Bordeaux is the capital of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, but is perhaps better known as the wine capital of the world. Surrounded by some of the world’s most famous vineyards and France’s second largest Atlantic port, it is an elegant city with stunning 18th century architecture, tree lined boulevards and a culturally vibrant centre to rival even Paris. The city itself is beautiful, offering an outstanding architectural heritage and packed full of art galleries, excellent food, good shopping and wide boulevards which are largely pedestrianised. Following my story of our trip to Bordeaux, I thought I would share with you 12 best things to do in Bordeaux
1. Cite du Vin
La Cité du Vin is one of the most unique museums in the world, an entire museum devoted to the history, development and characteristics of wine drinking. What I loved about this museum is that it takes the knowledge and heritage of wine making, gathered over countless generations, from across borders and brought it all together in one place for people to discover. It is a place which wine lovers from all around the world should treat as a place of pilgrimage. The 3000 square metre, extensive exhibition space is dedicated to delivering a highly immersive and multi-sensory interactive experience. Two to three hours is sufficient time to take in the 20 or more installations but the enthusiastic oenophile might easily spend an entire day, perusing the museum.
Top tip: Do set aside some time to visit the Belvedere (8th floor) where you can enjoy 360 degree panoramic views of the city plus enjoy a wine tasting session where you can choose a glass of wine which is included in your ticket.
Prices: Tickets to the permanent exhibition, including a glass of wine at the Belvedere costs €21 and just €9 for children under 18. Kids under 6 visit free.
Adult full price, €22.00; Adult reduced price, €17.60; Children (6-17 years), €9.00; Children reduced price, €7.20
2. Bassins des Lumières
Another highlight of your time was visiting the gigantic former submarine bunker turned community arts space, Bassins des Lumières. It is the largest permanent art installation in the world with over 13000 square metres of space dedicated to the display of breathtaking artworks that are projected in an exhilarating way, guaranteed to leave you spellbound. It is the perfect marriage between art and technology. Masterpieces of some of the most well known artists of all time are projected around 4 basins that provide ample projection surface area, reflective pools and high ceilings. Gaudi, Dali artworks reach new dimensions with this innovative, fully immersive experience at Bassins de Lumières. For more about current exhibitions visit their website.
Prices: Tickets start from €15 for adults, Seniors €14, Student €12.50 while young people aged 6-25 qualify for a discounted rate of €9
3. See the Miroir d’Eau
The Miroir d’Eau, like the name suggests, is a mirror created by a thin sheet of water, a mere 2 cm deep and occupying a stupendous area of 37,100 square feet. Built on granite slabs, the effect created by this reflecting pool, particularly at night is mesmerising and dizzying – with the mind being subject to the trickery of reflection. The golden glow of the honey-toned buildings in the UNESCO heritage Place de la Bourse is not to be missed.
The Water Mirror is the brainchild of designer Michel Corajoud and subsequently the fountain designed by Jean-Max Llorca and architect Pierre Gangnet. The Mirror works from April to October – and sends up a fine mist of water every 15 minutes. It is such a fun feature, particularly for children.
4. Porte Cailhau – a magnificent view of Bordeaux
In 1495 King Charles VII rode into battle at Fornovo and to celebrate his victory, a grand city gate/monument was built, standing at a formidable height of 35 metres tall and commanding an impressive view over the surroundings. The victory gate provided an entry point in medieval Bordeaux, celebrating in its design, the glory of the Renaissance. The honey coloured stone of the gate along with its multiple grey turrets, make one think of a fairy tale castle in miniature and adds greatly to Bordeaux’s romantic appeal.
Over time, the gates structure and facade have hardly changed. Do note the carved niche on the side of the tower facing the river holds a likeness of Charles VIII.
From the top tower you get great views of the river and Bordeaux’s skyline.
A memorial to a victory fought hundreds of centuries ago has now been integrated into the city walls and in the current day provides a view like no other plus, a glimpse into a romantic period of history. Make sure to visit the exhibition on the first floor of the monument displaying the tools used in constructing Porte Cailhau and a short movie that allows the viewer to step back in Bordelais history.
Prices : Entrance : 5 € | 3,50 € reduced | Free with the Bordeaux Métropole City Pass.
Free for less than 12 years old.
5. Darwin Ecosystem-renovated barracks to enjoy street arts in Bordeaux
A military barracks has been given a new lease of life in the heart of Bordeaux. The venue is called the Darwin Ecosystem and in its current avatar is a beautiful, renovated social space serving as a co-working space, grocery shop, community hub and organic restaurant. It is also a place where the Bordelais head to find out about matters close to their heart – festive events, a place for reflection and so much more. Citizen activism is also on the agenda as well as social entrepreneurship. A place that was a wasteland has been fruitfully repurposed – 3 hectares of goodness and the perfect place to view exhibitions dedicated to street arts.
