Architectural Highlights in Bordeaux
Bordeaux’s history stretches all the way back to 300 B.C. Today, it is a destination renowned worldwide for its high-quality wine but to say it’s only famous for its gorgeous vineyards and distinguished wine labels is far from true. This beautiful city is a joy to visit all year round and over time, it has evolved into a cosmopolitan port town but never forgetting its rich history. Named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, the city went through an extensive restoration project that saw a number of 18th-century buildings restored to their original beauty. Below, we have handpicked a few local favourites that demonstrate why Bordeaux’s Architecture is another reason to visit Southwest France.
This majestic opera house was built by famed architect Victor Louis and it first opened its doors on 17th April 1780. An impressive neo-classical building, it’s 12 enormous columns and the grandiose interior is situated at the heart of Bordeaux’s cultural life. To this day, it hosts vibrant dance and musical performances and the Opéra National de Bordeaux also calls it home. If you are in the area and happen to miss a live show, no issue. Guests are able to visit the Grande Theatre in Bordeaux and tours of the inside of this marvellous theatre are available. Some even include the chance to go backstage and get an intimate feel of this temple of the arts.
St Andre Cathedral
Not only is this stunning cathedral the seat of the Archbishop of Bordeaux but it was also designated as a UNESCO Listed World Heritage structure in 1998. The cathedral was consecrated by Pope Urban II in 1096, and while only a wall of the original edifice remains, the site is a monument of France and a place of much historical significance. In 1137, Eleanor of Aquitaine married Louis VII, bringing together two very important families that would go on to make Bordeaux wine as sought-after as it is today, which we discuss in our Bordeaux wine article(opens in a new tab). It was built in a French Gothic style with a magical vaulted ceiling that serves both aesthetic and function by supporting the structure itself.
Eglise Sainte-Croix (Church of the Holy Cross)
This proud church was originally built in the 11th century, annexed to an even older structure built in the 7th century, a Benedictine abbey, which is now home to the École des beaux-arts de Bordeaux. The building is in a Romanesque architectural style more than 15 metres high. The site is a central part of the Bordelais skyline, just a stone’s throw from Marché des Capucins (Capucins Market in Bordeaux), which we venture to on a few of our market tours(opens in a new tab) and one of the oldest markets in France.
In honour of, and at that time home to, the Archbishop Fernan Maximilien Mériadec de Rohan, this elegant neoclassical building was first built in 1771 and is situated next to the city’s famous Saint André Cathedral. The Palais Rohan highlights the power and wealth of the 18th-century archbishops and the role they played at that point in history. Parts of the Palais Rohan in Bordeaux date back to medieval times but during World War Two it was completely destroyed and thus had to be rebuilt. If you’re visiting the Palais, make sure you don’t miss the graceful staircase inside.
Halle des Chartrons
Charles Burguet is famed for designing and constructing market places. Not only was he the mind behind the Marché des Capucins (Capucins Market) but also the Halle des Chartrons. Resonating through much of Bordeaux, this building is a great example of where historical meets contemporary. Originally built in 1869, and restored in 1998, this market hall was primarily used for Bordeaux’s wine trade. Nowadays, it still has remnants of wine barrels on its walls as well as a 21st-century atrium. The atrium is used for exhibitions, meetings, and concerts and also has a wonderful variety of restaurants featuring an array of local produce. It is a perfect place to sit and enjoy a lovely meal in the sun.
This monument with its castle-like appearance was built in 1495 and besides Grosse Cloche, it is the only standing medieval gate spared after the city’s mid-1700 makeover. It was once the main gate to Bordeaux and today, the turreted tower offers panoramic views of the Pont de Pierre. It commemorates King Charles VII’s victory over the Italians and the arch has an imposing statue of the French king presiding over Bordeaux’s entrance. The message across the gate was said to be: “Remember Bordeaux, you are under the control of Paris.”
Les Puces de St Michel (St. Michel Market)
Bordeaux’s district Saint Michel is a vibrant mix of students, artists, immigrants, and tourists curious to get a feel for the neighbourhood’s cool vibe. The area has a wonderful mix of old and new, from the flamboyant 14th-century gothic Basilica of St. Michel to a variety of lively restaurants and bars. Bordeaux’s blend of rich history and cosmopolitan modernity are encapsulated perfectly here.
The market itself hosts one of the biggest open-air markets in Bordeaux, which takes place every weekend at Place Meynard. The square comes alive with buyers, dealers, and enthusiasts clambering for tapestries, vinyl records, and unusual finds—an awesome experience for both onlookers and those who want to get involved in the trading.
Musée des Arts Décoratifs et du Design
Built by Bordelais architect Étienne Laclotte in 1779, this aristocratic mansion turned museum hosts an extensive collection of glassware, ceramics, 18th & 19th-century paintings, silverware, and jewellery. The ever-changing exhibitions and collections change from time to time in this quaint little townhouse, so keep an eye on their website for the most up to date information.
On a Bordeaux Walks tour, our knowledgeable guides will stop and describe some of these wonderful spots dotted around the city. If you would like to visit them all with one of our knowledgeable guides, get in touch(opens in a new tab) and we can organise a private tour for you and/or your group. We could also combine an architecture tour with a delicious wine tasting(opens in a new tab) or a trip through the market(opens in a new tab) with stops at the city’s medieval gate and the gothic Basilica of St. Michel on a bespoke tour. Bordeaux is truly your oyster!