Bordeaux’s history is inextricably linked to its wine traditions, but the city is also known for so much more than that. Over the years, Bordeaux has maintained its vibrant spirit, thanks in part to a redevelopment project to safeguard the old town, saving it from disrepair. An old port city – and now the capital of Nouvelle-Aquitaine – it’s a thriving place, full of cultural attractions, things to do, and of course, a food scene in constant evolution. Bordeaux’s beaches also offer some great opportunities to relax and enjoy the afternoon in style. Check out our top places to visit.

Saint Pierre District

Welcome to Bordeaux’s beating heart. This is a charming district dotted with pretty views and characteristic streets. In fact, the district of Saint Pierre is located in the city’s old town and still contains hints of its past.  Back in the thirteenth century, this part of the city overlapped with the port area, where ships were loaded with precious goods before setting off to trade. The surrounding area was full of merchants shops and Bordeaux’s streets are still named after them (Rue du Commandant Marchand, Rue du Chai des Farines).

You’ll no doubt stumble upon the old town’s rich history as you stroll down to the Roman port, which is now fed by a series of underground rivers. Along the way, you’ll cross through town squares built in various different eras and lined with marvellous neoclassical buildings

Place de la Bourse and il Miroir d’Eau

It took over twenty years to build and is now the most photographed square in Bordeaux, Place de la Bourse is an iconic city symbol and marks the end of the medieval town, which was enclosed inside city walls for centuries. The aim was to give the city more breathing space by building a royal square that opened out onto the river Garonne. In the eighteenth century, Louis XV’s architect, Jacques Gabriel, designed a charming town square with rounded corners and lots of personality thanks to its wrought iron decorations and masks.

The square has since become famous, despite transforming significantly throughout the ages. During the French Revolution, the railings separating the square from the river were torn down and the equestrian statue of the king was replaced with one of Napoleon. In 1869, the Fountain of the Three Graces was erected in its place, and after being renamed Place Royale and then Place de la Liberté, the square was eventually christened the Place de la Bourse. The piazza is also surrounded by several important buildings, including the Chamber of Commerce and Musée National des Douanes.

Another must-see attraction in this square is the world-famous Miroir d’Eau. Built in 2006, it consists of a huge reflective pool of water that occasionally emits jets of water and brilliantly reflects the surrounding beauty. Here, you can enjoy an intriguing, magical rest while you cool off on a hot summer’s afternoon.

Place de la Victoire

We continue our journey onto yet another important city square: Place de la Victoire which was designed by the architect André Portier in 1748, who also created the iconic Porte d’Aquitaine. Place de la Victoire is also home to a monument that has fascinated tourists since 2005: a huge red and bronze marble column. The monument is 16 metres tall and was created by sculptor Ivan Theimer to pay homage to the city’s world-famous winemaking and viticulture tradition.

The column is composed of six marble blocks and weighs over 50 tonnes. On top of the column, you’ll spot various bronze engraved symbols depicting stories and myths about wine from antiquity to the present day. The column is helical in shape, symbolising a growing vine reaching up towards the sun.

Pont de Pierre

This stone bridge is yet another iconic site in Bordeaux. For some time, it was the only link between the two sides of the river Garonne. Today, it’s an incredibly picturesque and romantic place to visit in the evenings – even if just to take a picture – and the twilight does wonders to illuminate the surrounding area. The bridge was built during Napoleon I’s reign in 1822 and extends for about 500 metres. It is composed of 17 arches, which is the same as the number of letters in Napoleon Bonaparte’s name.

Rue Saint Catherine

It’s impossible to talk about Bordeaux without mentioning its main shopping street: Rue Saint Catherine (also called ‘Saint Cath’). This street winds along for about a kilometre and runs past almost all of Bordeaux’s main attractions. A pedestrian street since 1977, it really is a point of pride for the local citizens of Bordeaux, and it’s also home to over 230 shops.

But it’s not just good for shopping, over the years, it has become a meeting point for young people. Always very crowded, at almost all hours of the day, this colourful street is packed with people, especially during the sales. You’ll also find no shortage of stalls and street sellers livening up the atmosphere.

Saint-André Cathédral

The first church we are going to talk about is Bordeaux Cathedral, which is the city’s largest place of worship. A French historical monument since 1862, Saint-André Cathédral has undergone some significant changes and transformations over the years, starting in 1096, when it was consecrated by Pope Urban II. Its original Romanesque style was later changed to accommodate Gothic influences, while the nave was rebuilt several times during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

The transept and choir were added two hundred years later. On the north side, you’ll spot the very famous Porte Royale, built in 1250. The cathedral is also not lacking in treasures, and is home to one of the ‘most beautiful organs in all Christendom’ and a number of wonderful frescoes, including The Last Supper.

