19 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Bordeaux
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. Find the best things to see and do with our list of the top tourist attractions in Bordeaux.
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 medieval 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.
Comparable to the Notre-Dame in Paris in its grandeur, the Cathedral of Saint Andrew has 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 opposite the cathedral stands the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), a marvelous 18th-century neoclassical building.
During the summertime, the Bordeaux International Organ Festival is held at the cathedral. Attending an organ concert in the cathedral's heavenly setting is among the most enjoyable things to do in Bordeaux. Some of Europe's most talented organists perform at the festival.
Address: 66 Rue Trois Conils, Bordeaux
2. Attend a Performance or Tour 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 harmonious neoclassical 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.
The theater's interior features splendid foyers and a grand staircase that inspired Charles Garnier's design of the Paris Opera House. A dazzling 400-light chandelier made of Bohemian crystals adds to the opulent ambience.
Guided tours (in French) are available for those who would like to see the theater's lavish interior, including the auditorium and backstage area.
The most enjoyable way to discover the Grand Théâtre is by attending a ballet, opera performance, or music recital. The Grand Théâtre is a performance venue for the Ballet de l'Opéra National de Bordeaux and Opéra National de Bordeaux companies, as well as other prestigious music recitals.
Address: Place de la Comédie, Bordeaux
3. Place de la Bourse
Lining the quays of Bordeaux for a half mile are palatial classical buildings from the 18th century. The most magnificent examples are found at the Place de la Bourse, which epitomizes the elegance of 18th-century design.
In the center of the square is the Fountain of the Three Graces, surrounded by two beautiful pavilion-like buildings: the Palais de la Bourse (formerly the Stock Exchange) and the Musée National des Douanes (Customs Museum), the only museum of its kind in France. These graceful quayside monuments overlook the banks of the Garonne River.
Between the Quai de la Douane and the Quai Louis XVIII, the Miroir d'Eau (Water Mirror) is a decorative pool that reflects the Place de la Bourse building facades. This contemporary UNESCO World Heritage site could be called an "elegant puddle" or a "masterpiece of creativity." A fountain system alternates between mirror and mist effects. The reflection changes with the time of day and the weather.
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.
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. 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).
The basilica has a freestanding belfry (at Place Canteloup) that dates to the 15th century. Locals call this 114-meter-high monument "La Flèche" ("The Spire") because the soaring structure functions as the church steeple.
Tourists will appreciate the colorful and cosmopolitan ambience of the Quartier Saint-Michel (neighborhood). The square in front of the Saint-Michel Basilica is the location of a traditional open-air market on Saturday mornings, as well as a venue for Les Puces de Saint-Michel, a popular flea market held Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays.
Address: Place Meynard, 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, Van Dyck, Delacroix, Matisse, and Picasso, 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 museum also presents temporary exhibitions on specific themes, such as British masterpieces from the Louvre Museum; landscape paintings from the 17th to 20th centuries; drawings by Goya that reveal a focus on physiognomy; and art on the subject of liberty, created during the Enlightenment and through the Romantic period.
Address: 20 Cours d'Albret, Bordeaux
Official site: www.musba-bordeaux.fr/en
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 of the collection 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.
Address: 20 Cours Pasteur, Bordeaux
Official site: www.musee-aquitaine-bordeaux.fr/en
8. Esplanade des Quinconces
An expansive public space in central Bordeaux, the Esplanade des Quinconces is a tranquil retreat in the heart of the city, 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. The original fountain was destroyed during World War II and later restored. There are also statues of Montesquieu and Montaigne.
Another noteworthy attraction nearby is the Jardin Public, where you can visit the botanical gardens and the natural history museum.
Just south of the Place des Quinconces is the Rue Sainte-Catherine, a bustling pedestrianized street lined with many shops and cafés. This street is also the oldest existing thoroughfare in Bordeaux, as it was a road during Roman times.
Address: Place des Quinconces, Bordeaux
9. Palais Gallien
The Palais Gallien is a 2nd-century amphitheater and is the only remaining vestige of the Gallo-Roman era in Bordeaux. This site provides a glimpse of life during antiquity.
Originally, the amphitheater accommodated an audience of 20,000 (although it takes imagination to conjure up the scene, since so little of the monument has been preserved). The elaborate spectacles held here included gladiator combats and Roman games with live animals.
