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The Southwest Coast of France is wonderful. The mix of pristine beaches, historic towns, local delicacies, and delicious wines are all great reasons to visit, and at the heart of it all is the city of Bordeaux. Luckily, there are many free things to do in Bordeaux so you can visit on a budget. Just think of all the extra money you can spend on wine. Or shoes…
This vibrant city is home to more than 350 historical monuments (the second most in France besides Paris), yet it still manages to feel fresh and modern; some of the newer buildings and museums are breathtaking.
This post is all about the best free things to do in Bordeaux, France. Read on to start planning your Bordeaux itinerary!
This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. Please read full disclosure for more information.
How to get to Bordeaux, France
Getting to Bordeaux is straightforward from almost anywhere in the world. The international airport just outside the city has regular flights to most of the world’s major hubs, and it’s right on the major motorways to the UK, Spain, and Paris.
In fact, it’s faster to take the high-speed TGV train from Paris to Bordeaux than it is to drive- only 2.5 hours by train instead of 6 hours by car.
However, if you have time and want to explore the local area, you’ll find things a lot easier if you have your own vehicle. If not driving your own, you could hire a car but, in the summer, why not do what the locals do and hire a motorbike or scooter to go motorcycling in France.
A bike really is one of the best ways to explore the tiny roads and villages of the region and get about quickly.
Where to Stay in Bordeaux
Have you booked your hotel in Bordeaux yet? Check out this map of accommodations in the city!
Free Things to do in Bordeaux
Like most cities, there is a lot to see and explore. You’ll need at least a couple of days just for the city itself, and I would suggest 4-5 if you want to explore the surrounding region as well.
Here are some of the best things to do in Bordeaux which won’t cost you a penny. (Or, you know, a cent.)
Explore Place de la Bourse
Place de la Bourse is one of the most famous squares in France. Designed by Jacques Gabriel (Louis XV’s favourite architect), the whole area is very reminiscent of parts of Paris.
It’s part of the area recognised by the UNESCO world heritage as “an outstanding urban and architectural ensemble of the 18th century”.
The most famous attraction is the water mirror- a very thin layer of water over the square. If you get up very early and visit before the tourists start walking through it, you can get the most incredible photos of the city and clouds in the reflections.
If you have kids, they’ll love splashing in the water- the cycle of the water means that the levels rise to a few inches at times, creating a shallow pool for them to play in for a while.
Visit La Grosse Cloche
La Grosse Cloche is one of the oldest clock towers in France and dates back to medieval times. The twin-peaked roof houses the huge bell, which weighs almost 8 tonnes!
They don’t ring it very often, partly to preserve it and partly because it’s incredibly loud, but you can experience it on special occasions like Bastille Day.
Discover Museums and Art Galleries for Free
Most cities in France offer free admission to many of their largest museums on the first Sunday of every month, and Bordeaux is no exception.
Why not enjoy a free visit to the Musee des Beaux-Arts or the Bordeaux Science museum. Sadly, the most famous museum, La Cite du Vin, is not included in the free admission (but it’s well worth a visit anyway.)
Several art galleries around the city are free to enter and enjoy. These include the Cox Gallery (famous for its street art), A deux pas d’ici (photos), and FRAC (contemporary art.)
Stop by the Palais Galien, the oldest museum in France
There are plenty of historical monuments all over Bordeaux, many dating back to the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries, including the Grosse Cloche and the Saint Michel Basilica. However, the oldest monument in Bordeaux is actually found just outside the city walls.
Palais Galien is a Roman amphitheatre dating back to the second century. The ruins are just a few minute’s walk from the public gardens, and most of it is easily seen from the street. You can book a guided tour, but there is a charge for these.
Enjoy a Free Music Concert
Each summer, Bordeaux has plenty of free events and concerts to enjoy. Many of these involve music, and you’ll often find something going on, especially each weekend from June until the end of September.
You can enjoy rock concerts in many of the squares around the city (organised by Relache), festivals in the park (check Bordeaux Open Air), and even events right on the river bank (look for Pavilion d’ete).
Stroll the City and Admire the Street Art
Bordeaux is becoming more and more famous for its street art. There are plenty of talented local artists, and more designs are appearing regularly.
