At one time, the most important city in France after Paris was Bordeaux. But by the late 20th century, it had become a mostly forgotten destination for tourism. That all changed in the 1990s, when then-mayor Alain Juppe set out an ambitious plan to restore the city to its former glory and historical significance. The revitalization included restoring and cleaning the soot-covered limestone buildings, installing three tram lines that provide better access to the city, and reconfiguring the center of Bordeaux to allow more car-free, pedestrian-friendly streets.
Another strategic event in the past five years has helped make Bordeaux a major destination in western France. In 2016, the train journey from Paris to Bordeaux became only a little over two hours, which could now make it a possible day trip. Since then, there’s been an extraordinary proliferation of new restaurants, hotels, cultural institutions, and boutiques to keep up with the influx of Parisians and other tourists.
Things To Do In Bordeaux
Cite Du Vin
One of the top attractions in Bordeaux is Cite du Vin, a wine museum and cultural center that opened in 2016. The sleek, 80-foot tower with slivers of aluminum and bronze panels wrapped around a glass body, nicknamed “Guggenheim to wine,” leaves a distinct mark on the Bordeaux skyline.
Encompassing a broad mix of activities and venues, the comprehensive museum has temporary exhibits, workshops, a library, a wine bar, an haute cuisine restaurant, a gift shop selling wine and related products, and an auditorium for lectures and talks.
The permanent presentation is an interactive experience where visitors are led to various viewing and listening stations. To facilitate this, guests are given state-of-the-art headphones at the entrance and instructions on how to operate them once they are inside. The information from the headphones is available in several languages, including English. Among the many topics in the recorded text is the history of winemaking throughout the centuries, the economics of winemaking, shipping and storing methods, folklore, bottle design, and current trends.
Three giant-size screens run videos with breathtaking views of the great wine regions of the world made using drone technology. The price of the ticket includes a complimentary glass of Bordeaux wine, and the wine bar is located on the top floor of the museum, where you can take in the 360-degree, gasp-eliciting view of the city while you sip your wine.
Bassins De Lumieres
Scheduled to open later this year, another major attraction will debut in Bordeaux: Bassins de Lumieres. The abandoned submarine base will become the largest immersive digital art space in the world.
Bassins de Lumieres is the latest project by the premier digital company in Europe, Culturespaces. After launching a series of immersive digital art shows featuring historical and contemporary artists including Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, Chagall, and Yves Klein in Paris and Les Baux-de-Provence, which have been runaway successes, Culturespaces is betting on Bordeaux and expects this ambitious new venue to become their next big hit.
The massive space will feature nearly 130,000 square feet of projection space, 90 video projectors, and 80 speakers, which, together, will deliver an astonishing experience.
Viennese artist Gustav Klimt and his beautiful paintings from the belle epoque of Vienna will be the primary focus of the inaugural exhibition. Pre-recorded music by Beethoven, Philip Glass, Mahler, Chopin, Wagner, and Rachmaninov will play in the background.
In addition to the Klimt experience, three other shows will include a tribute to the early 20th century: a Paul Klee experience, a show using AI to create ocean-like images, and Anitya, which relates the history of the submarine base.
Place De La Bourse
At one time the Bordeaux stock market, Place de la Bourse is a handsome and striking set of buildings surrounding a square. The cream-colored limestone masterpiece was constructed in 1730 under the reign of King Louis XV. It was designed by architect Anges-Jacques Gabriel, who also designed the Place de la Concorde in Paris and Le Petit Trianon in Versailles for Marie Antoinette. Today Place de la Bourse is listed as a UNESCO Heritage site.
Once an important stop on the Camino de Santiago, the Saint-Andre Cathedral is on par with the scale of Notre Dame in Paris and is a classic, gothic cathedral with roots in the 1200s. Pilgrims would visit the cathedral on their way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. A special treat at the cathedral is the annual Bordeaux International Organ Festival.
Where To Eat And Drink In Bordeaux
A must-taste treat in Bordeaux is a canele, a local pastry baked in a cylinder shape flavored with custard, rum, and vanilla with a caramelized crust on the outside. A small chain of bakeries throughout the Bordeaux region, Caneles Baillardran bakes caneles on premise in each shop. They also make a great gift -- if you don’t eat all of them before you give them away.
