For the longest time, I was drawn between visiting Bordeaux or give it a pass; and I’ve sure not been alone with this feeling.
It’s almost funny how a city that is synonymous with the world’s most famous wine was so long neglected by wine tourists and many others alike. Though that’s perhaps no surprise, as France’s fifths largest city until not too long ago suffered from a reputation of being neglected and largely in decay.
A big revitalization programme run over more than fifteen years has changed all that. It saw the city’s over three hundred historic buildings and monuments, its main squares and city centre streets restored and finally return to their old grandeur.
Though Bordeaux still remains a city that most will visit because of its connection with wine, before you head off to hit the many wine bars, make sure to pay a visit to the city’s most stunning sites.
Fun fact: More than half of Bordeaux is protected by UNESCO, essentially making the city the world’s largest World Heritage site.
Designed by Jacques Gabriel in 1720, the majestic Place de la Bourse quickly became the new symbol of Bordeaux, lined by impressive historic buildings.
The square’s main attraction today however has become the large water mirror on the quayside opposite the Palais de la Bourse, covering an area of nearly 3,500 sq m of lack granite. The place is drained and refilled with water every half hour and every 23 minutes it is covered in a mist of water.
Cathédrale Saint-André is perhaps the most iconic building after Place de la Bourse. It dates back to 1096 also most parts that remain today are from the 13th and 14th centuries.
Adjacent to the cathedral is Pey Berland bell tower. It was built as a later addition in order to house the massive eleven tonnes bell, the fourth largest in France because the original bell tower of the cathedral was not able to support the weight of the bell.
Located just behind the cathedral you will also find Bordeaux’s gorgeous city hall.
Another of the city’s historic gothic masterpieces is Basilica of St-Michel, built during the 14th and 16th centuries.
Like Cathédrale Saint-André it has a freestanding bell tower, the Fleche St-Michel with at 114 metres is one of the tallest medieval stone towers in France. In fact, you can see the top of the tower from almost everywhere in the city.
The drop dead gorgeous Grand Theatre (also known as the Bordeaux National Opera) is without doubt one of the most impressive historic opera houses ever built. It dates back to the 18th century and features twelve Corinthian columns that give the building a definite Greek feeling.
Build in the 15th century, the 35 metres tall city gate Porte Cailau which used to be part of the city wall, is likely the most photographed building in the whole city. It was built to celebrate Kind Charles VIII’s victory at Fornovo in Italy and features several ornamental sculptures and towers. Inside, you will find la Grosse Gloche, the ‘big bell’.
Just behind Porte Cailau, the beautiful little Place du Palais is the perfect example of a typical Southern European medieval town square and just perfect to sit down at one of the many little bars to sip on a glass of red!
Only few minutes away from Port Cailau and Place du Palais are two other lovely town squares with lots of bars and restaurants.
Place Saint Pierre which is also home of another of Bordeaux’s gothic cathedrals
… and the gorgeous Place du Parlement.
Another of the most photographed monuments in the city is Monument aux Girondins, located on Place des Quinconces (the largest square in Europe), built in honour of the Girondin revolutionaries who stood for the French revolution in Bordeaux.
Bordeaux is built on both sides of the Garonne river although the largest part is located on the left bank. Pont de Pierre was the bridge built to directly connect the two sides of the river. Although built only much later (in the early 1820s) it was already ordered to be constructed by Napoleon Bonaparte; indeed it features seventeen arches, the same number as Napoleon’s name and surname taken together.
Rue Sainte-Catherine is not only Bordeaux’s main shopping street, it is also the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe at 1.2 kilometres long. It starts at the Grand Theatre and runs all the way to Place de la Victory. The best part, at least in my view are the many little cafés and little boutiques along the small alleys leading away from Rue Sainte-Catherine where you will find mainly the usual international mid-market brands.
Other activities that should be on your list visiting Bordeaux
Go for a wine bar crawl
Visiting Bordeaux, you need to get a good dose of wine of course. After all, you are in one of the most acclaimed wine-growing regions of the world. Therefore, take your time to head to some of the best wine bars in the city. And after all the sightseeing, you earn some rest.
Now you can claim literally all bars in the city (and there are many) are wine bars. However, there are some quite famous including La Maison du Vin, L’Independant and Aux Quatre Coins du Vin. Otherwise, you might want to follow the ‘urban wine trail’ created by the Bordeaux Tourism Board, featuring a wide range of different wine bars across the city that offer some particular features like a beautiful terrace, a particular wine or food offer or other entertainment.
Pay a visit to Cité de Vin
This futuristic looking structure designed to resemble a wine decanter, opened in 2016 with the aim to become the most important wine museum in the world. There are a number of permanent and temporary expositions (of which many are interactive) providing insight into wine regions across the world, wine production, vintners, and much more. A wine tasting on the 8th floor with stunning views over the port and along the Garonne river is included in the entrance fee.
Head out to the gorgeous Bordeaux vineyards
Though the city of Bordeaux itself already has a huge offer around wine, if you have time enough definitely set aside a day for a tour to the beautiful Bordeaux vineyards and chateau outside of the city. The closest appellations are just about 30 to 40 minutes from the centre of Bordeaux.
However, make sure you have made appointments in advance if you want to visit a chateau as otherwise you might not be given access. Whilst most chateau now accept visits, only very few are open on a regular schedule and approachable without prior notice.
Have you been to Bordeaux yet? Let me know about your experience.