Nantes is often overlooked by visitors to France, but this hidden gem is absolutely worth a visit in itself, as well as being an excellent place to base yourself for exploring the Loire-Atlantique and Pays de la Loire regions. Within 4 hours by high-speed train from Paris, you can be in the heart of Nantes, ready to explore a mind-blowing variety of fabulous landscapes, from seaside to mountains, and a huge selection of intriguing villages, towns, cities, castles, salt marshes, and more.
British TIPS team member, Jenni, spent a little time in the city of Nantes and shares why you should include it in your France itinerary.
“Nantes (pronounced naahnnt, like aunt or plant) is definitely a hidden gem for me. It’s got a great combination of old and new, and there’s a strong focus on art. The city has so much going for it. Big stone chateau? Check (Château des ducs de Bretagne, which I visited – so worth it). Riverside walks? Check. Airy modern shopping districts and excellent, safe public transport? Check. Old, historic districts with beautiful stone buildings and oodles of charm? Check. Calm, green spaces to relax in? Check. Great shopping, good restaurants and cafes, fabulous art? Check. The list goes on…
I really liked their walking trail concept called the “Green Line” which helps you discover the city by following a green line painted on the streets that takes you past street art, sculptures, monuments, great architecture and other interesting and quirky places you may otherwise overlook. Like a free DIY walking tour which takes the confusion out of exploring.
Nantes is very easy to explore (especially with the help of the green line), and it’s a safe, pedestrian-friendly city. Although there is the green line, I still recommend a guided walking tour for some extra insider info. You can also go on the Little Train, which takes you through the streets – great for kids and those who tire more easily. It’s also one of France’s greenest cities and very accessible to people with disabilities.
My first prize for attractions has to go to the Les Machines de l’île, a steampunk-style art installation inspired by author Jules Verne’s whimsical imaginative world. I absolutely loved it! Inside the decommissioned shipbuilding workshops on the island of Nantes, there is a fascinating and fantastical combination of mechanical sculptures, artistic designs, and interactive elements. Many of the creations move and can be operated by visitors, like the quirky chameleon, a hot air balloon, and the Grand Carrousel with its fantastical sea creatures. And then there’s Le Grande Elephant (pictured), an enormous mechanical sculpture of an elephant that walks around the island, sprays steam from its trunk, roars, and gives rides to visitors.
I also loved the Jardin des plantes de Nantes (botanical garden) with its gorgeous palm house and greenhouses, and the nearby Musée d’arts de Nantes, which has a diverse collection in a lofty historic building. Perfect if you need a little peace and tranquillity.
Another thing that I thought was something really cool is that Nantes has its own perfume designed by French parfumiers to reflect the city itself, in an artistic-looking glass bottle. It’s just something different that makes it special (and it smells great!).
Aside from guided tours, I had a little time to explore on my own, walking from near the station, along the river, past the Château des ducs de Bretagne, through the enchanting old town, and back via courtyards, parks, and a lot of great shops. Because everything is within easy reach, I even had time to pick up a couple of mouth-watering pastries (who else but the French can do them so well?) and have a mini picnic in a park to watch les Nantaises (the people of Nantes) enjoying the outdoors.
Nantes is clearly working very hard to maintain its history, while refreshing and bringing everything into the modern era with a particular focus on art. It’s well worth a visit.
My best suggestion? Get yourself a Nantes City Pass to cover the majority of attractions along with giving you unlimited access to public transport. Then, head out for your “voyage a nantes” (journey to Nantes). This city has got something for everyone!
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The above is a personal account and is aimed at inspiring you to travel to Nantes, France. Please note that all information is correct at time of writing, but it is always best to check before you travel to ensure there are no closures or changes.