When you’re on the hunt for things to do in Brittany, France, food and points of interest will center on its unique characteristics.
Every part of France has its own special spark, and Brittany is no exception. Welcome our guest author, Gigi Griffis, who comes armed with tasty recommendations and experienced tips on the best things to do in Brittany.
What is Brittany Famous For?
Brittany France Culture is a Blend
An oval of land that juts out into the English Channel adjacent to Normandy, Brittany is known for its unique culture—a blend between French and British. Its history is one of medieval wars (both France and Britain thought they owned it) and a population constantly in between.
This rich history makes for unique places to visit in Brittany.
Brittany points of interest unsurprisingly include stone castles fortified for war. In Brittany, food is tied to historical influences and its geographical landscape.
In Brittany, France culture melds with nods to Celtic tradition. Its citizens are fiercely independent who see themselves not as French but as Bretons.
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Best Things to Do in Brittany
So, what should you do (and eat) when you visit Brittany? Here are some suggestions of things to do in Brittany:
1. Walk the ancient walls of Dinan.
The town of Dinan is popular for a reason: its medieval center—all cobblestones and half-timbered houses and alleyways draped in flowers—is stunning.
This historic atmosphere makes Dinan one of the best places to visit in Brittany.
Dinan’s castle is a charmer. And the still-standing ancient walls of the city are the perfect place for a stroll.
You’ll pass towering cathedrals and pretty green parks, views down to the river far below, and equally beautiful views over the town’s winding cobblestone streets.
Where to eat in Dinan?
When you’re done strolling the ramparts, have lunch or dinner at La Fleur de Sel—the best restaurant in town—where they’ll serve traditional local fare like salted butter and salted butter caramel in a variety of upscale presentations.
2. Visit the second largest fresh market in France.
Ask anyone where to go in Brittany and they’ll inevitably recommend the Marché des Lices in the Breton capital of Rennes.
This is the second largest farmers market in the country, spanning two large indoor spaces and sprawling into the surrounding streets.
Locals brag that chefs come from Paris every week to stock their restaurants with fresh herbs and Breton seafood to authentically flavor their menus with Brittany cuisine.
When is the fresh market in Rennes open?
The market is held on Saturday mornings year-round and, naturally, it draws quite a crowd. If you prefer solitude, go as early as you can.
Before 9:00 a.m., things are still relatively mellow. By lunchtime, you’ll be waiting in lines and bumping shoulders.
3. Learn to make galettes and homemade mayonnaise in Rennes.
If culture is unique here, Brittany’s food is even more so. This region is the home of cooking traditions that are distinctly its own.
One of the most well-known things to eat in Brittany, France is the galette.
Galettes are savory crepes made with buckwheat. Sometimes they’re served crispy, sometimes spongy. Sometimes with a sausage, sometimes with ham and cheese.
But however you serve them, galettes never fail to impress friends back home. Galettes are why I always recommend that your visit to Brittany include a cooking class.
Options for cooking classes in Brittany are varied
The cooking class that left me smitten, which included galettes, homemade herb mayonnaise, Breton sea food, and an incredible strawberry-rhubarb tart, was taught by a French food writer in her sunny Rennes apartment via Airbnb.
4. Try real salted butter and salted butter caramel.
In Brittany, food is truly something special. So, after you’ve mastered the art of the galette in your cooking class, don’t stop there.
Try as many local specialties as you can, especially if they involve the local butter.
Why is Brittany famous for salted butter? The answer is actually taxes.
When the rest of France paid taxes on their salt, Brittany (for a number of reasons) was exempt. And so it was salt, salt everywhere! Salted butter. Salted butter caramel.
Because they’ve been making it longer, Bretons also think they make salted butter better than anyone else (and I can’t disagree – it’s something special).
What kind of salted butter products are available?
You can buy the butter smooth or crunchy (though crunchy is the more unique experience) and your best bet is to get some at the Rennes market.
