Top 5 sights for first-timers
Château des ducs de Bretagne
The castle of the dukes ofBrittany, built in the 15th century, has been updated to include a very modern museum of the history ofNantes. The city’s changing identity is well documented, including a dimly lit room on the horrors of the slave trade, former source of the city’s wealth. Don’t miss the free rampart walk all around the castle with views over the city.
4 place Marc Elder
Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul de Nantes
The Vikings sackedNantesin 843, murdering bishop Saint-Gohard at the altar in an earlier version of this cathedral. The current flamboyant Gothic building has been renovated to present a luminous interior ofLoirelimestone. The famous marble tomb of Duke François II and his second wife is the most significant monument.
Les Machines de l’île
Don’t miss this venture located in the former shipbuilding works on the Île de Nantes. The city’s industrial past is transformed into a vast space for the activity of mechanical creations such as a larger-than-life elephant, which takes visitors on a leisurely tour, or the heron tree. There’s a new spectacular feature roundabout based on the oceanic adventure stories of Jules Verne.
Boulevard Léon Bureau
Tour de Bretagne
A high-speed lift makes short work of the 32-storey climb to a 360-degree viewing platform with sensational views over the city from this 1970s tower block. Just as good is the iconic bar Le Nid, where drinks are served from the ‘nest’ of a huge white bird, whose head and neck curve round ‘broken egg’ stools and tables. Good fun.
Place de Bretagne
This area was once an island as the name suggests but the Loirehas today lost many of its branches in the interests of modern traffic systems. What the Île Feydeau retains are streets of houses once owned by wealthy merchants, some at a jaunty angle thanks to unstable foundations. With their ornate iron balconies and graphically sculpted mascarons (masks), they reflectNantes’ worldwide commercial profile.
Quarter south of the Gare Centrale
Top 5 sights for old hands
Memorial de l’Abolition de l’Esclavage
A sombre reminder of the root ofNantes’ commercial prosperity has been set up on the bank of theLoire. A path is scattered with tiny glass panels recording the ships involved in the slave trade, before an underground tunnel offers facts, figures and quotations from around the world about the struggle to abolish this crime against humanity.
Quai de la Fosse
Le Lieu unique
This funky arts centre is located in the former Lu Biscuit manufacture and retains its industrial architecture, currently being remodelled with some minimalist artistic twists. The underground toilets are decorated with a riot of graffiti. There’s a trendy bar with riverside terrace and a restaurant, and the remaining decorative tower with its gyroscope is open in the afternoons. There’s even a Turkish bath downstairs!
Musée de l’Imprimerie
Digital enthusiasts may never have known the old world of print and ink, but here you can marvel at those early printing processes or enjoy the nostalgia. Printing presses, lithographs, binding equipment and many other curious artefacts conjure up a lost pre-computer world.
24 quai de la Fosse
Jardin des Plantes
Just opposite the station, this beautiful green space houses an extensive botanical collection and some remarkable individual trees. It’s a great place to relax, picnic or people-watch, but you can also visit the tropical greenhouses at certain times. There’s a restaurant, lake, other water features and a grass beach, complete with deckchairs.
An eerie and atmospheric experience, this work by Corsican visual artist Ange Leccia creates an ephemeral world of nymphs and sirens with images projected onto the waters of the Canal Saint-Félix as night falls. This is just one of the many artistic effects in the city designed to be seen after dark.