Last Updated on 24/10/2020 by secretmoona
The picture-perfect walled town of Vannes is one of the most charming sights in France’s Gulf of Morbihan. With its port, cobblestone streets, colourful half-timbered houses and fortified square, the medieval city allows visitors to discover architectural remains dating back to centuries. Whether you are planning a day trip, weekend or road trip in Brittany, this guide to the best things to do in Vannes will hopefully help with your itinerary planning.
Why you must visit Vannes, Brittany
The city of Vannes is located at the gateway to the Gulf of Morbihan, by the Marle estuary in the south of Brittany. Vannes was once the residence of the Dukes of Brittany and has a beautiful historic centre.
The fortified town can be visited on a guided tour aboard a little train to fully understand the history of the city or on your own.
Best things to do and see in Vannes, France
After finding a parking spot in the city centre not far from the Town Hall, start your little discovery of Vannes with some window shopping. There are some gorgeous boutiques tucked in little alleyways. Shopping in Vannes is not like in Paris, nevertheless, you can find some budget, high-street stores and designer brands too. While hopping from shop to shop, you will be able to admire the half-timbered houses centred in the historic area.
Explore the historic centre and admire half-timbered houses
The main attraction in Vannes is the historic centre full of half-timbered houses. The houses are so pretty that you can easily spend the whole afternoon looking at them. The city has a least 170 listed half-timbered houses, most of them located around the cathedral, the port, Place Henri IV and within Place Saint-Pierre. Many of the houses have been turned into shops or restaurants.
The roofs of some of the half-timbered houses nearly touch, some say that they “kiss”. Take a stroll around the city, since the historic centre is entirely pedestrianised, it makes strolling even more enjoyable.
Maison de Vannes et sa Femme
This little carving of a Breton couple in the corner of Rue Rogue and Rue Noé is one of the most photographed attractions in the town. The figures craved in a historic building were named “Vannes et sa femme” literally Vannes and his wife in French towards the end of the 19th century.
Take a tour inside Cathedrale St Pierre
The gothic-styled cathedral was built on the remains of an old Romanesque cathedral. You won’t miss it, as you are bound to pass next to it while wandering the streets. We ventured inside to admire the beautiful stained glass windows. There was a little exposition detailing the evolution of Christianity. From there, walk towards the city walls.
Walk on the ramparts de Vannes
We found the stairs leading to the city’s walls by randomly walking in a little alley (rue de Vierges) leading to a courtyard. Vannes is another magnificent walled city although the ramparts are not as imposing as those in St Malo. They still offer a unique perspective on the medieval town and the garden of the Chateau de l’Hermine. A small section of the ramparts are still standing: a section of the wall, two towers, few gates and the castle. We wandered around the ramparts and explored the garden as well.
The garden is very pretty and picturesque so it’s well worth a little stroll. It is lovely to just sit and watch the world go by. Plus, the garden has a cooling effect which is perfect on a hot day.
Visit a museum in Vannes
Vannes has few museums, each offering an interesting array of collections. If you have the time to visit at least one of them, I would suggest visiting the contemporary Cohue Museum of Fine Arts. Its temporary exhibitions offer visitors the opportunity to explore various facets of visual art while the permanent exhibition exhibits works ranging from the 19th and to early 20th century. The Musée d’Histoire et d’Archéologie housed in a 16th-century chateau takes visitors to the early history of Vannes and Brittany.
Foodie break in the Saturday market
If walking makes you hungry, then Vannes is sure to satisfy your taste buds. Brittany is known for its seafood and buttery pastries, and Vannes is no exception. There are lots of bars, restaurants and creperie to try out. After all, it would be a shame to visit Vannes and not taste some of the delicious food on offer. Crepe, galettes, biscuits or if you have sweet tooth, kouingn-amann, a traditional Breton cake.
On Tuesday and Saturday mornings there is a market, Place des Lices, selling reasonably priced local produce. Be sure to walk past the fish and seafood section.
