Brittany’s vibrant capital is just two hours from Paris by TGV and less than an hour’s drive from the coast. It’s a town of the past and the future – loyal to its 2,000-year heritage, and forward-thinking thanks to its popular university and numerous annual festivals. Get lost in the maze of streets in the medieval old town, admiring rows of higgledy-piggledy half-timbered houses; buy fresh market produce at the magnificent Saturday market in Place des Lices; and dine and drink to your heart’s content at the lively bars on Rue St-Michel and in numerous excellent restaurants. Don’t miss…
One of Rennes' and Brittany's finest tourist attractions, the Parliament building was a court of justice under the Ancien Régime and remains a remarkable example of 17th-century grand royal and Parisian decorative style, designed by Salomon de Brosse. Highlights include The Great Chamber with its magnificent coffered ceilings and gilded panelling, and the granite and tufa stone of the interior courtyard. Following a fire in 1994 the building underwent a lengthy restoration and was reopened both as a court of appeal and as a public attraction. Tours are available throughout the year and must be booked through the tourist office.
At the heart of the town, this 10-acre public landscaped garden built during the Second Empire was once the orchard of one of France's oldest abbeys, St-Melaine. You can take a picnic and spend a few hours beside the exotic fountains, statues and multitude of plants – and enjoy plays and concerts performed here in the summer months. The Parc also contains a compact but significant jardin botanique (botanic garden). Open all year round, with opening hours dependent on the season.
This square was formerly a medieval jousting area where festivals and tournaments were held, lined with large timber-framed or stone townhouses. Today, two metal framed market halls, designed in 1869 by Martenot in the style of the French architect Baltard, house France’s second largest food market every Saturday morning.
This new cultural centre of purple schist, concrete and glass is home to the Musée de Bretagne, the Espace des Sciences with its planetarium, and the town’s library.
Art lovers should make a beeline for this museum with its numerous Great Master works: Rubens, Véronèse, Chardin, De La Tour and Picasso. Open daily except Mondays and Bank Holidays, 10am-12pm and 2pm-6pm.
Écomusée du Pays de Rennes
Spread over three floors, this rural museum presents five centuries of history of the Bintinais farm, one of Rennes’ largest farms situated on its outskirts. Open daily except Mondays and Bank Holidays. April to September 9am-6pm; October to March 9am-12pm and 2pm-6pm; Saturdays 2pm-6pm and Sundays 2pm-7pm.
Rennes’ opera house, designed by Charles Millardet in 1830, is crowned with statues of Apollo and the muses. Its rotunda contrasts with the concave central section of the limestone and granite Hôtel de Ville standing opposite, built in Baroque and Classical style. Free guided tours can be booked at the tourist office in summer.