If you’re planning to spend 48 or 72 hours in Bordeaux, there are several reasons you should get the Bordeaux CityPass. Sometimes there’s a question of whether a city card is a good value. Of all the cards I’ve used around the world, Bordeaux has one of the best.
Bordeaux is one of the bigger cities in France, but still only has a population of 250,000. The metropolitan district of Bordeaux has closer to a million, but the city doesn’t feel crowded at all. Unlike other European cities designed in the medieval ages, Bordeaux is laid out with very wide streets. The history of Bordeaux goes back 2,800 years to a huge Roman settlement. Several parts of the city have been razed and redeveloped, but that’s a whole story (or book) in itself, which you can certainly learn more about during your visit.
In 2007, Bordeaux was given UNESCO World Heritage status, protecting the old town. Because of its crescent shape, Bordeaux has been nicknamed Port of the Moon. The city is primarily known for its wine, but there are so many more amazing features in this French gem.
What You Get with the Bordeaux CityPass
The Bordeaux CityPass is available with 24, 48 and 72-hour options. All three cards come with the following benefits:
- Free public transportation on all trams, buses and the river shuttle
- Free access to 7 museums and 2 monuments
- A free visit to Cité du Vin – the Wine Museum
- One free tour of Bordeaux
- Discounts on wine tours, cruises and more
The 72-hour card includes two additional free tours and a discounted tour:
- Guided Tour of Underground Saint-Emilion
- Guided Tour of the Citadel of Blaye
- Boating Around on the Bird Island (discounted)
The three cards are €29, €39 and €43 for the 24, 48 and 72-hours options respectively ($32, $43 and $47.50). Considering the Cite du Vin Wine Museum alone costs €20 ($22), the Bordeaux CityPass is a great option.
Free Public Transportation
Transportation ticket prices in Bordeaux are moderate. A 1-hour ticket is €1.70 ($1.90), two tickets are €3 ($3.30) and a 24-hour ticket is €5 ($5.50). Tickets are valid on all buses, trams and the water shuttle on the river. You can also get Bus 1 from the airport on the same ticket.
With the CityPass, all public transport is free. Because you have to pick up your card in town, you still have to get the bus from the airport. After that, you can save up to €10 ($11) in two days with the 48-hour CityPass.
Free Tour of Bordeaux
WIth your Bordeaux CityPass, you get a free tour of the city. There are several options to choose from: touristic train, imperial bus, or guided tour by coach or walking. The Touristic Train Tour isn’t a real train; it has wheels and goes around the city visiting the historic sites from the Gallo-Roman period up to 18th-century developments. The Imperial Bus Tour is the usual Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tour available in cities around the world, offering an audio guide and the ability to get on and off the tour over a 24 hour period. The Imperial Bus isn’t available in January and early February, which is when I went.
I always say a walking tour should be your first activity in a new city. Thus, I opted for the Guided Walking Tour. I met a local lady at the tourism office at 10 a.m. who took me around the city for over two hours. I was one of the only English-speakers in the group, and I was amazed that she flawlessly delivered the tour in both English and French. We didn’t go far, staying in the Old Town. All told, it was less than two miles of walking but covered many of the key attractions within the Old Town. While I could write a whole article on the tour, I don’t want to spoil it for your own visit. I will say that my favorite part of the tour was a visit to the Cailhau Gate, which I’ll talk about below.
Cité du Vin
The highlight of the Bordeaux CityPass (and the city, for that matter) is the Cité du Vin Wine Museum. To say this is a state-of-the-art museum would be an understatement. The amount of information given is massive, from the history of winemaking to the different crops all over the world. Some of the displays are interactive, such as where you can smell the different scents of wine. Your entrance ticket also comes with a free wine tasting on the top floor where you’ll have a beautiful panoramic view of Bordeaux.
The hardest part of the museum is fitting it into your schedule. We spent two hours there and barely saw half the displays. If you really want to study all the displays, watch all the videos and learn as much as you can, you could easily spend the entire day there. Just know that you have to go before noon if you want to get free entry with your Bordeaux CityPass. If you don’t have the card, admission with the wine tasting is €20 ($22).
Aside from Cité du Vin, there are a dozen other museums available in Bordeaux, eight of which are free with the Bordeaux CityPass, and you get discounted tickets with the other four. We made it to three of the eight within our 48 hours. Please note that most of the museums and attractions are closed on Mondays, except for the Fine Arts Museum and Museum of Decorative Art and Design, which are closed every Tuesday instead of Monday.
Fine Arts Museum
This is the Bordeaux Gallery with two large buildings full of portraits and paintings. One building houses masters such as Matisse, Picasso, Renoir and Rubens, while the other building showcases local artists such as André Lhote and Odilon Redon. If you’re a fan of fine arts, both Renaissance and modern styles, you’ll love this museum. The entrance fee is free with the Bordeaux CityPass, or €5 ($5.50) without it.
CAPC Contemporary Art Museum
Even though I’m not always a fan of modern art, I loved this museum. First of all, the building itself is a work of art. It’s an old warehouse for colonial goods. The central atrium is available for temporary exhibits, and the second and third floors have different permanent exhibits. The temporary exhibit we got to see was by Lubaina Himid called “Naming the Money”. There’s a nice cafe up on the roof too. This museum is also free with the Bordeaux CityPass, or €7 ($7.70) without it. Please note that not all the exhibits are child-friendly.
