With its urban elegance and provincial charm, Bordeaux is an attractive tourist destination in a beautiful region of south-west France. Bordeaux is called the ‘port of the moon’ because of its romantic location on a crescent-shaped bend of the Garonne River. In this beautiful environment that allowed trade to flourish, the city has a rich cultural heritage dating back to ancient times. UNESCO declared Bordeaux a World Heritage Site in 1998 thanks to the city’s wealth of architectural treasures. More than 350 buildings are classified as historical monuments.
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1 Saint-André Cathedral
The Cathedral of Saint Andrew dates back to the 12th century and is of historical interest in the heart of Bordeaux. This cathedral was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was part of the pilgrimage route of the Santiago de Compostella pilgrimage route. Pilgrims traveled through Bordeaux from the Médoc, Tours and the British Isles on their way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Similar to Notre-Dame in Paris in its grandeur, the Cathedral of Saint Andrew has an impressive facade with images of the Last Supper, the Ascension, and Christ in Majesty. Interestingly, the western front of the cathedral is completely undecorated, as it was originally too close to the old city walls. However, opposite the cathedral is the Hôtel de Ville(Town Hall), a beautiful palace built in the 1770s. Designed in the neoclassical style typical of Bordeaux, the Hôtel de Ville is an architectural treasure with an impressive columned facade.
During the summer, the Bordeaux International Organ Festival is held in the cathedral. Attending an organ concert in the heavenly surroundings of the cathedral is one of the best things to do in Bordeaux. Some of Europe’s most talented organists perform during the festival.
Address: 66 Rue Trois Conils, Bordeaux
2 The Grand Theater
The Grand Théâtre is the centerpiece of the Place de la Comédie, a center of city life and the ancient site of the Roman Forum. One of the city’s most emblematic buildings, this monumental theater was built in 1780 in Bordeaux’s inspiring New Classical style. The building was designed by architect Victor Louis, who also designed the Palais Royal and the Théâtre Français in Paris. The exterior contains 12 colossal Corinthian columns along with statues representing the nine Muses and the goddesses Juno, Venus and Minerva. In the theater, visitors are impressed by beautiful foyers and grand staircases. For an unforgettable experience, spend an evening at the theater to enjoy a performance by the National Orchestra or the National Ballet of Bordeaux.
Address: Place de la Comédie, Bordeaux
3 Place de la Bourse
Lining the quays of Bordeaux for half a mile are palatial classical buildings from the 18th century. The most beautiful examples can be found on the Place de la Bourse, which embodies the elegance of 18th-century design. In the center of the square stands the Fountain of the Three Graces, surrounded by two beautiful pavilion-like buildings: the Palais de la Bourse (formerly the Stock Exchange) and the Musée National des Douanes (Customs Museum), the only museum of its kind in France. These graceful quay walls overlook the banks of the Garonne River. Take a scenic walk along the Garonne River to admire the glorious architecture of the Place de la Bourse and the glittering reflections of the buildings in the river.
Facing the Place de la Bourse , between the Quai de la Douane and Quai Louis Michel Corajoud, the Miroir d’Eau, could be called an “elegant puddle” or a “masterpiece of creativity,” depending on your point of view. The two-centimeter water basins beautifully reflect the surrounding 18th century building facades. To create a mystical and ever-changing quality, the fountain system alternates between mirror and mist effects, the reflection changing with the time of day and the weather.
4 Saint-Seurin Basilica
This beautiful basilica is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it was a stop on the medieval Way of Saint James pilgrimage. The basilica has the Romanesque style typical of churches on the route to Santiago de Compostela. This exceptional church dates back to the 11th century. The choir, with a stone abbot’s throne and ornate stalls, was built in the 14th and 15th centuries. The choir chapel is decorated with impressive Gothic reredos (decorative screens) with 12 alabaster reliefs and a 14th century Virgin Mary figure. The oldest part of the basilica is the 11th-century crypt, a treasury of ancient reliquaries and sarcophagi from the 6th and 7th centuries.
