Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
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Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
Visit Bayonne, French Basque Country
Bayonne is located at the confluence of the Nive and Adour Rivers in southwestern France and 28 km from the Spanish border of Irun. This charming city is the largest in the French Basque Country.
A certified Town of Art and History by the French government since 2011, Bayonne is one of the best places to visit in France. In Bayonne, you’ll discover everything about Basque culture and history. Bayonne is also the French capital of chocolate and is the perfect place to taste traditional Basque cuisine.
Bayonne is one of those cities in France that gets overlooked by tourists. And it’s unfortunate because Bayonne is a truly marvelous city to visit! The city of Bayonne might be a rather small city, but it’s filled with old-fashioned appeal. So if you are curious about visiting Bayonne on a weekend getaway or as part of a Basque Country road trip, we’ll show you the best things to do in Bayonne, France.
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Below, are some of the best Bayonne tours, hotels, and more!
Top Experiences and Tours in Bayonne
Top Bayonne Accommodation
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What to Do in Bayonne, France
The city of Bayonne is divided into three distinctive sections: Grand Bayonne, Saint-Esprit District, and Petit Bayonne. Most of the sights and Bayonne things to do are concentrated in Grand Bayonne and Petit Bayonne districts.
1. Explore the Old Town
One of the top things to do in Bayonne is walking around the Old Town. To best experience Bayonne’s history and culture, you should consider joining a walking tour. With this 2-hour private tour, a licensed guide will lead you through Bayonne’s hidden medieval streets and fabulous monuments.
During the tour, you’ll learn about the city’s ancient Roman past, visit the Cathédrale Sainte-Marie, and walk by the famous chocolate shops. Taking a walking tour is a great way to enjoy Bayonne’s architecture, history, and culture!
If you’re looking for an unusual way to visit Bayonne, you can hop on an electric scooter or bike and let a professional guide take you to every corner and street of the city. By joining this tour, you’ll travel between the Nive and the Adour confluence and embark on a journey to discover Bayonne’s architecture and history.
2. Visit the Bayonne Cathedral
A must-see in Bayonne is the Gothic Cathédrale Sainte Marie, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which you can spot from every angle of the city. Built between the 13th and 17th centuries, the Bayonne Cathedral is dedicated to Sainte Marie and is part of the pilgrimage path to Santiago de Compostela (Saint Jacques in French).
Bayonne Cathedral is a blend of Romanesque and Gothic architecture: the current Gothic church was built on the remains of an older church in Romanesque style that was destroyed by a fire.
An unusual feature of the Cathedral are the ‘keys’ in the vaulted ceiling: these have been restored and painted and represent a castle and a badge incorporating the fleur de Lys. We also liked the colors: golds, reds, and greens.
Alongside the Bayonne Cathedral, the well-preserved medieval cloister is free to visit and is still the center of the local cultural life: the cloister usually hosts stands selling crafts and artisan exhibitions.
3. Taste Local Specialties
Bayonne is one of France’s capitals of food! Going for a taste tasting of local delicacies is a must while visiting Bayonne.
The first stop should be the Carreau des Halles, the city’s central market. In this covered market, you can find all the best products of Basque gastronomy, like foie gras, Espelette pepper, Ossau-Iraty cheeses from the Ossau Valley, and sheep tomes. The market is also a perfect place to take a lunch break or an aperitif in the afternoon (there are some tables around the building, outside).
Another product you should try is the Bayonne ham, a cured ham stored in special dry conditions for a minimum of seven months. All over the city, you’ll find artisanal shops to discover the art of making Basque hams and where you can have free tastings!
4. Walk along the City’s Ramparts
Bayonne is famous for its long history: the city’s ramparts had defended the population from Roman times until the 19th century. One of the best things to do in Bayonne is to get familiar with the Roman heritage of the city, and the best way to do it is by walking along its ramparts. Once part of the towers and the old fortifications of the city, today, the ramparts have been converted into a pleasant promenade.
5. Visit the Musée Basque
The best place to understand the local culture is the Musée Basque (Basque Museum), where you can learn all about the history of the French Basque region.
The museum is housed in a 16th-century mansion right on the River Nive (37 Quai des Corsaires, Petit Bayonne), and it’s articulated in three levels, revealing many aspects of Basque culture: its origins and language, the people who lived in the area, the traditional funeral rites, the domestic life and crafts, the festivals and games, and the general history of the region. The Basque Museum is open all year from Tuesday to Sunday, except on public holidays.
6. Visit the Atélier du Chocolat
Did you know that Bayonne is called the French Capital of Chocolate? It’s here that chocolate was first made as we know it today! The first French cocoa ateliers were based in the Basque Country, and in Bayonne, there used to be 30 master chocolatiers.
Today most of them are gone, but there are still plenty of chocolate shops and festivals dedicated to the art of chocolate making (Journées du Chocolat in May and Festival du Chocolat in October).
If you love chocolate, you must visit the Atélier du Chocolat, located at 37 Rue Port Neuf (Grand Bayonne). The Atelier is a museum, a workshop, and a shop, where you can see chocolate makers in the chocolate-making process, learn all about this incredible art, and buy the final products to enjoy.
7. Explore Bayonne’s Botanical Garden
One of the best things to do in Bayonne is to visit the Jardin Botanique, the Botanical Gardens. It was opened in the late 1990s, and it’s located on top of a bastion between the Cathedral and the ramparts.
The Botanical Gardens were conceived in the Japanese style, with a waterfall, a pond with turtles and carp, and a wooden bridge. The Jardin Botanique isn’t a scientific garden: so you won’t find the plants organized by their species, but they are arranged according to their appearance and fragrance.
The gardens are open from mid-April to mid-October, from Tuesday through to Saturday, and the entrance is free of charge.
8. Visit Other Places in the Basque Country on a Day Trip
If you have some extra while in Bayonne, a great idea would be to take a day trip to Biarritz or Saint-Jean de Luz. Both places are easy to reach by train from Bayonne.
With only a 25-minute ride, you’ll reach Biarritz, a fabulous seaside town that has been the summer residence of Empress Eugénie, Napoleon’s beloved wife. In Biarritz, you’ll marvel at the Belle Époque buildings and Eugénie’s Palace, now a luxury hotel. But Biarritz is also a great spot to practice some sports: this city was the first location in Europe where people went surfing!
The town of Saint-Jean de Luz is a 30-minute ride from Bayonne and is the perfect place for a day trip! The magnificent sandy beach and the natural bay create the environment for sunbathing and going for a swim. You can also spend some time shopping along the city’s pedestrian streets and marvel at Saint-Jean de Luz’s historical heritage, like the Old Port, the Cathedral, and the Maison de L’Enfante. Housed over the port, la Maison de la Infanta hosted Maria Theresa of Spain before her marriage to French King Louis XIV in Saint-Jean de Luz.