Nantes – 10 things not to miss out on
Have you ever fumbled for words when someone asked about your last trip because you simply didn‘t know where to begin? That basically sums up a journey to Nantes.
Nantes is young, quirky, playful, green, creative, and doesn’t take itself very seriously. The long weekend I spent there flew by way too fast – so I returned home and basically checked for my next flight to France the instant I had set down my backpack. Because Nantes and I, we aren’t done yet.
Needless to say, I highly recommend visiting this hidden treasure in the Western part of France. To make your journey easier, I put together 10 things you shouldn’t miss out on while you are in town.
1 Ride the Grand Éléphant
Okay, I admit it, the 12m tall elephant made of wood and steel was one of the main reasons I desperately wanted to go to Nantes and I couldn’t have been more excited when I finally met the city’s mascot in person. Not only can it blow its trumpet, flap its leather ears and splash water on curious bystanders, you can also hitch a ride and discover the nifty mechanics within its belly.
Tip: Embark the elephant at the Galerie des Machines (where you can see more mechanical animals!) for the best view of the former shipyard. You will get off at the Carrousel Des Mondes Marines, an incredible three-story merry-go-round revolving with all kinds of sea creatures – definitely another must-try experience.
2 Browse through local shops
Are you looking for a souvenir to take home? A funny postcard to send to your Mum? Or a gift for your best friend’s birthday? Nantes got you covered! There are many cute little shops where you can find anything from handcrafted jewellery, to funky socks, or posters – often made by local artists.
Here are a few of my favourites: Les P’tits Papiers (2 Place Félix Fournier, stationary), Josette & Tic (16 Rue Crébillon, socks), Maison de Prune (8 place de la Bourse, ladies’ fashion), TRIBÜ (14 Rue de l’Hôtel de Ville, jewellery, fashion, ceramics, …), Boutique Bientôt (77 Rue Maréchal, gift shop).
3 Take advantage of the seafood
With Nantes being situated merely 60km away from the Atlantic Ocean, seafood is omnipresent. You can eat excellent fish, oysters, and shellfish for a decent price in most of the city’s French restaurants (many of them can actually be found in the Guide Michelin).
Le Cigale (Place Graslin) is an institution in Nantes and was first opened in 1895. The brasserie’s menu offers a wide selection of seafood dishes and its interior is a fantastic example of the art nouveau era – so even if you are not hungry, you should at least stop by for a coffee.
Le Bouchon (7 Rue Bossuet)is an intimate restaurant in the historic centre and although seafood isn’t the restaurant’s focus, there are some fantastic fish dishes on the menu.
4 Holy crêpe!
No visit to France is complete without indulging in crêpes. Let’s face it, the French just know how to make the perfect one, no matter if savoury or sweet. You will find plenty of places where you can grab a crêpe on the go (e.g. Talensac market) but of course there are also various restaurants dedicated to the thin pancake.
Check out Le Coin de Crêpes (2 Rue Armand Brossard), a homely but modern eatery with a great variety of delicious toppings to choose from. They also offer a selection of cidre, which is a popular drink in the area and the perfect addition to your meal. It probably won’t get more French than that.
5 Explore the Isle of Nantes
After the collapse of the ship building yards in 1987, it was decided to transform the island’s extraordinary industrial heritage into a green modern space, while keeping some of the old structures. Fast forward to today, you can find a mix of businesses, hotels, housing, co-working spaces, cafés, restaurants and several advanced schools right next to each other, creating a lively and urban atmosphere.
Tips: The Banana Warehouse (8,000m2 with restaurants, bars, a night club, theatre and art gallery), La Cantine du Voyage (offers an inexpensive 3-course menu, pétanque and sunchairs), Café ASKIP (café, gallery and laundromat), Canadienne (an art installation housing the outside seating area of Restaurant Le 1).
6 Roam the local market
Built in 1937, Talensac Market is Nantes’ oldest and biggest market where you can find everything a foodie heart desires: wine, pastries, meat, fish, oysters, cheese, chocolate, and bread are sold inside, while farmers from the region present a colourful array of fruit and vegetables outside. Tip: buy some fresh baguette and artisan cheese as well as a slice of Gâteaux Nantais, a local delicacy, and take a stroll down to the banks of nearby river Erdre to have a little picnic.
