While droves of tourists with their lingering scents of crusty body odor and your grandma’s basement closet oftentimes distract from the important sights, I think if there’re that many people, I must’ve stumbled upon something amazing and one-of-a-kind.
I could do without the crusty B.O. and musty laundry (couldn’t we all?), but I don’t want to skip the Mona Lisa or Leaning Tower of Pisa, for example, just because a million others don’t either. So when in Bordeaux, I tried to avoid tourist traps I read about online while still getting my fill. However, I wasn’t completely successful, and as promised, I want to share five tourist missteps.
- Avoid St. Emilion on a Saturday. This UNESCO World Heritage medieval village is about 20 minutes by train from Bordeaux, nestled in the rolling hills of award-wining vineyards, a perfect day-trip set-up. After seeing pictures of the amazing panoramas and reading about the underground monotheistic church, I added a fourth day to my agenda to ensure a visit.
Originally scheduled for Friday, I ended up going Saturday because I was locked out of my Airbnb Thursday night until the wee morning hours and didn’t feel like getting up on Friday. Huge mistake. While the views and tours weren’t tainted, the atmosphere was, and I found it difficult to experience the culture and enjoy St. Emilion as a historical site as opposed to a playground for tourists. I imagine a week-day visit may be more my cup of tea.
Avoid the crowds even further, and take yourself on a self guided tour instead of the paid tours from private companies or the tourism office. It’s a lovely 2k walk from the train station along a paved road. The office of tourism in St. Emilion can give you free, self-guided walking tours, and information on tours throughout the town and wineries. You choose your tours, usually around €8 per person, it’s less expensive and less crowded.
- See all you need for less than with the City Pass. Usually I’m a big fan of the city pass, and have previously found them extremely valuable. After (only) a little research and discovered the museums and events on my to-do list were included in the Bordeaux City Pass, I enthusiastically and ignorantly purchased one. However, I failed to realize how inexpensive entrance into the museums are (often between €2-5 per person, or even free if you’re under 25 years old), so the €26 wasn’t worth it. I would have to try hard to make it pay for itself.
- Unless you’re a model, don’t model on the mirror. I didn’t walk across the water, but instead stood around, waiting for the ripples to subside so I could snap a shot before someone else came along and diluted the aesthetic. The Miroir d’eau is beautiful, an amazing spectacular both during the day and lit by the Place de la Bourse at night. Built with granite in 2006, the reflection pool’s architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel is famous for a reason.
However, the view is really cramped when people walk across the surface. While I understand the temptation to take such an iconic photo with your reflection, I highly suggest asking someone to take your photo with the mirror in the background, or taking your photo off to the side, not in the direct center.
- Don’t bother with the public transportation, and just walk. Unless you already bought the City Pass with free transport or are unable to walk well, the city is extremely walkable and tickets for the public transportation system, as a tourist, would be a waste of money. Accustomed to walking more on vacation than an average day at home, I ended each day having discovered new streets, knowing my way around a little better and glad I never took a bus. It’s flat and easily navigable and you’ll never find yourself out of breath. Just bring good walking shoes and you’ll learn more of the city this way.
- With quality public spaces along the quay, don’t deprive yourself of enjoying them. Along the river’s edge and passing the amazing 18th century architecture, the quay along the Garonne river is a fantastic example of quality public space and using one space for many uses.
Bistros, cafes and bars line the road with a park of walking paths and benches which overlook the water. Situated in the heart of the action, The Miroir d’eau provides a large space, in addition to Place de la Bourse, for picnicking, running, or book-reading. I regret not taking advantage of the space.
Wherever you roam, eat or people-watch in Bordeaux, you’ll enjoy the experience. For me, I left relaxed, happy and thirsty for a little more.