A week before we left for France a photo popped up on our Instagram feed with an impossibility beautiful street full of little shops and half-timbered houses that we swore we gonna track it down.
Not to retrace other travellers footsteps, not in the slightest, but to ravel, in the stillness, only a small city can provide.
Don’t let the main photo fool you, our journey to France and Bayonne was far from perfect, but it was ours. An accurate depiction of the trip – listening to the winds wail on most of the nights, being up before sunrise with messy hair and running around with a half-broken umbrella and drenched shoes.
In Dublin, the sun was shining all day while in France, as soon as we arrived and settled, heavy rain pelted the ground. We had no choice but to stare this sudden storm right in the eye as howling gusts of wind rattled along rooftops.
In spite of the rain, we discovered that Bayonne is a great French getaway and makes for a fantastic day trip. Although less famous than its neighbour Biarritz, she’s equally beautiful and has a few lovely surprises up her sleeve.
We initially planned a short day trip from Biarritz to Bayonne – a certified Town of Art and History by the French government since 2011 – yet we loved its narrow cobblestone streets and colourful architecture so much, that we returned multiple times.
A short guide to the best things to see and do in beautiful Bayonne, France
Bayonne, once under the domination of the English, isn’t a place that springs to mind when someone is looking for holiday suggestions in France.
But, from our personal experience – a stop to explore Bayonne’s historical kernel is an easy and noteworthy detour if you are travelling along the beautiful Basque Coast like we did last spring. After all, there are many amazing places to see in France other than the Eiffel Tower.
A few highlights of Bayonne include a walk through the old towns charming streets, admiring its beautiful cathedral, sampling local delicacies, visiting Botanic Garden and exploring river frontage – all compactly located within walking distance from one another.
In this blog post, we share the top things to see and do to make your visit to Bayonne more eventful.
Where is Bayonne and how to get there
To fully describe where Bayonne is located adds up to quite a mouthful – it’s a city of the department of Pyrénées-Atlantiques, in the Aquitaine region of south-western France.
Bayonne is divided by two rivers, La Nive and L’Adour and its top 5 events include things like a rugby match, ham fair, Bayonne Festival, chocolate festival and bullfighting (although a controversial subject, Bayonne is the oldest bullfighting town in France).
The nearest cities with airports are San Sebastian Airport (EAS / LESO) located in Spain 44 km away and Biarritz-Anglet-Bayonne Airport (BIQ / LFBZ) just 6 km from the city centre of Bayonne.
Situated just north of Biarritz, Bayonne was an easy day trip. We choose to use line 5 bus, which costs us 1€ and took around 40 min to travel one way. Taking the bus is affordable and also the greenest way to cover distances between the two places.
#1. Visit the Basque Museum
We started with knowing so little about Basque country and by visiting Basque Museum who provides a fascinating insight into the colourful history of the region, quickly realised that there is so much more to it than just scenic views and great food. This part of the world is bursting with riveting history and local traditions.
The Basque and History of Bayonne Museum is located in a 17th-century merchants house right next to the river Nive, and the educational exhibits include information about farm implements, boat building, typical furniture, woodworking and sporting history of the French Basque people.
Allow yourself a couple of hours to soak it all up the museum that first opened up in 1924 hosts the biggest collection dedicated to the Basque people and their culture.
- Address: 37 Quai des Corsaires, 64100, Bayonne, France
#2. Check out Atelier du Chocolat
When you walk around Bayonne, lingering around quiet corners and slowly combing through its tiny streets, there seems to be a chocolate shop on every corner.
Did you know that it was actually here, in this quiet corner of southwest France that chocolate was first made as we know it today; all thanks to fleeting Jews who settled in Bayonne and brought cocoa beans with them.
Bayonne isn’t called the Capital of Chocolate for nothing. In fact, at its zenith, the city boasted whooping 30 master chocolatiers. While today most of them are long gone, there a still plenty of chocolate-related shops, tours and festivals worth looking up.
If you love chocolate then visiting Bayonne during its chocolate festival where you can see a craftsman at work and learn to make your own chocolate, could be a very good idea.
