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Tourist Places To Visit In Nantes
Nantes is a young and vibrant metropolis situated in the northwest area of France, along the banks of the river Loire. This dynamic city was once the capital of Duchy of Brittany and also an important port city during the 18th-century, contributing substantially to the French Atlantic slave trade. With the abolition of the slave trade, Nantes continued to reinvent itself over the years and achieved several accomplishments in shipbuilding, industrial growth and artistic excellence, making it one of the most culturally versatile cities in the country. Endowed with significant titles like the ‘Most liveable city in Europe’ by Time magazine in 2003 and the first French ‘European Green Capital’ in 2013, Nantes manages to live up to the image it has created by drawing influences from its majestic heritage while moving creatively forward stately and sublimely. To help you discover the most celebrated treasures of this city, we have compiled a list of some of the best places to visit when in Nantes.
Château des Ducs de Bretagne
The Castle of the Dukes of Brittany is a 13th-century stronghold and one of the main attractions in the city of Nantes. Built in the year 1207, this castle was the home of Duke of Brittany for about three hundred years. The gardens around the moat, chateau courtyard and the ramparts are available to explore free of charge. Atop the ramparts is a path that offers beautiful sights of not only the castle but also the city and is an ideal place for picnics. Summer nights are a perfect time to spend at this part of the castle with impeccable lighting and a cool breeze to make the visit more so enjoyable.
The Chateau, as it stands today, offers a periodical insight to history; from the time it was occupied by royalty to the time of slave trade, the industrial revolution and to becoming barracks during the second world war. The main attraction, however, is the Nantes History Museum, which boasts of over 1100 artefacts that provide a glimpse into the history and culture of Nantes.
There are multi-lingual exhibits held regularly that revolve around important facets of Nantes’ history. There is a light projection on the ramparts and walls of the castle during the night, which makes it a scenic spectre.
Les Machines de l’Île
Les Machines de l’Île (the Machines of the Isle of Nantes) is a unique and quirky mechanical world created by the artist duo François Delarozière and Pierre Orefice. The inspiration for these mechanical wonders comes from the writings of Jules Verne and the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci. Les Machines de l’Île, mostly built in the city’s shipyard, is a result of Nantes strong industrial bent, fuelled by artistic ambitions and the vision to promote the city’s culture and history in a quirky genius. Machines like the Grand Elephant (the first creation) are interactive, and at 12 metres in length can carry 52 passengers who can feel and see the mechanics of the moving elephant. There are other machines like the Manta Ray and the Sea Snake among others that can be enjoyed throughout the city. The Carrousel des Mondes Marins is a giant carousel consisting of movable marine creatures.
Built in 1843, Passage Pommeraye is Nantes’ oldest shopping arcade. Located between the Rue de la Fosse and Rue Santeuil, the Pommeraye was built to allow passage between Place Graslin and Place Royale and is an architectural marvel with well-preserved neo-renaissance sculptures and stonework on the buildings. The iron-and-glass roof allows ample natural light to pass through and its clever construction on a steep slope appears to be an architectural purist’s dream come true. The Passage Pommeraye is not just for the architecture and history lovers but also for those shoppers who are always on a lookout for authentic local goods and souvenirs. There is a selection of luxury boutiques to shop from, and chocolatiers and patissiers to indulge in local goodness.
Jardin des Plantes
This 28-hectare garden is located in the middle of the city and is considered one of France’s most remarkable green spaces. A stroll at Jardin des Plantes, which contains about 10,000-plus species of plants is a masterclass in flora curation and preservation. The main attractions are trees like the 220-year old magnolia and two 150-year-old sequoias as well as the incredible 19th-century “Palm House”, a greenhouse with trees from the tropical Amazons of South America and orchids from Africa and Asia. The Orangerie has a notable collection of citrus plants. Jardin des Plantes is free of charge to wander and opens daily from 12 noon till 6 pm.
Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle
The Natural History Museum is another gem in the city of Nantes. The museum offers extensive zoological, botanical, ethnographical, paleontological and several other collections that have been accumulated for over 300 years. As with other buildings in the city, the museum itself offers architectural awe. The main attraction in the museum is the zoological section with over a thousand animal exhibits, but the most popular exhibit of all is the 18 m long whale skeleton that is suspended from the ceiling. The recently refurbished Vivarium houses a plethora of snake species and other exotic reptiles. There are interactive sections specially designed for children with workshops and guided tour sessions.
