Bordeaux secret and ‘must know’ places #3: city guide for culture

Bordeaux is best known for wine, but investments in infrastructure and culture over the past decade have transformed the city. Visitors can now enjoy an exciting and diverse cultural scene. In this article, we’re focusing on some lesser known and unique spots for culture in Bordeaux.

To begin, we can’t discuss culture in Bordeaux without first noting some of the city’s major museums. Bordeaux has impressive museum offerings that are well worth discovering before venturing off the beaten path.

Notably, Bordeaux constructed the Cite du Vin in 2016 to highlight the city’s most prominent industry. At 13 350 square meters, it’s a colossal cultural center dedicated to wine. Its interactive permanent exhibition explores the world of wine across history, cultures, and civilizations.

Additionally, the Cite du Vin hosts tastings, workshops, a variety of temporary exhibitions, and a rooftop offering a panoramic view of Bordeaux.

Next, the Musée de Beaux-Arts is one of the largest art galleries outside of Paris. It features 15th to 20th century European art as well as a range of Bordeaux artists in the beautiful and historic Palais Rohan

Alternately, the CAPC Musée d’Art Contemporain displays contemporary art. Its permanent installations and rotating exhibits explore a variety of themes and provide a thought-provoking experience for visitors.   

Beyond these world class museums, here are some lesser known places for unique culture in Bordeaux:

1. Art in a unique setting: La Base sous-marine

In the Bassin à Flots neighborhood, an imposing concrete bunker called La Base Sous-Marine sits over the Bordeaux docks. Hidden behind its harsh exterior is a new and impressive attraction in the arts scene of Bordeaux: the Bassin de Lumières, a stunning digital light show.

The arts company, Culturespace, installed the light show in 2020 following the success of the Carrieres de Lumieres in Provence and the Atelier de Lumieres in Paris.

The setting of the Bassin de Lumières is intriguing:

-Germans built the submarine base during WWII.
-The ‘u-boat’ bunker spans an area of 42 000 square meters.
-Part of the Atlantic wall, a defensive complex during the war, the Germans designed the sturdy structure to last.
-As a result, the bunker still stands to this day.

Despite spending years abandoned, the space transformed into a cultural center in 2000. At this time, the base hosted events such as art exhibitions, music and dance concerts, and theater.

Now, we can enjoy the Bassin de Lumières which takes full advantage of the unique space.

Beautiful and colorful images are projected from floor to ceiling of the concrete architecture. They move in time to dramatic music.

Large water basins inside the bunker reflect the flowing images.

The result is a mesmerizing and dreamlike immersive experience.  

2. Culture in Bordeaux: street art

For more interesting art, venture into the beautiful streets and diverse neighborhoods of Bordeaux. You may be surprised by what you can find.

For example, walking down the busy Cours Victor Hugo in the city center, we go past a standard looking parking garage.

MyFrenchLife™ – – culture in Bordeaux - car

Look up!

The parking garage features a trompe d’oeil: a 1960’s green Jaguar hanging precariously from the building.

The parking garage was first built in the 1960’s. Then, when it underwent renovations in the early 1990’s, artist and architect Jean-Francois Dosso added the falling car. Originally, he designed it as a temporary art installation. However, it still remains today to the amusement of passersby.

Additionally, we can find an interesting site for street art in the calm and beautiful Chartrons district. Le M.U.R. is an impressive 35 square meter wall covered with the artwork of different local artists.

Pôle Magnetic, an organization that seeks to promote urban art in cities around France, created this plein air gallery in 2014. Le M.U.R. gives exposure to young artists, and the site constantly changes to feature a new artist every month.

3. Culture in Bordeaux: Darwin ecosystem

Want more urban art?

Cross over the Garonne to the rive droite of Bordeaux. You’ll find art and much more at Darwin. This urban ‘ecosystem’ embodies the ecolo-bobo spirit of Bordeaux.

Darwin, formerly a military barrack, sat abandoned for years. Eventually, it became a spot frequented by street artists. Today, graffiti gives the renovated site an alternative atmosphere.

Darwin is an interesting place to visit for all that it offers. Additionally, it attracts an impressively diverse crowd. The Bordeaux Tourism office describes: 

“Darwin and its many components are difficult to sum up, and attract as many different profiles as innovative projects. Between skaters and street art enthusiasts, green economy entrepreneurs, fans of electro music, biodiversity advocates and Sunday brunchers, everyone has a unique place.”

Darwin has a community feel, and it’s all about sustainability. We can find a coworking space, organic food, shops, ecological events, concerts, and more. The more surprising features of Darwin include: a gigantic skate park, a recycled bicycle workshop, and even an urban farm! The website’s calendar typically fills with events, notably hosting a Christmas market in December and after work concerts in the spring.

If you travel to Bordeaux, we recommend checking out these unique spots for culture. You may find yourself wanting to return to the city again and again.

What’s your favorite spot for culture in Bordeaux? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below or on Twitter @maviefrancaise

  1. The ultimate checklist for one day in Bordeaux via
  5. Submarine base via
  6. Bassins lumieres via
  7. Carrieres des lumieres via
  8. Falling car of Bordeaux via
  9. Darwin, an alternative and inspiring ecosystem via
Image Credits:
  1. Bordeaux via @Pascale__Faure on Instagram
  2. Sunset via @lowine__fr on Instagram
  3. Salles des peintures classiques XVIIIe-XIXe by Bernard Blanc via
  4. Exposition “Gustav Klimt, d’or et de couleurs” by Bernard Blanc via
  5. Base sous-marine (1941-1943) by Bernard Blanc via
  6. Oeuvre insolite via @annah_lab on Instagram
  7. No bike today via @unvelodanslaville on Instagram
  8. MONO GONZALEZ in Bordeaux via @33_philip on Instagram
  9. L’effet apero via @abbaskmi on Instagram
  10. Able to adapt via on Instagram
  11. Album 1/2 “épreuve de rampe” via @Hangar_Darwin on Instagram


Bordeaux secret and ‘must know’ places

Bordeaux is bursting with sites and experiences waiting to be discovered.
Use our city guides to plan your next trip to Bordeaux.

#1: city guide for wine
#2: city guide for history
#3: city guide for culture (this one)

About the Contributor

Alexis Herrington

Growing up in the United States, I always dreamed of living abroad. After completing degrees in English and French, I was able to live in different parts of France as an English language teacher. I currently live in Bordeaux and work remotely as a copyeditor for Jellysmack's Paris office. I spend the rest of my time exploring this beautiful city and learning as much as I can about French wine.

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