Nantes is the perfect destination for a city break. It’s a vibrant university city where history and the present day are fused to offer visitors art, culture and fun (not to mention really tasty cuisine… you’re in France, after all). Here are Culture Trip’s top 10 reasons why Nantes should be on your holiday radar.
Machines of the Isle
Let your inner child come out and play at Machines de l’île. This unique spot, inspired by the works of Jules Verne and Leonardo da Vinci, is an artistic theme park (of sorts!) for the entire family. The iconic giant elephant is the star of the show, of course, but the impressive workshop with other mechanical creatures is also a must-see. This is a truly unique mini universe in Nantes.
Île de Nantes
Île de Nantes is an island neighbourhood of Nantes located in the city centre, surrounded by the Loire River. Part of a massive redevelopment project, Île de Nantes is a fascinating section of the city to spend some time in. It comprises four districts. If you’re looking for art, head over to Republic, and to walk off that lunch, stroll through the Parc de Beaulieu. The Quai des Antilles is also one of the island’s highlights – here, you’ll find wide paths for strolling, bar terraces and the impressive installations pictured below.
Nantes is the city to use as a base if you want to do some rural exploring as well. You’re on the edge of Château country, so if you hire a car during your stay, you’ll be able to delve into the gorgeous Loire Valley and explore some of France’s most stunning castles. Reading our guide to The Most Magical Châteaux and Castles in the Loire Valley is a good place to start if this is right up your alley.
Beach day trips
As well as being on the edge of Château country, Nantes is only a hop, skip and a jump to the sea. This makes Nantes just as attractive for summer breaks as it does winter; when you’ve seen the sights, schedule a few day trips to the beach. One of the nearby gems to the southwest is the stunning island Noirmoutier-en-l’Île. Sand dunes meet pine forests, all within a couple of hours drive.
HAB Galerie is located on Île de Nantes, right at its western tip. It is part of the industrial shed unit – called Hangar à Bananes as bananas and pineapples from Africa were stored here from 1959 to 1070 – and is what modern Nantes is all about: creative spaces celebrating past trade. The gallery itself is a light, airy space, with a well-stocked shop attached.
Nantes is home to some breathtaking churches and cathedrals. Nantes Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul de Nantes) is one of the city’s most notable historical structures and should be your first stop. Other places to visit include the neo-Gothic Basilique Saint-Nicolas, with its beautiful windows and floors, and the impressive bell tower of the Église Sainte-Croix.
Jardin des plantes de Nantes
The Jardin des plantes de Nantes is such a fun space! Enter for free, amble up and down the pretty pathways, and explore the impressive plant exhibitions and installations. This is definitely one of the most playful, stimulating city parks you’ll come across.
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes
The Musée des Beaux-Arts is the city’s most visited museum and should definitely be a reason to take a break in this vibrant pocket of France. It was closed for five years due to a heavy renovation schedule, opening again in the spring of 2017. The new space doesn’t disappoint: vast (including 2,000 square metres of exhibition space) and well thought out, this ambitious art space is another (big) reason why Nantes is a city of culture. It’s a reasonable €8 to enter, with an even more reasonable €10 for the year-long Art Museum Pass.
Le Lieu unique
Interesting fact about this building – it used to be a biscuit factory. Today, Le Lieu unique is a contemporary arts and music venue that opened in 2000. There is a really full calendar here, so take a look at their What’s On section in English and you’ll be sure to find something interesting that coincides with your trip.
Château des ducs de Bretagne
Step back into history in this beautiful 13th century château right in the heart of the city. You can enter the courtyard and the ramparts free of charge, so even if you’re travelling on a budget, there is no reason to miss out on Nantes’ main landmark. There is an insightful museum and many events and exhibitions are put on throughout the year.