Architectural Jewels Walking Tour, Bordeaux

Architectural Jewels Walking Tour (Self Guided), Bordeaux

Napoleon Bonaparte referred to Bordeaux as "The Sleeping Beauty" upon seeing its classical architecture when visiting the city. In his turn, Honore de Balzac, the renowned French novelist, impressed by Bordeaux's timeless charm and elegance described it as "an extraordinary town".

Indeed, Bordeaux is one of Europe's most original architectural centers. More recently, the city has been included in UNESCO World Heritage List as "a great urban and architectural ensemble".

Undoubtedly, the main jewel in the architectural crown of Bordeaux is the Cathedral of Saint Andrew (Cathédrale Saint-André), a Gothic masterpiece that has stood here for nearly a millennium. Its intricate facade, stunning stained glass windows, and towering spires can leave anyone in awe.

Also, one cannot pass without notice the imposing Big Bell (Grosse Cloche). Adorned with a charming clock (added in the 18th century), this medieval gate once guarded the city entrance.

Another historical gateway worthy of attention is the Palace Gate (Porte Cailhau), a picturesque showcase of the city's medieval and Renaissance heritage.

The Stock Exchange Square (Place de la Bourse), with its stunning mirror-like water feature and majestic architecture, is a testament to Bordeaux's prosperity during the Age of Enlightenment.

And, of course, the architectural gem of Bordeaux Grand Theatre is a sight to behold. This neoclassical masterpiece in the heart of the city is still busy hosting world-class performances all year round.

Rest assured, the hours of your time dedicated to experiencing these and other architectural marvels in Bordeaux are going to be well spent. This self-guided journey is bound to leave you with a profound appreciation for the city's heritage and a desire to explore even more.
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Architectural Jewels Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Architectural Jewels Walking Tour
Guide Location: France » Bordeaux (See other walking tours in Bordeaux)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.4 Km or 1.5 Miles
Author: alexander
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Palais Rohan (City Hall)
  • Cathedrale Saint-Andre (Cathedral of St Andrew)
  • Tour Pey Berland (Pey Berland Tower)
  • Grosse Cloche (Big Bell)
  • Porte Cailhau (Palace Gate)
  • Musee National des Douanes (National Customs Museum)
  • Place de la Bourse (Stock Exchange Square)
  • Place du Parlement (Parliament Square)
  • Grand Hôtel de Bordeaux & Spa
  • Bordeaux Grand Theatre
Palais Rohan (City Hall)

1) Palais Rohan (City Hall)

The Palais Rohan is Bordeaux’s City Hall building. It is located on Place Pey Berland, next to the city’s Saint-André Cathedral. Completed in 1784, the Palais Rohan is one of South West France’s finest municipal buildings. Parts of it date to medieval times when the building served as a palace for the city’s archbishop – hence its location adjacent to the cathedral. The renovations that created the building you can see today began in 1771, under the direction of Archbishop Ferdinand Maximilien Meriadec de Rohan. After completion some thirteen years later, the palace was renamed in his honor.

The Palais Rohan stands at the heart of the City Hall quarter, an area named after the palace’s modern role as the town hall. The palace interior contains many remarkable decorative features that were typical of the elaborate Bordelais style of the era. Sculpted woodwork, trompe d’oeil paintings by Lacour, and a grand central staircase can all be found within this beautifully preserved building. The interior can be viewed on a French-language guided tour each Wednesday, organized by the Bordeaux Tourist Office.

Why You Should Visit:
A marvel of classic architecture combining refinement, elegance and sobriety.
The entire surrounding area is lovely; everyone comes here, sooner or later.

Don't be afraid to pass by the guards and go in as far as the interior barrier to get a good view of this building.
Cathedrale Saint-Andre (Cathedral of St Andrew)

2) Cathedrale Saint-Andre (Cathedral of St Andrew) (must see)

The Saint-André Cathedral, often known simply as Bordeaux Cathedral, is located at Place Bey Berland in the heart of Bordeaux city center. The Roman Catholic Cathedral of Saint-André was consecrated in 1096 by Pope Urban II; however, only a wall within the nave remains of the original Romanesque structure. The majority of the building has survived from the 14th & 15th centuries. The cathedral’s famous Royal Gate dates to the early 13th century. The entire building, including the separate bell tower, the Tour Pey Berland, is listed as a French national monument.

