14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Biarritz
Elegant and aristocratic, the celebrated seaside resort of Biarritz enjoys a magnificent setting on the Bay of Biscay in France's Basque country. Biarritz was a favorite summertime destination of the Empress Eugénie (wife of Napoleon III) who transformed the sleepy fishing village into a fashionable beach town. To entertain her court, the empress built a grand palace, which is now a luxurious hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant. Beyond this exquisite villa by the sea, the names of the streets in Biarritz hint at the city's royal past: Avenue de l'Impératrice, Avenue de la Reine Victoria, and Esplanade Elizabeth II. Handsome mansions decked with turrets and oriel windows recall the city's 19th-century splendors.
Though the regal influence of Biarritz has faded, the city still draws visitors in search of a classic summer holiday. Pristine sandy beaches, beautiful coastal villas, and stylish restaurants offer a sophisticated ambience. Wide seafront promenades and well-placed benches allow visitors to soak up the stunning natural landscape. Biarritz is also the capital of surfing in Europe.
See also: Where to Stay in Biarritz
1 Grande Plage
One of Biarritz' largest beaches, the Grande Plage has attracted high-society vacation goers since the Belle Epoque. This beautiful wide sandy beach begins at Bellevue near the Boulevard du Général de Gaulle and extends to the Hôtel du Palais. In summertime, the beach is covered with sunbathers and their colorful striped cabanas. However, it is important to note that this beach has heavy surf and water safety is posted on a daily basis. During certain periods of strong currents, bathing, swimming, and surfing are prohibited. Alongside the beach, the Quai de la Plage promenade is perfect for taking a leisurely scenic stroll. This wide pedestrian walkway offers stunning views of the breaking waves and the Biarritz lighthouse in the distance. There are also many upscale restaurants and cafés nearby. Situated on a headland at the end of the Grande Plage is the spectacular Hôtel du Palais. Built by the Emperor Napoleon III for his wife Eugénie, this gorgeous palace is a national monument exemplifying grand Second Empire style. Since 1893, the building has been used as a hotel. The luxurious five-star property features a golf course and elegant Michelin-starred restaurant. The Villa Eugénie dining room is an opulent space with magnificent chandeliers and sensational ocean views. Guests are treated to the finest Basque cuisine while watching the surf break against the shore.
2 Plage du Miramar
This beautiful beach is a place to relax and enjoy the refreshing seaside atmosphere. Extending from the Hôtel du Palais to the Pointe Saint-Martin, the Plage du Miramar has stunning scenery and dramatic shore-breaking waves. Although the sheltered beach offers a sense of tranquility, rough seas and strong currents (including riptides) make swimming dangerous. The condition of the waves and currents should be considered before entering the water. Surfing is forbidden. The beach primarily attracts sunbathers and spa goers who frequent the nearby Thalassa Sea & Spa center. Miramar Beach is less touristy than the Grande Plage and has the charm of an old-fashioned seaside resort-especially in summertime when vintage-style striped beach tents make their appearance. Located just to north is the Roche Ronde and Plage Bernain, a protected nature area for shorebirds (which is strictly off-limits to visitors for safety reasons).
3 Musée de la Mer (Museum of the Sea)
One of the top tourist attractions in Biarritz, this exceptional sea museum is located opposite the Rocher de la Vierge. The idea for the museum was conceived by the scientist Marquis de Folin in the 1880s after he launched a scientific discovery of the Bay of Biscay surrounding Biarritz. The museum opened in 1935 with a focus on the marine life found in the Bay of Biscay, while aiming to educate visitors about the importance of the ocean waters. The museum features a natural history collection and an impressive saltwater aquarium filled from the nearby ocean. The museum has a panoramic outdoor terrace with a seal pool, and the seal feeding time is a popular tourist attraction. There is also a touch pool where visitors can pick up a starfish, tickle a fish, or poke a sea anemone. Other highlights include a special exhibit of sharks that shows their hunting and eating habits.
Address: Plateau Atalaye, Biarritz
4 Phare de Biarritz
Emblematic of the historic seaside town, the Biarritz lighthouse has an essential location overlooking the coastline of the Cape Hainsart. Built in 1834, the lighthouse stands at the tip of the Pointe Saint-Martin, which marks a boundary between the sandy beaches of the Landes Coast to the south and the rocky coastline of the Basque country to the north. Visitors may climb the 248 steps of the lighthouse to take in the scenery from this incredible vantage point. The 73-meter-high lighthouse commands exceptional panoramic views of Biarritz and the Basque countryside.
