What You Need To Know
The city of Bordeaux is among France’s most exciting, vibrant and dynamic cities. In the last decade and a half, it’s shed its languid, Belle au Bois Dormant (Sleeping Beauty) image thanks to the vision of city mayor Alain Juppé who’s pedestrianised boulevards, restored neoclassical architecture, created a high-tech public transport system and reclaimed Bordeaux’s former industrial wet docks at Bassin à Flots. Half the city (18 sq km) is Unesco-listed, making it the largest urban World Heritage site; while world-class architects have designed a bevy of striking new buildings: the Herzog & de Meuron stadium (2015), decanter-shaped La Cité du Vin (2016) and Jean-Jacques Bosc bridge (2018) across the Garonne River included.
Bolstered by its high-spirited university-student population and 5.5 million visitors annually, La Belle Bordeaux scarcely sleeps: think barista-run coffee shops, super-food food trucks, an exceptional dining scene and more fine wine than you could ever possibly drink.
- The national currency in France (and in the European Union ) is the Euro. U.S. dollars are not accepted in most establishments; however, some hotels, shops and restaurants may accept your U.S. dollars at an agreed upon exchange rate.
Bills: 500€ / 200€ / 100€ / 50€ / 20€/ 10€/ 5€
Coins: 2€ / 1€ / 50 cents / 20c / 10c / 5c / 2c / 1c. The Euro is divided into 100 cents.
- Currency exchange can be made in most banks (look for a sign indicating Change) and post offices as well as in some large stores, train stations, airports and exchange offices near major tourist sites. Remember that even though exchange rates are fixed, agent commissions vary: they must be clearly displayed. Exchange rates vary from bank to bank . Large cities in the U.S. generally have banks specialized in foreign exchange with lower exchange rates. The same applies in France. In general, it is best to find a larger bank or exchange office in the center of town or in a financial area. If only a small amount of money is being exchanged, the hotel’s money exchange rate may be adequate.
Use your home bank ATM/cash card to withdraw euros from French distributeurs des billets (ATMs/cashpoints) or Retrait (cash witdrawal). Check with your bank to see if this will work without problems. You may also want to check the exchange rate, charges and fees imposed by your bank on foreign currency withdrawals, which may amount to 3% to 6% of your money.
- Use a credit card, widely used for purchases in France, but only if it is a credit card with a computer chip in it (carte à puce).
If you plan to withdraw cash via your credit card, check the exchange rate, charges and fees imposed by your credit card company on the transaction(s). These may add up to a substantial amount. You may want to apply for a card that imposes fewer fees on foreign withdrawals before you travel.
It’s Bordeaux’s climate which made it so suitable for wine growing, and led to its worldwide fame. The climate is best described as oceanic, with long warm summers and mild winters, but plenty of rainfall.
Bordeaux is a major centre for wine tourism and if this is your interest, you’ll want to visit in September or October, during the harvest season. Wine tours and tastings are at their peak in this season, and you may need to book well ahead.
Average high temperatures in September and October range from 24-20°C, with overnight lows of around 10-12 Celsius. It can be rather wet, with rainfall on around 12 days each month, so if you’re visiting Bordeaux during harvest season, take a lightweight waterproof jacket and some layered clothing.
If you’re visiting Bordeaux for any non-wine related reason, spring and early summer tend to be the best times to visit.
Spring weather in Bordeaux is delightful. Daily high temperatures rise from around 15 Celsius in March to 21 in May, with overnight lows creeping up from 5°C to 12 by the end of the spring. There’s lots of sunshine to enjoy and Bordeaux’s green spaces start to come to life, but take an umbrella as there are plenty of spring showers around.
Summer in Bordeaux falls between June and August. The city is warm at this time, with temperatures between 24 and 27°C – but occasional heat waves will push temperatures up into the mid 30s Celsius or beyond. Summer nights are relatively cool at around 14°C, so you might want to bring a shawl or something with longer sleeves for some summer evenings. Bring an umbrella too, as although summers are drier than the other seasons, you can never rule out a shower.
