The Arcachon Bay (or Bassin d’Arcachon) is a huge salt-water lake in South-West France. We spent an entire day visiting villages and sightseeing spots along the bay. As there is lots to see and do, you can always spend more time at the bay. In this post, we’re sharing all the things to do and see in one day at the Arcachon Bay.
The first stop of the day is Cap-Ferret. On the west side, Cap-Ferret borders the Atlantic Ocean, and on the east side it borders the Bay. Cap-Ferret’s main attraction is its lighthouse. It’s absolutely worth going up the 258 steps and seeing the beautiful 360˚ view over the bay and the ocean. Besides the beautiful view, there’s also an exhibition about the navigation and development of marine cartography and of course a souvenir shop.
High-season (July-August): Daily from 10.00-19.30
Mid-season (April-June and September): Daily from 10.00-12.30 and from 14.00-18.30
Off-season (October-March): Wednesdays to Sundays from 14.00-17.00
Entrance fee (adult): €6
Cap-Ferret has a small shopping area which is nice to walk around. At the port, you can take the ferry to other places along the bay, including the city of Arcachon. There’s also a bike rental shop. The area is very suitable for cycling, so this could be a fun day activity as well if you’re staying there.
The next spot on the list is a small village called L’Herbe, which is just a 7-minute drive from Cap-Ferret. This village is worth visiting for the Chapel of the Algerian Villa. The chapel is a Moorish-inspired building and dates from 1885. It used to be part of the Algerian Villa, a Moorish-styled palace which was destroyed in the 1960s. We loved the distinguishing Moorish style of this chapel a lot and wondered how the palace must have looked. You can go inside the chapel as well. Besides the chapel, there’s not much else to see in L’Herbe.
Grand Piquey is just an 8-minute drive from L’Herbe. In Grand Piquey you can rent a canoe and paddle to Île aux Oiseaux (Bird Island), which is a fun activity if the weather is good and you have the time. The shore of Grand Piquey is filled with oyster farms, of which there are many more along the bay. You can also taste oysters straight from the Bay at many locations around the area. That’s as fresh as it gets!
Andernos-les-Bains is a slightly larger village and takes about 20 minutes to reach from Grand Piquey. You can find many fisherman’s huts in the village, which are all brightly-colored. It’s very fun to walk around them and they’re the perfect backdrop for (Instagram) photos.
Andernos-les-Bains has a huge beach, so if the weather is good it’s the perfect spot for sunbathing. The village church, Église Saint Eloi, is practically located at the beach, which offers some very nice photos. Andernos-les-Bains is absolutely worth checking out during your Arcachon Bay tour.
In Andernos-les-Bains, there are also many places where you can eat fresh oysters at the farmers themselves. If you’re into oysters and local experiences, you should absolutely try them here!
Port de Biganos
Port de Biganos is a cute fishing port along the river Leyre, which takes about 30 minutes to reach from Andernos-les-Bains by car. There are many small colorful huts and it’s nice to walk around. There isn’t much to see though, so we didn’t spend a very long time in the port area. You can also rent bikes at the port and explore more of the area and the nature, or rent canoes to explore the Leyre river and the bay. We just walked around the port and had a refreshing ice cream.
Ornithological Reserve of Teich
Near Port de Biganos you’ll find the Ornithological Reserve of Teich, which is a protected bird reserve. We didn’t have the time to visit the bird reserve, but the nature reserve is pretty large and looks like an amazing place to visit. The bird reserve has a 6 km-long circular foot path. The given time to complete the trail is 3-4 hours. Unfortunately, we didn’t have this amount of time left as we only spent one day in the Arcachon Bay area. If you’re staying in the area longer, it’s a fun day activity to explore the bird reserve and to immerse yourself in nature.
Arcachon is the largest city along the Bay. We’ve been to Arcachon multiple times and always enjoy walking around. There’s a small shopping area and the main shopping street ends at the beach. Along the beach promenade, you’ll find many restaurants. It’s nice to walk around the shopping area in Arcachon, but it’s not as authentic as the other places in the region.
