Welcome to our complete Nantes travel guide. Nantes (pronounced “nant”) is a small but intriguing French city southwest of Paris. It’s very easy and cheap to get to from the UK and northern Europe and offers an authentic experience of French city life outside of the capital. The highlights of any visit here are the food, quaint cafes, historic architecture (including a beautiful castle) and the unique ‘Les Machines des I’ile’, a quirky museum with mechanical, interactive machines.
Browse our Nantes travel guide below to find out the best things to do in Nantes.
When to visit Nantes
Nantes is a year-round city. Visit in the summer for warm temperatures and plenty of outdoor activities or return in the colder months for Christmas markets and plenty of gift shopping opportunities. Temperature high’s in July and August are 25 degrees, whilst the cold months of December to February are a fairly OK 10 degrees Celsius. Visit during both periods to see the city in a different light.
Arriving by plane
Nantes Atlantique Airport is a small but modern airport and the best thing about it is its close location to the city centre. You can catch a cab or shuttle bus to the city centre or you can rent a car and make your own way to your hotel.
Taxi – A row of white ‘official’ taxis are located just outside the main terminal. Share a cab with another traveller/s to save money if you can!
Price: Around €35
Journey to the city centre: 20 min
Bus – The Navette Airport Shuttle (also known as Tan Air shuttle) is located just outside the terminal, operating every 20 minutes direct to the city centre. The bus will stop at the train station, Le Lieu Unique area and heart of the city centre. Find out the latest shuttle bus information here.
Price: €9 one-way trip and
Journey to the city centre: 30 min
Car rental – Sixt is our recommended rental operator at Nantes Airport. They’re located in the main terminal building, are reasonably priced and have the best reviews between the rental companies.
Price: around €70 for 3 days (Economy car)
Journey to the city centre: 20 min
Arriving by train
Gare de Nantes train station is located just east of the city centre, within a 10-minute walk of the main attractions. The station connects direct to Paris and many of the smaller towns and cities in the north-west region.
Nantes travel guide to getting around
If you’re staying in the city centre, almost everything is within walking distance and you’ll rarely need to catch public transport. If you do however, the city operates a very convenient tram network, which will get you around within a matter of minutes.
Buses and trams
The public transport network in Nantes is called TAN. It includes three tram networks and various bus routes covering the entire city and the main transport HUB is next to Gare Centrale Station. We recommend using the Google Maps mobile app to find directions to a destination on public transport. It’ll save you the hassle of trying to read French schedules and is highly accurate.
Bus/tram tickets cost €1.60 for a one-way journey or you can buy 10 journeys for only €14.90. Tickets can be purchased at tram-stop ticket machines or on buses. You can also use the TAN smartphone app. Find out more information about Nantes public transport on the TAN website here.
If you’re feeling fit, take advantage of the Nantes Bicloo bike rental stations. This is one of our top Nantes travel guide recommendations! There are over 100 located throughout the city and you can pick up and park your bike whilst you visit the attractions. A membership will cost you between 1 – 5 euros for up to seven days and the first half hour of your journey is free.
Nantes City Pass
The Nantes City Pass is a 1, 2 or 3-day pass that gives you free admission to the top attractions in the city, including the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany, Machines de l’ile and a variety of museums, tours and boat excursions. Complimentary public transport is also included in the price (starting from 17 euros per day). It’s well worth if you plan on doing a lot of sightseeing!
Uber is also a convenient option for those that don’t mind paying a little extra.
Top things to do in Nantes
1. Les Machines de L’ile
No doubt the must-see attraction for any trip to Nantes, Les Machine de L’ile (Isle of the Machines) is a cool, interactive museum based on project created by two French artists. The complex is a selection of indoor and outdoor attractions where visitors can see large robotic animals in motion, take a ride on a giant elephant or spin around on a three-story carousel. There are also a number of themed restaurants and art installations.
This attraction is both unique and entertaining for visitors of all ages. Bring your camera and spend a good 3 hours here!
2. Jardins des Plantes
Not to be confused with the Jardins des Plantes in Paris, this just as beautiful 18th century botanical garden is a free to enter attraction right next to the train station. Spend a couple of hours wandering the beautiful grounds looking at the flowers and plants or stopping by the lake for a picnic lunch. It’s one of the top-rated places to visit in the city.
