Nantes is a city that will surprise you. It is a city you must visit if you make a road trip through Brittany or spend a weekend here.
For today’s post, I want to tell you about the best things to do in Nantes.
I’ve been living in this city since 2018, and I haven’t written anything yet, but the truth is, I want to tell you a lot of things!!!
I’m going to start with the essentials, and then, in other posts, I’ll go into more detail.
Things to do in Nantes on a weekend
I’d say Nantes is not like other French cities. I don’t know if it’s because I’m living differently when visiting other cities or because it’s just like this.
In Nantes, you will find a combination of history, art, culture, and modernity all mixed at once.
Best Things to do in Nantes? Essential
We start with the essentials that you have to see in Nantes. Those are places you have to know on your first visit to this wonderful French city.
- Check Out: Private Tour with a Local, cheaper than you can imagine!
- Check Out: Things to do Close to Nantes, 25-side day trips, or more!
The Castle of the Dukes of Brittany
The Must-Visit Place in Nantes is The Castle of the Dukes of Brittany. You’ll wonder why to visit the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany if Nantes is in the Countries of the Loire.
Well, this is because, after the second world war, Nantes stopped belonging to Brittany and became part of the Loire Countries.
The castle was built in the 15th century by Francois II. It is a palace fortress in the center of the city.
It is surrounded by a moat, where you will see ducks, turtles, and a nice landscaped area that is stunning with spring colors.
Inside the castle, you will find the Museum of the History of Nantes, which dates back to its inception today.
There are 32 rooms with hundreds of objects where you will learn Nantes’s paper during the “Europe Slave Trade” in the two world wars and the local industry.
On the first Sunday of the month, access is free of charge.
In front of the castle, you will see some curious things, such as the fountain, that is called the mirror of water, a very peculiar football court, and if you go a little bit further and go with children, you have to visit the dragon.
The Machines of the Island. Meet Nantes’ most famous Elephant
Another must-do in Nantes is to visit the Machine of the Island. Of course, the elephant is the most famous, but there’s so much more.
Here. There’s a team of builders with an imagination that goes above and beyond and takes care of giving life to a bestiary like no other.
- Check Out the Nantes City Card Pass
Gallery of Machines
In the gallery of Machines, you will find mechanical plants and canteen animals. You’ll also see a giant ant that runs through the gallery. On top of that, you’ll see what the creation and manufacturing process is like in the laboratory.
There are always new things to discover here.
The Great Elephant is the protagonist of the Island of Nantes. This giant elephant is a few meters in height and takes you for a walk around the island. While onboard, you will discover its interior full of gears that give him life.
The Machinist will tell you about the animal’s life, and you’ll see how it goes, dipping the curious who come close to admire it full of water.
Riding this giant elephant is one thing you can do on the Island of Nantes.
The Carrousely of The Sea Worlds
This carousel, 25 meters in height and 22 meters in diameter is very close to the machines on the edge of the Loire.
It has 3 floors and an amazing design. Here you will learn more about the marine world and its unsettling creatures.
Note: Pay attention to the schedules because they change according to the season.
- April 6 to July 7, 2019 from 10 a.m. to 18 p.m.
- July 8 to August 25 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
- August 26 to November 3 from 10 to 17 or 18 hours.
- Nantes Island Machine Hours
Pay attention when you walk through Nantes Island, as there will be some curious things like a tree used to play basketball.
Take a good look at the buildings, discover the new Nantes’ new architecture, visit art galleries, look at the cranes on the way to the Bananas Hangar, Daniel Buren’s rings, and Patrick Bouchain.
The Hangar Bananas (HAB Galerie)
Hangar 21, known as Hangar Bananes, was built in the mid-20th century to store shipments from Africa with bananas and pineapples.
In 2007, it was rehabilitated as a place for exhibitions, and in its surroundings, there grew a leisure area with bars and restaurants, which is full of life on the weekends.
Throughout the year, you’re going to find different exhibitions. In the summer especially, you will find exhibitions by internationally renowned artists.
It’s definitely an ideal place to spend a Friday or Saturday afternoon and has a drink at one of the surrounding bars.
LU: Lieu Unique. The old biscuit factory
This is where the LU cookie factory is found. The “Yayitas,” the princes, Pim’s, and many more cookies were created here.
Since 2000, this space has been rehabilitated and transformed into a unique place. Here, you will find the ideal place to blow up with creativity.
There are spaces dedicated to different activities, a bar, a restaurant, a bookstore, a hammam, and a nursery, and, of course, a dedicated venue for shows.
Shows change during the year. You can find live music, theater, and DJs. The price of tickets varies depending on the show, sometimes it is free, and sometimes not, we recommend that you look on its website. https://www.lelieuunique.com/
The Tower of Brittany
For me, this is the ugliest building in Nantes’ city center, but it has great views of the city.
