Bordeaux is most famously known as the capital of wine. It is a city located in the West of France by the Garonne. The wine from this region has a long history – production began in the 8th century and as such the wine economy plays a large role within Bordeaux.
Apart from its importance as a wine industry location, it also has a huge number of historical buildings – more than any other French city except for Paris!
In this city guide of Bordeaux I will give you an extensive insight into the must-sees of the city.
Let us start with the Pey Berland Tower located right next to the impressive Saint-André Cathedral and close to the Town Hall. The monument belongs to the cathedral but was constructed as a detached element standing closeby the cathedral. This bell tower stems from the 15th century and was detached from the cathedral to ensure the ringing of the bell would not endanger the structure and stability of Saint-André Cathedral.
You can visit the tower to enjoy a view of the city, but only a limited number of people is allowed to climb up the tower at the same time as it is quite narrow. Thus you are likely to encounter a queue before entering.
Officially referred to as the Cathedral of Saint Andrew of Bordeaux, the Roman Catholic cathedral is located on the Square of Pey Berland. Most of the current cathedral was constructed in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Previously a much older edifice has existed in the same place. For instance, Louis the 7th married his wife Elanor of Aquitaine in 1137 in this place.
Right next to the Saint-André Cathedral you will find Bordeaux’s historic town hall. The town hall, which is also known as the Palais Rohan, also houses the Museum of Fine Arts and a lush green garden in the back.
The Palais Rohan was completed in 1784 and used to be the Archbishop’s Palace. Due to its destruction in the Second World War it had to be completely rebuild.
Another beautiful and historic site in Bordeaux is the Grand Théâtre which is in close proximity to the Quai Louis XVIII. The theatre comes with a neo-classical facade. Its 12 Corinthian colossal columns represent three goddesses (Juno, Venus and Minervaa) as well as nine Muses.
Victor Louis was the great architect to have designed the theatre. He was later also involved in the design of the Palais Royal in Paris. Moreover, Bordeaux’s theatre staircase served as a model for the grand staircase of the famous Opera Garnier in Paris.
The Bordeaux theatre has a rich history. It once served as the National Assembly for the French Parliament and is one of Europe’s eldest wooden frame opera houses not requiring reconstruction due to fire damages.
If you follow the Place de la Comédie from the Grand Theatre of Bordeaux you will soon reach the Girondins Monument. It is located at the Square of Quinconces and was built between 1894 and 1902 to honour the Girondin deputies who fell victim to the Terror.
The Girondins were a loosely connected group of individuals during the French Revolution who were active in the Legislative Assembly. In the beginning they joined the more radical Montagnards in the Jacobin movement encouraging the end of monarchy. When they later opposed the events of the Revolution, a conflict erupted between the two groups causing a purge against the Girondins and thus launching the so-called Reign of Terror. The Girondins Monument thus serves to create a memory of this bloodly historical event.
During our visit of Bordeaux there was a big fair with lots of fun rides and stalls.
From the Girondins Monument you can walk along the quayside to reach the stunning Place de la Bourse. This is a very popular square and of the most well-known sights in Bordeaux.
The buildings surrounding the square are representative of classical French architecture from the 18th century. They include the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Bordeaux and the Interregional Directorate of Customs and Indirect Rights.
The Place de la Bourse is, however, most famously know for its Water Mirror. The Water Mirror in Bordeaux is the largest reflecting pool in the world and usually is situated right in front of the Place de la Bourse. During winter time, however, there is no water in the granite slabs. During summer time the 2cm high “pool” creates a misty fog every fifteen minutes which is supposed to create nice photographic effects!
From the Place de la Bourse you can walk along the Garonne towards the Pont de Pierre (Stone Bridge). The stone bridge is the first bridge to cross the Garonne in Bordeaux. It was designed during the First French Empire according to Napoleon I’s ideas. This also expains the meaning of the 17 arches as each stands for a letter of his name Napoleon Bonaparte. Until 1965, it was the only bridge in Bordeaux.
Along the way to the Pont de Pierre, you will also be able to see the Porte Cailhau, a thirty-five metre tall gate that was integrated into Bordeaux’s city wall. The gate dates back to 1494 and offers magnificient views over the Garonne and the stone bridge
At the foot of the Pont de Pierre you will find Bordeaux’s Arc de Triomphe: the Porte de Bourgogne.
This Great Bell of Bordeaux rings on six special occasions including Bastille Day and Remembrance Day as well as one every first Sunday.
But the Great Bell, does not only have a celebratory role – the gateway where it is located used to serve as a defense and as a prison for those disresprecting the curfew.
As you can see in this extensive City Guide of Bordeaux, there are many things to see. Most highlights are located along the Garonne River. Overall, we very much enjoyed the beauty of the historic monuments – but we didn’t get to check out any vineyards in the Bordeaux region so we definitely have to come back to see more of this wine paradise!
Do you have any questions about Bordeaux? Feel free to ask or share your impressions in the comments!