Capital of Aquitaine, Bordeaux is mostly known for its various wines, which are considered among the best in the world. However, it is also a very nice place to visit... For other reasons. The city itself is one of the 5 biggest cities in France, gathering about 660,000 people, counting the surroundings. It is a very lively place, with a lot of students (Bordeaux Campus is the biggest in France) and big foreigners communities.
Bordeaux is a huge city, with really an awful lot of things to see. The main districts are briefly presented here. The districts are presented here by distance to the railway station.
Bordeaux is considered as a very tolerant place, no one there will bother you about your political beliefs, religion, or sexual orientation. The cultural, artistic, and musical local scenes are very active.
People from Bordeaux sometimes feel, for some reason, jealous of people from Paris - Bordeaux has this nickname of "Little Paris", so if you go around and meet locals, you will find sometimes heated arguments (who said "flame wars" ?) on that topic.
Football (soccer) is a very popular sport in Bordeaux, as the F.C. Girondins, the football club, is one of the best in France (avoid talking football in the city, it's another sensitive subject).
If you are a sport-lover, Bordeaux is a very nice city for practicing roller-skating (or roller-blading) and other "skating sports".
A bit about geography now. Bordeaux is a huge and flat city, surrounding the end of a river, the Garonne, which merges a dozen kilometers below the city with another river to form the Gironde, the biggest estuary of the country.
The ocean is around 60 kilometers west.
The city center is located west and south of the river. To the east are the few and only hills of Bordeaux, delimitating the beginning of an industrial zone and suburbs. A good, although not extensively used, means of transportation is the bicycle: with a total 17 km of bike tracks, Bordeaux is among the best performers in France.
There are no skyscrapers in Bordeaux, just a few tall buildings, which explains it is very extended in space. The center of the town is mostly made of nice-looking stone mansions, which are probably the reason of the city nickname "Little Paris".
Modern buildings can be found west (administrative center) and south (university) of the city.
As a big city, Bordeaux is reachable by several means.
Merignac's airport is located west of the city, with domestic as well as international flights. There are several flights a day to and from Paris.
A bus will take travellers to the town center, and makes several stops in the city. There's one of those every 40 minutes.
The train station is located in the town center. Several trains per day (around one every two hours) go north (to Paris, Angoulème, Poitiers), south (to Toulouse, Marseille, up to Nice), and east (to Périgueux and Clermont-Ferrand).
You can take a bus or a taxi in front of the station.
You can reach Bordeaux by car from north (taking A10 highway or N10), south (taking A63 highway), and east. A beltway goes around the city.
If possible, try to avoid hours as 08-10 AM and 04-07 PM, as the beltway is usually overcrowded.
The bus station is located just in front of the train station, in the center of the town. Eurolines provide bus service to the city.
Bordeaux is quite a big city, however most of the interesting attractions are in the town center. I do not recommend anyone to use a car to get around, as it is always a hassle to park it (and car parks are expensive) and there are often traffic jams in the small, old streets of the city.
If you can, use your feet and walk. As most of the town center is a pedestrian area, this is a good idea anyway. If you like sports, you can rent roller-skates (or a bike) or use your own. Else you can make your way in town using the various bus lines. A small ferry boat permits to go from the western shore of the river to the eastern shore, and vice-versa.
Right now, two tramway lines are on the work, and should be finished around by the end of 2004. The bus network will then be reorganized, and as there are a lot of roadworks anyway, the bus courses change often.
Bike and rollerblade rental
It is possible to rent roller-skates at a small sport-shop called "Pierre Qui Roule", situated on the western side of Place Gambetta, north of the pedestrian area.
The bus network is organized around three main places, where it is possible to take buses to almost every destination in the city :
You can buy bus tickets in the bus, however that's expensive and you cannot change buses with the ticket you get. The best thing is to buy tickets either to the CGFTE agencies (Gare Saint-Jean or Gambetta), to almost any buralist, or at the tourism offices (there's one at the Gare Saint-Jean).
A 10-course ticket will cost 8.60 euros. Each course comprises up to 4 bus changes within one hour. You have also the possibility to buy tickets that will enable you to access freely the bus network for one to six days - those tickets cost from 3.75 up to 11.80 euros. Students and elderly persons can buy tickets at a reduced price.
One peculiarity of Bordeaux buses is that you can get in the bus using whatever bus door you want - use the automatic machines to perforate your ticket, thus validating your course. Don't try to cheat - fines are high.
Avoid the buses on peak hours (8-10 AM, 16-19 PM), as the town center is usually totally jammed (and cars often block bus tracks), and buses overcrowded.
Le Bus du Fleuve, as it is called, links the western part of the city and the eastern part of the city by a small cruise on the river. It is managed by the CGFTE, and thus you can get in the boat using a standard bus ticket.
The bus goes from the Southern part of Quai Richelieu, and to the Place Aristide Briand, very close to the Aquitaine Bridge (one of the must-see in Bordeaux).
Electric bus and tramway
There exist an electric bus, called la navette du centre-ville, which has the specificity of going through the pedestrian roads. There are no bus stops for this one : if you see one of those buses (small, silent ones), wave your hand to the driver - he will stop the bus and let you in. As for the ferry boat, you can use standard bus tickets in thosw. When you want to go out, just tell the driver.
