Located on the historic banks of the River Garonne, Bordeaux is best known for its sublime contribution to the world of wine. The sixth-largest city in France sits in the heart of one of the nation’s most productive wine-growing regions, and we know you’re going to love sampling the best vintages of Medoc, Graves, and Saint-Émilion during your stay in Bordeaux!
Start by delving into the history of wine at La Cité du Vin before touring through the chateau-wineries on the left and right banks of the River Garonne. With its exceptional harbor offering easy access to the Atlantic Ocean, you can then learn how Bordeaux wine merchants conquered the world on a walking tour of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Port of the Moon!
But there’s more to experience once you’ve had a few glasses of Bordeaux’s finest. At Place de la Bourse, you can see the world’s largest reflecting pool, while in the Jardin Public, you’ll find traditional puppet shows and a natural history museum. Modern Bordeaux thrives on regeneration projects, and we recommend trips to repurposed submarine pens and military barracks that are now art installations, event spaces, and urban farms!
With so many things to see and do, you might not know where to begin. That’s why we decided to compile our list of the absolute best things to do in Bordeaux for you. Stick to these fun and unique Bordeaux bucket list recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’ll have an exceptional time exploring this gorgeous French city!
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15 Fun and Unique Things to do in Bordeaux
1. Learn all about wine at La Cité du Vin
Bordeaux is all about wine, and you can learn all about wine with a visit to La Cité du Vin. This excellent museum and exhibition tell the complete story of France’s most iconic beverage, and for that reason, we think it’s one of the best things to do in Bordeaux!
La Cité du Vin is found in a magnificent modern building overlooking the River Garonne, the famous waterway along which untold tons of wine have been transported to the Atlantic Ocean and then across the world.
The museum is home to an interesting collection of exhibits, including movies, galleries, interactive displays, and sensory experiences. The Permanent Exhibition takes you on a journey through the history of wine, from its earliest days at the dawn of human civilization to the refined techniques that Bordeaux’s wineries have spent centuries mastering.
The Gallery of Civilizations takes you back in time to explore the wine of the Ancient Egyptians, Greece, and Rome, and of medieval France and England, while the Wine Planet exhibit shows how winemaking has spread across the modern globe. It’s an immersive experience, and you’ll learn what it takes to produce a delectable vintage that stands out above the rest as you stroll through the timeless galleries.
Of course, no visit to a wine museum in Bordeaux would ever be complete without a wine tasting. La Cité du Vin hosts regular degustation sessions. At the same time, you can sample a wonderful selection of local and international wines in the Belvedere, the museum’s 8th-floor panoramic viewing tower, and wine bar.
2. Join a walking tour of Bordeaux
One of the best ways to explore Bordeaux’s historic streets and squares is to join a walking tour of the city. Much of Bordeaux is UNESCO World Heritage listed, and there are centuries of history hiding behind every corner of the city.
With hundreds of heritage-listed monuments and buildings (well over 300 on the last count), a guided tour is a great way to get under the city’s skin. Walking tours tend to focus on guiding visitors around the “Port of the Moon,” where the UNESCO listing is centered.
The Port of the Moon (so-called for its moon-like shape as it curves around the left bank of the River Garonne) is home to much of the old town and harbor of Bordeaux. The roots of the Port of the Moon date back over 2,000 years to antiquity, and you’ll learn about the Celtic origins of the city, followed by the Roman occupation.
You’ll swiftly move into the medieval heyday of Bordeaux as you learn how the city was the center of Aquitaine and for hundreds of years was under English (not French) control.
Walking tours might explore the troubled times of the French Revolution, then touch upon the German occupation during World War II before bringing you into the modern era. If you like to enjoy your walking tours with a side of cheese and wine (and who doesn’t?), then you could also join a foodie-focused wine and cheese tasting tour of the city!
3. Be dazzled by the world’s largest reflecting pool at Place de la Bourse
Place de la Bourse is one of Bordeaux’s most famous sightseeing attractions, and we know you’re going to love this marvelous public square that’s a testament to 18th-century French architecture.
