Nancy France is a beautiful and historic city easily reached by train from Paris, or Strasbourg. The city is worth the trip whether you are interested in the stunning Place Stanislas, medieval old town, UNESCO world heritage sights, or the gorgeous art nouveau and stained glass of the Charles III area. A Nancy France map of these top tourist attractions is at the bottom to make life a bit easier.
These sights can be walked in a day trip to Nancy, in order starting in the heart of old town, and ending at a restaurant across the street from the Nancy train station. Of course, I always recommend more time than less in a city, but this will whet your appetite for more!
If you are going to be in the Alsace region, be sure to see the Best Things To Do in Strasbourg France and what to do on a Colmar Day Trip!
Things To Do in Nancy France: Old Town
For our visit to Nancy, France, we are going to start in Place Saint-Epvre, the oldest square in the city. Built under Duke Rene II (1451-1508), initially as a fish-market, Place Saint-Epvre was used for other markets and fairs once the fish market was moved to the current Marche Central in the Charles III area (see below). It wasn’t until the 13th century that this square was brought into the walls.
The central monument is Duke Rene II of Lorraine, who was the Dule of Burgundy at the Battle of Nancy in 1477. Surrounding him today, you can find a few shops, bars, and restaurants.
Today, Place Saint-Epvre is home to breweries, shops and restaurants. It is particularly popular on once a month when a small Sunday food market and a flea market are held. Check Nancy Tourism’s market page for upcoming dates.
Hotel des Loups
In the 18th century, this beautiful hotel was a private residence. Originally it was built for Nicolas Francois Hennequin compe de Curel, Master of the Wolf hunt to the Duke of Lorraine. Take note of the wolf detailing of the gate.
Porte de la Craffe
Originally called the Porte de la Bordes, this is the oldest fortification in Nancy and a top tourist stop in the old town area. Porta de la Craffe was built at the end of the 14th century during the reign of Duke Jean 1st of Lorraine. The southern facade shows the cross of Lorraine above the entry. On either side of the cross are two heads facing each other, Charles II and Rene II.
The defensive strength of the gate is evident as above the cross of Lorraine is an overhang designed to allow for projectiles to be launched and oil to be dropped on enemies attempting to breach the defenses. On either side are two round towers with walls three meters thick and small windows to allow for monitoring in all directions.
Porta de la Citdaelle
Only a few meters north of the Porte de la Craffe is Porta de la Citadelle, bordering the northern end of Old Town. This gate was built in 1598 an additional reinforcement to the Porte de la Craffe.
The northern side of the gate is the much more interesting of the two sides. On either side of the main doorway, the remnants of the drawbridge that once hung here can still be seen. Directly above, clearly in the position of honor is a statue of Charles III holding a map of Nancy, while two additional statues depicting Equity and Temperance are displayed on either side.
The southern entry to the gate is much simplier one, a Renaissance portal. The doorway is decorated with carved flowers with a pediment displaying flags, arrows, weapons, and armor.
Jardin de la Citadelle
Just a short walk down Rue Sellier, you will find a plain metal gate on the left side leading to a non-descript courtyard with a stairway in the back. Do yourself a favor and enter, go up the stairs, and find the Jardin de la Citadelle tucked in above the Porta de la Citadelle. Rarely found on a list of top tourist attractions of Nancy, this spot truly deserves the overused title of ‘hidden gem’.This medieval garden is filled with medicinal and aromatic plants laid out in squares bordered by boxwoods. The gardin is filled with trees, providing ample shade for a beautiful break from the heat and walking of Old Town. In spring and summer, sit here and smell the honeysuckle, old roses, or the chamomile and thyme.
Things To Do in Nancy France: 18th Century Space
Parc de la Pepiniere
Parc de la Pepiniere, located north of Place Stanislas and along Place de la Carriere, is a beautiful, large, green space in the heart of the historic area of Nancy.
Originally, this park was the royal nursery of trees, founded by Stanislas (of Place Stanislas fame). The purpose was to provide the trees that line the roads throughout Nancy. It was in 1835 that the park transition to a public space.
