This young and dynamic city, rich in historical monuments and tourist attractions, has been able to reinvent itself in the name of creativity and art, becoming a promoter of cultural events and constantly renewing its urban décor.
In fact, its factories and former industrial warehouses have been transformed into cultural venues and numerous works of art have been scattered around the city streets, creating a winning mix of old and new, in which historical buildings coexist harmoniously with modern art.
Its seafaring past, its history and its artistic vocation make Nantes a city densely populated with monuments, museums and works of art scattered throughout the city and its surroundings.
This is one of the most magical and fantastic places in Nantes: we are in the city’s former shipyards, on a small island between the two arms of the Loire. Here, from the creative genius and artistic collaboration of two friends, François Delarozière and Pierre Orefice, this ambitious and imaginative project was born, combining the worlds of Jules Verne and Leonardo’s inventions, mixed with Nantes’ industrial past.
Embark on this fabulous journey, in a fantastic universe populated by incredible creatures, a series of giant mechanical animals in motion: you will see a mechanical sloth, an impressive spider, a giant squid, a manta ray and a sea snake.
The most famous and scenic is undoubtedly the Giant Elephant: it moves around the park at 12 metres high and 48 tonnes in weight. You can climb aboard and take a ride on its steel back.
Equally incredible is the Machine Gallery, a varied mechanical bestiary: visitors can ride and drive various animals including a spider, an ant and even a giant heron around the gallery.
Not to be missed is the Sea Worlds Carousel , an immense carousel built on three levels: a journey into the abyss to discover the sea in all its forms and the sea creatures that inhabit its depths. This gigantic merry-go-round, almost 25 metres high and with a diameter of 22 metres, is a finely crafted piece of machinery that combines 3 carousels in 1, supervised by 16 fishermen from all the world’s oceans. You will find giant crabs, manta rays and squid to ride.
Finally, under construction, there is the Heron Tree, a giant plant with 22 branches and hanging gardens.
Over the centuries, this wonderful castle in the heart of the city has had various roles: ducal palace, military fortress, barracks and even a bunker for the Germans during World War II. Clearly Gothic in style, with later Italian Renaissance influences, the structure consists of 7 towers connected by walkable ramparts. No one can resist the Paysage glissé, a 12-metre high fun slide, with which you can quickly descend from the level of the ramparts directly to the moat.
Today, the castle houses the Nantes History Museum, a space dedicated to the history of the city and its urban evolution, from the city’s origins to the present day, with almost 1150 collectors’ items.
Don’t miss the free tour of the ramparts, from which you can enjoy an amazing view of the city of Nantes. We recommend you also admire it at night, thanks to the splendid illuminations.
A stone’s throw from the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany, the magnificent Nantes Cathedral is the same size as Notre-Dame-de-Paris: it enchants visitors with its white stone façade, decorated with large majestic gates and framed by two massive towers, at the top of which you can access the terraces overlooking the city.
Built in an admirable example of flamboyant Gothic style, the cathedral has suffered much damage throughout its history, but retains many treasures to admire inside. First and foremost, the tomb of the last Duke of Brittany, François II, who died in 1488: it is an incredible sculptural masterpiece, blending the medieval and Renaissance styles, thanks to the presence of statues of the twelve apostles and four female figures embodying the cardinal virtues, prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance.
Also not to be missed are the two crypts, one Romanesque containing the cathedral treasures, and the other housing an exhibition on the history of the church.
This huge botanical garden, 7 hectares in size, is one of the 4 largest in France. Throughout French colonial history, plants from all over the world were collected. As France sailed the seas in search of new territories to explore and conquer, many of those plants ended up in Nantes: the garden is home to more than 10,000 species and 5,000 seasonal flowers, planted every year. Their blossoming can of course be admired especially in spring, when the amazing collection of camellias reaches its peak of beauty.
You can also admire the historic glass and iron greenhouses that protect some of the gardens’ most prized possessions, including cacti and palms.
