Overview of Biarritz, France
The atmosphere in Biarritz is rather mixed, but in a good way. The town is comprised mainly of grand houses used by the wealthy as summer retreats. It has an upscale feel to it that is balanced off nicely with a more relaxed and easy-going surf culture that has a long history here. This interesting contrast forms part of Biarritz’s identity.
Surfing is not just a very popular activity in Biarritz, but actually has deep roots here too. Although not proven, it has been said that surfing in Europe began in 1957 on the beaches of Biarritz, on the Plage de la Côte des Basques to be more exact.
Wealthy beach-goers, including European and Russian nobility, pre-date the surfing scene in Biarritz. In the middle of the 19th century the Empress Eugenia de Montijo, wife of Napoleon III, discovered Biarritz and fell in love with its 6 kilometers of sandy beaches, cliffs, and therapeutic sea waters. Empress Eugenia built a palatial summer residence next to the sea, called the Hôtel du Palais, and shortly after, Biarritz began its transformation. What was once primarily a whaling town centered around Port Vieux (the old port), was to become a trendy spa and holiday destination and with the years, even a surfing mecca.
Beaches in Biarritz
The Plage Miramar is the beach situated between the lighthouse and the Hôtel du Palais. It is usually a quite beach, however, when the sea is rough, there can be strong currents. Surfing is not permitted.
The Grande Plage is the main beach of the town, popular among tourists and locals alike. It was previously known as the “Côte des Fous” (coast of the crazy), because of the large number of “sick” people who came for the benefits of the waters. It is located in the heart of Biarritz, close to shopping areas, bars and restaurants. The Grande Plage is situated between the Hôtel du Palais in the north and the Bellevue Congress Center in the south.
Plage Port Vieux
This very small but cute beach is located next to the Old Port. It is sheltered from the wind and waves and therefore offers some of the best conditions for swimming. Plage Port Vieux is also really close to the center of the town and is frequented by locals all year around.
Plage de la Côte des Basques
The Plage de la Côte des Basques is the main surfing beach of Biarritz. This beautiful beach is framed by cliffs and during high tide its sand completely disappears under the water, leaving behind only waves and surfers. Take note that exiting the water at high tide can be difficult as you have to climb on the rocks.
The Plage Marbella is a beautiful beach that is essentially a prolongation of the Plage de la Côte des Basques. It is a wild beach and is popular among surfers and bodyboarders. Be aware that to access this beach, you will have to climb down a number of steps.
The Plage Milady is located at the southern end of Biarritz. It is a big sandy beach that is very popular among the locals, especially families with children. There are multiple parking facilities in the surroundings and a nice promenade right next to the beach.
Anglet is the town just north of Biarritz. It is located just on the other side of Biarritz’s lighthouse and it has several beaches that are in reality more like one long beach that extends for approximately 5 km. The first beach, called VVF Beach has lifeguards on duty from the June 1st until September 22nd from 10.30 am to 7.00 pm. Several of these beaches are popular with surfers. Check out the website from the town of Anglet for more specific information.
Biarritz's Top Things to Do & See
Hôtel du Palais
In the middle of the 19th century, when the wife of Napoleon III, Empress Eugenia de Montijo discovered Biarritz, she fell in love with it and its 6 kilometers of sandy beaches. She decided it would be the perfect place to build a sea-side palace to be used as a summer residence. The palace that she built is today known as the Hôtel du Palais.
The construction of this immense palace started in 1855, however, when the dynasty fell apart in 1870, the future of the Hôtel du Palais became uncertain. The new government seized most of the valuables from the interior and finally in 1880, the Empress left Biarritz and the palace was sold. Shortly afterwards, it was transformed into a luxurious hotel-casino.
For years, the prestigious hotel was frequented by European bourgeoisie and royal families. The building was reconstructed after a fire in 1903, remaining fashionable even after World War I. In the 1920’s Biarritz became so popular and exclusive that it was known as “queen of resorts and resort of the kings.”
Unfortunately, after World War II, the hotel had to close down for some time and it was only with the help of the mayor, who organized a campaign to raise money for the rehabilitation of the building, that it could be reopened.
