16 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Biarritz
Biarritz exudes the elegance and sophistication that you would expect of a celebrated European seaside resort. This Basque Country beach town has been fashionable ever since Empress Eugénie (wife of Napoléon III) decided to spend summer holidays here in the 19th century.
Before it became a resort town, Biarritz was just a sleepy fishing village, albeit in a magnificent setting. The coastal enclave nestles along the Bay of Biscay and looks directly out onto dramatic Atlantic Ocean waves.
Though the regal influence of Biarritz has faded, the city has retained its prestige. In fact, Biarritz is now considered one of the most desirable beach destinations in France and is certainly among the most glamorous. Another claim to fame: Biarritz is the capital of surfing in Europe.
If you're seeking a beach holiday that combines natural beauty and culture, then Biarritz is a fabulous choice. You can spend your days sunbathing on the beach and taking walks along the seafront promenades, with breaks for gourmet meals and afternoon tea. The city brims with inviting cafés, excellent fine-dining restaurants, and fancy pâtisserie boutiques.
Discover the best places to visit and things to do in the legendary beach town of 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.
Beach safety: It is important to note that this beach has heavy surf. 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 Grande Plage promenade is a perfect place to visit 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, the Hôtel du Palais Biarritz offers sumptuous accommodations. Napoléon III commissioned this palace for his wife Eugénie. A classified Monument Historique, the palace has been converted into a luxurious five-star hotel that features a full-service spa, fitness center, and an outdoor swimming pool.
The Hôtel du Palais also boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant, La Rotonde – La Table d'Aurélien Largeau, in an opulent Second Empire dining room with ocean views. If you decide to indulge at this refined gastronomic establishment, you will be treated to the finest contemporary Basque cuisine, while watching the surf crash against the shore.
Another gourmet destination on the Grande Plage is the Maison Dodin, which has an outdoor terrace overlooking the beach. This pâtisserie boutique/restaurant (open every day) serves breakfast, brunch, lunch, and afternoon tea.
Read More: Top-Rated Beaches in the South of France
2. Plage du Miramar
Spectacular scenery and dramatic shore-breaking waves distinguish the Plage du Miramar. The beach extends from the Hôtel du Palais to the Pointe Saint-Martin.
This sheltered shoreline offers a sense of tranquility. However, keep in mind that rough seas and strong currents (including riptides) make swimming dangerous. Check safety conditions and exercise caution before entering the water. Lifeguards are on duty in July and August from 10:30am until 7:30pm daily. In June and September, there is limited lifeguard surveillance.
Miramar Beach has the charm of an old-fashioned seaside resort — especially in summertime when vintage-style, striped beach tents make their appearance.
The beach attracts sunbathers, and spa-goers, who frequent the nearby Thalassa Sea & Spa center in the five-star Sofitel Hotel.
Just off the coast is a huge rock, the Roche Ronde, a protected nature area and bird sanctuary.
Read More: Best Places to Visit in the South of France
3. Biarritz Aquarium
The Biarritz Aquarium stands on a breathtaking piece of oceanfront property opposite the Rocher de la Vierge. The aquarium's spectacular 7,000-square-meter exhibition space rivals the natural splendor of the scenery.
More than 20 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.
Check out the outdoor terrace to admire astounding ocean views and to watch adorable marine mammals in action at the seal pool. The twice-daily (10:30am and 5pm) seal feeding time is a popular thing to do — especially for families with children. It's fun to watch how quickly the seals gobble up huge amounts of fish.
Address: Esplanade du Rocher de la Vierge, Biarritz
4. Biarritz Lighthouse
The emblematic Biarritz lighthouse stands at an essential location overlooking the coastline of Cape Hainsart. 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.
Climb the 248 steps of the lighthouse to reach the viewing platform at the top. The lighthouse commands sweeping panoramas of Biarritz and the Basque coastline.
The lighthouse is open every day from June through September. During the off-season, the lighthouse has more limited opening hours. During periods of bad weather, the lighthouse may close.
5. Elegant Boulevards and Squares
The elegant boulevards, streets, and squares of Biarritz exemplify the city's aristocratic heritage. At the center of Biarritz, the spacious Place Georges Clemenceau 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, the Boulevard Maréchal Leclerc runs alongside the old fishing harbor. This seaside boulevard is a good starting point for a scenic walking tour along the Biarritz coast.
Read More: Best Places to Visit in France
6. Miremont Tea Salon
The Miremont is renowned for its elegant ambience and traditional French pâtisserie. You'll find all of the classics in the pastry case, such as éclairs, Gâteau Saint-Honoré, and strawberry tarts.
This historic salon de thé (tea salon) occupies a 17th-century building with ocean views. The Miremont's dining room looks out onto the Grande Plage and the Hôtel du Palais. Upstairs, the salon features pastel pink decor and seems perfectly appointed for a gathering place of aristocratic ladies.
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 exquisite French pastries. Queen Nathalie of Serbia often purchased caramels for her friends, and Queen Amelia of Portugal had a habit of taking her tea at a window seat with the best view.
You may purchase pastries at the Miremont to take away or enjoy lunch or afternoon tea in the dining room. The Miremont also sells gift boxes of chocolates, caramels, and other candies.
