Nantes: castle & giant machines in the most creative city in France

O que fazer em Nantes: andar no Le Grand Élephant.
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2024-01-25

Looking for suggestions on the Best Things to Do in Nantes? Nantes is a French city located in the west of the country, in the Brittany region. With a population of approximately 300,000 inhabitants, it is the sixth largest city in France.

During the days I spent in Nantes, I discovered a vibrant city full of personality, with a rich cultural and historical heritage.

One of the city’s main features is its relationship with the Loire River, which runs through Nantes and shapes the urban landscape.

In addition, Nantes is known for its diverse architecture, ranging from historic buildings like the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany to modern works like the Heron Machine.

Another curiosity about Nantes is its strong gastronomic tradition, with typical dishes such as galette, a kind of buckwheat crepe, and the curious Nantes cake, made with almonds and orange.

It is known as the city of the green line because a continuous green line is painted on the city’s ground (literally, that’s how it is), connecting the main tourist attractions of Nantes.

Following the green line route ensures that you visit the most important places in Nantes; however, we discovered other places off the green line circuit.

We have included information about these places throughout the article, so stay tuned not to miss them.

Nantes is also a city known for its culture and art, with various museums and art galleries scattered throughout the city, as well as cultural events throughout the year.

Finally, Nantes is a city committed to the environment and sustainability, having been elected the European Green Capital in 2013. With an efficient public transportation system and outdoor leisure options, Nantes is a city that values the quality of life of its residents and visitors.

Best Things To Do in Nantes in 2024

Château des Ducs de Bretagne.
Best Things to Do in Nantes: Visit Château des Ducs de Bretagne (Castle of the Dukes of Brittany).

Following the Green Line (Best Things to Do in Nantes)

The Green Line is an interesting and, I would say, lazy way to explore the city of Nantes! In a simple way, the Green Line is a route of about 12 km that crosses the city and passes by its main tourist attractions.

To identify the Green Line trail, you just need to find a continuous green line painted on the ground in Nantes. Easy, isn’t it? Then just follow the line, and 12 km later, you will have reached the starting point.

The route starts at Place du Commerce in the city center and goes to Parc des Chantiers along the Loire River, but you can start wherever you want.

The Green Line also passes through lesser-known areas of the city, allowing you to explore quiet streets, local neighborhoods, and picturesque squares.

One of the highlights of the Green Line is the Machines of the Isle of Nantes, a giant mechanical creation that is a true work of art.

The machine is a must-see attraction on the Isle of Nantes, which also includes the Carousel of the Marine Worlds, a carousel with fantastic and colorful marine animals, and Les Anneaux de Buren, a modern art installation formed by steel rings.

Hunt for Treasure in Nantes

Centre-Ville de Nantes (França).
Centre-Ville (Nantes – France).

For a fun and interactive way to explore Nantes, consider embarking on a treasure hunt! This activity adds an exciting twist to your sightseeing adventure, allowing you to discover the city’s gems while solving clues and completing challenges.

So, have you ever imagined visiting the top 10 attractions in Nantes while solving puzzles and playing games on your phone?

Well, this is possible thanks to an app that costs €6. In addition to following a treasure map with challenges to complete, you will get to know interesting facts about the city… interesting, isn’t it?

See how this treasure hunt works and book online.

Walking along the Loire River and the Erdre River

Rio Erdre.
Best Things to Do in Nantes: see the Erdre River.

Dedicating a couple of hours by the riverside is always a good idea, and in Nantes, it couldn’t be different.

You have the Loire River, the Erdre River, and some canals to explore, offering various opportunities to observe river landscapes amidst the cityscape.

Wine Tasting at Château du Bois-Huaut

Château du Bois-Huaut is a historic estate located about 30 minutes from Nantes.

The Loire region is renowned for wine production, and at Château du Bois-Huaut, they still practice manual harvesting.

When visiting this historic estate, you can participate in a workshop with a tasting of 8 wines, and even take 2 bottles home. Don’t miss the opportunity to discover Château du Bois-Huaut during your trip to Nantes.

Purchase tickets for the wine tasting at Château du Bois-Huaut online.

