Though officially separated from Brittany over 60 years ago, Nantes is culturally Breton and is still widely regarded as its capital city. The town is built around a lively port and has become known as the ‘Venice of the West’ due to its location on the river delta of the Loire, the Erdre, and the Sèvre. Once a somewhat humdrum industrial settlement, Nantes has undergone a wonderful revitalisation, and now proudly displays its rich architectural and cultural heritage whilst boasting outstanding cuisine and shopping options. Home to over 30,000 students, the city truly bounces with vibrancy.
The main tourist draw is the Château des Ducs de Bretagne, a palace-cum-fortress which dates back to the 13th century. This imposing structure is the enduring emblem of Nantes and currently houses the Nantes History Museum. The grounds of the castle, along with the ramparts, are free to visit but entrance to the museum collection will set you back €5.
For something a bit out of the ordinary, try the Gallery of the Machines de l’Ile (€7). This artistic project blends the invented worlds of Jules Verne with the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci and hosts a selection of incredible mechanised animals like the 12-metres tall Great Elephant, or the Carousel made of 27 moving sea creatures. If sightseeing makes you peckish then head for Brasserie La Cigale. This 1890s Art Nouveau restaurant features majestic salons with gilded tile work and vibrant frescoed ceilings. The Soupe oignon gratinee is a speciality.
Image used under Creative Commons from sylaf
Getting around Nantes couldn't be easier. Nearly all transport modes share a common ticketing system (approximately €1.50) within the Nantes Métropole and there are no travel zones to worry about. The modern tramway is the easiest way to get around and is a great way to see the city. Alternatively, you could get a Nantes Pass, which provides free access to 30 top attractions and public transport for one, two or three days. A three day pass will cost you €40.
To really enjoy Nantes on a budget, check out our guide of five free attractions.