Post Overview: A Guide for Visiting Bordeaux, France | Best Things to Do in Bordeaux
In the summer of 2022, my husband and I took a month-long trip to the south of France. Our original plan was to spend the month in Aix-en-Provence but a crappy Airbnb experience encouraged us to pursue other plans (such is life, no?).
Inspired to turn lemons into lemonade, we quickly rearranged our plans and made way to Bordeaux for two weeks. Having little time to plan, we weren’t privy to a game plan before visiting Bordeaux and entertained the idea of winging it. Why not, I guess?
Sitting pretty along the Garonne River, Bordeaux is often overlooked by tourists. All the better, because the city’s irresistible charm is only doubled by how authentic it feels. In a lot of ways, Bordeaux feels like a smaller and more refined version of Paris.
Opulent buildings, celebrated brasseries and meandering cobble-stone streets, it’s perfectly French and perfectly fun. So without further ado, let’s cover the best things to do in Bordeaux, France. Hope you enjoy!
Nice to meet you, I’m Antonina
But my friends call me Annie. I spent two weeks visiting Bordeaux last August (2022) and wanted to share some of the gems I found.
If you have any questions about the best things to do in Bordeaux after reading this list, please don’t hesitate to reach out with questions!
You can consider me your personal guide to Bordeaux, I’m (always) happy to help a fellow traveler out.
Visiting Bordeaux, France
Best Things to Do Bordeaux
Grab a Photo With the Porte Cailhau
Arguably the most famous building in Bordeaux, grabbing a photo with the Porte Cailhau is not to be missed while visiting Bordeaux.
Defining Bordeaux’s charming historic center (which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site), this baby is the defining icon of the city.
Built between 1493 and 1495, Porte Cailhau served as the principal entrance to the city from the riverside port. It created direct access to the Palais de Ombrière, home of the dukes of Guyenne (and then the Parliament of Bordeaux).
The Porte Cailhau is a study in Medieval architecture, so it’s only natural that admiring this bad boy is one of the best things to do in Bordeaux, don’t miss it.
Admire the Grosse Cloche
Can’t get enough of alluring French towers? Okay, Rapunzel. Make your way over to Grosse Cloche (French for Fat Bell). Dating back to 1775 (a year before America declared independence!), this is one of the oldest belfries in France and warrants a gander.
The Grosse Cloche is strikingly similar to Porte Cailhau. Similarly, it stands as a symbol for the city of Bordeaux and is so iconic it’s featured on the city’s coat of arms.
The tower is topped with a bell that is operational to this day and rings six times a year to mark special French celebrations (Remembrance Day, Bastille Day, etc.). It also rings the first Sunday of the month, so if you’re visiting Bordeaux at that time, don’t miss it.
When you’re done appreciating this beauty up close, park yourself at Books & Coffee for a midday break. Sipping cappuccinos and munching on brunch under the watchful gaze of Grosse Cloche is one of the most relaxing things to do in Bordeaux (speaking from firsthand experience).
Bordeaux Travel Tip: If you’re the adventurous sort, you can sign up for a tour of Grosse Cloche. The tower was used as a prison and visitors can tour the chilling dungeons with a guide. Learn more here.
Enjoy a Slow Meal at Le Petit Commerce
Bordeaux’s food scene surprised and impressed me. The cuisines offered span the gamut and we had some delicious meals. But the best meal, by far, was at Le Petit Commerce, a quaint little seafood restaurants serving top-notch dishes.
We allowed the tempting menu to guide us in the right direction and ended up ordering oysters, welks, razor clams and escargot (with a bottle of chilled white wine, of course). Everything was exceptional!
This was one of our most memorable meals in France, which is why Le Petit Commerce is one of the best things to do in Bordeaux for foodies. Order the oysters (you won’t regret it!).
Enjoy a Glass of Bordeaux Wine
I’m probably not the first to tell you that Bordeaux is best known for wine. France’s premier wine producing region is known the world over for velvety red wines few can resist falling in love with.
Bordeaux’s wine production dates back to the first century when Romans introduced it to the region. Today the region produces more than 960 million of bottles of wine per year. If you’re interested exclusively in wines from the region, request for wines from Médoc and St. Emilion.
Needless to say, sampling your way through the various wines from the region is one of the best things to do in Bordeaux. In true French fashion, claim a small outdoor table and order a glass from a local brasserie. Give yourself permission to stay the length of the afternoon without guilt or purpose.
Some Advice: Visit the Bar à Vin
If you’re looking for a high end wine tasting experience in Bordeaux, I suggest Le Bar à Vin (pinkies up!). Offering an impressive variety of local wine, this is one of the best things to do in Bordeaux for wine lovers. You can request tasters or order by the glass. Oh, and the cheese board is non-negotiable.
Bordeaux Travel Tip: There’s a wine museum called La Cité du Vin that’s revered as the premiere wine museum in the city. It seems like a popular attraction in Bordeaux, but didn’t speak to us personally.
If you’d like to get a deeper understanding of the region’s wine, you may enjoy the La Cité du Vin. Several tourists we chatted with said it was one of their favorite things to do in Bordeaux. We, on the other hand, preferred to use the admission fee for a cheeky bottle of wine — to each their own!
