The Bassin d’Arcachon or the Arcachon Bay has become one of the most popular destinations in France with more than half a million visitors heading there during July and August alone. While some people rent a house close to the beach, most tourists go there for day trips from Bordeaux, which is located about an hour’s drive from the bay.If you look at the map you’ll see that the Arcachon bay is quite a big place with plenty of villages and activities so how do you choose where to go? That’s what I’m here for! In this article I’m going to introduce you to some of the best destinations for a day trip or a weekend on Bassin D’Arcachon. The places with the most unique atmosphere, the best beaches, interesting activities for you and your kids and spots where you can enjoy the famous Arcachon oysters.
We can roughly divide the bay into two parts, the north and south of the Bassin. When I’m in the mood for a beautiful village or an unspoilt beach I tend to go to the northern part of Arcachon bay. There, you have the most charming villages on the Arcachon Bay like L’herbe, Le Canon, Andernos les Bains and others. However, if I’m in a more active mood, I’d usually go to the southern part of the bay where you can climb the incredible dune de Pilat, visit the oysters museum, spend a day in a huge birds reserve and kayak on the Eyre river.
Before we start, here are a few other articles you might want to read when you’re traveling around Bordeaux:
The best beaches around Bordeaux
Day trips around Bordeaux – wine, beaches and villages
10 day trips from Bordeaux by Public transport
A weekend in Medoc- Bordeaux wine tours
What to do and eat in Saint Emilion
You can also join my Facebook group “Travel in the southwest of France” where many enthusiasts of the region share their recommendations for places to visit and things to do in the southwest of France.
Now let’s start discovering some of the most beautiful and interesting places to visit on the Arcachon Bay!
Andernos les Bains – a perfect day trip to the Arcachon Bay
Andernos les Bains is not a prime tourist destination like some of its better-known neighbors on the Bassin d’Arcachon and that, in a way, makes it even more attractive. With an old prehistoric site, 19th-century villas and a long sandy beach overlooking the Bassin, it’s not hard to spend a pleasant day in this seaside resort. Like other towns on the Arcachon bay, Andernos les Bains is also known for oyster farming, and a wealth of restaurants serving delicious oysters and seafood garnish its shores. Most restaurants are located next to the port from which you can take a nice promenade on the longest pier in France. My favorite spot for oysters is Cabane 21 Station des Gus, which is also very kids friendly. But mind you, it’s a spot for real seafood lovers as you won’t find anything else on the menu (except wine of course). Andernos les Bains is also known for its fun events and festivals such as the Festival Cabanes en Fête (an oysters and wine celebration) in December and the Andernos Jazz Festival in July.
How to get from Bordeaux to Andernos les Bains: The best way to get there is by car but if you have no other choice you can also take Bus 601 (Trans Gironde) from Bordeaux center.
L’Herbe – the best-hidden gem on the Arcachon bay
L’herbe is a traditional oyster farming village located on the Cap Ferret Peninsula. Here you won’t find the characteristics of a typical French village, there’s no church nor a central square with a bakery and a restaurant. Nonetheless, you can easily say that it is one of the most beautiful villages in the southwest of France.
There’s something raw and authentic about L’herbe. You get to walk between the colorful cabins of oyster farmers and see them in action on their special workboat. If you like oysters, you’re going to love this place. Plenty of oyster restaurants are spread along the beach serving only the freshest oysters, pork paté and white wine. This is a perfect destination for a sunny half-day trip from Bordeaux, or a full day trip if you add a visit to the beach as well.
How to get from Bordeaux to L’herbe: Same as with Andernos les Bains, a car is the best way to get here as the bus is not a direct one and it takes almost two hours to get to L’herbe. But if you have no choice you can also take Bus 601 (Trans Gironde) from Bordeaux center.
Cap Ferret – dreamy beaches and the best oysters on the Arcachon bay
Cap Ferret is a little town located on the Western part of Bassin d’Arcachon and has been traditionally known as a summer getaway for the French upper class. Although it’s been recently gaining popularity among tourists visiting the south of France, it has yet to lose its relaxing beach village atmosphere, especially if compared to the more southern towns of Arcachon bay.
Cap Ferret is shaped like a narrow tongue with a long string of beautiful sandy beaches on the Atlantic ocean and a view of the eastern side of the Bassin. Apart from its dreamy beaches it’s also known for its ostréiculture industry, which produces some of the best oysters in France. Dozens of oyster cabins and restaurants with a view on the Bassin give Cap-Ferret a unique character that’s worth a visit and a taste.
Another fun thing to do in Cap Ferret is to bike along the beaches and through the pine forest that covers a large part of the Cap Ferret peninsula. There are plenty of bike rentals in Cap Ferret, one of them is Bike rental Cap Gyro (7 Boulevard de la Plage, 33970 Lège-Cap-Ferret).
How to get from Bordeaux to Cap Ferret: The same 601 bus can take you to Cap Ferret but it’ll take you at least two hours to get there, so a car is definitely a better option here. If you’re near Arcachon or le Moulleau, you can see the schedule here.
Arcachon – the city
It’s not my favorite destination on the bay mostly due to it being a town rather than a village. Having said that there are plenty of great things to do in and around the town of Arcachon and if you have the time it’s worth a visit.