Explore the region: tours and excursions from Nantes

Main Tourist Attractions along the Green Line

Get to know the main tourist attractions on the Green Line in Nantes.

Le Lieu Unique in Nantes

LU Lieu Unique.
Best Things to Do in Nantes: explore LU Lieu Unique.

The Le Lieu Unique in Nantes is a truly unique venue that deserves a visit. The building, which used to be a ‘LU’ biscuit factory, has been transformed into a modern multifunctional space that attracts both travelers and locals.

But this contemporary center for arts and music is much more than just an exhibition space. It is also a bar, restaurant, bookstore, and even a contemporary spa. With so many options available, visitors can enjoy the atmosphere in various ways.

So, the bar and restaurant at Le Lieu Unique are ideal places for a break during the day or a relaxed evening meal. The restaurant has extended hours, making it possible to dine in a laid-back setting.

On the other hand, for lovers of French literature, the bookstore at Le Lieu Unique is a treasure trove. You can find books and magazines, from novels to poetry, as well as cultural and art magazines.

If you need to relax, the contemporary spa at Le Lieu Unique is the perfect place to unwind. There are various treatments available, so you’re sure to leave feeling rejuvenated.

Le Lieu Unique has good access to public transportation, with bus lines C2 and C3. If you have a rental car, the main parking lots nearby are Duchesse Anne, Allée Baco, Parking de la Cité, and Le Centre des Congrès.

Jardin des Plantes de Nantes (The Garden of Plants)

O que visitar em Nantes: Le Jardin des Plantes.
Best Things To Visit in Nantes: Le Jardin des Plantes.

The Jardin des Plantes is one of Nantes’ green treasures. This public park is one of the oldest botanical gardens in France.

With an area of over seven hectares, the Jardin des Plantes is one of the city’s largest parks. It boasts an impressive collection of plants, including a wide variety of trees, shrubs, and flowers. The park is divided into several sections, each with its own unique attractions.

One of the main highlights of the Jardin des Plantes is the Botanical Garden, home to over 10,000 plant species from around the world. It’s a perfect place to learn about plants and their origins, as well as a peaceful environment for relaxation.

The Jardin des Plantes also features a large lake where you can feed ducks and geese or simply relax and enjoy the view. There’s also a playground for children, making the park a great spot for a family visit.

The Jardin des Plantes is open every day during the following hours:

Winter: 8:30 am – 5:30 pm

Spring – Fall: 8:30 am – 6:30 pm

Summer: 8:30 am – 8:00 pm

Admission is free.

Machines de L’Île de Nantes (Machines of the Isle of Nantes)

Máquinas da Ilha.
The Machines de L’Île de Nantes.

Machines of the Isle of Nantes is a space that combines artistic project, amusement park, and thematic exhibition inspired by the work of Jules Verne.

The machines currently in operation include the Elephant, the Carousel of Marine Monsters, the Gallery of Machines, and the Heron Tree, but the space is constantly evolving.

In other words, new machines are regularly added to the collection.

Each machine is a meticulously crafted work of art by skilled craftsmen and engineers. The attention to detail and the level of skill on display are truly remarkable!

Get to know in detail the main Machines of the Isle in Nantes.

Le Grand Élephant (The Grand Elephant)

The Grand Elephant is a wooden and metal robot standing at 12 meters in height, 8 meters in width, and weighing 48.4 tons.

It’s a bit bizarre to see such a large robotic contraption step out onto the street, with movements and sounds very similar to a real elephant.

Although the animal’s body is covered in wood, the eyes blink, the ears flap, and the head rises.

To complete the spectacle, the elephant releases water over the crowd observing its passage.

Le Carrousel des Mondes Marins (The Carrousel of Marine Worlds)

O que visitar em Nantes: o Carrossel dos Monstros Marinhos.
Best things to do and see in Nantes: Le Carrousel des Mondes Marins.

This carousel is special as it is filled with marine creatures inspired by the works of Jules Verne. The creatures are made of materials such as wood, metal, and leather, featuring impressive details like scales, fins, bright eyes, and sharp teeth.

The Carrousel of Marine Worlds is a tribute to the marine universe and all the fascinating beings that live in the depths of the sea, so be sure to include it on your list of things to see in Nantes, France.

