Britanny is surrounded by the sea, a land of ships and fish and waves crashing against towering
It is a combination of wild and cultured, of sea foam and Celtic roots. It's a place unlike any other in France, part-magical, part-medieval, but stunningly beautiful if you like untouched natural landscapes and postcard-perfect ports with boats bobbing in the water, heavy with their catch.
Of the many things to do in Brittany, those related to the sea will probably be the ones you do most.
Brittany is a cultural treasure trove, yet it is also France's only region not to have any official UNESCO World Heritage sites.
For Bretons, though, Brittany is by far the best place on earth.
It's just that the rest of the world doesn't know it yet.
Brittany makes up France's extreme west, jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean like the bow of a boat. It is made up of four départements (here are the other 97): they are Ille-et-Vilaine (35), Côtes d'Armor (22), Morbihan (56), and Finistère (29).
With its nearly 2500 kilometers of coastline (1500 miles) it's no wonder Brittany's eyes turn to the sea, its hidden creeks and beaches concealing crystal-clear waters. This makes it ideal for every possible type of water sports, from sailing and surfing to scuba diving – or simply to gaze upon its wild beauty.
Just one thing: don't complain about the "invigorating" water temperature.
And where there are rugged coastlines, there are also crashing waves, cliffs and boulders.
Whatever your pleasure, if you love the sea and are partial to wild nature, medieval villages and Celtic culture, then you'll go wild over Brittany.
Arriving from Paris by car, the Ille-et-Vilaine is the first départment you'll drive into. Its capital, Rennes, is also the capital of Brittany, a delightful city filled with crooked houses and cobblestoned streets.
The département is full of medieval history, but is also home to such national treasures as the Saint-Malo city ramparts.
Saint-Suliac: Not far from Saint-Malo is the seaside village of Saint-Suliac, its beautiful granite houses with cheerful shutters bordering a gentle bay dotted with fishing boats, the occasional net recalling a past of cod fishing off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.
Cancale: This lovely port is famous for its oysters, which you can sample right off the boat, or sitting along the port, or in one of the many eateries along the water. If you hike around here (the famous GR34 rears its head again) you'll see all the oyster banks in the distance. You'll also find lovely creeks and white sandy beaches on the way to Saint-Malo, but eating oysters is definitely one of the top things to do in Brittany.
Bécherel: This village may have fewer than 1000 inhabitants, but it has more than a dozen bookshops! Stroll along the granite houses of this hilltop village and enjoy the views.
Dinard: This is one of the most famous places along the Emerald Coast and possibly the best-known spa town, with its lovely villas and Belle Epoque vibe, and the iconic blue and white beach tents lined up along the main beach. Look across the water for a stunning view of the fortified city of Saint-Malo.
There's something magical about the Morbihan – the beauty of its ancient buildings and gulf islands, of course, but also the legends that hide behind the Carnac stones and the Brocéliande Forest.
In a land filled with glorious medieval towns, Vannes, the capital of this départment, is one of the best towns in Brittany. Once its capital, it was supplanted by Rennes when Brittany became French.
This is a much-loved region and you'll run out of time before you run out of places to see.
Belle-Île-en-Mer: This is wilderness at its best, and a perfect defensive point against foreign invaders and pirates during the Middle Ages., fortified with the stunning Citadelle Vauban (yes, again!). But there's much more to see on the island, from the busy Port du Palais to the pastel colours of Sauzon and the wild coast of the north. To the west, the rocky cliffs and crashing waves fascinated Claude Monet, and you'll see why. A bus tour might well be the easiest way to tour the island and it's one of the favourite Brittany tourist attractions.
Quiberon Peninsula: This stunning area is made for lovers of nature, from its sunsets to beaches to wild coastlines, among the best of Brittany for natural landscapes.
The Côtes d’Armor takes you deeper into Breton immersion as the local language swirls around you and you stumble upon more quaint fishing villages (we can never see too many of these!) and dramatic cliff backdrops.
This is also home to the ravishing 13th-century town of Dinan, where you'll feel like you've stepped out of a time machine.
Ploumanach': This adorable fishing village along the Granite Coast boasts a spectacular stone lighthouse, an iconic sight of the village.
L'île de Bréhat: The way to see this postcard-perfect island is on foot or by renting a bike, because it is car-free, its pretty inlets with turquoise waters and dramatic − and photogenic − stone formations.
Moncontour: One of the "most beautiful villages in France", known as the plus beaux villages de France. Once made wealthy by the textile trade, some of the regal homes of the period remain − as do the town ramparts.
Tréguier: This historical bishopric is home to the Cathédrale Saint-Tugdual, one of Brittany's most beautiful, and its 15th-century Gothic cloister.
Cap Fréhel: Its plunging cliffs are home to many nesting birds, and its moors are among Europe's largest. Marshall your energy for the view from the lighthouse.
If you happen to be here in August, try to take in the Sea Shanty Festival, the Festival du Chant de Marin in Paimpol. It's all about boats and the sea, and each year it's dedicated to a different country or region of the world.
The very shape of the Finistère − a bit of a snout sticking out into the ocean − means the sea is never far away, its smell and brine everywhere.
Like the other parts of Brittany, you'll find lovely medieval villages in the Finistère, like Locronan, for example, one of the most famous, or the charm of Daoualas Abbey.
But there's plenty more to be seen here, especially when it comes to nature.
Like the hilly Monts d'Arrée, where you can gambol around Hoelgoat's forest, which you might just think is Brocéliande's little sister.
And again, make a detour around by the Chemin des Douaniers on the Crozon Peninsula (GR 34) at the extreme western tip of Finistère for deserted white beaches, secluded creeks and majestic backdrops, and water so blue you might as well be in the Mediterranean.