Cathédrale de Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul
France is famous for its Christian historical monuments and Cathédrale de Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul (Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul) is undeniably one of them. It took 357 years to build this gothic-style monument of history that was originally commissioned by the Duke of Brittany, John the Vth. The cathedral is also regarded as one of the tallest and most impressive among the cathedrals across Europe. The chapel, balconies, choir stands, and arcade pillars are the epitome of Christian architecture in its signature French glory. The massive scale of Cathédrale de Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul can be gauged from the fact that the length, height and width of the structure is measured in triple-digit feet, with the interior length of the site being 335 ft. The tomb of Francis II, the hallways and the cenotaph are ornate beyond measure.
Mémorial de l’Abolition de l’Esclavage
Nantes’ Slavery Memorial is a 400 m walkway along the Loire river banks between Victor Schoelcher bridge and the Anne de Bretagne bridge, which commemorates Nantes’ history of being a city that dealt in the slave trade and then abolished the practice in the year 1848. This very austere memorial was built in the year 2012 and contains over 2000 glass plaques with names of slave ships from Africa and their port dates in Nantes. At the end of the walkway is a hall wherein one finds the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the word “freedom” written in different languages. There is also a room which is dedicated to the timeline of slavery abolishment around the world.
Musée de l’Imprimerie
Nantes has a long relationship with printing and promoting books, with the first book printed here in the year 1493 called Les Lunettes des Princes by Jean Meschinot. Musée de l’Imprimerie was built in 1986 to showcase the history of the printing industry and its tryst with the manual, mechanic and typographic printing methods over the years. The museum is known for housing, collecting, conserving, documenting and evaluating heritage books, manuscripts and other graphical representation forms. There is also an exhibit of printing plates, lithographs, dyes and typesetting moulds. There are specialised exhibits of rare books and other printing equipment organised throughout the year. Provisions are made for visitors to accompany guides and try their hand at operating old machines and other equipment to get a better sense of what paper making, printing and book-binding processes were in days of past.
Musée des Beaux-Arts
The Fine Arts Museum of Nantes is one of the most famous tourist spots in the city. Inaugurated in the year 1900, this museum is a part of the 15 museums across France that came into being by order of a decree in the year 1801. The museum boasts collections of paintings from as early as the 13th-century with artists like Georges de La Tour and Ambrogio Borgognone, to more contemporary well-known names like Picasso, Monet, and Rousseau. The museum has recently opened again in 2017 after a five-year renovation and expansion project.
Jules Verne Museum
Jules Verne, probably the most famous son of Nantes, was a novelist, poet and a playwright. The Jules Verne Museum was opened in 1978 to mark 150 years of the author’s birth. Housed in a quaint 19th-century building, the museum is an ode to the author in every sense. For Verne’s literary fans, the museum has a collection of all things Verne; ranging from artefacts to science fiction themed inventions. The main attraction here is the drawing-room, where one can see his personal effects including the china gifts that Verne received throughout his career. There are interactive displays, books, manuscripts and illustrations that a visitor can go through while visiting the museum. This is a child-friendly museum and is open daily from 10 in the morning till 7 in the evening.
Tour Bretagne (the Brittany Tower) is a 472-feet high skyscraper built in 1976, which essentially makes it one of the oldest skyscrapers in France. It still is the third tallest building in France, coming in just behind Tour Part Dies and CMA CGM Tower in Lyon and Marseilles respectively. The building currently houses government offices and is alienated with the otherwise general “old and historic” architecture in Nantes. However, there is “le Nid (The Nest)” bar on the top deck of the building that offers a birds-eye, 360-degree view of the city and is a welcome place to visit during evenings and nights.
Place du Bouffay
One cannot end their visit to Nantes without visiting Place Du Bouffay (The Bouffay District), which is located in the old quarter of the town. This part of the town is a healthy mix of ancient 14th and 15th-century timber houses that share the space with new-age modern buildings. The Bouffay district is filled with shops, terrace cafes, crêperies and restaurants. The must-visit buildings and spaces in Place du Bouffay are The Apothecary House, the Bouffay Square (which is now a covered market) and the gothic fireplace at the corner of Rue des Echevins. The nightlife is bustling in this district, which is the perfect way to end your day of exploration of Nantes.