A short guide to the best things to see and do in beautiful Bayonne, France

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.

One of many pretty streets in Bayonne.

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.

So many books and so little time – one of Bayonne’s charming book stores.

#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 Corsaires64100, Bayonne, France
Traditional houses along the River Naive, 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 Prebendes64100, Bayonne, France
Bayonne Cathedral can be seen pretty much from everywhere.

#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.

Go for a walk and watch the locals get on with their day.

#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. 
Pop into a bookshop, take time to speak to the booksellers and check out the inventory.

#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.

Incredible architecture in the Petit Bayonne, France.

#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.

Beautiful sunsets in Capbreton, France.

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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!

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49 thoughts on “A short guide to the best things to see and do in beautiful Bayonne, France

    1. Hi, Sheree, how are you doing today? We are a huge fans of the Basque country too. It is such a beautiful and diverse part of France with lots to see and do. Thanks for stopping by, gonna check out your blog post right away. Aiva 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Beautiful post! Great information and guide, love the way you describe, not only because you are quite able to capture our attention but because you carefully lay out all the important things and how to get to them, and especially noting the greenest route! Bayonne and Biarritz are two places I have been wanting to visit as I have some Basque blood within these veins and have friends from there. Once I do get there, I will let you know, for now I am planning a trip to St. Lo, in the Atlantic coast of France, Normandy, I believe is where it is and if you know anything about that destination, please let me know…Thanks for such a lovely article Aiva, all the best!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It must be fascinating to have some Basque blood within your veins, and there is nothing more exciting than going back to a place where your ancestors once roamed. It adds more purpose and meaning to your life and certainly provides you with a healthy dose of inspiration, both for your paintings and poems.

      I hope you get to visit the Basque region one day; you would love it. I wish I could help you with a trip to Normandy, but it’s one of those places we haven’t been to.

      I look forward to reading all about your trip. Thanks for stopping by and thanks again for your lovely words. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s always a pleasure to read your posts. They are great posts and I truly enjoy them and share them with my wife who also loves to travel and find different, and especially out of the way places, many like the ones you describe and write about and illustrate with marvelous photographs! Take good care, enjoy the week and all the best. I will look further into Normandy and if we get to Bayonne or Biarritz I will advise!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Allan. Despite the rain, we had a great time exploring Bayonne and can recommend this part of France to anyone. Before our trip, I had no idea that this is where the chocolate, as we know it today, was born. Travelling is a great way to educate yourself about various topics, that’s for sure. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing this beautiful town. I especially love the shot with the cathedral in the background and of the sailboat. Will include in our list of places to visit in France.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, and thanks for stopping by. Bayonne is a beautiful place to explore; there’s just the right amount of things and places to visit without feeling overwhelmed or feeling rushed. We loved every minute of our time in the city and can highly recommend it to anyone. Have a good day. Aiva


  3. You just gotta love France. I was just doing some travel research on the central Pyrenees where we’ll be this summer – about two hours from Bayonne. I have a feeling that, not being on the water, the two areas would feel quite different. I would love to get to the French Atlantic coast someday. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, you are so right, you’ve just got to love France. I had the Pyrenees on my mind for quite some time, we even tried to incorporate a trip to the mountains, at least to take a ride the TRAIN DE LA RHUNE to see the panoramic views of the Basque coast, but always run out of time. With so many beach holidays, it’s time to head into mountains. Maybe next time.
      I look forward to reading about your trip to Pyrennes and seeing photos. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva


  4. You had me at chocolate and then completely sold me with the great pictures of the perfect french town. I had absolutely zero knowledge of this part of France, but know I want to learn more. Great post! Maggie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much. Chocolate was one of the reasons why we wanted to include Bayonne on our France itinerary, and it didn’t disappoint. If you are in the Basque area, it is an enjoyable stroll around the neighbourhood near the water and having a cup of rich hot chocolate, and thick hand-whipped cream is most indulgent. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva


