Nantes is one of France’s most vibrant destinations, with a blend of ancient, regal and brazen, contemporary architecture. Travel by train to Nantes for a carefree way to reach this port city on the river Loire, close to France’s Atlantic coast. Paris to Nantes takes just 2h00 via high-speed TGV services, while the journey time from Rennes is 1h 26m. Intercity services connect major cities such as Toulouse and Lyon to Nantes directly, and the TER Pays de la Loire lines travel between this cultural hub and regional towns around it. Jump on a train to Nantes to see its iconic castle and to explore the lively waterside streets of the ‘Venice of the West’.
The old Breton capital bristles with a creativity that can be felt soon after arriving by train to Nantes. Passengers may want to prepare themselves for the cultural onslaught that awaits them by first calmly wandering through the Jardin de Plantes, a 19th-century botanical garden with exotic trees, carpets of flowers and a children’s playground, right opposite the station. The rest of the city is easy and enjoyable to explore on foot, with its prime attraction, the moated, white and whimsical Château des Ducs de Bretagne just a 10-minute stroll from the station. Next to the castle, the cathedral is a powerful 15th-century Gothic edifice with Renaissance tombs. To get a feel for the city’s underpinning, the pedestrianised zone between the castle and the Place du Commerce is ideal (the areas around Bouffay and Juiverie).
Here, the cobblestone streets are lined with trendy crêperies (a local favourite!) and eateries to choose from, with the essence of the sea detectable in local dishes. To get a sense of the innovative spirit that makes Nantes so exciting, visitors should cross over La Loire to Machines de l’île, a contemporary art project that’s reclaiming the dockland and capitalising on its great watery views. The city’s newest icon, a gigantic mechanical elephant, lives here, and this zone is just a 20-minute beeline from the station. Those with a passion for contemporary art should stop at Le Lieu Unique, the city’s biscuit factory turned modern art gallery. It’s just 5 minutes by foot from Nantes train station and a good example of the powerful hub that is Nantes — once industrial, now cultural.