City Guides Pays de la Loire

Best Things to Do in Nantes, France

27/02/2024

Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
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Visit Nantes, France

Nantes is an unmissable destination in north-western France. Located along the Loire River, Nantes was the capital of the Duchy of Brittany, and it has a rich history that dates back to Ancient Roman times. Today, Nantes is the capital of the Pays de la Loire region and offers incredible attractions.

Is Nantes worth visiting? The answer is YES! From a gorgeous château and a stunning cathedral to the unique Machines de L’lle, Nantes is a paradise for art and architecture lovers. The city is also an eclectic creative hub with a vibrant atmosphere, thanks to the presence of many university students. Nantes is also popular for its picturesque riverbanks and world-class vineyards producing Muscadet white wine.

In July and August 2024, Nantes will host football competitions during the Paris Summer Olympics 2024. Keep reading to discover our suggestions for things to do in Nantes, France, for an unforgettable holiday.

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What to Do in Nantes, France

What to do in Nantes for a day or a weekend getaway? Here is the list of the things to do in Nantes, France, for an unforgettable holiday. If you need some tips on how to combine them, check out our Nantes 2-day itinerary.

1. Château of the Dukes of Brittany

Château de Nantes

The Château of the Dukes of Brittany (Château des Ducs de Bretagne) is one of the top attractions in the city. The old seat of the Dukes of Brittany, this fortified château lies in the historic heart of Nantes. Built from the 14th to the 18th century, it has been listed as a historical monument since 1862.

Château de Nantes is one of the best castles in Brittany, or at least former Brittany! Stroll around the Château’s courtyard and ramparts before entering to explore the different rooms and the Nantes History Museum. The museum displays nearly 1150 collector’s items and hosts numerous temporary exhibitions.

DID YOU KNOW? Anne de Bretagne, one of the most famous Duchess of Brittany and born in Nantes, was married to two Kings of France!

The best part of the château is the 500-meter path at the top of the ramparts, from which you can see Nantes from every angle. Even more awesome? Access to the ramparts is free! Château des Ducs de Bretagne: Place Marc Elder, Nantes; Opens from Tuesday to Sunday, from 8.30 am to 7 pm.

2. Saint-Pierre Cathedral

Nantes Cathedral

Nantes’ stunning Cathedral is just wonderful. Its construction has spanned over 400 years and boasts flamboyant Gothic architecture.

About the size of Notre-Dame-de-Paris, Saint-Pierre Cathedral features a white stone façade surrounded by two massive towers with terraces from which you can admire the city.

One of the top Nantes attractions, you will love its interior. Step inside the church to see the central arched nave with beautiful ornaments, a grand pipe organ, and the tomb of Francis II, the last Duke of Brittany, considered a French Renaissance masterpiece. Then descend to the Romanesque crypts to discover its treasure and learn about the church’s history.

Following the fire of 2020, the Cathedral is under re-construction works and will be closed until the beginning of 2025

3. Machines de l’Ile

Mechanical Elephant - Nantes

If you are looking for Nantes tourist attractions for all the family, head to the Ile de Nantes. Once home to Nantes’ shipyards, the west side of the Ile de Nantes has today a unique attraction you shouldn’t miss.

The Machines de l’Ile are articulated interactive machines representing giant animals inspired by the imaginative writings of Jules Verne and the fanciful gizmos of Leonardo da Vinci.

These extraordinary machines are a Nantes must-see and were brought to life by a group of artists and machinists. The most famous ones are the Carrousel des Mondes Marins, l’Arbre aux Hérons (the Heron Tree), and the Grand Elephant, 12 meters tall, which can carry 52 passengers. You can also see how the machines are built and repaired in one of the hangars of the former shipyard.

Machines de l’Ile: Parc des Chantiers, Boulevard Léon Bureau; Opens from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 am to 6 pm (10 am to 7 pm on Saturday and Sunday)

4. Passage Pommeraye

Passage Pommeraye - Nantes

Built in 1843, this shopping center is where to shop in style. Located between Rue de la Fosse and Rue Santeuil, the Passage Pommeraye has stunning architecture. Similar to the covered passages of Paris, the one in Nantes boasts a monumental decorative staircase, neo-Renaissance sculptures, and an iron and glass roof that fills the venue with natural light.