5 Miremont Tearoom
Housed in an elegant 17th-century building, this historic tearoom is one of the oldest establishments in Biarritz. The Miremont is renowned for its classic pâtisserie such as éclairs, Gateau Saint-Honoré, and strawberry tart as well as its selection of rare teas. Founded in 1872, the Miremont was frequented by royalty during Biarritz' glory days. Spain's King Alphonso XIII enjoyed having lunch here. King Edward VII of England appreciated the Miremont's refined French pastries. Queen Nathalie of Serbia often purchased caramels, a house specialty, for her friends, and Queen Amelia of Portugal had a habit of taking her tea at a window seat with the best view. The Miremont's tea room offers stunning views onto the Grand Plage beach and the Hôtel du Palais. Upstairs, the lovely salon features pastel pink decor and seems perfectly appointed for a gathering place of aristocratic ladies. Tourists may sample the pastries or have lunch in the tea room. The confections are also available to go, and the shop sells gift boxes of chocolates, toffees, and other candies.
Address: 1 Bis, Place Clémenceau, Biarritz
6 Rocher de la Vierge (Virgin of the Rock)
The Rocher de la Vierge is one of Biarrtiz' most dramatic sites, set on a steep, narrow rock in the ocean. The site is accessible by an iron bridge built by the Gustave Eiffel workshops. As the focal point, a statue of the Virgin Mary stands on top of the rock, looking out towards the sea. From this monument, visitors can take in a magnificent panorama of the coastline extending from the mouth of the Adour River to the Spanish frontier. Other exceptional viewpoints are available nearby at the Esplanade du Rocher-de-la-Vièrge and at the Esplanade du Port-Vieux, where there is a magnificent prospect of the cliff-fringed Côte des Basques, exposed to the full force of the breakers, extending all the way to the hills of Spain.
7 Chapelle Impériale
When the Empress Eugénie arrived in Biarritz, she requested that an Imperial Chapel be built for her spiritual worship. Constructed in 1864, this intimate chapel has an enchanting Byzantine and Moorish interior featuring exquisite gilded mosaics. The chapel is dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe (the Mexican Black Madonna). Visitors can take a guided tour to learn more about the history and inspiration of the chapel.
Address: Avenue de la Reine Victoria, Biarritz
8 Kid-Friendly Beaches
The beach of Le Port Vieux is the best choice for families with children. This small, sheltered beach lies in the rocky inlet of the Port Vieux (Old Harbor) near the city center. Because the beach is in a protected cove, the waves are gentle and the waters are safer here than at the Grande Plage and especially the Plage du Miramar. The waters are usually calm and offer the best conditions for swimming. The shallow areas are safe enough for kids to bath and splash around, under supervision. Since the Le Port Vieux is small and less crowded than other Biarritz beaches, it is ideal for summertime relaxation. Another great beach for children is the Plage de la Milady, which features a seaside boardwalk and playground. Bathing and swimming is permitted, except when the waters are rough. One caution: the zone of surveillance increases at low tide. The Plage de Milady is very popular with locals and bodyboarders.
9 Surf Beaches
The Côte des Basques is the most famous surfing beach in Biarritz. The powerful waves provide the ideal conditions for surfing, and many competitions are held here. Safety notes: Beginning surfers should be advised on how and when to enter and get out of the water to avoid hitting the stones. Swimming is allowed except when prohibited during high tide. This beach is also a lovely place to stroll along the ocean, while taking in the exceptional coastal views. Next to the Côte des Basques, the Plage de Marbella is another favorite of surfers and bodyboarders because of its powerful waves. The gorgeous sandy beach is also a good choice for nature lovers. This beach is wild and rugged, and is only accessible by a steep stairway. Access is difficult for people with limited mobility.
10 Elegant Boulevards and Squares
The elegant boulevards, streets, and squares of Biarritz exemplify the city's aristocratic heritage. The urban center of Biarritz is the grand Place Georges-Clemenceau, at the meeting of the city's principal streets. From here, it is a short distance to the picturesque Place Bellevue, a stunning semicircular square with panoramic views of the beach and the ocean. To the south of the Place Bellevue is another scenic area of Biarritz along the Boulevard Maréchal-Leclerc. Nestled in the steep rocky inlet between the Rocher du Basta and Cap Atalaye, above the old fishing harbor, this seaside boulevard affords sensational views. This boulevard is a wonderful starting point for a scenic walking tour along the Biarritz coast.
