Over the past decade, Bordeaux has been steadily drawing more Parisians, who are infusing the formerly soot-stained shipping center on the Garonne River with a new jolt of art, culture, and culinary excellence. The new life being breathed into the city is intoxicating — and we promise, it’s not just the wine talking (although you’ll drink plenty of it, whether at luxury hotels set into historic vineyards, a new crop of natural wine bars downtown, or at the famous Cité du Vin museum).
Made more easily accessible in 2017 by the extension of Paris’s high-speed train network, the TGV, it lies just a two-hour ride from the City of Light — technically quick enough for a day trip, although we’d suggest allowing a weekend at the very least, as there’s plenty to sustain your interest (and appetite) in France’s wine capital.
From vineyard tours to seductive speakeasies and psychedelic art exhibitions set in former submarines, here’s everything you need to know to make the most of your trip to Bordeaux.
Best Time to Visit Bordeaux
Bordeaux is at its best from May through October, when the weather warms and the days are long and sunny. In August and December, many businesses close for their annual vacations, so there will be markedly less to see in the city itself — which, on the bright side, means fewer tourists. If you do find yourself here on a winter visit, be sure to pack waterproof layers, as the weather tends to be rainy and gray.
Oenophiles and budding wine lovers alike are in for the trip of a lifetime if they come around harvest season, which generally runs from late August or early September through October. You can get a peek at the winemaking process and stroll through the vineyards before tasting the fruits of the labor you’ve just witnessed.
How to Get Around Bordeaux
In terms of getting to Bordeaux, the simplest way is to hop on the TGV from Paris’s Montparnasse station and take it directly to Gare de Bordeaux-Saint-Jean, which takes around two hours. While you can technically fly into Bordeaux-Mérignac Airport, it’s more cost- and time-efficient to take the train (not to mention, more sustainable). You can also drive here, but be warned that it can be slightly tricky to find parking downtown — you’ll want to check with your hotel to see if they have on-site spot.
Once you’ve arrived, it’s easy to rely on the public transit system (the TBM, or Transports Bordeaux Métropole), which includes bicycles and motorized scooters, an extensive bus network, river shuttles, and a tram system, all of which are navigable with the Bordeaux CityPass. The contactless card, which also includes access to 15 museums (including the pricier Cité du Vin) and a guided city tour of your choice, is a great option if you’re staying for a few days or more; it allows unlimited travel on the trams, buses, and river shuttles over 24, 48, or 72 hours (for 34 euros, 44 euros, or 50 euros, respectively). You can order it online or pick one up from the tourist office upon arrival.
While public transit is convenient, the tourist center of Bordeaux is pedestrian-friendly and you’ll spend plenty of time on foot appreciating the beauty of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine Region’s capital.
In terms of private transportation, taxis, Uber, and other ride-share options (like Bolt, which you can download for Apple and Android) are all readily accessible.
Best Places to Stay in Bordeaux
Les Sources de Caudalie
If you’re familiar with the cult-favorite French skin care brand Caudalie, you may have heard of their idyllic vineyard retreat, a hotel just 30 minutes away by car from downtown Bordeaux. This is a self-care destination not to be missed: Nestled in the Château Smith Haut Lafitte vineyard, the 40 rooms and 21 suites are bright and airy, appointed with natural materials, antique fixtures, and jacuzzi-sized bathtubs. After a day spent wine tasting, indulge at the on-site two-Michelin star restaurant, La Grand’Vigne, or pamper yourself at the Vinotherapie Spa, home to a hammam and natural hot spring.
Le Palais Gallien Hôtel & Spa
Once ensconced in this luxury hotel, it’s easy to imagine you’ve been whisked into the French countryside — and yet, it’s located right in the heart of downtown Bordeaux. This is one of those rare city hotels that strikes the perfect balance of old-school charm and modern convenience, with an oasis-like backyard pool, an inventive rooftop cocktail bar, and jewel-sized rooms that boast period furniture plus private terraces with jacuzzis.
Le Boutique Hôtel & Spa
Set in an 18th-century mansion, this sophisticated 25-room boutique hotel offers an ideal location in the city center, just a stone’s throw from the Triangle d’Or. With vintage parquet floors and design-focused pieces from Philippe Starck, no two rooms are the same — but most offer spectacular city views. There’s a cozy outdoor terrace centered around a large tree trunk, which is a perfect place to sip your morning coffee or kick back over an early-evening apéro. During your stay, be sure to take advantage of the Nuxe spa.
With just 12 rooms, the intimate Yndo Hôtel in the city center takes a streamlined, modern approach to its decor. Set in a timeless 19th-century mansion, the interplay of old and new world is enough to make your jaw drop. Sleek furniture pops against antique fixtures like molded fireplaces and parquet floors. Frankly, the property is worth a visit just to check out owner Agnès Guiot’s eclectic selection of chairs, which includes whale-shaped seats, sequined floral couches, and more.
Best Places to Eat and Drink in Bordeaux
Black List Café
For an artisanal caffeine fix or a memorable slice of creamy Basque cheesecake, pop into Black List Café. Tasty brunches are on the menu at this trendy indoor-outdoor spot, where you can tuck into goat cheese risotto or savory French toast with sweet potatoes while looking out over the Hôtel de Ville (town hall).
