17 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Biarritz
In a magnificent setting on the Bay of Biscay in France's Basque country, the celebrated seaside resort of Biarritz is synonymous with elegance and upper-class style. 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 has been converted into a luxury hotel).
The names of the streets in Biarritz also 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 splendor.
Though the regal influence of Biarritz has faded, the city has retained its prestige. In fact, Biarritz is now considered one of the best beach destinations in France and is certainly among the most glamorous. 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. Discover more things to see and do in this beautiful beach town with our list of the top attractions in Biarritz.
See also: Where to Stay in Biarritz
1. Grande Plage
Biarritz' most central beach, the Grande Plage has attracted high-society vacationers since the Belle Epoque. This 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.
Lifeguards are on duty from May through October with more extended hours during the high season. 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 stroll. This wide pedestrian walkway offers vistas of the breaking waves and the Biarritz lighthouse in the distance.
On a headland at the end of the Grande Plage is the Hôtel du Palais. Built by the Emperor Napoleon III for his wife Eugénie, this gorgeous palace is a national monument exemplifying opulent Second Empire style. Since 1893, the building has been used as a hotel. This luxurious five-star property features a spa, two swimming pools, and an exquisite gastronomic restaurant with sensational ocean panoramas. Guests are treated to the finest Basque cuisine while watching the surf crash against the shore.
2. Plage du Miramar
This beautiful beach is a place to relax and enjoy the refreshing seaside breezes. Extending from the Hôtel du Palais to the Pointe Saint-Martin, the Plage du Miramar is distinguished by its spectacular 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.
The beach 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. Lifeguards are on duty in July and August.
Just off the coast is a huge rock, the Roche Ronde, a protected nature area and bird sanctuary.
3. Biarritz Aquarium
This exceptional aquarium is perched on a cliffside, a breathtaking piece of oceanfront property opposite the Rocher de la Vierge. One of the largest aquariums in Europe, the 7,000-meter space features more than 20 aquarium tanks.
The natural-looking aquarium tanks are filled with a wide range of amazing species, from lobsters and sea urchins to turtles and hammerhead sharks. The aquariums represent species from all the Seven Seas, including an array of tropical fish and an 11-meter-long Caribbean lagoon.
One of the highlights of the Biarritz Aquarium is the outdoor terrace, with a seal pool, where the adorable sea mammals swim and play. The twice-daily (10:30am and 5pm) seal feeding time is a popular event—especially for families with children. It's fun to watch how quickly the seals gobble up huge amounts of fish. The outdoor terrace also offers astounding 180-degree ocean views.
Address: Esplanade du Rocher de la Vierge, Biarritz
4. Biarritz Lighthouse
The emblematic Biarritz lighthouse stands at an essential location overlooking the coastline of the Cape Hainsart. Built in 1834, the lighthouse is 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 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 sweeping panoramas of Biarritz and the Basque countryside.
5. Elegant Boulevards and Squares
The elegant boulevards, streets, and squares of Biarritz exemplify the city's aristocratic heritage. At the urban center of Biarritz is the grand Place Georges-Clemenceau, which joins with several of the city's principal streets. From here, it is a short distance to the Place Bellevue, a 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 is a wonderful starting point for a scenic walking tour along the Biarritz coast.
With so many wonderful sights, Biarritz is a delightful place for a scenic stroll or a guided walking tour to learn about the history while admiring the views. Another great way to see the city's top sights is by taking a Biarritz Discovery Segway Tour. On this guided Segway excursion, tourists will see the most famous landmarks while learning about the city's culture, history, and architecture.
6. 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 dining room offers an outlook onto the Grand Plage beach and the Hôtel du Palais. Upstairs, the 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, caramels, and other candies.
