Carnac, Brittany: tourism & sightseeing

Photo of Carnac in Morbihan

Visit Carnac (Brittany, France)

PHOTO GALLERY MAP & PLACES TO VISIT

Carnac is found on the Morbihan coast of south-east Brittany. It is one of the most important megalithic sites in Europe, known for the very high number of impressive prehistoric monuments found in the vicinity, and is situated on the Crach River, west of the small port of Vannes.

Introduction to Carnac

The ancient monuments feature numerous standing stones - at least 3000 are still standing - and various dolmens and menhirs and other ancient artefacts. The monuments were erected over a period of more than a thousand years, starting with neolithic man (another great prehistoric site, Stonehenge, was also constructed over a period of 1500 years, not 'all in one go' as you might expect).

A large number of the alignments are now protected, and surrounded by fencing preventing access, which is a shame but necessary if they are to be preserved. There is also a substantial Museum of prehistory in the town.

Prehistoric terminology and ancient stone formations

No visit to Carnac would be complete without a knowledge of a few of the basics of prehistoric structure. (These terms will also help with the Visit Carnac section below).

The megalithic monuments are named from the Greek words mega ('big') and lithos ('stones'). These have different names according to type but the best known is the so-called "menhir" - a term of Breton origin, meaning stone ('men') and 'very high and stretched' ('hir'). Normally the menhirs are not isolated but are aligned along a straight line and circle - in the second case they are called "Cromlechs", from the Breton "Crom" ( "circle") and "lech" ( "place"): so the "Cromlech" is a "place where the large stones are placed in a circle."

Besides the menhirs, another well-known monument is the 'Dolmen'. The term means "stone table" (from the Breton 'dol' (table) and 'men' (stone). In practice this is a series of menhirs on top of which large stones are placed, forming a sort of room or tunnel. Another interesting aspect, next to menhirs and dolmens, is the 'tumulus’, or 'high lands' (mounds of earth'), found at some Cromlechs.

Visit Carnac

A tourist excursion though the monuments of Carnac should begin from the 'mound of Saint-Michel' - a mound over 100 meters long, 35 wide and 10 metres high which protects several graves inside, where artefacts have been found dating back to 3500 BC.

standing stone in carnac

Not far away you can see the famous alignment of 'Le Menech', preceded by an oval cromlech over 100 meters in diameter and surrounded by 70 stones of one meter in height - the alignment of Le Menech heads toward the north-east, with eleven parallel lines monoliths. A Cromlech oval with a diameter of 90 meters, and close by the avenues of stone (1099 of them) are found along with a large dolmen.

An area of 240 meters divides it from the second alignment called 'Kermario', (the "place of the dead"), which continues in the same direction with 10 parallel rows over a width of 100 meters and a length of over one kilometre, with over 1000 tall menhirs. Towards the north a giant menhir stands, known as the Giant Manius and to the south there is the Kerkado mound, which marks the beginning of the next alignment of Kerlescan, meaning the 'place of cremation'.

This consists of more than 10 parallel rows of nearly 500 stones with different heights over a width of 140 meters followed by a semicircular cromlech approximately delimited by 40 monoliths. To the south is the so-called "Petit Menech", formed by about 100 stones. In total, there are almost 3,000 menhirs, but excavations have identified certain alignments now no longer visible, such as one that followed the followed the Crach River from Sainte-Barbe and Plouharuel.

To the northwest of Carnac the Kerzerho alignments (at Erdeven) are still visible, and composed of rows more than two kilometers long and over 1000 menhirs.

Another fascinating megalithic work is found east of Carnac, in the town of Locmariaquer, where there are the remains of a giant menhir - known as 'The Grand Menhir Brisé', because it broke into four parts after falling to the ground in the eighteenth century.

We can only guess how the priests of the megalithic culture had the extraordinary knowledge to construct such megalith: more than 20 meters high and weighing over 200 tons and which, before raising, needed to be moved and taken to the right place.

Why were the standing stones built?

Numerous interpretations have been placed on these megalithic monuments - sometimes fanciful and not very credible. Nowadays most experts are inclined to believe, on the basis of the disposition of large stones, that they had a close relationship with studies of the stars and the Sun, possibly related to the best times for agricultural work.

Several scholars have interpreted the megalithic complex of Carnac as a giant astronomical observatory, others prefer the idea of an ancient worship centre.

Much archaeological material is preserved today in the Archaeological Museum at Carnac, one of the richest museums in Europe for prehistoric finds from Paleolithic (with several examples of chipped stone) to Mesolithic (with examples of ancient tombs); from Neolithic (several engraved stone artefacts, with drawings that show domestic animals and the work of the farmer), to Bronze Age, and Roman times (weapons, arrowheads, figurines, glassware).

The prehistoric 'megalithic site of Carnac' is a listed French National monument.

Other information and places to visit near Carnac

There is more to Carnac than prehistory however and the town itself deserves to be explored. You can visit the Church of St. Cornely (1639), in Renaissance-style with three naves and a beautiful facade with attractive portico. Inside there are the statues of the Saints and several paintings of religious subjects attributed to Dupont, depicting "The Assumption of the Virgin" and the "Descent from the Cross." Next to the church there is a beautiful fountain dating from the seventeenth century.

In addition, in various local restaurants you can sample the Breton cuisine, the "crepes" and, of course, many dishes based on fish; seafood and shellfish fresh from local waters: oysters, clams, snails, and crab, perhaps with a bottle of Muscadet.

Last but not least, the Brittany coast here is very attractive - Carnac Plage just south of the town is a very popular holiday and seaside resort with about 2 miles of beach. The beaches are very attractive, and inviting for long walks on the waterfront.

You can find more local travel ideas in the Morbihan guide and the Brittany guide.

See also:

Map of Carnac and places to visit

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Tourist classifications

Carnac is classified as a one of the most beautiful village in France (plus beau villages)

Address: Carnac, Quiberon, Lorient, Morbihan, Brittany, 56340, France || GPS: latitude 47.5856, longitude -3.07667

Plan your visit to Carnac, Brittany

Sightseeing & tourist attractions to visit nearby

  • Megalithic site of Carnac: national monument
  • Saint-Philibert (Morbihan): site of natural beauty (6km)
  • Megaliths of Locmariaquer: national monument (10km)
  • Presqu'île de Quiberon: site of natural beauty (10km)
  • Étang de Toulvern: site of natural beauty (12km)
  • Phare de Port-Navalo: site of natural beauty (13km)
  • Source - Vincin (Rivière de Conleau): site of natural beauty (17km)
  • Jardins de Kerambar’h: remarkable garden (18km)
  • Golfe du Morbihan: site of natural beauty (21km)
  • Pont du Vincin: site of natural beauty (22km)

Market days in Carnac, France

Regular market(s) are held in Carnac each Wednesday & Sunday. (Markets are held in the morning unless stated.)

The French version of this page is at Carnac (Francais)