Dangers & Annoyances
Bordeaux is a fairly safe city, but you should employ common sense.
- Avoid wandering alone at night in the Gare St-Jean, Marché des Capucins and place de la Victoire areas. None of these areas are dangerous, but they can attract shady characters and feel unsavoury after dark.
- Avoid walking anywhere near the River Garonne when drunk or unsteady on your feet; people drown in the river every year.
- Unless you absolutely have to, ditch the car. This is France's sixth largest city and parking, predictably, is a nightmare.
- Watch for pickpockets at the train station, Marche des Capucins and other busy tourist areas.
Consider investing in the Bordeaux Métropole City Pass (www.bordeauxcitypass.com; 24/48/72 hours €29/39/46), covering admission to 20 museums and monuments. It also includes a free guided tour and unlimited use of public buses, trams and boats. Buy it online or at the tourist office.
Emergency & Important Numbers
To dial a Bordeaux phone number from another country, dial your international access code, France's country code and then the local telephone number minus the initial ‘0’. France has no area codes, meaning you simply dial the 10-digit Bordeaux number from elsewhere in France.
|France's Country Code||33|
|International Access Code||00|
- Conversation Use the formal vous when speaking to anyone unknown or older than you; the informal tu is reserved for close friends, family and children.
- Churches Dress modestly (cover shoulders).
- Drinks Asking for une carafe d'eau (free jug of tap water) in restaurants is acceptable. Never end a meal with a cappuccino or cup of tea. Play French and order un café (espresso).
- French kissing Exchange bisous (cheek-skimming kisses) – two is the norm in Bordeaux – with casual acquaintances and friends.
Gay & Lesbian Travellers
Laissez-faire perfectly sums up France's liberal attitude towards homosexuality and people's private lives in general; in part because of a long tradition of public tolerance towards unconventional lifestyles. Bordeaux, being the busy student city it is, enjoys an active gay and lesbian scene and thousands gather each year in June to celebrate the city's Gay Pride march – an annual event since 1996.
- Attitudes towards homosexuality tend to be more conservative in the wine-producing villages – countryside essentially.
- As is the case in almost every French city, Bordeaux's lesbian scene is less public than its gay male counterpart and is centred mainly on women's cafes and bars.
- Same-sex marriage has been legal in France since 2013.
- Le Girofard LGBT Centre for the Aquitaine region and primary meeting spot and info source for gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender visitors to Bordeaux.
- Wake Up! (www.assowakeup.org) is a Bordeaux-based association for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students in the city; it's a first-class source of information on where to go to and what to do in the city.
- Cité d'Elles (www.citedelles.fr) A local resource for lesbians. Check its website for activities, including hikes and bike rides, coffee hangouts and local meeting places.
- Comprehensive travel insurance to cover theft, loss and medical problems is highly recommended.
- Some policies specifically exclude dangerous activities such as diving, motorcycling, skiing and even trekking: read the fine print.
- Check that the policy covers ambulances or an emergency flight home.
- Find out in advance if your insurance plan will make payments directly to providers or reimburse you later for overseas health expenditures.
- If you have to claim later, make sure you keep all documentation.
- Paying for your airline ticket with a credit card often provides limited travel accident insurance – ask your credit card company what it is prepared to cover.
- Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
- Wi-fi (pronounced ‘wee-fee’ in French) is available at the airport, practically every hotel and at dozens of cafes, restaurants, museums and the tourist office.
- Free public wi-fi hot spots are available all over the city, including along the left-bank riverside quays and most squares in downtown Bordeaux: select the 'Wifi Bordeaux' network and plug in your name, address and email to connect.
- Bordeaux tourist office rents out pocket-sized mobile wi-fi devices that you carry around with you, ensuring a fast wi-fi connection while roaming the city.
- Alternatively, rent a mobile wi-fi device online before leaving home and arrange for it to be delivered by post to your hotel in France through HipPocketWifi (http://hippocketwifi.com), Travel WiFi (http://travel-wifi.com) or My Webspot (http://my-webspot.com).
- Co-working cafes such as La Bicoque in Saint-Pierre are appearing like mushrooms after the rain in digital-savvy Bordeaux. Expect to pay between €4 and €5 an hour, including hot and cold drinks and snacks.
ATMs widely available. Credit cards accepted in most hotels and restaurants.
ATMs at the airport, the train station and on every second street corner. Visa, MasterCard and Amex widely accepted.
You always get a better exchange rate in-country but it is a good idea to arrive in Bordeaux with enough euros to take a taxi to a hotel if you have to.
- Commercial banks charge up to €5 per foreign-currency transaction – if they even bother to offer exchange services any more.
- Bureaux de change (exchange bureaus) are faster and easier, open longer hours and often give better rates than banks.
- Some post-office branches exchange travellers cheques and banknotes in a variety of currencies but charge a commission for cash; most won't take US$100 bills.
