4 Best Sights in Nantes, Brittany

Grand Eléphant et Galerie de les Machines de l’île

Île de Nantes Fodor's choice

Had Jules Verne (a son of Nantes) and Leonardo da Vinci somehow got together when they were both in a particularly whimsical frame of mind, they may well have established this unique and engaging workshop-gallery. Their spirit certainly lives on in the imaginative, artistic, and mechanically brilliant creations that are built and displayed here. The Grand Eléphant gets most attention—hardly surprising, since the 50-ton giant, just short of 40 feet high, regularly "ambles" along the quay carrying 49 passengers. Inside the gallery are works in many shapes and sizes—some of them interactive—and you can watch more being made in the workshop on weekdays. The eye-popping Carrousel des Mondes Marins (Marine Worlds Carousel) is located just outside the gallery on the banks of the Loire.

Cathédrale St-Pierre–St-Paul

One of France's last Gothic cathedrals, this was begun in 1434—well after most other medieval cathedrals had been completed. The facade is ponderous and austere in contrast to the light, wide, limestone interior, whose vaults rise higher (120 feet) than those of Notre-Dame in Paris.

Château des Ducs de Bretagne

Built by the dukes of Brittany, who had no doubt that Nantes belonged in their domain, this moated 15th-century château looks well preserved, despite having lost an entire tower during a gunpowder explosion in 1800. François II, the duke responsible for building most of the massive structure, led a hedonistic life here, surrounded by ministers, chamberlains, and an army of servants. Numerous monarchs later stayed in the castle, where in 1598 Henri IV signed the famous Edict of Nantes advocating religious tolerance.

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Musée des Beaux-Arts

Designed by Clément-Marie Josso, this noted museum was opened in 1900. Inside, skylights cast their glow over a fine array of paintings, from the Renaissance period onward, including works by Jacopo Tintoretto, Georges de La Tour, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and Gustave Courbet. To go from the sublime to the ridiculous, look for the famous late-19th-century painting of a gorilla running amok with a maiden.