Wine. Cheese. Seafood. These are the hallmarks of local cuisine in Bordeaux. But that doesn't mean you need to spend a year's savings to eat and drink well. Here are the best, affordable places to tuck in, plus some additional advice on where to stay and what to do when you're in town.
Where to Eat & Drink
Start your day in the best way possible: with a warm baguette, fresh out of the oven. Locals generally head to the closest bakery – unless they have their eyes set on the La Fabrique Pains et Bricoles. The boulangerie's door is unmarked, but even if you miss the fire-engine red entrance and the probable long lines, you can't miss the enveloping scent of bread baking. Inside, you'll find baguettes for 0.90€ ($1.24) each, or a variety of brioches, olive breads, and breads with raisin and nuts at 4.50€-7.50€ per kg ($2.80-$4.70 per lb).
The lilac-painted storefront of the four-year-old Fromagerie Deruelle is as charming as can be. Sitting on the north end of Rue du Pas-Saint-Georges, the cheese shop is a haven for goat cheese; they're owner Elodie Deruell's favorite. While she claims to speak English "pas du tout," she employs knowledgeable locals who can help you make the perfect pairing with your just-purchased baguette. We suggest getting a taste of the local selections – which also include plenty of fresh chevre and flavored specialties – though international treats abound too. Prices start from 3.50€ for a palm-sized wheel of cheese or 15€ per kg ($9.50 per lb) for larger pieces.
For lunch, Fernard provides an old-school bistro experience, complete with wicker seating on an outdoor terrace and red vinyl chairs indoors. It'll cost more than a lunch at home – 15.90€ or $21.95 total – but it's a nice deal when you consider what you're getting. For that price, choose one of two entrees of the day, seven mini patisseries for dessert, and gourmet coffee. (For dinner, small plates start from 7€, seafood platters from 25€, other entrees from 20€.) Per French custom, the generously sized meal should get you through the evening until dinner, which typically starts around 8:30 p.m.
Of course, we can't forget about wine in Bordeaux. Bar a Vin, or Maison du Vin, is undoubtedly the cheapest place to enjoy a glass. Here, most of the 30-plus local wines on the menu can be had for 1€-3€, or $1.28-$4.14. (You can thank the local wine council – or Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux – for the deep discount.) The venue itself features light-filled seating areas with modern furnishings. Our favorite spot is the back room, decked out in faux-Roman columns, a sweeping stained glass window, and a vibrant tapestry behind the bar.
Alternatively, Le Petit Bois offers a typical Bordeaux bar scene in two locations. Admittedly, the bar's garden theme, with upholstered chairs arranged around "tree" trunks and chandeliers entwined with hanging "leaves," is a bit bobo – a French word that approximately means "hipster." But with delicious 4€ glasses of wine ($5.52), you'll quickly embrace the vibe. For those in search of an affordable and casual dinner, tartines, salads, and desserts are also on the menu, from 6€ ($8.28).
If you're willing to make one small splurge, let it be at Le Petit Commerce, a popular local favorite for seafood. Just don't expect creamy sauces and other fancy garnishes here. Many dishes are simply grilled with oil and garlic to showcase the fresh flavors. Service can be slower during prime dining hours, so get there before 8 p.m. Small plates are in the 4€-8€ range ($5.52-$11) and mains and platters hover around 16€-20€ ($22.08-$27.60), but wines go for a reasonable 4€ per glass.
What to Do and Where to Sleep
The quays along the Garonne River are lined with vibrant lawns, cherry blossoms in spring, and paved paths. Those who aren't feeling particularly active can claim a spot near Place de la Bourse for reading or people-watching – a very relaxing, very French pastime. Stay for a while and you might see the steam jets switch on in the giant reflecting pool – and people delightfully running through it (see photos #7 and #8). Other prime spots for lounging include the square flanked by the Grand Théâtre and Le Grand Hotel, where street performers set up shop, or the bustling Place du Parlement.
To get around on two wheels, the city runs a reasonably priced bike share program, which costs 1€ for 24 hours or 5€ for 7 days. Users are then charged 2€ per hour after a free half-hour of biking per session – which means you won't have to pay extra if you simply limit your rides to 30 minutes or less. The quays are easy to navigate, but it helps to have walked the sometimes-narrow streets within the city center before attempting to zip through them on a bike. (Much of the surrounding French wine region is also accessible via bike, but a group tour is recommended for first-timers.)
At the end of the day, stay at L'Avant-Scene in the Chartrons district. The cozy 19th-century property comprises nine chic rooms, and its hip, residential "Old Bordeaux" location is a convenient 15-minute walk (or 5-minute tram ride) from Place de la Bourse. Better yet, we found online rates between €93.50 ($129) and €110 ($152), even in the summer months.