10 Things to do and places to see in Brittany, France
Brittany, a region located in Western France has always been, even for us locals, a place shrouded with mystery. With beautiful beaches and islands, to dangerous rocky shores. The inland is, also, a land that makes one dream with all of its legends and the forest of Broceliande that hides many stories.
From the gorgeous, pink tinted, Cotes d’Armor to the Finistere (which literally translates to the ‘End of the World’), the region is filled with history and landscapes, and it might seem hard to navigate if it’s your first time in the area.
Fear not, while I might not be from Brittany, this region is one I love very much and I will try to guide you the best I can through some of the best things to see in the area. Do not take the numbers too seriously, I’ve simply put the most well known areas first before getting to, maybe, some of my favourites.
1 / Things to do in Brittany: the beaches of Saint Malo
Saint-Malo might be one of Brittany’s most popular holiday spots. Not too far from Paris and an easy day trip from the famous Mont St Michel, the city is located along the coast and offers some gorgeous beaches.
Be aware that this town is filled come summer due to the perfect temperatures it enjoys, and because locals and tourists alike pick it as their destination. Things are expensive (let’s not mention how hard it gets to get a parking spot even at a stupidly high price) but it’s maybe a good introduction to the region even though I tend to think it’s mainly what Paris might look like when it goes on holiday…
The city walls are a lovely walk and after a tour you can enjoy a cafe on one of the many terraces of the city’s entrance. A good introduction to your holiday before getting in your car for a long, very long, ride West.
How long should you plan there: It’s worth a day trip, a night there might be expensive.
If you are planning to stay, check those hotels.
2 / A haven at the end of the earth: Concarneau
Concarneau is located in the Finistere (the end of the world as I mentioned earlier) and makes for a hell of a long ride but it is worth the effort. The town has, in its centre, the old city that has been kept intact, and of which the many small shops which will give you ample opportunity to rid yourself of your money.
The markets on the main square are also a perfect chance to try out local food ( you’ve got to try the kouign amann, a cake made with a LOT of butter, but it’s worth every single bite! ) and some very fresh seafood.
In Summer the city hosts a lot of events, and the local tourism office is pretty good at providing information. Go check it out, located close to the old town they have staff speaking English too.
How long should you plan there: Two days or maybe three if you plan on a boat trip (which, really, you should if the sea allows it)
Check your options here.
3 / Things to do in Brittany: the end of the earth at the Pointe du Raz
The pointe du Raz is where it all ends. Try to imagine that someone used to live on that lighthouse where the waves crash every second of every day. One of the most dramatic landscapes you will find in the region, whatever the weather, go and visit it.
Rain and strong winds can make for an epic journey and the closer you get to the tip of the rocks, the harder it gets to move forward.
While the entrance is free, the parking is not, and at a whooping 6.50EUR. A few shops and restaurants are settled near the entrance, they might be a little expensive, bring your own lunch and enjoy a proper meal wherever you are staying.
How long should you plan there: A morning or an afternoon should be enough. Consider that it is quite the drive so add that time to your plans.
4 / Visiting the coast of Pink Granit in Ploumanac’h
This city was voted as one of the country’s favourites in 2015 and for good reasons! The beautiful pink granite along the coast gives it an incredible charm. Visiting Perros-Guirrec, Ploumanac’h is your best option to start your hike along the “Cote de Granit Rose”, but mainly its stunning pink lighthouse makes for quite a stunning resting point.
There’s also a lovely feeling walking along there, everyone is friendly and exchanges a quick hello, that’s also what most of France is like once you get away from Paris, so prepare your best smile and “Bonjour” since you will most likely need it.
How long should you plan there: At least two days if you want to go as far as possible along the Cote de Granit Rose.
Hotels in Ploumanach are widely available.
5 /Things to do in Brittany: the taste of a medieval Dinan.
A medieval town nestled along the river, Dinan has some fantastic old buildings, some of which date back to the 13th century. Not too far to Saint Malo, if you can only pick one of the two then it would have to be Dinan.
The whole city centre feels old and the wooden structures on some of the walls will bring you back to and older France. Be aware that, once again, being in the Eastern most point of Brittany, the town gets very busy in Summer and the streets quickly become hard to navigate in such a crowd.
How long should you plan there: A morning or afternoon trip to maybe couple with Saint Malo.