- Credit and debit cards, accepted almost everywhere in Bordeaux, are convenient, relatively secure and usually offer a better exchange rate than travellers cheques or cash exchanges.
- Credit cards issued in France have embedded chips – you have to type in a PIN to make a purchase.
- Visa, MasterCard and Amex can be used in shops and supermarkets and for train travel, car hire and motorway tolls.
- Don't assume that you can pay for a meal or a budget hotel with a credit card – enquire first.
- Cash advances are a supremely convenient way to stay stocked up with euros, but getting cash with a credit card involves both fees (sometimes US$10 or more) and interest – ask your credit-card issuer for details. Debit-card fees are usually much less.
By law, restaurant and bar prices are service compris (ie they include a 15% service charge), so there is no need to leave a pourboire (tip). If you were extremely satisfied with the service, however, you can – as many locals do – show your appreciation by leaving a small 'extra' tip for your waiter or waitress.
- Bars No tips for drinks served at bar; round to nearest euro for drinks served at table should service be exceptional.
- Cafes Leave 5% to 10% for outstanding service, but absolutely no obligation.
- Hotels Give porters €1 to €2 per bag.
- Restaurants Leave 10% or a few euro coins on the table after paying the bill.
- Tour guides Give €1 to €2 per person.
Opening hours vary throughout the year. Longer summer hours often decrease in shoulder and low seasons.
Banks 9am–noon and 2pm–5pm Monday to Friday or Tuesday to Saturday
Restaurants Noon–2.30pm and 7pm–11pm six days a week; most typically closed Monday or Tuesday.
Clubs 10pm–3am, 4am or 5am Thursday to Saturday
Shops 10am–noon and 2pm–7pm Monday to Saturday
- There are dozens of post offices all over the city, flagged with a yellow or brown sign reading ‘La Poste.’
- Handy branches include those on place Gambetta in Saint-Seurin and place Projet in Saint-Pierre.
- La Poste (www.laposte.fr) also has banking, finance and bill-paying functions, meaning long queues. Use an automatic machine to buy postage stamps instead.
- Count €0.80 for a postcard or regular 20g letter to elsewhere within France, €1.20 to the UK, Switzerland and EU countries, and €1.30 to Australia, Canada and the US.
The following national jours fériés (public holidays) are observed in Bordeaux:
New Year's Day (Jour de l'An) 1 January
Easter Sunday & Monday (Pâques & Lundi de Pâques) Late March/April
May Day (Fête du Travail) 1 May
Victoire 1945 8 May
Ascension Thursday (Ascension) May; on the 40th day after Easter
Pentecost/Whit Sunday & Whit Monday (Pentecôte & Lundi de Pentecôte) Mid-May to mid-June; on the seventh Sunday after Easter
Bastille Day/National Day (Fête Nationale) 14 July
Assumption Day (Assomption) 15 August
All Saints' Day (Toussaint) 1 November
Remembrance Day (L'onze Novembre) 11 November
Christmas (Noël) 25 December
The following are not public holidays in France: Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras; the first day of Lent); Maundy (or Holy) Thursday and Good Friday, just before Easter; and Boxing Day (26 December).
- Smoking Illegal in all indoor public spaces, including restaurants and pubs (though, of course, smokers still light up on the terraces outside).
Taxes & Refunds
The standard value-added tax (VAT) rate of 20% is levied on most goods and services in France. Restaurants and hotels must always include 10% VAT in their prices.
Non-EU residents can claim a VAT refund on same-day purchases over €175, providing the goods are for personal consumption and are being personally transported home; retailers have details.
Calling France from abroad Dial your country's international access code, then 33 (France's country code), then the 10-digit local number without the initial zero.
Calling internationally from France Dial 00 (the international access code), the indicatif (country code), the area code (without the initial zero if there is one) and the local number. Some country codes are posted in public telephones.
Directory inquiries For national service des renseignements (directory inquiries) dial 11 87 12 or use the service for free online at www.118712.fr.
International directory inquiries For numbers outside France, dial 11 87 00.
European and Australian phones work, but only American cells with 900 and 1800 MHz networks are compatible; check with your provider before leaving home. Use a French SIM card to call with a cheaper French number.
- French mobile phone numbers begin with 06 or 07.
- France uses GSM 900/1800, which is compatible with the rest of Europe and Australia but not with the North American GSM 1900 or the totally different system in Japan (though some North Americans have tri-band phones that work here).
- Check with your service provider about roaming charges – dialling a mobile phone from a fixed-line phone or another mobile can be incredibly expensive.
- It is usually cheaper to buy a local SIM card from a French provider such as Orange, SFR, Bouygues Télécom or Free, which gives you a local phone number. To do this, ensure your phone is unlocked. If you already have a compatible phone, you can slip in a SIM card and top up with prepaid credit, though this is likely to run out fast as domestic prepaid calls cost about €0.50 per minute.
- Recharge cards are sold at most tabacs (tobacconist-newsagents), supermarkets and online through websites such as Topengo (www.topengo.fr) or Sim-OK (https://recharge.sim-ok.com).
