Things to Do in Rennes: All Highlights and Activities
You are planning to visit Rennes, the capital of Brittany (Bretagne in French) for a week-end or a short holiday?
In order to help you plan your stay, I have created this city guide with all the points of interest and must-see attractions in Rennes and its surroundings.
I will start with the top 15 things to do and see in Rennes and around, and then give you my tips and itineraries to visit Rennes in 1, 2 or 3 days. At the end of this article, you will also find a list of my favorite restaurants and accommodations in Rennes.
So, what to do in Rennes? What are the best activities and places to visit?
Let’s find out!
- Things to Do in Rennes: All Highlights and Activities
- 1. Historic centre of Rennes
- 2. Rennes Cathedral
- 3. The Mordelaises Gates
- 4. Place des Lices Market
- 5. Town Hall square of Rennes
- 6. The Parliament of Brittany
- 7. Thabor Park
- 8. The Champs Libres
- 9. Rennes’ Fine Arts Museum
- 10. La Vilaine à Rennes
- Things to do around Rennes
- What do do in Rennes for a day
- What do do in Rennes in 2 days
- What do do in Rennes for 3 days
- Where to eat in Rennes
- Where to stay in Rennes
- You’re traveling in France? These articles will help you!
1. Historic centre of Rennes
We begin this journey in the city with the visit of the historic centre of Rennes, were most points of interest are located.
Here you can discover one of the city’s unique features: its half-timbered houses with colourful facades. You may not know it, but Rennes is one of the cities in France that have the biggest number of half-timbered houses. In total there are 286! To admire them, take the lovely cobbled streets like Le Chapitre street, Psalette and Saint-Sauveur street.
It’s also in the historic district that most of Rennes must-see monuments are located. You can for example see the town hall, the opera house or Rennes cathedral. These buildings are part of our top things to discover, I’ll tell you a bit more about them below.
And as in any historic center, you will of course find many cafés and restaurants to eat and drink.
2. Rennes Cathedral
Rebuilt several times, under construction for centuries and finally restored between 2009 and 2014, Rennes cathedral of St. Peter (cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Rennes in French) will surprise you.
With a rather classical exterior, it’s inside that you can admire its true beauty. Italian-inspired, you can see magnificent stained glass windows, a Roman altar, rich decorations and paintings, a beautifully decorated vault and the great organs dating from the 19th century.
The reason for all this splendour is that St. Peter Cathedral of Rennes was the crowning place of the dukes and duchesses of Brittany. Imagine that it hosted a few key moments in the history of France and Brittany! A great place to visit in Rennes.
3. The Mordelaises Gates
The Mordelaises Gates (Portes Mordelaises) was the main entrance to the city from the 15th century onwards.
This building is characterized by a large door used for the passage of vehicles and a small pedestrian door, surrounded by 2 symmetrical towers raised with machicolations. The gate was closed by a double raised bridge and served as a defence system for the city.
At the time, all the dukes of Brittany had to take an oath under this door before they were inducted, which earned it the nickname of “royal door”.
Today it is one of the only remains of the ramparts of Rennes. It has been severely affected by time, but a development project currently under way should give birth to a promenade along the ramparts.
Don’t hesitate to go have a look at the Mordelaises Gates during your visit of the historic center. It’s located close to Rennes cathedral.
4. Place des Lices Market
If you are in Rennes on a Saturday morning, you should go to the market at “Place des Lices”, the second largest food market in France.
In addition to being located in a beautiful setting surrounded by large half-timbered houses, you will find close to 300 local producers selling fruits, vegetables, fresh fish, meat and cheese.
Since nearly 4 centuries, it’s an important event in the life of the city for Rennais and tourists alike. A great place to purchase quality food at attractive prices. The market is mostly devoted to food but there is also a very nice part selling flowers.
5. Town Hall square of Rennes
The Town Hall square of Rennes (“Place de l’Hôtel de Ville”) is the most beautiful square of the city and is really worth a visit for its 2 historic monuments: the Town Hall and the Opera House.
The Town Hall was built in 1720, following the great fire that devastated Rennes. The architect decided to group 3 monuments into one: The Town Hall, the judicial tribunal and the clock tower in the middle. The result is a very aesthetic concave shaped building.
The Town Hall also houses its own little Pantheon, a room adorned with marble slabs engraved with the names of all the Rennais (inhabitants of Rennes) who died while fighting for France. You can visit it for free.
Opposite the The Town Hall is the 2nd remarkable building of the square, the Rennes Opera House. Its rounded shape has been designed to fit perfectly into the curved shape of the Town Hall. This gives the square a certain originality but it was far from unanimous at the time of its inauguration. With only 642 seats, it is one of the smallest operas houses in France.
