17 Best Things to do in Nantes, France (with Map)

Nantes is a terrific city to visit in western France, as it offers a mix of history, art, culture, and modernity.

Located on the Loire River, it has a rich history that dates back to the Roman Empire, and it was once one of the most important ports in France. Today, the city is a hub of creativity, with a vibrant art scene, numerous museums, and public art installations. Visitors can explore the narrow streets of the medieval quarter, admire its stunning architecture, or stroll along the picturesque riverbanks.

Nantes is also renowned for its world-class vineyards that produce delicious Muscadet white wine and an excellent dining scene.

Below is an overview of the best things to do in Nantes for those planning to visit ‘la Cité des Ducs’.

Where to Stay

Nantes has a collection of diverse and lively neighborhoods with plenty of accommodation options that cater to all tastes and budgets. For those looking for a cultural hotspot there is the Bouffay district, where cobbled streets and medieval architecture meet trendy bars and restaurants. With its idyllic promenades, Ile de Nantes offers a serene riverside retreat.

As walking is the best way to explore the main attractions in Nantes, we recommend finding accommodation near the main train station or in the city center.

Located on Rue de Strasbourg, The Okko Hotels Nantes Château is just a 2-minute walk to the Château des Ducs de Bretagne. The modern hotel has an elegant Scandinavian feel, featuring rooms with custom double Coco-Mat beds.

For those on a budget, the Hôtel Amiral provides an excellent option. Situated a 5-minute walk from the Place Royale plaza offers rooms in a unique and modern style with a decor that is rich in character and pays tribute to Nantes’ maritime history.

How to get there

Nantes Train Station

Nantes is easy to get to by various means of transportation.

If you are flying in, Nantes Atlantique Airport is the closest airport to the city, with regular flights from major European cities.

Alternatively, you can take a train to Nantes, as the city is well-connected by rail to other parts of France. The train station is also in the heart of the city center, making it a convenient arrival point.

For those intending to drive or take a bus, Nantes is located on the A11 and A83 highways. It is about a two-hour drive from Paris.

Map of Things to do in Nantes, France

17. Basilique Saint Nicolas

Basilique Saint Nicolas

The Basilica of Saint-Nicolas is a stunning Catholic church.

Initially constructed in the 12th century, this neo-Gothic building was refurbished in the 15th century. Unfortunately, much of it was destroyed during World War II and only rebuilt in 2002.
Today its beautiful architecture is characterized by intricate stained-glass windows and a magnificent cross-bearing pillar at the center of the altar.

Another captivating feature of the Basilica is its impressive organ.

If you plan on visiting this stunning structure, we recommend going on June 21st. It is the day of the marvelous ‘La fête de la musique’ celebration. An event that brings the Basilica to life when several musicians perform, making it one of the rare occasions when visitors can hear the organ played.

16. Le Lieu Unique

Le Lieu Unique

France is known for its world-class culture, and if you want to get a fix for it in Nantes, the best place to go to is Le Lieu Unique.

A unique cultural center housed in a former biscuit factory, the venue offers diverse exhibitions, performances, concerts, and events throughout the year.

Set within an Art Nouveau-style building; the theater opened on 30th December 1999 as part of the ‘End of Century’ festival in Nantes. It was founded by the Algerian-born Jean Blaise, who operated as its inaugural artistic director.

Overall, the center focuses on contemporary art, with exhibitions and installations from established and up-and-coming artists from around the world. In addition to its art exhibitions, Le Lieu Unique hosts a range of music and theater performances, film screenings, and literary events. It also offers an outstanding food and drink menu in a cozy, relaxed, ambient setting.

15. Musée Jules Verne

The Jules Verne Museum is an exciting destination for fans of the famous French author.

He was born in the city in 1828, and his former home has been turned into a fascinating museum. It showcases a range of exhibits and artifacts that explore his life, works, and legacy.

Visitors can wander through various rooms of the house, which have been restored to their original condition. They are decorated with period furniture, paintings, and other decorative objects to get a sense of how he lived.

The museum also houses a collection of manuscripts, illustrations, and other artifacts related to Verne’s life and works, which provide a unique insight into his creative process and literary achievements.

If a visit here doesn’t make you want to pick up a copy of ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’, nothing will!

14. Slavery Memorial

Slavery Memorial

While it might be confronting to some visitors, there is no escaping the slave trade was responsible for building much of the city’s early wealth under the Ancien Régime.

Nantes was the first French city to transport slaves on a large scale, and in the 18th century, most of France’s slave ships departed from this port.

