14 Top Tourist Attractions in Bordeaux & Easy Day Trips
With its urban elegance and provincial charm, Bordeaux is an appealing tourist destination in a beautiful region of southwest France. Bordeaux is called the "Port of the Moon" because of its romantic location on a crescent-shaped bend of the Garonne River. In this splendid setting that allowed trade to flourish, the city has a rich cultural heritage dating back to antiquity. UNESCO declared Bordeaux a World Heritage Site in 1998 thanks to the city's wealth of architectural treasures. More than 350 buildings are classified as historical monuments.
See also: Where to Stay in Bordeaux
1 Cathédrale Saint-André
A place of historical importance in the heart of Bordeaux, the Cathedral of Saint Andrew dates back to the 12th century. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this cathedral was part of the Route of Saint James pilgrimage trail. Pilgrims traveled through Bordeaux from the Médoc, Tours, and the British Isles on their way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The Cathedral of Saint Andrew compares to the Notre-Dame in Paris in its grandeur and features an impressive facade with sculptures of the Last Supper, the Ascension, and Christ in Majesty. Interestingly, the western front side of the cathedral is completely unadorned, since it was originally too close to the old town walls. However, now you will find the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) opposite the cathedral; this grand neoclassical palace built in the 18th-century reveals the dramatic difference in architectural styles over the centuries. During the summer, the Bordeaux International Organ Festival is held at the cathedral. Visitors can enjoy free concerts performed by the most talented European organists.
Address: 66 Rue Trois Conils, Bordeaux
2 Le Grand Théâtre
The Grand Théâtre is the centerpiece of the Place de la Comédie, a hub of city life and the ancient site of the Roman Forum. One of the city's most emblematic buildings, this monumental theater was built in 1780 in the inspiring new Classical style of Bordeaux. The building was designed by architect Victor Louis who also designed the Palais Royal and Théâtre Français in Paris. The exterior features 12 colossal Corinthian columns along with statues representing the nine muses and the goddesses Juno, Venus, and Minerva. Inside the theater, visitors are awed by splendid foyers and grand staircases. For a memorable experience, spend an evening at the theater to enjoy a performance by the National Orchestra or National Ballet of Bordeaux.
Address: Place de la Comédie, Bordeaux
3 Place de la Bourse
Lining the quays of Bordeaux for a half mile are elegant classical buildings from the 18th century. This impressive collection of architecture along the river was designed to welcome and impress visitors. The most magnificent example of this neoclassical architecture is the Place de la Bourse, which epitomizes the elegance of 18th century design. The square was built between 1730 and 1755 by members of the Gabriel family of architects. In the center of the square is the lovely Fountain of the Three Graces, surrounded by two beautiful pavilion-like buildings: the Bourse (Stock Exchange) and the Musée des Douanes (Customs Museum). These graceful quayside buildings stand just above the banks of the Garonne River. Take a scenic walk alongside the Garonne to admire the inspiring architecture of the Place de la Bourse and the shimmering reflections of the buildings in the river.
4 Basilique Saint-Seurin
This exquisite basilica is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site because it was a stop on the medieval Way of Saint James pilgrimage. The basilica features the Romanesque style typical of churches on the route to Santiago de Compostela. This exceptional church dates back to the 11th century. The choir, featuring a stone abbot's throne and ornate stalls, was built during the 14th and 15th centuries. The choir chapel is adorned with impressive Gothic reredos (decorative screens) that display 12 alabaster reliefs and a 14th-century Virgin Mary figure. The oldest part of the basilica is the 11th-century crypt, which is a treasure trove of ancient reliquaries and sarcophagi from the 6th and 7th centuries.
Address: Place des Martyrs de la Résistance, Bordeaux
5 Basilique Saint-Michel
Exemplifying an extravagant "Rayonnant Gothic" style, this basilica, dedicated to the Archangel, is another important church on the Route of Santiago pilgrimage trail. Along with the Cathedral of Saint Andrew and the Basilica of Saint Seurin, the Basilica of Saint Michael is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The basilica took 200 years to build, from the 14th to 16th centuries. The church presents a pleasing unity of architectural style, described as "Rayonnant Gothic" (the 13th-century French style of ornate Gothic architecture). From the top of the freestanding belfry, you can take in stunning panoramic views of the city. After visiting the basilica, enjoy a stroll around the quarter of Saint Michel that surrounds the basilica. This quarter to the south of the Pont de Pierre is the most colorful and atmospheric neighborhood of Bordeaux. Twice a week on Monday and Saturday mornings, the Square of Saint Michel is transformed into a marketplace, and the shops around the square lend a lively ambiance.
