Bordeaux – An Active Holiday Guide
Bordeaux is much more than a hotbed of culture, just a stone’s throw from the city centre you can go canoeing, wakeboarding and mountain biking. Called the ‘Petit Paris’ thanks to its neoclassical architecture, sophisticated café culture and high-spirited student population, Bordeaux is widely regarded as the beating-heart of France’s south-west.
A fine example of old and new working side-by-side, a huge chunk of Bordeaux is labelled a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And if that’s not enough, it’s the capital of Gironde’s wine industry and home to some of the best restaurants in France. Bursting at the seams with architectural gems, festivals, fine food and alive with the sound of music, Bordeaux is unmatched as the cultural capital of the south west.
Our guide to Bordeaux will take you through the area’s outdoor activities, the finest restaurants, the best bars and all the highlights this young and vibrant city has to offer.
Elected the European Best Destinations ‘Best European Destination 2015’, Bordeaux is in celebration mode. A bustling city packed with cultural, historic and gastronomic delights, along with wide avenues, well-tended public squares and parks and the majestic Garonne River, Bordeaux is much more than a convenient stop on the way from Paris to Spain.
Offering a myriad of activities ranging from leisurely wine tours and tasting evenings to watersports and mountain biking through vineyards, Bordeaux has something for everyone. Well connected thanks to the city’s pedestrianised river front, extensive tramway and regular bus service, Bordeaux is easily accessible and cheap to get around.
Soak up the culture in one of the many museums and galleries, learn about Bordeaux historical role in France’s chequered past, gorge on regional delicacies, shop till you drop, or plunge into some watersports. Bordeaux has many gifts and has certainly earned its stripes as one of France’s finest cities.
Bordeaux-Mérignac (25 min)
Pharmacie Principale, 10 Rue Sainte-Catherine, 33000 Bordeaux.
La Poste, 29 Allée de Tourny, 33000 Bordeaux.
Taxi 33, Place Paul Doumer, 33000 Bordeaux.
ParkingThe bane of Bordelaise life, if you care to listen any local will tell you that parking in Bordeaux can be a nightmare. Whilst most natives are forced to park on side streets, hotels happily offer free parking during your stay and the city is peppered with secure, paid car parks. Street parking is limited to two hours, whilst underground parking can be used for up to 24 hours.
Well connected and easy to use, Bordeaux is famed for its first class transport system. Boasting a vast tramway, regular buses, a city bike hire scheme and a large national train station, Bordeaux is a modern example of a congestion free city. Explore the centre of town by foot or bike, or venture further afield for a few euros using city links. The Bordeaux tourist office offers a ‘CITYPASS’ that covers all transport, museums and entry to landmarks from just 20 EUR. Buy a Bordeaux CITYPASS online
Bordeaux Bike Hire
VCub Bordeaux Bike Scheme
Bordeaux VCub self-service bike rental scheme has more than a hundred bike hubs dotted around the city centre. It’s a cheap, fun and carefree way to get around the city. Like most city bike schemes, you can drop off and pick up the bikes 24 hours a day. Prices from just 1.50 EUR for 24 hours. VCub.fr
Cool Bike on the Quai des Chartrons has a selection of city bikes and hybrids plus kids bikes and trailers from just 7 EUR per day.
77 Quai des Chartrons, 33300 Bordeaux, France. Tel: +33 (0)5 33 48 13 86.
We-Van Bordeaux fleet of fully converted 2 or 4 berth VW T5 campervans and 9-seater Mercedes minibuses are available for pick up at 2 locations; the Saint Jean train station in the centre of Bordeaux and Bordeaux Mérignac airport. Load up the surfboards and strike out down the Atlantic Coast. By the time you reach Hossegor you’ll be confidently tucking into barrels!
