Nantes, France - September 17, 2022: The Great Elephant animated giant puppet, part of the Machines of the Isle of Nantes artistic and tourist attraction, wanders slowly amid onlookers on a sunny day.; Shutterstock ID 2220543875; your: Sloane Tucker; gl: 65050; netsuite: Online Editorial; full: POI

Shutterstock / olrat

Les Machines de l’Île de Nantes

Top choice in Nantes

Nantes' quirkiest sight is this fantasy world – a serious and seriously wacky workshop with mechanical contraptions galore displayed in plant-filled hothouses – where you can fly giant herons in La Galerie des Machines and prance around like a maharajah on a 12m-tall, 48-tonne mechanical elephant with a secret lounge in its belly. Outside, by the river, Le Carrousel des Mondes Marins (a gigantic funfair carousel) whisks you under the sea on the back of giant crabs, octopuses and other strange sea creatures.

Jules Verne would be smiling in his grave if he knew the next amazing project the dedicated team behind the Machines de l'Île de Nantes current project: a gargantuan tree called L'Arbre aux Hérons (The Heron Tree), sculpted from 22 steel walkways (the 'branches') and suspended gardens. Eventually a pair of enormous mechanical herons will nest at the top of the 36m-high tree waiting to take visitors for a ride. A giant mechanical spider will live in the tree – see him in La Galerie des Machines – and a prototype of a branch has already been built and doubles as the way out of the current complex.

The basic entrance fee covers admission to both La Galerie des Machines (where machinists demonstrate their different inventions, giant spiders and caterpillars included) and the actual workshop (where the fantastical contraptions are built); separate tickets are required for the 40-minute elephant ride and Le Carrousel des Mondes Marines. Advance reservations for the elephant rides are highly recommended.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Nantes attractions

1. Le Cale 2 Créateurs

0.25 MILES

Edgy temporary art exhibitions, events and happenings fill this old industrial slipway, shaped like a wedge of cheese at the foot of Île de Nantes'…

3. Musée d’Histoire Naturelle

0.53 MILES

Nantes' Natural History Museum has a fascinating collection of minerals, fossils, stuffed animals and an impressive whale skeleton. There are frequent…

4. Musée Jules Verne

0.68 MILES

Overlooking the river, this is a magical museum with 1st-edition books, hand-edited manuscripts and cardboard theatre cut-outs. Child-friendly interactive…

5. Château des Ducs de Bretagne

1.03 MILES

Forget fusty furnishings – light-filled rooms inside the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany house multimedia-rich exhibits detailing the city's history. Look…

6. Cathédrale St-Pierre et St-Paul

1.13 MILES

Inside Nantes' Flamboyant Gothic cathedral, the tomb of François II (r 1458–88), Duke of Brittany, and of his second wife, Marguerite de Foix, is a…

7. Musée d’Arts de Nantes

1.27 MILES

A six-year renovation job by London architects Stanton Williams has done wonders for Nantes’ art museum, open again since 2017 inside the historic Palais…

8. Jardin des Plantes

1.42 MILES

Opened in 1860, this exquisitely landscaped park is among France's most interesting botanical gardens. Century-old magnolia and mulberry trees, Japanese…