In Rennes, culture is celebrated in all facets - music, festivals, modern art and shows. The historic legacy of the capital of Brittany is complemented by urban culture, which also has some surprises in store for you.
A city trip to Rennes and the surrounding area has something for everyone. Discover the impressive facades of the half-timbered houses, learn exciting things about the history of the city and enjoy regional Breton delicacies!
On an excursion beyond the city limits, you can stroll through the mystical forests of Brittany and enjoy the wonderful nature. The rich history and Celtic heritage of the region is evident through the entire strip of land. In addition to Asterix, Obelix and Menhir stones, Brittany is home to even more magical legends and areas worth seeing. The charm of this region will certainly not go unnoticed on an excursion.
Where to stay in Rennes
The Old Town of Rennes is probably one of the most impressive parts of the city, and it also contains the main attractions. If you want to reach restaurants and shops on foot, it is best to look for accommodation in the center. Almost all parts of Rennes have suitable choices for accommodation. The north-western and southern districts are a little less recommendable.
The public transport network of Rennes is very well developed. If you are traveling by car, consider staying somewhere outside the center. With public buses or the subway, you can get to the center quickly without having to cope with expensive parking. You can also borrow bikes from vending machines, which are readily available almost anywhere in the city. By bike, you can move quickly and comfortably in the city.
Like in many French cities, the room rates are rather high in Rennes, and therefore it is best to book your accommodation early.
Things to do in Rennes
On a one-day trip in Rennes, feel the flair of Brittany by strolling through the Old Town and stopping by at one of the many creperies.
Do you have time for a multi-day vacation? If so, consider the following sights and plan a trip to the surrounding nature or to the Atlantic coast.
The Old Town of Rennes
The pedestrian zone of the Old Town is ideal for a leisurely stroll. The colorful architectural legacy from the late Middle Ages to the 17th century takes you on a journey back in time. There are plenty of traditional half-timbered buildings, typical of the Rennes region, from the 16th and 17th centuries to enjoy.
There are over 280 of these colorful houses in the city. You can admire the uneven look of them on Rue du Chapitre, Rue de la Psalette, Place de Lices and Place du Champ Jacquet. The small but beautiful Rue Saint-Michel, with typical cobblestone streets and the well-preserved half-timbered houses, is also ideal for a stroll.
On a city tour in Rennes, it is also worth stopping by Place de la Mairie and taking a look at the architectural masterpieces, such as the opera and the town hall. In summer, there are also deck chairs available, and in winter, there's a Christmas market to get hold of specialties and souvenirs from the region. Not far from there, you can visit the most emblematic building in Rennes, the Parliament of Brittany.
If you are interested in artistic mosaic design, visit the impressive Saint-Georges swimming pool on Rue Gambetta.
Parc du Thabor (Thabor Park)
Do you fancy some green? Rennes offers plenty of opportunities to recharge your batteries in nature, such as in the Parc du Thabor. Nature lovers and everyone who needs a break from sightseeing can really enjoy themselves on this 10-hectare park. The centrally located green space exudes a special charm, and it is probably one of the most beautiful gardens in France.
Stroll through this French and English style garden, admire over 2 000 species in the rose garden, enjoy the chirping from the bird house, and more. The Thabor Park is very diverse, and with its large playground, it is also ideal for families with children.
Things to do for families
The Zoo and Chateau de la Bourbansais
Domaine de la Bourbansais, the area between Rennes and Saint-Malo, contains an impressive castle from the 16th century. Moreover, in the zoo associated with the castle, animal lovers can immerse themselves in the world of fauna, with more than 400 animals and 70 species around.
The zoo and the Chateau de la Bourbansais are situated some 40 kilometers from Rennes, along a bus connection between Rennes to Saint-Malo. There’s more information about the bus connection at the train station.
Planetarium (science museum)
The planetarium and its exhibitions unveil the fascinating universe to young and old visitors. For an experience beyond our world, find out exciting things about space travel, star images, the secrets of the universe, the cosmos and our galaxy. While the exhibitions and the planetarium are not particularly large, there's plenty of educational fun to enjoy, especially for families with children.
Shopping in Rennes
The city of Rennes has a lot to offer for shopping enthusiasts and souvenir hunters. Some of the main shopping streets are Rue le Bastard, and the streets ranging from Rue de la Monnaie to Rue Victor Hugo. There are lots of shoe and fashion stores as well as other shops one after the other.
