You can be in Bordeaux in 1 hour and 40 minutes from the UK. The sun is shining in south west France right now and we’ve found you 10 amazing things to do in a weekend. If you want to stay longer, don’t forget Bordeaux is less than an hour from some of the loveliest beaches in Europe. Let’s go!
Les Bassins de Lumières, Bordeaux
How do you get your kids interested in art, without putting them off for life? Les Bassins de Lumières in Bordeaux is the polar opposite of a hit-or-miss museum visit. It’s the definition of immersive, and quite literally surrounds you with art: projected onto walls, water, roofs, your skin, your children. No surface is left untouched.
Dalí: the Endless Enigma runs throughout 2023. And if you thought one dimensional surrealism was astonishing, this will completely astound you. When we visited, mesmerised toddlers were being carried through the exhibition. Teens were just as captivated. And, although we were a little dubious about the Pink Floyd soundtrack, turns out the likes of ‘Shine on you crazy diamond’ was inspired.
Where: Impasse Brown de Coulston, about 30 minutes by tram from city centre
When: Dalí: the Endless Enigma runs until January 2024
Bordeaux may be famous for some of the word’s finest wines, but if you’re under 18, the fact that the city has one of the tallest climbing walls in France is a lot more interesting. But indulge your young Philistines with a day at Block’Out Bordeaux and they might be persuaded to tour a few vineyards with you, no promises.
The entire climbing area here covers just under 1,100m² making it the biggest in Aquitaine. If you’re new to the sport, there are seven different ability levels, starting with absolute beginners. Alternatively, keen kids might like to take a few lessons at the climbing school. Although parents of teenagers can leave them to it and spend some time in the on-site hammam or sauna. And when you’re done bouldering, there’s a on-site bowling alley too.
Where: Rue Georges Barres in Bacalan
When: open 7-days a week from 11am to 11pm
Marché des Capucins
The thought of wandering round a market might not seem that kid-friendly at first, but Marché des Capucins is no ordinary market. For a start it’s known as the Belly of Bordeaux which definitely has a bit of child-appeal. Next up it’s ancient: established 1749 and still going strong. Then of course, there’s the gouté-factor! Try before you buy is the French way, so don’t be shy about asking for a bit of cheese or some olives.
However, the main reason to go is the atmosphere. Nowhere does markets like France and if you come in spring or summer, expect overwhelming abundance, quality and taste. We know from experience that even the pickiest kids can be convinced to eat tomatoes if they taste like berries, and here, they do.
Local, seasonal and often organic come as naturally as breathing at the market. And you’ll be surprised at how enthusiastically kids take to this way of shopping. Supermarket it isn’t.
Where: Place des Capucins, 10 minutes walk from Gare Saint-Jean
When: Tuesday to Friday 6.30am to 2pm and Saturday 5.30am to 2.30pm
Miroir d’eau: summer must-splash in Bordeaux
Imposing Place de la Bourse might be a World Heritage site and its signature grandeur undoubtedly symbolises Bordeaux, but what’s right opposite the Place is likely to impress kids much more.
At 3,450m², the Miroir d’eau is the world’s largest reflecting pool and come sunny spring and summer, it’s the splash-around spot of choice for families. This is south west France, so it gets pretty hot at times and a cool walk through the water is as good as a rule in Bordeaux. So don’t be shocked to see kids stripped to their scants and jumping around in the misting jets. Just throw caution to the wind and let yours do the same.
Where: opposite the Place de la Bourse, Bordeaux city centre
Rue Sainte-Catherine: longest shopping street in Europe
As different from the Marché des Capucins as it gets, Rue Sainte-Catherine will test the stamina of all but the most dedicated teenage shopper. Not only is it the longest shopping street in Europe, it’s also completely pedestrianised, so browsing is unhindered.
It used to be home to names you’d only find in Bordeaux, that’s no longer the case. Apart from a few diehards, Sainte-Catherine is now lined with brand names. Although, it’s fair to point out that you’ll find stock in the likes of Mango, Zara and H&M a lot cooler here than the UK. But even if you aren’t buying, take a stroll down the rue, nowhere else in Bordeaux comes close for people watching.