Several times a year, the Opera House opens its doors with open visits and rehearsals. You can of course also buy tickets to attend a performance. Every two years, the last Opera of the season is broadcasted live on giant screens all over the city, introducing this art to a wider audience.
Find all the information about Rennes Opera House on its official website (in french)
6. The Parliament of Brittany
The Parliament of Brittany (“parlement de Bretagne”) is the most famous monument of Rennes and one of the symbols of Brittany.
It was housing the parliament until the revolution of 1790, and then served as a court of law. Destroyed by a fire in 1994, and beautifully restored, it now houses the Appeal Court of Brittany and the Assizes Court of Ille-et-Vilaine.
You can visit the parliament, however you first need to fo to the Tourist Information Office, as they organizes the visits. It is one of the few places in France that combines the exercise of justice with touristic tours.
The visit allows you to admire the most famous room of the Parliament, the Grand’Chambre, with its unique sculpted gilded wood panelling and painted canvases.
7. Thabor Park
The Thabor Park is a great place to relax in Rennes, both for tourists and residents who call it the “Central Park of Rennes”.
Covering more than 10 hectares, this park combines a French garden, an English garden, a cave, basins and waterfalls, a botanical garden, an aviary, a music kiosk and a rose garden with more than 2,000 varieties of roses. Add playgrounds for children and you’ll have found the perfect place to spend an afternoon with your family and enjoy nature.
For the sportier ones, the park also offers a 1.5 km long running track, so there is no excuse to do skip sport during the holidays 😄
In summer, every Sunday evening, you will also be able to attend music and dance shows organized in the music kiosk and the sylvan theatre.
Finally, every year, the Thabor Park hosts the Mythos Festival, a mixed arts spring festival.
List of activities: storytelling for children, music, theatre and gastronomy with a dedicated tent where 50 chefs are invited to showcase their cuisine.
8. The Champs Libres
The Champs Libres is the cultural centre of Rennes. There is a lot of things to see and activities to do there!
This complex is composed of:
- The Brittany Museum, which portrays the region from prehistory to the present day, through a rich collection of objects.
- The Science Centre and its planetarium, which offers a wide variety of temporary exhibitions on biodiversity, high-speed trains, food and dinosaurs. Children will particularly appreciate Merlin’s laboratory where they can discover science with games. And the planetarium is a great place to learn more about the Universe.
- A huge 6-storey library that not only invites you to read, but also hosts temporary exhibitions. The glass facades will allow you to admire a beautiful panorama over the whole city of Rennes.
You cand find all the information about the temporary exhibitions, entrnce fees and timetables on the Champs Libres official website.
9. Rennes’ Fine Arts Museum
Another nice museum to visit in Rennes is the Fine Arts Museum (“Musée des Beauax-Arts”).
Created in 1794 from piece of arts seized after the Revolution, notably thanks to the curiosities collection of the marquis de Robien (Britanny Parliament President until 1756), the museum has seen its collection grow over the centuries.
Nowadays, the greatest artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt and Donatello are represented. The visitor will travel through history and artistic movements, from Egyptian antiquities to contemporary art. There is necessarily a painting or drawing that will catch your eye!
You can find more information about Rennes’ Fine Arts Museum on its official website.
10. La Vilaine à Rennes
Another major tourist attraction of Rennes is the Vilaine river, which crosses it from one side to the other and allows you to do activities whether on the waterfront or on the water.
You can start your walk at the mail François Mitterrand which allows you to reach the quays of La Vilaine. Continue along the quays, admire the buildings and barges and stop at the confluence gardens (Jardins de la Confluence). This green area with pontoons, footbridges and benches is very pleasant and quiet. It is also the meeting place for fishermen.
La Vilaine riverside are also very pleasant to ride by bike. The main cycling route is 45 kilometers long and starts from the mail François Mitterand. You can start from the centre of Rennes and pedal along the towpath up to the ponds of Apigné.
If you continue further south, admire the tide-gates, castles and mills. Go to the the mill of Boël (Moulin de Boël) which offers one of the most beautiful panoramas on the river.
And while you’re at it, why not try a nautical activity on the Vilaine? Whether in a canoe, paddle or barge, there are activities to do for everyone. Choose the rental option and go for an adventure!
Things to do around Rennes
If you are in Rennes for several days, it’s a good idea to go out of the city to discover the points of interest of the superb Brittany region! Here are my 5 favorite things to do around Rennes.