Since then, the city has struggled to address its dark past. However, in 2012 it attempted to do that when it unveiled a solemn and austere memorial on Quai de la Fosse by the Loire River.

The commemorative monument for the abolition of slavery provides information about the many expeditions launched from Nantes, including the names of the ships involved.

While it’s an understated memorial, we found it a powerful reminder of this crime against humanity and a rallying call to action for a more just and equitable future.

13. Planète Sauvage

If you love animals, then you should make a point of heading to Planète Sauvage.

You’ll have to head to Port-Saint-Père, just outside of Nantes, to do so. But once you are there, you can see hundreds of different species of animals at this popular wildlife park.

Many people do this on a guided safari-style tour in their car. However, some, including us, prefer to venture out on foot and get up close and personal with animals like elephants, giraffes, tigers, lions, and rhinos.

As well as the wildlife, the family-friendly park offers several other attractions, including a marine mammal show, a playground, and a picnic area.

12. Maillé-Brézé


Named after a French admiral called Jean Armand de Maillé-Brézé, this retired T 47-class destroyer was once an operational warship for the French Navy. It now runs as a museum, giving visitors a one-of-a-kind opportunity to explore the intricate workings of a naval vessel.

Whilst onboard, you can explore different parts of the ship, such as the captain’s quarters, engine room, and weapons systems. Doing so will give you a unique perspective of what life must have been like for the crewman who served on it.

We found the ship’s staff to be well-informed but next time, we will schedule our visit to coincide with one of their reenactments.

11. Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum of Nantes is a fascinating destination for people interested in science, nature, and history. Residing within the city’s Old Mint, it boasts a massive collection of animal, plant, fossil, and mineral sections from around the world.

Overall, it has zones for ethnography, mineralogy, paleontology and zoology, which cover all branches of natural science and display items that date to the 1700s.

Arguably its most impressive specimen is the fin whale skeleton. You will find this 18-metre display suspended from the ceiling of the zoology gallery. However, there is also a planetarium and a 3D cinema that provide immersive and engaging experiences for visitors of all ages. At the same time, the Vivarium has several terrariums that showcase snakes and other reptiles.

10. Jardin Ile de Versailles

Jardin Ile de Versailles

Another terrific place to spend a relaxing afternoon in Nantes is at the Jardin Ile de Versailles.

A tranquil and picturesque park, it centers around a landscaped island in the Erdre River and is a peaceful place to walk, picnic, and relax.

The park is notable for lush greenery, water features, and eye-catching sculptural installations. The presence of exotic plants and flowers, such as Japanese maples and bamboo groves, further enhances its unique character and charm.

If you don’t fancy walking, visitors can also enjoy a boat tour around a Zen Garden which boasts cherry trees which you will want to take several photos of.

Overall, it is a lovely place to come to appreciate the beauty of nature.

9. Place Royale

Place Royale

Right in the center of Nantes, Place Royale is another historic square you can visit.

Constructed during the reign of King Louis XV in the 18th century, it was initially meant to serve as a grand entrance to the city. However, the square has become a popular meeting place today with several cafes, shops ,and restaurants to explore.

One of our favorite things to do in Nantes is relax here and watch the world go by. We find it is one of the best ways to soak up the city’s ambience.

However, the square’s centerpiece is a stunning fountain featuring a statue of Neptune holding a trident. Visitors can also appreciate that and the beautiful architecture of the surrounding buildings, including The Church of St. Nicholas, which stands in the square.

8. Musée d’Arts de Nantes

Musée d'Arts de Nantes

The Musée d’Arts de Nantes is a prestigious art museum in the middle of the city.

The museum resides in a beautiful historic building that dates back to the 19th century and features a wide range of collections from the 13th century to the present.

If you visit the museum, you can explore a vast collection of paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts, focusing mainly on French art from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Some of the most notable works on display include pieces by renowned artists such as Claude Monet, Auguste Rodin, and Pablo Picasso.

In addition to the permanent collection, the Musée d’Arts de Nantes also hosts various temporary exhibitions throughout the year. So, it is a must-visit destination for art lovers.

7. Trentemoult


If you want to take a break from the Nantes’s main tourist attractions, visiting Trentemoult might be just what you need.

This charming village is situated on the banks of the Loire River and is known for its colorful houses and quaint atmosphere.

Home to many hipsters, artists, and more affluent people, you can reach it via the Navibus ferry from Nantes city center.