Museum of Decorative Art and Design
This museum was once an 18th-century mansion in the center of the city. The rooms are preserved with the original furniture, furnishings and decorations. Of all the museums we visited, this one was the smallest, but I always like to see the detail of craftsmanship from hundreds of years ago, especially when it comes to glass carvings. It took about an hour to see everything here at a comfortable pace. The entrance fee is €5 ($5.50) without the CityPass.
I’m actually surprised that Bordeaux never really came up as a key destination for me to visit in France. While visiting, I completely fell in love with the city and would have a hard time believing that another French city is better. Granted, I haven’t been to Paris yet, but I’m turned off by how much I’ve been told everything costs there.
In Bordeaux, many of the attractions are free, such as the beautiful Jardin Public (Public Garden), Rue Sainte-Catherine (the famous walking street in the same location as the original Roman road), Monument aux Girondins (the site of the former fortress), the Bordeaux Cathedral, the Basilica of Saint Michael, the beautiful waterfront, and (my personal favorite) Palais Gallien – the remains of the Roman amphitheater.
Other than the museums and stores, basically all the attractions are free. The three exceptions are the Pey Berland Tower, Cailhau Gate and the Great Synagogue of Bordeaux. The first two of these are free with the Bordeaux CityPass, and you can visit the synagogue for €4 ($4.40) with the CityPass (€5 without).
Pey Berland Tower
I always like to get to the highest spot in town for some of the best photographs. In Bordeaux, that’s the Pey Berland Tower next door to the Bordeaux Cathedral. The tower was built in the 15th century, and the monumental statue of Our Lady of Aquitaine was placed on the top in 1863. You can climb to the top if you don’t mind the 231 stairs. It’s a tight wind up the stairs and it can be tricky when someone is coming the other way, but the view is more than worth it! Without the Bordeaux CityPass, the fee is €6 ($6.60).
The other attraction you get for free with the CityPass is the Cailhau Gate. Also built in the 15th century on the ruins of an older defensive gate, it was a monument to honor King Charles VIII’s conquest of the Kingdom of Naples. While the gate is just gorgeous, it’s the video inside which was one of my favorite parts of my stay in Bordeaux. It covers the past millennium of Bordeaux’s history. For the first time, I feel like I understand it, including the connection and dissension with England and the 100-year war.
The Gate and video were part of our walking tour, although the tour didn’t actually take us up to the top of the gate for a view of the river. I meant to go back and do that later, and then forgot all about it. The entrance fee here is also €5 ($5.50) without the CityPass.
How to Use the Bordeaux CityPass in 48 Hours
If you’re only planning to be in Bordeaux for two days, you’ll have to work to squeeze everything in. One of the days will probably be spent entirely at the Cité du Vin, or at least the better part of the day. You might be able to squeeze in one more museum afterward. Then you can spend the evening strolling the streets and devouring some divine French food. I’d recommend taking your free tour on the morning of the first day, going to Cité du Vin on the second day, and then getting to as many museums as you can after the tour, as well as the Pey Berland Tower.
There’s a way you can “cheat” a little with the Bordeaux CityPass if you have three days to spend in Bordeaux but don’t want to get the 72-hour card. As the card is valid for 48 hours, activate the card after 10 a.m. and before noon on the first day. Then on the third day, get to Cité du Vin before the time you activated your card on the first day. You can then spend as long as you want there (probably all day). That gives you the whole second day to spend at the rest of the museums.
With all the museums and attractions that I visited, plus public transportation, I would have spent €63 ($69.30), and that’s not including the guided tour. Thus, the card for €39 is a great deal. Had I timed it right (not on a Monday when most of the museums were closed), I probably could have seen a couple more of the museums. I’m also looking forward to going back in the near future to see the rest of the Bordeaux region and tour the chateaux and vineyards. Yep, Bordeaux really stole my heart!
Upgrading the Bordeaux CityPass to 72 Hours
If you’re planning to spend four days or more in Bordeaux, I’d recommend getting the 72-hour card for only another €4 ($4.40), which is less than public transportation would cost for that day. This card comes with everything the 48-hour card does, plus a free tour of either Saint-Emilion or the Citadel of Blaye. Either tour is a day in itself. You can use the same trick mentioned above to activate your card in the morning on the first day between 10 a.m. and noon, and then visit Cité du Vin on the fourth day to maximize how much you can get out of the card.
Buy Your Bordeaux CityPass Today
You can purchase your Bordeaux CityPass ahead of time or at any of the Bordeaux Tourism Boards around the city, except the one at Cite Du Vin. The main tourism office is located next to the Grand Theater in the center of town. All the tram lines pass by the office.
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If you have more time in Bordeaux and like wine (or perhaps even if you don’t), you definitely have to take a Bordeaux Wine Workshop!
Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.
- 5 Steps to Book Cheap Flights
- Hostels: To Book or Not to Book
- Is Workaway Worth it for the Traveler?
- Click here to claim your $25 credit with AirB&B
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