  5. Thank you for another informative and eloquently written article. I’ve visited the South of France but not this particular area. I can see it would have much to interest me – the cathedral and stained glass windows [ one of my favourite photography subjects], the chocolate shops [I am a chocoholic!!], the bookshops { I love books and am an avid non-fiction reader] and a stroll through the old part of the city would also be on the agenda. The only thing I would definitely avoid would be the bull fights! I’m a great animal lover. Thank you, Aiva, and family for sharing your fabulous travels.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Seeing the cathedral with its beautiful stained glass windows was the highlight of our trip to Bayonne, and it was easy to see why this particular place was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We are great animal lovers too, and it is disturbing to find out that bullfights are still legal in certain parts of Europe. The practice of bullfighting is controversial because of a range of concerns including animal welfare, funding, and religion, but I hope to see an end of it. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva xxx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Bayonne is perfect for a day trip and even better for a long weekend. Staying in one place for a little bit longer gives visitors an opportunity to get the feel of the place. And, there’s just enough attractions to keep you occupied for a couple of days. Thanks for stopping by and save travels ❤️ Aiva


    1. Bayonne is a beautiful place to visit. The city could claim to be a part of Gascony. At the same time, the Basque influence is undeniable and can be seen in the bright red beams of its traditional houses and its wild celebrations during the Fêtes de Bayonne in August. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva


  6. It looks very pretty. Now the fact is that most French cities have been very well restored in the past 30 years or so.
    Don’t know Bayonne. In fact I don’t know the Sout-west, never been below Nantes. Need to make up for it one day. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bayonne, alongside with Biarritz, San Juan de Luz are secret gems hidden just a few hours away from Bilbao. Bayonne is also historically the French capital of chocolate and famous the world over for its ham and is undoubtedly worth a visit. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much. Bayonne is surprisingly close to Biarritz so you can definitely team up these two towns in one fantastic trip. One great experience is to hire a bike from Bayonne and spend the day cycling the coastline and exploring Biarritz too. Hope you get to visit one day. Aiva


    1. Thanks so much, France is a land of countless destinations, so much so that many get overlooked. One place that unfortunately seems down the list is the Bayonne on the Atlantic side of the south of France. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva


    1. Thanks so much. We’re already planning the ways we can make 2020 even more successful, and with the support of amazing people like you, we’re confident it will be. Thank you and Have a good day. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Pam! Bayonne was indeed a beautiful place to explore for a day. And I have to say, we don’t know enough about France too, so this trip was an excellent opportunity to expand our knowledge about this beautiful country. Thanks for stopping by and have a great weekend.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much! We love exploring lesser-known towns and villages whenever we travel. Having the place all to our selves without the large tourist crowds is one of our guilty pleasures. We can highly recommend Bayonne to anyone exploring the Basque coast; there are many interesting places to see and do. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

    1. We were pleasantly surprised by everything we had a chance to see and do in Bayonne, especially the old town and chocolate! I hope you get to visit one day, you are bound to fall in love. Thanks for reading and have a good day. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by! We managed to explore only a small portion of the Basque country, there’s so much more to do and see than a blog post can cover. Have a good day. Aiva


    1. Thank you very much for stopping by! Bayonne has been on our radar for quite some time, and it was such a delight to see it finally. We loved it so much that made two separate day trips within a week. Thanks for reading and have a good day. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Wonderful read. We stayed in Bayonne for one night on our way down to Madrid but spent most of our time in Biarritz. The little I saw of Bayonne was wonderful though, I’ll definitely have to go back!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Jason! We’ve been to Biarritz many times yet always left Bayonne out of our travel schedule. I am so glad we finally decided to visit. I was delighted to find independent book stores and plenty of chocolate. What else would you need for a perfect day trip? Thanks for reading and have a good day. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Like most of France, Bayonne looks lovely. We have driven down through France to Spain, but not stopped in the Basque or Pyrenees areas, would love to do so.

    I can definitely recommend Clermont Ferand in central France if you are driving through and need somewhere to stop over. The city is lovely with a huge central square, but the scenery around is spectacular.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for your recommendations, Tony. we love France and very much miss travelling at the moment. Clermont Ferrand looks quite divine, and I would love to visit one day. I love glorious cathedrals with a clear Gothic accent and I love the fact that you can use the city as a gateway to the Natural Volcano Park. Yet another place to put on my travel wish list. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva


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