All the maps, fares and times are on the CGFTE Web site (in French).
Each district (listed above) has a lot of things to offer, please consider taking a look at each. However, here are listed the main attraction of each district :
There are a lot of things to see here in Bordeaux, but also a lot of things to do by yourself !
In Bordeaux, you can learn about pretty everything you want - if you want to learn a bit about French culture by yourself, consider visiting cinemas such as L'Utopia or going to the city library in Meriadeck.
The University, located a few kilometers south of town offers a wide variety of courses, from science to humanities, from beginner classes to high-level research. The laboratories are among the best in France. It should be possible to take French courses there in the summer, with Erasmus students.
For European people coming from a EEC country, working in France is allowed without problem, and working in Bordeaux is possible. If you're from outside EU, you will probably need a working permit - check with the French Embassy of your country. Depending on your qualifications, you can find a lot of different jobs in the city.
If you want to earn money to continue traveling, Interim agencies (a lot of them are close to Meriadeck) are a good source of short-time jobs. You can also consider working in bars, restaurants, and/or nightclubs (they are often looking for English-speaking workers, peculiary those restaurants in the touristic area - Mac Donald's and Quick are also always looking for people).
A lot of "student jobs" are also available for the youngest among you travelers, and foreigners are often really welcome - it can be, for example, giving private courses of English, or taking care of young children, or many other things... The CROUS, located north-east of La Victoire, is a precious ally in your quest.
Don't forget being an English speaker is a big advantage when you're looking for a job - French employers really have a problem of finding English-speaking workers. However, note it will be much easier for you if you know a bit of French, for the same reason (your colleagues are not likely to speak English).
The French work market works a lot with contacts - if you know someone that works somewhere, you can probably figure out quite an easy way to work at that place too. It is nice to know people living in Bordeaux, who can help you out.
Bordeaux has made its wealth out of trade, and the local economic system relies much on shops and trading halls. The Pedestrian Center is basically full of shops of all kinds, from clothes to art, craftworks, food and wine... If you're looking for luxury items, try to go to Gambetta square and in the surroundings.
What kind of souvenirs are interesting to bring back from Bordeaux ? Well, Bordeaux is the capital of wine, so buying some wine can be a good idea... Local pastries, such as "cannelés", are worth buying too, if you're close to the end of your trip (buy them just before you go, they should be good for two days after you buy them).
If you're in fashion, you will find several shops to buy very nice and trendy clothes (and they are less expensive than in Paris...).
And if culture interests you, don't hesitate to buy some local music - Bordeaux groups are really cool ! There are also a lot of artists who sell stunning artworks.
As mentioned before, Bordeaux is known for its wine, and has also a lot of local pastries that you cannot find elsewhere in France (if not in the world). The canneleés are only the most known example of such a pastry.
Gastronomy has a very important place in the city, which is full of restaurants of all kind. French restaurants provide dishes from almost every part of the country, and there are a lot of Asian, African or Arabian restaurants.
Bordeaux is lively during the day, and is still lively during the night. If you're looking for a bar, whether to hang out with friends or to enjoy a retransmission of a local football match, head for La Victoire, as most of the pubs and bars of the town are here. Virtually, all the shops in the surroundings of this area are bars, and you'll be likely to find one suiting your needs.
If you prefer dancing or clubbing, most of the night-clubs are on the Quais, close to the train station. From rock to disco, dance to techno, you also have a lot of choice.
One piece of advice regarding as well bars and clubs : the entrance is free (most of the time), but do not get there drunk. The crew won't let you in (and anyway drinks inside are not so expensive...).
Most tourists hotels are close to the railway station (that is, close to the Quais). There are some luxury hotels close to Gambetta square and Quinconces square, which are really nice (and really expensive).
Bordeaux has a recently-built youth hostel, close to the railway station, which can be worth a visit for a few nights - remember to book in advance.
Bordeaux is covered by the three major telecommunication operators in France : France Telecom (Orange), Bouygues, and SFR. If you have a GSM cellphone with an international subscription, you should be able to give calls from anywhere in the city. It is also possible to find phone cabins, but some have been removed recently due to their decreased usage.
As for Internet access, there are a few cybercafes in the pedestrian center, which are not expensive (from 2 to 4 euros per hour).
Bordeaux is not a city known for insecurity, and if you respect some simple rules, you shouldn't have any problems.
There are a lot of interesting things to see close to Bordeaux. To the west, there is the Médoc region, where most of the Bordeaux wine is produced, with wine producers mansions, some of which are very old and well-known worldwide. A lot of wine producers organize visits of their installations, with tastings of their products.
Even more to the west, you will end up at the Atlantic ocean - there are a lot of very nice-looking little towns close to the sea. The Ourtins' Lake, the biggest non-salted water lake in France, is located there. In summer, it's a paradise to go swimming or biking in the pine-tree woods of that area.
South of this area, you will get to the very touristic city of Arcachon, which can be worth a visit too.
To reach those places, you can use either the regional railways (TER) or inter-city bus lines (which often go where trains do not).
There are a lot of bike paths that leave Bordeaux and go west in the Médoc ; the ocean is at around 60 kilometers and can be reached quite easily by bike.