Nestled at the confluence of the Loire and Erdre rivers, Nantes is a surprising city in the Loire-Atlantique department, elegantly oscillating between past and modernity.
Start your visit with the old town, a nice place to stroll around where you can discover many historic buildings. The Gothic Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul has a beautiful tuffeau interior and is lit by a huge 25-metre-tall stained glass window, dedicated to the Breton saints. It is here, in the right arm of the transept, that the tomb of Francis II is located.
As you continue your walk, you can admire various 18th and 19th-century buildings and half-timbered houses in the old Le Bouffay district. Feel like doing a little shopping or satisfying your appetite? Visit the Passage Pommeraye, a superb 19th-century covered mall. You will find shops and restaurants on its three floors. Notice the beautiful wooden and metal staircase, glass roof and fluted columns!
The 15th-century Castle of the Dukes of Brittany stands at the heart of the old town, which earned Nantes the moniker of City of Dukes. It was once a fortress, as evidenced by the moat and towers with Breton machicolations. The tower of the Golden Crown, the well with wrought iron armatures featuring the ducal crown, and the large dwelling designed for Francis II and adorned with Gothic dormers are among the castle's must-see sights. In addition, the castle houses the Nantes History Museum, which offers an unusual way to discover the city. You follow a trail divided into seven sequences, from Francis I to the present day, as well as industrial Nantes and its current revival.
Make a detour via the Quai de la Fosse to admire some 18th-century residences and go as far as number 86: now outbuildings for the Durbé mansion, they were once used as a warehouse by the French East India Company.
Nantes has many green spaces such as the Japanese garden and its waterfalls, located on the Ile de Versailles. With a rich collection of cacti and flora from Brittany but also North America, Asia and Africa, the Botanical Garden (Jardin des Plantes), adorned with water features, is another pleasant place to relax and enjoy the peace and quiet.
Into art and history? Head to the Fine Arts Museum where around a thousand works are exhibited, including European paintings dating from the 13th century to the present day. The Natural History Museum has beautiful collections on different themes: zoology, regional wildlife and mineralogy. As you walk along its paths, you will be awestruck by the spectacular skeletons of a fin whale and a basilosaurus isis - the ancestor of the whale and the only such specimen in France.
Your tour of Nantes now continues with the Ile Feydeau, which was once a marshy island. In 1926, the city decided to fill in the arms of the River Loire and the island was thus attached to the city.
Then head to the Ile de Nantes to discover an extraordinary attraction: the Machines of the Isle (Les Machines de l'île). This exhibition space is often likened to a skilful blend of the world of Jules Verne and the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci. What you will see is unique: animals made of wood and steel, arranged in scenes in a surprising gallery. Go for a ride on the elephant, a gigantic structure with room for about fifty passengers. Set off to discover the world of the sea at the Marine World Carousel, whose dimensions are dizzying: 25 metres tall and 22 metres in diameter! Inside this mechanical aquarium, all aspects of the sea are revealed, from the deepest abysses to the surface, not forgetting the sea beds.
Finish this extraordinary tour at the workshop terraces: this is where the awe-inspiring creatures are made, and you can even watch their creators building them.
Nantes is the capital of the Loire-Atlantique department and the prefecture of the Pays de la Loire region.
With nearly 300,000 inhabitants, it is the sixth most populous commune in France (more than 600,000 with its urban community).
Erected upstream of the estuary of the Loire, Nantes was at first a medieval fortress before being chosen as capital by the dukes of Brittany who built there their castles in the fifteenth century.
But the city was also developed very early thanks to a very active commercial port.
The city was first linked to the Netherlands and the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal by the sea and the river before becoming at the end of the 17th century a starting point for trade to the Americas.
However, the peak of the port came in the eighteenth with slave trade when ships left Nantes to call in Africa where they embarked slaves for the new continent from where they returned with sugar or coffee.
The city continues to expand and gain population, and in the nineteenth, its industrialization related to the port (refineries, canneries, biscuits) is soon joined by metallurgy and shipbuilding.
The center of the city became bourgeois, but its suburbs were developed by the influx of manpower.
In the 20th century, several plans were made to beautify the city while fighting against the silting up of the Loire, and job losses in industry were offset by growth in tertiary activity.