Pey Berland Tower

Next to the cathedral is Pey Berland Tower, which dates back to the 1400s and acts as the church’s bell tower. Built in a neo-Gothic style, the tower was constructed at the behest of Archbishop Pey Berland. It is 66 metres tall and separated into four floors. You can also climb its 231-step spiral staircase to enjoy the wonderful view from the very top. The tower boasts a very interesting history. In fact, during the French Revolution, it was sold and turned into a shot factory.

It was only returned to its original purpose in the nineteenth century and became a historical monument in 1848. Just like Bordeaux’s old town, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Over the years, the building has undergone several renovations, the last of which was in 2003.

Grand Théâtre

This is one of the most beautiful theatres in the world, and its construction is owed to Parisian architect Victor Louis, who designed the theatre down to the very last detail during Louis XVI’s reign. The building was officially opened on 17 April 1780, after about seven years of construction. It is a neoclassical theatre, with an interesting façade featuring a porch and twelve huge Corinthian columns. On the entablature stand nine muses and three goddesses, Venus, Minerva and Juno. The building is equipped with a horseshoe theatre and galleries for spectators.

And it’s not just famous for its symphonies. It is also home to the Opera and Ballet National de Bordeaux.  If you’re interested in taking a look inside, you can also join a daily guided tour. The theatre was once briefly home to the National Assembly for the French Parliament and its interiors were renovated in the ‘90s, reinstating the original blue and gold colour palette.

Monument aux Girondins

You’ll find this iconic monument in the Place des Quinconces. The Monument aux Girondins is very tall (43 metres) and pays homage to activists executed after the French Revolution. The column is a symbolic tribute to democracy and was designed by the architect Victor Rich between 1894 and 1902. It is topped with a bronze figure breaking out of chains to symbolise freedom. At the foot of the monument is a fountain decorated with bronze mythological sculptures in a mannerist, baroque style. The fountain also features horses and humans. In fact, the fountain’s bronze horses were looted by German soldiers and taken to Germany, only to be returned to France in 1983.

Basilique Saint Seurin

Another Bordeaux masterpiece is the Basilique Saint Seurin, which was named an official historical French monument in 1840. Its arcades, crypt and tower base date back to the original Romanesque structure erected in the 1200s. The basilica has undergone a number of changes since then, starting in the 1400s, when several chapels were added. The Basilica is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Grosse Cloche

There is no Bordeaux icon more important than the Porte de la Grosse Cloche.  In fact, the bell was originally installed to announce city events. Today, however, it rings just once a year, on 11 November, the day the armistice was signed, marking the end of World War One. The famous bell and sun dial sit between the two 40-metre towers and date back to the 1700s. At the foot of the tower is the Church of Saint-Éloy, which was built in the 1400s.

Porte Cailhau

Another of Bordeaux’s iconic monuments is Porte Cailhau in the Saint Pierre district. This gateway once provided access to the city. It is 25 metres tall,  was built in 1494 and is located just a stone’s throw from the river Garonne. Over the centuries, it has changed purpose a number of times. Today, it’s merely a fantastic Renaissance Gothic city monument.

The gate has had several different functions over the years. It started out as a gateway to Parliament, before being used to defend the city, as is evidenced by its arrowslits. As for its name, there are two potential explanations: ‘cailhau’ is the name of the type of stone used to build the gate, but it is also the name of one of Bordeaux’s most powerful and prominent families.

Wine and Trade Museum

Wine has always been one of Bordeaux’s economic strengths. In fact, although the wine trade began to flourish back in Roman times, it was only during English rule that any real progress was made, thanks in no small part to its monopoly with England. This story is retold in the Wine Museum, which is dedicated to its trade history dating all the way back to the Middle Ages. The venue itself is very characteristic, and inside, you’ll find vaulted ceilings and cellars containing the wine collections of master coopers. You’ll also be pleased to hear that you can enjoy a wine tasting at the end of your trip!

Museum of Decorative Arts

The Museum of Decorative Arts will no doubt catch your eye when you walk past it.  A building dating back to 1779, it once belonged to a nobleman from Bordeaux and is a true embodiment of the French Revolution era. Inside, you’ll find furniture, jewellery, musical instruments, tools, measuring instruments and tableware, which all belong to a fantastic exhibition about French and Bordelais decorative arts up to the eighteenth century.

The museum tells the story of a city rich in trade and influence, thanks to its important port. Permanent collections are housed across three floors, while you’ll find the temporary exhibitions in a separate building. The museum is also home to four small exhibits dedicated to the Bourbon Restoration.

Musée National des Douanes

Bordeaux is also home to an incredibly interesting museum in the wonderful Place de la Bourse. Here, you can read all about how the French state was created, as well as how France has developed its trade relations with the rest of the world. The museum focuses on the history of French business administration up to the present day. Inside, you’ll find graphic art, weapons, documents, uniforms and even some musical instruments. The museum is also home to a replica of a slave ship: a historical nod to Bordeaux’s slave trade.

