My GPS is set – Dinan France the final destination. It leads me along narrow country lanes past tiny villages where men carry baguettes tucked under an arm and sheep graze by the roadside. The customary roundabout spits me out on the far side and I dawdle on towards my destination, thrilled to understand every fifth French word on the radio. I’m on my way to discover the best things to do in Dinan.
I have chosen to housesit for six weeks in Brittany, France and it is delivering its fair share of adventure and exploration. I savour rural French life with its leisurely pace, markets and emerald fields yielding produce in winter. Feeling rather French, I linger over café crèmes at corner bistros and search out local cider at the Intermarché.
Partaking in all this “joie de vivre,” I discover I have a new obsession. Well, perhaps more than one.
Galettes, warm and delectable, are number one.
But running a close second?
Not men in berets (although it should be).
Not cheap, exquisite wine (although this is a close contender).
This obsession holds a secret charm over me.
It has me driving all over Brittany.
I am captivated by medieval towns.
Their uneven cobblestones and lopsided houses delight my quirky nature.
Castles, dungeons and age-old ramparts? My imagination sprints to knights jousting and princesses gazing out from castle towers.
Dinan France feeds my medieval craving and intrigues my curious nature. After my third visit in the summer of 2023, I am convinced that with all the things to do in Dinan France, it is a must-visit for any traveller to France.
13 Things To Do In Dinan, France
1. Marvel At The Half-Timbered Houses
Of all the things to do in Dinan France, discovering the crooked, half timbered houses are a must. They abound in Dinan. Place des Merciers, the main triangular square, is the heart of the medieval town. Could stepping back in time look any more amazing?
Please Note When You Visit Dinan: In 2019 there was a disastrous fire in Dinan France which destroyed some of the oldest buildings. Read more here. The blue building, built in 1457, in the photo above is gone. The stone part on the right of the building remains. In July 2023, the building is under reconstruction.
In the early 19th century, Dinan had more than 1000 half timbered houses with porches, as shown in the photo above. Today only 17 remain. Note the ancient solid wooden beams supporting the home and the large windows to let in the daylight. These ancient buildings are remarkable.
2. Things To Do In Dinan: Stroll The Cobblestone Streets
One of the best things to do in Dinan is wander down the steep Rue du Jerzual which hums with artists’ shops and creativity. Browse unique creations by painters, sculptors and ceramists.
Each façade in Rue du Jerzual is unique and tells a story inviting the traveller to linger and observe.
3. Photograph The Façades
One of my favourite things to do in Dinan France is to photograph the intricate, antique doorways. The shutters, wrought iron, historical plaques, stonework and greenery are a photographer’s dream.
4. Amble Along The Ramparts In Dinan Brittany
One of the things to do in Dinan is to stroll the section of the 13th century ramparts behind the Basilica of Saint-Sauveur. Here you have a wonderful view of the Sainte Catherine Tower (pictured above) and over the Rance Valley.
There are 1.6 miles (2700 metres) of ramparts in Dinan along with 10 remaining guard towers (originally there were 14) and 4 remarkable gates that served as entrances to the medieval city.
5. Things To Do In Dinan: Attend A Festival
Every year in July, there is a Festival of the Ramparts in Dinan. This is one of the best-known medieval festivals in Europe and celebrates life in the Middle Ages and the historical sites in Dinan. Don’t miss knights jousting, the medieval fair, balls, concerts and the grand parade that takes place on the Sunday evening. Plan to visit Dinan during the festival!
2023 Dates: July 22 and 23
6. Admire La Tour de L’Horloge (The Clock Tower)
The Clock Tower has been watching over Dinan France since the end of the 14th century and ringing out as time passes. The Clock Tower is 141 feet (43 metres) high and served as the town hall until the French Revolution. The platform on top that now provides panoramic views was at one time a watch tower.
Use the bell tower to get your bearings in Dinan and be sure to climb the 158 steps for the marvellous view.
Le Tour de l’Horloge Opening Hours
The first weekend of February until the last weekend of March: Daily 1:30 to 6:30
The first weekend of April until the first weekend of October: Mondays 10:30 to 1 and 2 to 6:30; Tuesdays to Sundays 10:30 to 6:30
Le Tour de l’Horloge Cost: €4
7. Things To Do In Dinan: Get Lost
One of the essential things to do in Brittany is to get lost on the tiny cobbled streets.
Imagine for a minute all the people that came before you. I can almost hear them hawking their wares. It is not hard to imagine the fishmongers on rue de Poissonniers and the wool workers on rue de la Lainerie. Different times beg different wares. Twisting, antique streets in Dinan France now bustle with 21st-century bars and tourist shops.
