In northwestern France, Brittany is a region with its own identity, landscape and even language. One of six Celtic nations, it has a maritime climate that sometimes feels more like Ireland than mainland France.
The views from the coast are at times awe-inspiring and quaint, but always beautiful. At its most epic, there are huge headlands surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and cliffs like you’ve never seen on the Pink Granite Coast. If we had to list the region’s historic towns and villages, we’d probably be here all day, some of them so diligently cared for that they’ve barely changed over the centuries.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Brittany:
1. Coastal scenery
Stretching boldly towards the Atlantic Ocean, the region has such a pristine and beautiful natural geography that you can spend years exploring the seaside around Côtes-d’Armor, Finistère, Ille-et-Vilaine and Morbihan and feel like you’ve never seen it so close to every heartbreaking sight.
The thing to celebrate is the pink granite coast on the Côtes-d’Armor, where the rocks have a mysterious color that makes them look unnatural.
The Sentier des Douaniers trail and the granite lighthouse of Ploumanac’h will take your breath away.
Honorable mentions must also go to Pointe du Grouin near Saint Malo, Pointe de Pen-Hir and Cap Fréhel at Parc Naturel Régional d’Armorique and the awesome Fort la Latte.
2. Prehistoric monuments
Anyone who read Asterix books as a child knows that the forests of Brittany’s interior are littered with prehistoric steles, dolmens, and steles.
These were built 7,000 years ago, either alone on a hillside or in woodland, or as part of a highly significant complex that has amazed generations of heirs and visitors.
The village of Carnac in the Morbihan department is an El Dorado of prehistoric nuts, with more than 3,000 immortal stones, the largest collection in the world.
But it’s just the gateway to your journey through Neolithic Brittany, and there’s much more to see, including the Cairns of Barnenez and Gavrini, and the stunning passage tombs of Roche aux Fées.
3. Saint Malo
It’s not blasphemous to compare the port city’s old quarter to the nearby Mont Saint-Michel.
The medieval walls of Saint-Malo are majestic, and you can stroll along every inch of them, overlooking the labyrinth of streets, or the cinematic beaches to the north and west.
On a clear night, you’ll be blown away by the sunset behind the stately grey stone buildings of the Old Town.
Check out the tomb of romantic writer Chateaubriand, and when the weather is nice, beaches like Plage du Sillon, with its rocky islands and crystal clear lagoon-style pools, are a good choice.
Even the swimming water can be a little cold.
4. Huelgoat Forest in Finistere
In the hilly inland part of the Parc d’Amorique is the lakeside village of Huelgoat, surrounded by woodlands that hide wonderful natural rock formations and caves.
If you go into the village’s tourist office, you can get a map of the route, which ranges from an hour-long loop tour to an intrepid expedition through the mossy deciduous forest.
The best local walk starts behind the old water mill on the lake and leads to a bizarre world of oversized granite boulders.
Follow the steep stairs down into the Grotte du Diable, a cave 10 meters below the lake lined with these rounded rocks.
5. Dinan Old Centre
Even in an area lauded for its picturesque town, Dinant stands out.
Considered by most to be the prettiest place in Brittany, and in the upper part of the walls, there are cobblestone streets and houses dating back to the 1200s.
As you walk down Rue de la Cordonnerie, you’ll wonder if you’re really still in the 21st century! The upper floors of these crumbling half-timbered buildings hang almost dangerously from the street.
The river port is equally atmospheric, with quayside restaurants and a 40-meter-high railway viaduct adding drama.
Head to the 13th-century castle to start a tour of the city walls or learn about the history of this wonderful town.
6. Oysters, Cider and Crepes
For seafood lovers, Brittany is the place to be.
Order a Seafood Highland Fruit and you’ll be greeted by a slew of shellfish and crustaceans, as well as crispy croutons and melted butter.
There are many unique food experiences in the area, such as the waterside oyster market in Cancale, where you can eat them.
Cider is a local drink, and there is a designated Route du Cidre in Finistère, passing through the AOC Cournouaille cider region.
Finally, you can hardly find it on a street in Brittany without finding a crepe shop.
These will produce the classic crepes we all know and love, but also squares, buckwheat pancakes, and often with delicious fillings like fried eggs.
One of France’s “beautiful villages”, Locronan surprises everyone.
It’s a small place with only a few hundred inhabitants and a fully walkable old center, and it’s a truly delightful find.
If it feels a bit like a movie to you, it’s no surprise that several French films and TV shows were filmed here.
