With a local population of approximately 33,000, the French city of Biarritz combines a refreshing blend of opulence, chic allure, and easy-going charm. Renowned as a luxury seaside resort, this French gem boasts some of the best beaches in Europe which attract surf enthusiasts and sun-seekers alike.
With its classy boutiques, art studios, and vibrant cafes, Biarritz also provides a sophisticated shopping and culinary experience, while the city’s history unfolds through landmarks like the Phare de Biarritz and Sainte-Eugénie Church.
I recently visited Biarritz and whether I was strolling the seaside promenades, or uncovering the history, it was soon clear that this captivating city offers a wonderful mix of timeless elegance and laid-back cool that is ideal for a short break or a holiday.
When To Visit?
The best time to visit Biarritz is between May and October. Temperatures are generally quite mild and ideal for those looking to explore the region or simply relax on the many beaches along this gorgeous stretch of the French Basque Coast.
How To Get To Biarritz
The city is often overlooked by British guests due mainly to the lack of direct flights to the small but perfectly located Aeroport Biarritz Pays Basque, which is just a short 20-minute transfer and just 5 km to the city centre by taxi. Bordeaux, Bilbao and San Sebastian, all about 1-2 hours away, have airports but again limited flights from the UK.
There is however great news for those of you living in Guernsey as Aurigny Airlines are operating a one-off flight on the 28 September 2024 directly from Guernsey to Biarritz. They also feature a flight to Bilbao from Guernsey on the 12th of October 2024.
Hiring a car is simple from the airport or town. If you don’t fancy a self-drive then the local bus services are frequent and cost-effective. I travelled to Biarritz by bus from Bilbao (2 hours) via San Sebastian and was dropped off at Biarritz Airport. From there I took a short 20-minute taxi transfer costing 20 euros to the hotel.
There is also the rather amusing on-the-eye electric bus service called Txik Txak, which links the city centre of Biarritz and Bayonne directly in less than 30 minutes.
Biarritz also boasts a well-connected railway station, making it convenient for European train adventurers to visit.
Where To Stay in Biarritz?
I stayed at the beautiful 4-star Hotel de Silhouette. Built around 1600, the building is one of the oldest in Biarritz. Located opposite the Halles de Biarritz market, this charming boutique hotel is ideally positioned to explore all corners of the city. The hotel has just 21 exquisitely furnished rooms, a gorgeous bar, a restaurant, pretty gardens, and delightful staff on hand to assist with every request.
Getting Around In Biarritz
Exploring Biarritz on foot is both easy and enjoyable with the city following the contours of the coast. For sites, a little further away a very easy and cost-effective option is to use the local bus service which can whisk you from one end of the city to the other in just a few minutes.
Cycling is also popular with the rental of traditional bikes and also e-bikes readily available.
La Grande Plage
La Grande Plage is the main beach in the heart of Biarritz. Located between the Hôtel du Palais and Casino Barrière, this enormous beach offers more than just sun and sand. Take time to explore the beachfront promenade where locals proudly walk their pampered pooches, savour the fresh seafood at oceanfront eateries, or take a coffee as I did at the bustling Dodin Biarritz on the seafront.
Surfing is popular here, although I understand the better surfing beach is its neighbour, the Plage de la Cote des Basques. I will let the surfing fraternity argue that one out!
From thalassotherapy spas to family-friendly play areas, La Grande Plage is a vibrant blend of relaxation and seaside excitement.
The Plage Miramar is next to La Grande Plage, however, the currents here can at times be quite strong and so surfing is not permitted.
La Plage de La Côte des Basques
La Plage de la Côte des Basques in Biarritz is a legendary surfers’ haven, renowned for its powerful waves and vibrant surfing culture. This beautiful sandy beach, framed by dramatic cliffs, is not just a paradise for wave-riders, but also a picturesque retreat for beachgoers looking to unwind.
With its stunning natural beauty and iconic status in the surfing world, La Plage de la Côte des Basques captures the essence of Biarritz’s coastal charm.
Alongside La Plage de la Côte des Basques is the Plage Marbella, a wild beach, also popular among surfers and bodyboarders.
La Plage du Port Vieux
In between the two main beaches of La Grande Plage and La Plage de la Côte des Basques and nestled between rocky cliffs, La Plage du Port Vieux is a charming little cove offering a more secluded and intimate atmosphere.
Its golden sands and clear waters are perfect for swimming or simply relaxing on the shore, surrounded by stunning coastal scenery. I loved the little covered arcade with cute shops and cool artwork adorning the wooden shutters.
La Plage de la Milady
As always, I like to get some local recommendations and I was told that many locals favour the Plage de la Milady. I jumped on the local bus which takes just 10 minutes from the centre of Biarritz to the bus stop across the road from the beach.