La Galerie des Machines (The Gallery of Machines)

The Gallery of Machines is a space for experimentation and observation of machines. And what machines are these?

Imagine a giant spider nestled in a crater on the floor, an ant driven by four people, birds flying over the gallery space.

The best part is that the presentations are accompanied by monitors who explain how the machines work and build stories around these machines.

In addition, you can also observe a small tropical forest with robotic inhabitants.

Heron Tree

Le Heron Tree, authored by Pierre Orefice and François Delaroziere, is an imposing structure featuring several mechanical herons perched on its branches.

The animals move and flap their wings, creating an incredibly realistic and stunning sight.

Église Sainte-Croix de Nantes (Sainte-Croix Church of Nantes)

The Église Sainte-Croix, built in the 17th century in the classical style, underwent some changes in the 19th century, the most significant of which was the addition of a bell tower.

This church is often compared to the Cathédral Saint-Pierre et Saint Paul, also known as the Nantes Cathedral.

Although both are equally magnificent, it doesn’t seem fair to compare a cathedral to a church. So, if you have the opportunity, visit both monuments.

Those who see the exterior of the Église Sainte-Croix may be disappointed with the interior, as the ornate bell tower with multiple sculptures stands out on the outside.

It is also in the bell tower that the largest bell in Nantes is hidden, weighing over 800 kilograms.

However, the interior is of austere simplicity.

The focal point usually draws attention to the wall where the stained glass windows are displayed. The colorful glass indeed stands out in the somewhat monotonous ensemble.

A curiosity is that the illustrious author Jules Verne was baptized in this church.

The church’s hours from Monday to Saturday are from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm, and on Sunday from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm.

Please note that Mass is celebrated here, so avoid visits during that time.

Place Graslin (Graslin Square)

Place Graslin.
Place Graslin: Best Things to Do and see in Nantes, France.

The Place Graslin is a highly frequented spot, both by tourists and locals.

On hot days, the fountain in the center of the square helps cool down temperatures and provides entertainment for the younger ones.

During the Christmas season, a beautifully decorated tree becomes the perfect backdrop for family photos.

What makes this square unique and special is the presence of distinctive street lamps! Take a few minutes of your journey to appreciate them.

Please note that Place Graslin has both pedestrian and vehicular traffic, so be careful while observing the various boutiques and restaurants.

If you’re lucky, you might have the opportunity to catch a street performance, as they are quite common here.

Two notable establishments stand out in this square: the La Cigale Restaurant and the Graslin Theatre.

Théâtre Graslin

Théâtre Graslin.
Théâtre Graslin.

The Théâtre Graslin is a historic theater located in the heart of the city of Nantes, France.

Opened in 1788, the theater is considered a masterpiece of neoclassical architecture. It has a capacity of around 800 people and hosts a wide variety of performances throughout the year, including opera, ballet, and plays. The interior of the theater is adorned with a series of paintings and sculptures depicting Greek and Roman mythology.

Regarded as one of the most beautiful theaters in France, Théâtre Graslin is a popular destination for tourists and culture enthusiasts. In addition to theatrical productions, it serves as a venue for concerts and other cultural events, making it a focal point and popular spot for both tourists and locals.

In fact, it’s common to see various groups and individuals having lunch on the theater’s staircase.

Château des Ducs de Bretagne

Château des Ducs de Bretagne.
Best Things to Do in Nantes: visit the Château des Ducs de Bretagne.

The Château des Ducs de Bretagne is a historic castle located in the heart of the city of Nantes, France.

Dating back to the 15th century, the castle served as the residence of the Dukes of Brittany and played a crucial role as a defensive fortress for centuries.

Today, in addition to the castle, you can also visit the Museum of Nantes History on the same grounds. Access is through a drawbridge, allowing you to cross the former protective moat. Just beyond the bridge, you’ll find a courtyard connecting various buildings, including the one that houses the Museum of Nantes History.

To access the ramparts, you need to climb the stairs near the entrance of the Museum of Nantes History.

For a 360-degree view of Nantes, we recommend walking the entire length of the ramparts. It’s about five hundred meters where you can observe the city.

As night falls, the castle is illuminated with yellow-toned lights, giving the monument a ghostly appearance you won’t want to miss.

