Biarritz France. The name just rolls off the tongue with pizazz. It conjures up visions of an exotic life with a French twist.
Its name does not lead you astray. Biarritz is sublime. Sandy beaches stretch out lazily, the Pyrénées soar in the not-too-far distance, surfers wait patiently for the big waves, the historic lighthouse beckons with its evening beam, and coloured beach parasols invite you to sink into the golden sand.
Is that exotic enough? Add in the distinctive Basque culture and Biarritz’s proximity to Spain and you have plenty of exploring to keep you satisfied for days on end.
Where is Biarritz France? Biarritz is situated in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of France on the Basque Coast. It has been a popular beach destination since Napoleon III and the Empress Eugénie started coming in 1854. Their trip would have taken over 20 hours by train, which makes the 4-hour trip from Paris seem like a breeze.
I hope this Biarritz travel guide will have you falling for charming Biarritz France as I did!
13 Top Things To Do In Biarritz France
1. Be On The Lookout For The Basque Culture
Biarritz, known as the California of France, is a coastal paradise and that in itself makes it a desirable destination. But, its appeal deepens with the palpable and distinctive Basque culture. Taste the Basque cakes with their smooth, creamy filling, listen for the Euskara language and watch for the Basque cross. Even the names of stores such as the espadrille store, Chistera, have a Basque connection. Chistera is the wicker basket used to scoop the ball in the popular local sport pelota!
It was a Sunday morning at Les Halles de Biarritz, the market hall, where a group of Basque men had gathered and were singing at the top of their voices (acapella) that stopped my sister and me in our tracks.
The sheer vocal passion of the Euskara language floating through the market had us pulling up a stool at the corner café/bar, L’Ameuse-Geule. It was noon, the perfect time for a mini-draft beer (une pression) and one-euro tapas, all the time serenaded by the nearby voices.
2. What To Do In Biarritz: Sip An Apéro At The Beach
One of the very first things to do in Biarritz is head to the beach. We arrived in the early evening and found a great place for sunset. We grabbed a table by the ocean at Carlos – Waves and Sunset and sank into the French Basque Country lifestyle. It was the perfect way to start a visit to Biarritz.
Once you’ve seen one glorious sunset, you’ll be heading each evening to the seashore for another.
3. Peruse The Market, Les Halles de Biarritz
One of the best things to do in Biarritz France is to explore the market, Les Halles de Biarritz. What I loved about the market hall in Biarritz France were the fabulous outdoor stalls where delicious jams, casual clothing, woven bags from Madagascar and hand-sewn change purses made the browsing beyond tempting. Different vendors are there on different days, keeping it lively and interesting.
Inside the covered market which is open from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily (longer hours in the summer) is the best place to pick up local produce and delicacies for a beach picnic. Basque cakes, fresh vegetables, local chicken, olives, and local sheep cheese such as Ossau-Iraty will fill your basket in no time. I discovered Ossau-Iraty on my cheese adventures in Paris and it ranks as one of my favourite French cheeses. Little did I know, I’d be eating Ossau-Iraty right in Biarritz!
4. Hang Out At La Grande Plage (The Big Beach)
One of the essential things to do in Biarritz is relax at La Grande Plage. It’s perfect. Charming striped umbrellas. A sandy expanse. Waves rolling in. A few surfers. Lots of swimmers.
Surrounded by restaurants and cafés and centrally located in the heart of Biarritz, la Grande Plage is the perfect spot to chill.
Do whatever it is that you love to do at the beach. Read. Chat. Walk. Sip a kir. It’s holiday time.
5. Things To Do In Biarritz: Admire The Lighthouse
One of the best things to do in Biarritz is visit the historic white lighthouse, Le Phare de Biarritz. Perched on a rocky outcrop called Pointe Saint-Martin, the Biarritz Lighthouse stands proudly, 73 metres above sea level. Built in 1834, the Biarritz Lighthouse offers tremendous views over the Atlantic Ocean, the Pyrénées, and the picturesque Basque coastline.