What’s really worth going to in Arcachon is the Observatoire Sainte-Cécile. From here you have a beautiful view over the city and the bay. To get to the viewpoint, you have to climb a tall metal tower, but the view at the top of the spiral staircase is well worth it!
Arcachon does have authentic, and very pretty, villas built in the 19th and early 20th century. The villas have Swiss, gothic and Moorish features, with beautiful balconies, colonnades, neoclassical facades and beautiful roofs, and many of them have exotic gardens. These famous villas can be found in the so-called Winter Town (Ville d’Hiver). The villas are absolutely stunning and it’s really worth wandering around Winter Town.
In the heart of Winter Town, you’ll find Parc Mauresque, which is a pretty and relaxing park. The park features hundred-year-old trees, an open-air theater and beautiful views over the Bay. The atmosphere in the park is amazing and the gardens are very beautifully laid out. The park isn’t that big, but it’s a nice place to walk around.
Boats departing from Arcachon
There are multiple boats leaving from Arcachon to other places along the Bay. It’s also possible to do a boat tour around the Bay. There are two jetties in Arcachon: Jetée Thiers and Jetée Eyrac. Information on destinations and schedules of the departing boats are available right on these jetties. When the weather is good these boat tours are amazing!
Parking in Arcachon
Parking in Arcachon can be a bit of a struggle during the summer months. Next to it being difficult to find a parking spot in Arcachon, parking in the city center is also quite expensive. Luckily, there’s a Parc Relais at the beginning of Arcachon that we always use. There’s a free shuttle bus that brings you from the Parc Relais to the city center. We usually walk to the city center though, which takes about 20 minutes.
Parking fee: €3
The shuttle bus drives daily from 10 July to 25 August from 09.00-13.00 and from 14.00-18.15.
Dune du Pilat
Dune du Pilat is the highest sand dune in Europe and is absolutely a must-visit if you’re in the area. Watching the sunset from the top of the dune is truly magical. The views are stunning and the dune landscape is out of this world. We would really recommend going there during sunset. Bring some drinks and food and you’ll have the perfect evening! Read more about Dune du Pilat in this blog post.
Best time to visit Arcachon Bay
The Arcachon Bay is a popular summer holiday destination, but you can go there all year round. You’ll have the best weather in July and August, which is peak season. Since the Arcachon Bay is mostly about nature, it’s beautiful any time of the year. During off-season, the weather is less predictable but prices are better and it’s less crowded. Trains, buses and boats ride all year long, but time tables are less frequent outside the months of July and August.
How to get there
We usually go to the Arcachon Bay by car while staying in Montalivet-les-Bains. It’s a 1,5-hour drive to Cap-Ferret and almost 2-hour drive to Arcachon from Montalivet. Having a car can be very useful as you’re free to go wherever you want, whenever you want to. If you’re going to the Arcachon Bay on a day trip and want to visit all of these places, it’s a must to have a car. Downside of having a car are the parking costs. In almost every village along the lake there’s paid public parking during late spring and summer. In general, parking isn’t very expensive but you have to keep this in mind.
By public transport
It’s also possible to reach and get around the Arcachon Bay by public transport. Arcachon has a train station with a regional TER connection from Bordeaux. From Arcachon you can get around the Bay by either boat or bus. if you’re visiting the Arcachon Bay by public transport, it’s probably better to stay a few days in the area as you’re dependent on time tables.
If you’re staying in the area, it’s also possible to explore the Arcachon Bay by bicycle. There are 220 kilometers of bicycle paths along the Bay that will bring you everywhere you want to go. There are even boats that allow you to bring your bicycle with you, so you can easily get to the other side of the Bay, without having to cycle all the way around, saving you lots of time. You’ll have to stay a few days to explore all of the area by bicycle as it’s huge!
Have you ever been to Arcachon Bay or would you love to go there? Let us know in the comments below!
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