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You'll be raising your glass many times in Bordeaux, which is renowned for its wines, considered amongst the best in the world. As the capital of the department Gironde in the region Aquitaine, it has one million inhabitants in its metropolitan area at a 2008 estimate. After years of neglect, the former wet docks are the country's new hot spot, with a number of cafés, gardens, and museums springing up all the time. A lively university community of over 60,000, (Bordeaux Campus is the largest in France) establishes that Bordeaux is about more than just wine.
Bordeaux is considered a very tolerant and relaxed place - no one will bother you about your political beliefs, religion, or sexual orientation. The cultural, artistic, and music scenes are very vibrant. The city was ruled by the English for a long time, which is why Bordeaux seems to have an "English flair".
Bordeaux is often referred to as "Little Paris" and the rivalry between the "Bordelais" (people from Bordeaux) and "Parisiens" is a hot subject, so you may experience some heated arguments on the subject during your stay.
Bordeaux is a flat city, built on the banks of the Garonne River. It is also the largest French city by area and geographically one of the largest in Europe. The Garonne merges a dozen kilometers below the city with another river, the Dordogne River to form the Gironde Estuary, which is biggest estuary in France.
The city center is located west and south of the Garonne. To the east are a few hills - the only ones in the vicinity. These hills mark the beginning of an industrial zone and suburbs. Because it is a flat city, bicycles make excellent modes of transport, especially as the city has more than 580 km of cycle tracks. Bordeaux is among the most economically dynamic cities in France.
Due to the weakness of the subsoil, there are no skyscrapers in Bordeaux, which explains its sprawl. The center of the town has retained its traditional stone mansions and smart terraces, hence the reason behind the city being called "Little Paris".
Modern buildings can be found to the west (administrative center) and south (university) of the city.
Bordeaux-Mérignac Airport (BOD) is west of the city. It is a regional airport which serves mostly domestic flights, though there are international flights as well connecting Bordeaux to some European "hub" airports like Paris (Orly and Roissy), London (Gatwick and Luton), Madrid, and Amsterdam.
You can also take public transit (1.50€) from the airport to downtown. Just outside the "Arrivals" section you will see a bus stop for route Number 1. This bus will take you directly to Gambetta (a short walk from the Hotel de Ville) and terminates at the main train station, or you can get off at "Lycée Mérignac" (about 15 minutes) and take tramline A to the city centre. Tickets can be bought from the automated machine using a (foreign) credit card, or from the driver. Tickets are valid for 1 hour, and you can change to any tram or bus within this hour. Be aware that Route 1 is popular with locals and tourists alike and can get busy during rush hours - with little room for luggage, and standing room only. It can take 1 hour for Bus no.1 to get downtown, by which time your ticket will have expired if you need to get another bus. Switching to Tramline A is recommended if the bus is full.
The main train station (Gare Saint Jean) is located about 4km from the center of town. Several trains per day (around one every two hours) go north (to Paris, about 3 hours, 25 trains a day , Angoulême, Poitiers), south (to Toulouse, Marseille, Montpellier (about 4 to 5 hours), up to Nice), and east (to Périgueux and Clermont-Ferrand).
Buses, trams and taxis leave from in-front of the station. Take Tram C to get to downtown if you are going to the more northern part, or a bus if you are going to the area around Place de la Victoire.
You can reach Bordeaux by car from the north (taking the A10 highway or N10), south (taking the A63 highway), and east. A beltway goes around the city.
If possible, avoid driving between 8-10AM and 4-7PM, as the beltway is usually overcrowded.
Long-distance buses seem to stop southeast of the train station along Rue des Terres de Borde by the rental car parking lots. Eurolines provide bus service to the city -- confirm the location of the stop on your tickets and with the somewhat surly staff at the Eurolines ticket sales office (across the street from the main entrance of Gare Saint-Jean).
If you're travelling with bikes European Bike Express run a route from north of Leeds, stopping through the UK to Dover and then on towards Bayonne via Bordeaux. Passengers normally travel from the UK to Europe.
Taxi providers offer service to and from the airport. For taxi services, you can go directly to Bordeaux Airport taxi rank or make an advance booking with one of the companies.
Tramway in Bordeaux
Bordeaux is quite a big city; however, most of the interesting attractions are in the town center. It is not recommended that visitors drive as it is always a hassle to park (and car parks are expensive), and there are often traffic jams in the narrow, old streets of the city.
The most interesting way to explore the city is by walking. As most of the town center is a 'pedestrian area', this is easy to do. If you like sports, you can rent roller-skates or a bike (see below) or you can make your way in town using the various bus lines. A small ferry boat permits to go from the western shore of the river to the eastern shore, and vice-versa.
Three efficient tramway lines are also available (A, B, and C), tickets cost 1.50€ and covers unlimited journeys within one hour of validation. The machines do not accept notes so you will need a French Carte Bancaire or coins.