3. Passage Pommeraye
Neoclassical in design, this small French shopping mall is in the main shopping area of Nantes. Even if you’re not in town to shop, this narrow passage is an attraction regardless and you’ll capture some excellent photos. It looks particularly enchanting at Christmas-time or on an evening. The shops here are quirky and sell a variety of products, however they’re more expensive than nearby stores on the high-street.
4. Cathedrale de Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul
Whilst you walk through the compact city centre, make sure you visit The Cathedral of Saint-Pierre and Saint-Paul. A visually impressive white church from the outside, the inside is elegantly decorative and home to a labyrinth of underground catacombs. It has educational exhibitions about the history of the cathedral and entry is free.
5. Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne
This stunning 18th century castle is the cultural heart of Nantes City Centre. Once home to the Dukes of Brittany, this fairy tale castle has since been restored multiple times and is now host to a museum. Spend your time here walking around the outer walls and taking pictures of the stunning architecture, before entering the museum interior.
6. Le Miroir d’Eau (Water Mirror)
Right in front of Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne is a large ‘water mirror’, a thin layer of water on the surface of a man-made pavement. The unique design of the water feature reflects the chateau in the background, creating an impressive mirror image. Capture some cool shots with your camera!
7. The intriguing streets and buildings
Nantes is an attraction in itself. Wandering the compact city centre and Loire river banks and bridges is a great way to experience what the city is all about. The buildings are a mix of unusually slanted and colourful architecture, some of which were built by slaves in the 17th century, and impressive modern-art centrepieces. Learn about the top buildings and areas to check out on The Culture Trip here. The unusual slant/jagged design of the buildings is very interesting, and no-one seems to know why they were built like this.
8. Musee d’histoire naturelle de Nantes (Natural History Museum)
The Natural History Museum of Nantes is a small but intriguing place to browse for a few hours. It covers natural history of our planet very well, exploring everything from fossils, to pre-historic animals and live reptile and ant colonies. The museum is both interactive and has plenty of exhibits and videos, ideal for a rainy day or a must-see for natural history lovers.
9. Nantes Waterfront – Belem Ship
The winding River Loire runs directly through Nantes and several bridges connect the city to the standalone I’le de Nantes. The river banks are an eclectic collection of historic and modern buildings and there are plenty of bars and restaurants to enjoy the view. Located on the south bank of the Loire when in port, the elegant 3-mast ship ‘Belem’, is not to be missed. Board this historic ship for a tour or take pictures from the riverside as you enjoy a glass of wine.
Another ship located on the river bank is Le Maille-Breze, an old navy battle ship that offers guided tours.
10. Jardin Japonais
Located a short bike or taxi ride to the north of the city, Jardin Japonais is a botanical garden with a beautiful collection of Japanese plants, trees and architecture that will leave you feeling relaxed in nature. Escape the bustle of the city and enjoy a picnic lunch in ambience in this hidden gem of a park.
11. Le Lieu Unique
Le Lieu Unique is the national centre for contemporary arts and music in Nantes and its located in an old biscuit factory near the train station. The venue is an eclectic mix of arts and performance and there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to catch a show during your visit. View the venue programme here and see something ‘unique’ during your stay.
12. Room escape games
Room Escape games have popped up in cities all over the globe and the offering in Nantes is particularly excellent. If you fancy a challenge, an escape rooms are a fun afternoon or evening out in the city. Complete the activity with friends or your partner and try to escape in time. There are many options with different themes, but La Ligue des Gentlemen and John Doe Escape Game are our favourites. Plus, they’re both centrally located so you can walk there from your hotel. **insert links**
2-day Nantes itinerary example
Morning – Enjoy a continental breakfast and coffee in a traditional corner café. We recommend Creperie Saint-Pierre. Start your day with a sightseeing tour of the main sites – Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne, the Water Mirror and Cathedrale de Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul. They’re all within walking distance of each other.
Afternoon – Head further into the city to see the liveliness of the main square. On a weekend you’ll often find live music and performances and a buzzing atmosphere. Browse the small bakeries, gift shops and impressive Passage Pomeraye arcade.
Stop by the Natural History museum and spend a couple of hours browsing the pre-historic exhibitions and ant farm.
Evening – Go out for a nice dinner by the river bank (see our restaurant recommendations below) and enjoy the vibrant nightlife on offer; whether you want a relaxing wine bar or bustling pub atmosphere.
Morning – Head straight to the central island that divides the river (Ile des Nantes) to see one of the highlight attractions of the city – Les Machines des L’ile. Spend your time exploring the intriguing and interactive machines, take the guided tour of the museum and board the giant elephant for a ride across the park.
