Nantes Travel Guide (Loire Valley)

Loire Valley castles & museums Travel guide and tips – Nantes and its main attractions, the castle and Machine Island.

Nantes Castle Loire Valley tours from Paris

Nantes City evening, the Castle (Loire Valley sightseeing tour)

Located in the west of France, 2-3 hours by high-speed train or by a car, Nantes is the capital of the Loire-Atlantique department and the entire Pays de la Loire region. A major industrial center, known primarily for shipbuilding, Nantes is rightfully considered a city of “culture and history”. Located at the mouth of the Loire, only 50 kilometers from the outpost of Saint-Nazare (Saint-Nazaire), Nantes has occupied an important geographical and strategic position for many centuries. A fortress was built here, which exists to this day, bridges, roads, a medieval city, churches. The presence of a large island in the center of the city and sufficient depth of the river made it possible to engage in shipbuilding. The history of the city is connected with Brittany. The first settlements here arose either during or after the Stone Age. According to archaeological research, it is known that a port center was formed here, which became the capital of the Gallic tribe of Namnets.

Starting from the 5th century AD, here is the residence of the bishop and the capital of the Frankish county. Nantes becomes a fortified area in the fight against the Bretons, but in 851 AD the Breton ruler Nominoe (Nominoë) captures the city and the “Breton” history of the city begins. A large fortress with a ducal castle, a large cathedral and many architectural monuments are being built. The castle became the residence of the Breton dukes until the 15th century. Later, the Breton capital was moved to the Rhine, but Nantes still remained a major commercial and industrial city.

The Great French Revolution in the Battle of Nantes in 1793 made it the capital of the Vendée uprising. Since that time, there are still strong “communist” sentiments here and a “popular front” has been active, since after the industrialization of the city, many shipyard workers live here.

After the First World War, the city center underwent a major restructuring and even the path of the Loire through the city was changed, which can be clearly seen in the prints and photographs during a tour of the castle from special viewing platforms.

The Second World War brought some damage as a result of the bombing of the industrial strategic sites, but the old city and its main architectural landmarks remained intact. The fortress, cathedrals, old houses have been preserved.

By the end of the 20th century, Nantes began to experience deindustrialization, reclassifying into the service sector, culture, tourism and entertainment. For this purpose, France’s largest cultural and entertainment center “Machines of the Island of Nantes” was built on the island on the basis of the shipyard according to the drawings and ideas of the writer Jules Verne and designer Leonardo da Vinci. French national response to Hollywood Disneyland. Techno entertainment.

Nantes Travel Guide and the main attractions

Nantes is divided into several districts, each of which, in terms of tourism, has its main attractions. The route and sequence of visits are chosen by everyone, depending on interests and priorities. Therefore, below we present the main areas of Nantes and local attractions that are worth seeing with a guide or on your own.

Quarter “Station” (Gare). Here is the railway station, the water channel Saint-Felix, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Garden with plants (Jardin des Plantes) and the unique old place of the cake factory (“Le Lieu Unique”).

Bouffay area. This is the fortress “Castle of the Duke of Brittany” with museums located in it, beautiful old buildings, symbols of the city, the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul (“Cathedrale Saint-Pierre et Paul”), numerous shops, cafes, restaurants, expensive hotels. There is even a Galeries Lafayette. Old town and tourist center. Favorite vacation spot for residents and guests.

Nantes Castle Loire Valley tours from Paris

Nantes Castle (Loire Valley tour), City sightseeing

Castle of Nantes (Dukes of Brittany) virtual tour

Château des Ducs de Bretagne, also called the Castle of Anne of Brittany, is located in the very center of Nantes and is the main medieval fortification of the city. It is better to start any sightseeing tour of Nantes with the Castle and its observation deck. The walls of this fortress offer a magnificent panoramic view of the city, and a map of attractions with descriptions helps to better understand the structure of Nantes. The local history museum, located in the Castle of Anne of Brittany, will help you better understand the history of Nantes from the Middle Ages to the present.