Nestled between rocky cliffs, this sandy beach offers a more peaceful experience compared to the bustling centre. There is the lovely restaurant Milady Beach which is popular for cocktails at sunset and dinner overlooking the ocean.
Built in the late 1880s, Villa Belza is a historic and iconic mansion. Known for its distinctive architectural style, it features a blend of Gothic and Moorish influences, creating a unique and visually striking appearance.
Originally built as a private residence, the villa has witnessed the transformation of Biarritz from a small fishing village to a fashionable seaside resort. Over the years, it has become a symbol of the city’s rich history and while not typically open to the public, it can be admired from the sea or as I did whilst walking along the coastal paths.
I am not normally someone who enjoys Aquariums as I am a firm believer that animals should live wild and free in their natural environment. That said the Aquarium Biarritz or Le Musee de la Mer, is one of the most talked about visitor attractions so it would be remiss of me to ignore it.
Located on the iconic Rocher de la Vierge, the Aquarium was created in 1935, and today showcases diverse sea life from the Bay of Biscay. As you would expect there is everything from colourful fish to hammerhead sharks and sea turtles to sea lions, along with educational exhibits and engaging displays.
The cost to enter is 16.50 euros for an adult and 12 euros for a child. To my delight, I learned that a percentage of the entrance fee goes into supporting an area out of site to the public which looks after seals and turtles that are rescued and need specialist care.
La Rocher de la Vierge
One of the most famous attractions in Biarritz is the Rocher de la Vierge, meaning “Rock of the Virgin. Historically used as a lookout point for whale watching, the Virgin Mary statue was placed on top in 1865 after whalers were guided back to shore during a fierce storm. Then, at the instruction of Napoleon III, the rock was joined with the mainland by a wooden footbridge and later replaced with a metal one.
After you cross the metal bridge, you can look back and admire the views of the La Grande Plage, La Plage de la Côte des Basques and the Villa Belza.
Sainte-Eugénie Church of Biarritz
In the heart of the city, the Sainte-Eugénie Church of Biarritz sits on the hill above the port overlooking the Bay of Biscay. Constructed in the mid-19th century, the church is dedicated to Saint Eugenia, a Christian martyr. Known for its neo-Gothic architectural style, the church is characterized by pointed arches, ornate stained-glass windows, and a slim bell tower.
The Eglise Alexandre Newsky is located on the north side of the city. This Russian Orthodox Church was constructed in 1890 in the Neo-Byzantine style for the Russian community that frequently visited.
Port des Pêcheurs
From Sainte-Eugénie Church, there is a little path that will take you down to the Port des Pêcheurs below.
Arriving in the port you will find several well-used fishing vessels, some gorgeous fisherman’s cottages known locally as “Crampottes” and a choice of restaurants serving up fresh fish and seafood.
This is a great place to visit early morning when the boats are unloading their haul or when the restaurants are open at lunch or dinner and serving the catch of the day!
Casino Barrière Biarritz
As with Aquariums, Casinos have never been my thing, but again for those interested the art deco Casino Barrière Biarritz which was built in 1929 by the architect Alfred Laulhé is one of the symbols of the city!
I dropped by to look around but was restricted to the reception area. It seemed the receptionist sensed I wasn’t a regular gambler!
Musée Historique de Biarritz
This former 19th-century Anglican Church was transformed into the Musée Historique de Biarritz dedicated to the city’s history and culture by volunteers in 1980. Entrance costs just 6 euros, allowing you to delve into the narrative of how this small fishing village evolved into a favourite retreat for European aristocracy.
I found particular interest in the 20th-century history, detailing Biarritz’s golden era between 1919 and 1930, the economic downturn, and the impact of World War II. The 1950s marked a resurgence in tourism, shifting from aristocracy to mass tourism, eventually establishing Biarritz as the European capital for surfing!
Phare de Biarritz
Perched atop the cliffs and at the northern end of Biarritz, the Phare de Biarritz stands as a historic beacon overlooking the Bay of Biscay. This iconic working lighthouse was constructed in 1834 and entices visitors who can climb the 248 steps to the top for spectacular views.
There are plenty of seating areas around the lighthouse. There is also the propeller of a ship that was lost off the coast, an ancient sundial and gardens full of craggy Tamarisk trees that are common throughout the city.
Halles de Biarritz
Located in the Quartier des Halles, the Halles de Biarritz is a covered food market hall that first opened in 1885. With my lovely hotel just opposite, I was up early one morning to enjoy the many incredible stalls selling meat, fish, pastries, cheese, flowers, coffee and more. Upon chatting to one of the many jovial stall holders, I was told that the almonds grown locally are the best in the world – quite a claim and to be fair they were delicious!