Les Machines des L’ile is located on the River Loire waterfront, right next to the impressive Belem ship and some excellent panoramic views of the city centre. Go for a stroll along the river and stop by O Deck restaurant for a lunch with a view.
Afternoon – Cross the bridge to the city centre and grab a spot of lunch (be sure to eat before 2pm as restaurants close early and re-open for dinner). Go for a stroll around Jardins des Plantes botanical garden to rest your legs after a long morning of sightseeing. It’s a peaceful environment to spend a few hours before refreshing at your hotel.
Evening – Check out the events schedule at Le Lieu Unique, Nantes’ cultural hub for performances, arts and music.
If you’re staying in Nantes for longer than two full days, there are plenty of museums, parks and architectural masterpieces to visit in this historic city.
Eating out in Nantes
Eating out in Nantes can be both expensive, with many fine dining experiences, or reasonably priced and simple in a quirky cafe or restaurant. Our restaurant recommendations include a selection of each!
Our recommended restaurants:
L’Atlantide 1874 – If your top priority in Nantes is trying some exquisite French food, L’Atlantide 1874 will satisfy your taste buds like no other. This fine dining restaurant has beautifully presented courses that will keep your taste buds on edge from starter to dessert and everything in between. The atmosphere is ambient and it makes an excellent special occasion dinner.
La Civelle – Located just south of the river in the small former fishing village of Trentemoult, La Civelle is a classy but quirky restaurant with an excellent view of the Loire river as it splits into two. Stop here for a thrilling outdoor lunch on the river or arrive on an evening for fine French food and an excellent selection of wines and cocktails – the atmosphere is excellent. We recommend ordering the Cote de Boeuf (rib steak) to share. The restaurant is a 12 minute drive from the city centre or 13 minutes via bus (number 1 or 3).
180G Pizza – A short walk across Haudaudine Bridge to the south of the city centre, 180G pizza is a small but suave pizza place with very reasonable prices. The stone baked pizzas are excellent with a beer and there are plenty to choose from. Stop here for an early dinner after visiting Les Machines des L’ile.
O Deck Restaurant – O Deck is a little on the pricier side but it tastes good and the views and location of this eatery are amazing. This ‘floating restaurant’ dining experience takes place on a boat on the south bank of the River Loire, right next to the Les Machines des l’ile carousel. We’d recommend stopping here for the lunchtime special whilst visiting the attraction. Don’t forget to order the mango cheesecake! O Deck’s top floor is also a bar so feel free to come here for sunset drinks.
Creperie Saint-Pierre – Creperie Saint-Pierre is one of the top-rated places to eat in Nantes. Order a sweet or savoury crepe (or both!) from a diverse menu of options and grab a table outside to watch the world fly by. This is our favourite breakfast spot in Nantes, although you can enjoy lunch or dinner here too.
Suppli Factory – Have you ever heard of a Suppli? We hadn’t either until we started exploring the food of Nantes. This central café offers a selection of magical balls of yumminess – rice and a filling of your choice, wrapped into a compact ball and then fried. They’re cheap, tasty and different, excellent for a quick lunch or snack on-the-go.
Thaigan – Located a 5-minute walk north-east of the city centre, this tasty Thai restaurant offers cheap but flavoursome Thai street food dishes. Dining here is authentic and friendly.
Top foods to try in Nantes:
Gâteau nantais – A sweet treat that dates back to the 18th century, this buttery cake is flavoured with almonds and rum. It’s rich but surprisingly light.
Beurre blanc sauce dishes – Order fish or chicken marinated in the locals’ famous sauce – Beurre blanc. It’s a tangy but delicious concoction of shallots, black pepper and a regional wine called Muscadet.
Entrecôte – Entrecôte is a world-famous cut of beef from the rib area of the cow. This French classic is often served with fries and there are entire restaurants dedicated to this single meal, paired with red wine (there’s no menu!). It’s delicious!
Muscadet – A crisp white-wine created from the Melon de Bourgogne grape in the Loire region of France. This refreshing wine is can be found in most bars and restaurants and it’s used often in cooking.
For a small city, the nightlife in Nantes is vibrant, lively and there are plenty of places to go. Weekends consist of locals and visitors enjoying a nice meal in one of the central restaurants and then standing outside for drinks. All bars are within walking distance of each other and there’s a very social vibe in the air.
