What to do in Rennes?
For a weekend in Brittany or for a few days of vacation, let yourself be surprised by Rennes, the capital of the region.
In order to help you visit Rennes, we have decided to prepare a short guide to places of interest to see, which will help you plan your visit to the city and its surroundings over 1, 2 or 3 days.
Here is our top 15 things to do and see in and around Rennes, with, as a bonus, our advice on routes and good food, as well as our selection of the best hotels to sleep in Rennes.
So, what to do and see in Rennes?
1. The Historic Center of Rennes
We begin our discovery of the city by the historic center of Rennes.
It is here that you can discover one of the particularities of the city: its half-timbered houses with richly colored facades. You may not know it, but Rennes is one of the cities in France with the most half-timbered houses. In total there are 286!
To admire them, take the pretty cobbled streets of Rue du Chapitre, Rue de la Psalette and Rue du Saint-Sauveur.
It is also in the historic district that most of the monuments to visit in Rennes are located , such as the town hall, the opera house or the Saint-Pierre de Rennes cathedral.
These buildings are of course part of the essentials to see in Rennes, I will tell you about them in detail a little further down.
And as in any self-respecting historic center, you will find many cafes and restaurants to eat.
It is one of the best places to go for a walk in Rennes.
Tips for your Rennes itinerary:
Start by going to the Rennes tourist office located rue Saint-Yves to get a tourist map, it’s always practical.
2. Saint-Pierre Cathedral in Rennes
Rebuilt many times, in perpetual work for centuries, and finally restored between 2009 and 2014, Saint-Pierre Cathedral in Rennes will surprise you.
With an exterior that is quite classic and banal, it is inside that you can admire its beauty.
Of Italian inspiration, you can see magnificent stained glass windows, a Roman high altar, rich decorations and paintings, a superbly decorated vault and the great organs dating from the 19th century.
We understand all this splendor when we learn that Saint-Pierre Cathedral was the place of coronation of the Dukes and Duchesses of Brittany and therefore hosted key moments in the History of France and Brittany.
It is one of the places of interest to do absolutely in Rennes.
3. The Mordelaise Gates
The Portes Mordelaises were the main entrance to the city from the 15th century.
This building is characterized by a large door used for the passage of vehicles and a small pedestrian door, surrounded by 2 symmetrical towers enhanced with battlements. The gate was closed by a double drawbridge and served as a defense system for the city.
At the time, all the dukes of Brittany had to take an oath under this door before their enthronement, which also earned it the nickname “royal door”.
Today it is one of the only vestiges of the ramparts of Rennes. It has been badly damaged by time but a development project is currently underway with the creation of a promenade along the ramparts.
Do not hesitate to take a tour during your visit to the historic center. It is located near the cathedral.
4. The Place des Lices Market
If you have decided to visit Rennes at the weekend, on Saturday morning, go to the Place des Lices market, the second largest market in France.
In addition to being located in a very beautiful setting surrounded by large half-timbered houses, you will find nearly 300 local producers selling fruit and vegetables, fresh fish, meat and cheese.
For nearly 4 centuries, it has been the unmissable meeting place for Rennes residents and tourists to do their shopping at attractive prices.
The market is mainly devoted to food but there is also a very nice part selling flowers.
Tips for your Rennes itinerary:
Above all, don’t leave before having tasted the famous pancake-sausage, a well-known snack in Upper Brittany for satisfying your hunger pangs. A delight!
5. Place de l’Hôtel de Ville and the Rennes Opera
The Place de l’Hôtel de Ville in Rennes is really very aesthetic and is worth the detour for the 2 historical monuments that are there: the Hôtel de Ville and the Opera.
The Hôtel de Ville was built in 1720, following the great fire that ravaged Rennes. The architect decided to combine 3 monuments into one by connecting them with the clock tower, which gave it its astonishing arcuate shape.
The Hôtel de Ville also houses its own small Pantheon, a room adorned with marble plaques where the names of all the people of Rennes who died fighting for France are engraved. You can visit it for free.
