We have hand-selected the best things to do and see in Biarritz. From the Hotel du Palais to visiting the market – if it deals with Biarritz tourism, we’ve got you covered.
The palace of the Empress.
© Hôtel du Palais
Exterior of the 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.
The art deco symbol of the town.
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 place to go for seafood and fish.
Port des Pecheurs
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.
The guardian of the fishermen.
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.
A tour through the oceans of the world.
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.
Where it all began.
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.
Fresh local produce, fish, cheese & more.
Fresh fish at the market
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.
Enjoy the sunset of Biarritz.
Lighthouse of Biarritz
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 church of the Empress and Napoleon III.
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.
From Russia with love.
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.
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.
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.