CAPC Museum of Contemporary Art

The Museum of Contemporary Art of Bordeaux (CAPC) was opened in 1944 and soon grew from a small gallery into a building housing several floors. The museum itself is home to over 180 artists and a thousand works of art, ranging from conceptual art, to poor and land art. The collection runs from the ‘60s to the present day. Alongside the permanent exhibitions is a busy temporary exhibition programme, while the building’s most iconic room is definitely its library, which is home to over 40,000 books related to art in all its forms, including design, photography, and architecture.

Natural History Museum

Bordeaux Natural History Museum is one of the oldest and most comprehensive museums in France. The numbers speak for themselves. Opened in 1879, it’s home to more than 3,500 specimens. The building was recently renovated to give its interiors a new lease of life, making for an innovative new set-up. A multimedia show now animates the large gallery, depicting animals in their natural habitats. Among the museum’s other spectacular installations is a blue whale suspended from the ceiling, and a section for children under six  all about baby animals.

Museum of Fine Arts

Another of Bordeaux’s unmissable museums is the Museum of Fine Arts. Housed in a historic building dating back to 1881, this museum is a great place to learn more about the big names in European painting. Here, all artists are exhibited on one floor and among the 330 works housed in the museum are paintings and sculptures by Picasso, Titian, Delacroix, Renoir, Matisse, Rubens and Velasquez. You’ll also find masterpieces by Perugino, Van Dyck and Paolo Veronese.

If you’re in the mood for something a little more light-hearted, we recommend a trip to the museum’s more playful area, where you can discover interesting facts about which artists belong to which art movements, etc. The museum’s art collections are located in two areas of the Palais Rohan. Artwork from 1500 to 1800 is located in the south wing, while collections from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are housed in the north wing. 

Science Museum

Cap Sciences is an interactive exhibition centre located inside a hangar dedicated to all things science. It’s home to a number of exhibits that are also great for kids, as well as workshops and guided tours. It is a great place for science fans and is where you can make the most of weather displays, a fantastic gift shop and even a special bar. The museum was opened in 1970 with the aim of promoting scientific education.

Musée d’Aquitaine

They say if you really want to understand Bordeaux, you have to go to the Musée d’Aquitaine. Inside, you’ll find several collections ranging from the prehistoric era to modern times. While studying the archaeology and ethnography of Aquitaine, you will no doubt get to know mysterious characters such as Eleonor of Aquitaine, the philosopher Mointagne and the Prince of Wales, better known as Edward the Black Prince. More than 70,000 artefacts are exhibited here, and a tenth of them come from Africa and Oceania, including objects related to trade and the history of Bordeaux’s port. You’ll find the museum in the city centre, near Saint-André Cathédral.

Jardin Public

It might be right in the centre of town, but you’ll definitely feel like you’re in the countryside here. This is a place where Bordeaux’s natural landscapes – including a stream surrounded by centenary trees – blend with 18th-century architecture. Here, you can go for a stroll, a jog or simply relax. The park has been open to local residents since 1746 and occupies over 11 hectares of land. It’s also a great place for children to have fun or watch a traditional puppet show. In the grounds, you’ll also find stately buildings, the Natural History Museum, a botanical garden and a great restaurant.

BETASOM Submarine Base

Fancy visiting a giant bunker made by German soldiers during the Second World War to house submarines? This submarine base is located in the Bassins à Flots district and is divided into different sections connected by an internal road. It is a dynamic place hosting exhibitions, shows and concerts in a very unique setting. The submarine base was built between 1941 and 1943 and occupies over 41,000 square metres.

Parc Bordelais

Another of Bordeaux’s green areas and a place full of surprises, Parc Bordelais was designed in the 1800s and spans over 28 hectares of land in a fantastic setting home to over 3,000 trees. But this park isn’t just about nature, it’s also full of attractions for your little ones, including rides, a train and electric cars. There is also a local farm where you can meet swans and ducks, and a puppet show theatre.

Botanical Garden

Inside the Jardin Public is a botanical garden renovated by the French landscape architect Catherine Mosbach in 2004. Its elongated shape is separated into three distinct areas, including several natural landscapes, a vegetable patch and a water garden leading down to the riverbank and featuring several water ‘mirrors.’ It is a very relaxing place for a stroll while you admire the best south west France has to offer.

Visit Bordeaux with Costa Cruises

Vini, piatti di qualità, scorci, bellezze naturali e attività culturali. Bordeaux, che sia la vostra prima scelta, o che sia una piacevole sorpresa, non vi deluderà. Sarà per quel carattere ruspante, che ritroverete anche nelle degustazioni o per l’identità che negli anni la sta trasformando in località sempre più di moda e conosciuta, con un patrimonio e culturale invidiabile. Scoprite le sue linee neoclassiche e i suoi quartieri che sanno nascondere un’anima rock, sceglietela come itinerario delle vostre vacanze.

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