Built between 1730 and 1775, Place de la Bourse was designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel, a famous French architect who worked directly for King Louis XV. Gabriel designed many famous French landmarks across the country, including the Place de la Concorde in Paris and the Palace of Versailles’ opera theater.
The Place de la Bourse was one of his seminal works, and you can’t leave Bordeaux without taking a look at the magnificent Palais de la Bourse, which forms the backdrop to the square. But as historic as the place is, it’s become best known in recent years for the modern Miroir d’eau, which at 37,000 square feet is the largest reflecting pool to be found anywhere in the world.
Miroir d’eau, or the “Water Mirror,” is a truly exceptional sight. You’re bound to be dazzled as you admire the reflection of the Palais de la Bourse and the surrounding square in the water as you wait for the pool to mist over every 15 minutes.
4. Admire the Gross Cloche de Bordeaux
Bordeaux’s historic old town is jam-packed with heritage-listed buildings, but if you only have time for one piece of architectural history, we recommend visiting the Gross Cloche de Bordeaux.
This historic Bordeaux sightseeing attraction is a magnificent 15th-century tower and gatehouse that forms part of the medieval city defenses. The tower was built on the site of an even older gatehouse that dated to the 12th century, while later additions resulted in the more aesthetically pleasing look you see today (rather than the rugged medieval look).
The star of the show, though, is the Gross Cloche. This giant bell hangs from the tower, and it was rung in times of trouble to warn citizens of fire or (in true Bordeaux fashion) when it was time for the grape harvests to begin.
The current Gross Cloche dates back to 1755 and has become an enduring symbol of the city. Look at Bordeaux’s coat of arms, and you’ll see the tower and the Gross Cloche take center stage!
5. Admire the glorious architecture of Bordeaux Cathedral
One of the best sights in Bordeaux is the city’s magnificent cathedral. With a history dating back to the 9th century AD, this historic place of worship is one of Bordeaux’s most important institutions, and we know you’re going to love how the layers of architecture tell the very story of the city itself.
Bordeaux Cathedral is dedicated to Saint Andrew (the cathedral is officially named the Primatial Cathedral of Saint Andrew of Bordeaux), and it’s currently the primary place of religious worship for the city’s Roman Catholics. The cathedral is also an integral stop on France’s historic pilgrimage trails, so much so that it’s inscribed under the UNESCO World Heritage-listed “Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France.”
Today, you’ll find a wonderful cathedral with twin spires reaching a height of 81 meters. The original church was first built in 814 AD by the Carolingians, but little of this remains to be seen.
The Romanesque elements were added in the 12th century when the church attempted to attract pilgrims passing through Bordeaux, while the Gothic architecture dates to the 15th century. The cathedral has been renovated and updated throughout the 20th century and continues to proudly stand as one of Bordeaux’s most iconic landmarks!
6. Explore a submarine base that’s now an art gallery
A visit to Les Bassins de Lumières is one of the most unique things to do in Bordeaux. This immersive cultural space for artists and artwork is located within a former submarine base, and we know you’re going to love exploring this unusual artistic exhibition!
During World War II, the Germans constructed a series of fortified submarine pens in Bordeaux’s harbor, providing shelter from Allied attacks and easy access to the shipping lanes of the Atlantic Ocean.
For decades, Bordeaux was unsure what to do with the concrete behemoths, but in 2010, the submarine base was handed over to “Culturespaces,” a company that specializes in turning historic monuments into art spaces.
Les Bassins de Lumieres is devoted to providing visitors with a visual and audio experience like no other. The submarine pens, which are over 100 meters long and 20 meters wide, have been transformed into staggering light and sound exhibitions that immerse you in art. It’s one of the largest digital art exhibitions in the world, and having only opened to the public in 2020, it’s also one of the coolest Bordeaux attractions!
