47 Best Sights in Brittany, France

Château de Keriolet

Beuzec-Conq Fodor's choice

The village of Beuzec-Conq, just outside Concarneau, is home to the Château de Keriolet—a fairy-tale, neo-Gothic extravaganza dating to the 19th century that Walt Disney would have adored. Replete with gargoyles, storybook towers, and Flamboyant Gothic–style windows, this showpiece was constructed by the Comtesse de Chauveau, born Zenaide Narishkine Youssoupov, an imperial Russian princess who was niece to Czar Nicholas II (and related to Prince Youssoupov, famed assassin of Rasputin). Take one of the four daily guided tours through the Arms Room, folkloric kitchen, and grand salons.

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.

Ville Close

Fodor's choice

Sitting in the middle of Concarneau's harbor, topped by a cupola–clock tower, and entered by way of a quaint drawbridge, the fortress-islet of the Ville Close is a particularly photogenic relic of medieval days. Its fortifications were further strengthened by the English under John de Montfort during the Breton War of Succession (1341–64). Three hundred years later Sébastien de Vauban remodeled the ramparts into what you see today: a kilometer-long (half-mile) expanse, with splendid views across the two harbors on either side. The Fête des Filets Bleus (Blue Net Festival), a weeklong folk celebration in which costumed Bretons whirl and dance to the wail of bagpipes, is held here in the middle of August. It is also home to the Musée de la Pêche (Maritime Museum).

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Base de Sous-Marins Keroman

Built by the Nazis during World War II, this submarine base is the world's largest 20th-century fort. Thirty submarines could be comfortably housed in the squat concrete bunker—and its 27-foot-thick roof withstood intensive Allied bombing virtually intact. Ninety-minute tours begin at noon and 3 pm daily in summer and during school vacations; they run at the same time on Sunday year-round. Call to find out when tours in English are scheduled.

Port de Keroman, Lorient, 56100, France
02–97–02–23–29
Sight Details
Rate Includes: €10, Closed last 3 wks of Jan. and 1st wk Feb.

Basilique St-Sauveur

Embracing a range of architectural styles, Basilique St-Sauveur has a Romanesque south front, a Flamboyant Gothic facade, and Renaissance side chapels. The old trees in the Jardin Anglais (English Garden) behind the church provide a nice frame; more spectacular views can be found at the bottom of the garden, which looks down the plummeting Rance Valley to the river below.

Pl. St-Sauveur, Dinan, 22100, France
02–96–39–06–67

Bois d'Amour

One glance at these leafy, light-dappled woods, a bit north of Pont-Aven's town center, will make you realize why artists continue to come here. Past some meadows, just outside the Bois d'Amour, you can find Gauguin's inspiration for his famous painting The Yellow Christ—a wooden crucifix in the secluded Chapelle de Trémalo: it's privately owned but usually open from 10 to 5 (until 6 in summer).

Pont-Aven, 29930, France

Casino

The main nightlife activity in town is at the casino.

Cathédrale St-Corentin

Brittany’s second-largest cathedral (surpassed size-wise only by the one in Dol-de-Bretagne) is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture enlivened by luminous 15th-century stained glass. Legendary King Gradlon is represented on horseback just below the base of the spires, which are harmonious mid-19th-century additions to the medieval ensemble. The church interior remains very much in use by fervent Quimperois, giving the candlelit vaults a meditative air. Behind the cathedral is the stately Jardin de l'Évêché (Bishop's Garden).

Pl. St-Corentin, Quimper, 29000, France

Cathédrale St-Pierre

A panoply of medieval art, St-Pierre boasts a 1537 Renaissance chapel, a Flamboyant Gothic transept portal, and a treasury.

Cathédrale St-Pierre

A late-18th-century building in Classical style that took 57 years to construct, the Cathédrale St-Pierre looms above Rue de la Monnaie at the west end of the Vieille Ville (Old Town), bordered by the Rance River. Stop in to admire its richly decorated interior and outstanding 16th-century Flemish altarpiece.