Sit in the park by the Biarritz Lighthouse amidst pink hydrangeas, have a refreshment at the café and lean on the railing to soak up the vista. Feeling energetic? Climb the 248 steps to the top of the lighthouse for magnificent views (5€). Find the opening hours here.
Pro Tip: Washrooms are available by the Biarritz Lighthouse.
6. Visit The Rocher de la Vierge In Biarritz
Visiting the Rock of the Virgin Mary was one of my favourite things to do in Biarritz. Go in the evening. Walk across the metal bridge (originally a wooden bridge) to the grand rock with the statue of the Virgin Mary perched atop. The statue of the Virgin Mary was originally placed on the rock in 1865 as a tribute to fishermen, seeking the protection of the Virgin for those venturing out to sea.
The metal bridge, known as the Eiffel Bridge, was designed by Gustave Eiffel. I love finding his other architectural marvels around France!
Crashing waves and breathtaking views of the Pyrénées, the Biarritz coastline and the Spanish coast in the distance will keep you lingering for a while at the Rock of the Virgin Mary. Wait for the sparkling evening lights of Biarritz to glimmer and the enchanting beam of the Biarritz Lighthouse to circle. The entire experience leaves a lasting impression.
7. Gawk At The Hotel de Palais
When you are wondering what to do in Biarritz, you really can’t miss The Hôtel du Palais, often referred to simply as the Hotel de Palais. This building stands out, to say the least! It is a historic and luxurious hotel with a prestigious position overlooking the Bay of Biscay.
Originally constructed in 1855 by order of Napoleon III for his wife, Empress Eugénie, the hotel was intended as a summer residence for the couple. The proximity to Spain was favourable for Empress Eugénie who was Spanish.
The Hôtel du Palais has undergone several transformations over the years, including being converted into a luxury hotel in the late 19th century. It has welcomed numerous illustrious guests such as Coco Chanel throughout its history.
Pro Biarritz Tip: If you’re not staying in the hotel, you can make a reservation and go for a drink.
8. Things To Do In Biarritz: Enter The Chapelle Impériale
Discovering the Imperial Chapel was one of my favourite things to do in Biarritz. This little tucked-away chapel is off the beaten path in Biarritz. The Chapelle Impériale in Biarritz was commissioned by Emperor Napoleon III and built for his wife, Empress Eugénie. This historic chapel stands as a testament to the couple’s love for Biarritz, which they helped transform from a simple fishing village into a fashionable seaside resort during the mid-19th century.
The Chapelle Impériale was built in 1865 and is still in much of its original state. Situated in a tranquil garden, the Imperial Chapel exudes a feminine aura. Drink in the attention to detail. Glass from Murano (Venice), the intertwined initials N and E and an interior with painted pineapples, birds and golden bumblebees. The painted initials in the interior include the L of their only son, Louis.
During the summer, it’s open Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. The only way to enter is with a guide who is waiting for you at the door.
9. Step Into The Sainte-Eugénie Church
And yet another building commissioned by Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie! The Sainte-Eugénie Church was constructed as part of the broader transformation of Biarritz into a fashionable seaside resort under the influence of the imperial couple. Centrally located, Sainte-Eugénie Church, built in the neo-Gothic architectural style, is dedicated to Saint Eugenia. It looks over Port Vieux (the old port).
10. Watch The Surfers At Côte Des Basques
La Plage de la Côte des Basques in Biarritz is where surfing first appeared in Europe in 1957. Plage de la Côte des Basques is a popular destination for surfers of all levels, attracting both beginners and experienced surfers. It’s a great place to hang out and watch surfers and surf students dash out into the waves to catch whatever surf is on offer.
Wander down the long staircase to reach the beach and just watch the fun. Or partake.
There are surf rental shops and surf schools right on the promenade.
Besides the lively surfing atmosphere, Plage de la Côte des Basques is a stunning location to hang out. Biarritz outdoes itself with scenic beauty.