7 Follow the Green Line
Nantes is teeming with art. Every summer, the city hosts an event called Voyage à Nantes and invites artists to create sculptures and contemporary installations that are spread throughout the city. Some of those remain in place after the event ends which is why you can make unexpected discoveries at pretty much every street corner.
From the fun reinterpretation of shop signs or weirdly-shaped benches in the botanical garden to a hidden jungle, various light installations and a super-sized measuring tape – there is always something that disrupts the ordinary cityscape and makes you stare in wonder. Follow the green line (literally a green line painted on the ground) to see everything the trail has to offer.
8 Have a drink with a view
Although Tour Bretagne isn’t visually pleasing from the outside, it offers magnificent 360° views of the city and hosts a popular bar on its 32th floor created by Jean Jullien. Le Nid is home to a gigantic bird that is partly art, partly the actual bar. You can take a seat in the eggshell-shaped seats that are scattered around the room or enjoy a drink on the roof-top balcony.
9 Visit the Museum of Arts
Being one of the six large art museums outside Paris, Musée d’arts de Nantes (10 Rue Georges-Clemenceau) houses more than 12,000 works of art from the thirteenth to twenty-first century, among them masterpieces from Monet, Chagall, Kandinsky and Picasso. The renovation of the historic premises and the design of the new modern art building was steered by prestigious Stanton Williams Architects, who created a light and welcoming contemporary museum that arouses one’s interest already from the outside.
10 Leave the city behind
It would be a shame to visit Nantes without exploring the surrounding area and its beautiful scenery. If you are short on time, hop on the water bus to Trentemoult; the former fishing village is a maze of bright-coloured houses with red tilted roofs and has a lively quay that is lined with traditional bistros and cafés.
If you have a day to spare, embark on a river cruise to Saint-Nazaire, which will take you along extraordinary natural heritage and the Estuaire open-air art museum – a collection of 33 contemporary artworks.
If you prefer to be your own captain, check out Floating (www.floating-nantes.com) and discover Erdre River by electric boat or kayak. In case water isn’t your element, make sure to visit the region’s vineyards, where the local Muscadet wine is produced.
Le Voyage à Nantes
„The Event brings the eponymous sensitive and poetic urban trail to life. Artists, designers, gardeners, cooks, DJs and graffiti artists are invited to express their creativity in public spaces. With 50 amazing steps to link up the whole cultural package, the town goes a little bit further off-beat than normal.
Must see: the ephemeral or permanent installations, the works of art and exhibitions. Must experience: the places where it’s good to meet, coming together unexpectedly. Must try: the local produce grown in town centre vegetable gardens.”
More events on www.nantes-tourisme.com
How to get there
Direct flight from Copenhagen to Nantes departing twice a week with Transavia.
There is a shuttle bus travelling between the airport and the city center.
Pass Nantes – available for 24h, 48h or 72h, free use of public transport (and free admission to more than 30 sites as well as further offers).
More infos and where to get it: www.nantes-tourisme.com
Places to stay
- La Perouse (charming 4* hotel in the city centre, https://www.hotel-laperouse.fr/en)
- Radisson Blu (4* hotel in the former palace of justice, https://www.radissonblu.com/en/hotel-nantes)
- Hotel de France (4* hotel in the city centre, https://www.oceaniahotels.com/h/hotel-oceania-hotel-de-france-nantes/presentation)
- Micr‘ Home (Rue du Puits-D’Argent; to rent via nantes-tourisme.com)
- Nemo Houseboat via AirBnB (https://www.airbnb.fr/rooms/31896993)
- Chez Françoise B&B in Trentemoult (http://www.chez-francoise-trentemoult.fr/)
Things to bring home
Traditional Berlingots or Rigolettes sweets, LU Biscuits, butter caramels, Gâteaux Nantais, Muscadet sur lie wine, Guérande ‘fleur de sel’ salt