The bus network is organized around a few main places, where it is possible to take buses to almost every destination in the city :
Gare Saint-Jean (railway station, bus lines going to town center, university, and north of town, TBC agency),
Place de la Victoire (bus lines going to town center, to the railway station, to the University, north and south-west of town,
Place Gambetta (bus lines going to la Victoire, the railway station, west, north-west, north of town, TBC agency ).
Quinconces (TBC agency).
Le Bus du Fleuve, as it is called, links the western and eastern parts of the city by a small cruise on the river. It is managed by the CGFTE, and you can therefore ride the ferry using a standard bus ticket. The bus goes from the Southern part of Quai Richelieu to the Place Aristide Briand, very close to the Aquitaine Bridge (one of the must-see in Bordeaux).
By electric bus and tramway
A new tramway serves the town, crossing the Garonne via the Pont de Pierre. A distinctive feature of the tramway is that within the inner city, it has no overhead wires as it utilizes ground-level power supply system.
The electric bus, called la navette du centre-ville, is the only public transportation on pedestrian roads. There are no bus stops for this one: to board an electric bus, wave your hand to the driver - he will stop the bus and let you on. When you want to go out, just tell the driver.
All the maps, fares and times are on the TBC Web site (in French). Also, maps and times can be easily accessed with Google Maps, just select route "By public transit" when getting directions.
As was mentioned previously Bordeaux is very flat and has lots of bike lanes so it is very easy to get around the city by bicycle. The city has recently (February 2010) added a city-wide bike sharing program called VCUB (similar to Vélib in Paris), it is a cheap and easy way to see the city although the requirement to put down a 200€ deposit before taking a bike might cause problems if you do not have a bank/credit card that works well with the system. A daily (24 hours) or weekly subscription is 1.50€ or 5€, respectively and each usage is free provided you do not go over 30 minutes (you can just return the bike and take out a new one).
What to see
Bordeaux is a historic city with many tourist attractions. The main districts are briefly presented here, which are listed according to their distance from the railway station.
Les Quais— Great for going for a nice walk on the shores of the Garonne, enjoying a ride on a ferry boat, viewing a stunning landscape over the bridges of Bordeaux, or dancing the night away in the city's many nightclubs. The Aquitaine Bridge is an architectural achievement unique in France.
The Jacques-Chaban-Delmas lift bridge ; located between the "Quais" and the "Aquitaine bridge". Opened in 2013, it features a liftable deck, which goes up to 53 meters (170 ft), to enable cruise ships and historical sailboats to dock close to the Quinconces Square.
La Victoire— Historical monuments meet student life and bars.
The Pedestrian Center — If you plan on shopping, or are looking for cultural activities, Bordeaux has a lot to offer - and it starts right here.
Gambetta Square — The rich districts of Bordeaux start north - this part of the town is nicknamed "Little Paris".
Quinconces Square — Be sure to check out the fountain monument to the Girondins, a group of moderate, bourgeois National Assembly deputies during the French Revolution..
Meriadeck — The administrative center of Bordeaux, with one of the biggest libraries in France.
Do not miss the Victory Arch (Roman architecture), at the center of La Victoire and a great example of the town's Roman roots.
Relax and take a picnic in the lush Public Gardens, north of Gambetta square.
The Girondins memorial on the Quinconces square is a fitting tribute to the Members of Parliament from Gironde who were guillotined by Robespierre.
Musee D'Art Contemporain at 7, rue Ferrère. Definitely worth a visit if you are interested in Modern Art. The Richard Long slate line-up on the roof is a permanent feature. Exhibits are always changing and the museum is an inspiring place for installations.
Musee D'Aquitaine, 20, cours Pasteur. Stunning museum that exhibits Gallo-Roman statues and relics dating back 25,000 years.
Musee national des douanes (Customs National Museum), 1 place de la Bourse. a historical museum of the french customs administration. Unique in France, it reflects the history of France through commerce, trade and taxes and hosts an original painting by Claude Monet.
What to do
Have a walk along the Sainte-Catherine street in the Pedestrian Center and enjoy the scenery.
Consider crossing the bridges or taking the ferry boat over the river (see Les Quais).
Climb the 243 steps of the tower of Saint-Michel, and enjoy the panoramic view of Bordeaux.
Spend some time at the miroir d'eau (water mirror) at the border of the river. Every now and then, it is filled with 2 cm of water, alternated with a cloud of mist.
Have a drink and a dance at one of the many bars or clubs in Les Quais or La Victoire.
Watch the ducks play in the big public park north of the center and escape from the city at the Jardin Botanique, Bordeaux's Botanical Garden. Around since 1855, the botanical garden is the perfect place to take a walk around its many paths, or just sit and relax. Guided tours are on offer, as well as occasional workshops and activities for children.
Bordeaux gardens open: end March to end October - 8AM to 8PM; end October to end March - 8AM to 6PM. Bordeaux gardens admission is free.
Fly a jet fighter. You can fly the L39 Albatros from Bordeaux International Airport. Starts at €1950.