Today, the park is filled with a rose garden, mini-golf, a puppet theater, sports fields, and a few places to eat. I stopped in at Brasserie de la Pepiniere and had a fresh salad and glass of wine while sitting in the outdoor seating. It was quite lovely!
Place de la Carrier
Moving from the Parc de la Pepiniere, we come to Place de la Carriere. This is the first of three squares to be inducted as UNESCO World Heritage sights in Nancy in 1983. Place de la Carriere was originally used for tournaments, games, and other equestrian activities.
Today, the ornate, golden gates enclose a wide walkway lined with trees, and in the corner, fountains. Surrounding this are a number of buildings in Emmanuel Here’s classical style to create one unified look to the square.
Arc de Triomphe
Linking Place de la Carriere to Place Stanislas is Arc de Triomphe. This Corinthian arch was designed by architect Emmanuel Here and built to honor King Louis XV.
The Arc de Triomphe was built with the theme War and Peace with laurel and olive branch decorations, and allusions to the Battle of Fontenoy and the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. The top features statues of Ceres, Minerva, Hercules, and Mars, with the medallion of King Louis XV in the center. Incidentally, the original medallion was destroyed during the Revolution and then replaced.
The inscription under the medallion reads “Hostium Terror, Federum Clutor, Gentisque Decus and Amor” or “Terror of the Enemies, Craftsman of Treaties, Glory and Love of His People.”
Our next stop on the list of things to do in Nancy France is also the second of the UNESCO World Heritages sights on the list, and the top tourist attraction in Nancy: Place Stanislas.
When I was first visited Europe, I was enthralled with every open square I stumbled upon. They were just so different than the urban spaces we have in the United States. But, over time, these areas can become a little… “Yep. That’s another Place. Moving on.” They are just everywhere.
Not so with Place Stanislas. Place Stanislas is considered one of the most beautiful “places” in Europe, and for good reason. This neoclassical square is enormous, and while I listed it in the middle of the sights, stopping by a couple of times in the day is a great idea. In the morning it is quiet and nearly empty, at night it is lit up and takes on a whole different beauty.
Designed by Emmanuel Here, Place Stanislas was begun in 1752 and officially opened in November of 1755. The focal point of Place Stanislas today is a statue of Stanislas Leszcznski himself, a king of Poland who had been exiled and became Duke of Lorraine in 1737. His desire was to create a square to honor his son-in-law, King Louis XV of France. Originally, the central statue was of King Louis in the uniform of a roman general, but that statue disappeared during the French Revolution. The statue of Stanislas was put in place in 1851.
Place Stanislas is also noted for the intricately wrought iron gates that feature rococo fountains. These gates and the beautiful classical buildings that surround the square give it a grandeur that makes Place Stanislas stand out, even in a country famous for it’s gorgeous spaces.
Place de l’Alliance
The third of the three squares of Nancy France to be inducted as UNESCO World Heritage sight in 1983 is Place de l’Alliance. Originally, this area was part of the ducal palace’s kitchen grounds. However, Duke Stanislas ordered the creation of a square here to honor St. Staninslas, and that name is even on the sketches originally created prior to construction. But later the place was renamed to honor the 1756 Treaty between Louis XV and Maria Theresa of Austria.
Today, this perfectly square area is lined by two lines of lime trees on each side that provide a soothingly-shaded walkway around it. Being slightly removed from the more-bustling Place Stanislas, and having benches intersperced around the walkway, Place de l’Alliance proves an ideal spot to go to rest your feet.
At the center of the Place de l’Alliance is a fountain built by Paul-Louis Cyffle, and inspired by Bernini’s “Four Rivers” in Piazza Navona in Rome. The three bearded men in Clyffle’s fountain are said to represent three rivers of Western Europe. The initial plan was to install this fountain in Place de la Carriere, but instead it found it’s home here in Place de l’Alliance.
Jardin Dominique Alexandre Godron
Located roughly half a kilometer northeast on Rue Sainte-Catherine from Place Stanislas is this treat of a garden, especially in spring and summer when the flowers bloom. While it is no longer the botanical garden it initially started out at, it is beautiful public garden to stroll.
