Top 5 sights for first-timers
Château des ducs de Bretagne
The castle of the dukes of Brittany, built in the 15th century, has been updated to include a very modern museum of the history of Nantes. 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 sacked Nantes in 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 of Loire limestone. The famous marble tomb of Duke François II and his second wife is the most significant monument.
This area was once an island as the name suggests but the Loire has 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 reflect Nantes’ worldwide commercial profile.
Quarter south of the Gare Centrale
Constructed in 1843, this totally over-the-top covered shopping arcade sports sweeping staircases, extravagant lighting and a wealth of rococo statuary. The smart shops with many original products are well worth a look too.
Rue de la Fosse
Musée Jules Verne
The author of Around the World in 80 Days was born in Nantes in 1828 and as a boy became fascinated by the maritime traditions of the city. He was later at the forefront of science fiction with Journey to the Centre of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The Jules Verne museum’s fascinating collection looks at his life, but also at how the themes of his publications have been exploited in many forms.
3 rue de l'Hermitage
Top 5 sights for old hands
Memorial de l’Abolition de l’Esclavage
A sombre reminder of the root of Nantes’ commercial prosperity has been set up on the bank of the Loire. 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
At the top of the rather ugly 32-storey 1970s Tour Bretagne office block, renowned graphic artist Jean Jullien has created a bird’s-nest theme for this eyrie which provides stunning views over Nantes. The café is styled around an enormous white bird forming the bar, with tables and chairs fashioned from its ‘eggs’.
Place de Bretagne
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. Their ongoing project is the creation of a tree of herons with giant birds and travel baskets attached to the branches.
Boulevard Léon Bureau
Le Lieu unique
This funky arts centre is located in the former Lu Biscuit manufacture and little has been done to upgrade the concrete and metal interior beyond 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!
Quai Ferdinand Favre
Île de Versailles
Nantes is not short of green spaces, but the thoughtfully designed Japanese gardens on this tiny island in the Erdre are a haven of tranquillity. A place to unwind and reflect on your Nantais experiences or view the exhibition centre featuring all aspects of the river. You can take a boat out yourself from the Ruban Vert centre.
East of quai de Versailles