Discover some street arts
After lunch, we explor some more and came across some street arts. I am always impressed by the artists’ work. They can make the most uninspiring area of the town interesting. For more street art, check out DéDalE Cafe.
Vannes Port de Plaisance
End your day trip to Vannes with a visit to its marina and the promenade of the Place des Lices to see sailboats and fishing boats coming and going to the harbour. The harbour is packed with boats and people enjoying a leisure stroll. There are also lots of restaurants and cafes offering pretty views of the port. Be sure to get there early to secure a nice spot on a sunny day.
Travel tips to know before visiting Vannes, France
Visit the tourist office
Start your visit to Vannes with a trip to the tourist office. There, be sure to grab a map and other pamphlets. The professional and friendly staff will give you all the information you need to make your trip to Vannes memorable.
How to get to Vannes
Vannes is only 2 hours 30 minutes from Paris’ Gare Montparnasse via the TGV. There are several trains from other towns and cities as well. It’s easily reachable via the motorway from other cities in Brittany like Rennes, St Malo or Nantes. Coach services are also available with companies like Flixbus, Ouibus or Isilines.
Getting around Vannes
Vannes is a great city to explore on foot, by bike or bus. From Vannes station, you are easily in the city centre by bus (5 minutes) or 20 minutes on foot. The port is only 10 minutes from the city centre. From there, you can reach the islands or other towns of the Gulf of Morbihan (Ile aux Moines, Auray etc…)
Where to stay in Vannes
Thanks to the TGV and easy access via Paris, Vannes makes a great day trip option. However, to enjoy all the things that the city has to offer, it is best to stay overnight. By staying the night you can explore the port by night or see the beauty of Vannes in the early hours. There are lots of hotels and Airbnb options via Booking.com.
Give Vannes a try, it is well worth a visit…
20 thoughts on “the Best Things to do in VANNES FRANCE”
Well, this town looks charming. I’ve added it to my list!
I LOVE Brittany and spent so much time there! I also loved Vannes and reading your article just made me want to go back!
I am the same, I love Brittany. I would go back every year if I could!
What an amazing location! This is such a nice escape from the busy city like Paris! Looks just like a fairytale!
Vannes sure looks like a fairytale city! And it’s so easy to get there too.
Vannes looks like a place out of a fairy tale! Looking at all the old buildings is giving us serious wanderlust! The food looks delish.. but its France where almost all food is divine. Thank you for giving us more day trip ideas for when we go back to France 🙂
Thanks, Sophia. Food is the best in France, I agree!
It looks like such a charming historic place to visit. It definitely is on my list for the next time I visit France.
Vannes truly looks every inch a great town to visit! The colorful architecture and the market are things I would like to see for myself!!!
I just claimed having no bucket list minutes ago – and you remind me that actually Brittany is sort of on the bucket list…that I don’t have. Seriously, I think that that’s a region that’s far too much under my radar since I keep going to Paris or to the Southwest since I have friends there. But Brittany will certainly be on my next itinerary for France.
Brittany is a beautiful region with unspoiled parts. I love it since it’s not as packed during the summer season as the south for example. I recommend exploring next time you are in France.
I love the idea of taking a little tour by train. That way you can see more. The houses would be interesting, as well as the market to try all that yummy food.
That’s right. The little train is a good way to explore most of the city as well as a fun activity for kids. 🙂
I’ve been wanting to visit Brittany every since I saw it featured on Anthony Bourdain’s show. This has fueled my wanderlust SO much, I really need to take a trip there. I would love to try every food that Brittany has to offer!
France has been on my list for years, but I’ve never considered Vannes before reading this post. Looks lovely! Definitely going to look more into it now!
Oh this really does look like a fairytale town! I’ve never even heard of it, but this has made me want to go!
I’d visit just for the Sunday market! The food looks delicious! I had never heard about Vannes before but I shall add it to my list 🙂
I am absolutely in love with these pastel half-timbered houses in the fortified square of the medieval city. Incredible architecture.
What a postcard picture town.