Saint-Malo, the corsair city, is located just under an hour’s drive from Rennes by car or train. Its ramparts are the must-see attraction, because they offer breathtaking views of the beaches, the harbour, the forts and the city. At low tide, you can also take a walk on Grand bé island (“l’ilot du Grand bé”).
12. Brocéliande forest
The famous Brocéliande forest, cradle of many legends and notably the one of King Arthur, Merlin the Enchanter and the knight Lancelot, is located at a little less than 45 minutes from Rennes. If you have chosen to visit Rennes and its surroundings, this is the ideal place for a family walk in the nature!
And if you’re single, don’t forget to check out the fountain of Barenton and its magical bubbles which are said to help young girls find a husband x)
13. Fougères medieval town
I recommend you to visit Fougères a very pretty medieval town at only 40 minutes from Rennes. It is renowned for its cobbled alleys, half-timbered houses and especially its beautiful medieval castle. My advice: take the rampart walk to enjoy the panoramic view of the city and its surroundings.
14. Vitré medieval town
Vitré is another medieval town, also located 40 minutes drive from Rennes. As for Fougères, you will find the old streets, half-timbered houses and a medieval castle. It’s up to you to choose the city that suits you best, as personally, I love both! If you like medieval architecture, they really are the best places to visit near Rennes.
If you have the time, a good idea would be to visit both, as they are only at a 25 minutes drive from each others.
15. Essé – La Roche aux Fées
Also 40 minutes from Rennes, you can find a geological curiosity: La Roche-aux-Fées (The Fairies Rock), the largest dolmen in France. The site is impressive with its 40 stone blocks, some of them weighing more than of 40 tons.
The legend says that it was built by the Viviane Fairy, with the help of other fairies. For lovers, turn around the monument, each of you in a different direction. Count the stones, if you find the same number, your couple is meant to last!
What do do in Rennes for a day
In a day in Rennes, I advise you to do the following:
- Start your visit in the historic centre to admire the half-timbered houses
- Enter the cathedral of St. Peter of Rennes
- Go through the Mordelaises Gates
- Lunch break at one of the many restaurants in the old town
- Visit the Parliament of Brittany
- Spend a quiet late afternoon in the Thabor park
What do do in Rennes in 2 days
For a 2 days stay in Rennes, you just have to take the itinerary for the first day and add the following points of interest:
- If you have children or simply enjoy science museums, start the day with the Science centre and Planetarium
- Visit of the Fine Arts Museum
- Lunch Break
- Walking, cycling or boating along the Vilaine river.
What do do in Rennes for 3 days
In 3 days in Rennes, you will have time to see all the places of interest in the city and even to visit the surroundings of Rennes, with, for example, a last day dedicated to Saint-Malo or the Brocéliande forest.
Where to eat in Rennes
- La Saint Georges: Located in the centre of Rennes, the restaurant is so successful that the boss opened 2 other ones. Without doubt the best pancake shop in Rennes, the Saint Georges offers delicious and original pancakes with fresh and quality products. Funny detail, all salty cakes are named after a famous George. For once you can enjoy yourself with Georges Clooney!!
- Le 2 Rue des Dames: Located in the historic center of Rennes. Restaurant that offers great seasonal dishes cooked with quality products. The best value for money is the city guaranteed, with a lunch menu starting at 13€.
- Café Breton: Located on Rue Nantaise, very close to the cathedral. This rustic and typical Brittany restaurant offers traditional cuisine with fresh seasonal produce. The dishes are generous for a very good price.
Where to stay in Rennes
- Hôtel Arcantis le Voltaire: Located 2 kilometers from Rennes catehdral. This simple but clean and comfortable hotel offers rooms starting at 42€ per night, breakfast at 8€. Strong points: the quiet area, the terrace, the free parking and a copious breakfast. The best choice for a budget stay in Rennes!
- Aparthôtel Adagio Access Centres Rennes: 5 minutes walk from the centre of Rennes. Modern and bright studio apartment with fully equipped kitchen from 72€ per night, breakfast at 8.50€. Strong points: the ability to cook in the kitchen, close to the city center, very quiet hotel, friendly staff.
- Odalys Appart’hôtel Lorgeril: Located very close to the mail François Mitterand. Modern and spacious studio apartment with kitchenette from 80€, breakfast at 12€. What I loved: location, quiet room, comfortable bedding and awesome hotel staff.
- Balthazar Hotel & Spa – MGallery by Sofitel: 5 stars hotel located in city center, at 200m from the fine arts museum. Very comfortable double rooms from 170€, breakfast at 25€. Strong points: the Spa, the beautiful rooms decoration, the perfect bedding, the saff, the calm. The best hotel for a luxury stay in Rennes!
And you, what are the things you are planning to do in Rennes?
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