Dim sum may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you’re planning a trip to French wine country, but Madame Pang is a worthwhile stop on nights when you’re looking for something different. This elevated Cantonese spot serves inventive dishes like octopus croquettes with yuzu mayo and curry pork dumplings alongside vibrant cocktails. The best part? The kitchen is open until 1 a.m.
Le Chien de Pavlov
A standout among the wave of neo-bistros sweeping the French city, Le Chien de Pavlov offers superb dishes in a cozy atmosphere (think: fish carpaccio with wasabi and green apple, or lamb cooked two ways and set atop a green pea and mint purée with delicate roasted artichoke and a bright burst of confit lemon). A five-course dinner tasting menu will only set you back 49 euros, an absolute steal once you’ve admired the artful plating. Run by a young French couple, the space itself is warm and welcoming, serving high-quality cuisine without any of the traditional fine-dining stuffiness.
Recommended by the Michelin Guide, Symbiose is more than what meets the eye as you step into the riverside cafe (which has its own garden from which it plucks much of its produce). Beyond the handful of tables lining the wall of the blonde-wood room, there’s an antique clock that reveals a not-so-secret speakeasy. There, you’ll find a candlelit, cave-like bar where locals and in-the-know travelers sip local wine or edgy cocktails and flirt with the handsome French bartenders.
With a focus on natural and low-intervention wines, this ultra-cozy wine bar and bistro calls to you from the street, where tables are set up in warmer weather and you can glimpse an intriguing collection of bottles perched invitingly in the window. Inside, a bar and a few tables are typically bustling with a young, local crowd enjoying well-priced by-the-glass wines and slabs of paté topped with caramelized onions.
Best Things to Do in Bordeaux
Vineyard Tours and Wine Tastings
If you’re visiting Bordeaux, chances are you’re looking to drink some wine. Known as the wine capital of France, there are 57 appellations (known as AOCs) and some 6,000-plus vineyards producing primarily red wines made from merlot and cabernet sauvignon, although the region also produces whites. That can make choosing a wine-tasting destination a little daunting, but luckily the Bordeaux Tourism & Conventions website simplifies it. Choose between half- or full-day tours of vineyards and chateaux in Saint-Émilion or Margaux, a bit east or north of the city center.
Place de la Bourse
One of the city’s most famous landmarks, Place de la Bourse is a jaw-dropping 18th-century square built during the reign of King Louis XV. Located near the charming Chartrons neighborhood, it’s a must-visit in order to glimpse the impressive Miroir d’Eau, a 37,000-square-foot reflecting pool (which happens to be the largest in the world).
You haven’t really been to a French city if you haven’t gaped in awe at its most famous cathedral, and in this case, it’s Cathédrale Saint-André, known locally as Bordeaux Cathedral. Worth a visit for its magnificent architecture alone, this Gothic-style Roman Catholic church features two impressive spires and is also home to the Marcadé Collection, which comprises a treasure trove of famous medieval paintings.
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux
Following an extensive renovation, the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux reopened in 2019, boasting a large collection of paintings, sculptures, and more from famed European artists (including the likes of Picasso and Renoir) and local painters, with works spanning the 15th to the 20th century. In addition to their permanent collections, there’s typically a few temporary exhibitions of local art on display.
Marché des Capucins
A food tour through the fragrant delight of the Marché des Capucins is a must during your trip to Bordeaux. Wandering through the hectic mix of locals buying their weekly groceries and vendors selling fresh fruit, local cheese, and cream-filled pastries is a feast for the senses. Make a point of seeking out Chez Jean-Mi, an oyster bar with a mouthwatering selection of freshly shucked oysters from nearby Arcachon, one of France’s primary oyster farming centers.
Sunset River Cruise
Take in the UNESCO banks of the city from the water as you float down the Garonne River at sunset. While river cruises often have a touristy tang to them, this one from Les Bateaux Bordelais makes up for it by whisking you beneath the illuminated bridges of the city — including the Pierre, Jacques Chaban-Delmas, and Aquitaine bridges — while exploring their history and treating you to a gourmet dinner of locally inspired fare, prepared freshly on board.
La Cité du Vin
One of the addresses that’s redefined the city’s physical and cultural landscape in recent years is the interactive La Cité du Vin, a sort of mecca for oenophiles. But you don’t have to be a wine aficionado to appreciate the strikingly modern architecture of the decanter-shaped building, or the palate-expanding wine tastings held on the property. Exhibitions include flyovers of vineyards from all around the world, plus an introduction to terroirs, grape varietals, the winemaking process, and more.
Bassins des Lumières
Discover the works of Dalí and Gaudí like you’ve never seen before at this former submarine base, reconstructed into a cultural center that puts on trippy, immersive projections throughout the year. The Bassins des Lumières building underwent an extreme overhaul, having been bombed during the war and submerged in water. Now, it’s one of the city’s most exciting art destinations. Lose yourself in Dalí’s melting clocks and imagine you’re entering into some of Gaudí’s most famous architectural works, lit up in technicolor on the walls around, above and below you.