Should you understand the city during Voyage de Nantes, an urban itinerary dedicated to contemporary art, you will have the opportunity to admire strange giant installations, made of shrubs or wood, inside the botanical garden.
Just opposite the castle of the Dukes of Brittany is the Lu tower, the only remaining vestige of the former biscuit factory of the well-known LU brand. It is an interesting piece of architecture, with its glazed dome surrounded by gold and blue paintings. Don’t miss the climb to the top of it via a winding staircase: from here, you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the city using the gyrorama, a crank-operated revolving platform that moves 360°.
Today, the Lieu Unique is the national centre for contemporary arts in Nantes, a huge space dedicated to all forms of art expression: photography, theatre, music, debates, poetry and concerts.
In addition, the centre aims to be a reference point for the citizens of Nantes and a place for the exchange of cultures: there is also a hammam, a bookshop, a restaurant and even a crèche.
This museum is dedicated to Nantes’ most famous character, Jules Verne, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of his birth. The great French writer, made famous by such incredible works as Around the World in Eighty Days, Journey to the Centre of the Earth or Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, probably drew inspiration for his vivid imagination from the tales that sailors brought back to the city on their return from the West Indies. At the time, the city of Nantes boasted a very active river port, which traded extensively with merchant ships from the Caribbean, former French colonies.
The museum contains objects from his daily life and the rooms are themed around his most famous works, using excerpts from his novels and displaying some of his imaginary inventions.
Imposing, majestic and luminous, the Passage Pommeraye is one of the largest covered galleries in France, connecting Place Royale with Place Graslin.
This enchanting passage, or covered alley, is part of the French urban planning tradition of the mid 19th century, with its typical glass and iron roof: the two storeys are dotted with beautiful sculptures, symbolising the wealth of Nantes in the 1800s in the various sectors: Commerce, Industry, Agriculture, Fine Arts, Entertainment, Science and Maritime Trade.
The architectural challenge was to connect two streets on different levels, a challenge worthily met with the use of a majestic staircase linking the 3 levels of shops. Today, walking here means taking a little trip back in time and you will have no trouble imagining charming ladies dressed in crinolines lingering in front of the luxury boutiques.
This is the historical heart of Nantes, the medieval quarter with the highest concentration of picturesque views and charming half-timbered houses, such as the delightful Apothecary House8, decorated with beautiful sculptures.
The alleyways of the district have been transformed into a pedestrian precinct full of restaurants, creperies and bars that animate a frenetic nightlife, especially at weekends. Continuing towards Place du Bouffay9 you can admire beautiful historical buildings such as l'Hostellerie des Jacobins10. Just like the Montmartre district in Paris , the Bouffay district produces its own wine, a Muscadet, and has a small vineyard hidden in Rue du Vieil Hôpital11
This popular weekend district is the result of urban modernisation work dating back to the 18th century. At the time, the city was suffocated and chaotic: traffic was always congested due to too narrow streets and a lack of squares. So a new urban plan was promoted, which led to a rationalisation of certain areas and the design of new spaces, more congenial to life in Nantes.
Such as Rue Crébillon12, a long straight artery, lined with elegant boutiques, connecting the two most important squares in the district.
On one side is Place Royale13, with its monumental fountain from 1865, decorated with allegorical statues symbolising the city and its maritime vocation. At the top is Anfrite, goddess of the sea and wife of Poseidon, who watches over the Loire and its tributaries: Erdre, Sèvre, Loiret and Cher.
On the other you will find Place Graslin14, with its sober and rational style. Don’t miss the monumentalGraslin Opera House15 and La Cigale16, an 1895 brasserie with sumptuous Art Nouveau décor .
Inaugurated in June 2017, the Nantes Museum of the Arts was reopened after several years of expansion and renovation work.
Its collections, which span the eras from the 13th to the 21st century, include 12,000 works, including some exceptional pieces by Picasso and Kandinsky.