You could almost visit from the Mont Saint Michel but this is quite a drive. Try to stay in town if you can.
6 /An impressive cathedral in Treguier.
Treguier is most well known for its impressive cathedral. In the centre of town, its architecture can easily be admired. Check the roof of one of the spires: the symbols of playing cards were added to it. Try to spot all of them!
Staying in town is a good option as there’s a bit of night life and mainly a lot of gorgeous little restaurants in the area. Take the chance to try a very tasty “moules frites” and some crepes with some cidre, and get back to me on which one is your favourite: Normand or Breton ?
If you like religious events, the Pardon de St Yves is a one of the major festivals happening in town and attracts massive crowds.
How long should you plan there: Two days or more to sample all of the tasty food that can be found in town.
We stayed in a lovely B and B outside of town but if you want to stay in the centre then here are your options.
7 / Things to do in Brittany: the red cliffs of Cap Frehel
Mainly a day trip from Saint Malo, the Cap Frehel is a fantastic walk along some red cliffs that sure attract the eye. If you’re not a big fan of heights then stay on the path! Once you’ve reached the lighthouse, keep walking and you’ll get closer to the end of the cliffs. From the Sables d’Or (also a big destination for local tourists) you can easily get there by bike or take your car. Parking spots are available near the Cap.
How long should you plan there: Only a few hours unless you plan on cycling there then maybe book the afternoon or the day.
8/ Visiting the fishermen coming back from a day at sea at Le Guilvinec.
Fishing always had a major influence on the region of Brittany. It’s perfect location, surrounded by the sea quickly created opportunities for the locals. The sea and the Bretons have a very special relationship. Whatever the waves, whatever the weather, the fishermen will leave to bring back their catch of the day, and most of the cities you will visit were (and maybe still are) ports.
Le Guilvinec is one of the best spots to observe this very particular part of Brittany’s culture. Everyday, fishermen return with their catches and drop them on the door of a giant market. If you are lucky and early enough you might be able to get in, otherwise you can still observe from afar and see the boats returning surrounded by birds hoping to be fed.
How long should you plan there: Plan for an hour or two if you get lucky enough to get in the market. Plan in advance if that is something you want to do.
9 / Things to do in Brittany: getting back in time in Moncontour
Moncontour is located inside Brittany, landlocked, it doesn’t have the same attraction that makes its rivals so special: sea side, beaches, amazing seafood, but there’s something Moncontour does better than all of them: embrace its medieval history.
Climbing up into town you’ll end up in the historical centre of the city, inside the city walls, and it will not take you very long to see why this was, too, one of France’s favourite cities. The medieval history is completely embraced, every shop, even banks, have iron signs hanging from their doors, the menus of restaurants are well thought to follow tradition, and the architecture of each house fits perfectly with their surroundings. It’s not surprise that every year the town of Moncontour hosts medieval fairs.
If you can make it in time then get dressed up and join in!
How long should you plan there: A day should be enough but if you’ve got time then it’s the perfect place to stay a little longer and simply relax for a while.
10 / A slice of paradise at the Glenan Islands.
Last but not least: the Glenan Islands. You’ll have to get on a boat to get to this one (easily doable from Concarneau ) and spend a full day there but it’s worth it.
Those beautiful islands are so small that only a few houses do exist and, of course, a bar and a restaurant. Called the Tahiti of Brittany, they might not be wrong when the beautiful beaches unveil themselves once you get there.
Their natural ecosystems are also what makes them so special, many different types of birds that are endangered live on the islands, so if you are into bird watching, it might be your chance!
For those of you who, like me, end up there on a sunny day, get your sunscreen and keep applying it. When people tell you that the sun is very strong, they are not lying and most visitors return with sunburn.
How long should you plan there: A day minimum but be aware that if you are into water sports you can stay on the island (there is a small guest house) and enjoy the area a little longer.
I know, this might be confusing, in this pick there was no mention of major cities like Rennes, Brest and Nantes (if you do consider Nantes in Brittany but that’s a whole other debate ) but they had to compete with other areas that, I believe, deserve it a little more. I would have also loved to add Belle-Isle en-Terre (and Mer), Loc Envel and many more but it wouldn’t be a top 10 any more would it?
All of this to say that if you are visiting France soon, consider Brittany, it really will give you a run for your money, with gorgeous nature and history it remains one of my favourite places in France.
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