. I wandered down from my entry point at Place Gambetta, pretty much directly to Place de la Bourse. This grand square with it’s impressive buildings is the symbol of Bordeaux.
One of the best vantages points is at the Miroir de Eau (water mirror). A shallow pool which reflects the light of the buildings at night and is a full of frolicking children by day. Taking in the view of both the city and the river and watching people jogging or going about their business is the order of the day here.
You’ll likely pass here several times and it’s worth it. As the light changes so does the feel around here. Children play in the day, by evening the cool kids come out and you’ll see the youth of Bordeaux listening to music, chatting and flirting and people on dates strolling along the romantic promenade.
Tour Pey Berland
Around the Cathedral St André is the Hotel de Ville (town hall) and the 15th century bell tower, Tour Pey Berland. You can climb the tower for some super impressive views of the city. Entry is €6 and the views are worth it, although you’ll need to be reasonably fit to get to the top.
There are a couple of great museums around this part of town. Each of these museums is within a 5 minute walk from Tour Pey Berland.
The Musée de Aquitane is full of local history and artefacts, including many prehistoric. Entry is only €5 for adults and is easily worth a few hours of your time, especially if the weather isn’t ideal.
There is also the Musée du Design and the Musée des Arts Decoratifs, which focus mostly on interior design, sculpture and some decorative arts. Entry is also €5 for adults.
The pick of the bunch is the Musée des Beau Arts (fine arts) which has an excellent selection of classical art as well more modern installations. At €4 it’s a bargain.
Museums in France are free every first Sunday of the month, normally excluding the peak summer months (July and August). However, this usually means they’re extra busy too.
After all this walking and culture you’re going to want to grab a big lunch, or maybe even dinner (if you’ve packed your day with lots of sightseeing).
Thankfully, this is France and you’re not short of options. But where to go? As a general rule of thumb, I’d head to one of the plazas and pick a place that looked decent. In all honesty on this trip, I wasn’t here for a food and drink tour so I didn’t really focus on the best of these options.
However, one of the best places to sit with a coffee and people watch is Place du Parlement, a few streets back from Place de la Bourse. This pretty square is fringed with lots of cafes and restaurants surrounding a fountain.
The streets around here, Rue St Remi, Rue St Catherine and Rue Parlement St Catherine are all packed full of enticing looking French cafes, each of which are much of a muchness.
A coffee will be around €3, a sandwich will be around €4-5. A full prix fixe (fixed price) menu can be as little as €10 with a starter, main and drink – although usually expect €15 and up for a decent steack frites, salade and a verre du vin.
Bordeaux is a young city, which is evident with the amount of students and young people hanging around. As such the nightlife is quite vibrant, especially in the centre of town.
I found myself at the Charles Dickens pub one night, which, despite the anglophone name, is frequented by lots of cool looking locals. Another British pub packed full of French people is Houses of Parliament (just up from Parlement Square). The whole British pub phenomenon is something the French have taken to with gusto, especially the younger generations. Expect to pay around €6-7 for a beer or about €4-6 for a glass of wine.
On my second night I went to an language exchange Meetup which was a great opportunity to meet a few locals.
If you prefer the more elegant French bar option, don’t worry there are lots of those too. Aux Quatre Coins du Vin and Le Wine Bar are two great options in the heart of the city. Both are buzzing in to the night and and offer tapas type snacks for €5 alongside your €4 glass of wine.
There are lots of nightclubs and bars dotted around the centre of town too. Opal Club is a little way out of town but is one of the cooler discotheques, definitely a student hangout. This was the closest club to my accommodation and although we didn’t go, I heard it gets quite messy…
In all honesty, follow your nose in the centre of town. The streets behind Place de la Bourse and around Porte Cailhau are packed full of bars and nightclubs so get chatting to a local and see what you can find!
Assuming you’ve got a hangover, or at least had a few wines with your dinner, you’ll want to find a good place for coffee (if your hotel doesn’t do a breakfast option).
Most cafes do a breakfast deal for around €5, so you’ll get a viennoiserie (pastry – normally a croissant or pain au chocolat), a coffee and a juice for that. Sit there looking cool and gallic for a bit as you drink your ultra strong café then get your walking shoes on.
There are some lovely parks in Bordeaux. The two best that I found are the Jardin Public ( a short walk from Place de la Comedie and Monument de Girondins) and the Botanical Gardens/Jardin Botanique – across the river in La Bastide. Both are free to enter and wander around and have some lovely features like fountains, local plants and rockeries dedicated to exotic plants.
I’d recommend wandering across Pont de Pierre (the big iconic bridge near the centre of town), exploring the Jardin Botanique for a bit then wandering around to the ferry pier next to the bride.
Yes, you can get a boat cruise. I’m more of a ferry guy, so I headed to the pier next to Pont de Pierre and took the ferry all the way to Cité du Vin. The ride is €1.60 (buy the ticket on board) and takes around 15-20 mins and you get all the fun of a boat cruise without shelling out €20+.
Cité du Vin
This extraordinary building stands out like a sore thumb. The aluminium shell catches the light and is like nothing else in the city in terms of architecture. Saying that, the bridge next to it, Pont Jaques Chaban Delmas, is also quite eye catching with it’s raising centre piece.
I digress. The Cité du Vin is an incredible piece of architecture and is reachable either by walking along the riverfront (around half an hours walk), by ferry boat (ten minutes) or tram (5-10 mins).
The entry price of €20 (if you book in advance online, it’s €26 on the day) includes a tour of the permanent exhibition and a tasting.
There are also various smaller exhibitions and workshops which are less than the €20 for the full tour. I didn’t do the tour but the building alone is worth visiting.
Quai de Marques
A short walk down the river from the Cité du Vin is this redeveloped wharf area which is now packed full of restaurants and shops. It’s a great place to catch your breath after a walk up from town, or to ready yourself for a stroll back.
As wine is the big thing in town, there are lots of options for wine tours in the region surrounding the city. Most hotels offer a selection of tours, or if you don’t think there’s anything decent on offer head to the tourist office in Place de la Comedie. If you’ve got more than 48 hours in Bordeaux then definitely consider a wine tour…
Expect to pay around €80 for a trip into the country where you’ll visit several chateaux and get to try a bit of the famous tipple. St Emilion is the pick of the bunch, itself a UNESCO heritage site.
In honesty, Bordeaux isn’t that close to the beach – it’s about an hour by public transport or about 30-40 mins in a car. However, you do spy wetsuits on balconies and kids walking down the road with surfboards, so it is accessible.
In the summer months there are two lake options in town, the Bordeaux-Lac which you can get to by tram, nearest stop Les Aubiers. Or Bègles which is south of the city, nearest tram Bègles Terres Neuves.
For some sea action head to Lacanau. This massive beach is a surfer’s paradise and is of course very busy in the summer months.
When To Visit
As a beautiful city break, Bordeaux is great any time of year. I visited in late September and the weather was a very pleasant 22 degrees. The pleasure of the city is wandering and enjoying the lifestyle so come any time of year and enjoy some of the world’s best food and wine.
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Have you been to Bordeaux or got any tips for a 48 hour trip to this great city? Comments below are welcome.
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