Candy colours danced across the sky and the last glimmer of light faded from beyond the horizon as our train chugged into Bordeaux’s central train station. Our perfect girls getaway weekend in Bordeaux had officially begun; a three-day escape comprising of countless cultural sites, wandering around the architecturally stunning city, and sipping on glasses of locally produced wine…
Day One: Highlights of Bordeaux
Sunrise in Bordeaux
The best time to experience the golden hour in Bordeaux is at sunrise rather than sunset, as hardly anyone else is up at this point! Some of the best spots to enjoy the sunrise in Bordeaux include the Miroir d’Eau at the Place de la Bourse, and at the Porte Cailhau. Both of these attractions are within a five-minute walk of one another and can easily be enjoyed within the space of sunrise.
Brunch in Bordeaux
Contrast café (40 Rue Vital Carles): Following our early start, it was time to get some fuel (read: caffeine) and get ready to start exploring the rest of the city for the day! If one thing is clear, it’s that Bordeaux truly is a foodie destination.
While everyone knows that the city is famous for its red wines, what you may not know is that there are plenty of incredible breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner spots dotted throughout the city. Contrast serves brunch every day of the week with the exception of Thursday. Once there, you can enjoy pancakes, various types of toast, and some truly delicious coffee.
Must-see Bordeaux attractions
After wandering around the city for sunrise, you’ll want to spend the rest of the day seeing some of the best Bordeaux attractions the city has to offer. From wandering around the Haussmannian-style architecture to sipping on wine, here are the best things to do in Bordeaux…
Wine Museum (41 Rue Borie)
While we debated long and hard as to whether we wished to visit the glittering (and incredibly new) Cité du Vin, a metallic, glistening and interactive museum and cultural space dedicated to all things wine, in the end, we opted to visit the Musée du Vin et du Négoce de Bordeaux.
This more traditional museum is housed within the former cellars of Louis XV’s personal wine merchant and even has a brief guide to wine tasting at the end of the visit. For more information on wine in Bordeaux, here’s a guide to the best of Bordeaux wines, including a history and wine-related activities in the city.
Bordeaux Cathedral (Place Pey Berland)
If you’re looking for one of the best free things to do in the city, then it’s well worth wandering around the city’s impressive cathedral. The beautiful Gothic cathedral in the very heart of the historic part of the city is easily one of the best cathedrals in France.
Taste some canelés
Throughout the city, especially so in the more touristic areas, you’ll find entire shops dedicated to the ‘canelé’. This Bordelais speciality comprises of a small pastry flavoured with rum and vanilla. Custard-like in texture, one of the best places to try this south-west delicacy is at la Pâtisserie San Nicolas.
Dinner in Bordeaux
Le Comptoir Fromager (27 rue du Parlement Saint-Pierre): Open from Thursday through to Monday and located in an area of the city well-known for its many dining options, I’ll be the first to admit that the Comptoir Fromager wasn’t necessarily our first choice for eating out when it came to dining in Bordeaux!
However, the city was particularly packed that weekend due to the Medoc Marathon and so we found ourselves hungry with no reservation! As such, the pretty decor of the Comptoir soon drew us in and the food was incredible (as was the selection of wine to pair with the meal!)
Day Two: Bordeaux on a local level
Brunch in Bordeaux
Kitchen Garden (22 Rue Sainte-Colombe): This beautiful café is open from Tuesday through to Sunday and can be found just steps away from the Théâtre des Salinières. Unlike one of the other best brunch spots in the city, Contrast Cafe, Kitchen Garden takes reservations and so be sure to book in advance in order to guarantee indoor seating!
Once there, you’ll find a set brunch menu on the weekends and a completely vegetarian menu. For those who are vegan, you’ll be pleased to know that for many of the menu options (i.e. the scrambled eggs), there’s a vegan alternative. The food is delicious and makes for the perfect place to start the day exploring the western side of the city.
Must-see Bordeaux attractions
While day one of this weekend in Bordeaux itinerary was all about seeing the main tourist sites of the city, day two is more focused on getting to know the city on a more local level and exploring the many secrets which Bordeaux hides within its city limits. So whether you’re visiting Bordeaux for the first time or thousandth time, do as the locals do and discover a new side of Bordeaux that few tourists ever get to see…
Explore the Saint Michel District
Situated to the West of the city, some of the best things to do in the Saint Michel district of the city include several impressive monuments and visiting the Saint Michel Basilica, one of the most beautiful basilicas of France. Built between the 14th and 16th-centuries, the adjacent medieval tower is just as vast as the basilica itself.
