Step Back in Time: Vannes Old Town, A Pinnacle of History in Brittany

Vannes Old Town, fortified by the Romans in medieval times, serves as a gateway to the Gulf of Morbihan through the Marle estuary in southern Brittany. As the capital of Morbihan, Vannes Old Town boasts a charming port, medieval architecture, beautiful gardens, cozy squares, a vibrant food scene, and much more to explore.

After several days of exploration in nature following our Brittany road trip itinerary, fatigue set in, and we yearned for a leisurely outing. Thus, a visit to Vannes Old Town proved to be the perfect excursion, fitting seamlessly into our schedule.

We meandered into the old town, making our way from the harbourside. The key attractions we visited in Vannes Old Town included:

  • Port de Vannes
  • Place Henri-IV
  • Half-timbered houses in Breton style
  • Jardin des Remparts
  • Saint-Patern historic centre
  • Important buildings
  • Local shops and stores
View of Place Gambetta from the in Vannes Harbour, Brittany
A Fraction of Jardin des Remparts and garden

Port de Vannes

Vannes Harbour

Stepping out of the Q-Parking, we were immediately greeted by the semi-circular plaza, Place Gambetta, right in front of the Vannes port. The walkway leading south along the harbour is both lengthy and sheltered, adorned with avenues of trees. This scenic path extends all the way to the peninsula at Conleau.

The port itself is a bustling scene, with boats and yachts neatly docked side by side, leaving no gaps in between. Surrounding the small port are well-kept, low-rising apartment buildings, creating a neat and charming backdrop.

Place Gambetta

As we strolled towards the main entry gate of the old town from the port, we crossed the vibrant Place Gambetta—a lively hub where cars seamlessly navigate through the square. Place Gambetta is dotted with contemporary restaurants and cafes, each has spacious outdoor seating areas that offer great views.

St Vincent Gate(Porte St Vincent Ferrier)

The Saint-Vincent Gate, a historical monument located at the northern end of the harbour, stands as a former city gate in Vannes. Passing through this medieval entrance, We explored the fascinating world of medieval architecture and wandered through the intricate alleys that define Vannes Old Town.

The Main Entrance Gate of Vannes Old Town, St Vincent Gate (Porte St Vincent Ferrier)
La Cohue the Fine Arts Museum, Brittany France
Street Scene in Vannes, Brittany France

Place Henri-IV

Those medieval alleys link various squares within the old town, and one of them is especially noteworthy—Place Henri-IV. It is a historic walking area that showcases 16th-century buildings and intriguing museums, elevating the overall charm of the place.

La Cohue – Musée des Beaux Arts de Vannes

La Cohue is the proud residence of the Vannes Fine Arts Museum. Stepping inside, the hall pulsates with the life of medieval times, echoing the tales told by the stone, archways, and passageways. In its past life, La Cohue accommodated numerous stalls on the ground floor and served as the location for the ducal courthouse on the first floor.

We popped in and couldn’t help but wonder about the white paper-shaped objects hanging around. Later, after checking out several information boards outside, we got the answers. It turned out to be an exhibition presenting the exceptional techniques of advanced folding and structure crumpling. The artists had ingeniously crafted organic shapes using sheets of baking paper.

Cathédrale Saint-Pierre (Saint Peter’s Cathedral)

Cathédrale Saint-Pierre, right across from the Museum of Fine Arts, stands proudly as a Basilica constructed on the foundations of an ancient Romanesque cathedral. This cathedral is a fusion of various architectural styles and features the tomb of the town’s patron saint, St. Vincent Ferrer.

Porte Prison (historical landmark)

Heading east behind the cathedral and strolling along Rue Porte Prison, we came across the fortified Prison Gate—a historic entrance to the walled town. Adjacent to it is a well-kept half-timbered house that particularly caught my eye.

St Vincent Gate (Porte St Vincent Ferrier) of Vannes Old Town
Porte Prison (historical landmark) in Vannes Old Town, Brittany France

Half-timbered houses in Breton style

Half-timbered houses highlight the traditional architectural style of Brittany. These charming residences typically span three or four floors, featuring corbels projecting from the walls. What’s distinctive is that the upper floors are broader than the ground floor, creating a spacious passage along the public road while maximizing surface area on higher levels.

