Things to do in Nantes: All highlights and activities
You’re planning to visit Nantes, this nice city located in the Loire Atlantique department during your travel in France?
In order for you to make the most out of your stay, I have created a guide with all the best things to do in the city. Historical monuments, parks, activities like the famous Island of machines (“Machines de l’île” in french), there is a lot to discover in Nantes! Another big advantage of this medium sized city is that you can visit everything on foot.
In addition to the must-see attractions of Nantes, I will give you my best advices about where to stay, as well as itineraries to visit Nantes in 1, 2 or 3 days.
So, what are the best places to visit in Nantes?
Let’s start with the 15 points of interest!
- Things to do in Nantes: All highlights and activities
- 1. A journey to Nantes and the green line
- 2. The château des Ducs de Bretagne
- 3. Lu Tower
- 4. Nantes cathedral
- 5. Nantes Arts Museum
- 6. The jardin des Plantes
- 7. Versailles island
- 8. The Erdre riverside
- 9. The Tour Bretagne
- 10. The Bouffay District
- 11. Kervegan Street
- 12. The passage Pommeray
- 13. The Machines of the Isle of Nantes
- 14. Nantes museums
- 15. The Escape Hunt Experience Nantes
- Things to do around Nantes
- The Nantes Pass
- What to do in Nantes for a day
- What to do in Nantes for 2 days
- What to do in Nantes in 3 days
- Where to stay in Nantes
- Where to eat in Nantes
- You’re traveling in France? These articles will help you!
1. A journey to Nantes and the green line
To start this list of things to do in Nantes Nantes, here is an original project that takes place every year from July 1st to the end of August in the city.
Entitled A journey to Nantes (“Le Voyage à Nantes” in French), this cultural event allows you to discover the city’s must-see attractions, historic buildings, squares and numerous temporary artistic installations. And they have made it very easy! This artistic trail is symbolized by a green line drawn on the ground: you just have to follow it to discover the majority of the places listed below.
Even if the artist’s installations are temporary, the Green Line is an excellent route to visit Nantes on foot or by bike all year round!
You will find the green line itinerary as well as the highlights of the tour on the “A Journey to Nantes” official website.
2. The château des Ducs de Bretagne
The château des Ducs de Bretagne (The Castle of the Dukes of Brittany) is Nantes most important historical monument and one of the main touristic attractions. Located in the historic heart of the city, this fortress is endowed with a 15th century rampart and several buildings built from the 14th to the 18th century.
Listed as a historical monument since 1862, the buildings have been used as ducal residences, governor’s sieges or barracks and even bunkers during the during the Second World War German occupation.
The castle became the property of the city of Nantes in 1915, and after fifteen years of restoration, it’s now a must-see in the city.
You can visit the castle and its different rooms. It also houses the Nantes History Museum, which provides a portrait of the city from its origins to the present day, with nearly 1150 collector’s items. Every year, numerous temporary exhibitions are also held there.
Not to be missed is the 500-metre path at the top of the ramparts, which will allow you to admire the castle as well as the city of Nantes from every angle. It’s even nicer at night thanks to the magnificent lighting.
You can find more information on the château des Ducs de Bretagne official website
3. Lu Tower
Just in front of the château des Ducs de Bretagne is the Lu tower (“tour Lu”). As its name suggests, it was part of the former factory that produced the famous Nantes biscuits, the “BN” (“Biscuit Nantais”).
Originally, the factory consisted of 2 towers and a building, but they were badly damaged during the Second World War and only one of them could be restored.
The tower is really photogenic with its gold and blue colors as well as its dome pierced with windows. Inside, on the ground floor, you will find a small room retracing the history of the Lu factory.
However, the highlight of the visit is to go up to the top of the tower in order to admire the view over the whole city of Nantes. It’s possible thanks to the Gyrorama, a strange machine, with a “Jules Verne” invention look. A must see during your stay in Nantes.
Next to the Lu Tower, in the former manufacturing factory, there is also an atypical art centre that offers several exhibitions:
- A performance hall with dance and theatre performances
- A trendy bar
- A restaurant
- And a bookstore.
This place is now named “Lieu Unique” (LU, which means “Unique Place” in English )
4. Nantes cathedral
Another historic monument of Nantes: The Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul of Nantes. The construction of the cathedral has spanned over 500 years. About the size of Notre-Dame-de-Paris, its white stone facade is surrounded by 2 massive towers, with terraces overlooking the city at the top.