Opposite the Hôtel de Ville is the second remarkable building on the square, the Opéra de Rennes. Its rounded shape has been designed to fit perfectly into the curved shape of the Town Hall.
This gives the place a certain originality but which was far from unanimous when it was inaugurated. With only 642 seats, it is one of the smallest opera houses in France.
Several times a year, the Opera opens its doors offering tours or open rehearsals. You can of course also buy tickets to attend a performance.
Every two years, the end-of-season lyric opera is broadcast live on giant screens throughout the city, making this art known to a wider audience.
Find all the information about the Rennes Opera on its official website.
Tips for your Rennes itinerary:
One of the last colonies of house swallows having taken up residence above the entrance doors of the Town Hall, a protective tarpaulin has been put in place to avoid bird droppings when leaving weddings!
If you have chosen to go to Rennes for a few days, go to the Place de l’Hôtel de ville in the evening, the lighting of the opera is very beautiful!
6. The Parliament of Brittany
The Parliament of Brittany is one of the monuments not to be missed in Rennes and one of the symbols of Brittany.
Seat of parliament until the revolution of 1790, it then served as a court of justice. Destroyed by fire in 1994, and magnificently restored, it now houses the Court of Appeal of Brittany and the Court of Assizes of Ille-et-Vilaine.
You can visit the parliament but only by going through the Tourist Office beforehand, which organizes the visits. It is one of the rare places in France reconciling the exercise of justice with tourist visits.
The visit notably allows you to admire the most famous room of the Parliament, the Grand’Chambre whose coffered gilded wooden ceiling with its painted canvases is unique in Europe.
Tips for your Rennes itinerary:
What to do in Rennes in summer?
Every evening in summer, you can attend an illumination show on the facade of the Parliament of Brittany.
7. Thabor Park
Parc du Thabor is the essential place to walk and relax in Rennes, both for tourists and for locals who affectionately call it the “Central Park of Rennes”.
On more than 10 hectares, this park combines a French garden, an English park, a grotto, ponds and waterfalls, a botanical garden, an aviary, a bandstand and a rose garden with more than 2,000 varieties of roses.
Add play areas for children and you will have found the ideal place to spend an afternoon with the family in Rennes and enjoy nature.
For the more athletic, the park also offers a 1.5 kilometer long running track , so there’s no excuse for doing a bit of sport during the holidays.
In summer, every Sunday evening, you can also attend music or dance shows organized in the bandstand and the open-air theatre.
Finally, every year, Thabor Park hosts the Mythos Festival, a spring festival mixing genres.
On the program: storytelling, music, theater and gastronomy with a marquee specially reserved for around fifty invited chefs to present their cuisine. A great idea of things to do in Rennes in the evening!
8. The Champs Libres and the FRAC Bretagne
Les Champs Libres is quite simply the cultural center of Rennes.
This complex is composed of:
- From the Museum of Brittany which paints a portrait of the region from prehistory to the present day, through a rich collection of objects.
- The Espace des Sciences and its Planetarium which offers a wide variety of temporary exhibitions on biodiversity, high-speed trains, food and dinosaurs. Children will particularly appreciate Merlin’s laboratory where they can discover scientific phenomena while playing. Also worth doing is the Planetarium which takes you on a discovery of the Universe.
- A huge library on 6 floors which, in addition to encouraging you to read, also hosts temporary exhibitions. The glazed facades will allow you to admire a beautiful panorama over the whole city of Rennes.
All the information you need for your visit is on the official Champs Libres website.
And if you prefer to discover contemporary art during your visit to Rennes, head to the FRAC Bretagne (the regional fund for contemporary art in Brittany). You will be able to discover nearly 5000 contemporary works.
The place exhibits 700 different artists and brings together photos, drawings, paintings and also videos.
FRAC Bretagne information, timetables and prices on the official website.
9. The Rennes Museum of Fine Arts
Another museum to visit in Rennes, the Museum of Fine Arts.
Constituted in 1794 from works seized after the Revolution, thanks in particular to the collection of the cabinet of curiosities of the President of the Parliament of Brittany until 1756, the museum has seen its collection grow over the centuries.