The cathedral has played its part in the history of Bordeaux. In 1137, 13 year old Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the region’s most famous historical figures, married Prince Louis VII in the cathedral. Within a few months, they became King & Queen of France, but their marriage was annulled in 1152. Eleanor went on to marry Henry II, a future king of England, and became Queen of England, and mother of King Richard the Lionheart and King John of England.

The cathedral boasts two Gothic towers above the main entrance, in addition to the vertiginous bell tower directly adjacent to the main building. Still an active place of worship, it holds mass each Sunday and is still the seat of the Archbishop of Bordeaux-Bazas – a position once held by Pey Berland, after whom the bell tower and surrounding square are named.

Why You Should Visit:
French cathedrals have grandeur & splendor in abundance, and this one is top of the pile, with well-preserved interior decoration and design.
The bell tower, which stands separate from the cathedral, is also worth pointing out as the views from the top are worth the effort of the climb up.

There is no entry fee, but they do take donations.
If you walk in, make sure you look to the right, to the back and admire the giant organ pipes.
To appreciate the cathedral from a different perspective, climb the Pey Berland tower nearby.
Tour Pey Berland (Pey Berland Tower)

3) Tour Pey Berland (Pey Berland Tower)

The Tour Pey Berland, which translates as Pey Berland Tower, is a church bell tower belonging to the city’s Cathedral Saint-André. Like the tower at the Basilica of Saint-Michel, it is completely separated from the rest of the cathedral. Officially the Saint-André tower, it is locally named after Pey Berland, the former Archbishop of Bordeaux, who funded and designed it.

The Pey Berland Tower stands on its namesake Place Pey Berland in the center of the historic city center, on the west bank of the Garonne. The tower was commissioned in 1440, but took sixty years to complete, opening in 1500. The intervening years marked a major change within the city, as it began the period a loyal English city, but returned to France in 1851. Berland abdicated his position and died shortly afterward.

One of the city’s most recognizable landmarks, the Pey Berland Tower was completed in the 15th century and built in the Gothic style. Visitors are able to climb the tower and enjoy views across the city center and the Garonne to the East. Admission is free for EU residents under 26 years old.

Why You Should Visit:
More exciting and fun than a roller coaster! If you've got a good head for height and a tolerance for steep/narrow winding staircases, this is it!
Even just seeing a cathedral from above is architecturally illuminating, never mind the amazing 360-degree views of the city.

Note that at busy times, you may have to wait as there are limits to the numbers that can go up at one time.
It's a strenuous 15-minute ascent, so if you're in any doubt it's better not to try.
Grosse Cloche (Big Bell)

4) Grosse Cloche (Big Bell) (must see)

La Grosse Cloche, or the Big Bell, is the name given to a 7800 kg iron bell housed in a medieval belfry. It stands on the Saint Eloi passage, with an archway in the bell tower allowing pedestrian access through the monument. This was once the Porte Saint Eloi, a gate into the city center in the Middle Ages. It was passed through regularly by pilgrims heading to the tomb of Saint Jacques, interred at a church in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

The belfry once belonged to the town hall and is a very important civic monument, so much so that it is featured in the city’s coat of arms. The distinctive round towers on both sides of the bell were built as long ago as the 12th century. There were initially supposed to be four towers, looking out in all directions from the city walls, but the final two towers were never constructed.

The ‘Big Bell’ itself was installed in the 15th century and was used throughout the Middle Ages to warn its citizens of impending emergencies, including fires and storms. The inscription on the bell says "I call to arms, I announce the days, I give the hours, I chase the storm, I ring the holidays, and I cry out for fire".

Why You Should Visit:
Very central and mostly surrounded by the cutest streets in the historic center with some of the best terraces to take a drink just a few streets ahead.
Above anything else, a great photo opportunity, with a different view from both sides.

It's actually quite difficult to photograph because if the sun is strong you will miss the detail; hence, early morning is a good time.
Getting inside on a tour is pretty tricky also, but the guides are very informative and the views are excellent.
Porte Cailhau (Palace Gate)

5) Porte Cailhau (Palace Gate) (must see)

Palace Gate is the historic city gate of Bordeaux. It served as a gate the opened up to and defended the city. The Gothic and Renaissance architectural styles of the gate are displayed with mullioned windows, turrets, canopies and fleur-de-lis.

Construction on the gate began in 1493 and completed in 1495. It was dedicated to King Charles VII after his victory at the Battle of Fornovo. At the time, the gate offered direct entry to the Palais de l'Ombrière, which was the home of the Duke of Guyenne.