Address: Place des Martyrs de la Résistance, Bordeaux
5 Saint-Michel Basilica
An example of an extravagant “Rayonnant Gothic” style, this basilica, dedicated to the Archangel, is another important church on the pilgrimage route of the Route of Santiago. Together with the Cathedral of Saint Andrew and the Basilica of Saint Seurin , the Basilica of Saint Michael is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The basilica took 200 years to complete, from the 14th to the 16th century. The church presents a pleasing unity of architectural style, described as “Rayonnant Gothic” (the 13th century French style of ornate Gothic architecture). From the top of the free-standing bell tower, you can enjoy beautiful panoramic views of the city. After visiting the basilica, take a stroll through the Quartier Saint-Michelthat surrounds the basilica. This district south of the Pont de Pierre is the most colorful and atmospheric district of Bordeaux.
The square in front of the Basilica of Saint-Michel is the location of a weekly fruit and vegetable market as well as a location for Les Puces de Saint-Michel , a popular flea market that takes place every few months.
Address: Place Meynard, Bordeaux
6 Museum of Fine Arts
The Museum of Beaux-Arts is located in the pleasant Jardin de la Mairie public park and is part of the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall). The museum offers a wonderful insight into European art history, with a collection of art from the 15th to the 20th century. The permanent collection includes masterpieces by Titian, Veronese, Rubens, Delacroix, Renoir and Rodin. Paintings are organized thematically, grouped by era and country, such as the Renaissance, 17th-century Dutch paintings, and French paintings from the 17th to the 18th centuries. The adjacent Galerie des Beaux-Arts offers temporary exhibitions of contemporary art.
Address: 20 Cours d’Albret, Bordeaux
Official site: www.musba-bordeaux.fr/en
7 Aquitaine Museum
The Museum of Aquitaine vividly illustrates the history of Bordeaux and the Aquitaine region from prehistory to the present. The museum has exceptional pieces from antiquity, including the Laussel Venus, an artifact from 25,000 BC, Gallic gold coins from the 2nd century BC and a 3rd-century statue of Hercules. Other highlights include the 13th-century figure of a knight of Curton and the 16th-century tomb of Montaigne. Montaigne’s monument once stood at the entrance to the museum and visitors touched the base of the statue as a ritual to “absorb” the illustrious man’s wisdom.
Address: 20 Cours Pasteur, Bordeaux
Official site: www.musee-aquitaine-bordeaux.fr/en
8 Esplanade des Quinconces
A vast public space in the center of Bordeaux, the Esplanade des Quinconces is considered the largest square in Europe. This peaceful retreat in the heart of the city is just a few blocks away from Le Grand Théâtre. Flanked by the Quai Louis XVIII along the river, the esplanade offers peaceful views of the water. Built from 1818 to 1828, the monumental fountain of the square honors the Girondins, the group of republican politicians from the Gironde department who were deputies in the Legislative Assembly during the French Revolution. (Many Girondins were sent to the guillotine during the Terror). The original fountain was destroyed during World War II and later restored. There are also statues of Montesquieu and Montaigne. Another notable attraction nearby is the Jardin Public , where you can visit the botanical gardens and natural history museum.
Just south of Place des Quinconces is Rue Sainte-Catherine , the city’s busiest shopping street. This street is also the oldest existing thoroughfare in Bordeaux, as it was a road during Roman times.
Address: Place des Quinconces, Bordeaux
9 Palais Gallien
The only remaining vestige of the Roman period in Bordeaux, the Palais Gallien, was built in the late 2nd century and was located just outside the town of “Burdigala”. This immense amphitheater could accommodate 15,000 spectators on wooden benches. When you visit this exceptional site you can imagine life in Roman times. The amphitheater offered typical brutal Roman entertainment, such as gladiator fights.
Address: Rue du Docteur Albert Barraud, Bordeaux
10 Tour Pey Berland
This richly decorated tower is the free-standing belfry for the Cathédrale Saint-André . Built in the 15th century for Archbishop Pey Berland, the tower is an example of flamboyant Gothic architecture with its ornate details, towering spiers and angular corner arches. As a more recent addition, a 19th-century statue of Notre Dame d’Aquitaine adorns the top of the tower. Visitors can climb to the top to enjoy beautiful panoramic views of the city. There are also regular concerts on Place Pey-Berland that are free and open to the public.