Today, the greatest artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt or even Donatello are represented there. All the various artistic currents are found there.
The visitor will travel through history, from Egyptian antiquities to contemporary art, there is bound to be a painting or a drawing that will catch your eye.
Find all the information on the museum and the exhibitions on the website of the museum of fine arts.
10. Vilaine in Rennes
Another major asset of Rennes is its river, the Vilaine, which crosses it from side to side and allows you to enjoy the joys of a walk, whether by the water’s edge or on the water.
You can start your walk at the François Mitterrand mail which provides access to the quays of the Vilaine.
Continue along the quays, admire the buildings and barges, stop at the gardens of the confluence. This green space with pontoons, footbridges and benches is very pleasant and quiet. It is also the meeting place for fishermen.
The Vilaine is also very pleasant to cycle through. The main course is 45 kilometers from the François Mitterrand mail and is accessible to all. It’s a great way to visit Rennes and its surroundings!
You can leave from the center of Rennes and cycle along the towpath until you reach the Apigné ponds.
If you continue further south, admire the locks, castles and mills and reach the Boël mill which offers one of the most beautiful views of the river.
And why not enjoy an outing on the Vilaine during your stay in Rennes?
Whether by canoe, paddle or barge, there is something for everyone. Opt for rental and go on an adventure!
What to do around Rennes?
If you are traveling to Rennes for several days, it is a good idea to take a walk around!
Here are our 5 ideas for outings to do around Rennes.
A little less than an hour from Rennes by car or train, is Saint-Malo, the corsair city.
Its ramparts are a must-see, as they offer breathtaking views of the beaches, the port, the forts and the city. At low tide, you can also take a walk on the Grand Bé island.
A very nice place to see in the surroundings of Rennes!
Tips for your Rennes itinerary:
If you want to go on a weekend in Brittany near Saint-Malo, the best time to visit is for me at the beginning of June. The weather will be good and you will avoid the summer human tide!
12. Brocéliande Forest
The famous forest of Brocéliande, cradle of many legends and in particular that of King Arthur, Merlin the Enchanter and the knight Lancelot is just under 45 minutes from Rennes.
If you have chosen to visit Rennes and its surroundings, this is the ideal place for a family outing.
And if you’re single, don’t miss going to see the Barenton fountain and its magic bubbles that would help young girls find a husband :-).
40 minutes from Rennes, I recommend that you visit the town of Fougères, a very pretty medieval town.
It is known for its cobbled streets, half-timbered houses and above all its very beautiful medieval castle.
A tip: take the walkway to enjoy the panorama of the city and the surrounding area.
Vitré is another medieval town, also located a 40-minute drive from Rennes.
On the same model as in Fougères, you will find the old streets, half-timbered houses and a medieval castle. It’s up to you to choose the city that tempts you the most, because personally, I loved both!
If you have time, it’s a good idea to visit both, as they’re only 25 minutes apart.
15. Essé – La Roche aux Fées
40 minutes from Rennes is a geological curiosity, La Roche-aux-Fées, the largest dolmen in France. The site is impressive with its 40 stone blocks, some of which weigh more than 40 tons.
The legend says that it would be the Fairy Viviane, helped by other fairies who would have built it. For lovers, go around each in a different direction, count the stones, if you find the same number, your future together is assured!
How many days to visit Rennes?
To see the main places of interest, I advise you to spend at least a weekend in Rennes.
If you also want to visit the surroundings, you can of course spend 3 or 4 days there.
1 Day Rennes Itinerary
In one day in Rennes, we advise you to:
- Start your visit in the historic center to admire the half-timbered houses
- Enter the Saint-Pierre Cathedral in Rennes
- Go through the Mordelaise gates
- Lunch break in one of the many restaurants in the old town
- Visit the Parliament of Brittany
- Spend a quiet late afternoon in Thabor Park.
2 Days Rennes Itinerary
For a 2-day stay in Rennes, simply take the first day and add:
- If you have children or if you are a big child yourself, start the day in the Science area and the Planetarium
- Visit to the Museum of Fine Arts
- Lunch break
- Walk, cycle or boat along the Vilaine.