Les Halles De Bacalan
If you are feeling peckish after visiting Cite de Vin, stroll across the street to Les Halles de Bacalan. A small-scale indoor food market, Les Halles de Bacalan features only 24 vendors who sell the best international foods including Spanish tapas, local oysters, organic country bread, cheeses, freshly grown produce, roasted chickens, and takeout service.
Le Petit Commerce
For some of the best seafood in Bordeaux, you don’t have to go any further than Le Petit Commerce. Comprising a retail fish shop and a brasserie, you can savor freshly shucked oysters on the spot at the store, or dine on filet of sole, haddock, lobster, salmon, or turbot.
Miles Restaurant is the result of a partnership between two couples who met at a cooking school in Paris. Pooling their talent and resources, they opened one of the hottest restaurants in Bordeaux, and one of the first restaurants in the city to serve a surprising small-plate menu. Their creative coupling of textures and flavors has made a reservation at Miles a must-have. It’s counter seating only at Miles, so be prepared to be dazzled by the staff whipping up your meal in front of your eyes. Another plus is the reasonable price of just over 40 euros for a five-course dinner (not including wine).
Since Bordeaux is synonymous with wine, you’ll want to indulge in tastings of the best vintages.
Nestled in an ancient cave below the city, Pont Rouge offers an impressive list of Bordeaux wines in addition to a selection of fine wines and spirits from around the world. Cocktails and tapas plates are also served.
Aux Quatre Coins Du Vin
With a selection of over 40 wines by the glass, Aux Quatre Coins du Vin is a popular Bordeaux wine bar. Wines are dispensed by automated machines in either quarter- or half-glass portions.
Multi-Day Excursions From Bordeaux
Another fun option if you want to explore the Bordeaux region further is to embark on a cruise on the Gironde River.
The Tango is a luxury barge that can be privately chartered for six-day excursions for four to eight people. The boat has four bedrooms, each with en suite bathrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, a dining and entertainment room, an above deck, a dining terrace, and an outdoor jacuzzi.
Daniel Sak, the Franco-American captain and owner, and his staff are warm and welcoming, making you feel right at home and part of the family.
Not only is Daniel Sak the captain; he also prepares many of the excellent lunches and dinners of Provencal and Mediterranean specialties, which are served with hand-selected Bordeaux wines.
Excursions off the boat can be tailored to your tastes and interests, and a typical cruise will include visits to the factory and museum of the orange-flavored aperitif Lillet, a walk in the charming village of Saint-Emilion, and a wine tasting and tour of a fifth-generation, family-owned vineyard dating from 1855 that produces only organic wines.
Where To Stay In Bordeaux
Le Grand Hotel Intercontinental
You can always rely on Intercontinental Hotels to deliver the best hotel stay, and the Le Grand Hotel Intercontinental does this in French style. Situated in the heart of the old part of the city near many of its attractions, the standard rooms, executive rooms, and suites are decorated in a tasteful 19th-century French style. Amenities in every room include air conditioning, an in-room safe, a mini-bar, free Wi-Fi, and bathrobes and slippers.
Le Pressoir d’Argent is the hotel’s two Michelin star restaurant run by the Gordon Ramsay group. It highlights regional foods via its menu. The Guerlain Spa on the fifth floor offers massages, a sauna, a steam room, and a heated pool with a jacuzzi, plus an outdoor terrace with vistas of the city.
Le Palais Gallien
A private mansion constructed in 1895 is now Le Palais Gallien, an intimate boutique hotel. Rooms are designed with a contemporary flair and the deluxe rooms have outdoor heated terraces, freestanding bathtubs, and walk-in showers with an aromatherapy setting.
A special feature of Le Palais Gallien is the outdoor swimming pool, rarely seen in central Bordeaux, with a deck and chaise lounges. The in-hotel restaurant, Le Table de Montaigne, combines the best Bordeaux cuisine and wine together in a stylish dining room and boasts a handsome bar.
Trains from the Paris Montparnasse station to Bordeaux Saint-Jean station leave almost every hour daily, and the ride takes two hours and nine minutes. Planning your excursions from Paris? Here are five things to do in Versailles after you’ve seen the palace.