Active Things To Do in Bordeaux
Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux Mountain Biking Trails
Ride the winding lanes and dirt tracks of the Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux vineyard which flanks the steep slopes of the Gironde estuary. Three waymarked, graded circuits (a 15 km green loop, a 20 km blue loop and a 30 km red loop) provide biking for families or those looking for a harder ride. On the way, take some time out to meet the Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux winegrowers and taste their wines! Download the routes here
Skateboarding at Le Hangar Darwin
In Bordeaux’s Bastide quarter along the Quai des Queyries there’s been an uprising in urban culture. The Darwin Eco Système, a cluster of environmentally friendly businesses, have set up shop on reclaimed land, drawing in musicians, foodies, activists and skaters. Le Hangar Darwin is a huge indoor space kitted out with a street skate area, big ramp, wooden bowl and skate house. Open from Tuesday to Sunday, membership is 5 € and the entrance fee for a day is 3 €. You can also take a lesson for 25 €. To get there from the city centre, take Tram B to Place Stalingrad, or Bus N°45 and get off at Maréchal Niel.
Bike and Wine Tour Saint-Emilion
Discover the famous vineyards of Saint-Emilion by bicycle. If you enjoy a Bordeaux Merlot, you’re in the right place, and sampling these world-class wines at source is a must. The bike trails let you savour the picturesque countryside and sample the famed Emilion grapes along the way. Bordo Vino offer a full day tour of the vineyards including a visit to two wine estates and their chateaux. With tours starting from Bordeaux city centre, this is a fully catered experience providing travel, lunch and wine tasting as part of the day.
Guided Segway Tour of Bordeaux City Centre
Whilst Bordeaux is perfectly doable on foot, a Segway tour adds an element of fun to your discoveries. LIBR’ET’SENS offers Segway hire from 25 EUR per person that includes a quick lesson on how to ride and a guided tour of the city’s landmarks in your language of choice. Roll through the Triangle-d’Or and witness the neoclassical majesty of the Place de la Bourse. Learn about Bordeaux medieval history at the ‘Grosse Cloche’ and bask in the rich limestone architecture that makes this city so elegant.
Canoeing & SUP on the Garonne
The Garonne at Bordeaux was once a busy waterway with shipping vessels coming and going. Nowadays, you’re more likely to see jetskis zipping up and down than fishing trawlers. For a unique perspective of the city, Bordeaux Canoe offer guided canoe trips on the Garonne including a high tide only trip through the historical centre. If you’d rather get a bit wetter, then you can also give stand up paddle boarding a go.
Sailing & Windsurfing on the Lac de Bordeaux
The 1 km2 Lac de Bordeaux is located just 6 km north of the centre of Bordeaux. The Centre de Voile de Bordeaux-Lac has windsurfers, lasers, catamarans and stand up paddle boards for hire by the hour. You can also take lessons with qualified instructors.
Boulevard Jacques Chaban-Delmas, 33520 Bruges. Tel 05 57 10 60 35.
Wakeboarding at Wake Lagoona
Located in Virelade about 25 mins south-east of the city centre is Wake Lagoona, the region’s premier waterski lake. Equipped with a cable-ski and two ski boats, and a wakepark set-up with jumps and rails, there’s all you need to get your tow-in fix. First-timers can get lessons from qualified instructors and surfers can give wakesurfing a go. Set in tranquil forest, Wake Lagoona is great rest bite from the hustle and bustle of the Bordeaux city centre. Wake Lagoona is a great day out for older kids and adults looking to catch some air, land their first 180, or maybe just learn to stand up!
Cabanes de la Romaningue
Harking back to the knights of Templar, Cabanes de la Romanique is a blend of contemporary eco accommodation in a medieval setting. Offering a range of unforgettable accommodation options, choose between hand crafted tree houses set in thick forest, space age ‘bubble pods’ in a leafy clearing or traditional Romany caravans with wood burning stoves. A true adventure in itself, Cabanes de la Romanique give you the freedom to explore the rich surrounding landscape and sleep under the stars in complete tranquillity. Marrying mod cons with magical lodgings, this rustic ‘glamping’ experience is authentically eco-conscious, providing simple amenities depending on accommodation type.
2 Chemin de Bon Ange, 33370 Pompignac, France. Tel +33 (0)5 35 54 62 95.
For floor to ceiling opulence, there is no substitute for the grandeur of L’Hôtel Particulier. A romantic ode to its ancestry, this beautifully restored boutique hotel offers prestigious suites and doubles for couples looking to stay in the lap of luxury. Once the stately home of Cardinal Donnet, suites open out onto a quaint balcony overlooking the beautiful Cathedral St. André. A five star affair, L’Hôtel Particulier caters to your every whim, providing contemporary self-catering apartments and lavish period double rooms depending on your preference. After a day of wine tasting and promenading down Bordeaux cobbled streets, there is nothing better than retiring to one of their luxury suites for a private massage, followed by a long soak in a roll top bath.
