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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. 

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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.

Five for free

  • The Bouffay Quarter

    The Bouffay is the historic city centre of Nantes, retaining visible traces of its 15th century history. Down its narrow lanes you can still see the characteristic half-timbered houses of the Middle Ages, including the famous Apothecary’s House. Now mostly pedestrianised, the Bouffay is packed with restaurants, bars and shops making it the perfect place to wine and dine, go shopping or simply soak up the lively atmosphere. On the weekends, it is also a hub for nightlife activity.

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  • The Place Royale

    Located in the heart of Nantes, the Place Royale is a historic square notable for its classical architecture and its impressive marble fountain depicting Neptune. The Place Royale is bordered by a selection of enticing cafés which provide an ideal vantage point to people watch. At night, the square is beautifully illuminated.

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  • Cathédrale St-Pierre-et-St-Paul

    The Cathédrale St-Pierre-et-St-Paul is a dramatic late-Gothic cathedral which took a whopping 457 years to complete. The Cathedral is not only beautiful but impressive in stature, with sizeable stained glass windows, monumental naves, and gigantic pipe organs. The crypts below, which are accessible to the public, house many tombs including that of King François II.

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  • La Tour LU and Lieu Unique

    Formally a biscuit factory, the LU Tower and the surrounding Lieu Unique is presently Nantes’ foremost cultural centre. The “gyrorama” (or viewing platform) at the top of the pink, picturesque tower offers the best views of the city (almost free at €2) and the Lieu Unique (Unique Place) hosts a variety of art exhibitions, restaurants, bars, cafes, and fashionable shops.

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  • Passage Pommeraye

    Passage Pommeraye is a stunning 19th century arcade/galleria named after its creator, Louis Pommeraye. Built in 1843 and still unchanged, it bares all the hallmarks of Parisian arcades of the era such as elaborate decors and renaissance-esque sculptures. Its three floors are flanked by a variety of shops and boutiques, all of which can be accessed by a monumental decorative staircase.

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