The town of Arcachon is divided into four districts, named after the seasons of the year. Ville d’Été, covering the touristic center, main beach, restaurants and boutiques. Ville d’Hiver – the historic center adorned with glamorous 19th-century villas. Ville de Printemps in the west is closer to the most beautiful and less crowded beaches of Arcachon and Ville d’Automne is the beautiful port area packed with great fish restaurants. A visit to Arcachon can easily take the whole day but many tend to combine it with a visit to the Dune du Pilat, the tallest sand dune in Europe and one of the most popular destinations in France.
Another reason to go to Arcachon is the beautiful beaches located on the south part of the bay. Two that I particularly like are petit Nice and La Corniche where you can also grab a drink at the fancy La corniche hotel /restaurant. A fun way to discover that part of the bay is by bike. You can hire one in the center of Arcachon city and just follow the cycling route along the beach.
In my guide to Arcachon city, you can find all the details about things to do, places to eat, where to hire a bike and what beaches are the best ones to go to in Arcachon.
How to get from Bordeaux to Arcachon: Arcachon is the easiest one to get to by train directly from Bordeaux. A train leaves almost every hour from the main station in Bordeaux and the station of Pessac centre. Beware that if you come by car, free parking is not easy to find, so taking the train is advisable during the touristic season. You have more details about parking in my article about Arcachon.
The Magnificent dune du Pilat in Teste de Buch
If there’s one thing in this list I consider a “must” it’s definitely this one. The gigantic sand dune is one of the wonders of the area, with its 60 million metric cubes of sand it’s quite astonishing the first time you see it. Dune du Pilat is Europe’s tallest sand dune, rising to an impressive 110 m high. It’s also 500 meters wide and 2.7 km long so you’ll have plenty of room to wander. You can climb the dune by stairs that are installed from the end of May to early November. If you come during the low season or just feel energetic, you can just climb straight up the sandy slopes.
Once you reach the top, a stunning panoramic view will be revealed with the Cap Ferret peninsula on one side, a huge pine forest on the other and the magnificent Banc d’Arguin nature reserve just in front. After working so hard climbing the dune, you can slide to the other side (when the sand is not too hot of course) and go straight to the beach. If you’re not in a rush you can easily spend the day here, have a nice picnic and swim in the crystal clear water. It’s hard to describe the beauty of this site in words, you really must see it for yourself.
How to get from Bordeaux to dune du Pilat: If you’re coming by public transport, line 1 (Baia company) will take you from the Arcachon train station to Dune to Pilat. Otherwise, you can get there by car and park in the paid parking of the site.
Lanton – a beautiful promenade
If you’re looking for a beautiful quiet place for a long walk, Lanton is the perfect spot for you. You can start your walk from plage de Suzette, which is a little port with a few restaurants on it and just follow the trail that starts next to the boats. If you’ve ever been to the Bassin d’Arcachon you know that the view changes a lot depending on the tide. This trail goes along the bay and that’s why, depending on the time you arrive, it may feel like walking along the beach or in an apocalyptic desert. If you want to escape the crowds in the summer head to Lanton as the scenery and tranquility are just magical.
The birds’ reserve in Teich
The Teich Ornithological Reserve is a protected nature reserve located some 50km from Bordeaux, where you can watch thousands of wild birds from up-close. 110 hectares of wooded areas, saltmarsh, reed beds and meadows stretch out between the mainland and the Bassin d’Arcachon coastline, offering a perfect habitat for many birds. Some stay here permanently and some just pass by.
The Teich Bird Reserve is explored on foot along a 6 km long circular path (with a shorter route proposed to visitors with young kids). The path goes through a rich diversity of natural habitats, giving a great overall picture of the site and its surrounding areas. I would highly advise taking a binocular with you. Many of the birds stay quite far from the designated Viewpoints and are just too distant to observe. Doing the same route with a binocular made the visit much more interesting in my view.
The Reserve Ornithologique du Teich is open all year long except on December 25, and can even be reached by train (the Teich train station is located about 15 minutes walk from the reserve). For more info see the website of the reserve: https://www.reserve-ornithologique-duteich.com/en/
Gujan Mestras – the capital of oysters
Gujan-Mestras is a little town known as the capital of oyster farming on the Bassin d’Arcachon. It has seven oyster ports which you can visit and watch oyster farmers’ work. You can even join one of the farmers and take part in their work for a few hours. Find the list of farmers providing that experience on the tourist office website.
You can also visit the “Maison de Huitre”, an interactive museum where you discover everything about oyster farming. And finally, don’t forget to taste the freshest oysters in one of the cabanes along the coastline, many of which are located at the famous Port de Larros. Gujan-Mestras also has a beautiful beach called Plage de la Hume. Due to its interior position on the Arcachon bay, there are almost no waves and it feels more like a lake than a sea beach, which makes it very kids friendly.
The town hall of Gujan-Mestras is quite active and hosts plenty of nice events for kids and adults in the summer, you can find them all on their site: https://www.gujanmestras.com
How to get to Gujan Mestras? The same train that goes to Arcachon also stops in Gujan Mestras so you can easily get there by train if you don’t want to drive.
These are some of my favorite spots on the Arcachon bay, and I hope it will encourage you to get out and spend at least one day in this magical place.
For more tips about things to do in Bordeaux, day trips from the city, vineyards, markets, brocantes and more check out the Facebook page of Lost in Bordeaux, subscribe to my newsletter and join my Facebook group “Travel in the Southwest on France“.