Eight top tips for the perfect Bordeaux break

From discounted tours to alternative culture, here’s our handy guide on everything you need to know about visiting the French city

Enjoy the attractions with CityPass

Consider getting yourself the CityPass for great deals on museum admission, unlimited travel on Bordeaux’s buses, trams and the river shuttle. Once you have the CityPass, it’s free entry to most museums and the Cité du Vin (External link) (before midday), and you also get a guided city tour and big discounts on river cruises and wine tours. The pass is available for 24 hours (€29 per person), 48 hours (€39) and 72 hours (€46), which also includes reductions on châteaux tours in Saint-Émilion and trips to the beach at Arcachon or the Cordouan lighthouse. Visitors can reserve online and collect from Bordeaux’s tourist office, Saint-Jean railway station or local transport agencies.

Hit the museum trail

Visit the new Musée Mer Marine, which opened last summer in Bordeaux’s former docklands, celebrating the city’s links with sea trade and exploration. The museum has more than 10,000 marine objects including suspended scale models, navigation equipment and plenty of multimedia devices for oceanographic fans. To the south of the city, the futuristic-looking Méca arts and culture centre has just opened as part of Bordeaux’s Euratlantique development. Take the lift up to the fifth floor to join one of the visites partagées (shared visits), where expert staff chat to visitors about the contemporary art on display. Farther up the river, next spring, the vast concrete block house built by the Germans during the second world war as a submarine pen, will turn into the Bassins de Lumières, a monumental, immersive light projection experience inside the base’s 12 metre-high chambers. The opening show will feature artists Gustav Klimt and Paul Klee.

Experience alternative culture on the right bank

Way ahead of its time in terms of ecological thinking, organic food and community spirit, the Darwin Ecosysteme is an inspirational alternative place to visit on the city’s right bank. The former military barracks have been converted into a huge hub of “green” activity with the largest organic restaurant in France, as well as a yoga school, skatepark, cycle polo field, beehives, live performance space and recycling projects. Darwin is one of Bordeaux’s most popular sites, a terrific, mind-expanding place to be, complete with a repair workshop, co-working spaces and an organic grocery store, all fired up by renewable energy.

Take the kids

Although Bordeaux is known for its wine and vineyards, it’s still a great place to visit with children. The Cité du Vin has developed a child-friendly tour, incorporating games, quizzes, and an interactive “buffet for the five senses”. The newly refurbished Muséum Bordeaux has a specially-adapted zone for children under six, while for older children there’s a multi-skill skatepark on the left bank in the Chartrons district and another in Darwin across the river. Parents can download a digital geocache game, Terra Aventura, opposite the Cité du Vin in Lormont, which guides children along the river banks in search of tiny creatures called Poï’z, while in the historical centre, they (and their helpful parents) can follow the rallye patrimoine, sur les pistes de Robin, solving riddles and locating sites starting at the Place de la Bourse.

Cruise along the river

There are scores of Garonne river cruises to choose from – CroisiEurope (External link) offers five- to eight-day wine and gourmet tours along the river passing through Blaye and Cadillac – but if you prefer a more sporty option and the chance to be closer to the water, Bordeaux Canoë organises canoe and kayak trips at weekends (and every day in the summer, from April – weather permitting) for anyone over six years old. Paddleboarders can set off with Les Marins de la Lune boating club from the small dock outside Les Chantiers de la Garonne in front of the Darwin Ecosysteme. The Garonne’s browny tinge is caused by floating clay particles meeting salt water from the gulf of Gascony in what is one of Europe’s cleanest rivers.

Get a base in the heart of the action

Stay at the stylish four-star Burdigala hotel on the edge of the historical quarter, the new, luxury Hotel Palais Gallien, or the majestic InterContinental Bordeaux, which overlooks the Place de la Comédie. The Hotel Eklo is a great budget option – a classy take on the youth hostel.

Enjoy the local landscape

Bordeaux has so much to offer, but it’s also the gateway to a stunning coastline and almost 7,000 wine estates. Bordeaux Wine Trip (External link) can give you ideas for vineyard visits, tours and exclusive tastings to any of the five wine routes, which make up France’s largest wine-producing area. And for when you want to leave the wine behind, the favourite resort of the Bordelais is Arcachon, a belle epoque seaside town with wonderful restaurants and the famous Dune du Pilat, Europe’s tallest sand dune. On a spindly headland opposite Arcachon is Cap Ferret, with its oyster beds and lighthouse or, for the more adventurous, the Atlantic surfing beaches of Lacanau and Soulac.

Getting there and getting around

EasyJet has up to three flights a day from London Gatwick with a late afternoon departure, perfect for arriving in time for dinner and a glass of bordeaux. Take the 30’Direct shuttle bus from the airport to the centre (€8 single if you book online), or simply hop on bus Ligne 1 (45 minutes to the centre), which is part of the city’s interconnected bus, tram and Bat3 river shuttle network where all journeys cost just €1.70. Visitors can rent V3 bicycles (pedal power and electric) from 175 stations across the city, and there’s an eco-friendly electric tuk-tuk service too.

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