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Bordeaux 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.
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" and "Parisiens".
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.