The old river port of Nantes has been completely renovated and converted into a trendy and fashionable district, full of cafés, restaurants, art galleries and a long promenade with a bike path along the banks of the Loire River.
Framing the panorama are the 18 rings by artist Daniel Buren and architect Patrick Bouchain: at night they light up in red, green and blue, reflecting on the waters of the river. An enchanting sight right in front of the Banana Hangar, an old warehouse that has now been transformed into 8,000 square metres of exhibition space, including art galleries, clubs, café-concerts and performance halls.
On the river Erdre, there is a 1.7 hectare artificial island, created in 1831 and originally occupied by tanners and carpenters: in 1983 it was transformed into a Japanese garden.
It is a place for relaxation and meditation, composed of rock gardens and waterfalls that revolve around three buildings inspired by traditional Japanese dwellings: the most striking is certainly the Maison de l’Erdre, surrounded by a Zen garden, a tea house where exhibitions are held on the flora and fauna that inhabit the river.
On the perimeter of the island beats the heart of boating and water sports in Nantes. The quays come alive in fine weather and at the end of August or the beginning of September they swarm with people, who flock to the Rendez-vous de l’Erdre festival, full of concerts and cultural events.
Food lovers should not miss the Talensac market, a riot of colours and scents, the best of Nantes and local gastronomy.
Open every day except Monday, the Talensac market welcomes local producers from Brittany and the Vendée, the Loire Valley and the Nantes region and offers seasonal delicacies from these regions.
Particularly famous are the fish and seafood stalls, where you can enjoy excellent oysters. The bakers, pastry chefs and chocolatiers are also fantastic.
The lively and sparkling city of Nantes is an open-air museum. Thanks to the Voyage à Nantes event, the art installations from previous editions, around fifty in number, have remained to permanently decorate the urban fabric of the city.
Not to be missed when visiting Nantes are some extraordinary works such as Belvédère de L'Hermitage21, by Japanese artist Tadashi Kawamata: a walkway in the shape of an enormous bird’s nest, perched on the heights of the Sainte-Anne hill, suspended almost 20 metres above the ground. From here, an exceptional panorama of the river and the city can be admired.
In the heart of the historical centre, you will find Micr'Home22, a tiny 26 m2 accommodation, designed by architect Myrtille Drouet, suspended 5 metres above the ground and set in the walls of a small alley. It can be rented for a stay or admired even just from the outside.
Those travelling with children should not miss Playground Kinya Maruyama23: the Japanese architect and artist has brought a sea monster, freed from the deep sands, to Nantes. With its colourful and terrifying appearance, including rhinoceros heads and dragon eyes, it will leave young adventurers open-mouthed.
On the Place Bouffay is a bizarre statue, Éloge du Pas de Côté24, which seems to want to escape from its base. The fleeing bronze man represents stepping aside and symbolises the city of Nantes’ commitment to promoting and fostering culture.
By the same author, artist Philippe Ramette, also Éloge de la transgression25, who immortalises a schoolgirl climbing (or descending) on an empty pedestal.
Definitely disturbing is Nymphéa26, by Angel Leccia on the Canal Saint-Félix. Here the face of a nymph, played by Laetitia Casta, seems trapped at the bottom of the canal.
Finally, a curious note: while strolling through the streets of the centre, take a look at the shop signs. Many have been reinvented by artists, reinterpreting them with irony and creativity. To find all these creative works, just follow the green line painted on the ground. This route runs for 12 km inside the city: it will let you discover the many souls of Nantes, a city in perpetual renewal.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
There are many attractions to visit in Nantes, both in the city centre and its surroundings. For those planning to stay a few days, it may be worth considering the purchase of the Nantes Pass.
The card, valid for 1, 2 or 3 days, gives you free access to public transport, 30 must-see attractions and museums such as the castle of the Dukes of Brittany or the Nantes Island Machines, the tourist bus and even a cruise on the Erdre.