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 UNESCO-listed 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.
Address: Place Pey-Berland, Bordeaux
11. Pont de Pierre
One of the iconic sights in Bordeaux, the Pont de Pierre (Stone Bridge) spans the Garonne River with 17 graceful arches. Designed by engineer Claude Descamps, the Pont de Pierre was completed in 1821 after years of construction work. In the history of Bordeaux, this was the first bridge to cross the Garonne River.
12. Grosse Cloche
One of the remnants of medieval Bordeaux, the Grosse Cloche (Big Clock) is a monument built in the 13th and 15th centuries and has been restored to its former glory. The most distinctive features of this ancient gate tower are the clock and the bell (weighing over 7,000 kilos), which is rung for special celebrations such as Remembrance Day (November 11th) and the Fête Nationale (July 14th).
The Grosse Cloche once served as a prison and is redolent with stories from centuries past. Petty criminals were locked up in the tower dungeons, which were sealed shut by a 10-centimeter-thick door that was locked with massive bolts.
Address: Rue Saint-James Cours, Bordeaux
13. Musée des Arts Décoratifs et du Design
Featuring a superb collection of decorative art objects, this museum displays furniture, tableware, jewelry, miniatures, and musical instruments from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.
The museum is housed in the lovely Hôtel de Lalande, an elegant mansion built between 1775 and 1779. By visiting the museum, tourists gain an appreciation for the cultivated lifestyle and exquisite decor of an aristocratic residence during the Enlightenment period in Bordeaux.
Address: 39 Rue Bouffard, Bordeaux
14. 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
15. Visit nearby Château de La Brède
Listed as a historical monument, the Château de La Brède is a fortified medieval castle about a 30-minute drive south of Bordeaux that was built in the 13th century and bears a striking resemblance to Leeds Castle in Kent County, England.
Surrounded by 150 hectares of forest and built upon two islands amid a lake-sized moat, the Gothic château has a dreamy fairy-tale appearance. Dating back to the 13th century, this feudal castle was originally the residence of the lord of La Brède. The most famed of its owners was the author Montesquieu, born in the castle on January 18th, 1689.
The Château de La Brède is open to the public from April to November and to groups (by pre-arranged booking) from March to December. Visitors may tour the château and wander about the park, which is manicured with delightful English-style gardens.
Address: Avenue du Château, La Brède
16. Take a Tour of Château de Cadillac
About 40 kilometers southeast of Bordeaux, the Château de Cadillac is a classified Historical Monument that was the residence of the Dukes of Épernon. Overlooking the Garonne River, the castle was built between 1598 to 1620 and is one of the finest examples of French architecture.
Exemplifying classical French architecture of the 17th century, the château features a sumptuous interior complete with intricately sculpted fireplaces, delicate ceiling paintings, and lavish tapestries. The grounds include a formal French garden.
The château is open to visitors year-round for guided tours (in French) or self-guided tours, with a booklet available in various languages. Throughout the year, special events and exhibitions are held at the château.
Address: Place de la Libération, Cadillac
17. Day Trip to Abbaye de la Sauve-Majeure
Located 25 kilometers from Bordeaux in the countryside of the Entre-Deux-Mers region, the Abbey of Sauve-Majeure is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The abbey is nestled in a serene meadow and surrounded by 200 hectares of densely wooded grounds. The name "Sauve-Majeure" comes from "Silva Major," which means "Great Forest."
Dating from the 11th to 13th centuries, the abbey was built as a place of spiritual worship for the pilgrims on the Way of Saint James route to Santiago de Compostela. The abbey is renowned for its finely carved capitals, which are considered to be among the finest examples of Romanesque art.
The Abbaye de la Sauve-Majeure is open to the public year-round (except on national holidays) for self-guided or guided tours. The grounds include a picnic area.
Address: 14 Rue de l'Abbaye, La Sauve
19. Explore Prehistoric Cave Paintings at the 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. Archaeologists also have found 15,000 tools from prehistoric times. The Grotte de Pair-non-Pair is open to the public for guided tours.