Visitors may walk through and around Palace Gate. There is no charge to admire the gate from the ground. However, those who want to explore the inside of Palace Gate must purchase entry. Inside of the Palace Gate is an exhibition that describes the gate's architecture. Visitors can then proceed to the top of the gate for stunning views of the city and the Garonne.
Musee National des Douanes (National Customs Museum)

6) Musee National des Douanes (National Customs Museum)

The National Customs Museum in Bordeaux houses over 5,000 historical objects relating to the French Customs Service, including paintings, weapons and uniforms. It is located in the city’s picturesque Stock Exchange Square, at the heart of Bordeaux’s historic city center.

Bordeaux is one of France’s oldest and largest port cities, with its heritage reflected in UNESCO’s name for the protected city center area – the ‘Port of the Moon’. The city has had trading links with other nations since the 12th century when it began sending goods to other British cities when ruled by King Henry II of England. So Bordeaux is a natural home for the museum of country's customs service.

The museum traces the history of customs in France, from medieval times up to the present day. As the customs service is the oldest public institution in France, the museum emphasizes its historical importance, showing the challenges that events like the French Revolution and the boom in trans-Atlantic trade caused for customs officials.

The National Customs Museum is located in the "Hôtel des Fermes du Roi", a great example of 18th century Bordeaux architecture. It is part of the Stock Exchange Square horseshoe-shaped complex, with the Old Stock Exchange building on the other side. Designed by the architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel (who also designed Versailles’s Petit Trianon and Paris’s Place de la Concorde) the complex was built in 1755 for Louis XV as a symbol of Bordeaux’s prosperity.

Why You Should Visit:
Housed in a nice old structure by the waterfront, with a surprisingly large number of exhibits despite its limited size.
Informative because it shows the functioning & evolution of customs, mixing history, economics, and culture all in one.
Fun because it brings together many items that have been seized by customs officers, which you'll be a tad surprised to see.

A multilingual audio-guide is worth the extra €2.
Place de la Bourse (Stock Exchange Square)

7) Place de la Bourse (Stock Exchange Square) (must see)

One of the most recognizable spots in Bordeaux is the Place de la Bourse. Construction on this multi-development building began in 1730 and was completed in 1775.

The Place de la Bourse was designed in the Neoclassical architectural style by Jacques Gabriel, the most prominent designer of Versailles Palace and many of the first bridges in Paris. Gabriel died before construction was completed. His son, who was arguably even more prolific in his architectural projects, Ange-Jacques Gabriel, took over the Place de la Bourse.

A particularly notable feature at the Place de la Bourse is the Fountain of the Three Graces. The fountain depicts three daughters of Zeus: Aglaia, Euphrosyne and Thalia. Interestingly, this fountain is not original to the square. It replaced a statue of Napoleon in 1869, which itself was a replacement for the original statue of Louis XV.

The royal square includes the central pavilion, the Palais de la Bourse and the Hotel Fermes. The Palais de la Bourse is now home to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Bordeaux while the Hotel Fermes contains the National Museum of Customs and the Interregional Directorate of Customs and Indirect Rights. The area is often used as an event center.

Visitors to Bordeaux will certainly want to include Place de la Bourse on their list of must-see places. They can explore the buildings, admire the architecture and join other tourists in the square's reflecting pool. They can then take a walk along the Garonne, which provides even more lovely views and an excellent opportunity to take photographs of the Place de la Bourse in full.

Why You Should Visit:
- To see what is arguably the most noteworthy attraction in Bordeaux
- To appreciate an architectural masterpiece that was crafted by two of the world's most famous architects

Consider planning a stop during the day and again at night. The architecture is best appreciated on sunny days when all of the nuances are in full display. At night, the square is beautifully lit to create a spectacle like no other.
Place du Parlement (Parliament Square)

8) Place du Parlement (Parliament Square)

The Parliament Square is linked by Philippart Street to the Stock Exchange Square, one of the city’s most famous sights. It stands out for reflecting in the Garonne at night – a feature known locally as the ‘water mirror’. While less known, Parliament Square is perhaps a more central location for the Bordelais themselves – it is popular for its many bars, restaurants and cafes, with terraced seating surrounding the edge of the square. The name itself means ‘place of discussion’, although the word ‘parliament’ has links with royal institutions.

Once known as the ‘Royal Market Place’, the square appears to be a complete architectural project, with consistent design features on all four sides. These include a balustrade that runs around the square and arcaded ground floors to house additional shops and eateries. It also has a large neo-Renaissance fountain at its center.