Preserving its historical heritage, Nantes cultivates an art of living that allows it to retain its attractiveness and become also a major tourist pole, the question of its status as Brittany or not capital (culturally if not being Administratively) continuing to fuel a secular debate...
In its immediate vicinity, lily of the valley and white wine muscadet constitute the showcase of its soil.
Labeled City of Art of History, Nantes is discovered and can be visited by foot or by bike (376 km of cycle network on its agglomeration), or by bus and trams. Many courses have been developed, thematic or general. Information on 0892 464 044.
The castle of the Dukes of Brittany, an ancient fortress with seven towers and buildings from the 15th to the 18th century, has been preserved, including the residence built of stone called "tuffeau".
Nearby, the medieval district of Bouffay has many houses with half-timbered facades, and in the city center, dating for the most part from the 18th century, numerous buildings or remarkable places punctuate the itinerary: the theater, the place Graslin, Place Royale, Place du Commerce or Place Foch, which has a column topped by a statue of Louis XVI.
Crossed by the courses Cambronne or Saint-Pierre, these districts of the center also accommodate the palace of Justice, the purse, the prefecture. Do not forget Feydeau Island, the Nantes equivalent of Île Saint-Louis, a small town in the city...
There is finally the Brittany Tower, erected in 1976, 144 m high or the new palace of Justice, work of Jean Nouvel.
The cathedral of Saint-Pierre-et-Paul in the Gothic style, due to the Dukes of Brittany (15th) and the Saint-Nicolas basilica, inspired by neo-Gothic, dating from the 19th century, are also worth visiting, Notre-Dame de Bon Port (19th century) decorated with a dome evoking the Invalides in Paris.
At Nantes, the industrial past has given rise to a revaluation of a singular heritage: the tourist can dwell on the transformation of the old tobacco factory (19th century) rehabilitated into offices and housing.
A detour is also needed by the passage Pommeraye (shopping mall of the XIXth), which has been classified, as is the brewery of La Cigale, type Belle Epoque.
After a break in the Jardin des Plantes (19th century), Procé Park, the Beaujoire Floral Park or the Petite Amazonie, a swampy site in the heart of the city, a reserve classified as Natura 2000, all the sites testifying that Nantes remained Green city.
A visit to the port areas can be interesting. It will include the Belem pontoon where the famous Trois-Mats is docked and the Wilson wharf reserved for large passenger ships: since 2015, one of them, assigned to cruises on the Loire, driven by a paddle wheel, Its ties.
Finally, a stay or a simple stop at Nantes can be the opportunity to visit one of the many museums of the city...
The Museum of Fine Arts (pictorial collections from the Middle Ages to the present) or the Dobrée Museum (works of art and archeology) are worth a visit.
In different registers, the Jules Verne museum is devoted to the visionary writer, and the museum of natural history offers very rich collections (zoology, fauna).
More recently, the museum-memorial of the abolition of slavery was inaugurated.
At the beginning of February (several days in spite of its name), the festival of La Folle Journée offers a multitude of concerts of classical music in various places even unusual where the public is in direct proximity of the artists.
From mid-February to early March, the Hip Opsession festival features over 40 concerts and events (raps, dance, graph).
At the beginning of March, over three days, the literary festival Atlantide brings together some fifty authors at the castle, in bookshops and libraries where readings are also organized.
In July and August, the Voyage à Nantes proposes a series of animations highlighting heritage elements, all of the sites being connected by a line drawn on the ground. The opening of this "marathon" will take place on 1 July at the Nuit du Van (concerts, night tours of museums...).
From mid-July to mid-August, the Festival des Hours d'Eté organizes concerts, outdoor screenings, readings for varied audiences on themes that are as well.
At the end of August (or beginning of September), the Festival des rendez-vous de l'Erdre offers free jazz concerts.
The second weekend of September, La Folie des Plantes brings together gardening and horticulture enthusiasts (scholarship, exhibitions, fun activities).
During the second half of September, the Scopitone festival brings together multimedia artists.
On the second weekend of October, the festival "Des Lectures qui Résonnent" brings together writers and historians.
At the beginning of November, the international festival of science-fiction of the Utopiales sees converging authors, filmmakers and visual artists.
At the end of November, the 3 Continents festival attracts moviegoers (screenings, tributes to actors or filmmakers, etc.).