The Essential Guide to Bordeaux

This legendary region, steeped in history and wine, is crowned by the world’s largest urban UNESCO World Heritage site. The countryside is home to rolling vineyards, meandering rivers, and vestiges of Gallo-Roman culture, while the city is full of Gothic architecture, notable art museums, and distinctive restaurants. If you want to experience French wine and culture in equal measure, you can’t do much better than Bordeaux.

2 Rue Courbin, 33000 Bordeaux, France
Ask anyone who knows Bordeaux’s food scene where you can get a reliably excellent meal and they’re bound to suggest Le Bouchon Bordelais. Between its warm atmosphere, outdoor seating on a cobblestone street, reasonable prices, and location in the heart of Bordeaux, it’s one of the city’s most popular restaurants. Here, the frequently changing menu is varied and seasonal, ranging from wild shrimp samosas with leeks and watercress cream to marinated apricots with almond mousse. If you can’t decide on a main course, opt for one of the prix fixe menus and try a little bit of everything.
2-5 Place de la Comédie, 33000 Bordeaux, France
Luxury and personalized service are the hallmarks of this InterContinental set in an 18th-century historic building on Bordeaux’s impressive main square. With sumptuous decor that recalls the gracious mansions of yore, plus two Gordon Ramsay restaurants, one of Bordeaux’s loveliest lounges, a rooftop bar with stellar views, and a spa with a pool, sauna, hammam, and fitness room, the hotel really does have it all. Staying here, guests are based in the very heart of Bordeaux, just minutes from the old opera house as well as top dining, nightlife, shopping, and sightseeing—that is, if they can pry themselves away from the hotel.
10 Rue Labottière, 33000 Bordeaux, France
If money is no object or you’re up for a blowout weekend in Bordeaux, make like an aristocrat at this elegant 19th-century mansion set in a quiet residential neighborhood. Six sumptuous rooms feature a riot of luxury fabrics and wallpapers, plus spacious marble baths. The real revelation, however, is the three-Michelin-starred restaurant, run by world-renowned chef Pierre Gagnaire, who earned the top place on Le Chef’s 2015 list of the best chefs in the world. Here, you can expect thrilling dishes like duck foie gras biscuits and glazed wild sea bass, with impeccable service to match.
27 Rue des Bahutiers, 33000 Bordeaux, France
Located in the heart of Bordeaux’s historic district, Vins Urbains draws oenophiles and wine novices alike with more than 250 wines on offer at any time of day. Here, owners Jan and Christelle will guide you through their handpicked vintages, sharing anecdotes about the wines and their makers as they go. Beyond wine, the boutique specializes in produits du terroir like sardine rillettes, white truffle tapenade, and artisanal cheeses, so order something to pair with your wine. Also note that the vaulted cellar downstairs can accommodate groups and special tastings should you want to bring friends or family for a special occasion.
Esplanade de Pontac, 134 Quai de Bacalan, 33300 Bordeaux, France
Housed in a building that looks like a giant, shimmering wine decanter, La Cité du Vin is the world’s first high-tech, interactive wine museum. Experts from more than 40 different countries weighed in on the exhibitions here, which cover everything from the history, cultivation, production, and trade of wine to grape varieties, contemporary trends, and climate change. After touring the 32,000-square-foot space, visitors can enjoy a free glass of wine (or grape juice for children), then stock up on bottles at the boutique, dine at one of the on-site restaurants, or test their new knowledge at the rooftop bar, which features spectacular views of the city.
Place Pey Berland, 33000 Bordeaux, France
One of Bordeaux’s more ancient edifices, this UNESCO World Heritage site features a Romanesque wall from as far back as 1096. It’s also where 13-year-old Eleanor of Aquitaine married her first husband, King Louis VII, in 1137, and where fodder was stored during the French Revolution.

