City Breaks

A city guide to Bordeaux, the Pearl of Aquitaine

Nestled against the Atlantic on France's west coast, in the Aquitaine region, Bordeaux's reputation as one of Europe's most beautiful cities is more than deserved.

Spend a weekend in Bordeaux, the capital of the world-famous wine region and a sensory feast of neoclassical architecture, expertly blended with the urban developments that have made it such a perfect destination.

There's more to city breaks in Bordeaux than just the pleasures of the vine. Museums of classic and contemporary art jostle for attention with the beautifully appointed streets in which they stand, and the inventively converted warehouses that line the Quai de Bacalan offer shopping and nightlife as exciting as anywhere in France.

Described by HM the Queen as "the very essence of elegance", Bordeaux combines the cosmopolitan delights of Paris with the timeless appeal and classic gastronomy of the French countryside — and conveniently accessible via a gentle day's drive from Eurotunnel Le Shuttle in Calais, it's ideal for anything from a long weekend to an extended break.

Tram pulling up outside beautiful French architecture in Bordeaux city centre

Getting there and around

Located 150 miles north of Spain at the head of the Gironde estuary, Bordeaux is approximately eight hours' drive from Eurotunnel Le Shuttle at Calais — just a 35-minute journey from the UK. There are two major routes: one, the slightly quieter and quicker, takes you through Rouen, Le Mans and Normandy's picturesque Foret d'Ecouves, while the other curves further south to include Arras, Paris and Orleans. Whichever route you choose, you'll travel through Tours (home, allegedly, to the purest French accents in the country) and Poitiers, the site of one of the key battles of the Hundred Years' War.

When you arrive in Bordeaux, your car is best saved for excursions outside the city. Although you can easily walk around the centre, Bordeaux also boasts excellent bus services and an ultra-modern tram network which provides a striking contrast to the classical buildings — a one-day pass is just €4.30. For more information about what to do and where to stay, see the Bordeaux Tourisme website.

Places to visit in Bordeaux

The Golden Triangle

The Cours Clemenceau, Cours D'Intendance and Allée de Tourny, three elegant boulevards in the centre of Bordeaux's World Heritage old town, form the Golden Triangle. Taking the air and marvelling at the Neoclassical elegance of the 18th century buildings is a wonderful alternative to a museum on a warm day. And as well as plenty to look at, there's many things to experience such as the bars and boutiques that peek from between the stately townhouses. Traditional bistrot Le Mably, hidden down a side street, is perfect for an authentic and inexpensive lunch, or for something even more memorable, the Hôtel de Sèze offers fine dining and an inimitably French brunch option.

Grand Theatre de Bordeaux

One of the great opera houses of Europe, the Grand Theatre Bordeaux's ornate façade of soaring columns and carved Muses looks more like a temple to the arts — which, of course, it is. The auditorium and attendant theatres are never empty, with a constant procession of operas, concerts, ballets and contemporary dance performances waiting to welcome you in from the hot Aquitaine sun.

Stunning French cathedral with stained glass windows against blues skies

The riverfront

Within the last twenty years, Bordeaux's riverfront has been transformed into a perfect marriage of style and substance, as it was once just a largely abandoned industrial wasteland. Punctuated by a series of imposing bridges - look out for the futuristic towers of the Pont Jacques Chaban Delmas - the clean lines of warehouses along the river are now filled with shops, cafes and beautiful open spaces, perfect for watching the world (and the boats) go by.

Musée d'Aquitaine

Located in central Bordeaux near the cathedral, this museum is one of the largest French regional history museums outside Paris. It tracks the history of the Bordeaux region from pre-Roman times to the present day, with a special exhibit dedicated to the famous author and philosopher Michel de Montaigne. Admission is free; the sense of connection with this fascinating province is priceless.

Impressive turreted castle at end of courtyard of French architecture

Things to do in Bordeaux

Visit the Mollat Bookshop

The largest independent bookshop in France is the perfect place to lose an hour wandering around the art, gastronomy and sociology books. You’ll be a part of the bookshop’s rich history, too, as Mollat is located at the last place the renowned philosopher and lawyer Montesquieu lived.

