If you love wine, food and beautiful architecture you simply cannot miss a visit to Bordeaux when visiting the region. One day in this vibrant city may not be enough to discover all the attractions and gastronomic experiences it has to offer, but with the right plan, you’ll be able to explore the main sites and to appreciate its tranquil atmosphere. So for those of you wondering how to spend only one day in Bordeaux, in this article, I offer a plan to help you taste most of the amazing things this city has to offer. You will discover the remarkable architecture in the city center, visit the main market, taste Bordelais cuisine, ride a bike on the riverfront, eat delicious chocolate and taste amazing wine. By the end of this day, you’ll be exhausted and totally in love with Bordeaux!
If you’re coming for a weekend, you should check out my Ultimate Guide to a weekend in Bordeaux. Also, don’t miss my articles about the best neighborhoods to stay in Bordeaux and the best hotels in the city center if you’re looking for accommodation in Bordeaux.
Now let’s start discovering the beautiful capital of the Southwest of France.
Marché des Capucins – Visit the main market of Bordeaux
If you’re a foodie or just like discovering new markets, I highly recommend starting your one day in Bordeaux in Marché des Capucins. This is the biggest daily market in Bordeaux and has everything from stands of fruits, vegetables, sweets and spices to a bunch of lively cafés and restaurants. It’s a covered market so you can enjoy it on the city’s numerous rainy days. Most cafes and restaurants also have tables outside where you can have a coffee or an early lunch. While the market is pretty calm during the week it becomes very busy on the weekend when the Bordelaise rush to the market for their weekly shopping and a glass of wine.
If you like oysters there’s one restaurant in the market you simply cannot miss! Chez Jean-Mi has become an institution in Bordeaux, attracting many locals for a plate of oysters with white dry wine. Before you go, be sure to check out my article about the best places to eat at the Marché des Capucins. The market is open from Tuesday to Sunday, however, be aware that not all the restaurants and stands are open on Tuesday and Wednesday.
If you need help in discovering the market, I offer a market tour where you will taste and get familiar with the flavors of the southwest of France. So if you’re into starting your day with a foodie experience check out my food tours page.
Stroll the narrow streets of old Bordeaux
I have yet met one person who was not stunned by the beauty of the “Vieux Bordeaux”, the historic part of the city. You can spend hours getting lost among the16th and 17th-century houses on the narrow paved streets of old Bordeaux. The historic center is also home to some of the city’s most emblematic monuments, which you shouldn’t miss on your one day in Bordeaux. The southwest capital has 362 preserved buildings labeled as historic monuments, second only to Paris. The historic part of the city (and several streets around it) is recognized by UNESCO as an “outstanding urban and architectural ensemble” of 18th-century architecture. Let yourself get lost for a few hours in the narrow streets of Bordeaux, that will give you the best introduction to the city.
Here’s a shortlist of the sites you should not miss on your visit:
Main sites in the city center
Grosse Cloche – the 15th-century gate to the old city. This stunning bell tower is part of a whole structure that was previously a part of the city hall of Bordeaux and at some point served as a prison to misbehaved juveniles (!). It’s one of Bordeaux’s most emblematic monuments and appears on the coat of arms of Bordeaux. The Gross Cloche is located on one end of rue Saint James, one of the liveliest streets of Bordeaux, with stylish boutiques and wine bars.
Porte Cailhau – another magnificent 15th-century gate to the historic center of Bordeaux. This glamourous monument was built to commemorate the glory of king Charles VIII and opens up to one of Bordeaux’s nicest squares, Place du Palais.
Two other important monuments are located on the border between the historic part and the fancy triangle d’Or neighborhood.
The Grand Theatre -The beautiful 18th-century building on Place de la Comedie will be hard to miss. This is one of the most impressive buildings in the city and is home to the National Opera and the national ballet of Bordeaux. If you have the chance, try to book tickets to one of the concerts of the Opera or the national ballet. Continue from there to Place des Quinconces, the largest city square in France and one of the biggest in Europe. On one of the sides of this enormous square, you will find the beautiful monument dedicated to the Girondins (members of a political faction) who were killed during the French Revolution. Throughout the year the square hosts many different events, festivals and fairs such as the Brocante de Quinconces. Check out the weekend [psts on this blog to see what’s currently on at Quinconces.