To see inside:
- The tomb of Francis II, last Duke of Brittany
- The crypts: a Romanesque crypt sheltering the treasures of the cathedral and another one featuring an exhibition retracing its history.
- The great pipe organ
5. Nantes Arts Museum
In the middle of the promenade between the Nantes cathedral and the Jardin des Plantes, you will pass in front of Nantes Art Museum, sometimes also called the Nantes Fine Arts Museum. Closed during 6 years for renovation, the museum has just reopened its doors to the public, so why not take advantage of it to discover the brand new facilities.
This museum houses a collection of works ranging from ancient to contemporary art presented in various forms, including paintings, videos, photographs and art installations.
For information on timetables and prices, you can find everything on the museum’s official website
6. The jardin des Plantes
Located in the heart of Nantes, a few hundred meters from the château des Ducs de Bretagne and the cathedral, you will find the Jardin des plantes.
With nearly 7 hectares of greenery, this large botanical garden is among the 4 largest in France. It will allow you to enjoy a beautiful stroll while admiring the 50,000 flowers planted each season or by walking through the 800 square metres of greenhouses.
Every year, during the A journey to Nantes event, you will also find cool funny giant installations made of shrubs or wood.
A perfect place to stroll along the alleys, and enjoy a little coolness thanks to the fountains.
7. Versailles island
As we are talking about the parks and gardens of Nantes, you can then go to Versailles island (“L’île de Versailles”) to continue the walk on the theme of greenery and nature.
Formerly occupied by tanners and carpenters, this 1.7 hectares artificial island has been turned into a Japanese garden. The rocks shapes, waterfalls and vegetation recreate the typical Zen atmosphere of Japanese landscapes. In the heart of the island, you will even discover a traditional tea house, the “Maison de l’Erdre”, which houses exhibitions on the river’s fauna and flora.
8. The Erdre riverside
The Versailles island is a great starting point for a walk or bike ride along the Erdre riverside.
Thanks to the many parks, manor houses and castles along the river, the Erdre was nicknamed by François 1st, the most beautiful river in France. Indeed, you will be able to see several vast mansions with large gardens that belonged to rich shipowners or merchants.
To see also: the Chantrerie park and the Beaujoire floral park.
Continue the walk up to the port of Sucé sur Erdre where the river forms a nice small lake.
Many activities allow you to discover Nantes and the Erdre on the water side, you can also rent canoes, license-free electric boats or opt for a romantic cruise.
9. The Tour Bretagne
From the outside, this office tower has nothing extraordinary, but take its elevator to the 32nd floor and you will discover a magnificent 360 degree panorama over the whole city of Nantes. And all this for a symbolic €1, it’s rare enough to be highlighted.
Don’t miss “Le Nid”, an atypical bar perched at the top of the Tour Bretagne (Brittany tower), with a giant stork and egg-shaped poufs! A perfect opportunity to have a drink in an original atmosphere.
10. The Bouffay District
Speaking of good food, you will find a multitude of bars and restaurants in the Bouffay district. This lively neighbourhood is a popular place for going out and shopping.
Ancient historical heart of the city, it’s still considered as the soul of Nantes. Mainly pedestrian, it’s in the Bouffay district that you will be able to see half-timbered houses and vestiges of 15th and 16th century buildings. Not to be missed: the Apothecary house (“maison de l’Apothicaire”), a 3-storey building with sculptures and statuettes on the facade. Nowadays, there is a restaurant inside.
In the neighborhood, go around Bouffay Square (Place du Bouffay). Formerly the square were public executions were taking place, it now houses a small covered market. All around, you can have a drink on one of the many cafés terraces.
11. Kervegan Street
It’s also in Nantes that you can see one of the most beautiful European architectural complexes of the 18th century. Kervegan Street is considered to be one of the most characteristic streets in the city, with its buildings listed as historic monuments.
Along with the Bouffay district, it’s part of the gastronomic center of Nantes and you will find everything you need to eat well.
12. The passage Pommeray
The passage Pommeray is a must-see in Nantes. Built to allow the passage between Place Royale and Place Graslin, this shopping gallery was built according to the model of the great Parisian galleries.
The passage is simply magnificent with its huge glass roof and monumental staircase that connects the 3 levels of the gallery. Around the balconies, on the upper floors, you an find statues and sculptures representing the geniuses of art and science.
