Set in a natural harbour on the western tip of the Brittany peninsula, Brest has been both blessed and cursed by its location. A port city for centuries, Brest has been a trading centre in peacetime and a military stronghold during wars. Under German occupation in WWII, Brest became the Nazis’ submarine base, and suffered devastating bombing raids by the Allied forces. By the time it was liberated, the city had been razed to the ground. Only a few buildings survived. It has since been rebuilt, and today is a rather ugly, utilitarian and concrete place although still an important naval base. Tourists shouldn’t be entirely put off though; Brest has a few historic buildings and museums, great sea-side activities and an enormous aquarium.


Brest’s 15th century castle survived the bombing, and those willing to climb up to its windy location will be rewarded with great panoramic views of the city and bustling docks. Pop inside to find the National Maritime Museum. The city’s other surviving relic is the 14th century Tour Tangy – within is the interesting Museum of Old Brest, where painstaking dioramas re-create the beauty of pre-war Brest.

The Musee des Beaux Artes did not escape the Allies’ bombs; it and all its paintings were destroyed. But a new fine art museum has been erected in its place, and has built up an excellent collection of paintings since it opened in the 1960s. The museum’s exhibitions are organised chronologically, and culminate with an impressive display of Symbolist art.

Europe’s biggest aquarium is based here in Brest, housed in a modern white dome a few kilometres east of the city centre. There’s enough at Oceanopolis to keep the family entertained all day, from watching seals and penguins in the “polar zone” to marvelling at colourful shoals in the “tropical zone.” 45 aquariums in total hold 10,000 animals from 1000 different species. Exhibitions, activities, films, shows and educational programmes make boredom unlikely.

48-hectare Keroual Forest offers a break from the concrete city. Children will love the wooden fort-come-playground, whilst bigger kids can hunt treasure on eight different orienteering courses. If all the fresh air makes you peckish, there is a delightful creperie in a converted 19th century flour mill.

Brest is also a great base to embark on more vigorous exercise. There are several excellent sailing and watersports schools in the bay, and for those that prefer dry land, Brest’s surrounding moors are ideally suited for horseback riding, mountain biking and fishing. If you’re feeling lazier, try taking a boat trip along the canal, which runs from Brest all the way to Nantes.

Although the city itself might not be very attractive, Brest is a good place from which to explore Brittany’s pretty towns. Rennes, Nantes, Saint-Malo, Roscoff and Lorient are all close enough to explore on day-trips. Morlaix is particularly worthy of a visit, characterised by its half-timbered houses and quaint marina.


Brest is not really famed for its shops. For the pick of the bunch, head to the Rue de Siam, named after the King of Siam who once took a stroll along it. Follow in his footsteps to discover some interesting boutiques selling Breton goods.

Nightlife and Eating Out

Most eateries are concentrated around the train stations, and almost all are dominated by seafood; some actually sell nothing but fish. Typical Breton dishes include fresh lobster with cream sauce, or cotriade, a fish soup with potato, onion and garlic. If you tire of seafood, look out for ragout de mouton, made of lambs from the small island of Ouessant, off the coast of Brest; its flavour is attributed to the lambs’ diet of sea-salted grass. Sweet and savoury Breton crepes (thin pancakes) are everywhere, and could be the vegetarian’s best option.

The city is crammed full of lively bars to keep you amused after dark – Rue Jean-Jaurs is a major hotspot whilst students tend to gather in the Place de Geurin in St Martin’s quarter. If you’re still in the mood to party when the bars shut, try one of the city’s nightclubs – Le Cesar attracts a very young crowd whilst La Soute brings in older punters with its cheesy 70s hits. Alternatively head to the Le Quartz centre for a more cultural evening. The venue hosts over 80 shows a year, ranging from drama and dance performances to live musical concerts.

Film-buffs should visit in November, when the city’s annual short film festival rolls into town. 36,000 visitors and 500 professionals come each year to watch over 250 short films. Special film strands focus on particular directors and European countries, and there are opportunities to attend talks and workshops.

Tourist Information

  • Office de Tourisme, Place de la Liberté - BP 91012, 29210 Brest cedex 1
  • Phone: + 33 (0) 2 98 44 24 96
  • Fax: +33 (0) 2 98 44 53 73
  • Email:
  • Website:


Brest has its own airport – Brest Bretagne – which is a 15 minute drive or bus-ride from the city centre. Low-cost airlines Flybe and Ryanair fly there from the UK. Alternatively you can fly to Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport from almost anywhere, and get a one-hour connecting flight to Brest.

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