The ticket for the castle and Museum of Nantes History is €9, but the courtyard, rampart walk, and moat gardens are free to enter. Additionally, entry is free on the first Sunday of each month, except in July and August.

Musée D’Histoire de Nantes (The Museum of Nantes History)

Musée D'Histoire de Nantes
Musée D’Histoire de Nantes

The Museum of Nantes History is located next to the Château des Ducs de Bretagne, so when planning a visit to one monument, take advantage of the opportunity to explore the other!

The museum is organized into four main themes: The history of the Castle, the colonial question, World War I, and World War II. It provides an excellent way to learn about the history of Nantes through 1,150 objects displayed in different rooms.

There is also a cafe and a bookstore on the premises, ideal for a break, especially if you are traveling with children.

As mentioned earlier, the ticket for the Château des Ducs de Bretagne and the Museum of Nantes History is €9, but access to the courtyard, wall walk, and moat gardens is free. Additionally, admission is free on the first Sunday of each month, except in July and August.

Passage Pommeraye

O que fazer em Nantes: compras na Passage Pommeraye.
Best Thinhs To Do in Nantes: Shopping at Passage Pommeraye.

It is the perfect place if you want to visit boutiques of international brands and do some shopping. However, there are also small restaurants perfect for a quick break.

By the way, we suggest you take a close look at the marble statues adorning the galleries.

Place Royale

This square was destroyed during the bombings in 1944, but it still retains its characteristic fountain in the center

Église Saint Nicolas

From Place Royale, you can see a pointed building that is the Church of Saint Nicolas. Don’t miss the opportunity to enter this church!

Tour de Bretagne

This tower is both loved and hated by the locals, as some find it unattractive.

It is the tallest building in Nantes, and inside, you can visit ‘Le Nid,’ a bar that features a massive statue in the shape of a white bird.

Cathédrale St-Pierre et St-Paul (Cathedral of Nantes)

Catedral de Nantes.
Cathedral of Nantes

This Gothic-style cathedral is also known as the Cathedral of Nantes. When you enter, pay special attention to the stained glass windows!

Musée d’Arts de Nantes (Museum of Arts in Nantes)

For art enthusiasts, this museum is a must-visit. You can admire works of Ancient Art, from the 19th Century, as well as Modern and Contemporary Art.

Ticket price: €9

What to Visit in Nantes (Outside the Green Line)

Rio Loire.
Loire River.

As you may have noticed, Nantes’ Green Line passes through the main tourist attractions, making it very easy to find what to see in Nantes along this route. However, don’t limit yourself to just these tourist spots.

So, next, I suggest more places to visit in Nantes that are well worth including in your itinerary.

Île de Versailles (Japanese Garden)

Île de Versailles (jardim japonês).
Île de Versailles (Japanese Garden).

As I mentioned, Île de Versailles, or the Japanese Garden, is outside the green line in Nantes, but it is a very interesting place to visit. It is a tribute to Japanese culture and tradition, featuring typical elements of Japanese gardens such as lakes, bridges, waterfalls, rocks, and lanterns.

It is an artificial island covering 1.7 hectares, created in 1831, but it was only transformed into this beautiful Japanese garden in 1983.

Take a stroll through the Zen garden, appreciate the trees, observe the lakes, and cross the bridges leading to three Japanese-inspired buildings. It is truly a must-visit place in Nantes!

Free entry!

The Parc de Procé

The Parc de Procé is a public park located in the city of Nantes. This 12-hectare park was designed by Dominique Noisette in 1866 and has various natural and landscaped features that make it a charming place.

There are several recreational areas, including a playground and shaded benches scattered throughout the park.

One of the attractions of this area is the sculptures and fountains, but there is also a restaurant that operates in the building known as Manoir de Procé.

In short, it is the perfect place to spend some quality hours in contact with nature!

Free entry!

Main Neighborhoods, Where to Stay, and Hotels in Nantes

Novotel em Nantes.
Novotel in Nantes

Despite Nantes being the sixth-largest city in France, the monuments to visit and activities to do in Nantes are concentrated in the city center. In fact, we’ve already talked about the famous Green Line that connects the main tourist spots.