11 Chocolate Museum
The history of chocolate is closely tied to the history of Biarritz. This museum allows visitors to learn about the heritage of chocolate in France, from its discovery in the New World to its development into a refined beverage and confection. The museum has a short educational video and a collection of antique chocolatier objects. Visitors have a chance to sample traditional hot chocolate, made in the old-fashioned rich European style. The museum also offers chocolate-making workshops as well as pastry classes for kids and adults.
Address: 14 Avenue Beaurivage, Biarritz
12 Musée Asiatica (Oriental Art Museum)
This surprising museum displays one of Europe's top collections of Asian art. There are more than 1,000 pieces of artwork spanning history from prehistoric to modern times. The collections also represent the work of different countries, including China, India, Nepal, and Tibet.
Address: 1 Rue Guy Petit, Biarritz
13 Historical Museum
In a former Anglican Church, the Historical Museum of Biarritz was opened in 1986 by the Association des amis du musée historique de Biarritz (Association of friends of the Historical Museum). The museum has an extensive collection of documents, antique objects, and works of art. Notable items include a handwritten letter by the Empress Eugénie and a painting by Emperor Napoleon III as well as medals and jewelry. There are also educational videos offering further insight into the culture and history of Biarritz. The collections share the history of Biarritz from its beginnings as a fishing village to the fashionable Belle Epoque resort that became known as the "the resort of kings and the king of resorts." Guided tours are available every third Saturday of the month.
Address: Eglise St. Andrews, Rue Broquedis, Biarritz
14 Orthodox Church
This beautiful Byzantine-style church was designed by the renowned Biarritz architect Tisnés and built in 1892. The jewel-box of a church is adorned with icons from Saint Petersburg, Russia. Visitors will be awestruck by the intricate details of the interior.
Address: 8 Avenue de l'Impératrice, Biarritz
Where to Stay in Biarritz for Sightseeing
We recommend these delightful hotels in Biarritz near the beach and town:
- Hotel du Palais: luxury beachfront hotel, former palace, fine dining, multiple pools, magnificent spa.
- Hotel Saint-Julien: mid-range boutique hotel, great location, welcoming owners and staff, charming decor.
- Best Western Plus Karitza: three-star hotel, contemporary decor, heated outdoor pool, secure underground parking.
- Le Petit Hotel: budget hotel, convenient location, friendly staff, clean rooms.
Day Trips from Biarritz
Espelette is a picturesque Basque village famous for its red peppers. The town's traditional Basque houses are brightly decorated with neatly lined rows of dried peppers. Designated with an AOC label designating the geographical origin and quality, the renowned Piment d'Espelette is a key ingredient in Basque cooking. In late October, the town of Espelette hosts the Pepper Festival. During this festival, farmers sell their products, and visitors enjoy music, dancing, and local foods.
This spectacular coastal site offers one of the best seaside panoramas on the Basque coastline. From a viewpoint at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, visitors can easily see all the way to the hills on the border of Spain.
Saint Jean Pied de Port
Another Basque village worth visiting is Saint Jean Pied de Port. Located at an elevation of 1,300 meters, this medieval town was an important stop on the Saint James route to Santiago de Compostela and was considered one of the most difficult stages of the pilgrims' journey. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the historic old quarter has charming cobblestone streets and an important church-the Eglise Notre Dame du Bout du Pont.
A quaint fishing village with traditional Basque character, Saint-Jean-de-Luz is steeped in history. Tourists will enjoy the lively ambience, authentic culture, and delicious food. Also a popular summertime destination, Saint-Jean-de-Luz boasts beautiful sandy beaches with gentle waters (thanks to protection from the ocean by a sea wall). The beaches are ideal for swimming and appeal to families with kids.
A short drive east of Biarritz is the Salins-les-Thermes, a spa town located on a beautiful wooded hillside. The spa with its thermal baths is known as a place that improves health. The thermal spring's salty waters treat specific medical conditions. Surrounded by pleasant scenery, Salins-les-Thermes is also an ideal place for nature walks and relaxation.
Less than an hour drive away from Biarritz is the vibrant seaside city of San Sebastian in Spain. Famous for its lively ambience, elegant architecture, beautiful beaches, and gourmet tapas, San Sebastian offers an enticing taste of the Spanish Basque country.