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.

Cathédrale St-Vincent

Originally founded in the 12th century, the Cathédrale St-Vincent represents an eclectic range of architectural styles. Inside you can pay homage to Jacques Cartier—who set sail from St-Malo in 1534 on a voyage during which he would discover the St. Lawrence River and claim what is now Québec in his king's name—at his tomb.

12 rue Saint-Benoist, St-Malo, 35400, France
02–99–40–82–31

Château

The stolidly built, fortresslike Château, at the end of the Promenade des Petits Fossés, has a two-story tower and a 100-foot, 14th-century donjon (keep) containing a museum with varied displays of medieval effigies and statues, Breton furniture, and locally made lace coiffes (head coverings).

Château

At the edge of the ramparts sits a 15th-century château, its keep and watchtowers commanding an impressive view of the harbor and coastline. It contains the Musée d'Histoire de la Ville, devoted to great figures who have touched local history (like the founder of French Canada, Jacques Cartier, and Châteaubriand, the "Father of Romanticism"); plus the Galerie Quic-en-Groigne, a tower museum that uses waxworks to conjure up various episodes from St-Malo's past.

Château de Combourg

Chateaubriand, an icon of the Romantic Era, grew up in the thick-walled, four-tower Château de Combourg. Topped with "witches' cap" towers that the poet likened to Gothic crowns, it dates mainly from the 14th and 15th centuries. Quartered in the tower called "La Tour du Chat" along with roosting birds and the ghost of the wooden-legged Comte de Combourg, young René succumbed to the château's moody spell and, in turn, became a leading light of Romanticism. His novel Atala and René, about a tragic love affair between a French soldier and a Native American maiden, was an international sensation in the mid-19th century, while his multivolume History of Christianity was required reading for half of Europe. The château grounds—ponds, woods, and cattle-strewn meadowland—are suitably mournful and can seem positively desolate when viewed under leaden skies. Its melancholy is best captured in Chateaubriand's famous Mémoires d'outre-tombe (Memories from Beyond the Tomb). Inside you can view neo-Gothic salons, the Chateaubriand archives, and the writer's severe bedroom up in the "Cat's Tower."

Château de Vitré

Rebuilt in the 14th and 15th centuries to protect Brittany from invasion, the fairy-tale, 11th-century Château de Vitré—shaped in an imposing triangle with fat, round towers—proved to be one of the province's most successful fortresses: during the Hundred Years' War (1337–1453) the English repeatedly failed to take it, even when they occupied the rest of the town. It's a splendid sight, especially from the vantage point of Rue de Fougères across the river valley below. Time, not foreigners, came closest to ravaging the castle, which has been heavily though tastefully restored during the past century.

The Hôtel de Ville (town hall), however, is an unfortunate 1913 accretion to the castle courtyard. Visit the wing to the left of the entrance, beginning with the Tour St-Laurent and its museum, which contains 15th- and 16th-century sculptures, Aubusson tapestries, and engravings. Continue along the walls via the Tour de l'Argenterie—which contains a macabre collection of stuffed frogs and reptiles preserved in glass jars—to the Tour de l'Oratoire (Oratory Tower).

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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Citadelle Vauban

Your first stop on Belle-Île will most likely be Le Palais, the island’s largest community. As you enter the port, it’s impossible to miss the star-shape Citadelle Vauban, named for the famous military engineer who, in the early 1700s, oversaw a redesign of the original fort here (which dated back to the 11th century). Stroll the grounds, savor the views, and then bone up on local lore at the on-site Musée de la Citadelle Vauban. The citadel is undergoing restoration until the spring of 2024.