Have a drink on the lively squares of Bordeaux
There’s a very special atmosphere in Bordeaux. It’s a very touristy and lively city that somehow is able to maintain its tranquility (except on the shopping street, Sainte Catherine). What contributes to that are the lively squares in the city center, linked by pleasant pedestrian streets. On every square, you can find terrasse restaurants and coffee places with someone sipping a glass of Bordelais wine anytime during the day. Some of the liveliest squares in the city center include the Place du Palais with a magnificent view of Porte Cailhau, Place Pierre with the Saint Pierre church right in the middle of it and Camille Julian with the nice Utopia bistrot (an old church converted into an independent cinema and restaurant). The biggest square in the old center is Place du Parlement, which was built in the 18th century in an Italian style. Its facades are very richly decorated and resemble the facades of the buildings on the riverfront of Bordeaux and the magnificent Place de la Bourse.
Lift your eyes to see the mascarons
If you’re following my advice and on your way to Place du Parlement don’t miss the beautiful little sculptures that decorate the buildings. Just lift your eyes and look at the buildings of this beautiful square as well as Place de la Bourse and most of the buildings on the riverfront of Bordeaux. The sculpted faces between the ground and first floor are called mascarons, a variation on the word masks in Italian. There are more than 3000 mascarons decorating the buildings and the monuments of Bordeaux, taking inspiration from Greek mythology, wild animals, religion and the economical development of Bordeaux. Some examples are Neptune who represents the importance of the river and African faces, a memory of the slave trade Bordeaux was part of.
You can read in more detail about all the main monuments in Bordeaux in my ultimate guide to a weekend in Bordeaux.
Dine in one of Bordeaux’s delicious restaurants
After the long walk, a proper lunch is in order! In recent years Bordeaux is gaining popularity as a gastronomic city and even holds the record for the number of restaurants per person in France. If you have only one day in the city, trying one of Bordeaux’s restaurants should be on your list. There are a lot of excellent restaurants in the city center and choosing one won’t be easy, but let me suggest just a few.
If you want to enjoy an elegant lunch by one of France’s celebrity chefs, Philippe Etchebest, go to Le Quatrieme Mur, a beautiful restaurant located inside the Opera building. To taste the specialties of the area go to Les Noailles or le Mably. These are not cheap restaurants but they offer a traditional Bordelais cuisine which is not as easy to find as you might think. For meat lovers, Le bar du Boucher and Le Grill Bordelais are great restaurants. You also have L’entrecote with its famous steak sauce, however, prepare yourself for a long queue if you decide to go there. Other great restaurants include Le Bouchon Bordelais, Le M restaurant, Miles and Frida. For a great view, you can also pass the river to the other side and enjoy lunch at L’Estacade. The list can go on and on but I won’t confuse you with too many options.
It’s important to notice that restaurants in Bordeaux tend to be closed on Sundays or Mondays (or both) so check out their websites when planning your trip. Also, it’s always recommended to book a table ahead of time, even if you do it on the same day.
Have a picnic in Jardin Public, Bordeaux’s main park
If you prefer leaving the dining experience for the evening you can replace a fancy lunch with a picnic in the beautiful park of Bordeaux, Jardin Public. Make yourself a basket of regional products and join the other Bordelais on the vast green planes. Don’t forget to add a bottle of Bordeaux wine you can get in most supermarkets or in dedicated wine shops. One of the most interesting wine shops is called l’Intendant, which holds the nickname “the wine library” due to its 15,000 bottle collection.
Jardin public is beautiful and by far one of the most kid-friendly places in the city. However, it’s not the only good spot for a picnic or a little break. Bordeaux has many gardens and parks that you can enjoy on a sunny day. To discover them check out my post about the best places for a picnic in Bordeaux.
Shop on the Longest street in France
Sainte Catherine is the longest pedestrian street in France, full of clothing boutiques and one of the only places in the center where you can find all the main fashion retail stores. If you prefer smaller boutiques, you won’t find them on the main streets but rather on the small narrow streets of Saint Paul and Saint Pier districts, as well as on rue Notre Dame in Chartrons.
If you’re into second-hand clothing be sure to check my guide to second hand and vintage shops in the center of Bordeaux.
Visit the main church in Bordeaux -Saint-André
The big Cathedral on the main square of Pey Berland is a Roman Catholic church and the seat of the Archbishop of Bordeaux. This cathedral has an important part in the history of Bordeaux. Here, the 13 years old Eleanor d’Aquitaine, married the future king of France Louis VII, therefore making her the queen of France (for a very short period of time). Like many other churches and basilicas in Bordeaux, Saint-André is classified as a national monument of France. In the evening the Cathedral often hosts concerts of classical music, choirs and an organ festival during the summer. You can check out more info about the concerts here.
Eat chocolate in the fancy district of Bordeaux
It’s time for a little dessert and there’s no better place for it than the Triangle d’Or neighborhood, the fancy district of Bordeaux. You will immediately notice that the architecture and landscape of this district are different from the narrow streets of the historic center of Bordeaux. The wide boulevards and decorated 18th-century houses reflect the economic boom that the city was undergoing at the time. Today it’s considered as the gourmet district with plenty of wine and cheese boutiques.