7. Explore the history of wine at Musee du Vin et du négoce de Bordeaux
Bordeaux is considered to be the center of the winemaking world, so it should come as no surprise to you that the city is home to a fascinating collection of wine museums. If you’d love a deep dive into the history of winemaking, then one of the top things to see in Bordeaux is the Musée du Vin et du Négoce de Bordeaux.
This excellent museum offers an immersion into Bordeaux’s very foundations as you head underground into vaulted cellars below the city’s streets. The museum is located within heritage-listed wine cellars dating back to 1720, and there’s a serious focus on the local history and traditions that Bordeaux is famous for.
Inside the cellars, you’ll find a unique collection of historic objects associated with winemaking and the wine trade. The museum explores the stories of Bordeaux’s great winemaking families and the wine merchants and traders that took the local vintages global in the 18th and 19th centuries.
As with all great wine museums, the Musée du Vin et du Négoce de Bordeaux ends every tour with an expert-led tasting session of Bordeaux’s best Medoc, Graves, and Saint-Émilion vintages!
8. Take a stroll through the Jardin Public
If you need a quick breath of fresh air, then head to the Jardin Public, where you’ll find Bordeaux’s best public park.
Often described as the “lungs of the city,” the Jardin Public is one of the oldest green spaces in Bordeaux. The gardens were founded all the way back in 1746 when they offered Bordeaux’s citizens and visitors an escape from the built environment ever since.
The Jardin Public provides 11 hectares of outdoor space for you to explore. There’s green grass, landscaped gardens, trees, and colorful plants for you to enjoy as you stroll along the beautiful watercourse that runs through the park.
But there’s more to the Jardin Public than nature. The park is also home to historic 18th-century buildings, which house a bar and restaurant, as well as Bordeaux’s excellent Natural History Museum. Most intriguing of all is the Jardin Public’s unusual puppet show.
Known as the Guignol tradition, this famous puppet show has been performed by generations of the Guerin family. Their beautiful marionette puppets act out scenes of comedy and everyday life, entertaining the crowds as they have done for years!
9. Walk Rue Sainte-Catherine, the longest pedestrian street in Europe
Bordeaux is made for walking, and one of the best things to do in Bordeaux is to walk along the fully pedestrianized Rue Sainte-Catherine.
This is one of Bordeaux’s main thoroughfares, and you’ll love how the street is a serious blend of old and new. Rue Sainte-Catherine is lined with designer shops and high-end retail outlets, but the street itself is built on top of an original Roman road that’s 2,000 years old.
You’ll be following in the footsteps of Bordeaux’s history as you stroll along the street, stopping to browse shop windows, order a cafe au lait, or enjoy a glass of Bordeaux’s finest wine on the way.
Rue Sainte-Catherine was fully pedestrianized in the 1970s, and at around one mile in length, it’s considered the longest pedestrianized street in Europe!
10. Browse the books at Libraire Mollat
Bibliophiles can rejoice because one of the best places to visit in Bordeaux is a library! This isn’t just any old library, though. This is Librairie Mollat, the largest independent bookshop to be found anywhere in France.
You’ve got 15 separate sections to explore, each dedicated to a unique expertise (French literature or history, for example) and spread out over a mammoth area covering thousands of square feet of bookshelves and reading spaces.
Librairie Mollat is, of course, home to an extensive collection of rare and unique French titles, but unusually for a French bookstore, there’s also an expansive English language collection.
Literature fans will also love the history of Libraire Mollat. Located in the heart of Bordeaux, the building was once the home of French philosopher Montesquieu, who lived here in the 18th century.
11. Shop, eat, and drink at the Marche des Quais
We love authentic local markets, and in Bordeaux, there are few better than the Marche des Quais.
This wonderful local produce market is open all year round, but unfortunately, it’s only open once a week on Sundays. It’s well worth timing your trip to visit because you’re going to fall head over heels for the special setting and unique food and drink on offer.
Marche des Quais is located among the harborside quays of Chartrons, where you’ll find an open-air market overlooking the River Garonne. Browse the 60 or so market stalls that set up shop here on Sundays, and you’ll be spoiled for choice as you decide between oysters and macarons!