The largest and most palatial home in Locronan was built in the 1700s and belonged to the owners of the sail-weaving business, which traded vigorously not only with the French navy, but also with Spain and England.
8. Quimper Cathedral
Like many churches in Brittany, this fantastic Gothic building is a real joy to explore, but it also has some quirks that make it unique.
One is the tapering in the middle to suit its natural environment.
This was to avoid a marshland when it was built in the 13th century.
The cathedral is Quimper’s most beautiful heritage and is a national monument of France.
These marvelous spires are 75 meters high and flank the semi-mythical 5th century sculpture of King Gradlon of Kournuye.
9. Remparts de Vannes
During the War of the Brittany Succession in the 14th century, Vannes was besieged four times by Anglo-French forces.
Its bloody past gives it a complete defense system, enclosing the old town into half-timbered houses and adding charm and authority to the town.
Nowhere is this more authentic than the Jardin des Remparts on the east side of the city walls.
This is an elegant formal garden with manicured parterres and the Mahler River flowing through it, all set against a backdrop of medieval curtains and towers.
There is a market on Tuesday and Saturday mornings at Place des Lices, a square where equestrian competitions were held in the Middle Ages.
10. Île de Batz, Roscoff
Opposite the town of Roscoff, once a haven for pirates and smugglers, is a small island, a small slice of rural paradise.
The ferry takes about 15 minutes and you should spend at least half a day on Batz exploring the coast and countryside.
Many rented bikes for the day and rode along coastal paths next to small beaches with nothing but farmland.
The island has warm currents from bay streams, so many fields are dedicated to potatoes, which they say are the best potatoes you can eat.
The warm air also nourishes the island’s turn-of-the-century botanical gardens, which feature 2,000 species of plants, such as the palm trees typically found further south.
11. The Brittany Canal
The countryside in the region has a canal system with a total length of 600 kilometers.
This of course opens up endless possibilities for outdoor travel.
In Canal de Nantes à Brest in the south and Canal d’Ille-et-Rance in the north, you can rent narrow boats.
You don’t need a permit for one of these, as they travel at glacial speeds, giving you the chance to admire the historic sights on the riverbanks and the 19th century engineering that made these waterways possible.
On land, you can follow the “Voies Vertes”, the canal’s tow path now turned into a walking trail, with gentle slopes, suitable for even the smallest family members.
Another voted one of the most beautiful villages in France, Rochefort-en-Terre in Morbihan takes you back at least a century.
Not only the historic houses, but the entire structure of the old medieval village remains: the well and the drinking trough are still here, now decorated with geraniums.
In fact, the whole of Rochefort is filled with brilliant colors in summer, with pots on windowsills and wisterias on granite walls.
The village has been formed over the centuries and therefore has many styles, from rustic half-timbered houses to Renaissance stone palaces with conical roofs on turrets.
Summer nights are brightly lit, the whole village is brightly lit, very romantic!
13. Fougères Castle
The small town of Fougères, not far from the Normandy border, has a contemplative fortress rising sharply to the west of the city walls.
Considered one of the greatest castles in Europe, it is a compendium of historic military architecture.
The castle as we know it first rose in the 1100s, but there were many reinforcements and additions over the next four centuries.
Given their age, the towers are in good shape and you can go in and climb three of them.
Probably the best of these is the Mélusine tower built in the 1300s by Raoul II, Count of Au.
14. Saint Gustin
From the 17th to the 19th century, this port was one of the busiest in Morbihan and witnessed some very important events.
One of them was Benjamin Franklin, who arrived in 1776 to ask for aid from France in the Revolutionary War.
The port today doesn’t handle that kind of traffic, but is a charming spot for a stroll in the sun, with half-timbered houses dating back to the 1400s, many boutiques and art galleries, and restaurants with outdoor seating by the water.
After pottery around St. Gustine, you can cross the medieval bridge to visit the town of Aure, which hosts a wonderful market every Monday.
15. Leguerre Noble Ferret Zoological Garden
Few zoos are as dignified as this one in Morbihan: the park is housed in a mid-19th-century castle.
In the early 1900s, the estate’s owner was inspired to create a wildlife sanctuary where animals could roam freely, and asked a zoologist to study how to turn his ideas into reality.
It opened to the public in the 60’s and evolved into this popular attraction.
The well-designed 150-hectare park is home to 1,000 animals, including zebras, hippos, antelopes and yaks, including waterfalls and grasslands.
If you like seeing zoos that create the right environment for animals, you won’t be disappointed here.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Brittany, France
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