Home to some of the world’s best wines, Bordeaux is the ultimate destination for wine lovers around the world! However, even if wine isn’t your thing, Bordeaux is still worth a visit because of the other cool things to see and do. This First timers guide to Bordeaux should hopefully help with planning your visit to Bordeaux!
With streets lined with charming architecture, incredible shopping and of course, wine, Bordeaux shouldn’t be overlooked! If you have a few extra days in France or just in need of a city break, I highly recommend a visit to Bordeaux.
Getting to Bordeaux
You can fly into Bordeaux through Bordeaux-Merignac Airport (BOD), about 9 km from the city centre. The cheapest way to get into the centre from the airport is the local bus (Lianes 1+ bus line) and they run quite late from Thursday to Saturday. A single ticket costs only 1.70€ and takes about 40 mins! You can buy a ticket on the bus from the driver.
You can also get the train into Bordeaux from other parts of France. Train travel in France is an affordable way to get between cities and there are trains to pretty much every town in the country!
Where to Stay in Bordeaux
Bordeaux is a pretty compact city with most of its main attractions accessible by foot from any of the central neighbourhoods. So a first timers mini travel guide to Bordeaux neighbourhoods: Downtown Bordeaux is the heart of the business district and has some of the city’s best luxury hotels. The Golden Triangle, also known as Les Grands Hommes is home to high-end shops, gourmet food, and affluent clientele.
During my trip to Bordeaux, I stayed in an Airbnb near the Chartrons area. It wasn’t right in the centre but it was walking distance to pretty much everywhere. If you need to, there’s always the trams you can easily hope on to get to your destination.
When to visit Bordeaux
The best time for visiting Bordeaux for the wineries is between June and August. The best time to visit Bordeaux otherwise is in Spring or Autumn when there are fewer crowds. One downfall of visiting in Autumn, which starts in September, is that wineries start their harvests, and some therefore don’t allow visitors. I visited in September, most wineries were still open and the weather was rather pleasant!
Getting Around Bordeaux
Bordeaux is very walkable and has a lot of pedestrian zones. But it also does have an extensive public transportation network in case you don’t want to walk. A single bus/tram ticket costs €1.70 EUR, or a 10-journey pass costs €13.20 EUR, and an unlimited day pass is €4.70 EUR. Tickets are rechargeable. If you need to transfer from a bus to a tram, you will need to pick up a two-journey ticket for €3.10 EUR. All tickets are valid for one hour.
If you get a City Pass tourism card, in addition to free or discounted museum/attraction entry, you can also use public transport for free. A one-day pass costs €29 EUR, while a two-day pass costs €37 EUR.
What to Do in Bordeaux
In my How to Spend a Weekend in Bordeaux post, I shared a bunch of things you can get up to in Bordeaux!
What to Eat in Bordeaux
Bordeaux is pretty well known for wine, but what about the food? With its location perfectly between the Atlantic Ocean and the Garonne river, Bordeaux is actually a gastronomic paradise. Lots of young talented chefs have been drawn from around country and beyond, making Bordeaux one of the best French cities to eat in! So this first timers guide to Bordeaux won’t be complete without some things to try and places to try them at!
Canelé is a little cake with a caramelised exterior and a custardy centre, invented by an unknown cook from Bordeaux. No idea why you would keep yourself anonymous if you created these beauties! Today, Canelés are a staple and symbol of the city and can be found pretty much everywhere in the city. Especially good ones are from Pâtisserie San Nicolas, Baillardan or La Toque Cuivrée.
Mussels from Les Moules du Cabanon
Moules frites (Mussels and fries) is a pretty common dish across France but considering Bordeaux’s location, it’s not as common here. Mussels are an invasive species for oyster farmers in the Bassin of Arcachon, so it makes sense why you see oysters on menus everywhere and mussels not so much. So if you like mussels, make sure you head to Les Moules du Cabanon. The speciality is great big pots of steaming mussels with a salad, home made fries and a choice of nine different sauces, all at a very reasonable price too.
Le Crabe Marteau
If crabs are your thing, then make a beeline for Le Crabe Marteau! Crabs are freshly caught from around the shores and the menu changes seasonally. The speciality is definitely the whole or half crab served with a bucket of potatoes and sauces. Here you’re encouraged to eat with your hands so you get crab hammers and presses to get your crab out. Oh and a big bib to protect your clothes, super important.