Snap photos of the Grosse Cloche Bordeaux
After you’ve seen the Miroir d’Eau and the Porte Cailhau, the third most ‘instagrammable’ spot in the city is that of the Grosse Cloche (big bell tower). Located on 45 Rue Saint James, this 18th-century tower once operated as a prison for young offenders and has a bell which weighs some 7.75 tonnes.
Explore some offbeat Bordeaux attractions
While Bordeaux may be top of the list on tourist cities for first (second, and third) time visitors to France, there are still plenty of quirky and unusual things to do in the city. For example, the Palais Galien is all that remains of an ancient Roman amphitheatre, while the Basilica Saint Severinus houses some Christian catacombs dating back to the 4th-century.
Throughout the city, there are a myriad of tiny boutiques and small shops, each one more quaint than the last. I especially enjoyed perusing the shops close to the Grosse Cloche. For those who are looking to see more of the high street chains which can be found all over France, Rue Sainte Catherine is the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe!
Day three: Bordeaux Day Trips
Have a little more time in Bordeaux? There are plenty of amazing day trips from Bordeaux. From wine tasting in vineyards to days out by the sea, here are some of the best day trips from Bordeaux:
Arcachon Bay: For those who are looking for some sun, sea, and sand, a day trip to the beach from Bordeaux could not be easier. Hop on one of the frequent trains from the city and head towards Arcachon. Once there, you’ll find a beautiful seaside ambience and, nearby, the largest sand dune in Europe in the form of the Dune du Pilat.
Saint-Émilion: The historical and medieval city of Saint-Émilion for any wine lover, as well as any history buff. Designated a UNESCO world heritage site since 1999, you could easily find yourself lost among its medieval architecture, or enjoying wine in one of the town’s many cafés. For a visit to Saint-Émilion without the stress or planning, then consider booking this half-day wine tour.
Weekend in Bordeaux essentials
Before you set off on your adventure in Bordeaux, you may well want to purchase some tickets in advance. This is especially the case if you’re looking to spend a weekend in Bordeaux when there are more people around and you may well have to stand in long queues! Here are some suggested passes which allow you to skip-the-line for certain tourist destinations, as well as some more special experiences:
Bordeaux Metropole City Pass for 24, 48 or 72 Hours: For those looking to see several museums and cultural sites during their time in Bordeaux, purchasing a pass in advance is a must. Included is an entrance to the Cité du Vin before noon, as well as free transportation on all Bordeaux transportation.
La Cité du Vin Skip-the-Line Entrance Ticket & Wine Tasting: One of the most popular attractions in Bordeaux is that of the Cité du Vin. This skip-the-line ticket includes a complimentary wine tasting, as well as access to a panoramic viewing platform where you’ll be able to enjoy views of the city, as well as of the River Garonne.
Bordeaux: Walking Tour and Wine Tasting: If you want to get to know the city on a local level, then I highly suggest a walking tour of the city’s must-see attractions. Included in this guide is plenty of historical information, as well as a voucher to enjoy wine tasting!
Bordeaux River Cruise: For another unique look at the city, then you may well want to consider embarking on a river cruise along the Garonne. This one hour boat tour offers incredible views and plenty of history.
Where to stay in Bordeaux
Thinking of planning a weekend in Bordeaux (or even three days in Bordeaux) for yourself? Be sure to book plenty in advance. This is especially true of accommodation as, during the peak season (i.e. in the summer months), accommodation tends to sell out pretty quickly. Here are some of the best places to stay in Bordeaux (based on web reviews and location):
Yndo Hotel: Located on the outskirts of the historic city centre, this well-reviewed hotel is a luxurious five-star retreat complete with turrets and all the amenities you would expect from a luxury place to stay. Check prices and availability here.
Villa Reale: Constructed in the 18th-century, this villa offers several self-catering apartments in the centre of the city. Set amidst a backdrop of five-star style luxury, think of this as your home away from home. Check prices and availability here.