For most of the 20th century, Bordeaux was known as the Sleeping Beauty – La Belle au Bois Dormant – for its very traditional style and atmosphere, dominated by winemakers boasting a chateau or two. Now Bordeaux has become one of Europe’s most popular destinations, thanks to the dedicated efforts that have seen 15 years of renewal and revival. Described as ‘the very essence of elegance’ by the Queen, Bordeaux certainly has an almost aristocratic feel to it, thanks to the 362 historic monuments crammed into the city limits. Bordeaux offers Parisian history distilled into just a few hectares. Its magnificent cathedrals, churches and palaces, the beautiful bridges over the Garonne and, of course, those fine restaurants make Bordeaux an essential place to visit on any French itinerary.
Areas & Neighbourhoods in Bordeaux
Old Town — Vieux Bordeaux is filled with historic facades, sculpted to each owner’s specifications before and after the French Revolution. Pay a visit to the Basilica of St Michel, and perhaps pick up a bargain at the Capucins flea market, then stroll around the boulevards and alleys spotting as many monuments as you can – you’re bound to miss some.
Grands-Hommes — You can shop in luxury boutiques, eat in Bordeaux’s most lavish restaurants and catch concerts at performance halls in the Grands-Hommes. The beautiful Neoclassical buildings of the district create remarkable vistas from the elegant open squares that include the Place de la Comédie, Place Tourny and Place des Quinconces.
Hôtel de Ville — The town hall was built as the Palais Rohan by Archbishop Maximilien de Rohan in 1774, and this magnificent building is noteworthy on its own. It dominates a square with two art galleries and a museum with several antique shops nearby.
Mériadeck — In contrast to the traditional architecture of the rest of Bordeaux, Mériadeck is a 1970s development with many of the modern conveniences of city life, including sports centres, libraries and a shopping centre.
Things to See in Bordeaux
The Palais de la Bourse is a fantastic building in its own right, but the reason thousands flock to see it is the Miroir d’Eau, an enormous reflective water mirror covering an acre of black granite. The St André cathedral, Hotel de Ville and Palais Gallien are also awe-inspiring pieces of architecture. Sculptures can be found almost anywhere, but make a point of seeing the Monument aux Girondins fountain. The Jardin Public, a meticulously landscaped park, is perfect for a relaxing walk, and if you want to stop for a coffee or un cheeky verre du vin, there are plenty of great bistro-lined squares.
Things to Do in Bordeaux
Anyone with even a passing interest in wine would do well to visit La Cite du Vin wine museum, a decanter-shaped riverside building where you can explore the history of winemaking. More serious students will sign up to the Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux or take a tour of a vineyard in St Emilion, Medoc or Pomerol – even by bike if you’re feeling energetic. A shopping expedition to the Capucins market is a must, while a trip to the Grand Theatre to watch the opera will be as rewarding for the magnificent location as the performance. Pop into one of the many museums dedicated to Beaux-Arts, wine, Aquitanian history or galleries devoted to Magrez or modern art.
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