La Bretagne: Rennes
Ever since I arrived in France, I’ve been asking the French about the places I need to visit. France has so much to offer and it can be difficult to prioritize! Truth be told I want to do it all. I noticed that Brittany, la Bretagne, consistently tops their lists and knew it had to be near the top of mine as well.
The where in Brittany was less clear. Because I knew I wanted to see Mont Saint Michel (technically Normandy but more on this in a post to come) and was dying to go to Saint Malo after recently finishing All the Light We Cannot See, Rennes made sense as a “home base”. Plus, it’s the second largest city in Brittany and I am definitely a city girl at heart.
I really didn’t know what to expect in Rennes, but I had connected with another English assistant in that region who was really excited to hear about my visit and gave me some tips, plus I always find that when I follow what speaks most to me the city unfolds in magical ways.
A few of my discoveries in the city of Rennes
Whenever I’m headed to a new to me city, I always start with some quick Google Maps searches to get a general idea of what I might want to see and do. After figuring out which monuments and historical sites to hit I go straight for coffee shops, unique boutiques, and book stores. I also search for blogs about the city because bloggers usually have great information about new or less touristy spots.
For me, visiting the cathedral is always a must. In Rennes it’s the Cathédrale Saint Pierre with beautiful vaulted ceilings and plenty of gold leaf. I also wanted to see the Parlement de Bretagne, an important symbol not only for Rennes but the for the entire region. The city hall and opera can be found on either side of Place de la Mairie, two buildings designed to fit together like pieces of a puzzle. There’s also Place de la République right by the river Vilaine which, fun fact, is French for ugly. I bought a magnet that says “Mais non Rennes, tu n’es pas vilaine". But no Rennes, you’re not ugly. Indeed it was not. Just across the way you’ve got the Musée des Beaux-Arts. When I’m solo traveling I always like to have a museum or two on my list. It’s a great way to pass the time, and I love smaller museums for a more peaceful experience. For a little fresh air, Parc du Thabor is stunning, and I also stumbled upon the beautiful Jardin Saint Georges (the beauty of simply letting things unfold as you go).
The New Rennes
I quickly got the sense that Rennes has so many new things going on. I discovered the boutique French Blossom through my initial Google search and was so excited to check it out… so much so that I stopped in on the way to my Airbnb before I had even set my bags down! The shop was so well curated. I picked up some cider, dark chocolate, and a little local advice! I think talking to shop owners is one of the best ways to connect with locals while traveling and have genuine conversations in French. The girls told me about two great shopping streets: Rue du Chapitre and Rue de Bertrand. It turns out Rue du Chapitre was very close to my Airbnb and became my favorite street in the city. As mentioned above, I turn to blogs for more local recommendations. Rennes à coup de coeur was perfect for this. They’ve even published a hard copy of their Le City Guide de Rennes which I ended up purchasing for more ideas + it made a great souvenir with beautiful photographs of the city.
Here are a few of my favorite Rennes addresses:
French Blossom (boutique) - 14 Rue de Nemours
Made in Frogs (boutique GREAT for Rennes souvenirs) - 12 Rue du Chapitre
La Saint Georges (crêpes and galettes, regional specialties) - 11 Rue du Chapitre or 17 Rue Jules Simon
Chéri Chéri (café + concept store) - 13 Rue Hoche
La Kitchenette (café) - 2 Rue Jules Simon
Oh My Biche (café) - 3 Rue du Puits Mauger
From top to bottom: Chéri Chéri, encore Chéri Chéri, and La Kitchenette, great places for une petite pause
To get to Rennes, I took the train from Gare Montparnasse in Paris. The train ride was only about an hour and a half. I think it’s worth stopping in Rennes if you also want to do Mont Saint Michel or another city in Brittany (Dinan and Dinard are still on my list!). I’m sure you could do a day trip to Mont Saint Michel from Paris but it would be too much in one day for me.
I had about two full days in Rennes and thought this was a good amount of time to explore.
I stayed in an Airbnb in Rennes called Le Céleste that I cannot recommend more highly. The apartment was in an old half timbered building tucked among the cobbled streets behind the cathedral. The host, Françoise, was amazing. You could tell how much love and care she put into the apartment from the moment you walked in. For around $90 a night I enjoyed a 5-star experience. There was even a guest book! I was among guests from all over the world who have enjoyed her little haven. Merci beaucoup Françoise!
Et voilà, a visit to Rennes! Like I said, I didn’t really know what to expect but I would definitely go back. I was charmed. Have you explored la Bretagne? I would love to know what cities are on your “must visit” list!
Warm wishes from me to you!
(Truly, because I got a week of 50 degree sunny days in Brittany! Incroyable!)