Inspiration for Two Days in Bordeaux
When it comes to world-famous wine regions, Bordeaux easily makes it into the conversation for wine lovers.* With famous appellations like Saint Emilion, Pomerol, Margaux, and Saint Julien drawing in wine aficionados from around the globe, Bordeaux is a brand in and of itself. If you’re like me, the perception is that staying in the region and enjoying the true essence of the winelands means venturing out into the countryside for your stay. I discounted the city of Bordeaux thinking it would be too big, less character-rich, and generally too bustling to feel like we were in wine country. I was totally wrong. We spent two days in Bordeaux prior to boarding a river cruise down the Garonne, Dordogne, and Gironde and our time in the city wowed me. Bordeaux is active and full of life and character. It’s super clean, easy to navigate on foot, and is home to fabulous wine bars and restaurants to introduce you to culinary highlights. You could easily spend 5 – 7 days based in Bordeaux, using it as a launching point for exploring the Left Bank and Right Bank for wine tastings and chateaux visits. If you’re keen on spending some time in the countryside, I would also consider at least two days in Bordeaux city itself to start to enjoy the buzzy central hub and some of its highlights. Keep reading for things to put on your list while in the city.
Technically, Bordeaux is the city itself while Aquitaine is the greater region, but our thinking and relationship with wines from Bordeaux have taught us to refer to the entire region as ‘Bordeaux’, so let’s just go with that for purposes of talking about Bordeaux as a wine-producing region.
La Cite du Vin
For my fellow wine lovers, a visit to Bordeaux’s Cite du Vin is worthy of a half-day at least so block out your morning and take a jaunt down the riverfront to admire the avant-garde architecture and the inner workings. I’d been eyeballing this museum for years and found the entire production impressive from start to finish. Tickets are about €20pp (a bit more if you want access to the temporary exhibition as well), and entry includes access to the permanent exhibition, which is mind-blowingly extensive and advanced, plus you’ll have a glass of wine at the rooftop bar included as well (options include about 10 different wines; a mix of red and white from regions around the world). If you’re exploring the region more deeply, this is a perfect primer for a deeper understanding and appreciation of Bordeaux’s premier export.
The museum is incredibly interactive and delves into wine from many angles: winemaking, the producers themselves, grapes, wine marketing, wine and food pairings, aromas and sensory experiences around wine, and so much more. I’d allocate at least three hours to wander through and take it all in; more if you’re really wanting to dig into all of the details.
If you’re on the hunt for any obscure wines, don’t miss stopping into the wine shop on-site at the Cite du Vin. We were astounded by how many countries were represented (South Korea, Morocco, Algeria, and Kenya for example) and I was able to find a Croatian wine that I’d fallen in love with while wine tasting on the Peljesac Peninsula that had since eluded me.
Wander Vieux Bordeaux
Vieux Bordeaux, Bordeaux’s Old Town, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and brings a lot of charm and beautiful facades as you wander the central hub. Stroll by Le Grande Théâtre (directly across from the Intercontinental). visit Place des Quinconces, and wander through the city’s famous churches: L’église Notre-Dame de Bordeaux and the iconic Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux which dominates the landscape with its two spires.
If you’re more about city vibes than sightseeing, you’ll be spoiled for choice with outposts for food and drink in the heart of town. As would be expected, the food and wine scene is exceptional with cool wine bars, amazing restaurants (many are great value as well) and some lovely hotels tucked into town. We opted for the Intercontinental Bordeaux which was incredibly well-located and perfect for those who want to explore on foot and have the city at their doorstep.
Sample Wine at Wine Bars
Okay, you’re in Bordeaux, and if you made the journey out here you’re likely into wines so tasting is probably on your agenda! With two days in Bordeaux, we chose two wine bars each night where we could taste prior to dinner and dig a bit deeper into Bordeaux’s wine scene. As far as wine education goes, Le Metropolitain knocked it out of the park for us, tailoring our tasting to our upcoming WSET Level 3 exam and giving us a blind tasting of four wines, all from different appellations in Bordeaux, to better understand how to identify the nuances. You can also have dinner there if you’re inclined but I’d 100% recommend it for a flight at the very least.
Eat Well – Bordelais Style
Can you travel to France and not have your dinners lined up in advance? Bordeaux’s world-class wine focus means that the food follows suit. My biggest surprise? Beyond being exceptional, the food was generally a great value, perhaps partly due to Bordeaux’s university influence. With two days in Bordeaux, we had two dinners pre-booked (I’d advise reservations if you’re visiting during peak times): one at Nama and one at Bouchon Bordelais, both of which were wonderful. For a unique dining option, Nama offers up Japanese-French fusion (more French than Japanese honestly), which focuses on blind tastings for food and wine, encouraging guests to enjoy their food in a thoughtful, sensory way to try and identify the components of what they’re eating and drinking. The concept could easily overshadow the food but it doesn’t: food was wonderful and the wines were off-beat and unique. Our five-course tasting menu was €49 and the pairing was reasonable as well.
Cycle Through Town
If you’re interested in cycling, Bordeaux lends itself beautifully to getting around by bike with bike paths marked along the riverfront and through the parks. The city’s management has really focused on creating an environment focused on wellness and outdoor activity, and it’s something you can see immediately when wandering the waterfront. Organized bike tours are available but you can also rent bikes and explore at leisure within the city center and beyond.
Do a Private Wine Tasting Tour
With just two days in Bordeaux, the city itself has a lot to see and enjoy, including tasting rooms that would get you your fix for wine tasting without having to head further afield. For wine lovers with limited time in the region wanting to head into the vineyards consider a day of wine tasting with a driver and guide. We toured St. Emilion and Pomerol with Emilie from Bordeaux with Elodie and a Medoc tour is also available for those that prefer to tour the Left Bank. In a day, you can enjoy private visits to two wineries, a tasting room in town, plus lunch.
After years of traveling to France on wine tasting adventures and other forays (a few faves: wine tasting in Savennieres, wine tasting in Alsace, champagne tasting during one day in Reims), Bordeaux and Burgundy were at the top of our must-visit regions in France but I’d discounted the cities as too bustling, less traditional, and too disconnected from a wine culture that would be more alive in the surrounding countryside. Bordeaux disproved that for me though. If you have a week in Bordeaux, I’d spend time exploring the chateaux in the countryside and perhaps staying in the quaint towns nearby, but with just two days in Bordeaux, the city offers a ton for explorers and provides a great home base. For those that prefer a single home base for a week of day trips, I’d still easily consider the city of Bordeaux for this with plenty to offer within walking distance in the evenings and day trips easily accessible with private drivers and guides.
Have you been to Bordeaux before? Is it on your list?