Best Bordeaux travel itinerary: three days in Bordeaux

Hi France Travel Planners. I’ve been fortunate to have visited Bordeaux twice in the last 5 years, but this is the first Bordeaux travel itinerary I have published. Our first trip in 2019 was a Bordeaux 2 day itinerary with MissG. On our most recent visit to Bordeaux Mr FranceTravelPlanning and I were fortunate to enjoy a Bordeaux river cruise as well as some extra days in Bordeaux itself . Taking the best of both of our visits I have crafted an itinerary for three days in Bordeaux and the surrounding area, along with some options for longer stays and different interests. This Bordeaux 3 day itinerary is based around three full days in Bordeaux, but can be easily amended to accommodate a shorter stay.

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Bordeaux travel itinerary day 1

Enjoying central Bordeaux

Our Bordeaux travel itinerary kicks off with a day in central Bordeaux. A compact city of around 250 000 people Bordeaux is easy to negotiate either by foot or by the excellent local tram system. The main areas of interest to visitors are all on the left bank of the Garonne River if you check a Bordeaux city centre map.

I always recommend a walk in a new city, and Bordeaux is very walkable. Checking your map, leave your Bordeaux accommodation and make sure you include the following on your Bordeaux city walk:

Capucins market this spacious covered market features a range of local delicacies and includes numerous stalls where meals are served. This is an excellent, budget friendly way to try some of the famous Arcachon oysters if you don’t have time to make a day trip to Arcachon from Bordeaux – there are multiple seafood stalls that will open them to order for you to feast on in the market.

Rue Catherine – the longest pedestrian shopping mall in Europe (yes really!) rue Catherine is easy to wander along. You can either begin or end your tour of the Capucins market at rue Catherine as the eastern end of the street is close by.

Grosse Cloche – the Grosse Cloche is a famous landmark in Bordeaux. Dating to the 15th century it is the belfry of the old townhall, and is quite charming. The old streets around the Grosse Cloche are also well worth a wander with pretty shops and fun eateries.

Best Bordeaux travel itinerary: three days in Bordeaux Grosse Cloche Bordeaux France

Jardin Publique – I love public gardens in France. They are always pretty, interesting and filled with the French out and about. The Bordeaux Jardin Publique is an absolute winner, and is one of the best things to do in Bordeaux with kids. There is a little lake which even has a cute ferry that cruises around it as well as an excellent playground. When we visited on a warm September Saturday morning there were Mamans and Papas everywhere with their little ones – on bikes, in strollers and walking while groups of friends picnicked on the grass. It was definitely the place to be on a Saturday morning in Bordeaux.

Best Bordeaux travel itinerary: three days in Bordeaux. Woman dressed in white in the Public Gardens Bordeaux France

Place de la Bourse and the Miroir d’Eau – probably the most photographed site in Bordeaux, the Place de la Bourse and the Miroir d’Eau are popular for a reason. The shallow pool really does create a mirror like appearance – when it’s not full of the young and young at heart splashing around in it. It’s a great place to let your kids run around and get wet, and is very, very photogenic….

Best Bordeaux travel itinerary: three days in Bordeaux Place de la Bourse and Miroir d'Eau in Bordeaux

Tucked in behind the Place de la Bourse is another square with plenty of eating options. The streets in the surrounding area are also fun to wander through and choose somewhere casual to dine.

The Quais de Bordeaux – a wide quai that runs along the side of the Garonne River, the Quais de Bordeaux makes a lovely place to stroll. Admire the Pont Pierre bridge built by Napoleon as well as the super modern Pont Jacques Chaban Delmas which has a deck that stays parallel when it lifts to allow shipping through. In the day time join the locals by hiring a bike for a leisurely ride. In the evening enjoy the lights of the city and the buzz of the Bord’eau Village for a casual meal or cocktail. Our river cruise ship was docked there and we loved walking along it.

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Three days in Bordeaux day 2

Learn about wine in Bordeaux

For many people, the point of going to Bordeaux is the wine. And rightly so. Bordeaux is famous for its wines – mainly its cabernet and merlot based reds, although it also produces whites (including the most famous French dessert wine, Sauternes), rosés and sparklings. The Cité du Vins in central Bordeaux (just down from the Pont Jacques Chaban Delmas) is the best place to learn about wine in Bordeaux.

