Biarritz, Pyrenees-Atlantiques: tourism & sightseeing

Photo of Biarritz (Aquitaine region)

Visit Biarritz (Aquitaine, France)

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Biarritz is a popular and lively town and resort on the Atlantic coast in south-west France. It has a great deal of charm while avoiding some of the excessive crowding of the French Riviera.

As you will quickly realise, we are very enthusiastic about Biarritz and would recommend that if you are visiting the coast of south-west France you stay either here in Biarritz or as an alternative further north in Arcachon, another of our favourite resort towns. Even better? A few days in both!

Historical Biarritz

The wealth of Biarritz was founded in the middle ages with the whaling trade. As early as the 18th century the focus of the town was turning towards the beaches, originally because doctors started recommending the Biarritz seafront as a cure for various ailments.

Napoleon famously bathed in the sea here in 1808 and by the middle of the 19th century the reputation of Biarritz as a fashionable destination was firmly established - a popularity that continues to this day, in part now due to its reputation as surfing capital of France.

Explore Biarritz

Sooner or later you will head for the beach! In fact there are several beaches in Biarritz, including 'La Grande Plage' which is the central beach in the resort. You will probably find that the beaches at Port Vieux and Milady (among others) are less crowded than the Grande Plage.

beach at Biarritz

However Grande Plage in the centre of the town is superb and provides much of the appeal of Biarritz. It is a long sandy beach with a lighthouse on a rocky outcrop, Point St Martin, at one end and Pointe Atalaye and the Rocher de la Vierge at the other and a few well placed large rocks in the water to add to the interest and beauty of the scene.

The casino is in a central position on the beach and is a perfect spot to sit on the terrace, sip a glass of wine or have lunch and watch the waves breaking onto the beach. It’s not too expensive either given its lovely position.

Walk along the coast

The walk along the beach and up around the Pointe Atalaye is one I would be happy to do every day of my life. Up around the point there are lots of little coves, walkways to some of the rocks including the Rocher de la Vierge, with the statue of the Virgin, which has become the symbol of Biarritz.

Down below is the Port des Pecheurs with a few lovely little fishing cottages – now restaurants which are great for sea-food, dishes with a Basque influence and tapas. They overlook the tiny little walled marina, home to a few smallish boats and yachts.

The rocks are covered in lots of vegetation whose colours blend beautifully with the blues and greens of the sea below. Down the slopes from the town to the sea yuccas and agaves grow happily amongst beautiful lush hydrangeas – a combination unlikely to be found in many places as hydrangeas need water and agaves don’t!

As I walked around the cove a group of school children were being taught to surf – is this what they do in school sports lessons around here? – amazing!

Further round the coast from Biarritz is the Plage de la Cote des Basques, the backdrop to the beach is less beautiful here (more modern apartment blocks) but to the south you can see the mountains of the Pyrenees.

Places to visit in Biarritz except the beach

Although the focus of the town is definitely seaward, Biarritz has various highlights to discover in the town itself. The town rises up behind the beach and there are lots of old hotels facing the sea. Yes, perhaps they are a bit faded, but each has its own individual character with lots of interesting architectural details and many really are beautiful.

Port de Pecheurs at Biarritz

Also up above the beaches is the Cathedral church of St Eugenie, perhaps a bit bleak and grey amongst the softer yellower tones of most of the buildings. Next to the church the Place St Eugenie is another nice spot to sit and relax.

Above the Plage Miramar and the Pointe St Martin you can see the very impressive Hotel du Palais which was the Villa Eugenie built by Napoleon III for Eugenie who he met in Biarritz.

The town itself has lots of nice shops and is very pleasant to stroll around. In recent years part of the city centre has become pedestrianised, helping relieve some of the congestion you might have experienced if you last visited Biarritz several years ago. Among the places of interest you will come across are:

- several museums, dedicated to such varied subjects as chocolate, asian art and the ocean. The last will be the most fun with children, and has many aquariums

- smaller churches of some interest, the most impressive of them is the Russian Orthodox domed church

- some more casinos

- there are also various grand 19th century hotels and townhouses to admire as you explore

Attractions nearby

It is for the surfing that many visitors come to Biarritz, based on the good wave conditions along this part of the Atlantic. Various surfing competitions and events are also held that contribute further to the town's surf reputation, such as the annual Biarritz Surf Festival.

Note that not all Biarritz beaches allow surfing, some because of the undercurrents and others because of crowds and the risk of injury. If you have never surfed but would like to give it a try, there are training schools that will help you get started. The main surfing beaches are found at Anglet just beyond Pointe St Martin.

You should also take the time to walk along the riverfront in nearby Bayonne during your visit.

Note: Biarritz is well known as the golf capital of France, and there are several very highly regarded golf courses to choose from in the vicinity.

See more of the popular resorts and beaches in Aquitaine

You can find more local travel ideas in the Pyrenees-Atlantiques guide and the Aquitaine guide.

See also:

Photos of Biarritz

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Map of Biarritz and places nearby

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Address: Biarritz, Bayonne, Aquitaine, 64200, France || GPS: latitude 43.4817, longitude -1.55611

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The French version of this page is at Biarritz (Francais)