Today, the Hôtel du Palais still represents the luxurious lure of Biarritz and it has become one of the city’s main symbols.
Located in the center of the town, this spectacular casino was built in 1929 by the architect Alfred Laulhé. Along with the Hôtel du Palais, the art deco Casino Municipal is the one of the main symbols of Biarritz.
Today, apart from the casino, the building holds a theater and a swimming pool.
The Fishermen Port ("Port des Pêcheurs" in French) was built in 1870 for inshore fishermen. Today, most of the fishermen are gone and what is left is a cute little port mainly visited by tourists.
There are a bunch of restaurants located in the picturesque fishermen’s houses. If you want to eat fresh fish or seafood, this is definitely the best place to do it.
Rock of the Virgin
According to legend, there once was a ship that was on its way to dock when a huge storm struck, making it impossible for the ship to navigate into the port. Suddenly, a ray of light appeared and showed the fishermen a safe way to the shore. After the miracle, the fishermen decided to erect a statue of the virgin on the rock (1865).
The Rock of the Virgin ("Rocher de la Vierge" in French) is connected to the mainland via a bridge that was commissioned by Napoleon III. The bridge crosses over the water and partly through the rock that was carved out. The bridge is known as the Eiffel Bridge, named after the architect Gustave Eiffel, the same man who built the Eiffel Tower.
From the end of the rock, you can enjoy some of the best views of Biarritz. On a clear day, you can even see mountains of the Spanish Basque Country.
Musée de la Mer Aquarium
Located on the cliffs right next to the Rock of the Virgin is the Sea Museum Aquarium of Biarritz ("Musée de la Mer Aquarium" in French). This Art Deco museum and aquarium has a long history and has been open to the public since 1933. It was last expanded in 2011 and now comprises more than 7,000 m2 and contains one of the largest pools in France.
The museum guides visitors through the flora and fauna of the oceans of the entire world (from the Gulf Stream to the Pacific Ocean, passing by the North Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, South America and the Cape Horn). Among its most famous “residents,” are the scalloped hammerhead shark, the gray seal and the loggerhead turtle.
If you are planing to visit, don’t miss the feeding of the seals, which happens everyday at 10:30 am and 5 pm.
Old Port & Rue du Port-Vieux
Until the middle of the 19th century, Biarritz was centered around the Port Vieux. It was here where the whaling ships came to dock and where the fishermen would cut up the whales.
There is a tiny beach located there (called Plage Port Vieux) and some bars surrounding it. The beach is sheltered from the wind and the waves, offering good conditions for swimming. It is frequented by locals all year around.
The old port is the perfect starting (or end) point for a walk through the town.
Shopping & Eating Area
If you want to go shopping, we recommend a walk down the Rue du Port-Vieux (there are also a lot of shops, bars and restaurants there). From there, you can continue to the Rue Mazagran and Rue Gambetta.
The market, “Halles de Biarritz,” has been around since 1885 and is the main covered market of the town. It’s the perfect place to buy local produce.
The Halles de Biarritz is divided in two buildings. In the first one, you will find meat, fruit and vegetables, bread and other Basque specialties. The second building is dedicated to fish and is usually busier in the early morning.
The area surrounding the market has a lot of shops and restaurants and is worth a visit.
The lighthouse (“phare” in French) was built in 1834 and is located at the northernmost point of Biarritz. The 74 meter high lighthouse is open to the public, however, to get to the top you will have to climb all 248 steps.
Even if you don’t want to climb to the top of the lighthouse, it is still a great place to visit. The lighthouse is set upon a cliff right next to the water and there are some great views looking down to Biarritz and the French coast. The best time to visit is at the end of the day so you can catch the sunset.
* If you continue driving from the lighthouse in the direction of Anglet, you will discover a small chill-out bar called “Kostaldea.” This is also another great place to watch the sunset while enjoying a drink. There are concerts sometimes in the evening there as well.
