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I’d always wanted to explore Brittany, France. I just knew that I would love this northwestern peninsula of France with its spectacular rugged coastlines.
Brittany France, “la Bretagne,” is a region rich in culture, tradition and history. The sea, medieval towns, ancient forests, standing stones, castles, islands to explore, and a Celtic language that is making a comeback make it a destination that is sure to please every kind of traveller.
I first ventured to Brittany France on a housesitting adventure where I looked after donkeys, goats, a sheep, and a Border Collie. My housesit was right near the border of Normandy, close to Mont Saint-Michel. The perfect location, I explored nearby Normandy and ventured all over Brittany France in my tiny rented car.
What to do in Brittany France has an endless amount of answers. Here are 13 things to do in Brittany that will have you falling in love with the region.
How To Get To Brittany France
In Britanny France, the secluded beaches and tiny coastal towns are best explored with a car. However, I have also explored parts of Brittany such as Ile aux Moines, Rennes, and Saint-Malo by using train service.
By Train to Brittany France: TGV trains leave daily from the Gare Montparnasse in Paris. Trains also leave from Charles de Gaulle airport to Rennes, the capital of Brittany.
By Ferry: Regular ferry crossings from the UK arrive in the ports of Saint-Malo and Roscoff.
Travel By Air: Fly into Rennes, Brest, Quimper, or Dinard.
By Tour: Not sure how to swing a trip to Brittany France during your itinerary? Try this 2-day Brittany and Normandy tour.
13 Things To Do In Brittany France
1. Stroll the Grand Plage At Saint-Malo, Brittany
The walled city of Saint-Malo in Brittany France is an absolute gem to discover. Spend time strolling the expansive beach, le Grand Plage, whisking your fingers in tide pools, and imaging all the seafarers that used Saint-Malo as a port. Jacques Cartier, a “Malouin” (native of Saint-Malo), set sail from here on May 16, 1535, on his journey to discover Canada.
The soaring tower of the Cathédrale Saint-Vincent calls you to explore the medieval core of the walled city. With a rich history of 12th-century fortifications, privateers (pirates approved by the king), and WWII bombings, Saint-Malo has plenty of stories and monuments to discover.
Can you feel the proud spirit of Saint-Malo which is very clear in its motto from the 16th-century: “Ni Français, ni Breton, Malouin suis.” “I am neither French nor Breton, I am Malouin.”
2. Stand Amidst The Carnac Alignments
Topping any list of things to do in Brittany France are the Carnac Alignments.
Did you know that the largest megalithic complex in the world is in France? The Carnac Alignments, near the town of Carnac, is a site consisting of 3000 standing stones dating from 3500BCE and some scientists believe even 4500BCE. These best-preserved prehistoric stones of Europe stretch as far as the eye can see.
It is a wonder to stand amongst them and ponder their significance. Some theories claim astrological observations other wild legends recount that Merlin, King Arthur’s wizard, turned Roman soldiers into stone. Right on the spot.
If prehistoric Europe interests you, head over to the Carnac Alignments. In the offseason, one can enter the area and wander amongst the stones. In peak season the area is fenced off and one must visit the standing stones with a guide. Peak season also sees a little train and an open-air bus that takes you on a tour of the large area.
3. Things To Do In Brittany: Explore Dinan
Is there a prettier medieval town than Dinan? It is definitely one of the best places to visit in Brittany.
Head straight to Place des Merciers, the main square where teetering half-timbered houses sweep you right back to the middle ages. Wander down steep Rue du Jerzual which hums with artists’ shops and creativity and then find Dinan’s 13th-century ramparts counting the ten guard towers and four gates into the city. Marvel at the views over the valley and the River Rance.
Dinan is the perfect city to slow down, admire façades, enjoy the market, and explore. Photographers will be in heaven.
4. Savour Seafood In Cancale, Brittany
Cancale in Brittany France has long been known for its seafood and especially its oysters. The Marché des Huitres is the perfect place to purchase or eat some oysters which hail from the Bay of Mont Saint-Michel. Not only are the views stunning with the magical light but seeing Mont Saint-Michel in the distance is exciting for any foreigner.