Best Bordeaux travel itinerary: three days in Bordeaux exterior of the Cite du Vin Bordeaux
The impressive exterior of the Cite du Vin – you certainly can’t miss where it is!

I must admit when we visited the Cité du Vin I did so out of a sense of duty, but honestly, both Mr Francetravelplanning and I thought it was one of the best things to do in Bordeaux. Surprisingly, it is one of the best things to do with children in Bordeaux – really.

The Cité du Vin is a vast modern museum dedicated to the production of wine, not just in Bordeaux, but also around the world. It is very easy to wander around, and is also easily managed by less mobile visitors, or with a stroller. What we really loved about the Cité du Vin was the range of different interactive ways to learn about wine and wine making. Both young and the young at heart will love the display of different aromas to develop our French wine “nose” and learn about the different aromas that make up the bouquet of a wine in particular.

Best Bordeaux travel itinerary: three days in Bordeaux woman smelling different aromas of wine at the Cite du Vin Bordeaux France
Trying the different aromas that make up the bouquet of a wine is fun for kids of all ages

Of course, it’s all well and good to learn about wine and wine making, but most of us want to taste the wine don’t we? Never fear, your entry ticket includes a tasting at the end of your tour. And what a place to taste – the very top of the Cité du Vin with a 360 degree view of Bordeaux. The wines on offer include an extensive range of wines from around the world, both old and new world choices – Mr Francetravelplanning and I were spoiled for choice but decided to go what was best described as traditional with a twist. Yes, we went for a Bordeaux, but rather than a classic red, we went for a rosé and a sparkling (NOT champagne, because it was not produced in Champagne, but sparkling none the less). And both were a success.

Best Bordeaux travel itinerary: three days in Bordeaux tasting glass of rosé wine at the Cité du Vin Bordeaux France

Each adult (18 years and over) will receive a tasting with your entry. Serves are quite generous, so Mr Francetravelplanning and I chose two different wines and shared them – so we each got to taste both wines.

France Travel Planning tip

If you are planning a trip to the Cité du Vin do allow at least two hours plus travel time (it is easily accessed via the simple to use tram system that crosses the city if you don’t wish to walk).

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Visit a World War II submarine station reborn

Within easy walking distance of the Cité du Vin is my pick for where to spend the next part of your day (although you can also start here and then move onto the Cité du Vin quite easily if you prefer).

The Bassins des Lumières is the sister multimedia attraction of the Paris based Ateliers des Lumières and the Carrières des Lumières in Les Baux. I’ve written before about the Ateliers des Lumières in Paris and was thrilled to have the option to visit a different experience in a different location.

The Bassins des Lumières is located in an old disused Nazi submarine station. It was quite fascinating to enter what looked somewhat like a concrete bunker, but water filled where the submarines used to be docked. While there is seating, as with the Ateliers des Lumières in Paris, the multimedia display is best experienced by wandering around different vantage points as the show unfolds.

Best Bordeaux travel itinerary: three days in Bordeaux. Interior of the Bassins des Lumieres
Images reflecting off the water

The show we experienced was the art of Salvador Dali, the quirky Spanish surrealist. As always, the Bassins des Lumières really did bring the art to life and while he will never be my favorite artist, I find a new appreciation of Dali’s work in the Bassins. What made the Bassins des Lumières quite unique was how the water was incorporated into the show and how the images reflected and danced in the water.

All the watery areas are securely fenced, making the Bassins des Lumières an excellent activity in Bordeaux for families. Everything is flat and even, so it is also great for strollers and less mobile visitors. The show runs on a continuous loop and takes around an hour. Shows do change annually so when you visit you may find a completely different immersive experience to enjoy.

Best Bordeaux travel itinerary: three days in Bordeaux
Even if you aren’t a fan of Dali, the experience is amazing

After your visit to the Bassins des Lumières and the Cité du Vin stop by the nearby Les Halles de Bacalan, a reborn market that offers stalls selling drinks and light meals.

You can book the Bassins des Lumières here:

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Three days in Bordeaux itinerary: a memorable day trip from Bordeaux

After two days in Bordeaux, it’s time to venture out of the city and into the surrounding area.

