Long layovers are becoming ever more popular for travelers. Instead of a short 4-5 hour one where you probably won’t have time to leave the airport, 8-12 hour layovers give you the chance to get out and explore a new city. Bordeaux was a long layover for me. I could have chosen to visit another city but it would have been overnight which just wasn’t convenient. This flight with a 12 hour layover in Bordeaux was the cheapest. So what to do in Bordeaux?
Bordeaux is the capital of wine and definitely a favorite amongst wine enthusiasts. Even though I love wine I know that’s not my expertise nor passion. I wanted to explore the city, practice some French, and get to know what there was to see and do that went beyond the wine.
I was there in mid June of 2022 and it was hot and sticky. Like I thought it was hot in Barcelona, but this completely changed my perspective. This might also be because when you’re traveling you’re not spending all your time inside and you’re walking a lot. If I were to return I’d prefer to come during late spring or early fall.
Arriving in Bordeaux
The Bordeaux airport is a bit outside of the city. But you have a few different options to make it to the center. I opted for the bus. You can take bus 1 which costs 1,70€ one way or 4,50€ for all day use.
I ended up getting one way each way because I told myself I would walk. And walk I did. Just under 27,000 steps to be exact.
If walking this much is not your thing then I recommend grabbing the 4,50€ option so you can ride the buses and trams around the city.
Lately I’ve been waiting until I land and I’m on my way to the center to actually start looking at things that I plan to do. Do not be a late planner like me and use what I’ll share here to keep you from making my last minute Google searches on the bus/train or in the ride share.
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Things to do in Bordeaux
Okay, so you’ve made it to the city and now what? Honestly, I went to Bordeaux with no expectations. I knew I wanted to walk around, try some food, maybe wine, and enjoy the sights. So I pretty much only had a very vague idea of what I could even do in this city.
Bordeaux’s center was bigger than I expected, hence all the walking. The first stop was the Bordeaux Cathedral located next to the Hotel de Ville and the Pey Berland Tower. Right in the front of the Cathedral passes a tram which is a great photo/video opportunity if that’s your thing!
If you have limited time in Bordeaux, use this list to make the most of your time there:
1. A walking tour
One of the best ways to get to know a new city is with a walking tour. It covers all major highlights, teaches you the history of the city, and guides provide tips and recommendations of what else to check out and what to skip over. This 2 hour walking tour will cover a lot so make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes and come prepared for the weather.
2. Saint-André Cathedral of Bordeaux
Built in the 11th century and a host to some royal weddings back in the day, this cathedral needs to be on your list. It’s in the Place Pey Berland and definitely worth checking out. You can visit inside and get a tour of its history. A tram passes right in front which makes for a nice picture or video from across the street in the little plaza.
3. Tour Pey Berland
Also located in the Place Pey Berland is this tower which is even taller than the cathedral right next to it. Climbing the 200+ steps to the top gives you an amazing view of the city and the cathedral. I loved being able to see everything the city had to offer from above which showed me just how big the city really is.
Price: 6€ – individual ticket (26 years & older)
Free – 25 years & younger, handicapped persons, unemployed with a letter.
Check out the official page for updated info, it’s in French.
4. Grosse Cloche
This means fat or big clock. Built in the 15th century, it’s one of the Middle Age entrances to the city that worked as both a defensive fort and prison. It helped keep attackers out if invaders were attempting to take over the city and there’s a room where people who misbehaved were put into as punishment. The actual bell was used to warn citizens about a fire or an attack as well as the harvest signal.
5. La Cité du Vin
If wine is what brought you to Bordeaux then you must visit the Cité du Vin. Learn everything you don’t know about wine with this immersive, sensory, and interactive museum. There are 19 wine themed exhibits, pano views of Bordeaux, a glass of wine of your choice, and so much more!
6. Jardin Public de Bordeaux
This green space with a lake will be an oasis to cool down during the summer heat. I would definitely recommend going with a blanket and picnic under a tree for some shade. If history is your thing, then check out the natural history museum located within the park. There’s also a puppet theater that would be perfect for little ones.
7. Miroir d’Eau (reflective pool)
This reflective pool is near the river right in front of the bourse? It is one of the world’s largest and built in 2006. Due to the heat, many people took off their shoes and were standing in the little puddle of water to cool themselves. I don’t know why I thought the water was going to start spraying upwards and that that was the reason people were just standing around waiting. But after maybe 10 minutes, I got tired of standing out in the bright sun so I continued on my way.
8. Rue du Chai des Farines
After so much sun, I needed shade and this cute little cobblestone street was perfect for that. It’s a block away from the street along the river and so much quieter. You can see lots of little restaurants and shops that I would have loved to check out but they were closed at the time I walked by.
9. Pont de Pierre
The Pont de Pierre is a stone bridge connecting the left and right banks of the city. It was the first bridge to be built in Bordeaux. A view to see at night all lit up which unfortunately I didn’t get to witness in person because I was only there during the day. The bridge’s other name is actually Napoleon Bridge and is why it has 17 arches, one arch for each letter of his name. Due to the unbearable heat the day I was in Bordeaux I chose not to walk across, but on a cooler less sunnier day it would have been nice to do.
10. Porte Cailhau
Since a beautiful entrance/exit (depending on what side you’re standing on) to the old city of Bordeaux. As cities develop sometimes it’s hard to know where the outer wall used to stand so I’m glad that this is still up and you’re able to climb to the top. Since I had already gone to the top of the Tour Pey Berland I decided not to climb this one and just took pictures out in front of it.
Price: 5€ – for adults
3,50€ – reduced for students, elderly, groups
Free – with Bordeaux Metropole CityPass
11. Mama Shelter (hotel & rooftop bar)
Before heading to the airport I wanted to relax and grab a drink. And what better place to do that then a rooftop bar to overlook the city? After a quick Google search it seemed that Mama Shelter was the right spot. I was not disappointed at all. Even though I was the only solo traveler up there, I was completely fine sitting by myself for half an hour taking in the view while sipping a Moscow mule (12€). Perfect end to a perfect day.
Here is the TL;DR version:
- A walking tour
- Saint Andre Cathedral de Bordeaux
- Tour Pey Berland
- Grosse Cloche
- La Cite du Vin
- Jardin Public de Bordeaux
- Miroir d’Eau (reflective pool)
- Rue du Chai des Farines – cute cobblestone street
- Pont de Pierre
- Porte Cailhau (can climb to top for city view)
- Mama Shelter (hotel & rooftop bar)
I still can’t believe I did all this in a day. Believe that I was exhausted once I made my way back to the airport to head off to my next destination. I would definitely return to Bordeaux with more time. So if you happen to have only 12 hours or more, there are plenty more things to do in Bordeaux than what is on this list.
Stay tuned for my Bordeaux Google Map Legend coming soon! To read more about other French destinations, head here.
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