15 Best things to do in Nantes (France)

Nantes will forever be known as the capital of Brittany, although it is now located in a different region. The dukes of Brittany ruled their lands from here until the duchy was unified with France in the 16th century, and their former seat of power remains one of the most powerful buildings in Nantes.

TIP – Get the full Nantes City Card with free entry to 30 top attractions and free public transport

The Loire is the lifeblood of Nantes, bringing the world to the city’s doorstep and allowing trade and industry to flourish. Ride the city’s Navibus shuttle bus, ride the fantastic machines on the Ile of Nantes, or take a riverside break in the bohemian village of Trentmoor on the Left Bank.

Let’s explore the best things to do in Nantes:

1. Castle of the Dukes of Brittany

Castle of the Dukes of Brittany

The former site of the Dukes of Brittany was the last castle before the Loire entered the Atlantic Ocean.

The fortified palace is to the east of the old town, although it’s hard to miss the high walls and towers that surround the exquisite Grand Logis, where the Duke lives.

Built in the 13th century, the castle was occupied by the dukes for 300 years until it became the French royal residence in the 1500s.

The courtyard and ramparts are free to enter, but you need to pay to visit the history of Nantes, which reveals the different stages of the city’s evolution, from the slave trade to its time as an industrial port.

The green Douves du Château by the deep moat is the perfect place for a summer lunch break.

2. Les Machines de l’Île

Les Machines de l'Île

The west side of the Ile of Nantes is inhabited by whimsical animatronic creatures inspired by the writings of Jules Verne and the quirky baubles of Leonardo da Vinci, and created by artist Francois De La Rozier gives life.

All these extraordinary machines are interactive: for example, the Grand Éléphant, which is 12 meters high, can carry 52 passengers for a walk, and you can feel the vibrations with every step.

Carrousel des Mondes Marins is a giant carousel with moving sea creatures, while Arbre aux Hérons is a climbable sculpture with ramps and stairs shaped like a large tree.

The interior Galerie des Machines has more sculptures and shows you how they were designed and built.

3. By Pommeraye

channel pomeraille

Located between Rue de la Fosse and Rue Santeuil, this 1843 shopping mall is not only a sophisticated shopping venue, but also an ingenious architecture and photo-worthy spot.

The access is built on a steep slope, which accommodates the nine-meter height difference, with an ingenious intermediate level between the two street levels.

Passage Pommeraye is still as splendid as it was 160 years ago, with Neo-Renaissance sculpture and stonework, iron and glass roofs flooding the gallery with natural light, wrought iron lamps and handrails – not to forget its elegant selection of luxury boutiques.

4. Botanical Gardens

botanical garden

Listed as one of France’s “extraordinary gardens”, the Jardin des Plantes covers 7 hectares with 10,000 plant species.

The garden is right in the city center, just a 10-minute walk from the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany.

This is no ordinary park: The Palm House is a fabulous late 19th-century metal and glass structure planted with plants from tropical America, while the three greenhouses flanked by orchids from Africa and Asia.

Walk along the path and you’ll see mature trees like a 220-year-old magnolia and two giant redwoods planted 150 years ago.

5. Île Feydeau

Île Feydeau

As you explore Île Feydeau, you may wonder why this area south of the center is called an island, or why the street is named Quai Turenne when there are no signs of water.

Well, it was an island until the 1930s, when an arm of the Loire was blocked.

Fedor was an uninhabitable marshland until the 18th century, when land reclamation projects created a dignified settlement for the city’s wealthy businessmen.

Their flat houses are beautiful, with iron balconies, mansard roofs and grotesque carved stone.

The ground below is still soft, which puts some of these townhouses in a lovely sloping state.

6. Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum of Nantes is housed in the city’s old mint in a beautiful setting with galleries from all branches of natural sciences: with collections in zoology, paleontology, mineralogy, ethnography and many others, The name is long and has been collected since the 1700s.

The specimen guaranteed to turn heads is a fin whale skeleton in the Zoological Gallery, over 18 meters long, suspended from the ceiling.

Added in 1955, Vivarium has been recently refurbished and has a set of terrariums housing snakes and other exotic reptiles.

7. Nantes Cathedral

Nantes Cathedral

Construction of the city’s cathedral began in 1434 and took more than 400 years.

The ornate Gothic design continued into the 1600s, although by then it was outdated as it matched earlier pieces.

Another interesting piece of news is that, in 1661, Nicolas Fouquet, the senior treasurer of the court of Louis XIV, was arrested by D’Artagnan in front of the cathedral. He was a prisoner for the last 20 years of his life.

You must make time for the tomb of Francis II, Duke of Brittany, a masterpiece of the French Renaissance. Dating back to 1507, it has haunting sculptures in white Carrara marble.