Where to Stay in Bordeaux for Sightseeing
To experience the enchanting old-world ambience of Bordeaux, the best place to stay is in the city center. Visitors will enjoy the lively scene, full of shops, restaurants, and cafés with outdoor terraces. The historic center also contains most of the city's top tourist attractions. Below are highly rated hotels in convenient locations:
- Luxury Hotels: Housed in a 19th-century mansion in the historic city center, the five-star Yndohotel offers plush guest rooms and delightful common areas, including a garden courtyard. This five-star hotel has a gourmet restaurant that prepares meals from local, seasonal ingredients.
Le Boutique Hôtel Bordeaux occupies an 18th-century hôtel particulier (mansion) in the historic center near many restaurants and tourist attractions. This five-star hotel features pampering spa services and chic contemporary-style guest rooms.
A short walk away from the shops of Rue Saint-Catherine, the recently renovated four-star Hotel Burdigala has spacious, modern guest rooms and a gastronomic restaurant that serves seasonal cuisine.
- Mid-Range Hotels: The Best Western Grand Hôtel Français is in the historic center on a quiet pedestrian street near the Cathédrale Saint-André. Occupying a renovated 18th-century mansion, this three-star hotel provides spacious contemporary-style accommodations with a complimentary breakfast buffet.
The Quality Hotel Bordeaux Centre benefits from its location on the Rue Sainte-Catherine, a bustling area with many shops and restaurants. The modern guest rooms are outfitted with flat-screen televisions and Nespresso coffee machines.
The four-star Hôtel Konti is found in the upscale Triangle d'Or neighborhood in the historic center of Bordeaux. Set in an 18th-century mansion, the hotel has been stylishly renovated and has a café and a snack bar.
- Budget Hotels: On the right bank of the Garonne River about a 10-minute walk from the historic center, the Hotel des Voyageurs occupies a renovated 19th-century building with exposed sandstone walls. This two-star hotel offers concierge services and a 24-hour front desk.
The Ibis Bordeaux Centre Bastide is a short walk from the historic center and just steps away from the Jardin Botanique. This modern hotel provides three-star accommodations at reasonable rates. The breakfast buffet includes fresh-baked pastries.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Bordeaux
Bordeaux is a UNESCO World Heritage City packed with hundreds of historic monuments, so it can feel overwhelming to tourists who want to fit it all in. Taking a guided tour allows you to see more top attractions in an enjoyable and easy way. Different sightseeing options are available to suit various types of travelers. Below are three favorite ways to tour the city:
- Go on a Guided Walking Tour: Learn about the history of Bordeaux while strolling the city's elegant streets and squares. The Bordeaux City Sights Walking Tour takes you on a two-hour guided walking tour, beginning at the city's historic center. This comprehensive tour includes the main tourist attractions of Bordeaux, such as the Place de la Bourse, the Grand Théâtre, and Rue Sainte-Catherine.
- Take a Spin around the City: Take in the sights of Bordeaux on a Segway Tour. This one-hour tour takes you through the historic streets and public squares of Bordeaux while stopping at must-see places, including the Cathedral of Saint Andrew, the Place des Quinconces, and the Rue Sainte-Catherine.
- Cruise the Garonne River: Led by a knowledgeable captain, the Garonne River Sightseeing Cruise glides past the quays of the Garonne River while sharing commentary about the city's historic waterfront and its important monuments, including the Place de la Bourse and the Pont de Pierre.
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Exploring Southwest France: Surrounded by a picturesque countryside of vine-covered hills, Bordeaux is an excellent starting point to explore Southwest France. Among the South of France's top attractions is the historic city of Toulouse (just over a two-hour train ride away) with its sunny squares, pleasant outdoor cafés and stunning architectural landmarks.
Nearby Beach Resorts: The neighboring Basque Country region is known for its gorgeous beaches, including the upscale seaside resort town of Biarritz, one of the top beach destinations in France. Biarritz is about two hours away from Bordeaux by train or car, and the family-friendly beaches of Saint-Jean-de-Luz are only 30 minutes farther south.
Inspiring Sights in the Pyrenees: Within reasonable driving distance from Bordeaux are several top tourist destinations of the Pyrenees region, such as the Catholic pilgrimage shrine of Lourdes, one of the best places to visit in France. Less than an hour's drive from Lourdes is the magnificent Renaissance château (16th-century residence of Henry IV) in Pau. Nearby Oloron Sainte-Marie boasts a UNESCO-listed 12th-century cathedral.