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Grab your favourite glass from the cupboard, pack a good looking linen shirt, get those galoshes out and a sophisticated pair of comfortable shoes, it’s time to head to the home of alchemy, where they take the delicious grape and turn it into a drink worth its weight in gold, Bordeaux. Famed for its old town flair and sunsets, Bordeaux is France’s headquarters of beauty. A perfect choice for beginners, intermediaries and professors of heady relaxation.

A few things about Bordeaux

  • Bordeaux is a port city on the Garonne River in south western France. It’s approximately 500 kms south of Paris and about half that to the border of Spain.
  • The inner-city population of Bordeaux is just over a mere 249,000. This however is bolstered up to over 5 million when you take in the wider metropolitan area. The amount also rises considerably during peak tourism times.
  • Climate in Bordeaux is reasonably mild all year round. With a winter low of between 3 and 10 then summer highs of between 16 and 27, Celsius. This makes the area a perfectly temperate position for the growing of grapes as it rarely gets incredibly hot or blisteringly cold. Rain is another consistency throughout the year, it is spread throughout the region and generally passes quickly.
  • Built on the bend of the River Garonne, Bordeaux was split into two banks, the left bank to the west and the right bank to the east. The left bank has been more built up due to the nature of the flowing river, the water has a furrow that allowed merchant ships to unload supplies here.
  • The main source of the area’s income is wine, and the majority of that wine is red, some that is produced is white and there are a few Rosé.
  • With a total vineyard size of around 128,000 hectares, Bordeaux produces close to 70 million cases of red wine every year which is about 900 million bottles of the good stuff.
  • Bordeaux is not just a wine goliath; they also turn out world class art. Most famously the French cubist painter André Lhote was born here and painted the city into the history books with his cubist impressions of life. Today the Bordeaux born David Selor takes art to the walls of this city creating murals that have become another draw for tourists all over.
  • There are five main universities in Bordeaux. They range in their teaching from maths and physical sciences to liberal arts and humanities. Some notable alumni of these great educational hubs are Theophile J Obenga, a professor of African studies and philosophy and the philosopher Jacques Ellul who defined himself as a Christian Anarchist. Ellul explains Christian Anarchy from his perspective in this quote ‘By anarchy I mean first an absolute rejection of violence’
  • Speed limits in France are divided into the three main groups of freeways that have a maximum of 130km/h, Outside of cities and towns 80km/h and in cities and towns 50km/h. The town of Gironde, Nouvelle-Aquitane, near Bordeaux, which was primarily used as a cut through previously, has now introduced a 30km/h speed limit.
  • The legal BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) limit for the region is 0.05.

Guide to Bordeaux

Anyone who’s anyone is coming to the city and using it as a jumping off point to see the vineyards, some completely bypass the city to get direct to the Chateau’s. This can be a wonderful choice however it may not allow the traveller to taste the best of what the region has to offer. Start in the city and then move further out, it may take a while to see all of what you wish to here so don’t just come once.

There is a dedicated bus service that can take you from the airport to the edge of the city in around 25 minutes, the walk from the bus stop through the streets can give you an idea of how the city is setup. Outskirts are mostly for modernisation then as you hit the stone walls you know you have begun your descent into the age old wine region. First stop on the agenda should be some food and wine but maybe you should educate a little then dive in, Cite Du Vin is not only a museum for wine and its production but it’s also an architectural triumph. Here you can wander through time looking at how wine was created, destroyed and changed civilisations. There’s circular sofas to stretch out on in the Bacchus and Venus room, you can awaken your senses in the aromatic buffet, then take in a 360 view of Bordeaux and a well-earned educated glass of wine at the Belvedere. The tickets are available online, jump the queues and its accessible not just by bus, train, bike, car but also the inside was given the State Tourism and Disability accreditation in 2017 which is only accredited to buildings that are fully accessible for all individuals.

Now down to the city and there are countless places to grab a quick bite or to indulge in the French cuisine, or Moroccan, or Spanish, or Swedish, they have it all. If you start with a visit to the Basilica of Saint Michael then from here you can either head to the famous Marche des Capucins where the boulangerie’s claim to have the best bread in France(Some incredible cheese and almond croissants are on offer here however the best bread remains to be broken) or head to a little known restaurant that changes with the seasons called Atelier des Faures. Here they will excite your palette with incredibly fresh seasonal dishes straight from the heart and mind of the head chef Roman Winicki, the menu changes daily but the creativity and balance is sublime, not one dish will leave you without a smile. The wines are exceptionally well paired by sommelier and restaurant partner Claire. The thyme smoked duck breast needs no more words. If it’s too early in the day for these delights then round the corner is a great wine and charcuterie bar called Julo here they offer an extensive wine list from the region and abroad with some delights from all over the continent.

Cheese & wine

Getting back into the history of the region and the next stop on this Bordeaux city list is Monument aux Girondins which is part of a much larger square, largest in Europe, The Place des Quinconces named as such for its trees that are planted in staggered rows, the park has a few key points, the philosopher statues, the rostral columns with statues on top built in acknowledgement of the great achievements the city has made in maritime and commercial fields. The monument for Girondins is one was created in response to the political group who formed during the French Revolution, not for the football team. Just near the monument down the Rue Hugurie is the restaurant-cum-cheese cave with a wine shop thrown in for good measure Baud et Miller this place hoards all that the area has to offer, specialising exclusively in cheese, wine and food from the Bordeaux region. The small mountain fondue mixed with yellow wine, potatoes and local meats promises to make you slide off your chair begging for more. If that’s not enough then grab the duck breast which is flamed with calvados, it’ll ignite your soul.

