Everything you need to know about river cruises around Bordeaux

a boat on the water
An ultimate guide to Bordeaux river cruisesUniworld

Generations-old vineyards unfurling as far as the eye can see, wine châteaux straight out of a fairytale and farmers’ markets filled with colourful stalls groaning with local produce… Bordeaux and its surrounding region, including the Médoc, are known around the world for their excellent wines and the wonderful food that goes with them.


But this is also one of the loveliest and most culturally compelling areas of all France: a beguiling mixture of sublime landscapes and historic and architecture treasures. And one of the best ways of discovering it is by travelling along its gorgeous rivers.

A Bordeaux river cruise offers a classic European escape, where you can soak up the wonders of France at a relaxed pace, while exploring multiple destinations. If you've never experienced a Bordeaux river cruise but have always wanted to, you've come to the right place as we've got an ultimate guide to seeing the city and its surroundings from the water.

Below is everything you need to know before planning a Bordeaux river cruise. And if you're already sold, you'll want to check out Good Housekeeping's exclusive Bordeaux cruises with top chefs Raymond Blanc and Tom Kerridge.

bordeaux river cruise
Artur Debat - Getty Images

Which river is near Bordeaux?

There are two rivers in the area, the Garonne and the Dordogne, plus the Gironde estuary. Depending on your choice of Bordeaux river cruise, you might travel on all of these as you explore the lovely countryside radiating out from the city.

What are the best things to do on a Bordeaux river cruise?

Most people come to this region to sample some of Bordeaux’s famously excellent vintages at some of its charming wine estates and vineyards – there’s a vast array to choose from.

But there’s plenty more that will catch your interest, from the urban museums, art galleries and historic landmarks of lively Bordeaux itself to archaeological marvels. And as well as browsing farmers’ markets, there are plenty of tempting café terraces on which to install yourselves and indulge in that wonderful French pastime of watching the world go by.

Which wines can I try in Bordeaux and where?

The range of Bordeaux wines, both lesser-known appellations and crus classés, is vast – this is a huge wine-growing region with lots of diversity when it comes to both soils and climatic conditions. And of course, diversity in the styles and methods of its producers.

bordeaux river cruise
Westend61 - Getty Images

There are five main categories of Bordeaux wines: reds from the left bank of the Garonne river and the Gironde estuary (including the Médoc and Graves), red wines from the right banks of the Gironde and the Dordogne, including Saint–Emilion; côtes from the hillside vineyards of Bourg, Fronsac and the Côtes de Bordeaux; Entre-Deux-Mers reds and whites from the area between the Garonne and the Dordogne; and white wines from Graves and Sauternes.

What are the best places to stop off at or visit on a Bordeaux river cruise?

North of Bordeaux, on the west side of the Gironde estuary, the 80km Médoc wine route or Route des Châteaux is one of the world’s most famous itineraries for wine buffs, taking you past (or to) an array of prestigious estates in a rich variety of impressive architectural styles.

But wine is not the only regional delicacy – the local oysters are also a must. To work up an appetite, sign up for a cycle tour through some of the vineyards.

bordeaux river cruise
BlayeLisaStrachan - Getty Images

Over on the other side of the estuary, Blaye is breathtaking for its UNESCO World Heritage listed citadel by military architect Vauban, constructed to protect Bordeaux from invasions by sea. From Blaye, the Route de la Corniche Fleurie heading south towards Bourg-sur-Gironde is a must for its cave-houses cut into the cliffsides and its views of Lansac windmill. Again, you can sign up for walking tours that immerse you in local history.


Also unmissable is the UNESCO-listed medieval village of Saint-Emilion, close to the looping Dordogne River, with breathtaking architecture and sublime wine-tastings – a walking tour of its cobbled lanes is a great way to combine the two. Don’t miss the underground tunnels from which the sandstone for building the ancient town was mined – some are now used as cellars for maturing wine.

And Saint-Emilion even has a unique part-subterranean church dating from the early 12th century – its three naves, and a small catacomb beneath, were dug into a rocky hillside. Saint-Emilion is also simply a great place just to amble around, with lot of alluring wine shops, patîsseries and cafés.


saint emilion monolithic church and old town bordeaux, france
Saint-EmilionAnton Petrus - Getty Images

Nearby, on the river itself, Libourne is an enchanting fortified harbour town with a quintessentially French feel – not least in its famous farmers' market replete with the best in local cheeses, breads and home-grown produce.

South of here, on the Garonne, Cadillac is one for lovers of dessert wines – grab a tasting of Sauternes in its history-drenched Château Royal de Cazeneuve, where Henry IV and Queen Margot once resided. You can also visit the Château de Malromé, now a wine estate with the added attraction of an art collection in the well-preserved former apartments of one-time resident Toulouse Lautrec.

And don’t forget about Bordeaux itself. This port city has plenty to detain you, including a Gothic cathedral, handsome 18th- and 19th-century mansions and fantastic art museums. Heritage walking tours are a great way to get to know it in the company of a knowledgeable local.

If you’ve not had your fill, its Cité du Vin museum has interactive exhibitions and sensory installations filling you in on winemaking in the region… plus, of course, more wine tastings!

Which cruise lines offer Bordeaux river cruises?

There are many excellent cruise lines offering sailings along the Garonne, Dordogne and Gironde.

AmaWaterways offers a seven-night round-trip sailing from Bordeaux with wine tastings and visits to historic Roquetaillade Castle and Château Boutinet. Their excellent ship, AmaDolce is a luxury home-from-home, where cabins have French balconies, awllowing you to take in those wonderful river views.

Another cruise line offering excellent Bordeaux cruises is Scenic. Their all-inclusive sailings are packed with immersive activities; learn about the winemaking process with vineyard visits and try your hand at rustling up French cuisine in a cooking class.

What are the best Bordeaux river cruises?

The best Bordeaux river cruises are those that allow you to really immerse yourself in the laid-back lifestyle of this glorious French region.

Among other river cruise companies plying these lovely waters are Uniworld. Good Housekeeping’s exclusive Uniworld trip aboard the elegant S.S. Bon Voyage really allows you to slip into the pace of life here, tasting your way around historic vineyards and indulging in fine French food.

S.S. Bon Voyage offers lots of alfresco seating and serving traditional French fare in La Brasserie, Le Grand Fromage and the poolside Le Café du Soleil – all, quite naturally, accompanied by local wines…

bordeaux river cruise

And you’ll even be joined on board by a world-famous Michelin'starred chef, Raymond Blanc. Raymond has a real passion for the food of his home country, and he'll demonstrate how to make delicious French small plates with ingredients fresh from a local market.


Another option for an unforgettable foodie cruise is Good Housekeeping and Uniworld's Bordeaux adventure with Tom Kerridge. The Michelin-starred chef will host a cooking demonstration and answer your questions in a Q&A session.

On both cruises you'll enjoy six days of immersive, flexible and specially curated excursions, including to Château de Malromé, Fort Médoc and Blaye.


You Might Also Like