If you’re heading to Bordeaux then all we can say is, lucky you. It is an an unbelievable city, not just for its plethora of bars, shops and cafés but because it is so beautiful as well. Everywhere you go it feels historic yet lively, and is a treat on the eye. It’s one of the best places on earth to spend a couple of days just wandering the streets. Having been a few times now, here’s our take on the main highlights in terms of what to see, where to drink and what’s nearby.
The historic centre is the main attraction and rightly so. All the streets and buildings are worth looking at, but there are actually 14 or so UNESCO heritage sites in the centre. There are plenty of guided walking tours available online or via tourist office, but it’s very easy to walk around them all yourself which prob takes around 2hrs. Here is a map:
There are four main squares as well which are great places to grab a coffee and just watch the world go by. Here’s our take on them:
Outside of the centre there are two other areas we’d definitely recommend:
Cool little neighbourhood with more of a local vibe (as opposed to historic centre which inevitably is a bit more touristy). Go on the weekend to maximise the hustle and bustle.
Rue Notre Dame is a street full of artesenal and bric-a-brac shops plus cafes and bars. Go and haggle and then plonk yourself somewhere. La Pelle is a nice cafe to stop at, and Paul’s Place and Bar Notre Dame are nice places to grab something stronger.
Just across the river on the lesser-visited northern bank, lies this totes trendy little place, very Melbourne-esque for those that have travelled down under. It’s a regenerated space full of graffiti, a skate park, distressed tables, craft beer and a cafe-restaurant (plus book shop, healing/wellness shop). Plenty of gigs / events happen in the summer evenings.
Quite cool, laid back rooftop bar for after work crowd. Fairy lights, wooden tables and views of the city.
Inside Maison du Vin, and often cited as the best wine bar in city (but accordingly busy). Grand interior, and it’s housed in Bordeaux’s 18th century “flatiron” building near the big opera house. But because it is owned by the wine council, the wines are really cheap. Afternoons are the best time to go as we once queued to get in for 20mins on a Wednesday evening in October and gave up, but strolled in there about 3pm the next day no probs.
Old school vibe with low lighting, crowded tables and lots of people in cravats (probably) smoking of a night. A traditional French boozing café, and a very fun one.
Small place with outside tables offering great selection of wines and little charcuterie boards, overlooking the hippest little square in Bordeaux (Place Fernand Lafargue). It is also quite near the historic Grande Cloche (13th century belfry) which is one of those UNESCO sites mentioned above.
In a quiet backstreet springs this busy little bee. It’s upmarket but relaxed; an older crowd but a good atmosphere. More than this, it is perhaps the only bar in the city where you can order Bordeaux Premiere Grands Crùs Classés by the glass. More than that, it does amazing mini burgers (and other mini plates as well, but not essential to order).
Small little place on a picturesque street, although inside there is just room for the modern-ish looking bar and not much else. Opened by a man who was a sommelier for 20 years. About a third of their wines are Bordeaux, rest from elsewhere in France and the world but they keep over 40 in stock. Only open in the evenings, but also serve small plates of food (and you need to order at least something whilst drinking). Gonna be honest, didn’t totally love the vibe (bit posh/dead) and the food I had was just chopped veg and a dip. But the wine the waitress talked me into (I ordered a Syrah but she bigged-up a Charmes Dompierre Medoc 2016) was absolutely unbelievable and cost €6. On the same street are a couple of larger and livelier wine bars as well, just a few doors down, so not a bad area and it’s all 2 mins away from Place Saint-Pierre. The other two bars were:
A Cantina - large-ish bar with sofas, distressed wooden bar and lively young crowd.
Belle Campagne - tiny cute wine bar with 3-4 tables in it and a very cosy atmosphere
Oh, and a special mention to Symbiose, which we’ve never made it to yet (always booked out) but is a cool restaurant with very inventive food, and once the plates are cleared you go through the grandfather clock to find a speakeasy cocktail bar out the back. Could be a hell of a night!
Obviously, we couldn’t put a post up here without mentioning cycling! Aside from the orange city bikes which are a great way to get around the centre, there are several shops where you can hire bikes for a day or half day. If you are looking to go further afield, then follow the Roger Lapebie cycle path which runs from the north side of the river (easily found on google maps). It goes all the way to Toulouse (250km!) however you can obviously just U-turn whenever you wish. It’s very flat as it follows a disused Trainline. The first 20km is a mainly tree-lined path, then the vineyards start. Créon has a nice market square (market closes about 12) and La Sauve just beyond has a nice old abbey you can visit and a little Maison du vin next to it for tastings (up to 3 wines).
If you have the time and the legs, then a slight detour off the path after c.35km will take you to the most picturesque wine-producing village on planet earth, Saint-Émilion, which needs to be on everybody’s bucket list. Cycling out there for some lunch and some wine tasting before coming back to Bordeaux in the evening is our idea of a perfect day.