Nantes, a city in western France, is renowned for its warm and welcoming inhabitants. As a visitor, you’ll quickly feel at home thanks to the friendly nature of the local people. From offering a stranger a place to sit for a meal or a free glass of wine to inviting you on an impromptu boat ride, the people of Nantes embody the spirit of hospitality.

A City Full of Life

Nantes boasts a lively outdoor social atmosphere, with people gathering on the streets, swinging under bridges, and enjoying the numerous public spaces and parks scattered throughout the city. Some of the most notable outdoor areas include:

Place Royale

An 18th-century public square surrounded by cafes, Place Royale serves as a popular gathering spot for locals. At the center of the square stands a striking blue granite fountain, beautifully illuminated at night and adorned with six main statues representing Nantes, the Loire River, and four of its tributaries (the Cher, Erdre, Loiret, and Sèvre rivers).

Square Mercœur

Square Mercœur is a public park featuring a whimsical children’s playground designed by Japanese artist and architect Kinya Maruyama. The park’s playful elements, such as the dragon slide and rhino horns, create a delightful atmosphere for families and children.

Place Alexis-Ricordeau

This youth-filled skate park, located adjacent to Quai Turenne and the hospital, is home to a unique attraction: a huge chunk of wall known as the ‘Wall Fallen From the Sky.’ Legend has it that this 60-ton wall fell like a meteorite from the sky. The wall is adorned with a mural painted by the street theatre company Royale de Luxe, depicting the story of Nantes and notable characters such as Duchess Anne of Brittany, Jules Verne, and the company’s signature giant marionettes, The Little Girl Giant and her dog El Xolo.

Quai Turenne

Quai Turenne is a pedestrian walkway and green space near the hospital, popular among hospital workers on break. The quai is bordered by a row of historical townhouses built on unstable soil, resulting in a noticeable dip in the roofline and the crooked door of the Perraudeau building at #13.

Square Jean-Baptiste-Daviais

One of several public parks transformed into an urban orchard, Square Jean-Baptiste-Daviais invites visitors to picnic at the large tables scattered throughout the park and enjoy fresh produce straight from the garden and orchard when in season.

Place Graslin

An 18th-century partially-pedestrianized public square, Place Graslin is dominated by the grand 18th-century Graslin Theater on the north side, where people gather on the steps. A modern water fountain sits at the center of the square, while the ornate 19th-century Art Nouveau-styled brasserie La Cigale occupies the south side, opposite the theater.

Exploring Nantes’ Parks and Gardens

Nantes offers an impressive array of parks and gardens for visitors to enjoy, each with its own unique character and attractions.

Parc des Chantiers

Spanning approximately 30 acres in the old shipyards on the île de Nantes, Parc des Chantiers is a public park and recreation area where you’ll find people enjoying the basketball court, the various rides and attractions of the Machines de l’Île, or sunbathing in the Jardin des Voyages.

Jardin des Plantes (Botanical Garden)

The Jardin des Plantes is a 17-acre public garden featuring walking paths, statues, fountains, a tropical greenhouse, a picnic area, and a children’s playground. If you’re fortunate, you may catch a glimpse of the giant topiaries created by author and illustrator Claude Ponti during your visit.

Ile de Versailles

A man-made island created in the 19th century in the Erdre River, Ile de Versailles was once the site of tanneries, millworks, and shipyards. Today, it is home to the tranquil Japanese Garden, offering a serene escape from the city.

Strolling Along the Riverside

Nantes has made its waterways easily accessible to visitors, with over 30 miles of walkways along the city’s rivers. Take a leisurely stroll along the promenades for peaceful views of the river, or relax next to a bronze statue in one of the many riverside park areas. The wharves (les quais) along the river also serve as venues for various annual festivities, such as the Nantes jazz festival Les Rendez-vous de l’Erdre.

A City Filled with Public Spaces

Despite its relatively small population of 600,000, Nantes boasts an impressive number of parks, squares, and public spaces. The list above represents just a fraction of the many outdoor areas available for visitors to enjoy.

As you explore Nantes, take the time to discover these inviting public spaces and engage with the friendly locals. Strike up a conversation with someone on a park bench, join in on a game of basketball at Parc des Chantiers, or simply sit back and soak up the lively atmosphere of Place Royale.

Embracing the Nantais Way of Life

To truly experience the essence of Nantes, allow yourself to embrace the local way of life. Take a cue from the Nantais and spend your days outdoors, enjoying the city’s many parks and public spaces. Pack a picnic lunch and head to Square Jean-Baptiste-Daviais, where you can savor fresh produce from the urban orchard while chatting with locals at the communal tables.

In the evenings, join the crowds gathered on the steps of the Graslin Theater in Place Graslin, or grab a table at one of the cafes surrounding Place Royale. As you sip on a glass of wine and watch the world go by, you’ll begin to understand the charm and allure of this welcoming French city.

Discovering Nantes’ Hidden Gems

While the parks and public spaces mentioned above are certainly worth a visit, don’t be afraid to venture off the beaten path and explore some of Nantes’ lesser-known areas. Wander through the city’s narrow, winding streets, and you’ll likely stumble upon hidden courtyards, charming boutiques, and cozy cafes that are beloved by locals.

Keep an eye out for the city’s many street art installations, which add a splash of color and creativity to the urban landscape. From large-scale murals to smaller, more subtle pieces, Nantes’ street art scene is a testament to the city’s vibrant artistic community.

Final Thoughts

Nantes is a city that truly comes alive through its people and public spaces. By embracing the friendly nature of the locals and exploring the numerous parks, squares, and riverside promenades, you’ll quickly fall under the spell of this charming French destination.

So, as you plan your visit to Nantes, be sure to leave plenty of time to simply wander, discover, and engage with the city and its inhabitants. By doing so, you’ll create lasting memories and gain a deep appreciation for the warm, welcoming spirit that makes Nantes such a special place.

Similar Posts