When I visited Cancale, it preceded my foray into eating oysters. I had better return to this port town in Brittany France to savour some oysters from the famous bay. The day I blew into Cancale the driving rain led me to a brasserie to devour my very first enormous pot of steaming mussels. It was here in Cancale that I learned to eat mussels like the French and have been practising ever since!
Heading to Cancale? Be sure to partake in seafood and walk the Sentier des Douaniers for fabulous views over the bay.
PRO TRAVEL TIP: If you have a car and are driving between Cancale and Mont-Saint Michel, plan to stop at Vivier-sur-Mer for oysters and mussels at Jean-Luc Tonneau. Sit on the terrace and savour your delights with a view of Mont-Saint Michel in the distance.
5. Things To Do In Brittany: Enjoy Galettes And Cider
A definite non-negotiable of what to do in Brittany France is devour galettes.
Galettes, savoury crêpes made with buckwheat flour, have been around for centuries. Some say since the XIII century. Although found throughout France, galettes originated in Brittany. For the gluten-free traveller in Brittany France, galettes are a handy go-to. Traditional galettes are served with ham, Gruyère or Emmenthal cheese, and an egg. Another classic galette comes with sausage and onions. There are plenty of delicious options available.
The best pairing with a galette is a crisp cider, the ultimate local drink in Brittany France. With over 600 varieties of apples grown in the region, enjoying cider goes hand in hand with a trip to Brittany. If you are a cider lover, be on the lookout for Caves aux Cidres where you can sample a variety of artisanal ciders. If in Quimper, try Le Sistrot or in Saint-Malo check out le Comptoir Breizh Café.
6. Visit Ile Aux Moines In The Gulf Of Morbihan
When you are planning things to do in Brittany, don’t forget to consider the islands. Ile aux Moines was recommended to me by my French friends and I fell for it immediately.
Ile aux Moines in the Gulf of Morbihan is an ideal spot to get away from it all. Arrive by boat to this island in Brittany France, rent a bicycle at the port and explore to your heart’s content. The country roads on Ile aux Moines are lined with typical Breton homes and the designated biking routes will lead you to secluded coves, marvellous standing stones and stone crosses.
Hikers will find seventeen kilometres of coastal hiking paths following trails right along the sea and reserved only for walkers.
In Le Bourg, the small town, there’s a boulangerie and several restaurants to delight in fabulous Breton fare. Arrange your visit over two meals as it is a hard choice between oysters and galettes!
7. Discover Secluded Beaches In Brittany France
Having a car while exploring Brittany is the best! As you twist along narrow regional roads, look for clusters of parked cars or an overflowing parking lot. Take note. There is most likely a narrow sandy path winding down through a pine forest to a secluded beach.
I was taken to this best beach in France, Plage de la Touesse, by somebody in the know. Situated between Saint-Malo and Cancale in Saint-Coulomb, it reminded me that as a traveller passing through a region, it is always a gift to find a tucked-away gem.
Plage de la Touesse, with its soft, golden sandy beach and stunning clear blue water, is the perfect place to spend a day. Swim, watch the cormorants diving and know that you are in good company.
Collette, the famous French writer, spent her summers in the villa sitting just above the sand dunes. What a place for writing inspiration. Tuck a notebook into your picnic basket!
8. Marvel At The Côte Sauvage In Morbihan
If you love dramatic coastlines, be sure to add the Côte Sauvage to your “things to do in Brittany, France” list. It is one of my favourite places to visit in Brittany.
The Côte Sauvage, which translates to the “Wild Coast”, stretches along the western coast of the Quiberon Peninsula. With its crashing Atlantic waves and strong winds, it is definitely a little wild.
I hiked along the coastal path with my friend Joelle, who lives nearby, and was mesmerized by the waves, the reach of the spray and the rocky coastline.
Find a craggy ledge to tuck away, soak up the sun, and listen to the invigorating sound of the surf.