Address: Place Canteloup, Bordeaux
6 Musée des Beaux-Arts
Set in the pleasant Jardin de la Mairie public park, the Museum of Beaux-Arts occupies part of the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall). The museum offers a wonderful insight into European art history, with a collection of art spanning the 15th to the 20th centuries. The permanent collection includes masterpieces by Titian, Veronese, Rubens, Delacroix, Renoir, and Rodin, among others. Paintings are organized thematically, grouped by era and country, such as the Renaissance, 17th-century Dutch paintings, and 17th to 18th-century French paintings. The adjoining Galerie des Beaux-Arts features temporary exhibitions of contemporary art. To help visitors discover the permanent collections and temporary exhibitions, the museum offers scheduled group tours every Wednesday and Saturday at 4pm for a small additional fee.
Address: 20 Cours d'Albret, Bordeaux
7 Musée d'Aquitaine
The Museum of Aquitaine vividly illustrates the history of Bordeaux and the region of Aquitaine from prehistoric times to the present day. The museum has exceptional pieces of antiquity, including the Laussel Venus, an artifact from 25,000 BC, Gallic gold coins from around the 2nd century BC, and a 3rd-century statue of Hercules. Other highlights include the 13th-century figure of a knight of Curton and the 16th-century Montaigne's tomb. The monument to Montaigne once stood at the entrance of the museum, and visitors would touch the statue's foot as a ritual to "absorb" the wisdom of the illustrious man. For a peek into everyday life of Bordeaux during the 20th century, be sure to view the Reconstructed Grocer's Shop filled with superb replicas of furniture, accessories, and foodstuffs from the 1900s. You'll find a cash register, coffee grinder, tinned fruits and vegetables, pots of mustard, terrines of foie gras, jars of bonbons, and a display of lollipops.
Address: 20 Cours Pasteur, Bordeaux
8 Esplanade des Quinconces
An expansive public space in central Bordeaux, the Esplanade des Quinconces is considered to be the largest square in Europe. This tranquil retreat in the heart of the city is just a few blocks away from Le Grand Théâtre. Flanked by the Quai Louis XVIII alongside the river, the esplanade offers peaceful waterfront views. Built from 1818 to 1828, the square's monumental fountain honors the Girondins, the group of republican politicians from the département of the Gironde who were deputies in the Legislative Assembly during the French Revolution. (Many Girondins were sent to the guillotine during the Terror). The original fountain was destroyed during World War II and later restored. There are also statues of Montesquieu and Montaigne. Another noteworthy site nearby is the Jardin Public, where you can visit the botanical gardens and the natural history museum.
Address: Place des Quinconces, Bordeaux
9 Palais Gallien
The only remaining vestige of the Roman era in Bordeaux, the Palais Gallien was built in the late 2nd century and was located just outside the town of "Burdigala." This immense amphitheater could accommodate 15,000 spectators on wooden benches. Visiting this exceptional site allows you to envision life during Roman times. The amphitheater offered typical brutal Roman entertainment such as gladiator combats.
Address: Rue du Docteur Albert Barraud, Bordeaux
10 Tour Pey Berland
This richly decorated tower is the freestanding belfry for the Cathédrale Saint-André. Built in the 15th century for the Archbishop Pey Berland, the tower exemplifies flamboyant Gothic architecture with its ornate details, soaring spires, and angled corner buttresses. As a more recent addition, a 19th-century statue of Notre Dame d'Aquitaine adorns the top of the tower. Visitors can climb to the top to enjoy magnificent panoramic views of the city. There are also regular concerts held at the Place Pey-Berland that are free and open to the public.
Address: Place Pey-Berland, Bordeaux
11 Pont de Pierre
One of the iconic sights in Bordeaux, the Pont de Pierre (Stone Bridge) blends perfectly with the city's elegant riverfront buildings. Imagined in 1817 by engineer Claude Descamps, the Pont de Pierre was completed in 1821 after years of construction work. The result is a beautiful feat of engineering. The bridge spans the Garonne River with 17 graceful arches supported by foundation piles that are set into the riverbed and well designed to withstand strong currents. In the history of Bordeaux, this was the first bridge to cross the Garonne River.
12 Croiseur Colbert
The Cruiser Colbert was once one of France's biggest warships. Built in 1953, the ship served until 1990 during the Gulf War. Visitors can tour 75 rooms including the kitchen, engine room, Captain's footbridge, and the Admiral's flat for a peek into life on board for the 600 sailors.
Address: Quai des Chartrons, Bordeaux
13 Grosse Cloche
One of the remnants of medieval Bordeaux, the Grosse Cloche (Big Clock) is a monument built in the 13th and 15th centuries. The clock features predominantly in the gate tower that was part of the old city hall. This vestige of the Middle Ages in the historic city center has been restored to its former glory and adds to the ambiance of another era.