Close to many of Bordeaux’s more famous avenues, including Place Pey Berland and the Esplanade des Quinconces, it is a lively spot to stop for a bite to eat, particularly in the summer months, when outdoor dining is available late into the evening.

Why You Should Visit:
A pleasant spot with a pretty fountain, that you will probably pass through a number of times when walking around Bordeaux.
Close to all of the central attractions and main thoroughfares, and a good place for a coffee or a lunch break.

Try to get here during the day when it's bustling and then again...after dark. The buildings are lit up so it becomes magical.
Grand Hôtel de Bordeaux & Spa

9) Grand Hôtel de Bordeaux & Spa

Situated on Comedy Square (Place de la Comédie) facing the Grand Theatre, the Grand Hotel de Bordeaux & Spa stands as an epitome of luxury accommodations. Crafted by the esteemed French architect Victor Louis in 1776, its neoclassical façade perfectly mirrors that of the Grand Theatre. Renowned designer Jacques Garcia has lent his artistic touch to the hotel's interiors, reinvigorating it into an exceptional establishment. With a total of 150 guest rooms, including 22 magnificent suites, the grandeur of Le Grand Hotel is unrivaled.

Indulge in a selection of extraordinary culinary experiences at The Grand Hotel. For dining, patrons have the option of savoring exquisite meals at Le Bordeaux restaurant, experiencing the multi-starred excellence of Gordon Ramsay's Le Pressoir d'Argent, enjoying the inviting ambiance of the winter garden L'Orangerie, or unwinding at Le Victor Bar. Complementing this extraordinary experience is a sprawling spa, 13 impressive meeting rooms, and 4 spacious foyers encompassing a total area of 10,000 square feet. Additional services include concierge assistance and valet parking.

The meeting rooms and event spaces, adorned with ample natural light, are equipped with cutting-edge technology, surpassing expectations for organizing events, conferences, and unforgettable gatherings.

On the upper floors, the Guerlain Spa Les Bains de Léa awaits, spanning over 1000 square meters. Dedicated to well-being and rejuvenation, it features a panoramic terrace with a Jacuzzi that overlooks the Bordeaux Opera House and the charming rooftops of Bordeaux.
Bordeaux Grand Theatre

10) Bordeaux Grand Theatre (must see)

The Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux is located on the grand Comedy Square, adjacent to Esprit des Lois Street, in the city’s cultured Grands Hommes quarter. Inaugurated in 1780, it was designed by renowned French architect, Victor Louis, who won the commission after earning the Grand Prix de Rome, a scholarship scheme for gifted young artists and architects. The young architect went on to design the famous Theatre-Français in Paris.

Victor Louis’ vision for the Grand Théâtre in Bordeaux was certainly ambitious – conceived as a Temple of the Arts, it has a wide portico entrance, complimenting the building’s Neoclassical design. The entrance features 12 colossal Corinthian-style columns, each topped with a statue, representing the nine Muses and three Goddesses – Juno, Venus and Minerva.

The theater's interior is arguably equal to its spectacular exterior. Its vast auditorium is painted in blue, white and gold – the traditional colors of French royalty. Superbly preserved, it is one of the last remaining wooden framed theaters in Europe. Once a temporary seat for the French Parliament, it is now home to two of the city’s most esteemed theatrical groups – the National Opera and National Ballet of Bordeaux.

Why You Should Visit:
The architecture from outside is great but inside the gold gilding and ornate decoration everywhere you look is amazing.
The pre- and post-restoration rooms on view are light and airy, and the guided tour is hugely informative.

Check ahead to see if there are any concerts you can attend and book ahead of time.

Walking Tours in Bordeaux, France

Create Your Own Walk in Bordeaux

Create Your Own Walk in Bordeaux

Creating your own self-guided walk in Bordeaux is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Historical Churches Walking Tour

Historical Churches Walking Tour

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.5 Km or 2.2 Miles
Bordeaux Food Tour

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Perhaps the best place to start your culinary adventure here is the bustling Capuchins Market (Marché des Capucins), where you can savor...  view more

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Bordeaux Introduction Walking Tour

Bordeaux Introduction Walking Tour

The metropolitan region of Bordeaux is the fifth largest in France. The city is the capital of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, but is perhaps better known as the Wine Capital of the World. The city's namesake wine comes in many varieties that can be found and enjoyed around the world.

The name of Bordeaux is a long-standing debate among historians. The first inhabitants of the region were...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.5 Km or 2.2 Miles