What to do in Bordeaux, France: A guide to the city of wine

Of all the cities in Europe you can visit, there is one that is quickly moving up the ranks: Bordeaux. With its 18th-century architecture, gastronomic restaurants and easy-to-manoeuvre layout it is a city-trippers dream.

But there is one aspect of Bordeaux that is even more alluring than all the before: wine, wine and don’t forget wine. Whether you are a total beginner (as I was when I visited Bordeaux for the first time!), don’t even like wines, or are a full-fledged wine-connoisseur, Bordeaux will impress you.

Lonely Planet made no mistake when they ranked this Burgundian gem number 1 on the list of ‘Cities to visit in 2017′. You should! And by reading this article you will know all the right activities, spots and wine bars to make your winy adventure an absolute success.  

When to visit: Bordeaux is best enjoyed in springtime (March – June) and the autumn (September – November) when the days are sunny and long and the temperature mild. The summer months are great too but can get really hot. 

How to get there: Bordeaux’ airport has a huge budget terminal, so I should not be too hard to find a decent priced flight from any major European city. More comfortable and more environmentally friendly is the TGV-train that takes you from Paris to Bordeaux in less than 2 hours. 

Budget: EUR 50 for a budget hotel, EUR 10-15 for a 3-course ‘plat-du-jour’ (during midday), EUR 3 for a glass of wine. Whole carafes of house wine come as cheaply as EUR 7. 

Going on a winery tour

what to do in Bordeaux

One of the many charming Chateaux de Vin’s that host the best Wineries in the Bordeaux region

So, I am going to be assuming that you, like me, don’t know all that much about wine. Sure, we all know that wine is made out of grapes and that French wines are regarded as some of the best wines in the world.

You probably also have heard that Bordeaux wines are top-of-the-top but did you know that all French grapevines grow on American roots? Did you know that there are over 37 wine regions within the Bordeaux area, all with a different soil, altitude, micro-climate, and grape-varieties?

And can you really tell the difference between a Merlot and a Cabernet-Sauvignon? If your answer to all those questions is no, it is best to start off your Bordeaux trip with a winery tour.  

what to do in bordeaux france

The Vineyards in autumn just after the harvest (late October)

what to do in bordeaux france

Red wines stored in the cellar to ripen, these cannot be drunk yet

what to do in bordeaux, france

A mini-winetasting course is provided on most tours, it involves identifying many aromas from an extract that can also be noticed in wines

Bordeaux has many tour-agencies all offering half-day and full-day tours that visit a couple of wineries. You’ll learn a lot about the different types of wines, get to see the winemaking process up-close and of course get to sample a few of the finest wines right at the place where they were created.

If you think a full day is a bit too much, take an afternoon-tour and use the morning to go sight-seeing during a (free!) walking tour through the city. The ‘Office the Tourisme‘ can tell you more about those.

Personal recommendation for a winery-tour is going with Bordovino. They are not the cheapest, but they do excellent tours in a fun and relaxed way. 

Sipping wine on a terrace 

what to do in bordeaux, france

Place the Palais, one of the favourite terraces of the locals

Bordeaux weather is characterized by long and sunny days, perfect to sit outside and sipping on a wine accompanied with some nice French cheeses or charcuterie (assorted meat platter). There are a couple of terraces I grew fond of and I don’t want you to miss out

Place du Palais is my favourite with its wide terraces on different levels slowly descending onto Porte Caillhau, one of the architectural highlights in the city. 

Also very nice is the tiny authentic Place Général Serrail, especially during midday when the sun shines brightly. After sundown, the terraces remain open until long after midnight (most places serve food until 12, or even 1 AM!). With its beautifully lit facades on all sides, its Place Camille Julian that deserves your attention in the last few hours of the day.   

Visiting la Cité du Vin 

If the winery tour gave you a basic understanding of wine, and the terraces of Bordeaux allowed you to explore your own preferences a bit more, it is time to take a deeper dive into the world of Vin. Meet La Cité du Vin, the Nr.1 wine-museum in the world.  

All the information and displays can be a bit overwhelming but visiting la Cité du Vin means smelling, hearing and tasting wine. There is literally everything to know about the history of wine, the winemaking process and the art of wine-tasting and the displays all make excellent use of digital media and are very interactive.

The museum also hosts a stunning wine-shop in its cellars and a 360 degrees panoramic wine bar on the 8th floor overlooking the Garonne river. Better yet: the entrance (EUR 20) includes a glass of wine of your choice, so you can put all that freshly obtained wine-knowledge straight into practice.

what to do in bordeaux, france

One of the many interactive displays in the Cite du Vin

things to do in bordeaux

The wine-cellar of the museum, where they sell wines up to EUR 20.000 a bottle, they have even more expensive onces locked away underneath the cellar

things to do in bordeaux, france

The Panoramic wine-bar at the top-level of the museum where I am caught sipping wine and putting on the most snobbish look ever.

The best wine bars in Bordeaux 

So by now, you are probably a true wine-expert, and what is better than to continue your wine journey by walking around the perfectly preserved 18th-century buildings of Bordeaux’s historic centre and hopping in and out of tiny wine-bars to sample some of their finest for only a few euro’s a glass?

The best place to do so is Rue de la Parlement, which hosts many, many little wine bars and shops. Fill up your stomach beforehand since, apart from some wine-pairing chocolates and cheeses, these bars do not have a food menu.

Another great place to go is The Wine Bar in La Boutique Hotel Bordeaux. They exclusively serve vintage premium wines in this up-class place, but they also have a Blind Tasting Menu, where you can taste premium wines for 7 euros per glass. Considering the excellent wines they serve, this is probably one of the best value-for-money you can get in the whole city.  

things to do in bordeaux

Place Camille Jullian, this terrace, located right next to a 16th-century church, stays open until long after midnight

Now you’ve obtained all there is you need to know for a winy city-trip to Bordeaux, there is really nothing stopping you from going. Enchanté! 


Guest author: Thijn is the creator of No Road Back, a travel website on practical sustainable travel: green travel without feeling any hindrance from it. He writes articles and guides on backpack-travel in South-East Asia and South-America and on taking city-trips in Europe. 
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Travel blogger and tourism graduate from Bulgaria, working in the field of Digital Marketing and PR for travel brands.

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