Wine tasting can be an expensive habit, no less a luxurious affair; however, seeing that wine is one of the three main symbols of la table française, wine tasting in France is very accessible — and thus can be very affordable.
You’ll notice very quickly once you arrive how the French café culture and wine culture go hand in hand. It’s true: the French love drinking wine! So even if your budget is small and limited, there are plenty of ways you can revel in the French capital of wine, Bordeaux, without entirely breaking your wallet.
While we wouldn’t necessarily don it a “super cheap” destination, you’ll soon find out there are many thrifty ways to experience the historical glamour and revolutionized gastronomy Bordeaux and its surrounding regions have to offer.
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While you may know Bordeaux solely for its venerated wine culture, we have good news for you: wine is only the first of many reasons why people are coming to explore this southwestern region.
Believe it or not, Bordeaux wasn’t always the cosmopolitan hotspot it is nowadays. In fact, it wasn’t until 2007, when the city of Bordeaux became classified as the world’s largest urban UNESCO World Heritage site. While parts of the city still embody antediluvian grime, the urban transformation that took place ten years ago has embraced the city’s true grit and mélange of ancient architecture, which stems all the way back from the age of Enlightenment.
According to UNESCO, Bordeaux, also known as Port of the Moon for its crescent-shaped contour, “represents the success of philosophers who wanted to make towns into melting pots of humanism, universality, and culture.” Oui, c’est vrai (Yes, it’s true); Bordeaux is all of that and more, and you can enjoy it even if your budget is limited!
When to go to Bordeaux
Two words for Cheapos: Off season! If you like to maximize your wallet, then you probably already know the benefits of off-season travel. On the plus side, the off-season usually means fewer crowds and fewer lines. The off-season in Bordeaux takes place during the spring or early autumn; however, if you’re planning your trip in the winter, December can be a very jolly time of year to visit the Port of the Moon… just be prepared for many of the vineyards to be closed.
Traveling to Bordeaux on the cheap
If you plan on directly traveling to Bordeaux from overseas, I highly recommend flying into one Paris’s two main airports, Charles de Gaulle (CDG) or Orly (ORY). Thanks to a new high-speed train service, the LGV Sud Europe Atlantique, traveling to this wine paradise has never been faster! In just two hours, you can hop aboard a train at Paris’s Gare Montparnasse and arrive in Bordeaux for a full day of Dionysian delights.
If you book your ticket even just a week in advance during the off-season, you can get to Bordeaux via train for prices as low as €16 during the week and €19 during the weekend. That’s a bargain.
Meandering Bordeaux’s historic city center
France is one of those special countries where no matter how large or small the city, exploring by foot is always a pleasurable option. When it comes to Bordeaux, this rule of thumb speaks volumes! As aforementioned, Bordeaux boasts a broad and impressive range of architectural styles, and after Paris has more protected buildings than any other city in France. At times you’ll feel like you’re in a small village, other times in a regal urban sprawl saturated with Parisian joie de vivre.
If you like having a handheld map like me, head to the Office of Tourism where you’ll find a plethora of resourceful brochures and handouts.
If you want the biggest bang for your buck, you may consider buying a Bordeaux CityPass, which starts at €29 for a 24-hour pass. This includes a walking tour, bus tour, admission to the Pey-Berland Tower, access to the majority of museums, including La Cité du Vin (if you go before noon), free access to all of Bordeaux’s public transport network, and many other discounts, the list goes on! If you were to pay for all of these separately, it would add up to €56, so even if you only end up at a few of these attractions, the CityPass could help you save a few euros.
Must-see Bordeaux activities
Place de la Bourse and the Water Mirror
Located along the banks of the Garonne River, this elegant square, emblematic landmark and optical illusion is a must-see for every visitor.
Pont de Pierre
The first bridge built over the Garonne River in Bordeaux, it was planned and designed under the orders of Napoléon Bonaparte I. Until 1965, this bridge was the only one connecting the left and right banks.
Bordeaux Cathedral (St. Andrew’s Cathedral)
Even though it might not be as impressive as other French churches (bonjour, Notre Dame!), this beautiful cathedral is an architectural treasure for Bordeaux. Entry: €2.
This lovely, village-esque district near the Bassins à Flot is bustling with wineries, restaurants, cultural centers and boutiques.
An alternative urban space with an eco-friendly philosophy housed in former military warehouses, Darwin is a cool kids’ paradise, full of workshops, small businesses and organizations, and cafes.
