Urban heritage

Cities versus cités

Brittany’s big cities and major ports have put tourism and culture at the top of the agenda. They’re jam-packed with interesting things to do. In addition, Brittany has an exceptional number of cathedral cities, most not large urban centres, but on a delightful scale. As to petites cités de caractère, they’re not cities in the conventional sense at all, but they are full of charm.

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Cathedral cities galore 

It’s surprising that a relatively small region like Brittany boasts nine cathedral cities, if you include Nantes. The major towns of Rennes and St-Malo also have their bishop’s seat, but the rest of the Breton cathedral cities are lovely mid-sized towns: Dol, St-Brieuc, St-Pol-de-Léon and Tréguier near the north shore, Quimper out west and Vannes in the south. Start at their cathedrals – the beautifully restored historic centres radiate out from there.

Defences down 

Great walls and towers surround some of Brittany’s grittiest cities. Built to keep invaders out, their gates are happily left open now for the tourist hordes. The daunting fortifications of places like Dinan and  St-Malo in the northeast, Fougères and Vitré in the east, or Concarneau, Hennebont, Port-Louis and Vannes in the south, are their glory today. Even Brest and Lorient, well-defended naval towns, have created cultural attractions aplenty as well as new marinas. Many of these towns along with the cathedral cities have been designated Villes d’Art et d’Histoire because of their rich cultural heritage.

Petites cités de caractère 

For enchanting little historic Breton towns, look out for those awarded the title petite cité de caractère. Don’t expect a metropolis, but modestly sized, beautifully formed historic centres. There are clusters of them: between St-Malo and Rennes; around St-Brieuc; in the Trégor, spanning the Côtes d’Armor and Finistère; in western Finistère; and around the Morbihan’s Oust River.

Discover a selection of iconic heritage sites

Did you know ? 

Morlaix’s extraordinary maisons à la lanterne, with their patios, may have been inspired by trading with Spain.

With TripAdvisor’s reviews from travellers

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