Situated by the Loire River in the Upper Brittany region of western France, Nantes is home to the brilliantly restored Château des Ducs de Bretagne, and the fascinating Les Machines de l’Île de Nantes museum.

The city also has a long history as a port and industrial center, its attractions a wonderful mix of the old and the new.

From historic centers to lush green parks and unique museums, most sights in Nantes are within easy walking distance.

If you’re planning to visit the city, make the most of it with this guide on some of the best things to do in Nantes, France.

12 Best Things To Do In Nantes, France

1. Admire the Château des Ducs de Bretagne

Château des Ducs de Bretagne

An important historical monument and one of the most visited Nantes attractions is the stunning Château des Ducs de Bretagne (The Castle of the Dukes of Brittany).

This beautifully restored castle was built around the 14th century and it’s one of the most beautiful castles in France. The ramparts and other buildings were added until the 18th century.

Located in the heart of the city, the castle is home to the Nantes History Museum.

Visitors can visit and have a closer look at the rooms in the castle, but another must-see is the 500-meter path at the top of the ramparts. This area provides a stunning view of the castle as well as the city of Nantes.

2. Visit the Nantes Cathedral

Nantes Cathedral

The main church in Nantes, the  Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul of Nantes, is another important historic monument.

Comparable to the size of the Notre Dame in Paris, the cathedral has a distinct white facade surrounded by 2 huge towers. It also has a terrace on top that offers panoramic views over the city.

The Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul is one of the most interesting places to visit in Nantes.

Some of the must-see parts of the church are the Romanesque crypts that house the cathedral’s treasures, an exhibition about the cathedral’s history, and the great pipe museum.

3. Stroll through the Jardin des Plantes

Jardin des Plantes Nantes

Within easy walking distance from the chateau and the cathedral is the picturesque Jardin des Plantes.

At seven hectares, this is among the largest gardens in France. This is among the best attractions in Nantes that’s ideal for a relaxing stroll, in between exploring the city’s historic sites.

The lush gardens are home to an 800-square meter greenhouse that are filled with colorful seasonal flowers. There are also fountains set throughout the gardens which add to its relaxing atmosphere.

4. See the Nantes Arts Museum

Nantes Arts Museum

You can’t miss the Nantes Arts Museum, as it’s along the promenade between the cathedral and the Jardin des Plantes. The museum recently underwent a renovation that lasted for six years.

The museum was created in 1801 and registered as a historical monument in 1975.

A visit here is one of the best things to do in Nantes, as it houses an impressive collection of art.

Here, you’ll see galleries and exhibitions featuring paintings, photographs, and installations of ancient to contemporary art.

5. Meet the Huge Metal Elephant at Les Machines de l’Île de Nantes Museum

Les Machines de l'Île de Nantes Museum

You won’t always meet a huge metal elephant walking around a city, but this is exactly one of the best things to see in Nantes.

Founded by Francois Delaroiziere and Pierre Orefice, the impressive Les Machines de l’Île de Nantes Museum is a must-visit in Nantes.

This place is also a laboratory and carousel park that both kids and kids-at-heart will enjoy. You may even ride the metal elephant if you want, just book your ticket in advance.

6. Wander around Quartier Bouffay

Quartier Bouffay

Being in Quartier Bouffay is like walking into the city of Nantes from centuries ago. This medieval quarter is the area around the Château des Ducs de Bretagne.

Here, you’ll find maze-like cobblestone streets lined with half-timbered houses. You will also encounter structures that date back to the 15th and 16th centuries, starting with the Porte Saint-Pierre.

This 13th-century monument pretty much ushers in visitors into the old-world charms of Quartier Bouffay, which is one of the most fascinating places to see in Nantes.

You can also enjoy some delicious treats from a bakery, enjoy a crepe, relax in a cafe, or savor a meal in a traditional restaurant.

You can even do a bit of shopping, as the streets around Place du Bouffay is home to quaint little shops and authentic local goodies.

7. Relax in the Jardin Japonais

Jardin Japonais Nantes

Situated in the picturesque Quai Henri Barbusse neighborhood in Nantes, the charming Jardin Japonais is another must-visit. This garden park may be small, but it offers an idyllic respite from exploring grand and quirky structures around the city.

Stroll along or stop and relax by the ponds, see the rock gardens, waterfalls, and exotic plants, mostly of Oriental origin.

Jardin Japonais is a lovely place to visit in Nantes all year round, but especially during spring when the cherry blossoms create a colorful canopy on certain areas of the park.

8. Watch Opera at Theatre Graslin

Theatre Graslin

Built in the late 18th century by the renowned architect Mathurin Crucy, the imposing Theatre Graslin was inaugurated in 1788.

However, it was destroyed by a fire shortly after its opening. It underwent reconstruction and restoration in 1811, and again in 2003.

Along with the Grand Theatre d’Angers, it is the most popular opera house in Nantes.

Designed with Roman and Greek influences, the facade of Theatre Graslin features eight imperial columns. This Nantes attraction is one of those places that look amazing in photos, aside from offering some must-see opera performances.

9. Shop in Passage Pommeraye

Passage Pommeraye

One of the best places to visit in Nantes, Passage Pommeraye offers a unique shopping experience. This vintage shopping mall is in the heart of Nantes, in Rue de la Fosse, and was built in the mid-19th century.

How many times can you find yourself in a Renaissance-style mall? Definitely not always, so a visit here is a must. It has three floors and houses twenty-five elegant shops.

Classified as a historic monument, the Passage Pommeraye features beautiful marble staircases and a glass ceiling.

This is the place to go if you’d like to shop for some accessories, clothes, jewelry, or simply want to admire the enjoy the vintage atmosphere.

10. Wander around Talensac Market

While in any French city. It is a must to shop at a genuine French food market.

In Nantes, the place to go is Talensac, which is located close to the city center. Talensac hosts over 200 stalls in three different sections.

Here, you can buy everything from fresh produce to local delicacies, as well as cheeses, chocolates and different wines. There are also clothes and souvenir products, so make it a point to stop by.

11. Sample Some Nantes Wines

Muscadet

Nantes is in the Loire which us a recognized wine region, therefore you cannot leave the city without sampling some wine.

Enjoy a few sips at the cool wine bar, such as La Comédie des Vins in Rue Suffren. Be sure to sample some white wine which Nantes is famous for.  Two of the most recommended are Muscadet and Gros Plant.

Here and in most wine bars in Nantes, you’ll surely learn more about the local and regional wines from their friendly and knowledgeable staff.

12. End the day at Le Nid

 

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How about having wine in a rooftop bar? Going up to the towering Tour de Bretagne (Brittany Tower) gives visitors a 360° view of Nantes.

Here, you’ll find the rooftop bar Le Nid, with its great selection of drinks as well as stunning views over the city from 144 meters up.

Located in the heart of the city, this is among the best things to do in Nantes at night.

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