Nantes - city and visitor guide

Historic city of the Dukes of Brittany

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 Nantes - the hub of western France

On this page Location and access Tourist attractions
In the area Local accommodation

Plan of central Nantes
Central Nantes.
The most westerly of the big cities in France, Nantes is one of those cities that is not on the road to anywhere else. At least that it the situation today; in the past it was very different.
   Until the nineteenth century, Nantes was one of the most important port cities in France. In the Middle Agers, it was one of France's greatest ports for trade with other parts of Europe, notably with England and Portugal ; later it was the gateway to North America, the port through which came in and went out a good proportion of France's international trade, not just with Canada, Acadia and the nascent USA, but also with the Caribbean and other parts of the world.
    And then ships got bigger and railways made land transport faster and easier and Nantes, just like Bristol in the UK, found itself "up the creek", too far inland along a tidal estuary to meet the new demands of international shipping. And, as with Bristol or even - more recently - London and other cities, Nantes' riverside port activity dwindled and the city's economic significance fell, as business moved downstream, in this case to Saint Nazaire, at the mouth of the Loire.
    By that time however, Nantes was already too strongly established as a city, and too big, to fade away. In bygone centuries, the city that stood guard over the lowest bridging point across the Loire had been the capital of the powerful Dukes of Brittany, and the city had grown up around their massive fortress close to the water's edge, the chateau des Ducs de Bretagne. Later, as France became one of the great colonial powers of Europe, trade brought great wealth to the city which grew in size and influence. The merchants of Nantes, like their counterparts throughout the great European port cities of the time, were active in the slave trade with the Americas, which was one of the businesses that enriched the city in the 18th century, until after the French Revolution when in 1794 France was the first European nation to ban slavery in all its dominions.
Place royale - Nantes
Panoramic view of the Place Royale in the centre of Nantes
    Today, Nantes is the eighth largest city in France, with a population of over 600,000 in the urban area. The historic part of the city stands on the north bank of the Loire, around the confluence of the river Erdre. The meeting of the two rivers is not however a feature, as back in the 1930s the lower end of the Erdre was filled in to make more room in the city centre, and the river now flows out into the Loire via a canal tunnel.  
     Apart from its medieval / Renaissance castle, which now houses the city's museum, and the late medieval cathedral of St. Peter and St.Paul, the historic centre of Nantes is largely characterised by streets and buildings that were put up in the period of the city's commercial heyday, from the late 17th century to the early 19th century.  This helps to give Nantes a slight Parisian feeling - like a small version of Paris in the west of France.
    The once busy port area of Nantes is now very quiet; the little commercial shipping that still comes up the Loire as far as Nantes uses wharves on the south side of the Loire or on the western outskirts of the city, and the few cruise liners that make it up the Loire estuary have to dock well away from the centre. The Quai de la Fosse, closest to the city centre, has no commercial shipping, but is served by pleasure craft and is home to some historic ships, including the Maillé-Brézé, a historic warship and naval museum.
   Today, more than a port, Nantes is the administrative and commercial hub of northwestern France. The city that was until the 16th century the capital of Brittany is now no longer part of Brittany; the department of Loire Atlantique, of which it is the capital, was definitively hived off from Brittany under the Vichy government during the second world war, and has since become the capital of a new administrative region - with little historic basis - the Pays de la Loire, created in 1963. In that respect, Nantes remains a regional capital... but no longer the capital of Brittany. That is now Rennes.

Tourist attractions in Nantes

       Nantes is a big city, but its historic central area is compact enough to be discovered on foot. or by taking the city's smart modern trams. the main tourist attractions are :

Places to visit near Nantes

Salt pans Guerande
Salterns or salt pans near Guérande 
     The Pays de la Loire region is a popular but not overrun holiday destination, on account of its variety of attractions, including some of the best Loire châteaux, vineyards and - in the west - a small part of France's Atlantic coastline.
      The Loire Atlantique department, around Nantes, covers the western end of this region, including the estuary of the Loire and the coast to the north and the south.


Click here for a choice of hotels in Nantes at best online rates, and the About-France.com hotel selection for Nantes.

There is plenty of hotel accommodation in Nantes.

Location and access

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Photo top of page : the château of the Dukes of Brittany

Key tourist information for Nantes :

: Pays de la Loire
Nearby cities: Rennes, Angers
Nearest airports: Nantes
Population: (Greater Nantes)  612,000
Main sites: The château of the Dukes of Brittany, the city art gallery, historic city centre, the cathedral, boat trips on the Erdre
Nearby attractions:  The Loire estuary, the Atlantic coast, La Baule
Location Nantes

Nantes hotels

The About-France.com selection
Hotels for all budgets and all needs
★★★★ Okko hotel Nantes chateau
Four star boutique hotel in a converted 19th century church, close to the château, the art gallery and the cathedral. Private parking - charge.

 ★★★★ Hotel Mercure Nantes gare
Just outside the south exit from the station, beside the Quai Malakoff. Pedestrian access to the château and old town.

 ★★★ Ibis Nantes centre gare
Close to the Château and to the station and old town. Private parking onsite. charge.

 ★★ Hotel Abat-Jour
Well reviewed small two-star hotel close to the Erdre wharf and the cathedral. Public parking nearby. Charge.

  Hotel Cambronne
Very well rated centrally located one-star hotel, between Passage Pommeraye and the Loire. Public parking very near. Charge.

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Shopping arcade
Passage Pommeraye - 19th century shopping arcade in Nantes

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Photo panorama of Place Royale by Ludovic Toinel - Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne by Elie Metayer. Passage Pommeraye by Edmondlaphoto.
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