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11 Essential Things to Do in Bordeaux, France

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I recently had the chance to visit the incredible city of Bordeaux. The lively restaurants, unique shops, and kind people blew me away. And the city is incredibly walkable. I spent a weekend touring the Bordeaux wine region at La Maison d’Estournel and a lovely day wandering around downtown Bordeaux at the end of my trip. These are the essential things to do in Bordeaux to make the most of your trip to this iconic city.

Known for its world-class wine, Bordeaux is blossoming into a younger hub for art, culture, and food beyond the traditional French style. From wine bars to boutiques and fine dining, this city has something new to try around every corner.

Red grapes in Bordeaux vineyard, France, perfect for wine lovers and travel enthusiasts
Red grapes in Bordeaux vineyard (Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers)

Here are some of the top places I visited in Bordeaux and why you should also visit them.

1. Visit a Vineyard in the Countryside

Château Smith Haut Lafitte vineyard estate, Bordeaux
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

The main reason I came to Bordeaux was to experience the wineries. I stayed at La Maison d’Estournel, about an hour’s drive from downtown Bordeaux. This boutique hotel is home to the Cos d’Estournel vineyard that boasts wonderful wines.

It’s no secret that Bordeaux city center has incredible wine bars. But you must take a day trip, or a weekend, to spend at the vineyards to try the impeccable Bordeaux wines from the source. You can choose between the right and left banks, or try both!

I visited Cos d’Estournel, Smith Haut LaFitte (pictured above), and Chateau Léoville-Poyferré. My favorite by far was Chateau Léoville-Poyferré. There are so many wonderful wineries in the region that you can’t go wrong. Make sure to book a tour of at least one so you can see multiple spots and try different types of wine.

Oak wine barrels in Bordeaux wine cellar, France, aging premium vintages
Bordeaux cellar oak barrels (Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers)

If you can, plan your trip around harvest season in late September. When you tour the vineyards, you can see how the wine is made in real-time. This is an absolute must when visiting Bordeaux!

2. Explore the Place de la Bourse & Mirror d’Eau

Musée National des Douanes, Place de la Bourse, Bordeaux, France - Customs Museum
Customs Museum in Bordeaux (Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers)

Now, I will show you there’s more to visiting Bordeaux than just a good drop of vino. Framed by the Garonne River and the glistening Mirror d’Eau reflecting pool, the Place de la Bourse (or stock exchange square) symbolizes Bordeaux’s unique grace. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, this elegant 18th-century square is a great place to kick off your Bordeaux wine adventure.

Fountain of the Three Graces at Place de la Bourse, Bordeaux, France iconic landmark
Fountain of the Three Graces (Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers)

Surrounded by stunning Neoclassical architecture, this site is popular for taking pictures, especially from the Mirror d’Eau (or water mirror). This large, shallow reflecting pool is walkable (and splashable) and beautifully reflects the buildings around the square from April to October, hence the name. It’s also a prime spot for incredible snaps, and it’s great in summer if you need to cool off.

3. Have a picnic in the Jardin Public

Aerial view of the Jardin Public in Bordeaux, France
Lachaud / Adobe Stock

To see more of Bordeaux, stroll around the Jardin Public, a gorgeous English garden in the city’s heart. Surrounded by beautiful honey-hued houses of the 18th century and the Natural History Museum of Bordeaux, this lovely public park is popular with folks looking for a place to stretch their legs or enjoy a picnic lunch – washed down with some white wine, perhaps.

Across 11 hectares of lawns, flower beds, and ponds, this historic park is great for those with kids who need some distraction. Children can enjoy the playground, and everyone can enjoy the historic puppet shows that have been taking place here on the reg since the 19th century. It also features the stunning, historic Bordeaux botanical garden, next on the list.

See Related: Best Gardens in Europe to Visit

4. Spend a day at Jardin Botanique de Bordeaux

Pathways in Jardin Botanique de Bordeaux
Jardin Botanique de Bordeaux / Facebook

Another great place to enjoy nature’s beauty is the Bordeaux Botanical Garden, a thriving haven of local markets and global greenery in Jardin Public. This was the site of the city’s first medicinal garden, where certain botanicals were cultivated and harvested by Bordeaux’s healers in the 17th century before becoming a public botanical garden in the 19th century.

Although relatively modest, it is filled with plants from around the world, with an estimated 3,000 species currently taking root and nearly 90,000 preserved seed and herb specimens. But it’s strolling the garden where you’ll see all the green variety. You can find a cycad tree here, watch lotus flowers open their petals to the world, and admire the bamboo grove or the Chinese windmill palms.

5. Tour the Natural History Museum of Bordeaux

Exhibit at Muséum de Bordeaux  in Bordeaux, France
Muséum de Bordeaux / Facebook

If you want to learn about the area surrounding Bordeaux and the wider world, you should visit the Natural History Museum of Bordeaux, also known as the Bordeaux Museum. The museum is on the southwestern edge of Bordeaux, near Jardin Public.

It is one of the largest museums in France, with a collection of over a million artifacts, with around 3,500 of them on display at any given time. The museum is also one of the oldest in the world, having opened in 1791.

Despite its age, the museum recently underwent a massive restoration and still looks fresh. It is well-organized and accessible to all, making it an excellent destination for a family day out, especially for wildlife enthusiasts.