Jardin Godron became a public garden in 1758 when collections were moved to Jardin de Montet. However, under the work of Dominique Alexandre Godron, the gardens were revived, and the garden he was so dedicated to was later dedicated to him with its renaming. Jardin Dominique Alexandre Godron was declared a ‘Remarkable Garden’ by the French Minister of Culture in 2010.
Things To Do in Nancy France: Charles III Area
Our first stop in the Charles III area of Nancy is the Cathedrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Annonciation et Saint-Sigisbert. That’s quite a mouthful, which is probably why pretty much everything just calls this Nancy Cathedral. It was built in the 18th century by architects Jules Hardoiun-Mansart and Germain Boffrand.
The Cathedrale seemed, to me, to be more stark inside that expected, with the white stone walls dwarfing the individual wooden chairs set up for attendees. But take the time to examine the railing by Jean Lamour, and Claude Jacquart’s painting on the dome. The details are impressive and quite beautiful.
Take special note of the organ, dominating your view when you turn to look toward the gallery at the rear of the church. The organ was built by Nicolas Dupont, the major organ building in Lorraine during the 18th century, beginning in 1756 and finishing seven years later. It was classified as a monument in its own right, the case in 1906 and the instrument in 2003.
This is a quick stop in the Charles III area of the city. The Credit Lyonnais building in Nancy, France, is still a fully functioning bank. While it’s fine to step inside and take a look, it’s not a place you’ll be hanging out in long. However, it’s worth stepping inside to see the amazing art nouveau stained glass windows inside that make up the domed ceiling of the bank. It was created by Jacques Gruber, who was assisted by a master glassmaker, Charles Gauville. This is one of the few glass roofs of this size in Europe.
I do my best to visit food markets when visiting a new city, and France is rich with them. In Nancy there is the Central Market, aptly named as it sits in the middle of the Charles III area of Nancy, which is open from 7am-7pm, Tuesday to Saturday.
Previously, the main market of Nancy was located in Place Saint-Epvre (see above). An architectural competition was held to create the current market building. Euclide-Justinien Thiebert’s project was chosen, completed by his successor Prosper Morey, and opened to the public on May 1, 1852. The original building did not cover the central portion of the market, which was enclosed in 1960.
Nancy’s Marche Central draws together over 100 merchants selling everything from freshly butchered meats to dry goods, wines, flowers, books, and the expected fruits and vegetables. The center of the hall contains several restaurants, and the outside stalls hold clothes & housewares. If you are lucky enough to visit on a Saturday, seasonal farmers also arrive with organic produce.
Opened in 1911 and originally a brewery, this elegant, art nouveau building was the inspiration of Louis Moreau, who wanted to build in the tradition of the grand cafes of the Belle Epoque.
Amazingly, this beautiful landmark avoided the WWII bombings, only to narrowly avoid being shut down in the 1970s. Thanks to Maurice Rheims, a specialist in art nouveau, to save this beautiful architecture. Brassierie Excelsior was listed as a Historic Monument in 1976.
Brasserie Excelsior is only steps from the train station – making it a perfect first or last stop for a day in Nancy where you can enjoy the traditional French regional cuisine.
Things To Do in Nancy France Map
Here is a Nancy, France Map with the key items in this article listed below. Go to the Nancy Tourism site and download it in pdf format.
Nancy Map Key of sites in this article:
- Grey Temple @ center of map: Place de la carrier, Arc de Triomphe, Place Stanislas, Place de l’Alliance
- Red 1: Place Staint-Epvre
- Red 7: Hotel des Loups
- Red 4: Porte de la Craffe
- Red 5: Porta de la Citadelle
- Green 3: Jardin de la Citadelle
- Green 1: Parc de la Pepiniere
- Pink 4: Jardin Dominique Alexandre Godron
- Yellow 2: Nancy Cathedrale
- Blue 2: Credit Lyonnaise
- Grey 1: Marche Centrale
- Blue 6: Brasserie Excelsior
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