Address: 1 Bis, Place Clémenceau, Biarritz
7. Rocher de la Vierge (Virgin of the Rock)
The Rocher de la Vierge is a truly dramatic landmark—a statue of the Virgin Mary set on a steep, narrow rock in the ocean. According to a local legend, fishermen caught out at sea in a storm were guided back to the port by what seemed to be a divine light. In gratitude, the fishermen installed a statue of the Virgin Mary on the rock. Napoleon III decided to make the site accessible from the shore and in 1887 asked Gustave Eiffel to create a sturdy metal bridge.
To arrive at the Virgin Mary statue, tourists must walk across the "Passerelle Eiffel" (pedestrian bridge), suspended high above the pounding waves of the ocean. This experience is one of the most thrilling things to do in Biarritz. The scenic stroll affords awe-inspiring panoramas of the coastline, extending from the mouth of the Adour River to the Spanish frontier.
Other marvelous viewpoints of the Basque coastline can be found 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.
8. Chapelle Impériale
Empress Eugénie requested the creation of this Imperial Chapel for her own personal spiritual worship. Built in 1865, the chapel is dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe (Mexico's patron saint). This intimate chapel reveals an eclectic yet harmonious blend of architectural elements: Romanesque-inspired arches, Moorish design motifs, and glittering Byzantine-style gilded mosaics. The ornate details add up to an enchanting interior, which dazzles the eyes.
The chapel is open to the public for visits and guided tours. Mass is held here four times a year on specific dates: January 9th to commemorate the death of Napoleon III; June 1st, the anniversary of the death of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, the Prince Impérial (the only child of Napoleon and Eugénie) who was killed in action during the Anglo-Zulu War; July 11th to commemorate of the death of Empress Eugénie; and December 12th to celebrate the Feast Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Prior to the construction of the Imperial Chapel, the Empress Eugénie, Emperor Napoleon III, and the Imperial family attended mass at the Eglise Sainte-Eugénie near the old port. This neo-Gothic chapel was inaugurated in 1856 and is dedicated to the patron saint of the empress.
Address: Rue des Cent Gardes, Biarritz
9. Surfing Beaches
Enclosed by cliffs and accessible by a staircase or pedestrian path, the Côte des Basques is the most famous surfing beach in Biarritz and is said to be the birthplace of surfing. The impressive waves provide challenging 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 coastal scenery.
Next to the Côte des Basques, the Plage de Marbella is another favorite of surfers and bodyboarders because of its powerful waves. This unspoiled, sandy beach is wild and rugged and is only accessible by a staircase. (Access is difficult for people with limited mobility.) For those interested in learning how to surf in Biarritz, one recommendation is a Private Surf Lesson. This two-hour lesson includes equipment and instructions at a suitable surfing spot.
10. Day Trip to Saint-Jean-de-Luz
An old fishing village with a typical Basque character, Saint-Jean-de-Luz is steeped in history. Tourists will enjoy the lively atmosphere, local culture, and delicious food. A popular summertime destination, Saint-Jean-de-Luz boasts attractive 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.
Saint-Jean-de-Luz is just a 30-minute drive south of Biarritz. It's worth taking the time to discover this traditional Basque seaside town, which is quite different from the glitzy resort of Biarritz.
11. Basque Country Excursion: Village of Espelette
For an authentic taste of the Basque Country, one of the best places to visit is Espelette (a 30-minute drive from Biarritz). This picturesque village is renowned for its red peppers. The town's traditional Basque houses are brightly decorated with neatly lined rows of dried peppers, which are grown on nearby farms. With an AOC label designating the geographical origin and quality, the Piment d'Espelette is a key ingredient in Basque cooking.
In late October, at the end of the harvest season, the town of Espelette hosts the Fête du Piment de Espelette (Pepper Festival). During this festival, the farmers market presents Piment d'Espelette peppers and other regional gastronomic products available for sale. Festival-goers will also enjoy hearty country meals and entertainment, including musical concerts, dance performances, parties, and games.