6. Visit the Pey Berland Tower

Tourists checking out the Pey Berland Tower in Bordeaux, France
ivoderooij / Adobe Stock

Prepare for an unforgettable journey through time with a visit to Pey Berland Tower. This beautiful tower, constructed during the Middle Ages as a bell tower for Bordeaux Cathedral, boasts stunning architecture that will leave you in awe. The tower was built separately from the cathedral to prevent any potential damage from the vibrations of the massive bells that the builders planned to include.

Despite being initially used as housing for nearly 300 years due to budget constraints, the tower now serves as a church tower, standing tall without a church attached. In 1851, bells were finally added and have been ringing ever since.

Climb the 231 steps to the top of this beautiful tower for breathtaking views of Bordeaux that will amaze you. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to visit Bordeaux and witness the unique view of the city’s beauty from above.

See Related: Most Beautiful Villages in France to Visit

7. Tour the Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux

Architecture of Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux in Bordeaux, France
Pierre Violet / Adobe Stock

A short walk takes you to the Bordeaux Cathedral, the Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux. Relatively small and unassuming compared to many Catholic cathedrals around France, this venerable church’s roots stretch back to at least the 9th Century.

It’s evolved from a typical Medieval Romanesque church to a Gothic cathedral, with its last major additions completed in the 19th century, along with the neighboring belltower.

Containing four chapels, the cathedral’s nave and vaulted transept are particularly impressive. The same can be said for the cathedral’s mighty pipe organ and radiant stained glass windows – some originals from the Middle Ages. 

8. Check out the Grosse Cloche

Porte Cailhau, historic gateway in Bordeaux cityscape
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Bordeaux is known for its wine, but one attraction stands out: the Grosse Cloche, or Big Bell. This bell is housed in a 15th-century town gate that later became Bordeaux’s town hall and is a magnificent sight to behold. With its gilded clock face and stunning conical roofs, the tower and belfry are charming and a key part of Bordeaux’s skyline.

But the bell is also impressive, weighing around 7,800 kilos and measuring about 2 meters across. It was used to signal communal events or emergencies, such as fire and attacks on the city.

Today, it only rings on the first Sunday of every month at noon and six more times per year to signify key dates on the French calendar, such as Bastille Day and VE-Day. Check the schedule to see if you can witness more than one strike. I know there’s a joke somewhere about France and strikes, but let’s appreciate the beauty and history of the Grosse Cloche for now.

The streets leading up to the Grosse Cloche are lined with shops and restaurants. It is a wonderful walk to see the bell, and you can easily continue to the next stop.

9. Tour the Basilique Saint-Michel

Exterior of Basilique Saint-Michel in Bordeaux, France
Jonathan Stutz / Adobe Stock

Unlike many churches in France, Bordeaux’s Basilica of Saint Michael was built in the Flamboyant Gothic style, and it is a sight to behold. It is one of the three main churches in town, along with the Basilica of St Severinus and the Bordeaux Cathedral.

Compared to Bordeaux Cathedral, a historic landmark, the Basilica of Saint Michael is a relatively young church built in the late 14th century. The separate tower, La Flèche, was added to the church in the 15th century.

Despite its status as a minor basilica, the church boasts awe-inspiring architecture inside and out. La Flèche is equally impressive and can be climbed from April through October.

See Related: Most Beautiful Small Towns in France

10. Visit the Monument aux Girondins

Monument aux Girondins and skyline in Bordeaux, France
Rosen / Adobe Stock

You can witness the city’s past at practically every turn in Bordeaux. The churches showcase the impact of Catholicism on the region, and the Grosse Cloche bears symbolism that points to England’s temporary ownership of the area. However, the Monument aux Girondins is among the most significant historical landmarks that can be used to narrate the story of Bordeaux and France.

The Monument aux Girondins is in the city center’s historic center, in the beautiful Place des Quinconces. It was built in the late 19th century as a tribute to the Girondins. This was one of the crucial anti-monarchist groups active during the revolution. Interestingly, it was championed by one of the revolutionaries’ grandchildren.

The Monument takes the form of a towering column crowned by the Spirit of Liberty, surrounded by a striking array of bronze sculptures that tell an allegorical story of “The Terror” and the hard-won liberty earned by the French. It is a stirring monument that offers a superb opportunity for some great pictures. I enjoyed sitting on the steps and soaking in the sun during my visit!

11. Experience the La Cité du Vin

Aerial view of Bordeaux's Wine Museum La Cité du Vin and Bordeaux cityscape
Alexandre ROSA / Adobe Stock

Bordeaux is a dream destination for wine lovers! And if you’re looking for the ultimate shrine to the art of wine-making, La Cité du Vin, aka The City of Wine Museum, deserves your time. This stunning glass tower is a true masterpiece of contemporary art architecture and one of the most impressive museums in France, attracting around 500,000 visitors every year.

Once you step inside, you’ll be transported into a world of wine, where you’ll learn everything there is to know about the alchemy of fermentation, the history of wine production, and the art of wine tasting. The exhibits are arranged logically and engagingly, taking you on a journey from the vineyards of Bordeaux to the wine cellars of the world’s most celebrated wineries.

The museum also offers wine tastings and a range of wine-tasting workshops, where you can sample some of the finest wines from around the region. And if you’re feeling peckish, you can head to their in-house wine bar, where you can enjoy a glass of wine with some delicious local cheeses and charcuterie.

In short, La Cité du Vin is a must-visit destination for anyone who loves wine, art, and culture. Don’t forget to buy a bottle or two from a wine shop from their impressive wine cellar as a souvenir of your trip!

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