The Ultimate Travel Guide to Bordeaux, France
Table of Contents
Ever since the (then) Mayor Alain Juppe started a massive restoration program in 1995, Bordeaux, the French port town on the Garonne river estuary, has been transformed from ugly duck to sparkling swan. Gone are the narrow, dirty streets, soot-blackened walls, and neglected historical buildings. Wide alleys, a water mirror, pedestrian zones, and honey-colored facades have emerged to make the center of wine and vineyards a favorite destination for thousands of visitors each year.
As a result, Bordeaux’s historical center with the highest number of historical buildings in France outside Paris is on the World Heritage Site list. Vinexpo is one of the world’s most important wine fairs and the new Cite du Vin, an interactive wine museum, bears witness to the importance of wine in Bordeaux.
Add to this Europe’s longest-span vertical lift bridge and a tram system which uses a brand new ground level power supply technology to avoid unaesthetic overhead cables and an outstanding botanical garden and you’ll see why Bordeaux is no longer nicknamed the ‘Sleeping Beauty’. Locals and visitors alike enjoy walking, cycling or rollerblading along the wide curve of the river Garonne, shopping in Bordeaux’s boutiques and patisseries or an evening out in the Opera or Theatre followed by supper in one of several first class restaurants.
In this Bordeaux Travel Guide blog, we listed helpful DIY Bordeaux travel tips and advice on how to get there, get around, itinerary, restaurants, best hotels, tour packages and more.
Best time to visit
Summers are warm and long, winters are cool, but snow is very rare. Bordeaux is one of these cities which can be visited at any time of the year. If you are a wine enthusiast, you may want to visit at harvest time in fall and take trips to the surrounding areas full of vineyards.
How to get there
Bordeaux’s international airport is called Bordeaux-Merignac and located ca. 5 miles from the city center. Shuttles and buses connect the airport to the city’s main train station. Otherwise, use one of the 400 licensed taxis of Bordeaux.
Thanks to the creation of several pedestrian zones, walking around Bordeaux’s historical center is easy. There are also 3 tram lines of the above-mentioned design. Watch out though when crossing the rails, the cable-free trams make no noise!
Apart from that, you’ll find no less than 75 bus routes.
Places to stay
Hotel Le Saint James
On my first visit to Bordeaux, I didn’t stay in the city itself but in a romantic village called Bouliac some 6km away. It’s in the middle of vineyards. The 4-star Hotel Le Saint James has its own vineyard and winery. You wake up, looking into green leaves and grapes and absolutely no noise. In addition, star chef Nicholas Magie (nomen est omen) conducts cooking courses and wine tastings. The hotel is ultra modern with spacious rooms and French designer furniture. There is a small outdoor swimming pool, no spa but reception will be happy to arrange hairdressers and masseurs that will come to your room. WiFi, an ample breakfast buffet, a cozy bar, and restaurant round out the picture of a luxury hotel French country style.
Bordeaux Mama Shelter
I’m a great fan of Mama Shelter hotels, so my second time in Bordeaux, I stayed at the Bordeaux Mama Shelter in Place Saint-Christoly.
The Philippe Stark designed hotel is located in the city center which makes exploring on foot very easy. The modern rooms have every comfort, wifi, and ac at very reasonable prices. Breakfast is included and, weather allowing, you can have lunch and dinner on the rooftop terrace.
Intercontinental Bordeaux Le Grand Hotel
At the high end, you can’t do any better than staying at the Intercontinental Bordeaux Le Grand Hotel in 2-5 Place de la Comedie.
This 5-star luxury hotel is located just opposite the Grand Theatre. Apart from the usual amenities to be expected in a hotel of this category, it’s also the seat of Gordon Ramsay’smuch-praised gourmet restaurant Le Pressoir d’Argent and a truly impressive 1000m2 spa.
Best places to eat
Local cuisine uses game, veal, and oysters, according to season and freshness. For a taste of said cuisine in a rustic restaurant head for Le Petit Bec in 14 rue de la Cour des Aides.
You just have to love these French restaurants with menus scribbled on whiteboards, wooden chairs without cushions, local wine served by the glass and excellent Aquitaine food, freshly prepared of which Les Droles in 21 rue de Saint Remi is another example. Try the rabbit stew.
In the same street, you find Le Marrakesh if you want a spicy but meat-free option.
All three restaurants are very reasonably priced. If you wish to splash out, there is the above mentioned Le Pressoir d’Argent.
Bordeaux’s sweet specialty are ‘caneles’, a sort of custard cupcake, crusty on top, soft inside, made with plenty of rum, vanilla, cinnamon and sometimes raisins. Look out for Patisserie Baillardran with the longest tradition and the best caneles. Remember though, caneles aren’t suitable for taking home with you. They have to be eaten fresh, otherwise, they go limp.
Currency, language etc
Currency in France is the EURO. All major credit cards are accepted but taxis need cash.
Language is French but English is widely spoken. WiFi in all hotels and a good connection in the city center too. In the surrounding villages, coverage is sometimes poor.
Things to do and see
If you want more than a fleeting impression, you are well advised to reserve two days for Bordeaux. You also want to spend an evening in the city because that’s when the Water Mirror is at its best. As said before, much of Bordeaux is best explored on foot which takes time and requires comfortable walking shoes.
I went on a guided walking tour on the first day to get a good overview and get admission to the Opera and Grand Theatre, even backstage.
Make your way to the Place de la Comedie and admire the restored Grand Theatre and the historic Grand Hotel right opposite. It’s also the starting point to the mile-long Rue Saint Catherine, all of it a pedestrian area with other historical buildings and one of my favorites: the 120 years old bookshop Librairie Mollat. Old books and maps, new books, calendars and much more invite you to browse at your leisure.
At the other end, you walk past one of Bordeaux’s most famous landmarks, the massive 11th-century cathedral of St. Andre with towers from the 15th century. It’s a marvel inside and out.
Meandering further along you arrive at the Place de la Bourse with 17th and 19th-century palaces arranged in a semi-circle, facing the famous water mirror. At night and illuminated, the buildings are reflected in the water, a magic sight. In winter, the shallow ‘lake’ sometimes freezes over and people ice skate.
Take time for a stroll along the promenade at the shore of the river Garonne and look at the suspension bridge. Next door to it, is one of Bordeaux’s latest attractions, the Cite du Vin. This interactive museum explains the history of winemaking from Roman times to modern days. There is also a wine tasting bar and a snack bar. To see it all takes several hours but it’s worthwhile and unique in the world.
You will enjoy a boat trip along the river Garonne, that’s why you should plan for more than one day. Especially if you want to explore the vineyards of the Aquitaine area which surrounds Bordeaux.
Best places to shop
Rue Sainte Catherine features not only small shops ideal for souvenirs like the coveted forms caneles are baked in, but also designer boutiques.
If you prefer a modern shopping mall with exquisite architecture and a French touch by way of a piano player to accompany your shopping, head for the Centre Commercial des Grands Hommes in Place des Grands Hommes.
When in Bordeaux, raise a glass of Champagne to the successful rebirth of a beautiful city.
Bordeaux Travel and Tour Packages
Find Hotels in Bordeaux, France according to your budget via Agoda.
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