12. Eglise Orthodoxe de Biarritz
This Byzantine-style Russian Orthodox church was designed by the renowned Biarritz architect Tisnés. It was built in 1892 for a community of Russian immigrants (mostly aristocrats). Gilded icons from Saint Petersburg adorn the interior, creating the impression of a glittering jewel box. The church is open to the public for visits from 3:30pm to 6pm every day and also offers daily prayer services.
Address: 8 Avenue de l'Impératrice, Biarritz
13. Kid-Friendly Beaches
This small, sheltered beach of Le Port Vieux is an excellent choice for families with children. The beach is found in a 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 conditions are usually calm enough for swimming, and the shallow areas are safe for kids to bathe and splash around, under supervision.
Since Le Port Vieux is 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.
14. Cité de l'Océan
In a sleek contemporary building close to the Plage de la Milady, this museum is dedicated to educating the public about the science of the oceans. The museum's creative and interactive exhibits make learning about ocean-related topics fun and interesting. Exhibits focus on specific concepts, such as climate change and the origin of waves. A virtual surfing experience allows visitors to feel what it's like to ride the ocean waves without getting wet. In a small theater, the museum screens a 3-D show, which simulates being in a submarine 1,000 meters underwater.
Address: 1 Avenue de la Plage, Biarritz
Official site: https://www.citedelocean.com/en/
15. UNESCO-listed Saint-Jean Pied de Port
Another day-trip worthy destination is the Basque village of Saint-Jean Pied de Port. Located at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains (a one-hour drive from Biarritz) at an elevation of 1,300 meters, the town was a medieval pilgrimage stop on the Way of Saint James route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain and was considered one of the most difficult stages of the pilgrims' journey.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the old quarter has charming cobblestone streets and a noteworthy 13th-century church—the Eglise Notre-Dame du Bout du Pont. Many modern pilgrims still begin their Camino de Santiago pilgrimage journey here. The pristine countryside around the village is also a fantastic place for hiking and nature walks or just for relaxing and meditating in the lush landscape. In August, the town hosts a traditional summertime Basque festival with dance and music performances.
16. Musée Asiatica (Museum of Asian Art)
This surprising museum displays one of Europe's top collections of Asian art. There are more than 1,000 pieces of artwork representing different historical periods, from ancient to modern times. The collections represent the work of different countries, including China, India, Nepal, and Tibet.
Address: 1 Rue Guy Petit, Biarritz
Official site: http://www.museeasiatica.com
Where to Stay in Biarritz: Best Areas & Hotels
Biarritz has been a premier seaside resort since the 19th century, when the destination was known as the "Queen of Resorts and the Resort of Kings." Because of this aristocratic heritage, Biarritz has many establishments that cater to a clientele with refined tastes. There are exceptional luxury hotels found on prime oceanfront property, with upscale gourmet restaurants and endless pampering services. At the same time, a selection of more affordable accommodations are found in town, a short walk away from the beach. Below are highly rated hotels in several categories.
- Luxury Hotels: A splendid seaside palace, the luxurious Hôtel du Palais is an important historic landmark in Biarritz. In 1855, the Empress Eugenie chose this site to build an imperial residence, which was converted to a hotel in 1893. Today, the five-star property dazzles guests with its lavish Second Empire-style interior, sumptuous guest rooms, and fabulous oceanfront gardens and outdoor pool. The hotel also boasts three gourmet restaurants (from haute-cuisine to casual); and a pampering spa with a sauna, hammam, indoor pool and Jacuzzi; as well as a gym. The hotel's restaurants and many of the guest rooms have amazing ocean views.
In a lovely beachfront location, La Regina Biarritz Hotel is another architectural standout in Biarritz, emblematic of the Belle Epoque period. The five-star hotel features an Art Deco interior and plush guest rooms with details inspired by Coco Chanel's style. Other highlights are an upscale spa with a hammam, an outdoor pool with a terrace, and a brasserie-style restaurant with panoramic ocean vistas.
