Are you planning a family vacation to Brittany, France? Look no further! Brittany, located in northwest France, has an abundance of charming towns, stunning coastlines, and fascinating historical sites that are perfect for day trips with kids. In this blog post, I will focus on these six locations you can explore with kids: Saint-Malo, Cancale, Mont Saint-Michel, Rennes, Dinard and Dinan.
If you’re trying to choose which town to base yourself in for exploring this part of Brittany, I recommend to pick Saint-Malo. It is a beautiful town with lots of things to do, and the other destinations are all within one hour drive of this town.
It is easier to get around the different parts of Brittany by car. Discover Cars is a great site for comparing car prices to find a deal if you’re looking to rent a car.
If you only have a day to explore Saint-Malo, begin your exploration at the city’s ramparts. The nearly 2-kilometer-long fortifications encircle the old town, known as Intra-Muros, offering breathtaking panoramic views of the sea and mysterious islands. These impressive walls have withstood the test of time since the 12th century, fending off invasions and pirate attacks.
If you plan on bringing a buggy, beware there are some uneven surfaces and stairs, so extra caution is advised. The walk takes approximately 1-2 hours, depending on the time spent at each viewpoint.
Don’t forget to explore the islands of Grand Bé and Petit Bé when the tide is out. Grand Bé is the final resting place of famous French writer Chateaubriand, while Petit Bé is home to a 17th-century fort that reveals itself as the tide recedes. Watch in awe as your kids transform into intrepid treasure hunters, scouring the rocky shores and unearthing the hidden forts that once guarded Saint-Malo.
For more family fun in the sun, head to the Plage du Sillon, a beautiful sandy beach where kids can build sandcastles, splash in the waves, or try their hand at various water sports.
While in Saint-Malo, don’t forget to climb aboard a pirate ship! The Étoile du Roy is a replica of a 1745 British frigate turned French corsair vessel. With its authentic details and décor, this 47-meter-long, three-masted ship will transport your kids to a bygone era of daring corsairs and swashbuckling pirates.
Give those tired little legs a break with a ride on Le Petit Train, a little train tour that chugs around the town. It departs from the Esplanade Saint-Vincent, just outside the main entrance to the old city. During the high season (July and August), the train operates daily, departing around every 30 minutes.
Fun fact about Saint-Malo
Saint-Malo earned its nickname, “The Corsair City,” thanks to its daring maritime history. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the town was a haven for privateers (or “corsairs”) who, with the king’s blessing, attacked enemy vessels and plundered their valuable cargo.
Cancale is a charming fishing village famous for its oysters and is also worth a visit. One of my daughters has become an oyster fan since moving to France (who would’ve thought?), while the other still finds them as appealing as a mouthful of seaweed. Despite their differing tastes, both kiddos had a whale of a time during our half-day escapade in Cancale.
Take a stroll along the seafront, and keep an eye out for the iconic Mont Saint-Michel majestically perched in the heart of the bay.
For a truly unforgettable experience, take the kids to the bustling local oyster market (Marché aux Huîtres) where they can sample some of the freshest oysters in France. Feast on a plateful of these briny beauties in all shapes and sizes, and head to the seawall for a unique dining experience with a view. Once you’ve slurped down the last oyster, simply toss the shells onto the beach below (recycling, Cancale style!). Don’t forget to bring your bottle of wine or grab a glass from the nearby vendors to complement your oyster extravaganza perfectly.
Time your visit to coincide with low tide, and you’ll be treated to a mesmerizing sight – miles of oyster beds exposed in all their glory, with hardworking farmers tending to their precious bivalves. You can take a guided tour of one of the many oyster farms in the area.
When hunger strikes again, head to one of the many seafront restaurants for a mouthwatering array of fresh seafood and, you guessed it, more oysters! I highly recommend A Contre Courant, a local favourite known for its delectable seafood dishes and the legendary giant seafood platters.
Fun fact about Cancale
Did you know that Cancale produces a staggering 25,000 tons of oysters annually? The secret lies in the nutrient-rich plankton found in Mont Saint-Michel Bay. Even the King of France Louis XIV was said to have Cancale oysters delivered straight to his plate at the Palace of Versailles. Talk about dining like royalty!
3. Mont Saint-Michel
I admit we’re bending the boundaries a little by venturing into Normandy for this one, but trust me, it’s worth the detour! No trip to Brittany would be complete without a visit to the captivating Mont Saint-Michel – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a true icon of France.
This medieval monastery-topped island offers a unique and unforgettable experience for the whole family and is the most visited site in France outside of Paris. As such, it gets very busy with tourists around midday so try to arrive as early as possible in the morning or in the late afternoon to avoid the crowds.
You do not need to buy tickets to visit Mont Saint-Michel. The island is free to access to the public. The only ticket you may consider purchasing in advance is one to enter the Mont Saint-Michel Abbey to skip the non-ticket queues.
Visiting the Abbey is a must during your trip. Perched on top of the island, the Mont Saint-Michel Abbey is an architectural marvel whose long history is thought to date back to 708 AD, when Bishop Aubert of Avranches had a sanctuary built on Mont-Tombe in honour of the Archangel Michael. Since then, the mount has been a significant pilgrimage destination, attracting millions of visitors every year.
You can borrow an audio guide or join a guided tour (included in the admission price) available in French or English at different times during the day. The tours generally last about 90 minutes, and no advance booking is required.