It was built in the 70s, has a height of 144 meters and on the 32nd floor, there is a panoramic terrace with a 360-degree view of the city and a bar called “Le Nid” that you definitely have to visit in Nantes.
- Check Out: Free Walking Tour in Nantes (English guide)
Le Nid is the work of contemporary artist Jean Jullien, and here you will find a curious nest.
*Update, “le Nid” is close right now.
Schedule for visit the Tower of Brittany:
- Wednesday to Friday from 14.15h to 2h
- Saturday from 10am to 2pm
- Sunday from 10am to 2pm
- In summer it is also open from Monday to Wednesday from 14.15 to 24h.
The Cathedral of Saint-Pierre and Saint-Paul and other churches
The history of the Nantes Cathedral is a bit convulsive. The first stone was laid in 1434 but was not completed until 1891. That’s more than four centuries!
And, as if four centuries were not enough to finish the cathedral, less than a century later, it suffered a great fire and was devastated by the flames. After this, major restoration work was carried out.
When you enter the cathedral, you realize how tall it is and start discovering its treasures. One of them is the tomb of Francis II, and Margaret of Foix commissioned in 1506 by Anne of Brittany.
There’s an 11th-century Romanesque crypt under the choir and a second crypt dating back to the nineteenth century, where an exhibition is dedicated to the cathedral.
Bouffay Square and the Neighborhood of the Same Name
The Square of Bouffay is where the first castle of the Nantes Countess was located during the 10th century.
But what will surely catch your eye the most about this square is the sculpture of “éloge du pas de côté” (English: Ode of the step to the side of the step aside), which, according to the author, depicts a man in a suit with the look on the horizon.
He had one foot on the pedestal and the other in the air. And it pays tribute to the daring of the city, its commitment, and its close relationship with culture.
In the square you’re going to see many bars for a drink; I like L’Epicerie.
When you walk through the Bouffay neighborhood, you have to pay attention to the signs and posters of the shops, which are very curious. For example, the Boucherie and the facades of the buildings.
This neighborhood is vibrant and full of life; let yourself be carried away by the ancient streets of the medieval city.
Le Jardin Des Plantes
Jardin des Plantes (Garden of Plants) is one of Nantes’ most beautiful and crowded parks. It is a short walk from the train station and the castle of the Dukes of Brittany.
Here, you’re going to find hundreds of different plants; some of them are outdoors and others in greenhouses. In addition, you will find sculptures like that of the servants and others cast into trees and shrubs.
If you go with children, you have to visit the playground with giant pots or where the goats are located.
It’s a place where you will find Nanteses and tourists, especially on sunny days.
The Passage Pommeraye
The Passage Pommeraye is the most elegant covered gallery in Nantes.
It was built in 1843 in the Graslin neighborhood, which they’ve been restored for two years, and today we can enjoy its magnificent architecture, and sculptures and visit its shops for those who have a good budget and want to go shopping.
Speaking of the Graslin District, be sure to visit Graslin Square. Here, you will see one of the mythical restaurants of Nantes: “La Cigale.”
With an art deco décor and more than 120 years of history, this restaurant is one of the must-see places in Nantes.
You can go almost at any time for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch. With that said, don’t miss its Boeuf tartare (beef), which is impressively good.
- Check Out: Free Walking Tour in Nantes (English guide)
Follow the Green Line of Nantes
One of the best ways to get to know Nantes is by following the green line. But what is this green line? It’s one of the ways to travel around Nantes and miss nothing.
Following the green line of Nantes, you will discover 45 attractions of the city: interesting places, monuments, works of art, and more. It’s a long walk so get ready!
The tour of the green line starts at the Lieu Unique and ends at the Jardin des Plantes.
On this tour, you will know what to see in Nantes, and you will pass through places such as the Machines of the Island, the Carousel of the Marine Worlds, the Hangar, the Memorial of the abolition of slavery, the castle, museums, and much more.
This tour is effortless, just follow the green line, but I recommend getting a map of Nantes from the Tourist Office or seeing it on its website. Mostly to know what you’re seeing, where to stop, or where you’re most interested in seeing.
What to See Near Nantes
If you come for several days to Nantes, you can visit.
- What to see close to Nantes: 1-day trips (25 ideas for your trips)
- Clisson in a day. It is reached by train or car very easily.
- The medieval town of Guerande and its salt marshes.
- Make a 4-day road trip through southern French Brittany.
In the next post, I will talk about places to eat in Nantes, my favorite brewery, where to go for Brunch or have a great breakfast, which museums see in Nantes, and more.
Last Updated on 9 October, 2023 by Veronica
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Vero, a seasoned traveler, has explored 25 countries and lived in five, gaining a rich perspective and fostering an infectious passion for travel. With a heart full of wanderlust, Vero uncovers the world’s hidden gems and shares insights, tips, and planning advice to inspire and assist fellow adventurers. Join Vero and let the shared passion for travel create unforgettable memories.