Military history buffs. Here are monuments to King Louis XVI and the heroes of the First World War, the Walk of Fame and memorials. During the Second World War, the Gestapo was located here on Marshal Foch Square. There are memorial plaques installed here to the victims of the Second World War, who died on the battlefields and were deported to Nazi concentration camps. In a special place there is a monument to the soldiers of the French army who died in local wars and conflicts in northern Africa and other places. During the Cold War, the USSR specifically helped with weapons and instructors to everyone who fought for independence from France. As a result, France lost many former colonies and overseas territories, and also lost many soldiers.

Quarter Graslin. Behind the tram line, Graslin is a smooth extension of the historic center of the city, along the former arm of the Loire. In addition to beautiful old buildings, there is the Graslin Opera, the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Printing and the Church of Our Lady de-bon-port. A popular place for tourists is “Passage Pommeraye” and many boutiques.

Feydeau Quarter. A former island in the heart of Nantes overlooking the Loire, contains ancient buildings, parks, a swimming pool and shops. This is a whole area with 18th century architecture. Most of the buildings belonged to ship owners. The houses are very beautiful, with carved masks and wrought iron balconies.
Tourist and entertainment techno-center “Ponton Belem”. From this place, the former bed of the Loire, you can turn left, cross the Pont Anne of Brittany and get to the famous “Isle of Nantes” – the techno park of entertainment, “Machines”. You can continue along the waterfront and visit the museums and other places of interest in the Graslyn and Chantenay areas. Here the embankment has an interesting shape in the form of a long pontoon and serves as a place for festivities for local residents and guests of the city. Pleasure excursion boats also leave from here. Periodically, festivals and holidays are held at Ponton Belem, old and ancient ships, including medieval ones under sail, moor here. At the moment, the photo shows a historic vessel, typical of the First World War, judging by the paddle wheel in the center of the ship. On the left is the floating restaurant “O Deck” near the Amusement Park of the Isle of Nantes.

Island of Nantes. The former area of the shipyard, the piers and the industrial zone, turned into a huge techno-amusement and recreation park, through the streets of which the giant Big Elephant (“Grand Éléphant”) from the stories of Jules Verne walks. The Machines of the Isle of Nantes is now the main competitor of the Disneyland amusement park near Paris.

Nantes Castle Loire Valley tours from Paris

Jules Vern mechanical Elephant walking through the city Nantes

  • Machine Park travel Guide
Nantes Castle Loire Valley tours from Paris

Giant Spider crawled out of a hole (Machines Island Park)

Talensac quarter. Going north from the city center you find yourself in a beautiful quarter with Art Nouveau elements. A large tower-skyscraper “Tour Bretagne” surrounded by old houses. The northeastern end of this place passes into the Erdre, a tributary of the Loire and into the water channel, from where river excursions in the surroundings begin. Further along the river Erdre is the wonderful “Ile de Versailles” with a Japanese garden. On the island you can rent a boat and take a boat trip along the Versailles embankment.

Chantenay area. Far from the center of Nantes, best accessed by taxi or guided car if Nantes is included in the Loire Valley Tours. This elevated position offers a magnificent panoramic view of the city and the island of Nantes. On the hill is the Jules Verne Museum, and on the embankment near the port is the Naval Museum and the real warship of the French Navy Maille Breze. Behind the seaport, from where sea excursions begin, a long gallery of local vegetation, various types of plants, has been built. A great place for scouts and young naturalists.

