Introduction

Delve into the ancient heart of Bordeaux in this twinset of neighbourhoods, a labyrinth of narrow medieval streets and enchanting backstreet squares evocatively named after the candlestick makers, goldsmiths, cabinet makers, coopers and other craftsmen who worked their trade here in the 13th century. Lounging on a summertime cafe or restaurant terrace here is a supremely fine essential of la vie bordelaise (Bordelais life).

North of Saint-Pierre, the elegant wide boulevards lined with grandiose townhouses around Esplanade des Quinconces and the chic, boutique-rich Triangle d'Or plunge visitors into aristocratic 18th-century Bordeaux.

Explore

Weighed down with the bulk of Bordeaux's classic heavyweight sights, this historic neighbourhood merits at least a couple of days exploration – don a pair of comfy shoes to ensure a smooth ride on Saint-Pierre and Saint-Paul's tourist-packed, stone-paved and cobbled streets. For a sweeping overview of the area, begin the day with a hike up the Gothic belfry of Cathédrale St-André – the city panorama from the top is stunning.

By the river, on the Garonne's Left Bank, architecture and history buffs will appreciate the vast open expanse of museum-studded place de la Bourse, linked to nearby place du Parlement by rue Fernand-Philippart: the original medieval ramparts in this part of Saint-Pierre were razed in the early 18th century to open up the fortress city and create today's extraordinary Unesco-protected ensemble of classical and neoclassical architecture.

This is Bordeaux's prime shopping district: the central department store, Galeries Lafayette, and mainstream shops lace car-free rue Ste-Catherine and surrounding streets; the upmarket Triangle d'Or, north of Saint-Pierre, is the hot spot for French-chic designer fashion. Day and night, hipsters gravitate to Saint-Paul to hang out in the trendy coffee shops and concept stores, independent boutiques selling vintage and vinyls, fashionable pubs and late-night bars peppering the narrow lanes around rue St-James and rue des Ayres.

Highlights

  • Cathédrale St-André Discovering the work of Gothic architects in Bordeaux cathedral and swooning over the panoramic bird's-eye view that unfolds atop its 12th-century gargoyled belfry.
  • Miroir d’Eau Splashing around and snapping picture-perfect reflections in the world's largest reflecting pool.
  • Musée d’Aquitaine Tracing city history, from Roman Burdigala to Bordeaux's emergence as a 19th-century world port and millennial trendsetter.
  • Musée des Beaux Arts Making the acquaintance of France's most famous – and famously scandalous – 19th-century female artist, a purebred trouser-wearing Bordelaise no less.
  • Place de la Bourse Admiring the symmetry and line-up of 18th-century hôtels particuliers – pretty in pink at sunset – of Bordeaux's most elegant square.

Top Tips

Consider investing in the Bordeaux Métropole City Pass (www.bordeauxcitypass.com; €29/39/46 for 24/48/72 hours), covering admission to 20 museums and monuments. It also includes a free guided tour and unlimited use of public buses, trams and boats.