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City guides to Nantes
Destinations & Inspiration

City guides to Nantes

Suzie Dalton
By Suzie Dalton - 6 minute read

Locat­ed on the Loire Riv­er, Nantes is a fan­tas­tic city that is sim­ply heav­ing with the most excep­tion­al sight­see­ing and cul­tur­al oppor­tu­ni­ties. Small enough to enjoy over a long week­end – but big enough to keep you enter­tained for much longer if you’ve got the time to spare – it’s the type of city that you could vis­it again and again, with­out ever get­ting bored. If you’re won­der­ing what the best things to see and do in Nantes are, we’ve got the answers in our nifty Nantes city guide! 

Little girl sitting on colourful artwork in Nantes

Chil­dren love Aire de Jeux, a mag­i­cal gar­den in the heart of Nantes.

Talk a walk

Love art? Love explor­ing a city on foot? Then Nantes is your ide­al des­ti­na­tion. And one of the best things to do in Nantes is to fol­low a sim­ple 7.5mile green line that’s paint­ed through­out the city and beyond. Why is that? Because it is on this green line that you’ll find numer­ous art instal­la­tions – lots and lots of them. This is based on a year-round art fes­ti­val (also known as Le Voy­age à Nantes) dur­ing which artists are invit­ed to cre­ate immense works that are free to see – and in many cas­es, the pub­lic are encour­aged to climb, jump, bounce, dance and pose on them! The per­fect exam­ple of this is the Aire de Jeux gar­den which hosts imag­i­na­tive cre­ations from Kinya Maruya­ma. Expect a giant smok­ing drag­on that dou­bles up as a play­ground, plus imag­i­na­tive beasts that beg to be clam­bered on! 

River at night-time with a row of colourful illuminated circles.

Les Anneaux de Buren is one of Nantes’ per­ma­nent art installations.

See more art

Nantes’ love affair with art doesn’t end there, as while many exhibits change over the course of the year, oth­ers are more per­ma­nent. Over 60miles of estu­ary, Estu­aire’ offers 33 works of art that are once again free to vis­it. A floating/​sinking house, a house sit­ting atop a tow­er, a giant sea ser­pent and a mas­sive con­crete foot on the beach are just some of the unusu­al instal­la­tions you can expect. Set aside a full day to find and admire these works of art, as many of them will take you out of the cen­tre of the city, so a lit­tle for­ward-plan­ning is essential. 

If you haven’t got time to explore beyond the city con­fines, then Les Anneaux de Buren is a must-see. Locat­ed at the old docks, this illu­mi­nat­ed line of cir­cles is incred­i­bly pop­u­lar both dur­ing the day and at night-time.

Large wood mechanical heron at Les Machines de lîle

The heron is a work of art in its own right.

Explore Les Machines de l’île…

One of the best things to see and do in Nantes is the won­drous Les Machines de l’île, which is locat­ed on an island in the heart of the city. This is a mag­i­cal play­ground for all ages, fea­tur­ing a gallery of mechan­i­cal cre­ations, such as a sloth (that moves at a sloth-like pace), a heron with an 8‑metre wingspan, a mov­ing spi­der and an alarm­ing­ly giant ant – and that’s just for starters. Flut­ter­ing but­ter­flies, a beau­ti­ful hum­ming­bird and lots more pop­u­late this immer­sive workshop. 

Large mechanical elephant with two small children.

See the Grand Éléphant amble around the dockyard.

… and ride on a giant elephant

Look beyond the gallery and you’ll find the three-tier water-themed Car­rousel des Mon­des, though many come to the island to see the Grand Éléphant. At 12metres high and 21 metres long, this giant mechan­i­cal ele­phant ambles around the old dock­yards, spray­ing passers-by with water – which is bliss on a hot day. Many choose to admire the ele­phant from out­side, but you can buy a ticket to take a 30-minute ride on this incred­i­ble steel and wood beast. 

Glass ceiling shopping passage with lots of people and statues.

For a high-end shop­ping expe­ri­ence, explore Pas­sage Pommeraye.

Go shopping

Nantes is home to many of the bet­ter-known depart­ment stores and brands, but it’s Pas­sage Pom­mer­aye that real­ly steals the show. This cov­ered pas­sage boasts a glass ceil­ing, mar­ble stair­cas­es and plen­ty of flam­boy­ant touch­es, so you won’t be sur­prised to hear that many of the res­i­dent shops are luxe bou­tiques and high-end bak­eries. There’s some­thing for every bud­get here, as you could treat your­self to any­thing from a beau­ti­ful leather hand­bag to a deca­dent slice of gâteau! Alter­na­tive­ly, head to Telen­sac Mar­ket to dis­cov­er the excep­tion­al seafood stalls, or mooch around Marché de Basse-Indre on a Sun­day morning. 

Cluster of bright pink flowers with green leaves.

Jardin des Plantes boasts 1000s of flower species.

Find some green space

The Jardin des Plantes is a wel­come relief from the hus­tle and bus­tle of Nantes. With African and Asian orchids housed in expan­sive green­hous­es, tens of thou­sands of species of plants, a love­ly café and a great children’s play area, it’s very easy to lose sev­er­al hours here. But what real­ly sets this park apart is its imag­i­na­tive dis­plays – keep an eye out for dream­like fur­ni­ture and char­ac­ters who are made out of the foliage! 

Bell tower with a clock against a blue sky and white clouds.

The bell tow­er at Sainte Croix.

Enjoy Nantes’ history

It goes with­out say­ing that you should make the time to real­ly enjoy Nantes’ rich his­to­ry and love­ly archi­tec­ture. Place de Bouf­fay is a great start­ing point, as this pedes­tri­anised area is Nantes’ old­est dis­trict. While away a few hours explor­ing the myr­i­ad of alley­ways and lanes, and enjoy a spot of peo­ple-watch­ing at one of the many restau­rants or cafes in Place Royale. You’ll also find the impres­sive Cathé­drale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul in the area, which has stained glass win­dows dat­ing from the 1500s, while the bell-tow­er at Sainte Croix church is sim­ply stunning.

If you’re a fan of France’s epic châteaus, then look no fur­ther than Château des ducs de Bre­tagne which is an impres­sive Renais­sance-style 13th cen­tu­ry fortress. Today, the château hous­es a mul­ti­me­dia urban his­to­ry muse­um that doc­u­ments five cen­turies of Nantes life. With 7 tow­ers, vis­i­tors can walk around the ram­parts for excep­tion­al views over the city, before enjoy­ing a pic­nic in the grassy moat.