Visit Nantes in France: unmissable things to see and do

by Destination(s) Europe
Published: Last Updated on

📌 Read in / Lire en : Français (French)

Planning a trip to Nantes? Buddy, that’s an excellent choice! Ranked sixth largest city in France, there are plenty of things to do and places to visit in Nantes. Indeed, it is a very dynamic city with rich cultural and art life. In this guide, we’ll tell you about the things that you should definitely have on your to-do list while in Nantes. And we promise that you won’t be disappointed! 

Before we start our list of must-dos in Nantes, here are some tips for your upcoming getaway.

Which neighbourhoods to visit in Nantes?

Three districts encapsulate the main activities we are going to list. First, there’s the Bouffay district, the historical and medieval heart of Nantes, very lively. Then there’s the Isle of Nantes, with its giant machines, where the future is taking shape. And finally, the Graslin district, designed by architects Ceineray and Crucy, exuding elegance.

Which hotel to choose in Nantes?

If you appreciate uniqueness – much like what can be found on the Isle of Nantes – take a look at the SOZO hotel. This one-of-a-kind establishment is nestled within a 19th-century chapel. Hard to get more authentic than that.

If you desire all the modern conveniences with an excellent location in the city, you might consider the Mercure Passage Pommeraye, situated very close to the famous passage (read below). A great base for your visits.

Finally, for those wanting to explore Nantes without breaking the bank, there’s the Cœur De Loire hotel. This establishment, besides offering competitive rates, has some serious advantages: extremely warm staff, a hearty breakfast, and especially, a charming little garden.

Let’s get to the heart of our topic of the day. Without further ado, here is our selection of essential things to do in Nantes.

Contemplate the Machines of the island of Nantes 

Even if you come from a place “far far away”, you might have already heard of the Machines of the island. In just a few years since it first appeared in Nantes, it has become an essential part of it. So much so that it is today at the very top of our list, despite being the city’s most recent attraction!  

Les Machines de l’île form a world of their own, combining modernity, art and fantastic dimensions. This universe is located “at the crossroads of the worlds invented by Jules Verne, the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci and the industrial history of Nantes. It is located at the exceptional site of the former shipyards”, indicates the official website of this stunning project. But what makes the 12-meter-high elephant, or the giant squid, or any other machines exciting is above all your imagination.

Your visit is likely to last a couple of hours. It might take longer if you want to climb on the elephant, visit an immense mechanical bestiary called the Galerie des machines or immerse yourself in the Carrousel des mondes marines and the Jules Verne world.

To visit this wondrous place in Nantes, go to the old hangars located on the banks of the Loire. The place is ideal for a family outing: there is something for everyone. And if you need more information on the place, we recommend this very detailed article on the One Two Trips blog where you can also check out beautiful photos of the museum.

In the same vein. Are you passionate about the world of Jules Vernes? If so, did you know there is a museum in Nantes dedicated to the author of Vingt Mille Lieues sous les Mers? Indeed, Jules Vernes passed many years of his life in the city.

Take a stroll in the Jardin des Plantes 

If you are looking for a peaceful and calming little corner in Nantes, then go to the Jardin des Plantes (official site). It is located near the train station, so you can stop and enjoy this real haven of peace in the very heart of the city.

The Jardin des Plantes de Nantes is reminiscent of beautiful British gardens. You will find streams, ponds, all kinds of plants and floral decorations. Want some numbers? The Jardin des Plantes de Nantes is 10,000 living species spread over seven hectares. Each year, nearly 50,000 flowers are planted and some of them, such as camellias, make the place world famous. Plus, there are some protected areas to preserve birds.

For nature lovers and those interested, the Jardin des Plantes de Nantes is open every day from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in winter, and until 8 p.m. in summer. 

Go shopping at Passage Pommeraye 

Considered one of the most beautiful trade crossings in Europe, the passage of Pommeraye de Nantes is a must-see. 