The Roman Catholic church was first constructed in the 11th century, though little of the original structure remains. While the Royal Gate dates to the 13th century, the cathedral that stands today wasn’t built until the 14th and 15th centuries. Visit this Gothic-style masterpiece to admire the exquisite masonry and important art collection, which features everything from paintings and statues to silver objects, ornaments, and liturgical vestments. Then be sure to climb the 160-foot bell tower for some of the best views of the city—and, better still, the church’s famously expressive gargoyles.
Place de la Bourse, 33000 Bordeaux, France
Though the photos are quite beautiful, you really have to see the Water Mirror for yourself to appreciate its grandeur. The world’s largest reflecting pool—and a contemporary UNESCO World Heritage site—the attraction features 11,000 square feet of granite covered in less than an inch of water. The effect is truly magical, especially when the stunning Place de la Bourse reflects off the surface. Visitors come here to frolic in the cool water during the hot summer months, or steal a kiss behind the sheets of mist that spray every 15 minutes.
87 Quai des Queyries, 33100 Bordeaux, France
“Mixed-use space” doesn’t come close to describing this hip destination on the banks of the Garonne River. Covering nearly five acres, the Darwin Ecosystème is first and foremost an incubator for sustainable development. Here, in renovated warehouses on the former Niel military barracks, several businesses have set up shop to help propel the green economy. Also on-site is everything from a bike-polo field, skate park, music venue, and free-expression space for graffiti artists to an urban farm, gourmet grocer, and Bordeaux’s largest organic restaurant. When you visit, be sure to stop by Les Chantiers de la Garonne, a “beach bar” on the riverbank where you can relax on a lounge chair with some oysters and Darwin beer (brewed on the premises), then dance the night away to electro beats.
15 Rue du Château d'Agassac, 33290 Ludon-Médoc, France
Just 15 minutes from Bordeaux, this highly regarded wine estate, which dates back to the 13th century, offers fascinating tours in English. The “Heritage and History” tour covers the story behind the château and its signature Médoc wine, the “Discovery” offers an introduction to winemaking, and the “Themes” is a more personalized tour that leaves time for lots of questions. Also available to visitors is a range of tastings (some pair wine with food or chocolate), as well as occasional picnics, outdoor movies, free concerts, and more. If hunger strikes, the estate is home to a lovely restaurant with a terrace overlooking the park.
Château Mouton Rothschild, 33250 Pauillac, France
A benchmark name in Bordeaux wines, Mouton Rothschild is also one of France’s greatest wine producers. At the estate—the first of two Rothschild estates in Pauillac (the second is the renowned Château Lafitte)—you’ll want to explore everything from the winemaking facilities to the two excellent museums (one covers the history of the château, while the other houses the original works by artists like Chagall and Warhol that have appeared on Mouton Rothschild’s labels since 1945). Tastings are also available here, so leave plenty of time to enjoy this sophisticated estate to the fullest.
20 Cours Pasteur, 33000 Bordeaux, France
An easy walk from the cathedral, the Musée d’Aquitaine is devoted to the history of life in Bordeaux, from ancient times through the 20th century. Exhibits illuminate the city’s intimate relationship with the river and sea since the Gallo-Roman period, its role in the slave and wine trades, and its emergence as France’s principal seaport. Visitors can rent an English audio guide, which details 24 of the museum’s masterpieces, including a partial reproduction of the famous Lascaux cave and Montaigne’s tomb.
3 Rue d'Enghien, 33000 Bordeaux, France
Bordeaux’s world-renowned Arcachon oyster is a delicacy not to be missed. Experience it for yourself with help from Bordovino, a tour company offering half- and full-day trips to the beautiful Bay of Arcachon to climb the biggest sand dune in Europe, sample local oysters, and sip crisp white wine. Should you not be one for bivalves, the company also offers tours by bike and bus to places like St-Émilion, Médoc, and Graves for tastings at wine estates along the Route des Châteaux. Both private and group tours are available.
24230 Saint-Michel-de-Montaigne, France
Château de Montaigne is worth a detour, especially if you need a little break from the wine tastings, that Bordeaux is so known for. The 14th century castle is nestled deep in the countryside near Bergerac and Saint-Émilion and was once the residence of Michel de Montaigne, one of France’s most important, early philosophers. If you haven’t heard of him, he is the one you may (or may not) thank for making essays popular as a literary genre.
33410 Cadillac, France
Cruising down the Garonne river onboard the AmaDolce, the first port we called on was Cadillac, located about 19 miles from the city of Bordeaux. Cadillac, founded in 1280, is a small fortified town, and I bet their charming Sunday market is probably just as old. The market occupies a number of streets in the town center–you won’t miss it. It’s a great place to try all sorts of local specialties (seafood, breads, cheese, sausages), and of course to people watch. The locals not only do their weekly grocery shopping here, markets are also a real social event in France. Friends catch up, stories are exchanged, laughter rings through the streets. Stock up on your picnic needs, as you’ll have no challenge finding a picturesque spot to sit down and snack along the Garonne.

