Bordeaux, Gironde: tourism & sightseeing

Photo of Bordeaux (Aquitaine region)

Visit Bordeaux (Aquitaine, France)

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Bordeaux is near the Atlantic coast in the Gironde department of Aquitaine. Bordeaux is a wonderful city full of beautiful and historic buildings. This has recently been acknowledged by UNESCO who have classified 1810 hectares of the city of Bordeaux as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the largest urban area to be given this World Heritage Site classification.

The town has also received the French 'secteur sauvegardé' protection (see Historic French towns) and i listed as one of the French Towns of Art and History.

Wander around Bordeaux and you can enjoy large open boulevards, narrow paved medieval streets, large squares surrounded by cafés and restaurants, and lots of very impressive individual sites. The riverside has recently been done up by architect Dominique Perrault and is now a key part of Bordeaux’s attraction.

France This Way comment: Bordeaux is often voted as the favourite city of French people, and we share this opinion: it is really a very lovely city with a great deal to see!

Exploring Bordeaux

Start off by visiting the tourist office, the main one is near the Grand Theatre on the Place de la Comedie and pick up a copy of the ‘carte touristique’ which outlines a walk including the main sights and streets.

Bordeaux through the ages

broad boulevard in Bordeaux

Bordeaux’s Gallo Roman past can be seen in the layout of some of Bordeaux’s streets for example the long, straight Rue St Catherine (now a 1.1km long pedestrianised shopping street). The Palais Gallien is the only visible remain of this period of history and is a 2nd century amphitheatre located fairly close to the botanic gardens.

Bordeaux’s gothic period can be seen in the narrow streets around the churches of Saint-Pierre and Saint Simeon.

In the 12th century Eleanor of Aquitaine married the future King Louis VII in the Cathedral of St Andre. More building took place in this period including the Grosse Cloche, a beautiful belltower which is the remains of the Saint Eloi gateway.

This marriage brought Bordeaux under English rule until the end of the Hundred Years War in the 15th century. From 1581 to 1585 Montaigne, a famous French philosopher was mayor of Bordeaux.

It was during the 18th century that Bordeaux grew dramatically. Bordeaux was the busiest port in France at this point in its history and the town was transformed into an elegant city with large squares, wide, open streets and beautiful mansions. The Grand Theatre, Place de la Bourse and the elegant stone mansions built along a long stretch of the river all date to this period.

Important Monuments

Palais de la Bourse

Built in the 18th century this magnificent building is on the Place de la Bourse along with the Hotel des Douanes (customs). The ensemble is a wonderful collection of 18th century architecture and all with a view over the river. In the centre of the Place de la Bourse is La Fontaine des Trois Graces, representing Empress Eugenie, Queen Victoria and the Queen of Spain. Opposite, just in front of the river is the Miroir d’eau, a large, shallow body of water making a mirror on the pavement (part of the riverside development project).


This 18th century building is now the Bordeaux National Opera House. At the front are 12 large columns giving the building a classical beauty. Inside the theatre is decorated in its original colours of blue and gold.

large belltower, Bordeaux

Grosse Cloche

This is a wonderful fairy-tale style belltower built in the 13-15th century. It is the last remainder of the Saint Eloi gateway and was part of the town hall. The bell is tolled to announce major public events. Note the astronomical clock on the belltower and the leopard, rather than a more traditional cock, on top of the weather-vane.

Cathedrale Saint Andre

The cathedral as well as the Basilique Saint Seurin and Basilique and Fleche Saint Michel have all been listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1998 as part of the pilgrim road to Compostela. The cathedral was built in the 11-16th century and restored in the 19th. Unusually its belltower is completely separate to the cathedral and stands 8m away - designed so that the bells would not threaten the main cathedral structure. The belltower is a listed French National Monument.

Basilique et Fleche Saint Michel.

The church was started in the 14th century and completed two centuries later. Its is built in the gothic style. It too has a separate belltower, known locally as La Fleche (the arrow). At 114 meters high this is the second highest in France.

Porte Cailhau

Built in the 15-16 centuries this defensive gateway can be visited during the summer. This is another building that looks like it has come out of a Cinderella movie.

The St-Pierre District

Lots of narrow streets and medieval buildings forming a charming contrast to the elegant splendour of the 18th century boulevards around the Grand Theatre.

See our photo guide to the historic monuments of Bordeaux.

See our separate article for the vibrant Bordeaux waterfront area.

Also worth doing when in Bordeaux

  • Go shopping on Rue St Catherine - lots of fashion shops on this 1.1 km long, pedestrianised shopping street.
  • Wander down the Cours de l’Intendance for a more up-market shopping experience.
  • Have lunch in one of the lovely squares such as Place du Parlement or Place Camille Jullian.
arc de triomphe, Bordeauxgrand theatre
  • Go to the cinema or stop for a drink in the Eglise Saint Simeon which has been converted into a cinema with a café/bar.
  • Walk, jog, skate, or cycle along the edge of the river and stop for lunch in one of the trendy converted warehouses in the quay area.
  • Amble round the lovely Chartrons quarter.
  • Take a walk in the Jardin Public or the Jardin Botanique (on the other side of the river).
  • Take in an opera in the beautiful Grand Theatre.
  • View the town from the Pont de Pierre, a brick-built bridge with seventeen arches.
  • Visit the remains of a Roman amphitheatre - the Palais Gallien.
  • Take a ride on one of Bordeaux’s impressive light rail/trams. The park and ride system which uses these is extremely good.
  • Visit one of Bordeaux’s excellent museums.
  • Eat at La Tupina - voted one of the top 50 restaurants in the World by the magazine Restaurant.

Museums in Bordeaux

  • Musée des Beaux-Arts, the Fine Art Museum with works by Rubens, Matisse and Delacroix.
  • Musée d’Aquitaine - from prehistory to nowadays. An excellent museum.
  • Musee des Arts Decoratifs - with a fine collection of French porcelain.
  • Museum of Contemporary Art - housed in a former warehouse designed by Claude Deschamps this is an excellent example of early 19th century architecture.
  • The Natural History Museum
  • National Customs and Excise Museum - housed in the beautiful Hotel Des Fermes on Place de la Bourse

Other sundry things to do and see in and near Bordeaux

The Centre National Jean Moulin explains life in France during the Second World War

If you have time for a day out from Bordeaux, and want to do the same as the rest of Bordeaux, head west, down to Arcachon, and the sea.

You can find more local travel ideas in the Gironde guide and the Aquitaine guide.

See also:

Photos of Bordeaux

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Map of Bordeaux and places nearby

Visit near Bordeaux with France This Way reviews

... or see ALL recommended places to visit in Gironde

Tourist classifications for Bordeaux

Bordeaux has received the following tourist classifications: ; historical protected town centre' (secteur sauvegardé); listed town of Art and History ;

Address: Bordeaux, Aquitaine, 33000, France || GPS: latitude 44.837912, longitude -0.579541

Plan your visit to Bordeaux, Gironde

Sightseeing & tourist attractions to visit nearby

Market days in Bordeaux, France

Regular market(s) are held in Bordeaux each Wednesday & Thursday & Sunday all day & Saturday & Monday all day & Friday. (Markets are held in the morning unless stated.)

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