Less hectic than Paris but just as beautiful, the French city of Bordeaux is the perfect summer destination. Its cultural and historical significance is enough to keep anyone busy, but add to that the world’s most prestigious vineyards and the proximity of the ocean, and suddenly the possibilities become overwhelming. Fortunately, we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 things to see and do to help with this dilemma.
Place de la Bourse, on the edge of the Garonne river, is doubtlessly the most recognizable sight in Bordeaux. It is where you’ll find the ‘miroir d’eau’, a large shallow pool of water in which children and adults alike dip their toes as they admire the reflection of the Palais de la Bourse, an exemplar of classical French architecture. The square’s impressive symmetry is enhanced by a staggering attention to detail: figures on the buildings represent Roman gods and characters from Bordeaux’s rich merchant history.
The Jardin Public, or ‘public garden’ in English, is a 10-hectare-wide park in the center of Bordeaux. It was inspired by Versailles’s gardens, which give an idea of what a splendid place it is. It is the perfect setting for a picnic on a hot summer day thanks to a large lake in the middle, bringing some very welcome freshness. There’s many a remarkable element to attract visitors: an artificial waterfall, a natural history museum, and original iron railing important enough to have earned the monument historique label.
On a late summer afternoon in Bordeaux, every café, bar, or bistro is full of people of all ages simply enjoying the end of the workday with friends. Joining them and partaking in an apéritif—a savory snack and an alcoholic drink—is a quintessential Southern French experience. It can last for hours and even turn into a light dinner and sometimes a night out. There are many bars, cafés, and restaurants in Bordeaux to have an aperitif; highlights include L’Alchimiste for their great cocktails, and HMS Victory.
Rue Saint-Catherine is Bordeaux’s main shopping street and allegedly Europe’s longest pedestrian shopping street, stretching on for 1.2 kilometer. It is chock full of all sorts of shops with all sorts of price tags: shoppers will find the usual high street brands like Zara and H&M for clothes, Hema for housewares, or Lush for cosmetics, but also independent stores. The few buildings that aren’t shops house restaurants or bars instead. Occasionally the entire street turns into an outdoors market for a few days.
Bordeaux might not be by the ocean, but it’s close enough for a day trip, and the best part is the choice. Arcachon and its four beaches and seven kilometers of fine sand are less than an hour away, and it’s also a great opportunity to see the Dune du Pilat, Europe’s tallest sand dune. If Arcachon doesn’t catch your fancy, Lacanau-Océan, a great location for surfing, is a two hours’ coach journey away, departing from the central Victoire Square. If that seems too far away, there’s always the possibility of swimming at Bordeaux Lac, a lake accessible by tram.
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