The ground floors of these houses host an array of shops, boutiques, and cafes, making it effortless to find a spot for a leisurely break.

Half-timbered house in Vannes, Brittany France
The church of Saint Patern in the City of Vannes, Brittany
Half-timbered houses in Place Henri-IV, Vannes Old Town, Brittany

Jardin des Remparts

A portion of the original ramparts still stands, featuring expansive battlement walls, robust towers, and graceful arched entrances. Notably, one of the towers was originally situated within the courtyard of the Chateau de l’Hermine.

Next to the ramparts lies a meticulously maintained garden, elegantly divided by several walking paths. This serene garden serves as a peaceful retreat after a leisurely stroll through the old town. The charming little buildings nestled by the river are the authentic washhouses of Vannes.

A Fraction of Jardin des Remparts and garden
Jardin des Remparts with view of the church of Saint Patern in Vannes, Brittany France

Saint-Patern historic centre

In the vicinity of the Saint Patern church lies another delightful historic centre. Named after the first-known bishop of Vannes, the church may not be a must-see, but the view from the Jardin des Remparts is undeniably appealing.

The Saint-Patern quarter is full of charming small restaurants and cafés. Nestled on the slopes of Boismoreau hill, this neighbourhood stands as the oldest part of Vannes.

Important buildings

Vannes Hôtel de Ville

Standing at the northwest corner of the old town is the magnificent town hall, the Hotel de Ville, located on Maurice-Marchais square. This grand building shares its space with an impressive former school.

The town hall, bordered by north and south wings, boasts a facade adorned with ornate decorations. Notable features include square pillars on the side wings, semi-columns on the central tract, alternating triangular and gables, cartouches and busts, and elegant volutes.

We admired the exquisite symmetry and harbored a desire to explore the interior. Unfortunately, due to the ongoing pandemic situation, it was closed to the public. Subsequently, I discovered that the building houses a monumental double staircase illuminated by a massive skylight.

Préfecture du Morbihan

The Préfecture du Morbihan, constructed in a U-shaped design, is an administrative building in Vannes, the capital of the French department of Morbihan. Its décor pays homage to Breton history, featuring representations of Nominoë, Count of Vannes, and Alain Barbetorte, two heroes of Breton independence. Surrounding the building is a sprawling five-hectare park, reminiscent of an English Garden in its charm and layout.

Vannes Hôtel de Ville
Préfecture du Morbihan

Local shops and stores

Just beyond the main gate, St Vincent Gate, lies an array of well-preserved medieval streets and charming half-timbered houses. Their ground floors are adorned with shops and stores showcasing the distinctive specialties of Brittany. We couldn’t resist the various baked goods on display and pop into several shops along the way.

Each store had its own unique focus, with some specializing in wines and ciders, while others offered a broad range of Breton delights—from delectable baked sweets and canneries to Breton Enamel decorated with blue and white patterns, not to mention the quintessential Breton rain jackets. I found myself lingering in one particular store, unable to resist the temptation, and ended up purchasing a delightful assortment of sweets and baked goods that had truly captured my attention.

Travel tips for Vannes Old Town

Where to stay

As Vannes serves as an excellent hub for exploring southern Brittany, France, you’ll find a abundance of accommodations within the old town. Here are two options situated right in the heart of the town:

How to get there

The TGV journey from Paris to Vannes clocks in at less than three hours, with multiple daily scheduled trains. Vannes train station is conveniently situated approximately 700 metres from the outskirts of Vannes Old Town.

For road travellers, the major routes E60 and N166 lead to Vannes. Ample parking spaces are available right outside the old town, with the nearest one, Q-Park Port, located about 100 metres from the main gate.


  1. Love the pictures with all the amazing architecture! When I went to Paris I was mesmerized by the architecture! I could have wondered the streets looking and taking pictures the entire time!

  2. There is lots of cool architecture there. This is a place in France most people don’t think about visiting, but is worth the trip.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.