Inaugurated in 1843, under Louis Philippe, this three-level (!) passageway quickly became THE place for shopping and luxury addicts. It has always been the kind of place where the people of Nantes stroll and just hang out, really. The advantage of the Pommeraye passage (official site) is that it has retained all its charm since its foundation. If you want to see for yourself, we have a little tip to give you: go around Christmas, and you will not be disappointed with the decorations!

Finding the place is easy as the passage Pommeraye connects two very trendy streets of Nantes: the rue Crébillon and the rue de la Fosse. A must-see place, we tell you.

Go back in time in the castle of the Dukes of Brittany

This magnificent building was built at the end of the 15th century by François II, the last Duke of Brittany. Then it was completed by his daughter, Anne of Brittany, who was twice Queen of France. In the sixteenth and seventeenth century, it even served as the place of residence for the French kings of France in Brittany, after its territory was attached to the kingdom.

The access to the courtyard (as well as to the ramparts and moats) of the castle of the Dukes of Brittany is free of charge. For an extra fee, you can also visit the museum (official website). And if you do, you will discover more than a thousand historical objects distributed in 32 rooms, so it’s worth it!

Dance and have fun at the Lieu Unique 

Like the Machines de l’île, the Lieu Unique (official site) is a place with a distinct Nantes signature blending art and modernity. Moreover, you should know that the Lieu Unique’s initials refer to the famous LU biscuit factory.  

The Lieu Unique de Nantes is a place where art is honored in all its forms. Here you will find concerts, exhibitions, dance performances and much more. This place truly has it all. For instance, you can also stop at a late-night bar or a restaurant. So if you are looking to spend an excellent afternoon and a beautiful evening with friends or family, the Lieu Unique is THE place to be.

Get amazed at the Saint-Pierre and Saint-Paul cathedral in Nantes

According to many (Nantes citizens in particular), the cathedral of Saint-Pierre and Saint-Paul in Nantes (official site) might even be better than Notre-Dame de Paris. At the very least, they really are comparable when it comes to size.

The construction of the cathedral spanned almost half a century. If you decide to visit, you can find – among other marvellous finds – the tomb of François II, the last duke of Brittany whom we mentioned earlier.

Take some fresh air on the island of Versailles 

Located at boulevard des 50 Orages, the Île de Versailles is the kind of little spot that brings a smile to your face. It is a unique place that we had to put in this selection of unmissable places in Nantes.

The island of Versailles is an artificial island of 1.7 hectares, created in 1831. In 1983, it was transformed into a Japanese garden with exquisite plants and three buildings with remarkable Japanese architecture. In one of them, the Maison de l’Erdre, you can visit exhibitions on aquatic environments.

The island of Versailles is the place for you if you are looking for unusual and relaxing places. Change of scenery is guaranteed. And the cherry on top: entrance is free of charge.

Enjoy the beauty at the Opera Graslin 

The Opéra Graslin (official site) is located in the heart of the city. It was built at the end of the 18th century and has a style reminiscent of Antiquity, with its 8 muses arranged above each column. Renovated in 2013, the Opéra Graslin has 784 seats.

Combining culture and ancient art, this monument is a must-see, especially if you have never visited an opera in your life. Throughout the year, there is a rich programme of operas and concerts organized here. Check out their Twitter account to keep up to date with the latest shows.

Grab a bite in the Bouffay district

After visiting all these unique places in Nantes, it’s now time to eat! There is no shortage of good restaurants in the city. Nonetheless, if you want to have a wide choice for a good meal or even a simple drink, go to the Bouffay district.

Nestled in its medieval atmosphere, and mostly accessible on foot only, the Bouffay district is full of restaurants and bars. This is the place where the heart of Nantes beats, where you will undoubtedly meet the most beautiful people. And although there are plenty of great places, there are three restaurants that are our personal favourites:

La Cabane | 26 rue des Petites Ecuries, Nantes

Ginette’s grocery store | 6 Place du Bouffay, Nantes

Au Vieux Quimper | 10 rue de la Baclerie, Nantes

This list of things to do in Nantes is definitely not exhaustive. Do not hesitate to share your personal picks in the comments or on our social networks. Have a good stay in Nantes!

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