Day trip to St Emilion from Bordeaux

Going by the number of visitors when we were there, I suspect St Emilion is the most popular day trip from Bordeaux. While we visited St Emilion on our river cruise, St Emilion is easily reached from central Bordeaux by local train (it takes around 30mins). The station is around a 20min walk from the historic centre of the town, so you may also consider a day tour of St Emilion from Bordeaux.

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St Emilion is very hilly. Many streets are very steep, and the cobblestones are rough and extremely uneven in parts. If you are less mobile or are travelling with small children, you may prefer to use the little tourist train to minimise the amount of walking you need to do. If you are planning on walking around St Emilion, do make sure you wear solid walking shoes – leave the heels or pretty little sandals for another time.

France Travel Planning Travel Tip

St Emilion is an excellent place to do some Bordeaux wine tasting – multiple wine shops offer tastings (priced by glass), and of course they will arrange shipping should you choose a little something to enjoy at home. But there is far more to St Emilion that wine tasting…….

Macarons are a traditional St Emilion sweet treat – but quite different to the sandwiched flavoured macarons found elsewhere in France. A chewy biscuit, they are a great local treat to enjoy if you are not into wine, or have young ones in tow. While they are available throughout the town (and in Bordeaux itself), the original macarons are available at Macarons de Saint-Emilion on rue Guadet.

Apart from the wine, and steep laneways, the most popular place to visit in St Emilion is the Monolithic Church of St Emilion. Dating to the 12 century it is an underground church carved out of a limestone cliff. Unless you are on a guided tour from Bordeaux with an accredited guide you must book a guided tour from the St Emilion Tourism Office. It is forbidden to take photos inside the church. Again there are steep stairs at the entrance and exit. The interior is very spacious but very austere. It reminded me a bit of the grotto style churches found in Greece.

Best Bordeaux travel itinerary: three days in Bordeaux. Entrance to the grotto church in St Emilion France
The only photo you can get is of the entrance

For the best view of St Emilion head to the square just across from the tourist office.

Best Bordeaux travel itinerary: three days in Bordeaux. View across the rooftops of St Emilion France

The Cloître des Cordeliers is a restored convent, whose cloisters are home to a number little cafés and an excellent gelato shop (as we discovered). There is also a spacious, 2 level souvenir shop which offers wine tasting classes and has some really interesting ideas for gifts.

Best Bordeaux travel itinerary: three days in Bordeaux. Cloisters in St Emilion France

Day trip to Arcachon from Bordeaux

The Atlantic coast of France is quite different to the Mediterranean, so Mr Francetravelplanning and I were thrilled to have the opportunity to visit Arcachon and experience an authentic French beach resort town on the Atlantic. Famous for its oysters, Arcachon is also popular with Parisians due to its easy train access from Paris.

While it was a bit cloudy the day we visited, we thoroughly enjoyed our Sunday morning in Arcachon.

There were some excellent shops in the streets surrounding the market, as well as an interesting range of stalls in the market itself. The square in front of the covered market was filled to the brim with stalls, as well as numerous cafés. Despite it being Sunday morning, oysters were a popular menu item in the cafés, and were also available from market stalls.

Best Bordeaux travel itinerary: three days in Bordeaux. White plate with two Arcachon oysters and lemon wedge
Tasting Arcachon oysters – personally I found them a little salty for my taste

We also enjoyed wandering the backstreets of Arcachon and admiring the traditional nineteenth century architecture, which was quite distinctive.

Arcachon is on a bay rather than directly on the Atlantic Ocean. This makes it an excellent location for a beach day if you are travelling with children, or are not a strong swimmer. The sandy beach is also rather attractive (and easy to sit on). Little ferries run tours of Arcachon Bay if swimming is not on your agenda.

France Travel Planning travel tip

Not far from Arcachon the famous dune du Pilat is an enormous sand dune (that, yes, you can slide down).

It is also possible to book a day tour from Bordeaux that takes in Arcachon and the Dune du Pilat, and includes a visit to an oyster farm.

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Bordeaux wine tasting day trip

For many Bordeaux visitors a trip from Bordeaux into the villages is a popular day trip from Bordeaux. There are numerous appellations in the wine growing areas surrounding Bordeaux – rather conveniently named after the villages they surround.

