When beginning to research our two-week road trip starting in Nantes I was blown away with how much there is to do with kids in the historical city. It quickly became apparent that there are a few major must see attractions and lots of smaller interesting attractions too. This is how we spent our 48 hours in Nantes with kids. I hope it helps you plan your visit.
Firstly a little background… Nantes, is the 6th largest city in France, located on the Loire River in the Upper Brittany region of western France. It’s a very green city with over 100 parks and gardens. It’s also a historical and cultural hub with its own national theatre, 36 theatres and concert venues, 14 museums and a dozen annual family friendly festivals. (Source – Nantes Tourisme).
As first timers to Nantes our initial and lasting impressions of the city were how clean it was and how energetic it felt with street buskers, friendly locals and lots of people exploring by bike.
Getting to Nantes – We flew to Nantes Atlantique Airport with EasyJet from Bristol. Our flight was only 1 hour 15 minutes and our fares were very reasonable at less than £50 for the three of us (one adult and two children). The airport is just 8 kilometres southwest of the city. I was apprehensive about the drive from the airport to our campsite, Nantes Camping, but I found the roads really easy to navigate and drivers much more considerate than on UK roads. (To be honest we hardly encountered any traffic or road works in the entire 12 days driving around Brittany and I wouldn’t hesitate to take a road trip around the region again). Click here to read our review of Nantes Camping.
We met my parents in Nantes who had travelled over to Roscoff from Plymouth with Brittany Ferries in their motor home. It was the first time they had taken their motor home out of the UK and they were understandably a little apprehensive too. They however thoroughly enjoyed their six-hour crossing and are already planning their next ferry journey!
Day One am – Castle of the Dukes of Brittany
We spent our first morning in Nantes exploring the 15th-century Château de Ducs de Bretagne (Castle of the Dukes of Brittany). My boys loved exploring the castle courtyard and grounds pretending to be real knights and shooting imaginary arrows out of the slits in the castle walls. We all enjoyed our walk around the ramparts taking in the impressive views of Nantes city centre.
We were provided with Nantes Passes which included access into the historical museum and a headset audio guide each. The audio guide was very informative and interesting although geared towards adults and not suitable for young children. I decided against going inside the museum as my boys were pestering to feed the ducks in the moat and have a picnic in the castle. (How things change when you have kids!) My Dad however enjoyed a peaceful hour by himself walking around the exhibits, learning about the castles history and the ports slave trade.
Details – Castle of the Dukes of Brittany website. Access to the castle courtyard, moat garden and ramparts free. Entrance to the museum and exhibition (there are 850 exhibits so it’s an impressive museum!) – Kids free, adults 5-8 euros. All included in the Nantes Pass.
Day One pm – Nantes Water Sprinkler Area and Play Park
Directly opposite the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany there is a free water sprinkler area which is great fun for young kids to cool off on a hot day. We found it to be popular with both locals and tourists. A short walk from here there is a free wooden play park with a breathing dragon structure and the Esplanade Carre Feydeau, a football pitch with a unique shape reflected on a huge mirror. It’s a great area to sit and enjoy a picnic whilst kids run around and play.
Day Two am – The Machines de l’île (Machines on the Island)
We were thoroughly looking forward to visiting this unique artistic attraction located on Nantes Island along the Loire river and it didn’t disappoint! The project is the brainchild of Francois Delarozière and Pierre Orefice. It is a combination of the ‘invented worlds’ of Jules Verne, the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci and the industrial history of Nantes, all on the former site of the city’s shipyards.
The 40 foot mechanical elephant is unlike anything we had ever seen before. It walks through the streets spraying water at bystanders. My eldest son was absolutely determined to get wet and kept running up close to the elephant, giggling in anticipation. It was of course my youngest son who was sat quietly in his push chair in the crowds, clearly unsure what he thought of the robotic elephant who was sprayed with water first! **If you want to see this elephant in action you can watch a short video I shared on Facebook here.
We arrived late in the morning and the queue to ride on the elephant and tour the workshop to see future creations being made was very long. We asked at the information desk and was told that the queue would most probably take 40+ minutes so we decided against it and instead just took a ride on the huge three storey high carousel. I can thoroughly recommend a ride on the carousel which has been inspired by local author Jules Verne who wrote the novel – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I let my boys decide which creature they wanted to ride on… after much deliberation, (clearly a tough decision for a 3 & 6-year-old!) they decided on the flying fish and sailing boat with fish mouth.
Details – The Machines de l’île website. Entrance onto the island to see the famous elephant is free. A visit into the gallery OR to ride the elephant OR to ride the Carousel is 8,50€ adult, 6,90€ child each. If you wish to do more than one activity your ticket gives a 1,60 € discount (with a 48 hours validity period). The Nantes Pass includes ONE of these attractions. We used ours for the carousel although I would love to return to ride on the elephant. Top tip – Arrive early to book a place. For limited dates you can pre book the ride online 24 hours in advance.
Day Two pm – Ferry to visit Trentemoult.
From Machines de l’île we walked across the bridge and along the water front to Gare Maritime where we jumped on the six-minute ferry crossing over to the quaint and picturesque village of Trentemoult. This village was recommended to us by a friend and I’m so glad we popped across for a short visit. We enjoyed a stroll weaving in and out of the streets taking photos of the colourful shops and cottages before stopping for a drink in a riverside bar.
Using public transportation in Nantes with kids
We travelled by public transportation on our second day to make full use of our Nantes Passes which includes travel within the city. We first took a bus from Nantes Camping into Nantes city centre then hopped on a tram for the short distance to the bridge which you need to cross to visit Machines de l’île. Our ferry over to Trentemoult village was also included in the Nantes Pass. We found the buses, trams and boats really easy to use and quite enjoyable. We were of course asked to fold down our push chair as all three were quite busy so this is worth baring in mind if you plan to use public transportation.
Top tip – We travelled back from the city centre at 6pm and so the trams and buses were very busy with commuters. As with any city I would say its worth avoiding the peak hours when travelling with children.
Other child friendly attractions in Nantes
Had we stayed in Nantes longer we would have hired bikes for a cycle around the city as it’s renown for being a bike friendly city. My boys would also have loved the Le Petit Train de Nantes a small tourist train which tours around all the major sites in the city and the Nantes Planetarium (all three of these activities are included in the Nantes Pass).
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