Cité des Télécoms

Five kilometers (3 miles) east of Trébeurden is the Parc du Radôme, site of the giant white radar dome, whose 340-ton antenna captured the first live TV satellite transmission from the United States to France in July 1962. Today the sphere houses the Cité des Télécoms, retracing the history of telecommunications back to the first telegraph in 1792, and featuring interactive exhibits on telecom's newest innovations. A spectacular sound-and-light show involves multicolor lasers and more than 200 video projectors. The site also includes one of Europe's largest planetariums and a children's discovery park, Le Jardin des Sciences.

Festival Interceltique

Held in the first half of August, this festival focuses on Celtic culture—music, drama, poetry, dance—and fellow Celts from Cornwall, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Galicia, and other Western European locales pour in to celebrate.

Fort National

Lying offshore and accessible by causeway at low tide only, the "Bastille of Brittany" is a massive fortress with a dungeon constructed in 1689 by military-engineering genius Sébastien de Vauban. Thirty-five-minute tours commence at the drawbridge (English text available).

Grand Phare

Built in 1835, the Grand Phare at Port Goulphar rises 275 feet above sea level and has one of the most powerful beacons in Europe, visible from 120 km (75 miles) across the Atlantic. If the keeper is available and you are feeling well rested, you may be able to climb to the top.

Grotte de l'Apothicairerie

A huge ocean grotto, the Grotte de l'Apothicairerie derives its name from the local cormorants' nests that used to reside on it; it's also said to resemble apothecary bottles.

Belle-Ile-en-Mer, 56360, France

Île du Grand Bé

Five hundred yards offshore is the Île du Grand Bé, a small island housing the somber military tomb of the great Romantic writer Viscount René de Chateaubriand, who was born in St-Malo. The islet can be reached by a causeway at low tide only.

Larmor-Plage

There's a good beach, Larmor-Plage, 5 km (3 miles) south of Lorient. You can also take a ferry to the rocky yet utterly charming Île de Groix or cross the bay to Port-Louis to see its 17th-century fort and ramparts.

D29, Lorient, 56100, France

Menhirs

Dating to around 4500 BC, Carnac's menhirs remain as mysterious in origin as their English contemporaries at Stonehenge, although religious beliefs and astronomy were doubtless an influence. The 2,395 monuments that make up the three alignements—Kermario, Kerlescan, and Ménec—form the largest megalithic site in the world, and are positioned with astounding astronomical accuracy in semicircles and parallel lines over about a kilometer (half a mile). The site, just north of the town, is fenced off for protection, and you can examine the menhirs up close only from October through March; in summer you must join a €11 guided tour (some are in English). This visitor center explains the menhirs' history and significance, plus it offers an excellent selection of interesting books in all languages as well as regional gifts.

Moulin du Grand Poulguin

Now housing a restaurant, this pretty mill was built in the early 1600s. It’s a delightful place to dine and enjoy live music on a terrace directly beside the flowing waters of the Aven River, in view of the footbridge.

Musée de Bretagne

Designed by superstar architect Christian de Portzamparc, this museum occupies a vast three-part space that it shares with the Rennes municipal library and Espaces des Sciences. Portzamparc's layout harmonizes nicely with the organization of the museum's extensive ethnographic and archaeological collection, which depicts the everyday life of Bretons from prehistoric times to the present. There's also a space devoted to the famous Dreyfus Affair; Alfred Dreyfus, an army captain who was wrongly accused of espionage and whose case was championed by Émile Zola, was tried a second time in Rennes in 1899.

Musée de la Faïence

In the mid-18th century Quimper sprang to nationwide attention as a pottery manufacturing center. Normans, whose distinctive Rouennaise faïence was already famous, imported the techniques. But the Quimpérois customized them by replacing the pottery’s usual blue-and-white patterns with brighter Breton scenes depicting local life. Today's colorful designs, based on floral arrangements and marine fauna, are still often hand-painted. To understand Quimper's pottery-making past—and see more than 500 examples of style Quimper—take one of the guided tours at the Musée de la Faïence.