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Things To Do In Nantes
Located along the banks of the River Loire in northwest France, Nantes is the administrative seat of the Pays de la Loire region that once served as the capital of Duchy of Brittany as well. While there are must-see attractions spread all over the city, true travel enthusiasts will find themselves digging deeper into Nantes’s historic heritage to experience the city’s different cultures, festivals and artsy quirks on a personal level. Nantes’ splendid waterside scenic beauty only adds to the existing charm of the city and creates a striking balance with its innovative, experimental side. Also popular for being the birthplace of celebrated writer Jules Verne, there are a variety of Jules Verne-inspired recreations here that will enthral a literary aficionado. Amusements in Nantes are aplenty and the truest way to truly know more about the city is to explore it on a subjective level. To help you learn a little more, here are our recommendations of the top things to do in Nantes.
Tour the Château des Ducs de Bretagne
Undoubtedly the most prominent tourist attraction in Nantes and also the most important historical monument, the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany was built in the 13th-century and consists of various sections that were constructed between the 14th to 18th-century. The 500-metre path on the top of the ramparts is a part of the castle that should not be missed for its spectacular views of Nantes from various angles, especially with the brilliant lighting during night time.
One of the main highlights of the castle is the Nantes History Museum, which offers a portrait of the city while taking visitors through the different stages of the city’s evolution. Over 1000 artefacts illustrate Nantes’ heritage, along with plenty of exhibitions held all through the year that revolve around the history of the castle, Nantes’ association with the slave trade, and other important stories related to the city.
Enjoy an Evening on Île de Nantes
The Island of Nantes is a neighbourhood located in the city centre that is surrounded by the river Loire. It is part of a redevelopment project in the city and consists of four districts. Your artsy side will enjoy the Republic, while Parc de Beaulieu is perfect for strolls and evening walks. The Quai des Antilles though is the true highlight of the island where numerous bars and cafes burst into action as soon as the sun goes down. It is an amazing spot to enjoy a drink with friends after you’re exhausted from exploring the city, or discover the impressive installations here like the neon rings that light up the dock after dark; the Hangar á Bananes that hosts events in a refurbished banana warehouse; or the Canteen de Voyage that is packed with pop-up restaurants in the summers.
Visit the Churches
Like most other French cities, Nantes is home to some of the most beautiful cathedrals and churches. While the Nantes Cathedral or the Cathedralé Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul is the most notable monument in the city, other churches like the Eglise Sainte-Croix and the neo-gothic Saint-Nicholas Basilica is also definitely worth a visit.
Enjoy a Picnic in the Parks
Some of France’s most gorgeous gardens can be found in Nantes, and the most popular one tourists head to first is Jardin des Plantes. The 19th-century metal-and-glass structure known as ‘the Palm House’ is a fabulous part of the garden that contains plants from tropical America and orchids from Asia and Africa in its three greenhouses. Magnolias and sequoias that are hundreds of years old are other highlights of this park that packs more than 10000 species of flora in its 28 hectares.
If you are looking to spend a quieter evening away from the crowds of Jardin des Plantes, head to Íle de Versailles (Island of Versaille); an equally beautiful Japanese garden with water bodies where visitors can enjoy boating and canoeing around the island. This artificial island was initially occupied by carpenters and tanners before being converted into a Japanese garden. Rock gardens and waterfalls in this delightful park create a quintessential zen atmosphere that is so typical of Japanese landscapes.
Watch a Performance at Theatre Graslin
This 18th-century building was constructed by the famous architect Mathurin Crucy and inaugurated in 1788; however, this very popular opera house was destroyed in a devastating fire soon after its opening. Reconstructions were done in 1811 and then a second restoration in 2003, which resulted in an Italian-style design with Roman and Greek influences visible on its façade. Even today, this ageless magnificent monument is a great place to catch an opera or theatrical performance.
Riverside Cycling and Strolls
The Erdre river was famously nicknamed the most beautiful river in France by Francois I, and with several fine monuments and parks situated along this river, the area offers some perfect opportunities to enjoy strolls and bicycle rides. Start your walk or bike ride from the Island of Versailles towards the Erdre riverside for the best scenic prospects. The Loire waterfront is another well-liked route for walking and biking; for the most interesting route, take the estuary trail between Nantes and Saint-Nazaire. On this route, you’ll find several camera-worthy moments that also include a half-sunken house in the river.
Attend a Show at the Lieu Unique
What used to be a biscuit factory once, Le Lieu Unique is now a contemporary art and music venue that was launched in the year 2000. The events in this building are run by Jean Blaise, who maintains a busy schedule of performances, cultural events, art exhibitions and live theatre in the Lieu Unique. There are also a number of restaurants and bars here to help you with intermittent refreshments as you immerse yourself in your artistic indulgences.
Ride the Ferry to Trentemoult
Trentemoult is a former fishing village that became a trendy settlement area when several prosperous families and many more ‘hipster’ individuals put down their roots in the region. Easily accessible via the Navibus ferry, the village features as a retreat of sorts for city folk when they are looking for a chance at a quiet, peaceful afternoon. A maze of colourful streets and ancient cottages from the 18th and 19th-century is what the village is primarily made of. The visitors will also find a flourishing community of artists and handicraft stores, along with little cafes by the waterfront to spend a relaxing afternoon.
Visit the Bar on Tour Bretagne
The Tower of Brittany is one of France’s tallest buildings, standing at almost 150 m high. The sight of the tower stands apart on Nantes’ horizon since exceptionally tall monuments haven’t ever been a part of the old town’s skyline. The view from the top of the tower provides exquisite panoramas of the cityscape and if you are sightseeing on a Nantes Pass, you can pop into the terrace bar Le Nid for free. Situated on the 32nd floor of the tower, Le Nid is a quirky bar with a giant stork snaking right through the middle of the floor along with egg-shaped seating. The bar was designed by graphic artist Jean Jullien and is a great place to enjoy a drink or simply relax with wonderful views of the city around you. DJ nights every Thursday at 10 pm and jamming sessions every Sunday at 7 pm are another highlight of the bar.
A Journey to Nantes and the Green Line
‘A Journey to Nantes’ is a cultural event that allows visitors to explore the city’s major attractions, monuments, historical spots etc. easily and conveniently. The tourism board has laid a 16 km long green line on the ground that links all key points of interest; all tourists are required to do is follow the line to be able to discover Nantes’ major highlights. The Green Line can also be used to go about exploring the city on a rented bike. Being an extremely bicycle-friendly city, Nantes has a vast network of bike lanes that makes it very handy for travellers to simply rent a bicycle from a bike-sharing scheme like Bicloo and go on a solo adventure across the city.