After visiting the Abbey, take a leisurely stroll through the narrow, winding streets of Mont Saint-Michel, where you’ll discover half-timbered houses, shops, and museums. The kids will love exploring the nooks and crannies of this ancient village, which feels like stepping back in time. Walking along the ramparts, a series of fortifications surrounding the mount, offers a panoramic view of the bay. The island has steep streets and steps unsuitable for strollers so use a baby carrier if you have younger children.
Fun fact about Mont Saint-Michel
Mont Saint-Michel is home to a unique flock of sheep known as “Les Moutons de Pré Salé” or “Salt Meadow Sheep.” These sheep graze on the salt marshes surrounding the island, giving their meat a distinct flavour due to the high salinity of the plants they consume. This local delicacy, “Agneau de Pré Salé,” is highly sought after by gourmands and can be enjoyed at several restaurants in the region. So, while exploring the wonders of Mont Saint-Michel, don’t forget to savour a taste of its culinary heritage as well!
Rennes is the capital of Brittany and has a rich history, dating back to the Roman era when it was known as Condate. Start your day in the city’s historic centre, exploring the vibrant half-timbered houses, cobbled streets, and beautiful squares. Look for colourful streets like Rue du Chapitre, Rue Saint-Georges, Rue de la Psalette and Rue des Dames where you will find many houses from the 15th through to 17th centuries.
Explore the surviving 15th century Mordelaises Gates while visiting the historic centre. Today it is one of the only remains of the ramparts of Rennes. Venture inside the Town Hall of Rennes and the Opera House, both in the same square, and marvel at the contrasting architectural styles.
The “Place des Lices” food market is an absolute must-visit if you find yourselves in Rennes on a Saturday morning. As the second largest food market in France, it’s a feast for the senses. Even for those spoiled by Parisian markets, this bustling Rennes gem is truly a cut above the rest.
For a guaranteed kid-pleaser, check out the Champs Libres, an outstanding cultural centre perfect for curious explorers of all ages. With many activities and exhibits, you could easily spend an entire day immersed in everything it has to offer – just as we did on a rainy day in Rennes!
At the Champs Libres, you will find Merlin’s Laboratory, where children can embark on a one-hour journey of scientific discovery through engaging games. This magical experience is best suited for kids aged three and up. But that’s not all – the centre also boasts a separate science center and a planetarium. Book your planetarium tickets online in advance, as they tend to sell out quickly.
In addition, there is the Brittany Museum which chronicles the history of Brittany and the Breton people, from prehistoric times to today.
Fun fact about Rennes
Did you know that Rennes is home to over 60,000 students, making it one of France’s most youthful and dynamic cities? This thriving student population adds lively energy to the city, with diverse events, eateries, and nightlife options to explore.
Dinan is a well-preserved quaint medieval town in Brittany, perched on a hilltop overlooking the River Rance. The town has retained its charm and character since the Middle Ages, making it one of the best preserved medieval towns in France. With its cobbled streets, half-timbered houses, and imposing ramparts, Dinan is a history lover’s dream come true.
Walk along the streets Rue du Jerzual and Rue de Petit Fort where you will find timber-framed houses and wisteria-covered facades. The streets have been there since the 12th century, and are full of small art galleries and crêperies.
A visit to Dinan would not be complete without climbing the steps of La Tour de l’Horloge, the town’s iconic 15th-century clock tower. Once you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking panoramic view of Dinan and its surroundings, allowing you to appreciate the town’s well-preserved historical layout.
After descending the clock tower, head to L’Église Saint-Malo, a beautiful 15th-century church in the heart of Dinan. Take some time to admire the church’s stunning architecture and stained-glass windows while the kids explore the peaceful garden and playground nearby.
Fun fact about Dinan
Dinan is home to the Fête des Remparts, a medieval festival that takes place every two years, attracting thousands of visitors from all over the world.
Dinard is a picturesque seaside resort situated just across the bay from Saint-Malo. Your kids will love the excitement of taking a scenic boat ride across the bay from Saint-Malo to Dinard, which only takes 10 minutes!
Did you know that it has a fascinating connection to the British? The town was a popular holiday spot for wealthy British tourists in the 19th century, which led to the construction of many opulent villas and grand hotels that can still be seen today. The British influence is so strong that Dinard is sometimes referred to as “Little England.”
Once you arrive in Dinard, you and your family can spend the day enjoying the beautiful sandy beaches, with the main beach, Plage de l’Écluse, offering plenty of space for sandcastle building and seaside lounging. But that’s not all – there are supervised kids’ clubs with playgrounds right on the beach! You can leave your children to play under supervision for an hour or longer, giving you a chance to relax and soak up some sun.
To cap off your day trip, take a leisurely stroll along the Promenade du Clair de Lune, a picturesque walkway that hugs the coastline and offers stunning views of the sea and Saint-Malo in the distance. Along the way, you’ll discover beautiful gardens, historic villas, and even some quirky statues that your kids will love.
Fun fact about Dinard
Dinard is famous for its annual British Film Festival, which takes place every October.
I hope this has inspired you to plan a visit to Brittany with kids. From the coastal gems of Dinard and Saint-Malo to the medieval wonders of Dinan and Mont Saint-Michel, each destination provides unique experiences and lasting memories. So gather your little explorers and set sail for an incredible adventure in this magical French region. Bon voyage!