Address: Rue Saint-James Cours, Bordeaux
14 Rue Sainte-Catherine
At the center of historic Bordeaux, the Rue Sainte-Catherine is the busiest shopping street in the city. This street is also the oldest existing thoroughfare in Bordeaux, as it was a road during Roman times.
Other Notable Attractions
Opposite the Place de la Bourse between the Quai de la Douane and Quai Louis XVIII, the Mirror d'Eau (Water Mirror) is an outdoor artistic installation created in 2006. The result of a collaboration between fountain maker Jean-Max Llorca and landscape architect Michel Corajoud, the Mirror d'Eau features granite pathways and two-centimeter pools of water. It could be called an "elegant puddle" or a "masterpiece of creativity," depending on your point of view. The riverside "water mirror" beautifully reflects the surrounding 18th-century building facades. To create a mystical and ever-changing quality, the fountain system alternates between mirror and mist effects. The reflection changes with the time of day and the weather.
Address: Place de la Bourse, Bordeaux
Hôtel de Ville
The city hall of Bordeaux occupies an elegant palace built in the 1770s. The Hôtel de Ville is located in the center of the old town next to the cathedral, and the Musée des Beaux-Arts occupies part of the building. Designed in the neoclassical style typical of Bordeaux, this architectural treasure has an impressive colonnaded facade.
Address: Place Pey-Berland, Bordeaux
Musée des Arts Décoratifs
This museum in the lovely Hôtel de Lalande displays decorative furniture, tableware, jewelry, miniatures, and musical instruments from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Address: 39 Rue Bouffard, Bordeaux
Centre National Jean Moulin
The Jean Moulin Center was created in 1967 as a documents archive and museum of the Second World War. The center has collections that focus on the Resistance, Deportation, and Free French Forces.
Address: Place Jean Moulin, Bordeaux
Where to Stay in Bordeaux for Sightseeing
To capture the ambience of this city, the best place to stay in Bordeaux is the historic city center, where you'll find a lively scene, with shops and restaurants where you can dine alfresco. Many of the historical attractions are in this area, including the famous Cathedrale Saint-Andre. Below are highly-rated hotels in convenient locations:
- Luxury Hotels: Housed in a 19th-century home, the boutique Yndo Hotel is steps to everything and offers luxurious amenities with a stunning décor. The appropriately named Le Boutique Hotel occupies a former 18th-century home that once hosted literary giants such as Victor Hugo. This is a high-end hotel in a quiet area, close to shops, restaurants, and the top attractions of the city. For those looking for a chic and trendy option, the recently renovated Hotel Burdigala Bordeaux - MGallery Collection has spacious, modern rooms and is just a short walk to the shops of Rue St. Catherine.
- Mid-Range Hotels: A five-minute walk from the Cathedrale Saint-Andre is the BEST WESTERN Grand Hotel Francais. Rooms, some with balconies, come with mini fridges and a complimentary breakfast. Set in a prime location on a pedestrian-only street is the Quality Hotel, with cozy rooms and modern décor. An elegant option in a prime location in this category is the Hotel Continental. Set in an 18th-century mansion, the hotel offers decent rooms and hosts a reception each evening with regional appetizers.
- Budget Hotels: Set in a historical building and featuring rooms with exposed sandstone walls and wood beams is the charming Hotel des Voyageurs. In the same area, the Ibis Bordeaux Centre Bastide is a modern hotel with functional rooms at an attractive price. Both of these hotels are on the east side of the river, about a 10-minute walk from the historical center of town, across the famous Pont de Pierre Bridge. Just northeast of the historical center, the clean and comfortable rooms at the Hotel Le Chantry offer good value.
Day Trips from Bordeaux
Château de La Brède
Built upon two islands amid a lake-sized moat, the Château de La Brède maintains a striking resemblance to Leeds Castle in Kent County, England. The most famed of its owners is the author Montesquieu, born in the castle on January 18th, 1689. Visitors can tour the castle, the English-style gardens, and 150 hectares of forest.
Address: Avenue du Château, La Brède
Château de Cadillac
Overlooking the Garonne River, the castle of the Dukes of Épernon was built between 1598 to 1620 and is one of the finest examples of French architecture. The interior features carved fireplaces and lavish tapestries. The exterior is surrounded by a protective moat and immense walls decorated with statues.
Address: Place de la Libération, Cadillac
Abbaye de la Sauve-Majeure
Located in the countryside of the Entre-Deux-Mers region, the Abbey of Sauve-Majeure is a UNESCO-listed monument as part of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrims' route.
Address: 14 Rue de l'Abbaye, La Sauve
Grotte de Pair-non-Pair
One of the oldest decorated caves in the world, the Grotte de Pair-non-Pair features prehistoric drawings of horses, deer, and mammoth. In 1881, François Daleau discovered this cave with the remains of an 80,000-year-old Neanderthal man and an 18,000-year-old Cro-Magnon man.