Synonymous with the world’s finest wines, Bordeaux itself has flamboyantly popped the cork after a grand 15-year facelift. Its elegant 18th-century architecture earned it the nickname ‘Little Paris’ and it has now been bestowed with World Heritage status. A beautiful new riverfront park and gourmet restaurants add to the 'joie de vivre' that radiates from the busy outdoor cafés, while old riverside warehouses now house art galleries and cocktail bars. It’s perfect for a romantic weekend and makes a good base for visiting the great wine châteaux or the sandy beaches and dunes at Arcachon.
Wonderful bordelaise cuisine
Elegant World Heritage centre
World-famous wine regions
Located where the Garonne flows into the Gironde estuary, Bordeaux is surrounded by gravelly landscapes and low hills covered with vines. Medieval Bordeaux survives in the Quartier Saint-Pierre, but much of the city was rebuilt during the 18th century, including the construction of one of Europe’s most elegant waterfronts around a bend in the river known as Port de la Lune. The riverfront Place des Quinconces separates this from Chartrons, the picturesque wine merchants’ quarter.
Proud of its Enlightenment past, Bordeaux was famous in France for being snobby with its wine aristocracy and British ‘airs’. No longer. With the city’s overhaul, a new Bordeaux has emerged, relaxed, cheerful, open to the world and ready to enjoy the good things in life: wine, food and sunshine. One of the most important social rituals is the after-work aperitif, when the café terraces are packed.
Bordeaux’s cuisine complements its fabulous wines. Seafood, river fish (including sturgeon and caviar) and oysters from Arcachon are popular; beef (especially steaks), duck, foie gras and lamb all feature widely. Classic lunches and dinners can take hours, but many locals eat set-price lunches and splurge in the evening.
What to try
Try the classic entrecôte à la bordelaise, steak with a sauce of shallots and wine, ideally grilled over sarments (wine cuttings). It’s the perfect match for the famous red wines.
Where to eat & drink
There are fine restaurants throughout the city centre, with the Quartier Saint-Pierre home to some of the trendiest spots. In the evening, the locals head to the city’s main hubs: Place de la Victoire with its many lively bars, Place Saint-Pierre, Place Gambetta and Place du Parlement. Look for late-night music bars and clubs around Quai de Paludate and Quai des Chartrons.
Where to stay
The city centre (around Place de la Comédie, Place Gambetta and Place des Quinconces) and the medieval Quartier Saint-Pierre are ideal areas for first-time visitors who want to see the sights and enjoy the city’s cafés, restaurants and nightlife; wine tours nearly always depart from the city centre as well. Wine buffs or anyone after a rural retreat will enjoy staying at a hotel or château in the vineyards; those on the slopes around Saint-Emilion are exceptionally pretty.
Where to shop
Bordeaux is proud to be home to Europe’s longest pedestrian street, the 1.5km-long Rue Sainte-Catherine. Every inch is lined with shops, including all the major French chains. Indie boutiques fill the Quartier Saint-Pierre, while the ‘Golden Triangle’ focuses on luxury goods and haute couture. The picturesque Chartrons quarter is renowned for its antiques, concentrated around the Village Notre-Dame, while Quai des Chartrons has morphed into Quai des Marques, brimming with designer factory outlets.
What to buy
Wine, wine, wine. Bordeaux is also famous for gourmet foods of all kinds, haute couture fashion and classy antiques.
Health & safety
Bordeaux is a safe city with a low petty crime rate, but take all the usual precautions – don’t leave anything on display in parked cars and keep a close eye on cameras and other valuables in crowded areas (especially on buses). There are seedy areas on the south side of town, with few people on the streets, where you may not want to walk alone. In summer, take sensible precautions against the strong sun.
When to go
Cultured Bordeaux is a year-round destination, although winters can be wet and dull, especially for wine tourism. The main season begins around Easter, when it’s warm and sunny enough to sit outside and the vines sprout their first leaves. By June, it’s warm enough to swim at Arcachon. Summers can be hot, but rarely uncomfortably so. Mid June to mid July is the prime time for festivals. September and October offer mild temperatures, the excitement of the grape harvest and the dazzling autumn colours of the vines.
Jet’Bus services link Bordeaux’s centre and train station with the airport every 45 minutes; alternatively the Liane 1 bus runs from the airport to Place des Quinconces, linking up with Bordeaux’s three tram lines. There are also numerous taxis available.
Most sights in Bordeaux’s centre are within walking distance, with sleek trams and an electric city centre bus for longer distances. A riverbus boat goes from Quai Richelieu to Place Aristide Briand. The city has a municipal bike hire scheme (VCub) and taxis are plentiful, with stands in key locations. There are numerous parking garages, although driving in the city centre isn’t much fun with one-way streets and traffic galore.
Hop on a VCub bike
With a credit card, make use of Bordeaux’s handy municipal bike hire scheme; there are some 130 stations dotted around. First half-hour free, then EUR2 per hour.
- Type City
- Notoriety Well known
- Price guide $$$$$
- Time zone GMT / UTC +01:00
- Currency EUR
- Climate Warm temperate
- Environment Urban
- Politics Liberal
- Best time Mar-Oct
Gare Saint Jean
Get in the mood
Bordeaux and its Wines by Robert JosephThere are dozens of specialist books about Bordeaux's wines, but this lavishly illustrated tome covering the city as well as the vineyards is a superb general introduction.
DomainBordeaux forms a beautiful backdrop to Patric Chiha's quirky 2010 film about an overly intimate relationship between a mathematician aunt and her gay nephew.