3 Days Rennes Itinerary
In 3 days in Rennes, you will have time to see all the must-see places in the city and even to visit the surroundings of Rennes, with, for example, a last day devoted to Saint-Malo or the forest of Brocéliande.
Accommodation in Rennes
So that you know where to sleep in Rennes, here is my selection of hotels offering the best value for money in the city:
- Hotel Arcantis le Voltaire : Located 2 kilometers from Rennes Cathedral. This simple but clean and comfortable hotel offers rooms from €42 per night, breakfast at €8. Most: the quiet area, the terrace, the free parking and a hearty breakfast.
- Aparthotel Adagio Access Centers Rennes : 5 minutes walk from the center of Rennes. Modern and bright studio with fitted kitchen from €72 per night, breakfast at an additional €8.5. The pluses: the possibility of cooking for yourself, proximity to the city center, very quiet hotel, welcoming staff.
- Odalys Appart’hôtel Lorgeril : Located very close to the François Mitterrand mall. Modern and spacious studio with kitchenette from 80€, breakfast at 12€. Most: location, quiet room, comfortable bedding.
- Balthazar Hotel & Spa – MGallery by Sofitel: 5-star hotel located in the city center, 200 m from the Museum of Fine Arts. Well-equipped and comfortable room from €170, breakfast at €25. The pluses: the wellness centre, the comfort and decor of the rooms, the bedding. This is our recommendation for a luxury stay in Rennes.
Where to eat in Rennes
- La Saint Georges : Located right in the center of Rennes, the owner is so successful that he has opened two establishments. Undoubtedly the best creperie in Rennes, the Saint Georges offers delicious original pancakes with fresh, quality products. Amusing detail, all the savory pancakes bear the name of a famous George. For once you can treat yourself with Georges Clooney!!
- 2 Rue des Dames : Located in the historic center of Rennes. Restaurant that offers seasonal dishes, good and with quality products for a refined cuisine. It’s our favourite, value for money, with a lunch menu starting at €13.
- Café Breton : Located Rue Nantaise, very close to the cathedral. This restaurant with a rustic decor typical of Brittany offers traditional cuisine with fresh seasonal produce. The dishes are greedy and generous for a more than correct price.
Rennes Tourist Map
To help you visualize the city a little better, I made you a tourist map of Rennes listing the places to visit that I talk about in this top 15 things to do in Rennes. You can display the map legend by clicking on the top left button with a small arrow.
FAQ – Questions about Rennes
What to do in Rennes with the family?
If you are planning to visit Rennes with your children, I recommend the following activities:
- Visit the historic center of Rennes on foot
- Take a walk in the Parc du Thabor
- Visit the Science area and the planetarium
- A barge ride on the Vilaine or along the banks by bike
- Tree climbing in the Parc des Gayeulles or another family activity: mini golf, small zoo, swimming pool
- Take them to Enigmaparc, an indoor puzzle-themed amusement park with mazes and treasure hunts.
- Discover the ecomuseum of the country of Rennes (or “ecomuseum of Bintinais) on the life of the inhabitants of the time with also a farm with animals.
What to do in Rennes when it rains?
If unfortunately the rain prevents you from doing some sightseeing in Rennes, until it calms down, I advise you:
- To visit the museums of Rennes: the Museum of Fine Arts, the Champs Libres, the FRAC Bretagne
- To discover the Parliament of Brittany during a guided tour organized by the Rennes tourist office
- To see the interior of Rennes Cathedral
- An introduction to wine tasting
- To do indoor activities: ice rink, laser game, indoor climbing, escape game, virtual reality …
- A quiz room where you can challenge your friends in a real TV set setting
Is there a pass to visit Rennes?
The Rennes Citypass is only available in summer (from the end of June to the end of August), which means that the activities and visits included change every year.
There is a Rennes Citypass for 24 or 48 hours that you can order online.
You will find all the updated information on Destination Rennes, the website of the Rennes tourist office.
This summer in Rennes, for example, you will have the right to a guided tour, a boat trip on the Vilaine and admission to museums.
And you, what do you plan to do in Rennes?
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