Rather than the rave/nightclub scene you’d find in Paris and other European cities, Nantes nightlife has low-key wine bars, plenty of social pubs and a mix of student and quirky bars. The busiest places for an evening out are by the colourful arches of the Loire riverbank or around Place de La République.
Here is a selection of some of our favourite pubs and bars:
Gigi’s Irish Pub – a lively pub serving up pints and hearty food, located right next to the cathedral. It also has an outdoor terrace where you can enjoy the sunshine and embrace the jovial atmosphere.
920: La Cave à Manger – If French wine tickles your taste buds, this bar is sure to excite you. Set in a sophisticated venue in the centre of Nantes, you can try a selection of wines from across the country. The vibe is relaxed and smart.
Le Hangar à Bananes – Banana Hangar/Shed in English, this converted warehouse is now home to a variety of vibrant bars, restaurants and disco events. It’s located outside of the city centre on the Ile de Nantes and can be reached via the city tram/bus network with ease. Stop here for a fun drinking atmosphere in a cool setting.
Bootlegger – a dimly lit bar tucked back from a central alleyway, Bootlegger has an excellent selection of cocktails and beers. It serves a small selection of tapas, perfect for snacking with your drink.
Where to stay in Nantes
As Nantes is such a compact city, you can reach all of the attractions on foot. Hotels and hostels are pretty cheap so you should aim to stay somewhere central. The only downside to accommodation here is the seemingly lack of complimentary breakfast in most hotels. It’ll cost you between 10 and 15 euros. Here are our top recommendations for every budget, all located well for exploring Nantes on foot.
Radisson Blue Nantes – No doubt the most luxurious hotel in Nantes and one of the top-rated hotels, the Raddisson Blu is the top choice for those that want the best on offer. Prices are often sub 100 euros per night.
Hotel Sozo – A modern hotel with a twist. This four-star boutique accommodation is within a 19th-century chapel, creating a unique design that you’ll love! It’s both luxurious and beautiful to look at.
Mid-range / Budget friendly
Seven Urban Suites – A four-star hotel within a 12-minute walk of the city centre, just across the bridge to the south. The rooms are modern and spacious and spa facilities are available. Provides good value for the price. If you plan on using the spa facilities, check opening times beforehand as advance booking is needed and the times can be restrictive.
Mercure Nantes Centre Grand Hotel – Another grand four-star hotel in the centre of town is the Mercure. It’s very reasonably priced for the quality of the hotel and facilities include a bar, fitness centre and workspaces.
Hotel Nantes Centre Passage Pommeraye – Situated right in the heart of the Passage Pommeraye shopping area, this basic but well-maintained hotel is in one of the best locations for exploring the city. It’s good value and has a nice breakfast.
Unusually, you won’t find many or any hostels in Nantes city centre! As it is so cheap, we’d recommend booking a budget hotel or rent an apartment/room on Airbnb.
Nantes Airbnb rentals
An alternative option that we highly recommend is renting an apartment on Airbnb. There are plenty of central options available and you often get much more space than a hotel room, perfect if you plan on staying for longer than a few days and want to cook some meals yourself.
Here are some of our favourite Airbnb options for the city.
Nantes visitors’ tips
- Our top Nantes travel guide tip is to rent a bike from one of the many docking stations and explore the city on two wheels. It costs 1 – 5 euros for a 1 – 7-day subscription and every half hour of riding is free so aim to make short trips before docking your bike. Visit the Bicloo website here for more information.
- Accommodation in Nantes is very budget friendly; however, many hotels charge for breakfast. Choose a hotel with complimentary breakfast and fill yourself up for a busy day of sightseeing. It can also be cheaper to head out to a local café and you get to experience a new breakfast location every morning.
- Instead of a hotel, rent a private apartment on AirBnB and cook your own meals a few times during your stay. Carrefour and LIDL supermarkets can be found throughout the city.
- Many of the attractions here are free or cheap and everything is within walking distance. Skip public transport and taxis and navigate Nantes on foot with Google Maps.
- Eating out prices can vary wildly. Research ‘cheap eats’ restaurants on Tripadvisor or see the menu prices before arrival to find an eatery within your budget. We’ve also included some of our own recommendations above.
- Learn some basic French phrases and you’ll be able to navigate your way around Nantes with ease. Plus, the locals will appreciate you going to the effort!
We hope you enjoyed reading our complete Nantes travel guide. If there’s anything we’ve missed that you’d like to know about or you have your own suggestions, let us know! It’s a small but welcoming French city that we love coming back to and provides a reasonably priced alternative to Paris.