Bordeaux’s winters are mild, thanks to mild air from the Atlantic. Throughout December, January and February, daily highs of 10°C are normal. Nights rarely fall below freezing, but tend to hover at a chilly 3-4°C. Frosts are quite common, but snow is rare. If you’re visiting Bordeaux during the winter, bring some warm clothing with you and a coat. Something waterproof is recommended too, as this is Bordeaux’s wettest season.
French is the official language spoken in Bordeaux. As a hugely popular international tourist destination you may well find that in many restaurants, bars and hotels English is spoken.
However if you decide to do some travelling into the surrounding, more rural villages, or happen upon a restaurant off the beaten track then it’s a good idea to brush up on your French! If you are driving through the area or through France to reach your destination then a few handy phrases to ask directions will be a good idea.
Health and security
- France’s healthcare system provides some of the best public health care in the world and is open to all. The standard principal of the French health service is “pay first, reclaim and then get reimbursed”.Visitors are strongly advised to make sure they have health insurance cover before travelling to France. If you recieve treatment at a hospital as an in-patient, the cost of the stay and associated treatment will be billed as an emergency abroad and can be extremely expensive. Therefore travel insurance of some kind is essential, whether that is through a private company, your bank or just the EHIC scheme.
European visitors should obtain the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which enables them to get state healthcare at a reduced cost or sometimes for free.
If you require a visa to visit France, proof of health insurance coverage is mandatory before you even apply. And non EU visitors should ensure that they have private health insurance before they travel in order to benefit from the French state healthcare service.
There are many pharmacies with staff trained to attend a variety of minor medical needs. If the pharmacy is closed, a list of neighbouring open pharmacies can be found on the door.
- Although most of France, and the Bordeaux region in particular, are considered to be fairly safe for tourists, all people traveling abroad in any country need to take some precautions in order to avoid becoming a victim of the tourist-aimed crime that seems to affect more and more travelers all the time in European cities. In order to do this in a place such as Bordeaux, where many tourists visit, try to avoid carrying more cash than you need, especially if you are out shopping or visiting attractions where there is little or no security. Do not wear expensive jewelry, and if staying in a hotel be sure to make use of your hotel’s safe for your valuable items. Men should not carry wallets in their back pockets and women need to pay close attention to their bags while shopping and dining. Backpackers should keep their packs locked, especially while they are wearing them. Also, be especially alert in train stations, markets, and other places where large numbers of travelers congregate.
- Tap water is generally safe though it can be heavily chlorinated. Mineral water is recommended as is cheap to buy and is sold as eau gazeuse (carbonated) and non gazeuse (still). Remember to drink plenty of water during hot weather.
- Most public telephones do not take coins. A phonecard (Telecarte) can be purchased from post offices, tabacs and some supermarkets. NB. Emergency calls can be placed without the use of coins or phonecard. The International telephone code for all of France is +33. If you want to dial a number within France from a land line, say the guy next door, you do not need to use the International code before the rest of the number. However if you are using a foreign mobile phone to dial a French number then you will need to enter the +33 before the number. For telephone operator dial 3006 from a landline – this is an automated service to place a call.
- The national police force are split into 3 – Police Nationale, Gendarmerie Nationale and Compagnie Republicaine de la Securite. In addition to this most cities and towns have their own Police Municipale who deal with petty crime, traffic offences and road accidents. If you need a police station ask for the ‘gendarmerie’ and for police assistance just call ’17’ free from any call box or telephone.
- Nowadays, the majority of public toilets are of the standard variety, though you might still come across an old-fashioned ‘squat style’ toilet. In some French towns and villages you can now find an automated, self-cleaning toilet which is both hygienic and practical. You put in your coins (often a euro) and push open the door. You have 15 minutes to do your business. After you close the door behind you, the robotic cleaning starts, with disinfectant spraying from all corners, brushing of the toilet seat and bowl and then a final blow dry. /li>