This lovely market is highly recommended and is open every day from 7:30 am to 2:00 pm with additional evening hours during July and August.
Hotel Du Palais
The Hotel du Palais stands as one of Biarritz’s iconic landmarks. In 1854, Empress Eugenie de Montijo commissioned her husband, Napoleon III, to construct the magnificent Villa Eugenie. Over the next 170 years, despite a fire in 1903, the property welcomed high society from across the globe and entertained names such as Ernest Hemingway, Gary Cooper, and Barbara Streisand.
Today the Hotel is part of the Hyatt Hotels chain and welcomes not only affluent guests but visitors to drop in for a drink at the intimate Napoleon III Bar. Here you can marvel at the incredible chandelier and take a drink where Frank Sinatra once held court with friends.
I popped by for a visit one evening and enjoyed the experience – there is no advanced reservation required although if there is a major event taking place you may be turned away at the gate.
Shopping in Biarritz
You’ll find plenty of cool independent shops in Biarritz, offering everything from surf gear to designer jewellery. There are also several antique shops to explore. I was drawn to the art studios and shops showcasing paintings or poster prints inspired by local artists from the vibrant tourism era of the 50s and 60s.
Coffee & Sweet Treats
Finding a delicious Patisserie or Café is not a problem in Biarritz as many will tempt you with decorative windows showcasing their cakes and pastries.
I was recommended the Patisserie Miremont, one of the oldest and most popular patisseries in the city. I loved the history of this café as it was once visited by Queen Victoria no less. With ocean views, stylish décor from yesteryear and the smooth sounds of the 1920s, it was a great place to immerse yourself in the Biarritz vibe before heading off to explore more of the city.
Another lovely coffee shop with a trendy, younger atmosphere and great brownies is the Milwaukee Cafe.
For those of you like me, who have a love of Chocolate, check out Puyodebat with its shop and salon where you can have a coffee to accompany the incredible creations from the resident chocolatier.
Another highlight of a trip to Biarritz, and France for that matter, is the cuisine.
With Biarritz so close to the Spanish border and being on the French Basque Coast, you’ll find a thriving tapas scene with restaurants serving fabulous Pintxos and Bocadillos.
For more traditional French fayre I chose the typically French brasserie and bistro, Café Du Commerce which offers a wide choice of seasonal dishes as well as Tapas, Charcuterie, and delicious fresh Salads. The prices were reasonable with main courses starting from 14 euros.
Other suggestions include:
Le Moulin d’Alotz – Discover creative cuisine in the idyllic setting of a 17th-century mill. Fabrice Idiart offers a sublime blend of traditional and plant-based cuisine.
Chistera & Coquillages – A Basque brasserie par excellence which is both authentic and friendly.
Ostalamer – Chiringuito 7 – Have a drink on the ocean-view rooftop at Chiringuito 7, then head down to the Ostalamer restaurant to sample the finest marine cuisine. Enjoy a DJ set in the late evening light as you head back up to the terrace
Bars & Nightlife
Epic – This is the most coveted rooftop bar in the area, and is located on the Plage de Côte des Basques.
Those looking for more of a lively pub then head to the Newquay Bar with its range of ales and beers. On Thursdays, they host an open mic night which draws in talented and some not so talented, musicians from across the city.
In the Vicinity
Biarritz is in the French Basque country, but that does not mean you cannot nip over the border into Spanish Basque country and I would very much recommend it! Bilbao and its famous Guggenheim Museum are just two hours away by road while the gastronomic town of San Sebastian is one hour – you can almost smell the Pintxos from Biarritz!
The French city of Bordeaux is famed for its wine growing, however, the city is also a delight with attractions such as the Place de la Bourse Square and the Cathédrale St-André, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city of Bayonne is also not far with its 13th-century Gothic Cathédrale Ste-Marie. The traditional old town of St Jean Pied de Port is worth a visit for its medieval cobbled streets and beautiful Pont Romain bridge.
On top of these recommendations, this is Southwest France and there are countless little villages, beautiful countryside and delightful watering holes and restaurants to enjoy.
For lovers of golf, there is the Golf de Biarritz on the edge of the city near the Phare de Biarritz Lighthouse. Rated as one of the best golf courses in Europe it provides both a challenge and stunning views of the region.
Despite my visit being out of season I enjoyed my stay in Biarritz. The city effortlessly blends surf vibes with elegant charm, offering a unique holiday experience. I could only imagine surfing the waves on pristine beaches; however, I was able to explore this wonderful city and get under the skin of what is a beautiful and timeless resort.
For more information visit the Tourism de Biarritz website or contact your local travel agent or specialist tour operator.