An Art Lover's Guide to Nantes in 24 Hours

Machines de l'île | © Christine Vaufrey / Flickr
Machines de l'île | © Christine Vaufrey / Flickr
Photo of Holly Howard
5 February 2018

Nantes is practically one large exhibition space. Over the last decade, this city in north-west France has evolved and regenerated into an exciting hub for creative work and people. Contemporary art and large scale installations adorn the streets and unique projects just keep being rolled out. Follow our guide for a 24-hour art-filled exploration of this incredible city.

Must-visit museums

Musée d’arts de Nantes

One of the largest in the region, Musée d’arts de Nantes has recently been given a major overhaul (which took about 6 years to complete) and you can tell as soon as you step foot in the building. The majestic Palais space is a highlight. Incredible vast exhibition spaces play host to ever-changing works. Make sure you give it at least half a day out of your trip to Nantes; it isn’t the biggest museum in the world but is jammed packed so lots to see.

Insider Tip: All year round the museum hosts late-night openings until 9pm each Thursday.

Musée d’arts de Nantes | © Jean-Pierre Dalbéra / Flickr

Frac des Pays De La Loire

This contemporary art museum is a really cool space. About an hour out of the centre of Nantes by train, in spacious grounds in Carquefou and built specifically to display contemporary pieces, it’s a great place to see what’s hot and what’s not.

Insider tip: If you’re on a budget, this is for you. Free to enter.

Cafés – An artsy pit stop

Artichoke Gallery Café

This is a one-of-a-kind café and the perfect pit stop of your arts tour of Nantes. It prides itself in being the city’s first street art gallery (urban art, graffiti, screen printing and more) in a café setting, letting you get your caffeine fix and art appreciation in one. It’s located right in the heart of Nantes, easily recognisable, thanks to its striking wall art at the entrance.

Must-visit galleries

HAB Galerie

Nantes’ old docks and shipbuilding warehouses have received a new lease of life in recent years, including the HAB Galerie located in ‘Hangar 21’. It’s a great space dedicated to various art exhibitions and events throughout the year.

Insider tip: If you want to combine a gallery visit with a food/drink pit stop then the HAB Galerie is the perfect choice. Located on the regenerated and trendy Quai des Antilles, the rest of Hanger 21 is made up of cafes and eateries.

HAB Galerie | © gωen / Flickr

Art Me!

A really great little contemporary gallery and arts shop with works by regional artists. Centrally located, it’s the perfect spot to pop into in between seeing the sites.

Insider tip: Hungry? Stop by Crêperie Sainte Croix for a traditional crêpe, just a two minute walk away.


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Machines de l’Ile

The unique Machine Island is not like a conventional museum or gallery in any way. Seeing really is believing, but in words, it’s really a large scale arts project and attraction. Imagined by designers François Delarozière and Pierre Orefice, it is most well-known for its 40 feet high mechanical elephant, incidentally that carries up to 50 passengers. However, there is much more to the island than this incredible feat of engineering and design. We won’t spoil the surprise, just make sure you prioritise it on your whilst-stop tour.

Insider tip: Your ticket includes access to the La Machine workshop, too.

Machines de l'île | © Christine Vaufrey / Flickr

Street art

Seeing the creative value in graffiti and other forms of street art, the City of Nantes has designated particular areas around the city that are ‘free spaces’ where artists have free rein. Take a look at this great map of the graffiti corners of Nantes if you’re interested in exploring this art form in the city’s open-area exhibition centre of its streets.

Street Art in Nantes | © Katja Wagner / Flickr

Restaurants – end your day with art

Papy Mougeot

Named after a 1970s French TV host and located on what used to be an island before the 1930s, Papy Mougeot is a cool eatery to end your 24 hours of art in Nantes. The toilet is probably one of the most lurid one you’ve ever seen and the decor is, you’ve guessed it, 70s through and through. There is a great range of dishes here and it’s conveniently located if you want to go on for after dinner drinks nearby.

Les Fils à Maman Bouffay

A playful, colourful restaurant covered in comic books and with an 80s feel.

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