This small town with its small marina is a good base to start exploring the Finistére: it retains a certain charm due to its position between the hills, being cut in two by the river and the immense granite viaduct above it.
The old town is worth a visit for its medieval alleyways and Gothic churches: at the tourist office you will find a leaflet illustrating the circuit des venelles, i.e. the tour of the alleyways that will take you to explore the most picturesque little streets, as well as the ritual monuments.
Morlaix is like an open-air museum in the heart of a region rich in art and history. This town built on three hills reveals its 1,000 years of history to those who want to linger unhurriedly: you can stroll on the emblematic viaduct and overlook the harbour, walk along the hills in its ancient quarters, encounter hidden treasures along its narrow alleys, discover its heritage linked to the flax trade (15th and 16th centuries). But above all, you will be able to admire the unique characteristic of Morlaix, its lantern houses.
The town of Morlaix, frequented since Roman times, was in the 12th century just a simple fishing village that was acquired by the Duchy of Brittany in 1187. The town prospered thanks to its active ship-owners and suffered numerous invasions and pillages. It was not until the 15th century that the picturesque lantern houses spread through the town.
Built by merchants and traders of linen fabrics, these half-timbered houses consisted of a large building divided into three structures: the first facing the street with a cantilevered façade, a second building on the garden (or bastion) with a façade on the outside and between the two a covered space, lit by the roof, called a lantern, the privileged place of the house. Here there is usually a large stone fireplace and a staircase connecting the internal walkways, to get from one building to the other.
These half-timbered houses, sometimes covered in slate, are everywhere, 152 houses, the highest concentration in Finistère. They are found along the cobbled streets of the three old suburbs: St-Martin, St-Melaine and St-Mathieu.
It is often said that in order to discover the charm of a city, one must know how to get lost: this motto is even more applicable to the town of Morlaix, where the alleyways weave and lead you through a charming maze of picturesque streets. It is an astonishing journey through time, taking you through its many historical and architectural facets.
Along these steep streets, interspersed with stone stairs, a new perspective is revealed at every corner, old stone walls, wash houses, half-timbered houses: in Morlaix, alleyways are a must. Away from the cars, these cobbled pedestrian streets constantly rise and fall, offering calm and silence for a bucolic stroll. At the Tourist Office, they offer brochures indicating 5 walking circuits, varying in length from 1.3 km to 3.7 km.
La Maison à Pondalez is one of the architectural jewels of Morlaix: it has one of the two best-preserved staircases in the town. Its monumental granite fireplace, spiral staircase and wooden walkways are part of a large central space that characterised the town’s buildings.
This lantern house is a testimony to the golden age of the city of Morlaix: enriched by the linen cloth trade, the noble merchants were the inventors of this particular type of dwelling.
This perfectly preserved building offers an admirable example of the lantern house, an emblematic architectural principle during the Renaissance.
Take a close look at the lantern, a covered inner courtyard with a monumental fireplace and a richly carved oak spiral staircase that provides passage between the front and back rooms on three floors.
The residence of a local noble family, built around 1530, the House of Duchess Anna escaped planned destruction in the context of heavy urban reorganisation. It owes its preservation to the interest aroused by its lantern, which houses the remarkable sculpted staircase.
The great 19th-century viaduct, miraculously unscathed in the bombings of World War II, is a marvel of engineering.
This mammoth building crosses the historical heart of the city and its numbers are mind-boggling: 62 metres high, 292 metres long, 14 upper and 9 lower arches, it was erected in two and a half years, between 1861 and 1863. It was a unique feat, with a two-storey semicircular arch bridge structure designed by engineers Planchat and Fenoux.
From the beginning, the upper floor was intended for the Paris-Brest railway line, while the lower floor, christened Promenade De Guichen in 2012, was open to pedestrians free of charge during the day.
Today accessible on foot from the alleyways venelle de la roche and venelle aux prêtres, it offers an exceptional panorama of the marina and the old town of Morlaix.
Close to the town centre, there is a lively and picturesque marina. From the 15th to the 18th century, ships from all over Europe sailed up the Morlaix river to exchange local riches such as linen, horses, leather and butter for metals, citrus fruits, wine or spices. At that time, the port saw an extension of its quays and in 1856 locks were built to facilitate port activities. The current marina has 200 berths.
Close to the port, the former tobacco factory is being completely converted into a cultural and scientific centre that will consist of an 800-seat performance hall, a workshop for artistic creation and a cinema. On the scientific side, an unprecedented project is in the pipeline to build the Espace des Sciences Morlaix, a centre for scientific, technical and industrial culture, whose mission will be to promote the city.
Morlaix marvellously combines its historical heritage with urban street art. After the incredible enthusiasm of the public and having aroused the interest of the entire Brittany region with the second edition of the Graffiti Tour in 2020, street art has also become a must-see destination for tourists. The 2021 edition has also resulted in new and beautiful murals all over the city.
One of the most beautiful murals is The Old Man and the Sea, which took 2nd place as the most beautiful fresco in France.
If you have time for a day trip, we recommend a diversion to the seaside village of Carantec . From here you can take a ferry to Taureau Castle, built on a rocky ridge in the middle of the sea.
Built in the 16th century and renovated by Vauban in 1745, the noble Château du Taureau began life as a defence fortification and lookout, then became a prison, a holiday home and a sailing school, before falling almost into ruin in the 1980s.
The fortress is open from April to September with guided tours by boat, departing from Carantec or Plougasnou: once docked, you can explore the three levels of this mighty structure, from the forts to the terrace, from the walkways to the manual drawbridge.
Some fifteen information panels tell the unusual story of this stone keep, while sound effects help recreate period life in the main rooms.
The enchanting bay of Morlaix offers an incredible variety of beaches, suitable for relaxation and family activities.
Plage du Kelenn7 it is a large, lively and family-friendly beach with restaurants, bathing establishments and a nautical centre. In fine weather, boats leave from the Kélenn pier for the Château du Taureau.
Plage de la Grève Blanche 8 is surrounded by seaside villas, overlooking Ile Callot. The village centre can be reached in 15 minutes on foot, while restaurants can be found near the harbour.
Plage du Cosmeur9 is a quiet cove below the Pointe du Cosmeur: it can be accessed from the coastal path, coming from Kélenn beach or from the Pen al Lan point. From here, there is a view of the legendary Dragon’s Rock.
Unbelievable Plage de Tahiti10, the most enchanting beach in the bay, characterised by golden sand. It is accessed by steps, from the coastal path, via the tip of Pen al Lan. A superb panorama of the island of Louët and Taureau Castle awaits you.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
Set back from the northern Finistère coast, this pretty Breton town is best known for its viaduct, built in the 19th century in the centre of town.
Picturesque and authentic, the town boasts a sublime cultural and historical heritage and just a few kilometres away is the Bay of the same name, full of beautiful walks and breathtaking Breton landscapes.
Morlaix is located in the Finistère département, nestled in the lower part of an estuary surrounded by high hills.