If you want everything under one roof, head to the shopping centers La Visitation or the Center Commercial Colombia.
Rennes is a city of markets. For curiosities and specialties, Rennes has a great selection ranging from the organic market at Mail François Mitterrand to the unmistakable Lices market and trendy food markets.
The Lices Market
The Lices Market, the oldest and the largest market in Rennes, takes place every Saturday morning. With 300 producers, artisans and traders, there's an abundance of diverse products on offer. Fresh fruit and vegetables, Guerande salt, excellent salted butter and some souvenirs are typical finds on the market. You can also enjoy Breton specialties, such as galette saucisse, cider and kouign amann.
What to bring along from Rennes?
Bretagne cider – If you have room in your luggage, a bottle of sweet or tart cider or sparkling apple wine is a good souvenir. In restaurants, this type of drink is traditionally enjoyed from drinking bowls, which are also suitable souvenirs from Brittany.
Kouign Amann – If your journey back home isn't very long and you wish to treat yourself to a really typical dessert from Brittany at home, consider the delicious Breton butter cake.
Palet Breton – Do you prefer something small but nice for yourself or your loved ones? The disc-shaped Palet Breton are just one of the many types of biscuits to choose from.
The Bretons like their biscuits. In the center, there are plenty of biscuit shops oozing wonderful, sweet aromas. You can hardly walk by without taking a few cookies with you.
Food and restaurants in Rennes
Rennes gastronomy has a lot to offer for food lovers. For a diverse selection of restaurants, Place Sainte-Anne is the place to be. While you’re at it, there's also the Notre-Dame de Bonne Nouvelle basilica to admire.
The streets branching off from Place Sainte-Anne, such as the Rue de la Visitation and the Rue Saint-Melaine, also contain several places for a lunch or dinner. Rue Saint-Georges is a great place to immerse yourself in Breton cuisine, with typical regional creperies side by side. You’ll find everything there – ranging from small cafes, French bistros to restaurants from all over the world.
Furthermore, the flourishing Mail François Mitterrand square is ideal for enjoying delicious food on an outside terrace in good weather - while sipping Breton drinks in the midst of trees and colorful facades.
Crêpes and galettes
When the aroma of sweet crepes is in the air, the next creperie is not far away. The world-famous crêpes come from France and more precisely from Brittany. The sweet, popular variant of the wafer-thin “pancake” is made from wheat flour and served with, for example, salted butter caramel.
However, the Rennes region is best known for galettes. This particularly typical specialty consists of buckwheat flour and an abundance of ingredients such as eggs, ham, various types of cheese or even potatoes.
If you're ever in the capital of Brittany, you shouldn't miss these delicacies. Both of them are served in creperies, and you can also enjoy Brittany cider in a bowl on the side.
The sausage galette, also considered a Breton hot dog, dates back to the late 19th century. Galette saucisse features two local gastronomic landmarks - buckwheat and pork. The typical Galette Saucisse comes with a cold buckwheat batter and grilled hot sausage. An ideal place to get a portion of galette sauce is the Lices market.
The Breton Kouign Amann is a real treat for those with a sweet tooth. This butter cake owes its excellent taste to the salted butter in the batter and the caramelized surface. The Kouign Amann can be obtained in certain bakeries or in markets, and sometimes it is refined with other ingredients such as apples.
Drinks and nightlife
Rennes is one of those French cities that has no shortage of places to go out, which is partially due to the fact that the city has one of the largest student populations in France.
The Old Town provides favorite restaurants for everyone - lively bar tours, cozy pubs with live music or street cafes for the aperitif. The locals appreciate meeting friends for a beer in a café or pub, and therefore it's not uncommon to come across live concerts in the Old Town bars in the afternoon. When visiting Rennes, you'll notice that Bretons have a lot in common with their Gaelic relatives, especially regarding culture and the pub scene. Also take a look at the somewhat hidden terraces of the city, which you won't see right away on a city tour.
Fancy a street bustling with nightlife? Make your way to the 87-meters-long Rue Saint Michel, packed with local bars in spite of its small size. Locals also refer to it as “Rue de la Soif”, thirst street in English, and it is very popular with students and night owls. There's a bar about every 10 meters, which is a record in France. This street is a good address, if you like hopping from one bar to another and look for lively restaurants. If you want to treat yourself to a refreshing drink during the day, you won't be disappointed here either.
