Nestled at the confluence of the Loire and Erdre rivers, Nantes is a surprising city in the Loire-Atlantique department, elegantly oscillating between past and modernity.
Start your visit with the old town, a nice place to stroll around where you can discover many historic buildings. The Gothic Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul has a beautiful tuffeau interior and is lit by a huge 25-metre-tall stained glass window, dedicated to the Breton saints. It is here, in the right arm of the transept, that the tomb of Francis II is located.
As you continue your walk, you can admire various 18th and 19th-century buildings and half-timbered houses in the old Le Bouffay district. Feel like doing a little shopping or satisfying your appetite? Visit the Passage Pommeraye, a superb 19th-century covered mall. You will find shops and restaurants on its three floors. Notice the beautiful wooden and metal staircase, glass roof and fluted columns!
The 15th-century Castle of the Dukes of Brittany stands at the heart of the old town, which earned Nantes the moniker of City of Dukes. It was once a fortress, as evidenced by the moat and towers with Breton machicolations. The tower of the Golden Crown, the well with wrought iron armatures featuring the ducal crown, and the large dwelling designed for Francis II and adorned with Gothic dormers are among the castle's must-see sights. In addition, the castle houses the Nantes History Museum, which offers an unusual way to discover the city. You follow a trail divided into seven sequences, from Francis I to the present day, as well as industrial Nantes and its current revival.
Make a detour via the Quai de la Fosse to admire some 18th-century residences and go as far as number 86: now outbuildings for the Durbé mansion, they were once used as a warehouse by the French East India Company.
Nantes has many green spaces such as the Japanese garden and its waterfalls, located on the Ile de Versailles. With a rich collection of cacti and flora from Brittany but also North America, Asia and Africa, the Botanical Garden (Jardin des Plantes), adorned with water features, is another pleasant place to relax and enjoy the peace and quiet.
Into art and history? Head to the Fine Arts Museum where around a thousand works are exhibited, including European paintings dating from the 13th century to the present day. The Natural History Museum has beautiful collections on different themes: zoology, regional wildlife and mineralogy. As you walk along its paths, you will be awestruck by the spectacular skeletons of a fin whale and a basilosaurus isis - the ancestor of the whale and the only such specimen in France.
Your tour of Nantes now continues with the Ile Feydeau, which was once a marshy island. In 1926, the city decided to fill in the arms of the River Loire and the island was thus attached to the city.
Then head to the Ile de Nantes to discover an extraordinary attraction: the Machines of the Isle (Les Machines de l'île). This exhibition space is often likened to a skilful blend of the world of Jules Verne and the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci. What you will see is unique: animals made of wood and steel, arranged in scenes in a surprising gallery. Go for a ride on the elephant, a gigantic structure with room for about fifty passengers. Set off to discover the world of the sea at the Marine World Carousel, whose dimensions are dizzying: 25 metres tall and 22 metres in diameter! Inside this mechanical aquarium, all aspects of the sea are revealed, from the deepest abysses to the surface, not forgetting the sea beds.
Finish this extraordinary tour at the workshop terraces: this is where the awe-inspiring creatures are made, and you can even watch their creators building them.