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An Insider’s Guide to the Best Things to do in Bayonne

Last Updated on 4th October 2022 by Sophie Nadeau

Bayonne. The largest city of the French Basque Country is as charming as it is quaint and is a must-see while in South West France. Boasting timber-framed architecture, a Gothic cathedral, and plenty of cute spots to grab a drink or a bite to eat, here’s your ultimate guide to the best things to do in Bayonne, as well as what to know before you go.

In the local language of Basque, Bayonne is known as Baiona. Most signs in the area are bilingual for French and Basque.

An Insider's Guide to the Best Things to do in Bayonne

In all honesty, during my recent weekend in Biarritz with some friends, we weren’t planning on visiting Bayonne as we weren’t sure that we would have enough time to see the city.

However, the journey between the two cities is a simple bus ride of around half an hour each way and you can easily see all of Bayonne’s best attractions over the course of an afternoon. For more inspiration, be sure to check out our French Basque Country itinerary.

visit bayonne

Introducing Bayonne

Bayonne is the largest city in the French Basque country and boasts a population of around 200,000 residents. It’s honestly one of the most breathtaking place to see in this area of France and is characterised by its timber-framed houses, position alongside the confluence of the Rivers Nive and Adour, and its smattering of medieval buildings.

Bayonne itself is divided into three distinctive sections: Grand Bayonne (this is where most of Bayonne’s attractions are located and where you’ll spend the majority of your time exploring the city), the Saint-Esprit district (surrounding the train station- you’ll only really see this if you arrive by train), and the Petit Bayonne district (where the Musée Basque is located).

Close towns and cities of note to Bayonne include Biarritz, Saint-Jean de Luz (and its adjoining town of Ciboure), Guéthary, and Espelette.

bayonne france

What is Bayonne known for?

Talk to anyone with an interest in French food and they’ll soon tell you that Bayonne is best-known for Bayonne Ham, a cured ham that is known as jambon de Bayonne in French. On an annual basis, Bayonne hosts one of the largest summer festivals in France, les fêtes de Bayonne.

Taking place for 5 days and starting on the last Wednesday before the start of August, the event sees parades featuring people in traditional Basque outfits, drummers, and live music. A million visitors attend the feria of Bayonne on an annual basis.

The Fêtes de Bayonne was originally created around the tradition of bullfighting (Bayonne is the oldest bullfighting town in France), with the city opting to create a festival which mirrored that of Pamplona in Spain, and the running of the bulls. Today, there is unfortunately still bullfighting in Bayonne.

The bull fight season in Bayonne takes place during the summer months. If you are considering attending a bull fighting match (known as La Corrida in French), then I highly recommend reconsidering this stance and researching about bull fighting. You can read more about why bull fighting should be banned here.

bayonne france

Best things to do in Bayonne

Bayonne Cathedral

The crowning jewel of Bayonne is its grand Gothic Cathedral, dedicated to Sainte Marie, which can be spied from almost every angle in the city. Constructed between the 13th and 17th-centuries, the church is a blend of Gothic and Romanesque architecture and was built on the site of a former place of worship which burned down in 1258.

Today highlights of the cathedral at Bayonne include a particularly vibrantly painted cloister, stained glass windows which take after the style of the windows of Chartres Cathedral, and a shrine dedicated to Saint-Léon de Carentan, who was the Bishop of Bayonne during the 9th-century.

Bayonne Cathedral
Bayonne Cathedral

Cathedral Cloisters

Located alongside the Cathedral, the well-preserved medieval cloisters were built between the 13th and 14th-centuries and are a lovely example of Gothic architecture. Just like the cathedral, the cloisters are free to visit and are some of the largest surviving cloisters in France.

Cathedral Cloisters

Château Vieux

The ‘Old Castle’ is located just a short walk away from the cathedral and is a fantastic example of a fortified Château dating back to the 12th-century. Built for the Viscounts of Labourd, the Château was then used as the official residence of the governors of the city.

Unfortunately, the Château Vieux is now owned by the military and so its interior is closed to the public. However, its amazing exterior can still be viewed by the public and is well worth checking out while wandering around town.

Château Vieux

Les Halles

Like many French towns, Bayonne has its own late 19th-century covered marketplace, which is known as Les Halles. Overlooking the River Nive, the market place is open from 7:30 AM to 1:30 PM (2:30 PM from Friday to Sunday).

Les Halles boasts a selection of fresh produce from the region, including fresh fruits, vegetables, and Bayonne ham and is a great place to pick up picnic supplies for a lunch along the river. In Les Halles, visitors can also purchase a Basque cake. This local sweet cake is made with cream or black cherries and is a Basque speciality.

The French Basque region is particularly well-associated with the Espelette pepper (known as piment d’Espelette in French) as it originates from the Basque town of Espelette. This chilli pepper is used to flavour plenty of local products, including dips, oils, and seasonings. A product created with the chilli pepper is the perfect souvenir to bring home from your trip.

Les Halles

Have brunch at Café Muxu

If you’re looking for a trendy and modern place that serves up speciality coffees and offers vegan and vegetarian options on the menu (as well as brunch on a Sunday), then you need to look no further than Café Muxu. The coffee shop and restaurant is named for ‘Muxu,’ a type of local cream and, of course, you can get muxu on top of various dishes in the restaurant, including pancakes.

Have brunch at Café Muxu

Musée Basque

For those who are interested in learning more about the history of the French Basque region and its surrounds, a visit to the Basque Museum is a must. Exhibitions include displays about the history, culture, and Basque language.

Musée Basque

Wander around the town

Truth be told, one of the most charming ways to explore Bayonne is to wander around the town by foot and exploring the little cobblestone alleys and leaning houses that make up the majority of the town.

Particularly charming streets in Bayonne include rue Port de Bataco and rue d’Espagne (which acts as the main high street of Bayonne). If you want to discover more about the history and hidden gems of Bayonne together with a local guide, then you might consider booking a walking tour like this one. Bayonne is also known for its chocolate, so those with a sweet tooth could look at this Private Walking Tour and Chocolate Tasting.

Wander around the town

Le Trinquet Saint-André

One of the more unusual things to do in Bayonne is to head to Petit Bayonne where you can learn about the local sport of pelote Basque. This game is something of a mix of tennis and squash and is known as Basque pelota in English. As well as watching people play in the courts, there is a small brasserie on site serving up local fare and beers in a relaxed setting.

Le Trinquet Saint-André

Jardin Botanique

One of the best things to do in Bayonne is to visit the Botanical Gardens (known as Jardin Botanique in French). These free to visit gardens are open from Tuesday through to Saturday and are also known as Jardin botanique des Remparts. Highlights of the gardens include wisteria in the late spring, a pond with fish and turtles, and a Japanese style garden in one corner.

Jardin botanique de Bayonne

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