44 rue Vital Carles, 33000 Bordeaux, France. Tel +33(0)5 57 88 28 80.
Hôtel La Cour Carrée
Located in the centre of Bordeaux, 100 m away from Grands Hommes Square, Allées de Tourny and Gambetta Square, this is a stylish hotel and a great base for a visit to Bordeaux city centre. The elegantly decorated rooms rooms are air-conditioned and there’s free Wi-Fi access. The 200 year old building is built around a square courtyard that gives the hotel its name. Exposed stone and wooden beams complement the modern finishing. A buffet breakfast is served every morning.
La Note Bleue
Situated on the peripheries of the city is Le Note Bleue. A cheap and cheerful alternative for those of you looking to explore Bordeaux and beyond, this friendly guest house offers studio apartments at competitive rates. Proudly advertising a range of services and amenities from a heated pool to home made jam, your host Margaux is happy to let you explore the region at your own pace; relax poolside and soak up the sun, or let Margaux impart her wealth of knowledge and help you discover the region’s hidden gems. Modern, comfortable and only 15mins out of Bordeaux city centre, Le Note Bleue is available for couples or families.
4 Allée des Bengalis, 33600 Pessac, France. Tel +33(0)6 34 30 75 56.
Set in the faint shadow of the Royal Opera house, Mama Shelter is an essential resting spot for international trendies and design aficionados. Encapsulating the boutique design aesthetic unique to their affordable hotel empire, Mama Shelter creates a unique sense of 5 star quality for the restless traveller. Reworked to upcycling precision by the celebrated designer, Phillipe Starck, this affordable diamond in the rough provides a quirky, vibrant alternative to the status quo. With a selection of bricabrac concept rooms generously overlooking the Bordelaise skyline, family and double rooms offer unmatched panoramic views across the city. Doubles start from 69€ per night depending on availability.
19 Rue Poquelin Molière, 33000 Bordeaux, France. Tel +33(0)5 57 30 45 45.
Where to eat
Bistro l'Exploit - popular and reasonably pricedThe Bistro 'du moment' garnering some serious hype, Bistro L'Exploit has risen from the ashes as Bordeaux most coveted restaurant. Recently introducing a new head chef behind the burners, this small and unassuming gastronomic treat boasts an exciting and adventurous menu. With a firm belief that local produce tastes better, guests can savour home made paté, classic magret de canard, roasted deer and even flaming flambé for dessert. A humble and convivial atmosphere, Bistro l'Exploit prides itself on its 'come one, come all' philosophy, offering contemporary bistro fare at reasonable prices everyone can enjoy.
16 Rue de la Cour des Aides, 33000 Bordeaux, France . Tel +33(0)5 56 38 47 01. [hr]
Capperi - Pizzaioli Italiani - Best for pizzaAn intimate setting just a stone's throw from the great Garonne, Capperi is a Bordelaise institution. Highly regarded by the Italian community in Bordeaux, this small restaurant offers a range of pizzas that redefine everything you thought you knew about pizza! A family affair, the young trailblazer behind this establishment insists on importing only the best olive oil from his families olive grove in Sicily. Served on a fresh crisp base made of organic flour , Capperi pizza toppings are carefully chosen from the finest boucheries and fromageries. Since finding a large following of locals and tourists alike, you'll need to book ahead.
3 Rue de la Cour des Aides, 33000 Bordeaux, France . Tel +33(0)5 56 90 93 05. [hr]
Calabash - For fab Caribbean food and cocktailsWhilst traditional French fare will always have a place in our hearts, sometimes dinner calls for something a little more adventurous. Introducing Calabash. Straight from the island of Grenada, this tapas and cocktail bar is an explosion of flavour found nowhere else in the city. Repurposing age old family recipes, their authentic island cooking harnesses the tropical spirit of the Caribbean. Importing traditional spices straight from their source, discover Grenada patties, jerk shrimp with mango salsa, or our favourite marinated tender chicken pieces. Favouring their home made spiced rums as an accompaniment, Calabash serve a selection of natively distilled island rums unique to the Caribbean. Situated just off the central Place de la Victoire, Calabash is great for an early evening apero or a late night, night cap.