Once there, you can stroll through narrow streets and alleys lined with brightly painted cottages from the 18th and 19th centuries. Many have a captivating design over three floors, where the lower level is reserved for storage on account of the regular flooding of the Loire River. Over by the quayside, you’ll find trendy vintage shops, restaurants, and crêperies with terraces overlooking the river.

6. Place du Bouffay

Place du Bouffay

If you want to get a feel for everyday life in Nantes, then head to the Place du Bouffay. It is situated in the center of one of the city’s oldest districts and is a terrific spot for people-watching due to it being a popular gathering spot for locals.

The square is known for its stunning medieval architecture and a warren of alleyways and narrow backstreets that flank it. Within them, you will find half-timbered houses that date back to the 1400s and several cafes and trendy boutiques where you can grab lunch or shop.

At night, it is a great place to party as the Place du Bouffay comes alive with many bars and clubs open late into the night. Thus, providing a hub for nightlife in Nantes.

5. Les Machines de L’ile

Les Machines de L'ile

Les Machines de l’Île is a one-of-a-kind attraction that is not to be missed.

This innovative art project, located on the site of a former shipyard, combines the whimsical elements of steampunk with the beauty of nature to create something extraordinary.

Visitors have the opportunity to ride on a giant mechanical elephant that roams the streets of the city. They can also explore the marvel of engineering that is the Tree of Dreams – a massive metal structure that doubles as a carousel.

Additionally, there is a workshop where visitors can observe the creative process of the designers and engineers as they work on new inventions. Overall, it’s an enchanting experience that inspires us to imagine what new wonders could be created.

4. Cathedrale Saint Pierre

Cathedrale Saint Pierre

The Nantes Cathedral is a magnificent Gothic cathedral in the heart of Nantes. Also known as the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, it was built over 450 years, which is a testament to the architectural and artistic mastery of the Middle Ages.

The cathedral is a beautiful and inspiring structure that captures the grandeur and elegance of Nantes’ rich cultural heritage. It is notable for its stunning stained-glass windows, intricate carvings, and ornate sculptures, which captivate you from the inside and out.

Visitors can tour its interior and explore various chapels and its impressive nave and transept. The cathedral also houses the tomb of Francois II, the last Duke of Brittany, and his wife, Marguerite de Foix.

3. Passage Pommeraye

Passage Pommeraye

Located between Rue de la Fosse and Rue Santeuil, the Passage Pommeraye is a must-visit destination if you love shopping.

Built in 1843, this beautiful arcade boasts three levels of shops. They include boutiques, restaurants, and cafes, offering a range of products from high-end clothing and accessories to deluxe chocolates and souvenirs.

Even if you are not a shopping enthusiast, it is worth coming here alone to see its magnificent architecture. Its design incorporates neo-renaissance sculptures and stonework, iron and glass roofs that let in natural light, and elegant wrought iron lamps and balustrades that all add to its charm.

Such is the incredible level of detail in this retail arcade; you’ll find yourself stopping every couple of steps to photograph or take in something different.

2. Jardin des Plantes

Jardin des Plantes

When you want a break from the frenzy of the town center the Jardin des Plantes is a terrific place to visit.

This exceptional park is just ten minutes away from the Château des Ducs de Bretagne, and it’s certainly no ordinary park.

The green space has been designated as one of France’s ‘remarkable gardens’ and boasts a variety of plants, trees, and flowers from all over the world.

Visitors can stroll through themed gardens, like a rose garden, medicinal garden, and Japanese garden, and enjoy the breathtaking views of the river Loire.

They can also visit Palm House, a stunning metal and glass structure from the late 19th century, housing plants from tropical America. Those into orchids will want to head to the adjacent greenhouses, which display beautiful species from Africa and Asia.

1. Château des Ducs de Bretagne

Château des Ducs de Bretagne

The Château des Ducs de Bretagne is a must-see attraction in Nantes. This impressive 13th-century castle was once the residence of the Dukes of Brittany and is now a museum that explores the region’s history.

Visitors can wander through the castle’s halls and courtyards, admiring its Gothic architecture and learning about the fascinating history of Brittany.

At the museum, you’ll see exhibits that cover various topics, from the region’s geology and archaeology to its politics and culture. Highlights include the Great Hall, which has been restored to its former glory, and the exhibition on the Atlantic Slave Trade. The latter provided plenty more food for thought on this dark chapter of French history.

Once you have toured the Château, the grassy area next to the moat makes a lovely spot for a picnic.

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