Another prestigious 19th-century tea salon in Biarritz, the Maison Dodin offers a similar selection of classic French pâtisserie. Dodin Biarritz is famous for its Béret Basque (chocolate mousse cake) and spectacular oceanfront location, overlooking the Grande Plage.
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 were guided back to the port during a storm by what seemed to be a divine light. In gratitude, the fishermen installed a statue of the Virgin Mary on the rock.
Napoléon 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 ocean waves. The bridge 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 extending all the way to the hills of Spain.
Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in France
8. Chapelle Impériale
Empress Eugénie requested the creation of the Chapelle Impériale for her own personal spiritual worship. Built in 1865, the chapel is dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe (Mexico's patron saint).
This little gem of a 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 Chapelle Impériale has been classified as a Monument Historique and allows visits during limited hours. From June through September, the chapel is open on Thursday and Saturday afternoons. In March, April, May, October, November, and December, the chapel is open on Saturday afternoons. Guided tours are available.
Mass is held here four times a year on specific dates: January 9th to commemorate the death of Napoléon III; June 1st, the anniversary of the death of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, the Prince Impérial (the only child of Napoléon III 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 Napoléon 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
The Côte des Basques is considered the birthplace of surfing in France. The impressive waves provide challenging conditions for surfing, and many competitions are held here. Swimming and wading are allowed except during high tide when waves break on the entire shoreline.
Visit the Côte des Basques to admire dazzling oceanfront scenery, with views of the mountainous coastline extending to the Spanish border. Because cliffs surround the beach, a steep pedestrian staircase provides access from the parking lot.
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 to both of these beaches is difficult for people with limited mobility.
Safety notes: Beginning surfers should be advised on how and when to enter and get out of the water to avoid hitting the stones.
Read More: Best Places to Visit in France
10. Day Trip to Saint-Jean-de-Luz
Saint-Jean-de-Luz is another popular holiday destination on France's Basque coastline. The town has retained its historic charm and the ambience of an old fishing village. Brimming with specialty food shops and traditional restaurants, Saint-Jean-de-Luz offers an authentic taste of Basque culture.
The sandy beaches of Saint-Jean-de-Luz attract many vacation goers during summertime. Its beaches are prized for their gentle waves (thanks to protection from the ocean by a sea wall). Families with kids appreciate that it's safe to swim and wade in the waters.
Saint-Jean-de-Luz is just a 30-minute drive south of Biarritz. It's worth taking the time to discover this Basque seaside town, which is quite different from the glitzy resort of Biarritz.
11. Basque Country Excursion: Village of Espelette
A key ingredient in Basque cuisine, the Piment d'Espelette, takes its name from this picturesque village. The town's traditional red-shuttered Basque houses are often festooned with neatly lined rows of peppers, drying in the open air. The bright red peppers are grown on nearby farms.
The Piment d'Espelette pepper has been designated with an AOP (Appellation d'Origine Protégée) label because of its distinctive flavor and unique geographical origin.
To experience the best of local culture and cuisine, visit in late October during the Fête du Piment d'Espelette (Pepper Festival). The two-day festival includes gourmet tastings, hearty country meals, Basque dance performances, and choir concerts. Market stalls sell Piment d'Espelette peppers and other regional gastronomic products.
Espelette is a 30-minute drive from Biarritz.
12. Eglise Orthodoxe de Biarritz
This Byzantine-style Russian Orthodox church was designed by the renowned Biarritz architect Tisnès. It was built between 1890 and 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, Thursday through Sunday, in the afternoon. You may also attend prayer services on Sunday mornings.
Address: 8 Avenue de l'Impératrice, Biarritz
13. Kid-Friendly Beaches
This sheltered Plage du Port Vieux is an excellent choice for families with children. The small sandy beach nestles 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 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.
Another family-friendly beach is the Plage de la Milady. This expansive sandy beach features a seaside boardwalk and a playground. The beach is very popular among locals and bodyboarders.
Swimming is permitted at the Plage de la Milady, except when the waters are rough. One caution: The zone of surveillance increases at low tide.
14. Cité de l'Océan
Near the Plage de la Milady, the Cité de l'Océan (City of the Ocean) is entirely dedicated to the science of oceanography. 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.
The Cité de l'Océan is open from February through October. Hours are extended during the high season.
Address: 1 Avenue de la Plage, Biarritz
15. UNESCO-listed Saint-Jean Pied de Port
The Basque village of Saint-Jean Pied de Port definitely merits a day trip, located an hour's drive from Biarritz. This quaint village nestles in a gorgeous verdant setting of rolling hills and woodlands.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Saint-Jean Pied de Port features cobblestone streets and traditional Basque red-shuttered historic buildings. The town also boasts a noteworthy 13th-century church — the Eglise Notre-Dame du Bout du Pont.
Saint-Jean Pied de Port was a stop on the medieval Way of Saint James pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Standing at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains, at an elevation of 1,300 meters, the town marked a difficult stage of the pilgrims' route. Many modern pilgrims still begin their Chemin de Saint-Jacques 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 the Fêtes de Saint-Jean Pied de Port, a traditional Basque festival with dance and music performances.
16. Musée d'Art Asiatique (Museum of Asian Art)
The surprising Musée d'Art Asiatique 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
Map of Attractions & Things to Do in Biarritz
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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.
Pyrenees Mountains 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.