The main reason for anyone coming here, as stated earlier, is to get to the vineyards. There are hundreds of thousands of hectares of them so don’t race there too quickly, best bet is to grab a tour which will take you to a few of the more famous Chateau’s. The other option is to break up the trip into regions that you wish to visit for instance if you were after the Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot then you should head north to St. Estephe where these bountiful varieties are well kept, if you are looking for something more easy drinking then a trip to the Margaux region where Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Carmenere are on offer with their aromas challenging even the toughest palette.

Saint Emillion

However, if you’re looking for a space that has wine and history then look no further than St Emillion, this wine region is one of the if not the oldest wine producing appellations in the entire portion of the globe. The city has kept its old-world charm, dug into the side of mountains, the stone buildings and cobbled streets are so filled with romance you will cry at the sight of them. Here you can while away an afternoon wandering in and out of the spectacular wine shops like ETS Martin where they have a selection of wine through the ages that can burn a hole in your wallet, you only live once, then you can wander over to another fantastic shop La Grande Cave de Saint-Emillion another impossibly beautiful selection of the regions finest. Once you have purchased all that your wallet, liver and bag can handle walk along the Rue de Clocher to the end and turn right, there’s an old church where if you climb up and sit on the wall you can watch one of the most impressive sunsets that St Emillion can provide. Probably the grandest Chateau to visit from here would be the Chateau Soutard, a spot where the wine flows and the food knows how to beat that grumble into shape. The grounds alone are worth a look in.

It's a well-known fact that if you are out for the day then you will be drinking it away, make sure you either grab a tour or hop on a bicycle to guarantee you don’t wind up in the back of a police van.

History of Bordeaux

Inhabited since Neolithic times however according to archaeological finds the area became a city around 6th Century BC under Roman rule. During roman rule the city was dubbed Aquitaine ‘Land of Water’ given its name due to the rivers that meet there and it being an ocean port, a critical trade and supply route for the rulers of the land.

Over the next thousand years and more the city became a much contested and sought-after position for any eager ruler. There were the Huns, Vandals and Visigoths that dismantled the Romans. Frank King Clovis defeated the Visigoths and took the area under his rule till his death in 511 it was then fought over again by the Vikings, the Vascons and the Moors, all because this river was filled with fish, the lands grapes were sweet and the trade route was ideal. After this, the area was taken back by the French and then for around 300 years England had claim to the throne through marriage.

There was a royal judgement made to allow the port of Bordeaux and surrounding areas to carry out an unforgiveable slave trade. The port was used as a spot for slaves that were brought against their will from Africa.

During the French Revolution some of the Bordelais created a group that were advocates for a constitutional monarchy, Les Girondins, this was short lived when the revolution arrived in town and the majority of them were decapitated.

Much of the history of this city has been intertwined with its most famous export, Wine. The vines have been growing there for over 2000 years and like today control of such a lucrative commodity was indicative of your success as a head of state.

Bordeaux Transport

There is one main airport for Bordeaux that handles all the international and domestic flights coming in and out of the region. The airport is Aeroport de Bordeaux-Merignac (BOD). The airport has 3 terminals, Terminal A is mainly used for international flights, Terminal B is primarily dedicated to Air France traffic and Terminal Billi is for low cost carrier airlines like Ryanair, Wizz Air and Easyjet. It is approximately 11 kms to the west of the centre of Bordeaux which translates to about a 25-minute drive, depending on traffic.

The environmental policy of the airport is to reduce noise pollution and waste run off and to assist this they have built a large reservoir that catches the runoff and recycles it ready for future use. Incorporated into the design of the terminals is the main export, grapes, so that when you exit the arrivals terminal you immediately walk passed the airports vines. They have the grapes for sale in the form of wine at the airport.

The site is also where the Kampfgeschwader 40 medium and heavy bomber wing was housed during World War II.

The car companies that operate out of BOD are Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Europcar, Firefly, Goldcar, Hertz, Interrent, Keddy, Rhodium, Sixt, Thrifty, Travelcar.

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FAQs about car hire in Bordeaux

Most frequently asked questions about hiring a car in Bordeaux

Cost of hiring a car in Bordeaux is not the cheapest. For a weeklong rental during April you would be looking at around €18.24/day for a Renault Twingo or Similar
Cheapest car hire in Bordeaux is from €16.42/day for a Renault Twingo or similar during October.
An economy car hire in Bordeaux around the end of March for 7 days is €16.44/day for a Citroen C3 or similar. If you need more space then also on offer is an Opel/Vauxhall Mokka or similar for €43.55/day.
The car companies that operate out of BOD are Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Europcar, Firefly, Goldcar, Hertz, Interrent, Keddy, Rhodium, Sixt, Thrifty.
If you’re wanting to just stay in the city, then the best way to get around is via the public transport network. The traffic borders on insanity as there are many narrow streets to get through and it is really a city geared toward foot traffic. Not having a car leaves you sort of stuck to the city and all it has to offer, there are many coach tours from here into the regions however best to take a car and rent or even better bring your bike with you, drop the car off at your destination and ride around to all the different wineries, that way, with helmet included, you are less likely to cause a serious accident after visiting the many Chateau’s. Be wary when riding a bicycle around certain regions as people will not slow down and may not be overly courteous.
If you are travelling from the UK, then you do not need an IDP. If you are travelling from outside the EU or UK, then it is necessary to have an IDP that is either translated into English or the native language of the country you are visiting. When it comes to visiting many countries then an IDP in English will suffice.
Contact the local authorities then your insurance provider.
Same as the rest of France, the right side.
Saint Emilion is the epicentre of French wine! If you can take the 40 minute drive from Bordeaux to Saint Emilion, you’re guaranteed to find a plethora of incredible eateries, food, cheese and wine.