Things to See and Do in Biarritz, France

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View of the Basque Coast and Biarritz Harbor. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Are you visiting Biarritz, France for the first time? Below is a list of “Insider Tips” for things to see and do on the Basque coast.

When I have a visitor from out of town, the first place they want to see is “Le Rocher de la Vierge,” the Virgin Rock. Napoleon III decided to use this impressive rock as an anchor point for the sea wall of the Port du Refuge he planned to create. The rock was also connected to the land by a wooden bridge (now a metal footbridge supposedly built by Gustav Eiffel.)

When I want to escape the crowds and tourists, my favorite place to visit is Mouriscot Lake. If this is a romantic trip, I recommend the Lighthouse gardens for kissing with a view.

The best place to walk the dog is Mouriscot and Marion Lakes or the beach trail. Marion Lake: A step away from downtown, the Lac Marion is located in a bucolic setting, great for family walks. Twenty hectares (among which five hectares are of water) frame the park. English oaks surround the lake filled with a variety of fish like perch, carp and pumpkinseed sunfish. Anglers, sportsmen and walkers recharge their batteries and there’s a playground for children ages 2 to 10 years old.

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Visit the Aquarium and Polo the Octopus. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Ne pas manquer! / Must see!

Museums are wonderful, but if you are traveling with kids, you’ll want to visit The Aquarium.  It’s home to the only hammerhead sharks in France. They live in a giant pool and reminded me a bit of the huge fish tank at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. They have nicely lit displays with live coral reefs featuring clownfish, anemones, eels and a multitude of exotic fish of original colors and improbable shapes. The Aquarium opens daily at 10:30 a.m.  At 5:00 p.m. don’t miss feeding the seals.

City of the Ocean is located next to the Aquarium and overlooks the ocean. The Cité de l’Océan is a science center dedicated to fun, science and the Ocean. Kids become actors in their own theater of discoveries when they embark on surprising new experiences, including interactive 3D animations and 5D surf sensations.

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Biarritz Market Hall

Basque Food in Biarritz:

If you are looking for typical Basque food, I recommend Chistera & coquillage located in the lively Market Place area. This place is known for local cuisine such as seafood and “pintxos” as in North of Spain.

Les Halles Biarritz or The Biarritz covered market features  more than a hundred shopkeepers. It was built in 1885 on the former Paume site. Its stalls of fish and seafood are particularly well-known. The market is open daily, including Sunday and public holidays, from 7.30 am to 2 pm. From mid July to end of August they are also open from 6 pm to 9 pm.

hot chocolate, miremont biarritz, france, basque food
Hot chocolate at Miremont. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

The best place to go for coffee, rare teas or hot chocolate topped with Chantilly (a house specialty) and pastries is Miremont.  Miremont Biarritz has been around since 1872. There are two Miremont’s in Biarritz, but the original confectionery is housed in a two story 17th century building, offering views of the Atlantic Ocean.

Milwaukee American Coffee Shop and Café serves breakfast from 9-11:30 a.m., lunch from 12-4 p.m. and brunch all weekend from 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. To go food is also available. The owner is from, you guessed it, Milwaukee. It’s a very popular spot and everything is homemade on site.

We didn’t find any cheap food deals in Biarritz, but Restaurant Week in March and November offer the best value dining. Lunches start at 19€, dinner at 29€ (excluding beverages) in the participating restaurants, even the gourmet ones!

La Cantina is the spot for late night dining

Biarritz for surfing

Seeing a lot of surfers in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region? I’ll bet you didn’t know that Biarritz is famous for surfing. The “Grande Plage” or Large Beach is one of the best spots in the world for surfing.

Biarritz has been the birthplace of surfing in Europe since 1957 (according to the ladies in the tourist office.) I’m sure Saint Jean de Luz would disagree with the former statement. Scriptwriter Peter Viertel came to Biarritz from America in 1957 with his wife Deborah Kerr to shoot his film “The Sun Also Rises.” He brought surf boards with him to practice surfing, an original sport imported from Hawaii, on Biarritz’ “Large Beach.”

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In 40 years, surfing has become an integral part of Biarritz life, traditions, culture and economy. It has brought back the city’s youth and has helped bring it up to date. It is increasingly a part of the economic activity of the city (surfwear shops, surf board manufactures and equipment, surfing schools and specialized magazines). There are also the very important economic effects resulting from surfing-related visits (spectators for competitions, themed holiday and such.)

When you come to Biarritz, get your picture taken at the Virgin Rock, on the right hand side of the bridge in “la loge du théâtre” aka theater box.

biarritz lighthouse, basque coast, france, nouvelle aquitaine french region
Climb the 248 steps inside the Biarritz Lighthouse. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

The best vantage points are taken by walking to the top of Atalaye gardens, overlooking the Virgin Rock and the sea and lighthouse gardens. Climb the 248 steps inside the lighthouse and enjoy the exceptional views of the Basque coast, the sea and the mountains.

In Biarritz, outdoor lovers will want to walk the lakes path; an 8 km circuit from Milady Beach to Marion Lake, continuing on to Mouriscot Lake and the City of the Ocean. Bicycles are available for loan at the Biarritz Tourist Office to enjoy a ride along one of six beaches.

Looking for a little exercise? Walk or run along Les Chemins de la Forme.  Locals and visitors alike use this city route, from the Light House to the “Cote des Basques” beach.

After a day of adventure, Sofitel Biarritz Miramar Thalassa sea & spa is the best place to go for a spa treatment. The spa within the hotel is a very high quality institute offering modern techniques and thalassotherapy treatments with seawater.

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Imperial Spa at Hotel du Palais. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Hôtel du Palais Imperial Spa is also an option. The spa includes an indoor swimming pool with a beautiful view of the ocean, nine treatment rooms, a fitness center,  cardio training,  2 saunas and 2 Turkish bathes or hammam.

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If you are a museum lover, visit the Biarritz historical museum. Situated in the old Anglican Church, the museum tells the history of Biarritz; a small fishing village that became a favorite of the 19th century European aristocracy, known as the “Beach of Kings.”

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The seal of Biarritz, France above the doors to Sainte Eugenie Catholic Church. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Looking for exciting night life? The Halles district, located in the heart of Biarritz, is full of bars and music where you can eat tapas and pintxos like in Spain.

Côté Sorties is the monthly magazine with all the events of Biarritz and the Basque Coast.

In April you might want to attend The Beautiful Days of Music, a classical music event. In the summer look for the grand fireworks display at 10.30 pm on the Grande Plage.

In August Biarritz invites the public to share their Thursday summer evenings in the gardens of the Cité de l’Océan with concerts, acoustic duos, acrobats, or dance.

September is a time for dance in Biarritz. The National Choreographic Center is based in Biarritz. Directed by neoclassical choreographer Thierry Malandain, the company offers many shows. Over 8,500 spectators per year attend the Ballet, one of the most active ballet companies in Europe. During the festival, Biarritz offers several shows a day in varied styles and is free to the public.

Come to Biarritz in the winter for Biarritz in lights. Artists and Magicians liven up the city.

Insider Tip: Just outside of Biarritz you can visit Saint-Jean-de-Luz. They are also known for surfing and are home to a Quicksilver manufacturing plant. For additional insider tips follow Nancy D. Brown on Instagram and Twitter @Nancydbrown and Biarritz Tourism on Twitter (if you speak French)  or Instagram.

Article and photography by travel writer Nancy D. Brown. I was a guest of Nouvelle Aquitaine while writing about things to see and do in Biarritz, France, however all opinions are my own.