Nantes is famous for its lively nightlife, cultural scene full of concerts, art events and live music. Our advice is to plan at least one night to visit Nantes’ many attractions and enjoy the city’s renowned gastronomy in the many restaurants in the centre.
The centre of Nantes is cosy and easy to get around on foot. Finding a hotel in the heart of the city will allow you to move around freely and optimise your commute.
The city offers a variety of accommodation of all kinds: most of the hotel chains are located in the Graslin district, a semi-pedestrian area, full of evening life and perfect for reaching most of the attractions on foot. Another good place to stay is the Bouffay district: interesting accommodation, high concentration of bars and restaurants but definitely noisy. If, on the other hand, you want peace and quiet while still being a stone’s throw from the centre, you could opt for the neighbourhood around the Botanical Garden: you’ll be a few minutes’ walk from the castle, the cathedral and Bouffay.
Nantes is a city full of monuments and attractions, but equally, its surroundings hold unexpected surprises among small villages, castles and natural parks.
Lying along the south bank of the Loire, Trentemoult was once a fishing village. With its colourful terracotta-roofed houses and narrow alleyways, this little hamlet is well worth a diversion to enjoy its idyllic atmosphere and family-run cafés. Old taverns have been transformed into bistros, surrounded by exotic vegetation blooming in the gardens and streets whose names evoke the world of the sea.
By the river, don’t miss the huge red artwork known as the Pendulum, by artist Roman Signer, installed on an abandoned grain silo.
Just twenty minutes from Nantes, Clisson is a picturesque medieval village: the ruins of the castle, destroyed in the late 1700s during the Vendée War, are reflected in the river, which frames this charming village surrounded by vineyards.
If you have time to spare, starting from the Isle of Versailles, you can take a walk along the banks of the Erdre, on foot or by bicycle. Described as the most beautiful river in France by François I, thanks to the many parks, manor houses and castles bordering it, today it is an idyllic place to discover by water, hiring canoes, electric boats or opting for a romantic cruise.
Not to be missed are the Parc de la Chantrerie, the Parc La Beaujoire and a walk to the port of Sucé-sur-Erdre, where the river forms a graceful mirror of water.
Art, which characterises Nantes, has also expanded into its surroundings: along the banks of the Loire estuary there are some 30 art installations, so realistic and well set in context that they blend in with the landscape.
The most famous is located near Couëron: it is La Maison dans la Loire, by Jean-Luc Courcoult, a house that really seems to sink into the river. The suggestion and sense of mystery is instilled by the smoke coming out of the chimney and the light turned on at night in one room.
Villa cheminée is a house perched 15 metres high on top of a lighthouse, while Misconceivable is a soft, shapeless boat.
Serpent d’océan is an enormous sea snake whose skeleton seems to have come from an archaeological dig: it can only be seen at low tide.
It is one of the largest theme parks in Europe and is divided into thematic areas that retrace the main stages of history up to the present day: Vikings, Romans and, of course, the Middle Ages.
The highlight of the park are the shows, incredible shows that will enchant even the most sceptical. Just think that the Cinéscénie, the park’s most important performance, uses 2550 actors on a 23-hectare stage with 28,000 costume changes.
Once landed at Nantes airport, a shuttle bus takes visitors to the city centre in about 20 minutes.
If you have landed in Paris and plan to travel by rental car, you have to allow about 4 hours on the motorway, about 380 km on the A11.
If you decide to travel by train from Paris, you usually take a TGV high-speed train, which will take you to Nantes in just over 2 hours. Trains run regularly throughout the day.
What's the weather at Nantes? Below are the temperatures and the weather forecast at Nantes for the next few days.
Nantes is the capital of the Loire Atlantique and is located at the southern gateway to Brittany, a few kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean.
City Card allow you to save on public transport and / or on the entrances to the main tourist attractions.