6. Go for a boat ride on the Garonne
The Garonne flows from the heights of the Aran Valley in the Spanish Pyrenees to the port city of Bordeaux, after which it meets the Gironde estuary, flowing into the Atlantic.
Bordeaux is situated on the curvy bend of the Garonne and thus the city is geographically divided into a right bank and left bank, with the left bank being historically more developed. To navigate the passage of people from the left to the right bank and vice-versa, a public transportation system has developed with stoppages at Stalingrad, Quinconces, Les Hangars, La Cité du Vin, and Lormont. Apart from being a practical means of navigating to and fro across the city, the ferry system , navette fluviale, can be a beautiful way to see the city from the waters and enjoy the tranquil passage across the Garonne. The full ferry timetable for BAT3 can be found here.
As part of its public transport system, the city of Bordeaux provides a ferry (navette fluviale), that has five stops: Stalingrad, Quinconces, Les Hangars, La Cité du Vin, and Lormont (take a look at the ferry time table here). You don’t have to do the whole line, you can use it to just cross the river to the other side.
7. Picnic in the Jardin Public
The Jardin Public feels like you have been transported into the countryside, from the midst of the busy city and occupying a modest 11 hectares of land serves as the ‘green lungs’ of the city. Created in 1746 by the French designer, Jacques Ange Gabriel, French design is very much in evidence here. Home to a Natural History Museum, a botanical garden, children’s playground, a bar cum restaurant – L’Orangerie, the much acclaimed puppet show – ‘Guignol Guérin’ – swans, ducks, centuries old trees, flowers and the Bordelais themselves, enjoying recreation time, the Jardin Public packs a hefty punch.
Today it seems strange to take in this serene environment and give thanks to history because the land was once deemed unsuitable for growing grapes and was thus transformed to recreational space.
8. See Bordeaux’s spaceship in the Bassins à Flot
A 55 feet wide spaceship in the midst of the Bassins à Flot grabs you unawares whilst touring Bordeaux. Designed by the British artist Suzanne Treister, this unlikely, metallic object has been built with the idea that Bordeaux is looking towards the future and it is this futuristic vibe that surely resonates throughout this beautiful French city.
Top tip: Discover Bordeaux on foot
Discovering Bordeaux on foot is the best way to experience the city’s diversity. The ‘City of The Lumières’, drawn up with a compass by 18th century architects and town planners, is synonymous with harmony : hôtels particuliers, beautiful squares and avenues are spread all along this route that takes you through picturesque areas like Saint Rémi and Saint Pierre quarters.
Where to eat and drink in Bordeaux
9. Visit Blind Wine Bar
Food and wine scene here is amazing – We ate so well here. Bordeaux is the capital of wine so you will drink some fantastic wine here. Highly recommend a visit to the ‘Blind’ wine bar. Serving tapas style dishes inspired by the owners Central / South American roots, each dish is accompanied by blind wine tasting- for me a wine newbie like me, it was very educational.
10. Checkout the local markets
Bordeaux is also home to some fantastic markets where you can really fresh, local food like the the Capucins market plus there is the lively Les Halles de Bacalan market. ( Great oysters here ) My last tip would be to pop into Magasin General-an organic restaurant in the Darwin ecosystem where all the ingredients are locally sourced.
11. Try Canelé
If you were to taste one thing in Bordeaux, it would have been Canelé , dough, soft and subtly scented with vanilla and rum with a crispy, caramelised exterior. The best place to try this is La Toque Cuivrée.
12. Stay at the Moxy Bordeaux
Moxy Bordeaux has a fab location in the heart of Bassins à Flot , steps from the Cité du Vin and within walking distance from the Bassins des Lumières. The Moxy guestrooms are the perfect combination of style and comfort, where guests can relax and connect. The hotel’s large lobby is the place to socialise, with an onsite bar serving local beers and also stonebaked pizzas. There are lot of comfy sofas to lounge, tables to work from and and there’s a 24/7 pantry that has snacks and drinks which is very handy.
This post is the 2nd in a series of features where I share with you some ideas and inspiration for visiting the region of Nouvelle Aquitaine, specifically the cities of Bordeaux, Angoulême, Cognac and La Rochelle. These guides and trip was made possible with the kind support of Nouvelle Aquitaine Tourisme and Atout France but the views expressed here, good and bad are entirely my own.