Carrying your own charger and cable is the only sure way of ensuring you don't run out of juice. Don't be shy to ask in cafes and restaurants if you can plug in and charge – if you ask nicely, most will oblige. In Bordeaux the occasional cafe lends cables to customers and savvy taxi drivers stock a selection of smartphone-compatible cables and chargers for passengers to use.
Love them (as a sci-fi geek) or loathe them (as a claustrophobe), France's 24-hour self-cleaning toilets are here to stay. These mechanical WCs are free. There is no time for dawdling either: you have precisely 15 minutes before being (ooh la la!) exposed to passers-by. Green means libre (vacant) and red means occupé (occupied).
The French are completely blasé about unisex toilets, so save your blushes when tiptoeing past the urinals to reach the ladies' loo.
Tourist Office Runs an excellent range of city and regional tours; reserve in advance online or in situ. It also rents pocket modems to hook you up with wi-fi. There's a small but helpful branch at the train station.
Maison du Tourisme de la Gironde Information on the surrounding Gironde département.
Travel with Children
With its seemingly endless, silky-smooth riverside quays and treasure chest of towers to climb and museums to explore, Bordeaux is a superb city to explore en famille. Be it energy-burning tots or tech-smart teens, all ages are well catered for.
History, Science & Nature
- CAP Sciences
Robotics, digital art, astrology…temporary exhibitions and hands-on workshops at Bordeaux's science museum are second-to-none (from three to 18 years).
- Musée d'Aquitaine
This colourful curated history museum brims with fascinating exhibits, captivating for children aged six and up.
- Site Archéologique de St-Seurin
Uncover ghoulish finds in this ancient necropolis in the grounds of Basilique St-Seurin.
- Musée de la Mer et de la Marine
Touting the very latest in museum technology, Bordeaux's most recent museum promises to be a fascinating experience for budding young seafarers and wannabe pirates.
- Miroir d'Eau
What's not to love about dancing and scampering barefoot in the world's largest reflecting pool on place de la Bourse?
Cruise along the river aboard the city's fleet of river boats, run by local public transport company TMB.
- Skate Parc des Chartrons
This open-air, riverside skatepark is a mecca for young rollerbladers, skateboarders and BMX bikers.
- Jardin Public
If it's endless space to charge around and a maze of hiding places to place hide-and-seek that your child wants, hit this elegant city park.
- La Cité du Vin
Kids (from eight years) get their own 'digital companion' to tour the interactive world of wine at La Cité du Vin; otherwise, reserve a spot on a themed, family-discovery workshop.
- Wave Surf Café
Ride artificial waves at this urban surfing cafe (from age eight years); there are trampolines as well, for those six years and older.
- Hangar Darwin
Rent a skateboard in situ and join local riders at Bordeaux's hip skate park, in an industrial hangar in La Bastide on the Rive Droite.
- Magasin Général
Join other savvy parents at France's largest organic restaurant for an artisan beer brewed on-site while the kids play ping pong or table football; young children can play with various toys in a tent erected inside the cavernous lounge.
Show the kids how to make the cake of their dreams with a hands-on patisserie lesson (2½ hours; €30) with pastry masters Labo&Gato.
Towers to Climb
The kids get to count the steps and play 'I Spy' at the top; les parents get the most wonderful city view.
- Tour Pey Berland
Climbing the bell tower of the city cathedral is a perfect energy burner and a Bordeaux essential.
- Basilique St-Michel
Test your child's stamina with a stiff scamper up the belfry of St-Michel's landmark church, appropriately nicknamed la flèche ('the arrow').
- Porte Cailhau
The tamest of Bordeaux's tower trio, inside a medieval city gate, with no more than a couple of dozen steps to scale.
Travellers with Disabilities
While Bordeaux presents evident challenges for visiteurs handicapés (visitors with disabilities) – cobblestones, cafe-lined streets that are a nightmare to navigate in a wheelchair (fauteuil roulant), a lack of kerb ramps, older public facilities and many budget hotels without lifts – don't let that stop you from visiting. Efforts are being made to improve the situation and with a little careful planning, a hassle-free accessible stay is possible. Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Online resources like Go Abroad (www.goabroad.com) and Transitions Abroad (www.transitionsabroad.com) throw up a colourful selection of volunteering opportunities in France, including, occasionally, participating in a Bordeaux grape harvest or helping out in a winery.
Interesting volunteer organisations include:
- GeoVisions (www.geovisions.org) Volunteer 15 hours a week to teach a French family English in exchange for room and board.
- Rempart (www.rempart.com) Brings together 170 organisations countrywide committed to preserving France's religious, military, civil, industrial and natural heritage.
- Volunteers For Peace (www.vfp.org) US-based nonprofit organisation. Can link you up with a voluntary service project dealing with social work, the environment, education or the arts.
- World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF; www.wwoof.org) Work on a small vineyard or other organic venture.