Discover how to make the most of your trip to the world capital of wine, Bordeaux, without getting a nasty shock from your bank balance.
The famed wine hub of Bordeaux, France, might not have a reputation as a wallet-friendly destination, but this vibrant southwestern port city and university town has plenty to offer travellers on a budget. If you’re looking to keep your trip economical, use this guide to get the most out of Bordeaux without feeling like you’ve missed out on anything – expect self-guided walking tours, sensational street food and open-air art.
DIY walking tour
Bordeaux is a city rich with history, and is the world’s largest UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nonetheless, the city is totally walkable – ideal for crafting your own self-guided walking tour. Many key landmarks can be visited for free, so be sure to fit them into your itinerary: Pont de Pierre, an iconic stone bridge, and the first to cross the Garonne River at Bordeaux; Place des Quinconces and the Chartrons District, a former centre for wine merchants turned flourishing scene for antique shops/art galleries; Palais Gallien (ruins of a 3rd-century Roman amphitheatre); the Grand Theatre of Bordeaux, a Neoclassical architectural masterpiece that has hosted many famous artists; Bordeaux Cathedral; Cailhau Gate, a castle-like structure built in 1495; and Aquitaine Gate, a historic defensive archway.
If you prefer a guide, free walking tours are available daily, departing at 10am and 6pm from the Place des Quinconces. Guides will be holding turquoise umbrellas at the top of the stairs of the Monument aux Girondins.
Go for a sunset walk along les quais
These beautiful paths can be found along the Garonne River, which runs through the city and out into the surrounding countryside. Don’t miss the Place de la Bourse, now famous for its distinctive Miroir d’Eau in front of the square, which is the world’s largest reflecting pool at 3,450 square metres (37,000 square feet).
Picnic (or party) in the park
The Jardin Public is a lovely setting for a wine and cheese picnic. It features an arboretum, a lake and plenty of open green space. All summer long, the park plays host to a Sunday event series called Bordeaux Open Air, which features free electronic music and a large variety of artistic and cultural activities.
Hit the flea and antique market of Saint Michel
This brocante, or flea market, on the Quai des Salinières is a fun place to stroll around and discover antiques, old vinyls, funky French furniture, unusual tapestries and other unexpected items. The best day to visit the bustling market is Sunday.
Sleep in an urban refuge
The Refuges Périurbains are unique architectural spaces and offer free one-night-only overnight stays. Each one has a completely original design: for example, “the prism” is a triangular lakeside glass house and “the orbital station” is a mystifying labyrinth of cubic rooms. They book out quickly so be sure to reserve in advance.
Visit a museum at a discount price
Bordeaux has a plethora of both traditional and unusual museums. Fortunately, many museums offer discounts for the budget traveller (check each museum’s website for discounts that apply to you). You can also buy a Bordeaux City Pass to freely use public transportation and receive special access to museums. The pass is valid for up to three days and costs between €29–43 (£25–37).
Don’t miss the popular Cité du Vin, an innovative new museum and cultural space dedicated to wine cultures around the world. Its breathtaking modern design was inspired by wine swirling in a glass, and you can even taste some yourself while enjoying a panoramic view of the city at the in-house tasting bar. The ticket price is a bit steep, but you get free entry with the Bordeaux City Pass.
Many museums also offer free entry the first Sunday of every month, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of Bordeaux – Science and Nature, and the Aquitaine Museum.
Go to the movies
Utopia is an artsy theatre in a carefully preserved abbey that features a rotating slate of quirky and independent films. A typical ticket costs only €7 (£6), though there are occasional viewings and festivals that cost less.
Crash a culture complex
Housed in former military barracks, Darwin is a vibrant urban art space that plays host to all kinds of activities and cultural events. It features a free space for graffiti artists, an urban farm, a skate park, a dining hall, organic shopping and more. All of the open-air art is free to view.
Marché des Capucins
This covered market (known as the “Belly of Bordeaux”) puts a modern spin on a traditional French market. Stop by for lunch to sample all kinds of classic local cuisine or gather picnic supplies.
L’Autre Petit Bois
This cute little bistro is an ideal place to enjoy a glass of wine and an upscale – yet affordable – French dish in a magical indoor garden setting. A stone arch greets you as you step inside the cosy interior filled with mismatched furniture and wooden tables. Salads, tartines and cassolettes (baked casseroles) all cost less than €10 (£8.70).
This traditional brasserie boasts sumptuous food at reasonable prices. On a nice day, enjoy the outdoor terrace that overlooks the beautiful Basilica of Saint Michel. For less than €20 (£17.50), you can indulge in a local delicacy (try the duck breast), fries, a salad and a glass of wine.
La Boca FoodCourt
This funky food court features 13 independent and local restaurateurs that specialise in cuisines including: pizza, burgers, seafood, Spanish tapas and even Mexican street food. There’s also a self-service beer wall and a cool cocktail bar, plus weekly live music, DJ sets and happy hour deals.
Bordeaux’s most precious product is, of course, wine. To obtain the region’s liquid gold at a fair price, wine bars are the way to go. Here are a few to check out, which serve local glasses for less than €5 (£4.35): Wine More Time, Au Bon Jaja and Oenolimit.
If you’re just looking for cheap brews, don’t miss happy hour at this hip bar. From 4–7:30pm, a pint of the Rockwood lager is less than €4 (£3.50). It can also be the start of a beer-centric pub crawl: head to the nearby Cock and Bull, El Sitio and Central Hostel, which serve happy hour pints for less than €5 (£4.35).
This innovative seasonal space provides a unique atmosphere for live music. A big tree-filled terrace overlooks the Garonne River, and concert fees range from €6–8 euros (£5.25–7). With multiple dining and drinking options, this is the perfect place to enjoy a summer night under colourful lights.
This popular dance bar is a hotspot for enjoying drinks, games and DJ sets with Bordeaux’s trendiest young crowd. They also host an awesome €5 (£4.35) mojito happy hour from 6pm to 9pm.
The TBM Network
One of the best aspects of exploring Bordeaux is that public transportation – known as the TBM Network – is cheap and easily navigable. The same ticket can be used for trams, buses and ferries, and costs less than €2 (£1.75) per trip. You can also buy ticket packages to save a few euros – a 24-hour pass only costs €5 (£4.35).
Trams and buses
There are three tram lines with hundreds of stops throughout the city, and 78 daytime and nighttime bus routes available for getting around.
The Bat³ river shuttle is a fun way to get around, offering a fresh perspective on the city from the water. These ferries run from five piers along the Garonne River, including at La Cité Du Vin, and connect to a number of other modes of transportation.
Known as V3, Bordeaux’s self-service bike-sharing system is a fun way to explore the city on two wheels. There are 179 stations throughout the city, with more than 2,000 regular and electric bikes available for use. A 24-hour pass costs less than €2 (£1.75).