Darwin is a quarter favoured by artists, and that’s the best place to head to see street art. You’ll also find it at the Bassin a Flot, quai des platitudes, the Mur in Chartons, rue du Loup, and next to the train station at Pessac.
Even if you aren’t looking for street art, take some time to wander the streets of this beautiful and bustling city and soak in the atmosphere.
There are also plenty of hiking and nature trails around the city if you want to get away from the hustle and enjoy views over the beautiful countryside.
Five ALMOST Free Things to do in Bordeaux
Ok, the following things aren’t 100% free, but here are some wonderful ways to spend time for less than the price of a coffee and croissant.
Enjoy a Glass of Wine at the Capucins Market
Wine is a BIG DEAL in this region (to be fair, it is in most of France!) In Bordeaux, you’re more likely to drink red rather than white; it’s estimated that 45 million litres of red are produced each year compared to 170,000 litres of white, but rose is becoming more popular too.
One of the biggest attractions in Bordeaux is the primary market- Marché des Capucins. Of course, it costs to buy food or eat at the market, but you can enjoy a glass of local wine at a cafe in the market for only a few euros each. It’s the perfect place for people watching.
Go for a Bike Ride Around the City
One of the best ways to explore the city is by bike, and there are plenty of cycle routes to enjoy. If you haven’t bought your own (and aren’t motorcycle touring), you can rent one of the city bikes very cheaply for around €2/ hour.
They last for 30 minutes, then you need to find another station, drop it in, and you can immediately get another bike out if you want. If you’re going to go for a longer ride, you can pay in advance and get it for longer.
Have a Picnic in the Park
One of the best ways to while away a lazy sunny day is to take a picnic to one of the local parks and people watch. This doesn’t need to be expensive- grab some cheese and ham from the local delicatessen, add a fresh baguette from the boulangerie, and a chilled bottle of local wine from the nearest cave or supermarket.
There are plenty of parks to choose from, including the Miroir d’eau at the Place de la Bourse, where you can grab a spot right on the banks of the Garonne.
Another popular option is the Jardin Public de Bordeaux. There’s a large playground here for kids and plenty of places (both shaded and not) to spread your picnic rug.
Take in the View at Soulac-sur-Mer
If you have time, take the chance to get out of the city and explore some of the fabulous places nearby. One of the most famous is Soulac-sur-Mer. This is a lovely seaside town with boutique shops and a great beach.
It’s less than two hours by road from Bordeaux, so perfect for lunch out or treat yourself to an overnight stay and enjoy the bars, restaurants, and local nightlife.
Climb the Dune du Pilat
Another famous landmark nearby is the jaw-dropping Dune du Pilat (also known as the Great Dune of Pyla).
This is the largest sand dune in Europe, standing at around 106m high and about 3km long (obviously, the exact dimensions shift daily.) Whatever it measures, it’s ENORMOUS.
Walking up it is hard work- but I promise the view from the top is worth it. There are steps built into the side of the dune at set points- be sure to bring plenty of water and take your time.
Once in the area, there are plenty of activities to do if you want to spend the day, including swimming (be careful of the rip tides), sunbathing, paddle boarding, and even paragliding from the top of the dune when the weather is right.
It’s about a 55-minute drive from Bordeaux to the dune- you can also get there using public transport, but please check the timetable carefully, especially on weekends or during winter.
This post was all about the best free things to do in Bordeaux, France. Which activity do you most want to do? Leave a comment below!
Meet the Guest Author: Kathryn
Kathryn Bird never planned to get her own motorcycle. She certainly never planned to quit her job and set off on said motorcycle to explore the world.
But when her daughter grew up enough to want to go ‘on the back of Daddy,’ Kathryn lost her pillion seat. Pulling on her big girl pants, she took her motorcycle test, bought a bike, and promptly scared herself silly. After much coaxing (and a new bike), she tried again- and fell in love with motorcycle touring.
Now, she travels almost full-time with her husband and their cocker spaniel, still on her own bike (despite the fact that their daughter has now grown up.) In the past three years, they have visited 17 countries and driven nearly 30,000 miles- not including the times they were lost.
She is passionate about inspiring others to experience the freedom of time on two wheels, whether it’s a long weekend or a month away. You can read more about Kathryn’s adventures, tips, and ‘How to’ guides at www.bikergirllife.com
Follow their adventures:
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