Wine, anyone? Bordeaux’s wine culture for less
Best bargain for wine lovers
Bordeaux’s École du Vin (3 Cours du 30 Juillet), just across from the Office of Tourism in the “Golden Triangle”, is where your wildest, wine-iest dreams can come true… without spending every last euro in your wallet. This fine institution — not to be confused with the Maison à Vin, also located near the Office of Tourism — gives wine enthusiasts one of the most affordable ways of tasting a wide variety of wines at their chic, yet unpretentious wine bar.
And unlike the overpriced full & half-day vineyard tours, the pours here are very generous. For €2-5, you can drink full glasses of some of the region’s finest wines and learn all there is to know about it. The servers are properly trained sommeliers, so don’t be shy or suspicious when it comes to their knowledge of wine.
This bar additionally offers a few different cheeseboards that cost around €9 and like the wine pours, are generous in portion, so this could be a great way to substitute a picnic outdoors.
Best spot for history buffs
La Cité Du Vin (134 Quai de Bacalan), Bordeaux’s newest architectural masterpiece, a glimmering structure redefining the up-and-coming Bassins à Flots district, opened its doors in June of 2016. If you love wine (likely) and appreciate history (probably), this museum is chock-full of high-tech exhibits, giving visitors a deeper understanding of the winemaking process, as well as the long-established history of wine culture in France.
While the €20 entrance fee might deter Cheapos, it might be worth it if you end up visiting Bordeaux during the colder months or run into some unfortunate weather.
Bonus tip: Your admission also includes a glass of wine to be enjoyed on the 8th-floor wine bar, where you can equally relish one of the best panoramic views of Bordeaux!
Cheap eats in Bordeaux
4 cours de Verdun
Right near the Jardin Public, this modish, yet cozy restaurant has a wonderful terrace and dining space. Here you can enjoy an Entrée and Plat (appetizer & main dish) or a Plat and Dessert for €14, while glasses of wine will only set you back only €2-5. If you’re a party of two, you can buy a nice bottle of wine for €10-16! The restaurant’s elegant simplicity is found it in its rotating menu of delicious, regional meals that highlight the flavors of Bordeaux.
Marché des Capucins
Place des Capucins
Not far from the Saint-Jean train station, the emblematic Marché des Capucins food market, which recently underwent a face-lift of sorts, is a great place to grub and people watch all at once. Situated in the Saint-Michel district, it’s become a trendy hangout spot teeming with cafés, cheap local eateries, and produce and seafood vendors selling some of the Atlantic coast’s best oysters! This place is full of locals, especially Bordeaux’s laidback student population, so if you’re wanting to experience something authentic and inexpensive, make this one of your first stops of the day.
The market is open Tuesday-Friday from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Saturdays & Sundays from 5:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Saint-Émilion: For true oenophiles
You don’t have to take a pricey winery bus tour to enjoy the famous wines of Bordeaux. Instead, you can plan a day trip to the renowned wine village of Saint-Emilion. It’s located only 35 minutes by train from Bordeaux and the price is right — a round-trip train ticket will cost you €18.
Read more about how to visit Saint-Émilion on a budget.
Where to stay in Bordeaux
If you want to stay right in the city center without breaking the bank, there are a number of excellent options in Bordeaux. Here are a few of our favorites:
Hostel 20 Bordeaux
20 rue Borie in the Chartrons district
Rooms from €47
One of two hostels in Bordeaux, Hostel 20 rests in the chic area of Chartrons, about 10-15 minutes from the city center and Bordeaux’s main attractions. Shared dorms will cost you about €28 per night, whereas a Private Single to Double Bed will cost you €47-50 per night.
Hotel de La Boetie
4 Rue de la Boétie
Rooms from €76
The rooms might be small but so are the prices at this friendly 1-star hotel. It’s nothing fancy, but you can’t beat the location in the heart of Bordeaux.
ibis Styles Bordeaux Mériadeck
54 Rue Joseph Abria
Rooms from €83
A stylish option for budget travelers, this 3-star hotel can have some very good deals if you book in advance. Our favorite part? The generous breakfast spread is free for all guests.
12 Rue Saint-Rémi
Rooms from €97
Just a few steps from Place de la Bourse, this 2-star hotel is hard to beat when it comes to location. It also has free Wi-Fi, an elevator, and 24-hour front desk service.
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