Discover modern art at CAPC

The CAPC has been a staple of Bordeaux culture since the seventies. Located in an old warehouse, it is one of the most respected museums in France. Anish Kapoor and Sol LeWitt have both shown here, as well as many more highly regarded modern artists. Take a wander through and experience the beautiful modern art.

Climb Pey-Berland

It’s hard to believe that the view from the top is as beautiful as the Cathedral itself, but it’s true! For those with strong legs, make your way up to the very top of the Pey-Berland, the 15th century bell tower of Cathedral Saint-André. Make sure you climb up on a clear day, so you can see as much of Bordeaux from the top as possible.

Bordeaux Public Garden

When it comes to beautiful outdoor space, the Bordeaux Public Garden is one of the best. The garden was created in 1746, and it was intended to be a place where the residents of Bordeaux could enjoy the outdoors. In 1856 the garden was redesigned to become greener and a pool was added, taking inspiration from English gardens. Wander through the lush greenery that covers over 11 hectares. It’s the perfect way to spend a spring afternoon.

Visit the beach

On a sunny day, a trip to the beach is a must! Just a one-hour drive away from Bordeaux is the beautiful area of Arcachon, with each of its four quarters named after a season. An oyster-harvesting area on the southern side of the tranquil, triangular Bassin d'Arcachon (Arcachon Bay), this seaside town features some gorgeous 1950s architecture. With stunning sandy beaches, turquoise sea and a pretty town ideal for afternoon strolls, this is a perfect day trip.

Bordeaux food & drink

An exciting part of any break is sampling local foods and drink. Even if you only book a weekend break in Bordeaux, there’s plenty of time to try some of the delicacies on offer.

Couple enjoying traditional pastries

Bordeaux Canelés

For a heavenly sweet treat, be sure to indulge in canelés when in Bordeaux. These were first created in Bordeaux and are still as popular as ever today. The soft rum and vanilla cake inside a caramelised shell is perfect at any time of the day — even if you fancy having them for breakfast! Visit Baillardran for some of the best canelés in the city.

Bordeaux wine & vineyard tours

Whether you have a passing interest in wine or keep your own cellar, Bordeaux's unique association with viticulture is bound to prove fascinating. You can experience the wine harvest in Bordeaux, not to mention the wine tours available both in the city and the surrounding countryside. Visit museums dedicated to every aspect of wine production and hundreds of bars and restaurants serving the best of the region's output, there's no better place to spark an interest in wine or build on an existing passion.

The beauty of driving to Bordeaux is that it gives you access to many out-of-town experiences that are hard to reach by public transport. Many châteaux are open to visitors, and several independent guides offer bespoke tours of the region's most notable vineyards:

  • The Ecole de Vin in Bordeaux itself is the perfect place to start, with courses starting at under 40 euros for a two-hour introduction. Ask your teacher about which vineyards will appeal to you most - internationally renowned châteaux, tiny family businesses or somewhere in between.
  • Run by the highly respected Bordeaux expert and former winemaker Bruno Delmas, BD Tours offers a bespoke service that can incorporate any number of vineyards over any number of days. The charming and incredibly knowledgeable Delmas takes each tour personally, incorporating tastings, obscure restaurants and visits to iconic châteaux including Margaux and Lafite. Tours on foot and horseback are also available.
  • Another style of intimate tour is offered by DMjWineworks. Run by expatriate American oenologist Dewey Markham Jr. Markham, who is an expert on the Bordeaux region and its wine, this tour provides custom hand-outs relating to each vineyard visited – perfect for serious (or aspiring) wine buffs.
  • Most of the vineyards in the region welcome guests, so it's worth thinking about what you'd like to see. Try Pindefleurs to see an original, beautifully maintained 18th century château, Clos Rol de Fombrauge for a traditional family business run by a brother and sister, or Château Le Chatelet to experience a St Emilion Grand Cru admired across the world.

Visiting vineyards is a must in Bordeaux. But that doesn’t mean that it has to be any old run-of-the-mill tour. Why not take part in a cycling wine tour? That way you can enjoy a glass of delicious wine, guilt free!

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Fancy a Bordeaux holiday? Discover all this and more with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle. We take you from Folkestone to Calais in just 35-minutes, giving you more time to visit Bordeaux’s vineyards and historical sites.
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