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. Comparable to 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 palace built in the 1770s. Designed in the Neoclassical style typical of Bordeaux, the Hôtel de Ville is an architectural treasure with an impressive colonnaded facade.
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 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 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. Take a scenic walk alongside the Garonne River to admire the glorious architecture of the Place de la Bourse and the shimmering reflections of the buildings in the river.
Opposite the Place de la Bourse, between the Quai de la Douane and Quai Louis XVIII, the Miroir 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 Miroir d'Eau could be called an "elegant puddle" or a "masterpiece of creativity," depending on your point of view. The two-centimeter pools of water beautifully reflect 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.
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 Quartier 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.
The square in front of the Saint-Michel Basilica is the location of a weekly fruit and vegetable market as well as a venue for Les Puces de Saint-Michel, a popular flea market that takes place every few months.
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, 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.
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.
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 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, 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.
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 Musée des Arts Décoratifs
Featuring a superb collection of decorative art objects, this museum displays furniture, tableware, jewelry, miniatures, and musical instruments from the 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
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
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 feudal castle has a dreamy fairy-tale appearance. The most famed of its owners was the author Montesquieu, born in the castle on January 18th, 1689. The château 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
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. The interior features carved fireplaces and lavish tapestries. The exterior is surrounded by a protective moat and immense walls decorated with statues. The château is open to the public year-round and also hosts temporary exhibits as well as special themed events.
Address: Place de la Libération, Cadillac
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 set in a serene natural landscape of 200 hectares, surrounded by a forest of majestic trees (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. A masterpiece of Romanesque architecture, the abbey features classical columns and an excellent collection of sculptures. The Abbaye de la Sauve-Majeure is open to the public for self-guided or one-hour guided tours.
Address: 14 Rue de l'Abbaye, La Sauve
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.
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.
- Spin around the City by Segway or Electric Vehicle: Enjoy the city sights on a Bordeaux Segway Tour. This fun 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. A more customized option is the Self-Guided Bordeaux City Sightseeing Tour in an Electric Vehicle. For 90 minutes, you can sit back in an open-air, two-seater electric vehicle guided by GPS multimedia with narration about the monuments. This tour allows you to see the city's most famous places of interest as well as some off-the-beaten-path sights.
- Cruise the Garonne River: Led by a knowledgeable captain, the UNESCO Cruise glides along 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.
Other Beautiful Towns and Nature Sites near Bordeaux
Surrounded by a picturesque countryside of vine-covered hills, Bordeaux is a wonderful starting point to discover Southwest France. For those interested in exploring the verdant Basque Country and its beautiful beaches, the upscale seaside resort town of Biarritz, one of the top beach resorts in France, is about two hours away by train or car, and the family-friendly beaches of Saint-Jean-de-Luz are only 30 minutes farther south. Also within reasonable distance 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. Another must-see historic city, Toulouse, with its sunny sidewalk cafes and stunning architectural landmarks, is just over a two-hour train ride away.