Museum of Jules Verne, the famous French novelist, poet, and playwright

On the western outskirts of Nantes, in the Chantenay district, on the banks of the Loire River there is the House-Museum of the great science fiction writer Jules Verne. Jules Verne was born on February 8, 1828 on Île Feydeau in the house of his grandmother into the noble de La Fuÿe family, famous ship-builders and ship-owners in Nantes. The entire life and creative activity of the writer was directly connected with this city. Childhood, studies before leaving for Paris, first stories and dreams of travel are associated with Nantes. Moving and studying in Paris, meeting Alexandre Dumas and working at the National Library, literary circle and theater, publications in a magazine and moving to Amiens. Real travel and world fame, receiving the Order of the Legion of Honor and returning to Nantes again. Huge monetary fees allowed the writer to build a large metal sailing-steam yacht “Saint-Michel III” with a mooring in Nantes and make long sea voyages. You will learn this whole story by visiting his House-Museum, where his personal belongings, documents, and family archives are preserved. Step by step you will learn how the Big Mechanical Elephant and the fantastic inhabitants of the seabed appeared. The scale models of his mechanical monsters will pleasantly surprise you. This Museum is a great addition to a visit to the Isle of the Machines in Nantes!

Nantes and WW1- WW2 – Cold War battlefields tour

Geographically, Nantes is located between the main military museums of France in the Loire Valley and on the Atlantic coast. Saumur is home to a tank museum, the largest collection of armored vehicles from the First World War, as well as a cavalry museum. Map of the Loire Valley, Saumur, Angers and Nantes in a new window. The Atlantic coast is home to WWII bunkers and German submarine bases. For a long time, Nantes was the main shipyard in France, about which there is a special museum on the Island of Machines. Not far from the island, near the Jules Verne Museum, there is a warship, also turned into a museum available to visitors.

Maille-Brézé warship and French Navy Museum.
Not far from the Jules Verne Museum, on the Loire embankment, there is a French T-47 class destroyer (escorteur d’escadre), available to visitors on a specific schedule. Launched in 1957, the ship already in 1962 took part in the landing operation of the French special forces in Algeria. Until the end of her combat service in 1988, the ship participated in various local wars and conflicts, defending the interests of France and the democratic world. At the end of her service, the ship anchored in Nantes and operates as a museum.
Interesting facts: one famous American film maker suggested using the ship in the battle scenes about Dunkirk, since the Maille-Brézé is a twin of the British destroyers of the Second World War. The idea is wonderful and will someday be realized, but for now the ship successfully serves as a maritime museum, including as a teaching aid on the period of the Second World War.

Outskirts of Nantes. Trentemoult: the small fishing villages. You can get there by river taxi along the Loire River from the maritime station or by car.

Evening Nantes. In the evening, Nantes becomes even more beautiful with colorful advertising lights and lights. Near the castle of the Dukes of Brittany there is a square with fountains – a favorite place for evening walks of tourists and local youth. Water, lights, trees and many restaurants with national French cuisine and Loire wines..

Rue des Carmes: it is this narrow street in the old district of Nantes that becomes the main place for evening gatherings in cafes and restaurants. Karma Street is the center of the city’s nightlife. The combination of antiquity and interior in a modern style. French cuisine, Mediterranean cuisine and seafood restaurants. Drinks and bistros. Stylish design. Asian restaurants and Italian pizza, food for every taste. French wines in a large assortment, local beer, branded cocktails. And lots and lots of music. Illumination and illumination.