Like every French city, Bordeaux too has its chocolatiers and many of them are located in and around Triangle d’Or. On rue Michel Montaigne you will discover the most famous local patissier and chocolatier, David Capy. On Allée de Tourny you will visit the oldest chocolatier in Bordeaux, Cadiot Badie. It’s a very prestigious place that feels more like a jewelry shop than a chocolate boutique. Other amazing chocolate shops are la Maison Darricau and Hasnaa Chocolat grand cru.
If you also want to take the opportunity to stop for a coffee. Bordeaux has some amazing coffee shops. You can read about my favorite ones in my article about the five coffee places in Bordeaux you don’t want to miss.
Chill at the Miroir d’eau
Now it’s time to visit Bordeaux’s most famous attraction and one you have probably seen in any guide or video about Bordeaux – Le Miroir d’eau. This modern monument, built in 2006, is the world’s largest reflecting pool. The surface is made from blue granite covered in water, reflecting the 18th century Place de la Bourse. It’s a perfect place to chill on a hot sunny day in Bordeaux. If you’re coming with kids you can easily spend more than an hour here as it’s going to be quite hard to get them out of it. Kids seem to really love it! (don’t forget to bring replacement clothes for the kids, they tend to get soaked!)
Take a bike ride on the banks of the Garonne
The promenade on the left bank of the Garonne river is one of Bordeaux’s highlights. Since the massive overhaul project in the early 2000s the quais (docks) of Bordeaux have become one of Bordeaux’s most popular spots, hosting many events and festivals during the summer. The 4.5 km promenade is also perfect for a walk or a bicycle tour. The most interesting part of it is between the two bridges of Bordeaux – Pont Saint Pierre in the center and Pont Chaban Delmas in the north of the city, which includes the Miroir d’eau as well as playgrounds for kids and restaurants with a view on the river.
You can use city bikes that are spread all over the city. The price is only 1.7 euros for 24 hours if you return them to the station every 30 minutes (you can take another bike right away). If you rather not spend your time looking for a station in the middle of your trip you can return them after you finish your ride and pay 2 euros for every additional hour.
Discover the hipster side of Bordeaux
After spending several hours in the classic left side of the river, it’s time to discover the more hipster right bank of the Garonne. If you take my advice and go on a ride on the riverfront you can continue with the bike to the other side, there are V3 stations (the Bordeaux city bikes) there as well. When you cross Pont de Pierre to the Bastide neighborhood you’ll discover a very pleasant park along the riverbank. There are a few great restaurants with a great view of the old part of Bordeaux that operate from May to October.
But the main attraction of the Bastide neighborhood is Darwin. An old military base turned into an urban space with a workspace/incubator for startups, a skate park for all ages, a restaurant and many other surprises, all with an agenda of ecological awareness. One of the buildings hosts the restaurant and the Darwin products store with a huge selection of different organic products from pastries to beer and even soap. Darwin is one of the most extraordinary places for street art and includes some amazing works by a lot of talented regional artists on every one of its buildings.
If you visit the Bastide district on the weekend (during the summer) don’t miss one of Bordeaux’s hidden gems, La Guinguette chez Alriq. The Guinguette is a tavern on the banks of the river hosting plenty of open-air concerts from May to the end of September. The performing bands and artists are coming from all over the world and create an atmosphere of a laid back world music party.
Have a drink in one of Bordeaux’s wine bars
Wine bars are springing up like mushrooms in the center of Bordeaux. It’s not a big surprise considering it’s the capital of the biggest wine area in France. A great way to finish your one day in Bordeaux is by tasting some of the best wines of the region in one of Bordeaux’s wine bars. There are plenty of bars to choose from in the city center, here are some of my favorite ones: Un Chateau en Ville for a cozy family feeling, Wine more time for their huge selection, and le Bar a Vin for the beautiful decor and professional waiters. Other great bars with knowledgeable staff include Le wine bar, La ligne rouge, Le Flacon and Vins Urbains.
Some bars offer wine tasting experiences that allow you to better understand the wines of the region. To discover the best places for wine tasting check out my article about wine tasting in Bordeaux.
If you’re interested in wine don’t miss a trip to Saint Emilion where you can visit some of the best wineries in the region. You can easily plan the trip by yourself using my post about the best wineries to visit in Saint Emilion. Not less interesting and beautiful is the Medoc wine area where you can see some of the most impressive chateaux in the region. Follow my post about the Medoc wine route when planning your trip there.
I hope you enjoyed this beautiful city and if you have a few more days in the area don’t forget to check out my article about the best day trips from Bordeaux.
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