For those energetic souls, plan a long hike along this coastal trail which is part of the GR 34 (Grande Randonnée) and follows the entire coastline of Brittany
Pro Tip: If you don’t a car, the “Tire-Bouchon,” the corkscrew tourist train, runs from Auray to Quiberon and you can access the Côte Sauvage from Quiberon.
9. Taste Breton Delights: Kouign Amann And Far Breton
Kouign Amann is a sure-fire way to fall in love with Brittany France.
You definitely want to know how to pronounce Kouign amann. Order “Kween ah-mon” anywhere in Brittany France and voilà, before you appears a divine butter cake, typical of this region. Layers of pastry, layers of butter, and sugar, which becomes caramelized in the baking process, create this Breton cake which is sweet, and salty with a little crunch. It is to die for. Is Kouign amann to be eaten for breakfast or dessert? I say, indulge whenever it suits. Kouign amann serves up a healthy dose of French plaisir (pleasure) and it is hard not to go back for seconds or even thirds!
Far Breton, another delight typical to Brittany France, is not quite as seductive as Kouign amann. However, this flan-style dessert, often made with prunes or raisins, is well-worth savouring.
10. Dinard On The Emerald Coast Of Brittany France
“Dinard, the elegant” is a popular seaside resort on Brittany’s Emerald Coast. During the Belle Epoque, wealthy families flocked to Dinard and built beautiful villas.
Dinard is a great place to visit in Brittany France to while away some time. Stroll through Dinard’s little streets, rent a classic blue and white striped beach umbrella, admire the soaring spire of Saint-Malo, head to the bustling market, and walk the Chemin des Douaniers. Visiting Dinard in the fall? Don’t miss The Festival of British Cinema.
11. Flâner In Rennes, The Capital Of Brittany France
One of the places to visit in Brittany is Rennes, its capital city, well-known for its colourful half-timbered houses. Despite the city fire of 1720, over 300 ancient houses survived. Take a stroll down the well-worn cobbled lanes of Rennes and admire the crooked houses.
Rennes’ medieval core is easily explored on foot. Make sure to visit the Rennes Cathedral, the Brittany Parliament Buildings (incidentally designed by the architect of the Palace de Luxembourg in Paris) and the fabulous Lices Market that takes place on Saturday mornings in Lices Square. It was here that I started my visit to Rennes and the market, the second-largest in France with about 300 vendors, was abuzz with what seemed like the whole city! Chatting over coffee, baskets overflowing with local produce, and nibbling on the classic sausage galette, the Lices Market is an authentic glimpse of Breton life.
12. Walk The Ramparts Of The Château de Fougères
The Castle of Fougères is over one thousand years old and the largest medieval fortress in Europe to be so well-preserved. It’s quite something to walk the ramparts of this Château that has been a historical monument since 1862. With its thirteen towers, the Château de Fougères has incredible views over the town of Fougères and the castle itself.
For centuries this castle bore witness to battles to protect the Duchy of Brittany against powerful Normandy (aligned with England) and the French King who wanted the territory for his kingdom.
There are many chapters to the long history of the Château de Fougères and there is no better place to understand it than at the castle itself where there are excellent immersive and 3-D exhibits.
Find out more details about the Château de Fougères here.
Plan on spending time in the town of Fougères with its upper and lower towns, its half-timbered homes, and stunning gardens. It was a favourite place of several famous writers such as François-René de Chateaubriand, Victor Hugo, who wrote Les Misérables here, and Balzac. Quotes from all the authors are found throughout the town.
13. Discover Ancient Vannes
I hadn’t really planned to visit Vannes, the capital of the Morbihan region of Brittany France. But, when I missed my connecting bus to Ile aux Moines I found myself happily wandering the walled medieval center of Vannes. What I found, of course, is that one could easily spend a day exploring Vannes. Follow the winding cobbled streets past plenty of colourful half-timbered houses, ancient mansions, medieval gates, and a magnificent cathedral to best connect with Vannes.
Vannes is a great place to use as a base while exploring this region of Morbihan. Check out hotels in Vannes here.
Brittany France is one of my favourite regions of France. These 13 things to do in Brittany France are just the beginning of your Breton adventures!
Until next time,
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