Best Bordeaux travel itinerary: three days in Bordeaux view of village and chateau from a vineyard in Bordeaux

Public transport is very limited from Bordeaux into the smaller villages, so your best bet is either to hire a car, or book a tour or driver.

As you travel around the surrounding area, do keep an eye out for the numerous stunning châteaux that dot the countryside.

France Travel Planning travel tip
Best Bordeaux travel itinerary: three days in Bordeaux. Traditional French chateau with pepper pot turrets
A random chateau snapped from our tour bus, with classic “pepper pot” turrets

Being on a river cruise we had the opportunity to visit a number of wineries, and of course, do a little tasting…..

Different appellations specialise in different styles of wine, made with different grapes, so here is a brief summary to help you decide which appellation will suit you best:

The Left Bank areas of the Médoc and Graves are located on the western side of the Garonne River. Cabernet sauvignon features heavily in the red wines. The famous Sauternes dessert wine (white) comes from the southern part of the Left Bank in the Sauternais region. In the Médoc try Saint-Estephe, Pauillac, Sainte-Julien or Margaux. In Graves, look out for Pessac and Graves.

Best Bordeaux travel itinerary: three days in Bordeaux wine tasting room with bottles of wine open to taste
Tasting Sauternes and Barssac in Bordeaux

The Entre-Deux-Mers (the area between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers) produce a well priced range of high quality red wines, often at a better price than their more famous neighbours. Look out for Côtes de Bordeaux and Castillon (the latter is on the border of Libournais on the Right Bank).

The Right Bank, located on the eastern side of the Dordogne River is where you find merlot based reds. Popular appellations include Pomerol, Saint-Emilion, and just to be confusing, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux.

Further north it is possible to visit a Cognac distillery in the Cognac region. We were able to visit Remy Martin and enjoyed learning about Cognac production. We also enjoyed our tasting at the end, including a light and refreshing cocktail made with Cognac.

Best Bordeaux travel itinerary: three days in Bordeaux. Rows of wine barrels in a cellar in Bordeaux

Plan and book your Bordeaux wine tasting day trip

Compare and book a rental car here

Book wine tastings at individual Bordeaux châteaux here >>

Book Bordeaux region wine tours here >>

Book Cognac distillery visits here >>

Where to stay in Bordeaux

On both our stays in Bordeaux we thoroughly enjoyed our accommodation at the L’Hotel Particulier Bordeaux. It is very well situated near the Cathedral and is exceptionally well appointed and comfortable. Rooms are spacious. Use this link to book the property as there is another property near the railway station with a very similar name. This accommodation is extremely popular, so do book well in advance. Book the L’Hotel Particulier Bordeaux here >>

Other recommended Bordeaux accommodation includes:

The Hotel Intercontinental – luxurious and well located. Book the Hotel Intercontinental here >>

Best Western Premier Bordeaux Central – well located near the public garden and just tucked in behind the Place de la Bourse. Book the Best Western Premier Bordeaux Central here >>

Hotel des 4 Soeurs – a little three star cutie in a perfect location. Book the Hotel des 4 Soeurs here >>

It is also possible to sleep among the vineyards in a château:

Les Sources de Caudalie – located within the vines of Château Smith Haut Lafitte, and yes, it is the Caudelie that makes the skin care products using wine. A premium option that you can book here >>

Château Croix de Labrie – offers two rooms on the outskirts of St Emilion. The owners offer tours of the winery and the château as well as tastings. Book this accommodation here >>

Château Pierre de Montignac – a simpler more cost effective option. Book here >>

Bordeaux itinerary 3 days final thoughts

Whether you have three days in Bordeaux, or a different length of time, there is much to recommend Bordeaux. With two days in Bordeaux I would collapse days one and two of this Bordeaux itinerary into one day (pass on the Bassins des Lumières and the Capucins market) and then visit either the vineyards or Arcachon on the second day. With a four or five day Bordeaux itinerary you can do both Arcachon and the vineyards, and possibly add in a day trip to Bergerac from Bordeaux to experience its quaint medieval centre.

Bordeaux planning guides

All photos author’s own. We paid for our own travel on this trip.

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