8. Explore Dinan’s Churches
The Basilica of Saint-Sauveur
Its unique clock tower soars skyward making it another marker to get your bearings in Dinan. Construction started here in the 12th century and the Basilique de Saint-Sauveur has seen many restorations and different uses, even being used as a place to store grain during the French Revolution.
Take the time to visit the interior. Do you see the curious stone pillar near the entrance that depicts camels?
Find the lovely English Garden behind the church which was established in 1852.
The Saint Malo Church
Dating from the 15th century, the Eglise Saint-Malo is a grand example of the flamboyant gothic style in Brittany. It’s worth the detour to take a glance although I found the Basilica more intriguing. There are a few benches and trees outside the church inviting you to linger a while.
9. Things To Do In Dinan France: Discover The Port
The port of Dinan is historically important as it was from here as early as the 11th century that wine and wheat were exported. At a later date, the exporting of linen brought much prosperity to Dinan.
Stroll along the pathway of the River Rance and discover cafés, crêperies (try the local speciality of galettes and cider) and a marina full of sailboats.
10. Plan An Activity On The Rance River
There are plenty of activities to be found at the Port of Dinan. There are bicycle rentals, and canoe and kayak rentals. There are also electric boat rentals.
Hop aboard a one-hour cruise along the Rance. Leaving from the pier is the Jaman V cruise boat that has four sailings a day (11:00, 2:30, 4:00, and 5:30).
Do you find the thought of sailing from Dinan France to Dinard and Saint-Malo enticing? Try taking this boat cruise (2h and 45 minutes) in one direction or both ways.
11. Things To Do In Dinan France: Visit The Château
The Château de Dinan (Dinan Castle) was built in the 1380’s by the Duke of Brittany, Jean IV to assert his power over the people of Dinan. Centuries later during the Wars of Religion, the Castle of Dinan was used to defend its town.
A visit through the Dinan Castle takes you back in time to the daily life of the Dukes of Brittany and offers panoramic views from the top of the castle’s ramparts.
The Château de Dinan is impressive simply by walking around the exterior.
12. Find The Tucked Away Corners
If you are wondering what to do in Dinan France, you can be assured that your curious spirit will be thrilled! There is a hidden gem and a delightful discovery at every turn in Dinan. On my third visit to Dinan, I was equally as enchanted as the first time.
13. Soak Up Dinan’s Artsy Vibe
He greets me on my first visit, conducting the world from his perch. He leans into the classic slate rooftops of Dinan France, inviting exploration.
But he is not the only one. On my third visit to Dinan, I stumbled across the ancient convent, The Couvent des Cordeliers, at 22 rue de la Lainerie. A stunning medieval gem (including cloisters) that houses art exhibitions.
There are so many things to do in Dinan France. The medieval core is simply enchanting. Give yourself plenty of time. It is bliss for an explorer, satisfying all medieval obsessions!
“Time stands still
best in moments
that look suspiciously
Until next time,
More Travel Info…
The Dinan Tourism Office:
The Tourist Bureau at 9 rue du Château has helpful maps and guides full of what to do in Dinan. The walking maps are a great place to start.
Getting To Dinan:
By Car: Dinan is about a 50-minute drive from Mont-Saint-Michel and about 40 minutes from Saint-Malo.
By Train: If coming from Mont-Saint-Michel, take the bus to Pontorson and from Pontorson take the train to Dinan. This involves a switch in Rennes or Dol-de-Bretagne.
From Saint-Malo, there is a train service with a switch in Dol-de-Bretagne.
From Rennes, there are direct trains to Dinan.
Dinan Market Day:
Try to visit Dinan on its bustling market day. Thursday mornings see Place du Guesclin full of stalls selling delicious food, flowers, shoes, scarves, toys and other goods. It is lively and there is a wonderful sense of community.
Places To Visit Near Dinan:
Mont Saint Michel is only a 50-minute drive from Dinan. Read More Here.
Saint Malo, a fabulous walled city, is also close by. Here are some things to do in St Malo, a 40-minute drive from Dinan.
If you love the Most Beautiful Villages in France, Saint-Suliac and Montcontour are the closest to Dinan. I haven’t made it to either of these yet but here are 19 villages that are well worth visiting.
Love the ocean? Why not explore Cap Fréhel from Dinan? It’s a one-hour drive.
Is Dinan Worth Visiting?
When planning a trip to France, it is hard to prioritize where to stop. Add Dinan to the list! I have been to Dinan Brittany three times – once as a day trip, once as a 2-day trip, and once as a 3-day trip. On each Dinan visit, I found it to be captivating. Of all the things to do in Dinan, the historic centre is enthralling. Dinan has something to offer visitors of all ages. Dinan, France is an unforgettable stop on any itinerary through France.