In the morning, stop at L’Atelier du Chocolat located on Rue Port Neuf which is part museum, part workshop and a shop to see chocolate makers in the chocolate-making process or visit a place where chocolate has been made since 154 – Chocolat Cazenave.
#3. Visit Bayonne Cathedral
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Cathédrale Ste-Marie is an important monument in the city. Located in Grand Bayonne, this gothic cathedral with its twin spires can be seen from every corner of the city.
We wandered in first thing on Monday morning and were surprised to be the only visitors. As it was raining outside, we took our time to appreciate stained glass decorations, beautifully painted chapels and amazing wall paintings; all of which are good reasons to take advantage of free entry and venture inside.
Alongside the cathedral, you’ll find the cloister dating back to 1240 which is said to be the largest in all of France. Although it warrants a separate entry, make sure you walk inside of the tranquil cloister as it provides a wonderful visual experience.
- Address: 15 Rue des Prebendes, 64100, Bayonne, France
#4. Stroll through Grand Bayonne
If you love the quiet and intimacy of small towns and cities, you’ll love Bayonne.
Grand Bayonne, located on the west bank of Naive, is the cities commercial area and it’s where all the shops are located.
It’s also the oldest part of the city where most of the tourists tend to spend their time as the beautiful Bayonne Cathedral with adjoined cloister and Château Vieux, a castle dating back to the late 11th century, is located here.
Go for a walk down the long pedestrianised Rue d’Espagne and take your time to admire one of Bayonne’s greatest features – the tall, slender buildings adorned with red and green shutters.
The half-timbered houses and multicoloured shutters make the city even more attractive and are a great subject to photograph.
#5. Browse its bookstores
Bayonne is a city of ramparts and Bayonne is also a treasure trove of bookshops.
Those kinds of bookshops where you can immerse yourself for hours forgetting everything about your daily travel schedule.
Those kinds of bookshops where the view from inside is as pretty as the shops front and where every inch of free space is covered with beautiful reading materials bursting with various ideas and beliefs.
A true bookworm will love nothing more than entering a very well stocked shop with slightly dusty corners and unusual books.
In today’s world where independent bookstores are a rare find, stumbling upon a few of them while exploring the city, will make any book lovers day.
- The Jakin Bookstore | A beautifully charming bookstore stocked with bestsellers, classics and a fantastic atmosphere. Address: 8 Avenue Maréchal Foch, 64100 Bayonne, France.
- Arragon Gibert | One of the best bookstores I have visited on my travels – once you walk through the doors and set your eyes on shelves, you’ll never leave empty-handed. Address: 10 Rue Sainte-Catherine, 64100 Bayonne, France.
#6. Wander around Petite Bayonne
Situated on the right bank of the Naive, Petit Bayonne is a young and lovely district filled with typical half-timbered houses, lots of amazing street art and lively bars.
Petite Bayonne is where you’ll find the Basque Museum and where Bonnat Museum devoted to Fine Arts is supposed to open any time soon too.
It’s a good idea to pick up a map of Bayonne from the Tourist Information Bureau and have fun tracking down its incredible street murals scattered through the neighbourhood, we sure did.
Yes, the Petite Bayonne may look a little bit worn down at first glance, yet it projects a more rustic feel.
#7. Venture beyond cities limits
Either you choose to use Bayonne as a base for exploring the city and its surrounding, or are just passing through, you are never far away from mountains and ocean. Rent a car or catch a bus and explore the neighbouring towns and get to know the history behind them.
Your choices are endless – jump in a car and make your way to Bordeaux, the famed wine-growing region, and let the hustle and bustle of big city chaos sweep you away. Or, escape to nearby Biarritz or Hossegor to catch a glimpse of the ocean or find serenity in nearby mountain valleys.
Visit Sare, often ranked as one of the most beautiful villages in France to see its main square that hosts many pelota games and remarkably decorated 17th and 18th-century Basque-style houses.
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Now, over to you!
Have you been to Bayonne? Let us know in the comments below!
Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Bayonne and have travel-related questions!