11. Things To Do In Biarritz: Nibble On Basque Tapas – Pintxos
Do you have one Euro handy? If so, one-euro tapas are one of the most fun and delicious things to do in Biarritz! The proximity to the Spanish border lends a decidedly Spanish influence to the gastronomy in Biarritz. Right by the covered market, stop by Comptoir de Foie Gras. Perch on a stool and dive into a local beer and a planche – smoked ham, foie gras, local cheese and baguette.
Stroll to the other side of the market and find Bar Jean. It’s been around since the 1930s and is a mandatory stop for any visitor to Biarritz. Dive into a platter of tapas and local seafood such as calamari, mussels and oysters.
And don’t forget to try some tapas at L’ Ameuse-Guele, right at Les Halles de Biarritz. Could things to do in Biarritz be any more fun and tasty?
12. Eat Fish In Port des Pêcheurs
Port des Pêcheurs is a picturesque reminder of Biarritz’s fishing heritage. With the influence of the imperial couple, Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie, the small fishing village of Biarritz was transformed. The aristocracy started flocking to Biarritz France. Even today there remains a chic elegance about Biarritz.
At the Port des Pêcheurs (Fishermen’s Port), the row of white cottages, where the fishermen used to live, are now mostly restaurants and cafés. Come in the evening, dine, and take in a stunning Biarritz sunset.
13. Buy Espadrilles In Biarritz France
What to do in Biarritz? Go shopping! I bet you’ll leave with a pair of new espadrilles! Maybe two!
I love espadrilles. They just shout out SUMMER time. If you’re a shoe lover, it’s just not possible to leave Biarritz without a colourful pair of these iconic shoes tucked in your suitcase.
Wander into Art of Soule on rue Gambetta and be wowed by the fabulous patterns, colours and selection. Espadrilles Chistera on rue Mazagran is another tempting spot. The elegant white awning and window displays invite you to peruse and try on a variety of espadrilles.
If you’re in the area, on August 15th why not celebrate the annual “Fête de l’Espadrille” in nearby Mauléon?
Other Things To Do In Biarritz
- Visit the Biarritz Aquarium
- Play golf at one of the golf courses that has a view over the sea
- Stop by the Casino Barrière, an Art Deco building
- plan day trips to nearby locations such as Saint-Jean-de-Luz or Bayonne
How To Get To Biarritz France:
By Train From Paris:
Trains leave from Montparnasse Station in Paris and are either direct (4 hours and 10 minutes) or have one change in Bordeaux. Book the direct ticket to Biarritz France. Book your train tickets here.
Arrival in Biarritz France:
Straight across from the train station is a bus stop. Buy a ticket in the machine. We took bus #5 which dropped us off a 5-minute walk to our hotel.
Wrong Train – Right Direction:
Don’t do what my sister and I did…
On our trip to Biarritz, we had a train change in Bordeaux. Simple right?
We cruised into the station at Bordeaux and headed to the track for our next train. No one was there to check our tickets, the train was headed to Biarritz and was full. I should have known as the car number was not visible on the carriage. But there was a panic as the whistle was being blown. People were madly looking for a place to stand. To stand…We crammed into a car, or the in-betweenness of two cars and came face to face with a host of others.
As we lumbered off down the track, I saw the electronic sign saying that we were riding a TER (regional train) to Biarritz. We had reservations on a TGV. We were on the wrong train.
We shuffled around, leaned against the doorway and decided to ride it out or stand for 2 hours. In the end, we arrived in Biarritz, 15 minutes earlier than planned.
Our return trip was a direct train: Biarritz to Paris (4 hours, 10 minutes) with no mix-ups. Except that the man in front of me was travelling with three huge dogs and one lay right where my feet were supposed to go…
By Car From Bordeaux:
Southwestern France makes for a great road trip! One option would be to rent your car in Bordeaux and then make your way towards the Basque region and Biarritz. Another option would be to take the train to Biarritz and rent a car to explore the area. Click here to rent your car.
I hope you love these things to do in Biarritz France as much as we did. Three days barely scraped the surface. I know I’ll be returning to the Basque region of France soon.
More Travel Info…
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