The Imperial Chapel (“Chapelle Impériale” in French) in 1864 as the private chapel of Napoleon III and his wife, the Empress Eugenia de Montijo. It is located very close to their summer residence, the Hôtel du Palais and was built in a harmonious mixture of roman-byzantine and hispanic-moorish styles. It is dedicated to the Mexican Virgin of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Oddly enough, there is a connection between Biarritz and Russia which goes back to the time of the Empress Eugenia, the wife of Napoleon III. Eugenia invited the Russian nobility to spend their summers in Biarritz and this influx of wealth helped the town become what it is today.
Moreover, in 1892, after the alliance between France and Russia and under the initiative of the Tsar Alexander III, the monumental orthodox church (“église orthodoxe” in French) was erected and dedicated to “Saint Alexander Nevski.” Built in byzantine style, it features an impressive blue dome and icons brought all the way from Saint Petersburg.
Although the church is still used today, its interior has seen better days.
Other Places of Interest in Biarritz
Saint Eugénie Church
(Église Sainte Eugénie)
This church has a great location, standing on a hill that overlooks the port and Bay of Biscay. Built in 1898 in neo-gothic style, it is dedicated to Sainte Eugenie, patron saint of Eugenia de Montijo, Empress of France.
The Saint Eugénie Church stands in the place where the small chapel of Notre Dame de Pitié originally stood. It was used as a sanctuary for sailors and fishermen, who would go there in hopes that they would be protected from the dangers of the Atlantic Ocean. The chapel was however, destroyed by fire in 1855.
Today, the Sainte Eugénie Church usually hosts temporary exhibitions and concerts, especially during the summer months.
Gare du Midi
Once the train station, the Gare du Midi used to welcome Napoleon III when he visited Biarritz. Since its renovation in 1991, this Art Nouveau building is used as theater and congress center.
(Planète Musée du Chocolat)
The Chocolate Museum of Biarritz was open in 1996 in recognition of a patrimony as important in the history and economy of the town as chocolate. It is located outside of the center, in top of the cliffs that overlook the beach Côte des Basques.
The visit starts with the tasting of some chocolate, followed by a 14 minutes movie that explains the history of chocolate as well as the transformation of the cacao bean into a chocolate bar. During the visit, you will also discover antique machinery used for the production of chocolate. Furthermore, the museum offers workshops and cooking courses for both adults and children.
- July & August: 10am - 7pm
- Rest of the year: 10am – 12:30pm & 2:30pm – 6:30pm (closed on Sundays)
- Adults: €6
- Students: €5
- Children (5 to 12 years): €4
Hotels in Biarritz
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Get In & Around
Once you are in Biarritz, most places are reachable by foot. If you want to go from one end to the other, then you can use the local bus service, operated by Chronoplus.
Arriving to Biarritz
PLANE – The airport of Biarritz-Anglet-Bayonne is located 5 km outside of the town. From the airport, you can get to the center of Biarritz using the bus Chronoplus n14. The trip takes about 15 minutes and costs 1 euro.
CAR – Biarritz is located 6 km away from the A63 highway, which goes from Bordeaux to the Spanish border. In Spain this same highway is named AP-8.
A rental car is really great to have in the Basque Country. It makes for access to some parts of the region such as San Juan de Gaztelugatxe and to the sagardotegis (traditional basque restaurants in the countryside) much easier. Driving along the coast and through the Basque interior is beautiful. If you do rent a car, we recommend not staying on the highway the whole time and drive through the country side as it is very rewarding and you get to see a part of basque life that you would otherwise not be able to. Some of the highways are also toll roads in the Basque Country. The most expensive one is between Vitoria and San Sebastian and costs around 12 euros. If you take the alternative free route, it takes about 20 minutes longer, but it much more scenic.
BUS – Most buses leaving or arriving in Biarritz stop at the Square d’Ixelles. There are several day connections to Bayonne, Anglet and other nearby locations offered by the companies ATCRB and Chronoplus.
TRAIN – The train station of Biarritz is located 3km outside of the city center, at the Allée du Moura. The local bus service operated by Chronoplus offer buses connecting the train station with other parts of Biarritz.
The high-speed line (TGV) between Paris and Hendaye stops in Biarritz, taking around 5 h 20 min. There are also regional train services along the Basque coast and through Labourd and Lower Navarre to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.
If you are going to or coming from Spain, you will probably have to change trains in Hendaye.