La Brasserie Bordelaise
Located on Rue Saint-Rémi, one of the busiest streets in Bordeaux, La Brasserie Bordelaise is a hidden gem loved by locals and tourists alike! This is where you come when you want a good steak or French comfort food. The menu changes seasonally. And the steaks are seriously amazing! They’re so tender they melt in your mouth and only locally sourced beef is good enough to be served here.
Bordeaux Wine Basics
No first timers guide to Bordeaux would be good if it didn’t touch on the wine a little! If you don’t know much about wine like me, don’t be intimidated by the extensive selection of Bordeaux wines! But knowing some basics that I researched should help make things a bit easier for you:
- Firstly, there are many excellent, reasonably priced wines so you don’t have to spend a lot of money for good wine;
- Bordeaux is mainly a red wine region, although there is some white wine in the region, about 10% (Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon).
- Bordeaux wines are split into two areas: the Left Bank (Médoc, Graves) and the Right Bank (Saint-Emilion, Blaye).
- However, that’s not on the label which can be tricky! In Bordeaux, only the producer or chateaux name, the location and the vintage are on the label. So Left Bank wines are mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with some Merlot, while Right Bank wines are mostly Merlot balanced with a smaller percentage of Cabernet. If you like stronger, more tannic wine, get one from the left bank, perfect with red meat. If you like smoother wines, with softer fruit flavours, try a Right Bank wine.
- Big Left Bank players include Chateaux Margaux, Lafite, and Mouton Rothschild. The Right Bank have fewer big players though the big players are pretty darn good like Petrus, and Cheval Blanc
- Always consider the vintages. Wine quality changes year to year and this usually depends on the weather. A great vintage produces wines that may take years to reach their peak. 2009 & 2010 are considered exceptional vintages and 2011 to 2013 are considered not so great. Other good recent vintages include 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2015, and 2016.
- You can get started at Le Bar a Vin for the knowledgeable waiters, food pairing recommendations and great prices or La Conserverie-Converserie with a large range of french wines and foreign wine.
Day Trips from Bordeaux
There are so many incredible day trips you can take from Bordeaux and this first timers guide wouldn’t be complete without sharing three of the best: Archachon, Dune Du Pilat and Saint-Emilion.
Arcachon is a beautiful seaside town that is easily accessible from Bordeaux Saint-Jean station and costs €7 one way for a 50 minute train ride. Arcachon is known for amazing oysters and sandy beaches. In the high season, you can rent a boat to Arcachon Bay to see the oyster-beds. It’s also home to the largest sand dune in Europe (see next location). It’s a great place to sit back, relax, and enjoy the sun in the summer.
Dune du Pilat
Dune du Pilat is the biggest and highest sand dune in Europe and is only a short drive from Arcachon! To get there via public transport, take Bus 1 (Baia) from Arcachon station. Rising to a height of 110m and stretching as far as 2.7km, it’s such an impressive sight, especially in Europe. If you visit during the low season, you’ll have to climb up the sandy slopes. However, from May to November, stairs are installed to help with climbing. At the top, the panoramic view over the ocean, the Bassin d’Arcachon and Cap Ferret are breathtaking.
Saint-Émilion is a village worth visiting for more than the wine that takes centre stage and with so much to explore, you could spend a full day here. It’s where you’ll find charming wine chateaus, some great restaurants for dining and beautiful architecture. It’s great for both wine and history lovers as it is a designated UNESCO world heritage site.
You can get from Bordeaux to Saint- Émilion easily by train in just 30 minutes, then rent a tuk-tuk or a bicycle to get around. If you prefer to drive, Saint-Émilion is only 45-minutes away from Bordeaux and there is paid parking outside the village. Once in the village, it’s best to explore on foot or on a tuk-tuk tour.
There’s so much to see and do in Bordeaux and I hope this first timers guide to Bordeaux has shown that! It’s a gorgeous little town that’s straight out of a postcard, and it’s definitely worth visiting on your trip through France even if you aren’t a fan of wine!
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Until Next time, Au Revoir xx