Side story: We ended up visiting Bordeaux shortly after our trip to Scotland. My husband is an avid Scotch enthusiast (mom, if you’re reading this — it’s not in the problematic way). Naturally, he wanted to see if Bordeaux had any local whisky distilleries and — lo and behold — there was one called Distillerie Moon Harbour!
We decided to pay them a visit and signed up for a facility tour. They’re located a bit out of town, so we had to get an uber (and caught the bus on the way back). The tour was pretty cool because the whisky is aged in a repurposed WWII storage bunker.
The tour ended up being one of the most unique things to do in Bordeaux (this is the wine region after all), and we enjoyed it. I suggest the whisky tour for avid whisky enthusiasts, but wouldn’t necessarily suggest going out of the way for this experience otherwise.
You may enjoy reading: Ranking the 9 Epic Whisky Distilleries on Islay, Scotland
Catch Sunset at the Waterfront
While visiting Bordeaux we made it a goal to spend every evening outside. When traveling long-term, it’s tempting to be cooped up inside a cozy Airbnb and spend the end of the day cooking a meal or nursing a bottle of wine. But alas, we were determined to discover the best things to do in Bordeaux and peeled ourselves out of the apartment.
It didn’t take long to realize that locals congregate at the waterfront. We were surprised by the crowds and a flurry of activity at the waterfront. Young couples walking hand-in-hand, families biking the waterfront route, groups of friends spreading out on picnic blankets and street performers of varying talents serenading us all.
The people watching opportunities are endless, which is what makes this one of the best evening activities in Bordeaux, France. Swing by to see what all the fuss it about while watching the sunset change the colors of the city before dipping in for the night.
Bordeaux Travel Tip: In 2006 an art instillation called Miroir d’ea (French for mirror of water) was installed at the waterfront. It’s considered the largest reflecting pool in the world and swells with happy kids during the warm summer months. If you’re visiting Bordeaux with kids, they may enjoy this activity.
Stroll Through the Public Garden (Jardin Public)
The Public Garden is a large, scenic public park in the heart of Bordeaux. Spending an easy-going afternoon under the shade of a mature tree is one of the best things to do in Bordeaux.
Whether you want to throw yourself a picnic, take a nap, go birding or enjoy some quality people-watching, you’re bound to have a great time. The park swells with locals during the weekends, as families and friends gather to catch up with kids in town.
It’s a beautiful park and we spent most days wandering through it on our way to town. All told, this was one of our favorite things to do in Bordeaux and I think you’ll like it too.
Eat Your Weight in Canéles
If you’ve ever found yourself in a French bakery (in America or anywhere else in the world), you’ve undoubtedly seen a canelé. But did you know that canelés were invented in France?
Dating back between the 15th and 18th century, the aptly named canelé comes from the French word for “fluted.” The exact date the pastry first appears is contested, but the location is not. Myriad history books concur that canelés originated in Bordeaux.
As such, eating your weight in these chewy little bites of indulgence is one of the best things to do in Bordeaux. Thankfully, you can’t throw a stick without hitting a canéle shop inadvertently. Pop in and try them wherever you can get them!
Bordeaux Travel Tip: If you’re looking for the best canéles while visiting Bordeaux, make a beeline for La Toque Cuivrée. Admittidely, the granddady of canéles in Bordeaux is Canelés Baillardran, but I found them expensive and no better than La Toque Cuivrée.
Tour the Bordeaux Cathedral
First mentioned as early as the 9th century (imagine!), the Bordeaux Cathedral is the city’s crown jewel for many reasons. Chief among them is the 1615 royal wedding of Anne of Austria and King Louis XIII.
It’s a stunning piece of architecture, making it a natural stop for history buffs in search of the best things to do in Bordeaux.
Peruse the Sunday Market in Chartrons
If you’re into antiques then visiting the Sunday Market in Chartrons may end up being one of your favorite things to do in Bordeaux, France. As you may have guessed, the market takes place Sunday morning, right long the Garonne river.
Buy Local Produce from le Marché des Capuçins
While visiting Bordeaux, we found ourselves gravitating towards the historic center on a daily basis. There’s something so alluring about this place and we didn’t have the heart to resist.
While exploring the area on a random Saturday morning we happened upon le Marché des Capuçins, a market full of local vendors.
You’ll find everything from local produce and fresh baked goods to fresh fish and smoked meats, you’ll find it all. We stocked up on fresh vegetables and local bread before heading back to the apartment to make a meal. It was one of our most relaxing days while visiting Bordeaux.
Visiting Bordeaux, France (Post Summary)
In sum, here’s a quick roundup of the best things to do in Bordeaux for anyone planning on visiting Bordeaux soon. Hope you enjoyed!
- Grab a Photo With the Porte Cailhau
- Admire the Grosse Cloche
- Enjoy a Slow Meal at Le Petit Commerce
- Enjoy a Glass of Bordeaux Wine
- Catch Sunset at the Waterfront
- Eat Your Weight in Canéles
- Tour the Bordeaux Cathedral
- Peruse the Sunday Market in Chartrons
- Buy Local Produce from le Marché des Capuçins
- Stroll Through the Public Garden (Jardin Public)
Map of Best Things to Do in Bordeaux, France
Don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions! I’m happy to help.