Because we don’t live too far from Arcachon we have visited many times, and we are often asked for our advice about the unmissable highlights for a visitor spending a few days in this popular resort.
Before you start rushing through the list of activities below, our first suggestion is - take it easy! A lot of the pleasure of a visit comes from allowing yourself time to sit on the seafront or to look in some of the many shops in the town centre.
There are also innumerable cafes and restaurants to suit all budgets and these can take up a large part of your day...but even the most restful trip benefits from a few excursions or activities, and the following are our favourites in Arcachon:
Five highlights of a visit to Arcachon
The seafront in Arcachon is very nice, with a sandy beach that is always spotlessly clean and has a long promenade. There are two piers and various other activities.
As with most beaches around the Bassin d’Arcachon, the sand slopes very gently into the sea and the waves are gentle so Arcachon beach is ideal for families with small children.
There is also a long row of restaurants along the seafront which are mostly typical moules frites or steak and chips type restaurants (more variety in restaurants is available in the streets a little further from the seafront).
In the middle of summer the main beach in Arcachon can get quite busy but you will find a space somewhere!
2) Indoor market
Visit the main market square in the centre of Arcachon, which in recent years has had a large amount of investment and is now surrounded by shops and luxury apartments.
Although the market is liveliest on days when there is also an outdoor market, it is the indoor part that we are suggesting: not only is it a lovely building but the fantastic selection of produce available makes it a great experience.
Even better if you can afford to sample some of the produce, which can be rather pricey, but well worth a look even if you are travelling on a limited budget!
There is also a cafe inside the market as well as a popular bar on the other side of the square, so you can stop for a meal or a drink if time permits
3) Pereire Beach
West of the centre of Arcachon you can visit Plage Pereire: you can walk or cycle there from the centre, or drive if you prefer. Park on the Avenue du Parc Pereire.
The walk south along the beach from Avenue du Parc Pereire is lined with trees and perfect for walking or jogging, and if you hire a bike there is also a cycle path. The beach here is also long and sandy, and less busy than the beach in the centre of Arcachon.
After about three kilomètres you reach the lively resort of Le Moulleau, and another excuse to visit a cafe!
4) Dune de Pyla
The Dune de Pyla, a few kilometres from Arcachon, is the highest sand dune in Europe and also one of our favorite places in France: no description I write here can prepare you for the experience (or for the size of the crowds you will see at the top of the dune!)
Children and adults all love the dune which has great views along the coast and out to sea as well as being very entertaining to climb and walk along.
If you are energetic you can walk a long way along the ridge of the dune de pyla and descend to the coast below.
It is free to visit the dune, but there is a small charge for parking. If you have hired a bike you can cycle all the way here on cycle paths.
5) Ville d’Hiver
On the hill behind Arcachon, almost hidden from the busy resort, you can explore the Ville d’hiver. This is a région of imposing villas built by wealthy investors in the 19th century. You can ask for a map of the region in Arcachon tourist office: without a guide you are likely to miss many of the most imposing villas.
One of the most extensive unspoiled regions of its type in France, the Ville d’hiver is very lovely and very interesting. You can also explore if you take one of the tourist trains that leave from the tourist office.
A particular highlight is the Belvedere, an ironwork tower built on the 19th century to give views across the town. Slightly wobbly but great fun!
Bonus!) La Corniche
I have saved our favorite treat for last! Close to the north end of the Dune de Pyla there is a hotel-restaurant called La Co(o)rniche.
The hotel is quite expensive (from 400 euros per night) and meals in the restaurant start from around 60 euros, but if that is beyond your budget you can still visit La Corniche and enjoy a drink on their large terrace, designed by Philippe Stark and in a beautiful setting with amazing views along the coast (small beer 5 euros, glass of wine from 6 euros).
Everything about the place is attractive, and afterwards you can walk down to the sea for a promenade.
Yet more suggestions
Outside Arcachon so not included above there are more highlights and attractions, such as:
- a boat trip to Cap Ferret and a chance to visit small traditional oyster villages such as Canon and L´Herbe
- a visit to Arcachon zoo
- visit the bird reserve at Le Teich
- oysters and wine at one of the oyster villages on the Bassin d’Arcachon to the east of the town such as the Port de Larros and the Port de Biganos
- a trip south to the Atlantic beaches, or the resort of Biscarrosse