Address: Place Pey-Berland, Bordeaux
11 Stone Bridge
One of the iconic landmarks in Bordeaux, the Pont de Pierre (Stone Bridge) blends in perfectly with the city’s elegant riverfront buildings. In 1817, engineer Claude Descamps, the Pont de Pierre was completed in 1821 after years of construction work. The result is a beautiful technical achievement. The bridge spans the Garonne River with 17 graceful arches supported by foundation piles set into the riverbed and well designed to withstand strong currents. In the history of Bordeaux, this was the first bridge to cross the Garonne River.
12 Colbert Cruiser
The Cruiser Colbert was once one of France’s largest warships. Built in 1953, the ship served until 1990 during the Gulf War. Visitors can visit 75 rooms including the kitchen, engine room, captain’s walkway and admiral’s apartment for a glimpse into life on board for the 600 sailors.
Address: Quai des Chartrons, Bordeaux
13 Big Bell
One of the remnants of medieval Bordeaux, the Grosse Cloche (Great Bell) is a monument built in the 13th and 15th centuries. The clock mainly features the gate tower that was part of the old town hall. This relic of the Middle Ages in the historic city center has been restored to its former glory and adds to the ambiance of another era.
Address: Rue Saint-James Cours, Bordeaux
14 Museum of Decorative Arts
With a beautiful collection of decorative art objects, this museum displays furniture, tableware, jewelry, miniatures and musical instruments from the 18th and 19th centuries. The museum is housed in the beautiful Hôtel de Lalande, an elegant mansion built between 1775 and 1779. Visiting the museum gives tourists an appreciation for the cultured lifestyle and beautiful furnishings of an aristocratic residence during the Enlightenment in Bordeaux.
Address: Rue Bouffard 39, Bordeaux
Where to Stay in Bordeaux for Sightseeing
To preserve the atmosphere of this city, the best place to stay in Bordeaux is the historic city center, where you will find a lively scene with shops and restaurants offering al fresco dining. Many of the historic sites are located in this area, including the famous Saint-Andre Cathedral. Below are highly rated hotels in convenient locations:
- Luxury Hotels: The Yndo boutique hotel is located in a 19th century house and is a stone’s throw away. It offers luxurious amenities with beautiful décor. The aptly named Le Boutique Hotel is located in a former 18th-century house that once played host to literary giants such as Victor Hugo. This is a high-end hotel in a quiet area, close to shops, restaurants and the city’s top attractions. For those looking for a chic and trendy option, the recently renovated Hotel Burdigala Bordeaux – MGallery Collection has spacious, modern rooms and is just a short walk to the shops of Rue St. Catherine.
- Mid-range hotels: BEST WESTERN Grand Hotel Francais is a five-minute walk from the Cathedrale Saint-Andre. Rooms, some with balconies, include mini-fridges and free breakfast. Boasting a prime location on a pedestrian street, the Quality Hotel offers cozy rooms and modern furnishings. An elegant option in a prime location in this category is Hotel Continental. Housed in an 18th-century mansion, the hotel offers decent rooms and an evening reception with regional snacks.
- Budget Hotels: The charming Hotel des Voyageurs is set in a historic building with rooms with exposed sandstone walls and wooden beams. In the same area, the Ibis Bordeaux Center Bastide is a modern hotel with functional rooms at an attractive price. Both hotels are located on the east side of the river, about a 10-minute walk from the historic center of the city, opposite the famous Pont de Pierre bridge. Just northeast of the historic center, Hotel Le Chantry’s clean and comfortable rooms offer good value for money.
Day trips from Bordeaux
Château de La Brède
Listed as a historic monument, La Brède Castle is a fortified medieval castle about 30 minutes’ drive south of Bordeaux that was built in the 13th century and bears a striking resemblance to Leeds Castle in Kent County, England. Surrounded by 150 hectares of forest and built on two islands amid a multi-sized moat, the feudal castle has a dreamy fairytale appearance. The most famous of its owners was the author Montesquieu, born in the castle on January 18, 1689. The castle is open from April to November and for groups (pre-arranged reservation) from March to December. Visitors can visit the castle and wander around the park, which is maintained with beautiful English-style gardens.