If you like partying for longer, the former Saint-Michel prison is a special spot for a night out in an extraordinary atmosphere. The prison was built in 1455 and converted into a restaurant called Delicatessen, which is arguably one of the most popular nightclubs in Rennes. Here, you can celebrate between medieval half-timbered walls and former prison cells until the early hours of the morning.
To have a drink in company, the bars and cafes on the impressive Rue Saint-Georges will have plenty of options.
Tasting regional drinks is a good way to get the feel of the Breton culture. Brittany is less suitable for growing grapes, and hence apple trees and breweries have been devoted here. In Brittany and Normandy, apples are used to make the tasty cider (sparkling apple wine), which you should try - at the latest when visiting a creperie.
Do you fancy an aperitif? Try the typical, fruity Kir Breton from Rennes, which consists of cider and currant liqueur.
How about a sweet drink that, allegedly, was already brewed by druids? This so-called chouchen is similar to honey wine and consists of fermented honey and apple juice. Chouchen has been produced in Brittany since the Celtic times.
If you are more of a beer drinker, the many microbreweries in Brittany have something delicious to offer. It is best to look out for the name Bière Breton in bars, as it refers to beer from the region.
Besides the alcoholic drinks, there are good natural apple juices and non-alcoholic ciders.
Events and holidays in Rennes
Les Trans Musicales (early December)
This top-class event for all music fans has been organized in Rennes for over 40 years. It was founded as a rock festival, but it is now open to a wide variety of styles. The event attracts numerous music lovers to Rennes and brings world-famous musicians to the stages. Music artists such as Nirvana, Lenny Kravitz and Daft Punk have already honored this festival, bringing joy to their raging fans. For more information about the event, look here: Lestrans.
Fête de la Musique (June 21)
For over 30 years, all music fans have been celebrating the beginning of Summer in the streets and squares of the city. The music shows its Breton roots loud and clear, as the locals present their musical skills.
Lumières sur le Parlement (July - August)
In the summer months, the astonishing historic Parliament of Brittany in Rennes becomes a huge screen. The visitors are amazed by the show with extraordinary light and acoustic effects making the building shine. The light show is short but worth your while, and available from July to August from 11 p.m. to midnight.
Day trips from Rennes
- Le Mont Saint-Michel – a fairytale island, a breathtaking bay and a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Saint-Malo – a port city steeped in history, which was once known as the “pirate city”
- Brocéliande forest – in the footsteps of King Arthur and Merlin
From Paris, you can reach Rennes train station by high-speed train (TGV) in around 1,5 hours. Therefore, it's worth looking for flights to Paris. Alternatively, you can head to the airport in Nantes.
There is an airport in Rennes, but it is relatively small. From Rennes airport, you can reach the city center by bus within 20 minutes. The taxi prices from the airport to the city range from 15 to 20 euros.
The best time to visit Rennes and the surrounding area is probably during the warmer months, i.e. from April to the end of September. Obviously, it depends on your activities, though.
Winter: In Brittany, the winter months are rather mild compared to Germany or Austria. The temperatures rarely reach zero degrees, but it can be very stormy. If you want to experience the surrounding areas of Rennes and the impressive waves of the Atlantic beaches without tourist crowds, winter is an option. Moreover, some seasonal events make a winter holiday in Brittany appealing.
Spring: April and May are ideal for an active or a nature holiday in Rennes and the Brittany region. During these months, you can enjoy the lower prices of the off-season, and there are fewer tourists around as well. Although the weather may fluctuate, the temperatures are already pleasant. In the surrounding areas, the springtime offers blooming landscapes to enjoy.
Summer: Also June is ideal for a combined holiday to the city and the surrounding nature in Brittany. While strolling in the lush green landscapes is still possible, the temperatures can sometimes peak very high.
July and August are the main travel months, and this is reflected in the prices. Many students leave Rennes in summer, but there are tourists on the way. The city offers a selection of events, such as concerts and open-air markets. Temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius are not uncommon in July and August.
Autumn: The temperatures are often pleasant, some 10 to 20 degrees Celsius until November. The autumn months are ideal for active vacationers, who wish to experience the playful colors of the nature. Especially near the Atlantic, temperatures are often pleasant due to the warm ocean air.
Text: Katrin Lindenbauer
Images: Katrin Lindenbauer, Adobe Stock