There’s a heavy focus on locally sourced produce, and if you’re staying in Bordeaux for some time, then it’s the perfect place to stock up on your groceries for the week. Equally, the street food, craft beers and ciders, and artisanal cheeses are all to die for, and you’ll have a hard time walking away empty-handed.
12. Visit Darwin, Bordeaux’s quirky urban experiment
A visit to Darwin is one of the coolest things to do in Bordeaux. Located in Bordeaux’s Bastide District, this unique urban regeneration project is home to art galleries, organic vegetable farms, skate parks, and live music venues.
Darwin bills itself as a “sociological experiment,” and you’ll quickly understand how the developers are trying to create positive change in the urban environment. Darwin is a collection of shops, projects, and venues that are all found within the repurposed walls of a former military barracks, and we know you’re going to have a great time exploring what’s inside the complex.
The abandoned military ruins have been modernized before being brightened up with street art and colorful graffiti. You’ll find art exhibitions and galleries, you can visit for live music events and cultural shows, or you can just pop along to see how things are growing on the urban farm!
You can try the organic produce that’s grown here at Vortex, the largest organic dining hall in France, where fresh food and excellent craft beers are always top of the menu.
13. Enjoy the views from Parc de l’Ermitage
If you’re looking for the best view of Bordeaux, then head to Parc de l’Ermitage, where a beautiful balcony pathway offers glorious panoramas of the city.
You’ll find Parc de l’Ermitage on the eastern bank of the River Garonne, from where you’ll see the famous Pont d’Aquitaine spanning the river. The park is a green, verdant wilderness in the heart of the city, and you’ll be surprised to learn this natural space had a former life as an industrial quarry.
Thankfully the old quarry was repurposed and rewilded, and you’ll love the results as you explore acres of nature in the city’s expansive green belt. There’s much to see and many walking routes to take, but a hike to the top of the cliffs offers views over the River Garonne and across to the Port of the Moon from an elevation of some 60 meters above sea level.
14. Take a tour of the 1855 Médoc Wineries
Beautiful Bordeaux is inseparable from its vineyards, and you can’t visit the city without taking a tour of the fabled 1855 Médoc Wineries. Medoc wine is produced in the wineries located on the left bank of the River Garonne, and they were given their “classification” in 1855 by Napoleon III, a title they’ve proudly held ever since.
Medoc wine is predominantly red and has geographical protection. You can find out more about this unique wine-growing region by visiting the local vineyards on a tour from Bordeaux.
Many of the wineries double up as historic chateaus where you can delve into history while sampling local vintages. Some of the most popular vineyards include Chateau Gruaud Larose, Chateau Pichon Baron, and Chateau Marquis de Termes.
15. Take a day trip to Saint-Émilion
As beautiful as Bordeaux is, we won’t stop you if you’re planning a day trip. In fact, we’d actively encourage you to take a day trip to Saint-Émilion while you’re staying in the city!
Saint-Émilion is a 40-minute drive east of Bordeaux, and you’ll have the chance to cross both the River Garonne and the River Dordogne on your way there. This small town has a population of fewer than 2,000 inhabitants, but despite its small stature, Saint-Émilion is one of the biggest names in winemaking.
This is the heart of Bordeaux’s traditional winemaking region, but you’ll also love how Saint-Émilion is one of the best-preserved examples of a medieval town in France. Stroll along steep cobbled streets, peek inside Romanesque churches, and then take a tour of the local vineyards.
Saint-Émilion wine is included in the Bordeaux wine trade’s classifications list, and the wine produced in the region has protected geographical status within France (only wine made in Saint-Émilion can be called Saint-Émilion wine!).
The winemaking traditions here are ancient, and you’ll learn how wine has been produced here since the first techniques were introduced by the Romans some 2,000 years ago.
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Bordeaux. What’s your favorite thing to do in Bordeaux?
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