Address: Avenue du Château, La Brède
About 40 kilometers southeast of Bordeaux, the Château de Cadillac is a listed historic monument that was the residence of the Dukes of Épernon. Overlooking the Garonne River, the castle was built between 1598 and 1620 and is one of the finest examples of French architecture. The interior features carved fireplaces and lush carpets. The exterior is surrounded by a protective moat and immense walls decorated with statues. The castle is open to the public all year round and also hosts temporary exhibitions and specially themed events.
Address: Place de la Libération, Cadillac
Located 25 km from Bordeaux in the countryside of the Entre-Deux-Mers region, the Abbey of Sauve-Majeure is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The abbey is located in a serene natural landscape of 200 hectares, surrounded by a forest of majestic trees (the name “Sauve-Majeure” comes from “Silva Major” which means “great forest”). The abbey dates from the 11th to the 13th century and was built as a place of spiritual worship for the pilgrims on the route from Santiago to Santiago de Compostela. A masterpiece of Romanesque architecture, the abbey features classical columns and an excellent collection of statues. The Abbaye de la Sauve-Majeure is open to the public for guided tours or one-hour tours.
Address: 14 Rue de l’Abbaye, La Sauve
Prehistoric cave paintings at the Grotte de Pair-non-Pair
One of the oldest decorated caves in the world, the Grotte de Pair-non-Pair displays prehistoric drawings of horses, deer and mammoths. In 1881, François Daleau discovered this cave containing the remains of an 80,000-year-old Neanderthal and an 18,000-year-old Cro- Magnon Man. Archaeologists have also found 15,000 tools from prehistoric times. The Grotte de Pair-non-Pair is open to the public for guided tours.
Tips and tours: how to get the most out of your visit to Bordeaux
Bordeaux is a UNESCO World Heritage city with hundreds of historic monuments, so it can be overwhelming for tourists trying to fit it all in. A guided tour allows you to see more top attractions in a fun and easy way. Different attractions are available for different types of travelers. Below are three favorite ways to explore the city:
- Go on a guided walking tour : Learn about the history of Bordeaux as you stroll through the city’s elegant streets and squares. The Bordeaux City Sights Walking Tour takes you on a two-hour guided walking tour, starting in the historic center of the city. This comprehensive tour covers Bordeaux’s main tourist attractions such as Place de la Bourse, Grand Théâtre and Rue Sainte-Catherine.
- Spin around the city by Segway or electric vehicle : Enjoy the sights of the city on a Bordeaux Segway Tour. This fun, one-hour tour takes you through the historic streets and public squares of Bordeaux while stopping at must-see places such as Saint Andrew’s Cathedral, Place des Quinconces, and St. Catherine Street. A more customized option is the self-guided Bordeaux City Sightseeing Tour in an electric vehicle. For 90 minutes, sit back in an open-air electric vehicle, with two seats, guided by GPS multimedia with narration about the monuments. On this tour you can see the city’s most famous sights, as well as some off-the-beaten-path attractions.
- Cruise the Garonne River : Led by an experienced captain, the UNESCO Cruise glides along the quays of the Garonne River, providing commentary about the city’s historic waterfront and important monuments, including the Place de la Bourse and the Pont de Pierre.
Other beautiful towns and nature reserves near Bordeaux
Surrounded by a picturesque landscape full of vineyard-covered hills, Bordeaux is a beautiful starting point to discover south-west France. For those interested in exploring the green Basque Country and its beautiful beaches, the luxury seaside resort of Biarritz, one of the best seaside resorts in France, can be reached in around two hours by train or car, and the family-friendly beaches of Saint- Pierre. Jean-de-Luz is only 30 minutes further south. Also within a reasonable distance are several top tourist destinations in the Pyrenees, such as the Catholic pilgrimage hill of Lourdes, one of the best places to visit in France. Another must-see historic city, Toulouse, with its sunny terraces and beautiful architectural sights,