8. Avenue Cambronne

Cambronne

Cours Cambronne, part of the new town built in the 18th century, is a grand square between two 180-meter-long terraces of neoclassical mansions.

Walk along the palatial Central Avenue to see the statue of the Nantes-born general Pierre Cambronne, who was wounded at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The 16 splendid pilastered mansions on the square are included in the French List of Historic Monuments.

Worthy of special mention is the Hôtel Scheult, which sits on top of Rue Piron and has a newly restored façade.

9. Mémorial de l’Abolition de l’Esclavage

Mémorial de l'Abolition de l'Esclavage

Remember that much of the splendor of the old regime of Nantes was financed by the slave trade.

Nantes was the first city in France to transport slaves on an industrial scale, and in the 18th century the largest proportion of French slave ships departed from this port.

Therefore, the monument commemorating the abolition of slavery on the Quai de la Fosse River Loire is particularly poignant.

Since the end of the 20th century, the city has begun to face this chapter of its past, unveiling a somber and understated memorial in 2012.

In the underground corridors you will find many expeditions from Nantes and even the names of the associated ships.

10. Musée de l’Imprimerie

Imprint Museum

Nantes has had a long-standing relationship with the printing press since the publication of the first book, Les Lunettes des Princes (Les Lunettes des Princes), by the Breton poet Jean Meschinot in 1493. Founded in 1986 by master print master Sylvain Chiffoleau and typesetter Robert Colombeau, the museum has built a stunning collection of manual and mechanical printing presses.

There are also gravure, lithography, dyes, and historic typographic stencils.

If all this baffles you, you can take a look inside the Nantes printing industry to see how all this mysterious equipment is used.

11. Buffalo Square

Buffa Square

This square is located in the center of Boufa, the oldest district of Nantes.

The place names, “Place du Pilori” (Pillow) or Rue de la Juiverie (Jews), give you an idea of ​​the times of this area.

On the pedestrian street, you’ll find half-timbered houses from the 1400s side by side with restaurants, crepes and some of the city’s liveliest nightclubs.

The square you see now is from the 1700s, but there are evocative remnants of a farther past: around the corner from the Rue des Échevins, there is a Gothic fireplace that protrudes from the wall, dating back to to the 15th century.

12. Jules Verne Museum

Jules Verne Museum

Jules Verne was born in Nantes in 1828 and spent most of his first 20 years in the city, although a woman he pursued as a teenager was married by her parents After marrying a woman, he does not receive the highest respect. Wealthy landowners in Nantes.

The museum dedicated to Jules Verne is located in a large bourgeois mansion built in 1878, not far from where his parents lived in Bas-Chanteay, although it has no connection with Verne .

In the exhibition hall you can find a fascinating collection of books, games, manuscripts, portraits, documents that belonged to the author and bequeathed to the museum by his heirs.

13. Trentmoor

Trent Moore

On the left bank of the Loire, Trentmoor is a former fishing village belonging to the town of Reze.

Just a short ride on the Navibus ferry to the city centre, many hipsters, artists and wealthy families from the city have settled in Trentmoor.

You can navigate the maze of streets in brightly coloured cottages from the 18th and 19th centuries.

The houses are peculiarly designed with three storeys, the lowest used only for storage, as the Loire regularly bursts its banks.

There are trendy antique shops, restaurants and crepe shops by the marina and terraces by the river.

14. Visit Brittany

Visit Brittany

At 144 meters high, the Tour Bretagne is one of the tallest buildings outside the French capital.

Located just north of Centre-Ville in Nantes, it has an unapologetically rectangular silhouette almost everywhere you go.

This tower clashes with old Nantes and isn’t always a popular addition to the skyline, but the view from the top is fantastic.

If you have the Nantes Pass, the panoramic bar and outdoor observation deck are free; if not, it only costs 1 euro. You can pause here for a moment to identify all the landmarks below.

Le Nid (The Nest) bar is a surprise, with seats and tables designed to resemble eggs, and a soft sculpture of a stork-heron hybrid meandering through the space.

15. Food and drink

Gâteau Nantais

The gastronomy of Nantes is difficult to pin down, as the city is at the meeting point between Brittany and the Loire Valley, both inland and the Atlantic Ocean.

But there’s no doubt that seafood and fish should be part of your plan: mussels, lobster, crab, prawns, mullet and sea bass are all as fresh as possible.

The oysters in Nantes are divine, and even better when paired with pale Miscade wines from the countryside outside the city.

After that, Gâteau Nantais is a soft pound cake made with rum.

Where to stay: The best hotels in Nantes, France
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