Do not hesitate to go and admire it, the place is very photogenic thanks to its brightness. And if you have time, you can of course take advantage of it to do some shopping in the boutiques.
13. The Machines of the Isle of Nantes
In Nantes, you will be able to enjoy a unique and original activity that will delight young and old alike. The Machines of the Isle of Nantes (“Les Machines de l’île” in French) is THE must-see tourist attraction in Nantes!
The island of Machines is an original project mixing the worlds of Jules Verne and Leonardo da Vinci. The 2 designers of the project invented articulated machines representing giant animals. During your visit, you will be able to discover the manufacturing secrets of its machines and even climb on or drive some of them.
The most famous is the 12 meters tall and 48 tons giant elephant. Seeing it in motion is quite impressive! If you’re lucky, you can even be one of the 50 passengers who can board for a 30-minute stroll at a speed of 1 to 3km/h
Another attraction is the machines gallery (“la galerie des machines”), which houses a bestiary of beautiful mechanics. You can ride and lead several animals including a spider, an ant and even a giant heron that will take you around the gallery. Machinists are there to explain the process of creation and operation of these strange creatures.
The gallery will be home to the Heron Tree (l’Arbre aux hérons), a giant tree with 22 branches and hanging gardens, in the coming years. Today only the experimental branch is accessible, but no doubt that the result will be outstanding.
Finally, the island is home to a unique merry-go-round: the Marine Worlds carousel (“le carrousel des Mondes Marins”). On 3 levels, you will discover the sea creatures that populate the seabed, abyss and sea surface: giant crabs, Manta rays and squid that you can ride.
On the island you can also enjoy many bars and restaurants with themes such as “La Cantine du Voyage” (The Travel Canteen) which offers, every day in summer, a unique menu at 10€ , made from local produce and vegetables from the garden. And for dessert, choose one of the best ice cream in Nantes at the “Fraiseraie”
14. Nantes museums
Jules Verne Museum
The Jules Verne Museum is located on Sainte-Anne hill in a beautiful bourgeois house. It was created to pay tribute to the writer, who was born and lived in Nantes. However, he never lived in the house where the museum is located.
The museum retraces the writer’s life and presents objects that belonged to him. A collection of his original works is also being showcased.
Natural History Museum of Nantes
Another museum to see in Nantes, the Natural History Museum traces the origins of man and animal species through its various galleries.
The Earth sciences section about minerals allows children to discover the rocks through workshops, in a very playful way. But the most impressive part is the zoology gallery, which has more than 1000 vertebrate animals, including a whale skeleton more than 18m long!
15. The Escape Hunt Experience Nantes
If, unfortunately, it’s raining during your stay in Nantes or simply if you like it, Nantes offers several spaces devoted to the most fashionable games at the moment: the escapes games.
I particularly recommend you The Escape Hunt Experience which is the biggest escape game in France. The goal here is to decode puzzles and solve mysteries in 60 minutes. A great activity to do with friends or family (children must be 12 years old or older). Of course, it’s only on reservation.
To get your detective brain to work, it’s this way.
Things to do around Nantes
if you are in Nantes for a few days, here are my favourite places to visit nearby:
About ten minutes from Nantes in Navibus, you can go to Trentemoult, an old fishing village. With its brightly coloured facades, its maze of narrow alleys and its many restaurants, everything is put together for a pleasant time.
20 minutes from Nantes, don’t hesitate to visit Clisson, a very beautiful medieval city. A must-see for its castle, medieval halls and Romanesque church. The city is also described as the capital of the Nantes vineyard, so take the opportunity to discover the know-how of the winegrowers or visit their cellars.
Grand lieu lake
At about 15 kilometers from Nantes, there is the largest natural lake in France, the lake of Grand Lieu. More than 500 species of plants (some of which are very rare) are recorded on its shores. It’s also home to one of the most important colonies of grey herons in Europe. If you wish to visit Nantes and its surroundings, it is the opportunity of a nice family walk to discover the flora and fauna.
The Nantes-Brest Canal
As the name suggests, the Nantes-Brest Canal connects the 2 french cities and stretches for nearly 360 kilometers. You can follow it on foot, by bicycle or you can choose the waterway and enjoy the magnificent landscapes it crosses. Do not miss the city of Carhaix, Chateauneuf-du-Faou and the “domaine de Trevarez.”