Where: Bordeaux city centre, 8-minute walk from Place de la Bourse
Chartrons: the Bordeaux village
Step away from the city and into the village of Chartrons. It’s not really a village, but with its leafy streets, vintage shops, bakeries and quaint cafés and restaurants, it feels like one.
A good district for a long lunch with the locals, it’s also one of the nicest areas to stay on a weekend break. But if you’re just dropping in, leave an hour to wander about then make for the Garonne and stroll back to the city bustle along its banks.
Chartrons is also one of the poshest parts of the city, in that soignée way they do so well in Bordeaux. So you’ll find indie designer shops and teeny artisan coffee shops rubbing shoulders with antique stores and the type of pretty buildings that have you eyeing up local estate agent windows.
Bacalan: street art central
The opposite of refined Chartrons, gutsy Bacalan was once Bordeaux’ northern no-go area. Then along came stunning La Cité du Vin and the district went from disreputable to rising star.
You might not want to go round the wine museum with kids, but do take a look at the building. Apparently it’s designed like a swirl of liquid in a glass: you can make your own mind up on that.
Apart from La Cité, this district is also where to find the excellent Halles des Bacalan market where 85% of what’s on sale is produced in south west France. If you’re still hungry, head to Bassin à Flot No. 1 and take your pick of restaurants and cafés on the banks of the Garonne. The views are great and there are places of all stripes here, set everywhere from rooftops to boats.
Alternatively, just walk around and keep your eyes peeled for the street art. Murals are mighty in this bit of Bordeaux and you can’t miss them.
Where: north of the city centre, about 15 minutes by tram from Grand Théâtre
Cap Sciences: just for kids
Bordeaux has quite a few museums and the likes of the Contemporary Art Museum (CAPC) are good for teens. Even the building alone is worth a look: it’s housed in a former wool warehouse on the southern edge of Chartrons. However, if you want to keep younger kids entertained for hours, Cap Sciences has that covered.
More interactive and experiment driven than look-and-learn, it’s a lot of fun. Everything from virtual reality to astronomy is up for exploring. Plus, there are regular child-friendly workshops for an even more hands-on take on science stuff. The themes are often quite left-field, think forensics and you get the idea.
Where: Quai de Bacalan, 20 minutes by tram from city centre
When: Tuesday to Friday 2pm to 6pm, Weekends 2pm to 7pm
The Wave Surf Café
We’d never tell you not to make for the Landes Coast and some of the best surfing beaches in Europe. It’s about an hour’s drive from Bordeaux and a magnet for Bordelaise (and a lot of the rest of France) in summer. But if kids just want to hang in the city, The Wave Surf Café is the best of both worlds.
It’s a café, but it has an enormous wave pool in the middle. Over 8s can take lessons or just come along to check out les dudes Francais doing their thing. It’s a lot of fun and very friendly in that kind of way you expect from surf spots the world over.
Where: Cours du Médoc, Chartrons
When: 7-days, opening hours vary, but 11am to 8pm is the norm during school summer holidays
Use the Garonne, it’s free
You wouldn’t know it to look at the city these days, but Bordeaux wasn’t always so people-friendly. Now pedestrianised areas are more than normal and, over the past 10 years, repurposed riverbanks have been turned into great places to play.
Take advantage of the sun and cool Garonne breeze on the people-only riverbank stretch from Gare Saint Jean to La Cité du Vin. You can walk the 4.5km for sure: it’s a favourite with families. Alternatively pick up cheap TBM bikes at one of the city centre stations, all you need is a bank card and you’re away.
Quite a few of the bikes available are electric so you can practically sail along the river. And you’ll be in good company with other locals scooting, cycling and skateboarding here. The entire route takes about 30 minutes if you go for it, but don’t do that. Take your time, admire the views and stop for snacks.
Where: from Gare Saint Jean to La Cité du Vin
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