Brest: A maritime center of which only the 15th-century castle and a few ramparts remain – the rest was destroyed during World War II and rebuilt. An interesting city for anyone keen on maritime affairs or military history.
Concarneau: Home of one of France's renowned walled towns, for lovers of ramparts and fortresses. The Ville Close is surrounded by ramparts (built by Vauban, who else?) and hosts a major Breton folk festival in August.
Douarnenez: Once France's greatest sardine ports, this is still very much a fishing town, with boats bringing in the daily catch. Across the bay you can see Tristan Island, mostly off-limits but accessible a few days a month when the tide recedes and a path appears (and yes, you can also go by boat).
Landevennec: Its microclimate is almost Mediterranean and its abbey is still inhabited by Benedictine monks. An archeological dig is nearby, along with a museum which traces 13 centuries of Breton history.
Locronan: A delightful village that is also listed as one of France's most beautiful, and with reason, especially when all the flowers are out. A few centuries ago, the village held the sail-weaving monopoly of France, and all sails were made here. These days, it is often used as a backdrop for films or TV shows.
Pont-Aven: If you love the art of Paul Gauguin (and others), you may already know of this small small town, which still exhibits hundreds of paintings of the scenery which drew artists here in the 19th century to form what became known as the Ecole de Pont-Aven.
Roscoff: Granite houses and fishing boats will remind you of the pirate past of the town which once rivalled Saint-Malo. Today, it's also famous for its wellness centers or spas.
In summer, things can get a little touristy, so set your course for one of the many small islands in the area: Ouessant and its lighthouse (and lighthouse museum), the oh-so-peaceful Sein, the virtually untouched Molène and the Glénans archipelago, renowned for its world-class sailing school and clear waters.
If you do want people around you, consider France's largest popular music festival, le Festival des Vielles Charrues in Carhaix, which is attended by three-quarters of a million festival-goers each year.
For something more Breton, the Cornouaille Festival in Quimper is where you should experience this Celtic extravaganza.
Brittany has been part of France for nearly 600 years, but sometimes you'd think it only happened yesterday. Some Bretons still find it difficult to accept.
Brittany had no desire to join France back in the 16th century and only did so when the heiress to the Duchy, Anne of Brittany, married King Charles VIII of France (and upon his death, as agreed before it, his cousin Louis XII). Under the marriage agreement, Brittany would retain some of its autonomy and customs, promises which were never kept.
Like many formerly independent regions of France, bringing Brittany into France didn't stomp out its culture, which survived even when challenged.
By the 20th century, Breton culture had begun to erode. The Breton language backpedaled, being alternately banned or ignored, even by its own people, who saw French as more modern and who craved education – which was all in French. France's centralizing push also contributed, hoping to make perfect little French people out of all its citizens.
The mid-20th century saw "great nationalisms" sweep the world, and France was no exception. The language – known as brezhoneg – was back in fashion, and people were proud to speak it.
Today, brezhoneg is in full revival and is the only language in France, along with Basque, that has not evolved from Latin, being closer to Cornish. In 2020, nearly 10,000 students were bilingual in brezhoneg at graduation.
As in other regions which were brought unwillingly into France, some activist groups advocate for Brittany's independence (Savoy and Corsica are other French examples).
Are you familiar with Astérix? He's a little comic book character, much loved by the French, who lives in a tiny Breton village in what was then called Armorique (Brittany under the Romans). The village is a holdout against the conquering Romans, and each time they clash, the little Bretons (or Gauls, as the Romans called them) would win. The comics are available in English and are both fun and intelligent, not to mention deeply embedded in France's culture.
Astérix apart, you get the sense in Brittany that each citizen is a finely shaped ambassador for the region, whisking out that Breton pride at every turn. And everywhere you go in France, you'll encounter a piece of Brittany, whether as stickers on cars, as discreet little flags, or in your plate whenever you eat a crêpe or a galette.
This regional identity has even extended to creating their own soft drink: the Breizh Cola.
Of course, one of the best things to do in Bretagne, as it's called in French, is to eat. Many specialties have exported well, and you may be familiar with some of these dishes:
The fact that it often rains here is no secret, so the best time to visit Brittany is in the
summer, from June to September. There are more tourists during this time, of course, but
more sunshine too.
Brittany is easily accessible.
You can get here from Paris on the Atlantic TGV which takes you to Rennes (1.5 hours), Saint-Malo in under 3 hours, and Brest in under 4.
You can also take the train to Rennes directly from Lyon without having to connect in Paris. Check out the various train schedules and prices here.
There are also flights to Brittany from neighbouring countries. Airports in Brittany France include Rennes, Brest, Lorient, Dinard and Quimper. Airports near Brittany include Nantes.
By far the best way to visit this region is to take a road trip through Brittany, simply because it is relatively rural and many of the places you'll want to see are not easy to reach.
Driving in France can be a challenge, but Brittany roads are good and relatively uncrowded, so this is one region where a car would definitely be an asset.
Brittany has an extensive public transportation network of trains and buses, and they go almost everywhere.
Unfortunately, some are seasonal, and others offer very limited transportation options, so major planning and research are involved.
While Brittany is perfect for a solo visit, if you're short on time or don't want to spend it organizing travel from place to place, consider taking something more organized.
This Brittany Walking Tour is a mixture of hiking along the GR 34 and of being transported to the perfect starting point. You'll see more than "just" Brittany because the tour ends in Mont Saint-Michel, which is technically in Normandy.
If you're feeling fit and and want to go biking in Brittany but don't want the hassle of organizing it all on your own, check out Cycling along the Emerald Coast, which will take you to many of the spots we've described here.