The Puy du Fou
Located only 1 hour from Nantes, the Puy du Fou, a famous historical theme park with shows, is an excellent idea for a visit, with or without children! And if you want to spend 2 days there, there are many hotels on site.
The park is also easily accessible from La Rochelle (1h30).
The Nantes Pass
If you are planning to visit Nantes, I strongly recommend you to take the Nantes Pass. Valid for 1, 2 or 3 days, for a price ranging from 25 to 45€, it will give you free access to public transport, and many points of interest and activities. Sites and museums such as the Château des ducs de Bretagne, the city bus tour and even a cruise on the Erdre river are included! You will also get discounts on many attractions.
What to do in Nantes for a day
If you only spend 1 day in Nantes, I advise you to follow the “green line” that I mentioned at the beginning of this article as it will allow you to visit Nantes on foot while going through the following attractions:
- Start the day with a visit to the Château des ducs de Bretagne
- Then go up to the Lu Tower and take a walk to the Lieu Unique
- The Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul of Nantes is also worth the detour
- Take a good lunch break at “La Cigale” restaurant,. I’ll tell you more about it in the “Where to eat in Nantes” section.
- Spend the afternoon at the Machines of the Isle of Nantes, with the Marine Worlds carousel and the Great Elephant.
The perfect way to discover Nante’s main points of interest!
What to do in Nantes for 2 days
In 2 days in Nantes, in addition to the itinerary I gave you for the 1st day, you can visit:
- Start your morning with the Passage Pommeraye and its superb architecture
- Then take Kervegan Street to admire its listed buildings.
- Before the lunch, you can visit the Nantes Art Museum.
- Lunch break
- For a bit of freshness in the afternoon, start by visiting the Jardin des Plantes
- Continue with Versailles island and take a short stroll along the Erdre riverside
- End your day by going to the terrace of the Tour Bretagne to enjoy the sunset. Use this opportunity to take the aperitif at the Nid, the bar located on the 32nd floor of the building.
What to do in Nantes in 3 days
If you plan to spend 3 days in Nantes, you can add to your schedule:
- In the morning, take the Navibus to join the old fishing village of Trentemoult
- While you’re at it, have lunch there!
- For the afternoon, how about a trip to Clisson, the medieval city, or to Grand Lieu lake, perfect with children?
And if you would like to visit more tourist attractions around like the Puy du Fou, you can easily spend 4 or 5 days in this nice city.
Where to stay in Nantes
- Logis Hôtel Duquesne: Located 100 meters from the Tour Bretagne, in the Nantes city center. Sleek and modern room from 58€ per night, breakfast at 9€. Strong points: very good location, quiet hotel, good breakfast
- Residhome Nantes Berges de la Loire: Situated 10 minutes walk from the city centre, in the Euronantes district. Bright and spacious studio apartment with kitchenette from 76€ per night, breakfast included. Strong points: quiet location, studio equipment and excellent breakfast. Clearly the best value for money in Nantes under 100 euros!
- Best Western Hôtel Graslin: 2 minutes walk from the Graslin Theatre and 15 minutes from the Château des ducs de Bretagne. Comfortable room from 80€, breakfast at 12€. Strong points: its location, the very warm welcome, copious breakfast with fresh products.
- Okko Hotels Nantes Château: This modern 4-star hotel is simply the best hotel in Nantes city center. Double room price starts from 115 euros per night, breakfast included. The ideal choice for a luxury stay in Nantes!
Where to eat in Nantes
- La Cigale: This brasserie restaurant is very famous in Nantes. We come here for the special atmosphere that emanates from its Art Nouveau décor but of course also for its excellent cuisine. I advise you to book in advance.
- Le bistro des enfants nantais: A real local bistro with generous and homely cuisine at very reasonable prices. Save a place for dessert, they’re excellent. Reservation recommended.
- Crêperie Ker Breizh: Traditional creperie where everything is homemade. Large choice of copious and varied pancakes and patties, from classic to the most original (mussels for example). Unbeatable value for money.
And you, what do you plan to visit in Nantes?
France travel Guides
- Buy the Lonely Planet France guide on Amazon.com or on Amazon.co.uk
- Buy the Rick Steves France guide on Amazon.com or on Amazon.co.uk
You’re traveling in France? These articles will help you!
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