Nantes tourism & sightseeing

Photo of Nantes in Loire-Atlantique

Visit Nantes (Pays de la Loire, France)


Nantes is an important city in north-west France, located in the Loire-Atlantique department of the Pays-de-la-Loire region (not Brittany, despite the town previously being home to the Dukes of Brittany and being a capital of that region).

A lively and active university city - the 6th largest in France - Nantes is a pleasant town ('Time magazine have voted it the most livable town in France') and also a very interesting town to visit. Newer developments and less beautiful buildings impinge a bit more than might be ideal, but a visit is still very highly recommended and the town has improved immeasurably in recent years.

Places to visit in Nantes

The heart of the town is the region around the castle - the Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne - and there is much to discover in the castle, and in the streets that surround it. As with many cities of this size, the pleasure is as much in simply wandering the streets, discovering lost corners, and people watching as it is in visiting the highlights.

Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne

half-timbered houses in Nantes centre

The 13th century Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne played an important role in the history of the region, culminating in the Edict of Nantes in 1598 that ended the terrible Wars of Religion in France. The castle includes both defensive elements such as the fortifications and towers that suround it, and more luxurious elements in the interior buildings - witness to its role as a residential palace.

The buildings, set around the open courtyard within the castle walls, span a large period of history, from the 14th to the 18th centuries - hence also a wide range of styles. The highlights include the Grand Logis; the keep (donjon); and the extensive Museum of Nantes that is within the castle buildings.

Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul

Taking a mere 450 years to complete, Nantes cathedral is found just north of the castle. The cathedral is gothic style, and the facade has two large square towers either side of the ornately decorated entrance. The high interior is bright and light, with interesting modern stained glass windows. Be sure to see the marble tomb of Francois II and his wife, perhaps the highlight of a visit to the cathedral.

Jardin des Plantes

Found north-east of the castle and cathedral, Nantes botanical gardens cover a substantial seven hectares (16 acres) and contain a very impressive range of plants, both in the gardens and in the tropical greenhouses.

Architecture and buildings

Explore to the west of the castle to enjoy the architecture and buildings of both the cobbled streets of the medieval old town - with numerous impressive half-timbered houses - and the more recent (19th century) grand townhouses. Of most interest is the region around and between Place Royale and Place Grasslin. En route you will pass along Rue Crebillon, the heart of the shopping centre of Nantes.

More impressive 18th century houses can be found along the Quai de la Fosse and along the Loire River banks.

Next, cross the river for a look at the old biscuit factory - now converted into a trendy arts centre and bar. Be sure to go up the tower of the old factory for fine views across the city, and to see what performances or exhibits are currently showing.

The Ile de Nantes

An extensive island in the Loire River, the ile de Nantes has been modernised and now has several modern buildings and interesting features that incorporate the tradition of the island (such as large cranes, transformed from 'heavy industry' to 'artistic statement'!) with the very modern (the building of the Law courts). A popular highlight is the enormous mechanical moving machines such as the 'Giant elephant'.

Nantes Museums

Fans of Jules Verne will want to visit the museum based in the house where the writer was born to learn more of his life and inspiration.

The Fine Art Museum in Nantes would be worth visiting just to see the architecture of the building that houses the museum. But be sure to enter! The art museum has an important collection of modern art, as well as a substantial collection of medieval and other paintings.

Nearby: children will enjoy the extensive animal park at La Coulée du cerf, at 20 miutes from Nantes - pheasants, rare sheep, camels, cows, wallabies etc and plenty of space for picnics and to run around.

You can find more local travel ideas in the Loire-Atlantique guide and the Pays de la Loire guide.

See also:

Map of Nantes and places to visit

Visit near Nantes with France This Way reviews

... or see ALL recommended places to visit in Loire-Atlantique

Tourist classifications

Nantes has received the following tourist classifications: historical protected town centre' (secteur sauvegardé); listed town of Art and History ; village in bloom (ville fleurie) 4*

Address: Nantes, Loire-Atlantique, Pays de la Loire, 44000, France || GPS: latitude 47.2167, longitude -1.55

Plan your visit to Nantes, Pays de la Loire

Sightseeing & tourist attractions to visit nearby

  • Jardin des plantes: remarkable garden
  • Petite Amazonie de Nantes: site of natural beauty
  • Île Héron (France): site of natural beauty (4km)
  • Carquefou: ville fleurie 4* (10km)
  • Lac de Grand-Lieu: site of natural beauty (16km)
  • Planète sauvage (parc): zoo or wildlife park (19km)
  • Marais de Machecoul: site of natural beauty (32km)

Market days in Nantes, France

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

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