Capital of Aquitaine, France, Bordeaux is famous 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, with a population of about 660,000 people, including suburbs. It is a very lively place, with large student (Bordeaux Campus is the biggest in France) and foreigner communities.
Bordeaux is a historical city with many tourist attractions. The main districts are briefly presented here, which are listed according to their distance from the railway station.
Bordeaux is considered a very tolerant and relaxed place - no one will bother you about your political beliefs, religion, or sexual orientation. The cultural, artistic, and music scenes are very vibrant.
People from Bordeaux sometimes feel jealous of people from Paris, and the city is often referred to as "Little Paris". This rivalry is a hot subject, so you may experience some heated arguments on the subject (who said "flame wars?") during your stay.
Bordeaux is a huge, flat city, built on the banks of the Garonne River, which merges a dozen kilometers below the city with another river to form the Gironde Estuary, which is biggest estuary of the country.
The city center is located west and south of the river. To the east are a few hills - the only ones in the vicinity. These hills mark the beginning of an industrial zone and suburbs. Because it is a flat city, bicycles make excellent modes of transport, especially as the city has more than 17 km of cycle tracks. Bordeaux is among the most economically buoyant cities in France.
There are no skyscrapers in Bordeaux, just a few tall buildings, which explains its sprawl. The center of the town has retained its traditional stone mansions and smart terraces, which is probably the reason behind the city being called "Little Paris".
Modern buildings can be found to the west (administrative center) and south (university) of the city.
Merignac's airport is located west of the city. It's a regional airport which serves mostly domestic flights. There are international flights as well but Bordeaux is not directly connected to any of the European "hub" airports except Paris (Orly).
A bus runs every 40 minutes to the town center, and makes several stops in the city.
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).
Buses and taxis leave from in front of the station.
You can reach Bordeaux by car from north (taking the A10 highway or N10), south (taking the A63 highway), and east. A beltway goes around the city.
If possible, avoid driving between 8-10 AM and 4-7 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. It is 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 (see below) or 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.
Three efficient tramway lines are also available (A,B and C).
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 :
Tickets can be purchased on 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 TBC agencies (Gare Saint-Jean, Gambetta, Quinconces), to almost any buralist, or at the tourism offices (Quinconces, 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, 4-7 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
The electric bus, called la navette du centre-ville, is the only public transportation on pedestrian roads. There are no bus stops for this one: to board an electric bus, wave your hand to the driver - he will stop the bus and let you on. When you want to go out, just tell the driver.
All the maps, fares and times are on the TBC Web site (in French).
Each district (listed above) has a lot of things to offer:
There are a lot of things to see here in Bordeaux, but also a lot of things to do by yourself !
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".
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.
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.
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 into clothing 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 kinds. 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.