No worries about the little goose pictured here, it already had a name by the time the buyer walked away from the stand. Definitely pet, not food.
Roquetaillade, 33210 Mazères, France
14th century Château de Roquetaillade is touted as one of Bordeaux’ most visited castles, but don’t let that stop you. I went during high travel season, in August, and it didn’t feel overrun.

Architecturally, it’s an interesting castle to see, because it was carefully restored between 1860 and 1870) by architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc , the same gentleman that worked on the Notre Dame in Paris and was asked to design the inside of the Statue of Liberty.

Taking pictures is only allowed outside, and inside the chapel, so you have to take my word for the fact that the castle’s medieval kitchen is fascinating, and surprisingly modern. It has a center island for cooking, without visible above ground vents. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Another lovely detail inside the castle is a secret message from the original stone masons that worked on the castle. Under one of the columns in the front hall, you can see a carved monkey, eating a fruit. This was a signal to future craftsmen, that they were going to be treated fairly and paid well by the owners of Roquetaillade. Had the monkey scratched his back instead? Maybe not a good place to work!

Call/ or email ahead for information on English speaking tours.
33390 Blaye, France
One of the most rewarding ways is to explore Bordeaux’ countryside is by bicycle.

While our ship, the AmaDolce, was sailing the short distace from Blaye to Bourg, we ‘raced’ her by bicycle. Without taking detours, it’s about an hours ride, but of course we took our time, exploring the sights, villages and vineyards on the way. We began at Blaye’s Citadel, one of the impressive ancient fortifications built to protect Bordeaux from foreign naval attacks, and since 2008, a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. We pedaled through vineyards, and finally along the waterfront, to take in the views of the Gironde estuary. It was there, that the AmaDolce finally took the lead ; )

A minor disclaimer is that we had to navigate three hills between Blaye and Bourg, nothing dramatic, and there were definitely enough stops along the way to catch our breath.

Our bike adventure was part of our river cruise itinerary, but you can contact Bordeaux by Bike directly for tours. I can highly recommend it, it’s a perfect way to get a real sense of place, and of course to work up an appetite.
Bordeaux’ river Garonne is a tricky one to navigate. The tidal changes are impressive; they often make the river flow in one direction in the morning and the opposite at night. The training of the river captains has to be rigorous.

One morning we left Bordeaux just before sunrise to catch a short window with just the right tidal conditions, that let our ship carefully sail through the arches of the famous Pont de Pierre,....without much room to spare. It was definitely a morning to haul out of bed for.

A short history: the Pont de Pierre was designed under Napoleon I, and inaugurated in 1822. It has 17 arches, one for each letter in Napoleon Bonaparte’s name. Until 1965 (!!) it was the only bridge that crossed the Garonne in Bordeaux.
33670 Créon, France
The small town of Créon is located a little over 12 miles (20km) from Bordeaux. It is one of Aquitaine’s original Bastide towns, centered around a market square, which comes alive on Wednesdays.

Although the market is mainly a food market, you can find some stalls that sell household goods, clothing, etc. as well. As with all markets in France, it’s the town’s weekly ‘social'; people catch up, either with each other, or on the towns news, while shopping for the coming week. People watching is of course great, but its also a chance to engage with the locals, and make use of the French words you may have picked up by now.

We tasted freshly baked breads, delicious cheeses, fruits, and ham, you simply wouldn’t get back in the US. Because of Bordeaux’ proximity to Spain, hispanic influences are strong. Fiestas are put on throughout the summer, and Basque influences make their way into the incredible cuisine here.
More from AFAR
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
National Parks