The small city of Nancy, populated by just 100k residents (a huge portion of which students), was the place I called home for the first 4 months of 2017. This quaint, lively and most of all beautiful city will always have a place in my heart. This mainly due to its incredible culture and breathtaking sights! Here are just a few reasons why Nancy makes the perfect base camp for your next trip to the Alsace region. Here are my top 5 things to do in Nancy.
As part of my final year of university I performed my obligatory rite of passage. As does any other wanderlust student, I participated in an Erasmus exchange programme. My initial choices were of course the obvious ones: Alicante in Spain (sunshine), Prague in Czech Republic (beer) and Warsaw in Poland (cheap parties). However, after failing to get any of these, I was fronted with the choice of Nancy in France or nothing, (bearing in mind despite my love for France, I had never heard of Nancy until this moment). Despite this, I decided to go for it. I pulled together my incredibly limited, school-taught French skills and my sense of adventure.
Beginning in January 2016, I would spend the next four months in this unknown eastern city of France. Little did I know at the time, these would turn out to be some of the best months of my life. Here are five things to do in Nancy, along with some anecdotes from my adventures in this vibrant, historical city.
Late Night Walk through Place Stanislas
The first of many things to do in Nancy is the famous Place Stanislas. This historical square was first constructed in 1755 as a way of linking the old town of Nancy, to the newly constructed, 17th century town. The beautiful buildings surrounding the square link together forming a magnificent pedestrianised space. This allows for bars and cafes to spill out onto during the warm summer evenings. Spectacular black and gold arches guard the four corners of the square, with sculpted fountains in the two most eastern.
In the evening this square comes to life, lights across the square give the statues and gateways a haunting beauty. Clubs and bars open for the evening with a guaranteed bustle of entertainment for the large population of students Nancy holds. This is the time for a romantic walk through the square to take in the atmosphere and marvel at the architecture. You can then stop at one of the bars for a fine wine or two.
Fairground Fun at Place Carnot
During the spring months, Nancy’s town centre comes to life as its largest square hosts a month long carnival. Place Carnot turns from a vacant square into vibrant show of flashing lights and family fun. This carnival has got to be one of the biggest I have ever seen. Rollercoasters, ferris wheels, dodgems, haunted houses and more food stalls than you could possibly sample. The Carnot festival is an incredible day and night out.
Sunbathe in Parc de la Pepiniere
The perfect place for an afternoon snooze is just a 10-minute stroll from Place Stanislas. The restaurants and cafes do not open until the summer months, however it still offers its beautiful atmosphere. The surrounding are perfect for a walk, or in the warmer months a post lunch kip. For the animal lovers, there is a small zoo with farm animals and a variety of birds. This makes it the perfect spot to sit and enjoy a picnic
Day Trips to Neighbouring Cities
Situated in the northeast region of Lorraine, Nancy offers some fantastic day trips to some historic and beautiful cities. An hour to the north lays the city of Metz, an ancient city with history dating back 3000 years. Thought of as the capital of Lorraine, this city is known for its Gothic architecture and incredible Metz Cathedral. To the east of Nancy is the better known city of Strasbourg. This city is the capital of the Grand Est region and formal seat of the European Parliament. The architecture of this city blends German and French influences and holds some incredible tales of the struggles this city has faced.
An hour train ride north of Nancy will bring you to the beautiful city of Metz. Tickets can be purchased online for a reasonably cheap price. you can buy these tickets here. On my visit to this city the weather was far from ideal for a day trip. Being of Scottish heritage however, we managed to make the most of it!
We started the day off with traditional coffee and croissant in one of the many mouth-watering boulangeries. Then we made our way to the magnificent Metz Cathedral. Exploring the interior of this incredible building, we were able to admire the stained glass that it holds (as well as take a break from the rain..). From here we wandered to the Porte des Allemands, or the Gate of the Germans.
