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The first time I flew into Nantes in France, my only encounter of it was from the motorway via the outskirts of the city. I had been whisked away from Nantes airport straight to theme park Puy du Fou, which is only an hour away. However, I was disappointed not to have got the chance to explore what has been dubbed as: ‘one of the nicest cities in France.’ Set on Loire River and the producer of my favourite wine, Muscadet, there are so many things to do in Nantes – from arts, culture, first-class dining and of course, just chilling out in the variety of different cafés, bars and restaurants.

Things to do in Nantes | My Travel Monkey

A Guide To The Top Things To in Nantes

With this mind, on my return to France a few months later, I made sure that during our road trip from Brittany to the Dordogne, that we stop a few nights in Brittany’s capital Nantes so we could discover for ourselves why this former industrial centre is a thriving cultural hub full of fervour and proud inhabitants. And while this guide concentrates on things to do in Nantes France, we went as a young family and discovered that Nantes is a child-friendly city, too. From the climbing frames and potting gardens dotted along the river, to Nantes attractions for the whole family, there are also many things to do in Nantes with kids.

Les Machines de l'île | My Travel Monkey

Ride an elephant at Les Machines de l’île

The famous Les Machines de L’île in the city’s former shipyard really is as fantastic as everyone makes out. For big kids and little kids everywhere, if you are staying in Nantes then you really do have to make a special trip and explore this mechanical world full of wonder. The project was designed and developed by artists Francois Delarozier and Pierre Orefice – who have brought to life their collective imagination inspired by Jules Verne’s Invented Worlds. You can get inside the minds of both, as well as follow the fascinating work of all those involved. We took a ride on the Grand Elephant, which was an event in itself. We loved the grind of gears and metal as we moved along the banks of the river, and laughed out loud as the trunk sprayed water over ourselves and the crowds following. Later still, the children screamed with delight as they were spun around on the Carrousel des Mondes Marins. Make sure you book your tickets in advance, which can be purchased online here.

Roam free in Jardin de Plantes

Be blown away by the enchanting landscaped grounds of the Jardin de Plantes – the fourth largest botanical gardens in France. Wander amongst 10,000 different species from the sweeping flower beds, the beautifully manicured lawns, framed by ancient trees such a magnolia, sequoias and Japanese maples, and several different duck ponds and impressive fountains. Visitors will love the exquisite tropical glasshouse Serre de l’Île de Palmiers for lounging, while kids will enjoy the playground and petting zoo. The gardens also have different installations, exhibitions as well as activities for the whole family.

Jardin de Plantes | My Travel Monkey

Explore the Loire estuary

Want to see a giant sea snake, a half-submerged house in water, or wild animals climbing trees? If you head out of Nantes city and take a three-hour boat trip to the Loire estuary, be astounded by breathtaking art installations at the point where the waters of the river flow into the Atlantic at Saint-Nazaire. Crusie by fishing villages, farms, and wetlands and discover 30 mind-blowing sculptures left from three different art biennials including the Serpent d’Océan which mirrors the impressive nearby Saint-Nazaire bridge.

Be The King of the castle

It’s easy to find chateaux in Brittany, there are so many of them! The Château des ducs de Bretagne dominates the city – and is in fact one of the most historical landmarks in Nantes. You can’t fail to be in awe of the former home of the Dukes of Brittany, its imposing size and facade. And the best thing of all it’s free for visitors to stroll the ramparts, take in the views across the skyline of Nantes and enjoy the grassy courtyards. The interactive exhibits take you through its rich history, and in the summer, there’s even a slide.

Things to do in Nantes | My Travel Monkey

Immerse yourself in culture

Nantes is a cultural hard-hitter. From its fascinating and vast museums – the Natural History Museum of Nantes, Arts Museum of Nantes, and Jules Verne Museum to the intricate Gothic architecture of Nantes Cathedral  – which took over 450 years to be completed, there is much to discover for art and history lovers.  Head to the old LU biscuit factory and marvel at the majestic building and striking tower. It is now  Le Lieu Unique cultural centre which is home to theatre, dance and music events, a waterside bar and restaurant, bookshop, the biggest traditional hammam in France and a nursery for kids.

For more on things to do in Nantes – check out these posts from Travel Loving Family and GlobalMouse Travels.