The Passage Pommeraye is a photo-worthy sight, so you should check it out during your Nantes sightseeing, even if you are not a shopaholic. But if you want to spoil yourself with some French shopping, you will be thrilled to know that Passage Pommeraye features luxury and classic boutiques.

5. Théâtre Graslin

Located in the square with the same name, Théâtre Graslin is one of the oldest and most beautiful theaters – opera houses in France. Built in the late 18th century in the Italian neoclassical style, the Théâtre Graslin has a gorgeous main façade adorned with sculpture. The Theater’s most striking characteristic is the waterfall cascading down from its rooftop.

The venue is even more spectacular at night when the building is illuminated and creates a magical environment.

Once inside, you will see an elegant auditorium with blue velvet seats, wall embroidery, and a fresco-painted ceiling.

The Théâtre Graslin is an iconic landmark, and there are countless cafés, bars, and restaurants around it. If you wonder what to see in Nantes with beautiful architecture, you can’t miss Place Graslin and its opera house!

6. Stroll along the Banks of the Loire River

Nantes - France

One of the features that make Nantes so beautiful is the Loire River. Taking relaxing walks along its banks is one of the best activities to do in the city. Perfect in every season, locals spend their late afternoons after work and Sundays strolling along the Loire River.

On the River’s left bank, you will find the Musée de l’Esclavage, one of the most important memorials in the world devoted to the slave trade and its abolition, which is free to visit. It is a solemn reminder of Nantes’ history as the most active slave-trading port in 18th-century France, paying tribute to those who struggled – and still struggle – against slavery in the world.

Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery - Nantes

The river also creates a neighborhood island called Ile de Nantes, which is completely surrounded by its waters. While on the island, don’t miss the Quai des Antilles, where you will find wide paths for strolling, bar terraces, and art installations.

Musée de l’Esclavage: Quai de la Fosse – Passerelle Victor-Schœlcher, Nantes; Opens everyday from 9 am to 8 pm.

7. Jardin des Plantes

Nantes’ Jardin des Plantes is among France’s most remarkable gardens thanks to its 10,000 species of plants. Located in the heart of Nantes, just a stone’s throw away from the Château of the Dukes of Brittany, the Jardin des Plantes is nearly seven hectares and is among France’s four largest botanical gardens.

A visit to the Jardin des Plantes is one of the best things to do in Nantes, France, for a relaxing day. Stroll around to marvel at the colorful and fragrant flowers and tall trees like a 220-year-old magnolia and two giant sequoias that are 150 years old. The best parts of the Jardin des Plantes are the Palm House, with plants from tropical America, and the Greenhouse, displaying orchids from Africa and Asia.

8. Musée Jules Verne

Jules Verne kid and Captain Nemo, one of his most famous characters

If you are a Jules Verne books fan, you cannot miss his museum when you visit Nantes. The famous Jules Verne was born in Nantes in 1828 and spent a part of his life in the city. This French writer, playwright, and poet was a pioneer of science fiction, and among his most famous works is the novel “Around the World in Eighty Days.”

Visiting the Jules Verne Museum is one of the best things to do in Nantes. Housed in a large red-and-white bourgeois mansion from 1878, the Musée Jules Verne is divided into eight rooms where you can learn all about the life and works of the French writer.

The museum’s top exhibit is the library displaying Verne’s extensive collection of books, manuscripts, and illustrations. Musée Jules Verne: 3 Rue de l’Hermitage, Nantes; Opens from Saturday to Wednesday, from 10 am to 7 pm.

9. Take a Day Trip

Clisson - Pays-de-la-Loire
Clisson

What to do in Nantes, France, if you have an extra day? Nantes is surrounded by beautiful towns that you should consider visiting.

A great day trip idea is the charming Clisson, a picturesque town about 30 minutes from Nantes. Clisson is easily reachable by train and car, and among its main attractions is its medieval castle that sits atop a hill and from which you can admire stunning views.

Another wonderful day trip from Nantes is to Pornic, located 50 km southwest. Within easy reach by train and car, Pornic is a popular resort town on France’s Atlantic Coast. It’s a great getaway during which you can relax, explore the medieval town, lie at the beach, and taste flavorful seafood. Check out our article with the best day trips from Nantes.

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