This ancient fortification serves as a bridge over the river Seille. At this point we decided to head back to the city centre and explore the indoor food markets. These offered a huge range of food, from meats to pastries in a unique and incredible atmosphere. The weather then turned on us, forcing us to find shelter in one of the nearby pubs and enjoy an afternoon of Six Nations Rugby.
For food and drink in Metz there is a noticeable decrease in the number of budget friendly bars and restaurants in comparison with Nancy. The main square offers a variety of English, Irish and traditional French pubs. The prices however, are much less desirable with an incredible €5/6 per pint. We managed to find a reasonable sports bar, known as the Tipsy Beef, for drinks and entertainment. What this bar lacked in traditional pub atmosphere, it more than made up for in televised Rugby and cheap beer.
Another one-hour train journey from Nancy, Strasbourg offers an incredible day out for wherever your interests lie, be it history, beautiful architecture, fancy pubs and restaurants or shopping till you drop. Again tickets can be bought quickly and easily right here.
Another rainy and miserable day hosted my day visit, starting off with a visit to the beautiful cathedral and surrounding markets. The magnificent organs of the cathedral were a definite highlight of my trip, resting high above the cathedral floor I could only imagine the breath-taking melodies it would produce. From here we took a boat trip along the Ill, through the area of le petit France, and on towards the newer architectural designs that lie on the outskirts of the city. The river takes you on a trip through time, showing the different designs of structures influenced by the different rulers of this fascinating region.
The history of the Alsace region through the 20th and 21st century is darkly fascinating, with terrible stories of the lives of those who lived through the occupation by Nazi soldiers. They are stories that must be told and never forgotten, lest we forget the terrors brought on by such a time.
Lastly (and most importantly) you have the romantic capital of the world, Paris! We took two weekend trips to this incredible city during my time here, however you could easily smash out a day trip, if you don’t mind an early rise.
By catching a cheap train into the Gare du L’Est, you can take a quick walk into the city centre and see all of the main sights in one day. Our most memorable sight was definitely the Eiffel Tower during our trip here. I had always thought it would be a bit of a disappointing sight in person, due to how romanticised it is in movies and books, however in person it was even more spectacular than I could of imagined. It is absolutely huge! HUGE! And the surrounding parks are perfect for a lie down to soak up the atmosphere and sun.
Read more about our time in this magical city here and see why its impossible to not fall in love with it!
The Small Charms of Nancy
From living in the wonderful city, I have learnt to appreciate even the little characteristics of the locals and tourists. There is so much to appreciate in Nancy, such as the incredible number of independent boulangeries and pâtisseries that fuel the vast population of students, the stunning architecture dotted around the city, and of course the fascinating obsession with micro scooters! A highlight of my time here was the number of fully grown business men and women scooting around in fancy suits.
The café culture of France is another highlight for me, with the local cafes spilling into the streets during the warmer months as residents soak up the sun with an after work caffeine fix. If you plan on enjoying a coffee in one of these lovely spots then make sure you don’t have any plans for later, as the laid back attitude of the waiters certainly does not mix with the rush of extra customers. Then again, why would you be in any rush when the sun is shining and you are surrounded by beautiful buildings and people?
A last piece of advice I would give is embrace the student culture of Nancy! I met some amazing people when I was there, which made my experience that much more incredible. The local pubs tend to do student nights and the Irish pub next to Place Carnot, Pub MacCarthys, does weekly Café du Lingue sessions where students of all different languages meet up for a drink and to practice speaking different dialects. It also tends to be jumping on weeknights towards the end of the week and was our go to place to enjoy the Six Nations rugby tournament, so there is always a social scene to try out!
So take the leap, book a flight to somewhere you have never heard of, and most importantly get involved!
If you are visiting France then read our other blogs on this beautiful country here. Also sign up for our emailing list so you never miss a post.
This article may contain affiliate links that provide us with a small income. For more information read our Affiliate page.
Pin it for later!