Therefore, I didn’t feel the need to look for accommodation according to the main neighborhoods of the city.

If you want to stay in the center of Nantes, the neighborhoods of Centre-Ville, Graslin, and Bouffay are the most suitable, although prices tend to be a bit higher.

In any case, it is still possible to find acceptable accommodation, such as the Ibis Styles Nantes Centre Place Graslin (3 stars), which has family rooms, a good breakfast, and reasonable prices.

If budget is not an issue, take a look at the Mercure Nantes Centre Passage Pommeraye (4 stars) or the Maisons du Monde Hotel & Suites (4 stars).

We chose the Novotel Nantes Centre Gare in the Madeleine-Champ de Mars neighborhood, close to the train station, and we liked it!

Despite being a bit away from the center, it is close to the Green Line route, and we found it to be very attractively priced.

If you don’t like any of these suggestions, you can choose your hotel in Nantes.

Accommodation in Nantes, France

Restaurants in Nantes

Restaurant La Cigale.
Restaurant La Cigale.

The La Cigale Restaurant is one of the most well-known in Nantes; in fact, the La Cigale building is classified as a historical monument. In a Belle Époque style and with staff dressed in rigor, reservations are mandatory.

Expect refined dishes and prices to match.

However, there are cafes that serve quick lunches at economical prices, providing an excellent opportunity to save money.

Additionally, you will find in the center of Nantes some fast-food restaurants and pizzerias that offer low-priced meals.

Is it worth buying the Nantes City Card?

O que fazer em Nantes: andar no Le Grand Élephant.
What to do in Nantes: ride Le Grand Élephant (included in the Nantes City Card).

The Nantes City Card is a tourist pass available for 24, 48, or 72 hours, meaning it can be used for 1, 2, or 3 days. This City Pass includes free public transportation and access to more than 50 museums and activities, as well as discounts at shops.

Some of the places you can visit for free with the Nantes City Card in Nantes and the surrounding areas include the Museum of Fine Arts of Nantes, Château des ducs de Bretagne, Le Carrousel des Mondes Marins, Machines of the Isle, Jules Verne Museum, National Museum of Natural History, and the Planetarium.

You can also take a cruise on the Erdre and Loire rivers, the Toue de Nantes (boat trip and tasting), and use the tourist bus in Nantes, among other activities.

There are many free or discounted activities included in the City Card, so the pass is a cost-effective option. The price of the pass is €26 for 24 hours. To determine if it’s worth it for you, simply compare the cost of the attractions you plan to visit, as well as transportation.

In general, if you plan to visit the Machines of the Isle, including the Elephant and the Carousel, purchasing the Nantes City Pass is already a worthwhile investment.

Purchase the Nantes City Card online.

Flights to Nantes, France

Aeroporto Nantes Atlantique (França).
Nantes Atlantique Airport.

Traveling to Nantes by air is convenient, with direct flights available from major European cities and key U.S. destinations.

Whether you’re departing from European hubs like London, Paris, or Amsterdam or major U.S. cities, you can find suitable flight options.

Airlines such as EasyJet, Air France, and others operate direct flights, ensuring a seamless journey to experience the charm of Nantes.

We traveled from Porto (Portugal) to Nantes with EasyJet, but Transavia also offers direct flights from Porto to Nantes.

Transportation in Nantes

Autocarro no Aeroporto de Nantes Atlantique.
Bus at Nantes Atlantique Airport.

The main public transportation options in Nantes are buses and trams. The single urban ticket costs €1.60 and can be used for both modes of transportation.

To travel from Nantes Atlantique Airport to the city center, take the “Navette Aeroport Nantes” bus, which costs €9, and the ticket is valid for the Nantes transportation network for one hour. This means if you need to take another mode of transportation within the one-hour period, you don’t need to purchase a new ticket. Expect a journey of about 20 minutes to the center of Nantes.

Purchase the ticket from airport machines or directly from the bus driver. If paying with a card, cash is not accepted when paying the driver.

In the city center, there are two stops, one near Lieu Unique and another in Centre-Ville.

Additionally, with Flixbus, you can travel from Nantes to other French cities like Paris (starting from €14.99) or Avranches, near Mont Saint-Michel (starting from €9.99).

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