10 great reasons to visit Vannes, Brittany, France

On our recent trip to in France, after moving on from Carnac, we also spent some time in Vannes, exploring the quaint Medieval streets and magnificent buildings of this historic walled town. Situated in Morbihan, on the southern coast of Brittany, Vannes offers interesting contrasts of old and new. Built on the foundations of a fortified Roman town, here you’ll find old wood-beamed houses and walled ramparts intertwined with the boutique stores and street performers. Here we give you 10 great reasons to visit.

The architecture

The long history of Vannes is reflected in its medieval lanes and architecture, whether it be the beautiful 13th century ramparts, the historic timber-framed houses or the Saint-Pierre cathedral built between the 13th and 18th centuries.

The variety of architecture is one of the most striking features of the town, and there are numerous contrasts between old and new buildings alongside each other.

One of the most impressive edifices in the town is Hôtel de Ville de Vannes, located on Place Maurice Marchais and modelled on Hôtel de Ville in Paris. This grand Italian Renaissance style town hall was built in the 1880s and registered as a historic monument in 1992.

The cathedral

The magnificent Cathédrale de St Pierre, with its beautiful facade, is an interesting mix of architectural styles. Originally constructed in 1020, but with a Gothic church later constructed on the same site from the 15th to 19th centuries, this Roman Catholic basilica is the seat of the Bishop of Vannes. It is free to enter and you can explore and admire the various chapels and beautiful examples of stained glass windows.

The aquarium and butterfly house

If the weather is not in your favour, a great way to while away a few hours is to visit Vannes Aquarium and the Jardin aux Papillons (Butterfly House).

The aquarium is not vast (unlike the one at Brest) but still worth a visit, housing a wide variety of species from sharks and manta rays to sea turtles and sea horses, and a whole lot more besides.

Heads to the hands-on section and staff will introduce you and your children to a variety of sea creatures that can be touched.

The butterfly house is right next to the aquarium so easy to call upon at the same time. It’s only very small and can be visited as part of a deal with the aquarium. Learn about the butterfly’s life cycle and expect to see a wide variety of species, including some quite large specimens.

The museums

Take a moment to visit the museums in Vannes; explore Château Gaillard, a 15th-century mansion house and museum of archaeology filled with medieval exhibits from the town, and La Cohue, a 13th-century covered market (and once the home of the Breton Parliament in the late 17th century), and now a museum of fine arts.

The harbour

10 years ago, the harbour area at Vannes enjoyed significant investment and each flank of the harbour has attractive promenades along which you can walk. The town’s tourist office can be found along the right bank as you look from the town, alongside a culture and entertainment pavilion.

There are many bars and restaurants around this area, so it is easy to soak up the atmosphere with a harbour-side drink or lunch.

If you are feeling particularly energetic, keep walking and you’ll eventually (after several kilometres) reach the popular port and peninsula at Conleau which is also worth visiting.

The food

There are a number of great places to eat close to the fish market and harbour area of the town. La Table de Jeanne is popular with both locals and visitors alike. Also look up Le Roscanvec on rue des Halles in the heart of the old town.

Vannes is in fact home to several Michelin-star restaurants. Among them is Le Pressoir, on the northern outskirts of the town. Click here to read more about our wonderful lunch experience there.

Shopping

Vannes has a wide range of boutique shops with the main shopping areas being within easy reach of the centre of the old town. One top tip is to take the road train as this will give you a good overview of what’s available. You’ll also find everything from fashion boutiques to gift shops.

If you have kids in tow, give them time to browse Bilboquet which is a great little, traditional toy shop.

The market

There is a regular market in Vannes on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Expect the town to be bustling as the market tends to very popular. It takes place in Place des Lices which once upon a time hosted jousting tournaments. You’ll find stalls selling everything from food items to fidget spinners.

The fish market

The fish market in Vannes takes place in the aptly named Place de la Poissonnerie, situated just between the town centre and the harbour and is also well worth a visit. Arrive early to get the best of the day’s catch. The market tends to start closing down by early afternoon.

Street art

I’m not generally a fan of graffiti, invariably finding it an eyesore and blot on the urban landscape. Street art, on the other hand – and I appreciate the distinction between graffiti and street art is not always clear – often intrigues me. And, when done well, it can make the most uninspiring parts of a town or city much more interesting.

These underpasses in Vannes were good examples, but numerous other pieces of street art could be found around the town.

Perhaps the most famous piece of artwork in the town is a colourful bird on the side of Jules Simon college that overlooks the Boulevard de la Paix. It was completed earlier this year by Brazilian street artist Luis Seven Martins, aka L7M, after being chosen by students at the college.

Disclosure: Our trip was sponsored by Brittany Ferries and Brittany Tourism.

Comments (1)

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  1. Jen says:

    You had me at ‘quaint medieval streets’! I really am attracted to anything medieval, there’s something so enchanting and interesting about that era to me. I love wood beamed houses, which is one of the reasons why I enjoyed living in canterbury so much. These photos are so lovely and capture this place to be absolutely stunning – there’s so much to see.

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