You’re in France, after all, so no day of exploring can start right without a French coffee. Pair this with a regional favourite, a tasty crêpe, and you’ll be fueled up for the day. Favourite haunts for breakfast in the center are Glaz and Sugar BLUE Café. There is no shortage of crêperies in Nantes; you could choose Crêperie Heb-Ken for a late-night snack or Crêperie Ker Breizh for lunch.
The Jardin des Plantes is one of Nantes’ gems; seven hectares (17 acres) of green space right in the city center. More than 50,000 flowers are planted each season, and so, whatever time of year you’re visiting, this oasis feels vibrant and cared for. We’d recommend you head there at the start of your day, when it’s less busy, so that you can really enjoy the plant sculptures and various installations. The two exhibition greenhouses are free to explore and open at 9:30 a.m. at the weekends.
En route to Nantes’ main attraction, stop by its gothic cathedral, the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul. This incredible structure and landmark in Nantes is equally as impressive viewed from the outside as inside, but try to squeeze in both.
The museum and exhibition at the château open at 10 a.m. each day, so by timing your trip for just after opening time, you’ll miss the crowds a little and get the best possible experience. You can enter the courtyard and ramparts from 8:30 a.m. for free. The Château des Ducs de Bretagne that you see today was the vision of the last Duke of an independent Brittany, Francis II. He wanted a château that was both a military fortress and the main principal residence of the court.
Time for lunch. A sweet spot for brasseries and cafés is between Rue des Trois Croissants and Rue du Cheval Blanc. Le Bouchon has a lovely terrace, Pickles is super snug for wetter days, and Le Fou du Roi is super-convenient after visiting the château.
After filling up on French food at lunch, it’s time to do some walking. Between the central park of Nantes and your next stop at the Machines de l’Ile there are a couple of corners that are particularly worth pausing at. Your first stop should be Église Sainte-Croix. Note the ornate 17th-century bell tower. Finally, before crossing over Pont Anne d Bretagne, take a stroll on the Cours Cambronne, a gorgeous tree-lined avenue with a statue of General Cambronne, who was wounded at the Battle of Waterloo.
A real highlight during your 24 hours in Nantes will be Machine Island. A futuristic artistic project based on Nantes’ former shipyard space shows how a city such as Nantes can adapt and breathe new invigorating life into its every corner. The pièce de résistance of Machine Island is the Grand Éléphant. Up to 50 people can ride it at any one time, taking passengers from the Carrousel des Mondes Marins to the workshop and warehouses.
The Quai des Antilles is a really cool area in Nantes and still fairly new on the scene, having been completed in 2007. One of the iconic elements of this developed bank along the Loire is Les Anneaux: 18 rings by French three-dimensional artist Daniel Buren, which by night are illuminated in red, green, and blue. Terraces line this stretch, so pull up a deck-chair and have an apéritif to start your evening.
There are a couple of sights still left to see on your day in Nantes, so before dinner, head back towards the old town and make a stop off at the Miroir d’Eau. This is the perfect time of day to view the pretty lights, and on a warm evening, it’s refreshing, too. Continue on into the old town and walk through the stunning shopping mall Passage Pommeraye.
Indulge in some seafood for dinner, as it’s what Nantes does best. Take a look at our top 10 Restaurants in Nantes for a general guide on some great places to eat.
Île Feydeau used to be an island, but since a section of the Loire was blocked off in the 1930s, it is now only an île by name. The cobbled streets, flat creamy facades, and incredibly neat grassy areas make this spot of Nantes the perfect place to end your whistle-stop tour. There are loads of bars for such a small area, so the pick is yours.