For the special caramel made with Brittany’s salted butter, look in any bakery window or make a trip to the market. And anytime you see it on a menu, it’s probably worth ordering.
Tip: Non-U.S. citizens require an ESTA, which stands for Electronic System Travel Authorization. This electronic authorization is purchased prior to your departure, and transport companies will check your passport on the database to make sure you have it.
5. Visit Castle Clisson—former home of France’s most notorious female pirate.
In the early 1300s, Jeanne had a nice life: a husband she loved, three young children still at home, wealth and status as a noblewoman. And then everything went to hell.
Jeanne de Clisson embarked on revenge
Without a trial or any evidence, the king of France accused her husband of treachery and sentenced him to death by beheading. Jeanne was furious.
And so this forty-something noblewoman sold everything that wasn’t bolted down, raised an army, and took to the sea as a pirate, attacking any ship flying a French flag.
Some say Jeanne de Clisson terrorized France for over 10 years. Others say her ghost still haunts the halls of the castle ruin—which is well worth wandering through if you’re interested in castles, ruins, and history.
6. Explore the winding streets of Mont-Saint-Michel.
It’s technically in Normandy, but this iconic French destination is too close to pass up if you’re exploring the Brittany coast of France.
Just an hour by car from Rennes (or about 1.5 hours by train/bus), Mont-Saint-Michel is surrounded by water and only accessible by a raised road. At times, the tide goes sweeping outward, leaving a marshy expanse of sand between dry land and the isle.
Tips for when you visit Mont-Saint-Michel
Wander the winding streets and staircases as they climb upward into the famous abbey. Take photos from tiny parks along the way. And just enjoy the medieval ambiance of this unusual fortified island with just 50 full-time inhabitants.
Go early in the morning and preferably on a weekday. This popular spot gets busy fast. And plan on eating somewhere off the island as you follow the Brittany beaches back; the options on island are few, far between, and not particularly good.
7. Visit a medieval castle without many tourists in Vitré.
Need to get away from the tourist throngs for a few hours? The tiny medieval village of Vitré with its classic medieval castle is a good pick.
Vitré is less than 30 minutes from Rennes by train, but it’s much less famous than the other nearby castles and abbeys, so you’re more likely to have the place to yourself.
Plus, the castle grounds are free and the town itself is cute (if small). This underrated destination just might be one of the best places to visit in Brittany for these reasons.
8. Taste the famed kouign-amann at Coupel Bakery in Rennes.
This bakery and pastry shop is a local favorite and kouign-amann is a decidedly local favorite.
Made by folding layers of butter and sugar on top of each other, the final pastry comes out looking like a swirl with a crispy, caramel top.
It’s all butter and yet it tastes surprisingly light and refreshingly simple.
Planning a trip to Brittany?
Where to stay in Brittany?
If you’re pondering where to stay in Brittany, it’s worth noting that Rennes is the hub of public transportation. If you’re looking for a base to explore the region, it’s probably one of the best places to stay in Brittany.
How to get to Brittany from Paris?
French rail staff strikes regularly, so always check the SNCF site a few days before your journey to make sure you’re not affected by a strike. (And don’t panic; strikes usually just mean fewer trains, not a total shutdown of service.)
Which are the best places to stay in Brittany?
Accommodations are easy to find, but since this is such a foodie region with such a famous fresh market at its core, I recommend you consider renting a place with a kitchen.
Is Brittany expensive?
Budget-wise, Brittany is one of the more affordable places to travel in France. My month there, excluding any plane tickets and my partner’s half of the rent, cost just $1,648, and you could easily travel cheaper than I did.
Meet our guest author:
Gigi Griffis is a world-traveling entrepreneur and writer with a special love for all things European food. She’s a pain in the butt to travel with because she’ll make you go to every farmers market twice, but she’s also pretty good at finding the best food a place has to offer. You can find her at viciousfoodie.com.