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City of Bordeaux city guide

Discover the city of City of Bordeaux


Known as 'La Perle d'Aquitaine' (The Pearl of the Aquitaine) and sometimes 'La Belle Endormie' (Sleeping Beauty), the city of Bordeaux has a reputation for wealth and Parisian-style glamour.

Situated on the banks of the Garonne river, the Gironde estuary gives the city direct access to the sea making it an important Atlantic Port and France's second largest at that. It gives off an air of sophistication with its 18th century architecture, ironwork, sculpture and the bourgeois residences. 

History & Culture in Bordeaux

As with much of France and especially the Gironde region, the city of Bordeaux has a long history dating back to around the 3rd century BC. Founded by the Bituriges Vivisci, one of the tribes of Gaul, it became their capital and was known at the time as Burdigala. The Vivisci traded wine which they produced themselves.

Later the area was absorbed into the Roman Empire, at around 60BC, becoming the capital of the Aquitainia region. It was an important part of the lead and tin trade to Rome, and it flourished under the Roman Empire. From around the 3rd century AD through to the 10th century the city was attacked, plundered, invaded, conquered, reconquered and changed hands many many times. It wasn't until the 12th to 15th centuries that it regained stability and importance. Much of this was due to the marriage of Henry II of England to the Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine.

During this time the whole Gironde area prospered and developed its wine export business for the thirsty English drinkers. And the city of Bordeaux in particular because of its large and important Atlantic sea port. Expansion in the area was halted by the Hundred Years' War after which the city of Bordeaux and surrounding areas fell under French rule. The French victory over the English at Castillon in 1453 is still celebrated and re-enacted to this day. It then benefited from the French colonial expansion which opened up trade routes across the Atlantic and to Africa.

Many of the city's medieval walls were demolished in the 18th century and replaced with ornate buildings and majestic squares. Interestingly, the first bridge across the Garonne was only completed in Napoleon's time, the Ponte de Pierre. Even today there are still only two bridges in central Bordeaux, although there are plans for a new road bridge over the Garonne river.

The establishment of a French empire around the world in the 18th century saw fortunes change and the city of Bordeaux expanded and thrived, becoming one of France's wealthiest commercial centres. Work commenced knocking down the medieval walls of defence around the town and new wide boulevards were created and lined with luxury mansions, archways and all sorts of grandeur.

Sights & Attractions in Bordeaux

Without a doubt the wide boulevards, squares and waterfront promenade make the city an easy place to walk around and to enjoy by foot. but if that seems like a bit too much then there are plenty of bikes, trams, buses and taxis to take you from one attraction to the next. Despite its size the city of Bordeaux and the sights on offer are incredibly accessible.

With a long and rich history, the wealthy city of Bordeaux has plenty of architectural gems to offer, plus of course many museums, galleries and exhibitions. The new Cite du Vin museum showcases the city's long history with the wine trade and gives you an insight into the wineries and vineyards of Bordeaux and beyond.

Beaches in Bordeaux

The seaside resorts of the Atlantic offer relatively close access to a coast that is lined with sand beaches and dunes, and in fact the tallest sand dune in Europe stands here in the Arcachon Bay; the Great Dune of Pyla. Thge beaches are made up of clean white sand and the waters are generally clear and blue...although they get good surf too so expect them to get a bit rowdy at times!

The good thing about the beaches in west Gironde is that they tend not to be too crowded, even in peak season, plus they stretch the length of the coast area so are very long. Stretching from the top of the Medoc area from the beach resort of Soulac-sur-Mer along the coast to Lacanau and then further south still to Arcachon the beaches are always very popular. However the closest beach to the city of Bordeaux is Le Porge and is certainly worth the trip out to enjoy the views of the Atlantic ocean.

Events in Bordeaux

As with many French towns and cities, markets are an important part of daily life and Bordeaux and the surroundings towns are no different. Both weekly and specific annual markets are common place.

You will also find plenty of cultural, musical and celebratory events on throughout the year, many focussed around wine harvest and production.

Things to do in Bordeaux

Walking around the city of Bordeaux is the best way to experience the atmosphere and ambience of this historical place. There are numerous green spaces, parks and squares to relax in and plenty of architectural gems to enjoy as you pass them by. Touring the city by bike is also a fantastic way to get around and make the most of your time there.

A river cruise is a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle and to learn more about the historic port and the importance of river trade throughout the centuries. 

Dining in Bordeaux

The cosmopolitan city of Bordeaux has an ever expanding selection of restaurants, from Michelin starred cuisine to Asian fusion and chic French restaurants. One way to discover this city is by touring the restaurants and cafes and eating your way round! Coupled with a good Bordeaux wine you can't go wrong.