More modern in style than the other luxury hotels, the Sofitel Biarritz Le Miramar Thalassa Sea & Spa Hotel features a thalassotherapy (saltwater therapy) spa with a sauna and wellness treatments, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and two restaurants. The beachfront property offers incredible ocean views plus easy access to the Plage du Miramar.
- Mid-Range Hotels: A quaint hotel on a tree-lined street in town, the three-star Hotel Saint Julien is within easy walking distance of many restaurants and the beach. The hotel occupies a renovated 19th-century mansion with characteristic Basque details, such as red shutters and an outdoor terrace landscaped with bright flowers. The rooms are decorated in an understated traditional style. A classic French buffet-style "petit déjeuner" (including a baguette, croissants, fresh fruit, cheese, yogurt, juice and café au lait) is served in an inviting breakfast salon or on the sunny terrace.
In the historic center of Biarritz near the Pierre Forsans public garden, La Maison du Lierre is a good choice of accommodation within walking distance of the beach. This small boutique hotel has a charming ambience, cheerful guest rooms, and a cozy breakfast salon where a traditional French breakfast is served. The hotel's romantic outdoor terrace is an inviting place to relax on warm summer days. Breakfast is served on the terrace when the weather is nice.
The Hotel Villa Koegui Biarritz is another boutique hotel in the center of Biarritz near the Place Georges-Clemenceau, a short walk to the beach. This contemporary four-star hotel has an intimate atmosphere, minimalistic rooms, and a pleasant outdoor patio. A breakfast buffet with homemade specialities is available.
- Budget Hotels: In the center of Biarritz and close to the beach, the two-star Le Petit Hôtel is not at all fancy but has simple modern rooms in a good location. It's a perfect choice for families because some of the larger rooms can accommodate three or four beds. Additional beds and cribs are available upon request.
The two-star Hotel Parc Mazon is found in a typical red-shuttered Basque house in a quiet residential neighborhood, within walking distance of the Plage de la Côte des Basques surfing beach. The hotel's guest rooms are small and basic yet are decorated in an appealing whimsical style. Breakfast is available for an additional cost.
About a five-minute walk from the beach, the three-star Hotel Argi Eder offers contemporary-style guest rooms at an affordable price. A continental breakfast is available for an extra fee. Those who are mobility challenged should note that the hotel does not have an elevator.
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Cultural Heritage Sites in France's Southwest: Biarritz is found in France's far Southwestern corner, which is relatively remote compared to other tourist destinations in France. It's a long way from Paris (a 90-minute plane flight, 8- to 10-hour drive, or over five hours by train). The closest big cities are Bordeaux (about a two-hour drive or train ride), renowned for its romantic riverside setting and UNESCO-listed architectural treasures, and Toulouse (about a three-hour drive), which has a slow-paced Southern French ambience and a rich cultural heritage.
The Picturesque Pyrenees and Spanish Basque Country: Biarritz boasts majestic scenery along the Atlantic Coast with the Pyrenees Mountains in the background. Within about a two-hour drive are many sublime nature sights, quaint alpine villages, Romanesque churches, and rejuvenating spa towns in the nearby French Pyrenees.
Biarritz is also at the heart of the French Basque country, which shares a cultural heritage with the neighboring Spanish Basque region. This distinctive area of Spain is known for its idyllic rural landscape and vibrant cities. Spain's version of a stylish seaside resort, San Sebastian (about a 45-minute drive or 90-minute train ride) attracts crowds to its sandy beaches during the summertime and year-round because of its atmospheric Old Town, superb fine arts museum, and traditional "pintxo" (Basque tapas) restaurants.
For art lovers, it's worth taking the two-hour drive from Biarritz to explore the sights of Bilbao, including the Guggenheim Museum and the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum. The historic town of Pamplona (about a 90-minute drive) is famous for its Running of the Bulls festival but also has an impressive cathedral and other noteworthy attractions.