2 days self-guided tour to Nantes personal experience and reviews

I wanted to visit Nantes for a long time, but there was no such opportunity for various reasons. In mid-May, the weather in Nantes is good, sunny and not very hot. Great time to visit the Machine Park on the Island according to the fantasies of Jules Verne. After watching another video of a walking mechanical Elephant with my friends, I decided to visit Nantes on my next business trip to the Loire Valley. As a member of the Society of Friends of the Tank Museum in Saumur, each visit I carried 20-25 kilograms of heavy luggage with gifts, which limited the possibilities of travel. After handing over the next batch of artifacts for the museum and seeing the changes in the exhibition, I stopped at a local hotel at the Saumur train station to go to Nantes the next morning. Going to Nantes for one day is a bad idea and irrational decision, since the city has many interesting attractions. After reading reviews and recommendations, looking at the location of objects on the map, on my first visit I decided to visit Nantes for two days with an overnight stay. The desire was to book an inexpensive hotel in the historical center of the city near Rue des Carmes in order to feel like a local resident. Luck was on my side and I found inexpensive apartments in the very heart of the city. I contacted the manager, booked one night and agreed on a meeting time. The day after visiting the tank museum in Saumur, I took the morning train to Nantes along the Loire Valley. This special train brought me to Nantes by lunchtime and I began my journey. At the RR station I picked up a guidebook and a map of the city with recommended walking routes in English and French. In the area of the railway station there are new modern houses, construction is underway and there is nothing to see. After 10 minutes on foot, I approached the Castle of the Dukes of Breton from the station side. After walking a few hundred meters along the wall with a moat, I went inside the castle, leaving the external trip from the Loire side for the evening. The history of the castle is very interesting, but it needs to be studied in the local history museum for at least a couple of hours. For this reason, I decided to start my acquaintance with the castle by a classic sightseeing tour on its walls. At the entrance, I once again studied the castle map and outlined my route. All descriptions on the maps are in French, but there is a small short text in English too. In the courtyard I saw the palace of Anne of Brittany, a museum and various buildings. The castle was rebuilt several times, destroyed and restored. Local archaeologists are doing a lot of research to create the appearance of the castle for different eras. As a military fortification, the castle was probably also bombed by the Germans or Allies during the Second World War. Postponing my visit to the museum until the next day, I immediately climbed the walls of this medieval fortress. The sun was shining, there were few tourists and I took a whole series of photographs of various parts of the castle to study in more detail later. The castle is constantly being renovated, but historians have left some places in their original condition. In these sections you can see the original structure of the walls, as well as methods of restoration in different years using brick and granite. There was no time to examine each such archaeological layer, so I took photographs and went along the classic route. From the walls of the castle there are magnificent views of the towers, the palace and different parts of the city. At various viewing platforms on the wall there are panoramic drawings and descriptions of objects. Thanks to this, it is better to start a sightseeing tour of the city with a visit to the observation decks of this castle. The most interesting thing in the description relates to the Unique Place (LU) and the change in the course of the Loire River. I visited all these places the next day on the way to Machine Island. Inside some of the towers there are also descriptions and the structure of the building is visible, much to the delight of fans of military fortification. Having walked almost the entire fortress along the walls, I went down into the courtyard and went to the exit. Such a quick initial overview of the fortress and castle took almost two hours. The exit, drawbridge and ditch are also interesting features where I spent some time getting to know each other briefly. After leaving the castle, I walked another few hundred meters along the western wall of the fortress and the moat. I noticed that local residents, especially young people, really love this place, lying and resting right on the grass under the walls. I post photos of parts of the castle in the gallery below for fans of fortifications. There will be a continuation and description later.

Castle of Anne of Brittany in Nantes,Chateau map, Loire Valley

Castle of Anne of Brittany in Nantes, Chateau map

Then my walk continued to the city center, to its squares and historical monuments.

Practical tourist information. How to get there, the best hotels.
Most tourists arrive here by high-speed train or by car. The city has excellent comfortable expensive hotels, as well as excellent apartments for lovers of antiquity.

* The idea of ​​launching projectiles along a ballistic trajectory is not promising, but not stupid. After the release of the film about the flight to the Moon, based on the novel by Jules Verne, the idea of ​​space trip in projectiles was considered very real. During World War II, the Third Reich made the V-3 long-range guns for firing in England on the principle of including an additional powder charge in each chamber of the barrel. To find out more, see our WW2 battlefield tours in Calais and Weapons of Vengeance of the Third Reich. Experimental rocket engines from Germany, as well as Soviet, American and French spacecraft, can be viewed at the Air and Space Museum in Le Bourget near Paris.