Colorful, half-timbered houses, as seen here in Place du Champ-Jacquet, define the Rennes cityscape. Credit: Fotolia

Rennes: A City Guide

Soak up regional culture and history in Brittany’s capital

Rennes might not be the most well known of French cities, but if you choose to visit the capital of the scenic Brittany region, you will discover a real gem filled with surprises and local culture that will delight any Francophile. Rennes is also easy to get to from Paris, located just a two-hour train ride from the capital.

The city is a so-called “Timber Town” filled with characteristic half-timbered houses made out of wood from surrounding forests. These colorful buildings date as far back as 500 years, and despite a fire wiping out many in 1720, 370 of them still stand today, defining the unique cityscape.

Rennes is close to nature and ideal for exploring and hiking, but there’s also plenty of activities to keep you busy on a city break. We guide you where to eat, play and stay in Rennes, from the best bistros to the coziest hotels and everything in between. Allez! 

Eat

Rennes is first and foremost known for Breton treats such as galettes, traditionally paired with some thirst-quenching apple cider. With lots of fresh, local produce in the city’s food markets, you can find regional delicacies such as petit gris (melons and Reinette apples) as well as fresh seafood from the nearby coast—Rennes is a haven for food lovers! 

The gastronomy scene in Rennes also boasts 10 Michelin-starred restaurants, but options abound for every taste and budget. Make a reservation at La Réserve, a popular, contemporary bistro. This atmospheric place in the heart of the city is usually fully booked, and for good reason: they offer top-notch service and fair pricing for inventive yet hearty dishes that tickle the taste buds. Try their beloved main pollock served on fresh stir-fried vegetables with pilaf rice or beef flank steak with parsley butter and crispy fried potatoes.

Racines restaurant is another beloved venue that invites you to dine in style. This Modern European restaurant offers an exciting menu as well as one of the best fine wine selections around. Breton-born and Paris-trained chef Virginie Giboire runs the kitchen and offers subtle haute cuisine delights with textures and flavors worth splurging on. Savor farm-fed veal fillet paired with wild asparagus and oyster mushrooms or foie gras served with mouthwatering cherries, walnuts and amaranth. 

Play

Rennes is a city of hidden courtyards that seem made for having a little drink or two. Visit the former Saint-Michel prison that’s been turned into a festive and funky evening terrace or the The Le Combi bar for a vibrant garden with great DJs playing electronic music until late or the ultra chic 17th-century Molant mansion courtyard, which belongs to the restaurant Le Carré, and offers a place to unwind in style. 

If you’re feeling artsy, check out the La Criée art center that’s been entertaining visitors since 1986. The center (built in 1923) houses contemporary art and works as an exhibition space for ideas, encounters and discussions. The center celebrates local, French and international experimental art. 

Rennes is a city filled with green spaces and there are two unmissable parks, both created by 19th-century landscape architect Denis Bühler. Head to the stunning Thabor Gardens that is made up of English, French, botanical and rose gardens (more than 2,000 kinds) with an aviary, a cave, and a bandstand. Pack a picnic and go to Parc Oberthür to admire the ancient trees and enjoy some local festivities such as the free summer light shows on the Parlement de Bretagne, the Braderie du Canal Saint-Martin street market or the city’s annual Festival Gourmand in autumn where food trucks line the streets.

Lastly, you can use your time in Brittany to become an expert of the region. Not only is Rennes home to the Museum of Brittany, there’s also a science museum with a planetarium and the farm-turned-ecomuseum Bintinais located on the outskirts of the city where you can learn about the region’s agriculture history.

Stay

Hôtel Lanjuinais

Beloved and central in the old city, you’ll find this charming boutique hotel just a 15-minute walk from the train station. The 38 rooms (two of which are reserved for people with reduced mobility) sports contemporary interior design, are all soundproofed and have blackout curtains for a cocooned feeling. They also offer a Breton breakfast, an irresistible continental spread serving everything from crunchy pastries to surprise gourmet treats and crepes served with artisanal jam. 

Appart’ Rennes BnB Solferino

Just opposite the Rennes main train station you will find this homey BnB. The area is popular with city visitors and you have access to a garden as well as a well-equipped kitchenette and a dining area. The interior has been lovingly decorated and each apartment has a private bathroom and free Wi-Fi. This is the perfect choice for guests that want to make themselves feel right at home during their stay in Rennes.