43 Rue Lafontaine, 33800 Bordeaux, France . Tel +33(0)5 56 68 16 07. [hr]
Belle CampagneFront line in the fight against waste are the tireless, sustainable militants at Belle Campagne. Reinventing simple dishes and focusing on seasonal menus, the new wave bistro is an upmarket treat. From trowel to tabletop, food is carefully monitored to ensure the freshest taste possible. Sticking to a strict 200km radius, Belle Campagne works directly with neighbouring arable and pastoral farmers to safeguard the continuing longevity of historic, rustic cuisine. Elegant and creative, their self titled 'engaged cuisine and finger food' is an earthy, experimental alternative to cheap and cheerful Bordelaise fare.
15 Rue des Bahutiers, 33000 Bordeaux, France . Tel +33(0)5 56 81 16 51. [hr]
Where to party
Rock School Barbey - For live music
With a young, vibrant population driving the musical agenda, Bordeaux has become a destination for wellknown artists and home grown stars on the rise. With concerts big and small playing host to an array of different artists and genres, The Barbey Rock School is a sure fire way of experiencing the ever evolving Bordeaux music scene. Great for finding new talent, the local concert hall is jam packed with a line up of fresh new talent throughout the year. Offering up an array of different musical treats from classical pianists to scratch djs, take your pick and dive in!
18 Cours Barbey, 33800 Bordeaux, France . Tel +33(0)5 56 33 66 00.
La Comtesse - For the best mojitos in Bordeaux
Famed for their mouth watering raspberry mojitos, come rain or shine, La Comtesse will be packed with a young hubbub of trendy taste makers and stylish clientele. Nestled in a small strip of bars off Hotel de Ville, La Comtesse is an unassuming back street bar whose cocktails pack a serious punch. Filled to the brim with fresh fruit, crushed ice and hard liquor, drinks at this small bar are dangerously moreish. An intimate Baroque setting inside and a bustling terrace outside, La Comtesse is a relaxed spot to sit back and watch the world go by.
25 Rue Parlement Saint-Pierre, 33000 Bordeaux, France . Tel +33(0)5 56 51 03 07.
Calle Ocho - For great atmosphere and music
A taste of Cuba right in the centre of Bordeaux, Calle Ocho has to be seen to be believed. A hotbed of hip shaking latina music, potent cocktails and crazy people, this little Bacardi bar is the perfect place to let loose and dance the night away. Always filled to the brim with dance floor divas and budding salsa Casanovas, grab a drink at the purposed built bar and make your way through the crowd to the lower level dance floor. Offering an ambience unmatched in Bordeaux, Calle Ocho embraces its roots to provide a little slice of South America so pull out your best moves, grab a cuba libre and dance the night away amongst an enthusiastic (and usually quite sweaty) Cuban congregation.
24 Rue Piliers de Tutelle, 33000 Bordeaux, France . Tel +33(0)5 56 48 08 68.
L’Alchemiste - For award winning cocktails
Backstreet bar culture is the very backbone of Bordeaux. With every side street housing a multitude of different watering holes, finding a decent spot can be a very expensive game of Russian roulette. Introducing L’Alchimiste a rugged ‘throw together’ cocktail bar focusing on daring mixology and good vibes. Famed for their rowdy prohibition parties, soulful apero nights and seriously cool clientele, L’Alchimiste sets itself apart from the traditional wine bars, serving serious alcohol in unrepentant and fantastic concoctions. Since its grand opening in 2013, the small back alley establishment has been voted one of France’s most influential bars, finding fame in their old fashioned recipes like the ‘Old Scot’.
16 Rue Parlement Saint-Pierre, 33000 Bordeaux, France . Tel +33(0)5 56 48 11 82.
Please leave a comment below if you need specific advice for your trip to Bordeaux, or if you have any recommendations to help us improve this guide. Happy holidays!
About the author
Self-confessed foodie and outdoor sports aficionado, Aimée Whistler has been scoping out hidden gems across France for over five years. From shredding backcountry powder to savouring the finest backyard cuisine, get first-hand suggestions from Active Azur’s most committed Francophile.