Bordeaux was my favorite city during a May trip to Iceland, UK, and France. The old city is absolutely beautiful, with wide streets lined with historic buildings. Bordeaux actually has the most preserved historic buildings of any city in France, except Paris. Not to mention the wine is amazing!
I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to stay on budget in Bordeaux, France if you had a plan. I was also surprised at the size of the city! Did you know Bordeaux has about 250,000 residents with 750,000 in the metropolitan area? There’s a good number of university students in the area as well.
Here are my tips and tricks for visiting Bordeaux, France on a budget:
I found Airbnb to be the best way to stay in historic Bordeaux and stay on budget. I stayed in a very spacious one-bedroom apartment for less than $85 a night in May. After coming from Reykjavik and London, this felt like a steal! Bordeaux’s historic downtown area is small but full of sights, food, and entertainment. While private lodging was cheaper outside of the historic area, staying downtown meant less cash spent on taking the tram or a taxi across the city.
Bordeaux has hundreds of Airbnb options in great locations, and I was pleasantly surprised to find how affordable these options were!
If you’re not into Airbnb or you’re willing to stay a little farther from downtown, there are definitely some low cost hotels and hostels in the area. It’s also worth noting that a hotel is more likely to have air conditioning than Airbnb’s do, and if France just happens to be 101 degrees Fahrenheit when you’re traveling like it was for me, that’s a luxury you may miss.
Wine: Le Bar à Vin for delicious 2€ glasses
The best kept secret in Bordeaux may be the Bar à Vin. This wine bar is located directly across the street from the Bordeaux Tourism Office, and it’s also on the ground floor of the Bordeaux Wine Council Headquarters. Of the four days I spent in Bordeaux, I was here for three of them.
What’s so great about the Bar a Vin is that it showcases some of the fantastic wines in the Bordeaux region that you haven’t heard about, and for an extremely satisfying price. All wine is served by the glass, and glasses start at 2€. Seriously, the best wine you’ve ever had for 2€!
The wine list always has 30 selections, all for 8€ or less per glass. The sommeliers on staff are eager to tell you about each wine and speak English well. They also offer some fantastic cheeses, cold meats, and chocolates to compliment your tasting. I’m still dreaming of this fantastic wine bar!
Explore: Take the train to St. Emilion
St. Emilion is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has been around since the 11th century. It is a popular destination on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, and has fantastic monolithic churches built centuries ago. The city is small and walkable, although very hilly!
You can sign up for a tour or even a wine tour to St. Emilion from the tourism office, but you can get there much cheaper on your own. The train connecting Bordeaux to St. Emilion costs only 5€ and takes about 40 minutes. There is a bit of a walk from the train station to St. Emilion, but I did not mind strolling through French wine country for a few extra minutes. I would also recommend stopping by the tourism office when you arrive, even if only for a restroom and a map of the city.
Photos from St. Emilion
In St. Emilion the restaurants aren’t cheap, so definitely plan for that. After wandering around town all morning, I had a fantastic lunch at Les Delices du Roy. I never knew I’d still think about a goat cheese salad months after eating it, but here I am. What I will say is relatively affordable in both St. Emilion and Bordeaux is duck confit and duck pate. I think Jake’s duck confit dish was actually less money than my goat cheese salad, so if you like to enjoy some confit de canard, Bordeaux is the place for you!
Wine Tours: Pick a half-day option
As I mentioned before, there are wine tours that take you to St. Emilion and other areas of Bordeaux. I really enjoy the intricacies of wine, and there were some places I couldn’t reach without a wine tour. Many of the large and esteemed chateaus only allow tastings on scheduled tours, so you can’t just pop in like I’m used to in Virginia. There are a lot of private companies that do wine tours, but I decided to do a half-day tour of the Medoc region through the Tourism Office.
The half-day tour includes two Grand Cru Chateaus and takes you out of the city and into true wine country. I rode in a 10-passenger van with a family from Sweden and a couple from California and had a fantastic time! We all asked our tour guide numerous questions about Bordeaux, the wines, and things to do in the city. While you can get great wine on your own, this trip and the experience was something I couldn’t have organized on my own. The half-day tour option is more affordable than a full-day, and you still have plenty of time to taste wines and see the beauty of Bordeaux.
Photos from a great wine tour in Medoc. The large image is the famous Chateaux Margaux!
There are some luxury experiences and ideas associated with Bordeaux, but if you keep your lodging low-cost, head to the Bar a Vin, and buy your own train ticket to St. Emilion you’ll be able to spend more of your money on other parts of your trip- or some fantastic dinners!
- It’s easy to get to Bordeaux directly from the Gare Montparnasse train station in Paris.
- If you’re looking for a quieter time to travel, please note that the French celebrate Catholic holidays and many are out of work and school on those dates.
- Air conditioning is not the norm, so plan and pack accordingly! I had 1 fan in our Airbnb that I was very thankful for when it was 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside.
- If you don’t speak French well, saying your please and thank you (‘si vous plait’ and ‘pardon’) will help you get around.
- Bordeaux is full of luxury experiences, but if you plan ahead you can have an indulgent trip without breaking the bank.