To get a taste of the Rennes way of life, just take a moment on one of the squares (“places”) and watch the passers-by, or have a break on a terrace. Each square in Rennes has its own history, identity and surrounding quarter; bordered by bars, restaurants and pretty boutiques, the squares are an oasis in this urban environment. It’s easy to pass them without really seeing them, so make sure to cast your gaze upward and take in the new perspective.
A route of 3.5 kilometres to see 15 squares and 10 monuments
In Rennes, many squares are full of history. Many of them took shape after the great fire of 1720. These spaces, designed as firebreaks, also forged a new way of life by opening up new horizons. Throughout this walk, which is a little more than 3.5 kilometres, you can travel across the 15 main squares of the Breton capital. It will take you past 10 of these unmissable monuments: the Palais du commerce, the Parlement of Brittany, the Couvent des Jacobins, the Opera House, the Town Hall, Saint-Pierre cathedral, Saint-Yves chapel, Toussaints and Saint-Germain churches and the Halles Martenot. A tour that can be taken in under an hour.
- Check out the walking guided tours offered by the Tourism Office
1. Place de la République
The Place de la République is the most practical starting point for exploring the city. It can be reached easily by metro and is one of the most central stations. The Palais du Commerce, with its iconic arches, runs along the length of the square and lends it its charm. It was built in two stages, between the end of the 19th and the start of the 20th centuries by city architects Jean-Baptiste Martenot and Emmanuel Le Ray.
- Did you know? The Vilaine river runs under your feet. The Breton river has been covered by this section of quays for many years. Incidentally, you can traverse the tunnel under the square by renting an electric boat or a kayak.
2. Place de la Parcheminerie
In the 17th and 18th centuries, this was the place to find parchment sellers. Nowadays, it’s a place to have a good time on the terraces of bars and restaurants.
- Did you know? The Théâtre de la Parcheminerie is a cosy hall (120 seats) that is an iconic example of cultural creation in Rennes for hosting theatre and music performances. It was converted in 1979, having been the premises of a tannery in the 19th century.
3. Place Honoré Commeurec
You are in the gourmet heart of Rennes: La Criée – Marché Central. Built between 1913 and 1926 by city architect Emmanuel Le Ray, the covered market houses many caterers and local producers. It’s the perfect place to stock up on fresh and seasonal products from Brittany.
- Did you know? In the old large marketplace, just in front of you, is a centre for contemporary art, named la Criée, which has been holding free exhibitions since 1986.
4. Place Toussaints
Opposite you is a 17th-century Baroque building with an immaculate interior worth visiting. Its architecture is typical of the Jesuit style.
- Did you know? The rue du Capitaine Alfred Dreyfus, which is part of the square, is named after a major episode in contemporary French history: the famous Dreyfus Affair, the second trial of which was held in what is now Lycée Emile Zola secondary school behind the church.
5. Place Saint-Germain
“Come to Saint-Germain” – this is one of the oldest squares of the city with its typically Rennes ambiance reminiscent of the student Latin Quarter.
- Did you know? Archaeological excavations carried out before construction of the metro station revealed several treasures dating back to the Middle Ages that are proof of a very old trading industry.
6. Place de Coëtquen
This tiny, shaded square is named for Louise-Françoise de Coëtquen, Duchess of Duras and heir to the County of Combourg. It is the perfect place to mull over the “Mémoires d’outre-tombe” (“Memoirs from Beyond the Grave”).
- Did you know? The sleeping head of a muse (by Italian artist Claudio Parmiggiani) is positioned on a fountain, which is evocative of a Venetian well. Installed in 1993, this work of art marks the place where the 1720 fire was stopped.
7. Place de la Mairie
You are at THE iconic square in Rennes, with the Town Hall on one side and the Opera House on the other. Like many other squares and smaller squares in Rennes, the shape of the Town Hall was inspired by the Institut de France, which is the famous building that is home to the Académie française.
- Did you know? The architectural designs of the Opera House and the Town Hall seem to interlock perfectly. However, their construction was separated by a century. The Opera House was opened in the 19th century and the architect had the ingenious idea to match its curves to those of the Town Hall.
8. Place du Parlement de Bretagne
The palace of the Parlement of Brittany, Rennes’ most recognisable monument, can be visited all year round. After the fire that devastated it in 1994, it was lavishly restored and maintained its legal function with the Court of Appeal located there.
- Did you know? The king’s architect, who orchestrated the reconstruction of Rennes after the 1720 fire, was inspired by Place de Vendôme in Paris when designing the Place du Parlement. It was a typical style in the Age of Enlightenment.
9. Place Hoche
Look up and admire the façades on Place Hoche. Located opposite the department of economic sciences, the square bustles with students, second-hand book sellers and passers-by. Come here to enjoy the sunshine.
- Did you know? Have you seen this strange neo-Gothic house that could be straight out of a fairy tale? It is the Hôtel Galicier, a small château in the city centre that was built in 1893.
10. Place Sainte-Anne
The Couvent des Jacobins reopened its doors on this square in 2018. The former 14th-century convent is now one of France’s most beautiful conference centres.
- Did you know? The famous rue de la soif (Drinker’s Alley) leads to place Sainte-Anne. A well-known location for students and partygoers, it has one bar every 7 metres, which is a record in France!
11. Place du Champ Jacquet
Undoubtedly one of the cutest in Rennes, this square amazes with its half-timbered houses that form a rather wobbly house of cards to the point that it could be part of the set in a Wes Anderson film.
- Did you know? The façades do not appear to be exactly square from the entrance to rue Leperdit to the left, while in reality they are resting solidly on the medieval rampart behind them.
12. Place Rallier du Baty
Without doubt, it is one of the most pleasant squares to have a drink or a bite to eat on a terrace. At the centre of this small square, which adjoins place Saint-Michel, sits an unusual sculpture by Sylvain Dubuisson. If you look into this chrysalid, you might see the sleeping Tristan and Iseult.
- Did you know? The purple schist on the ground represents the point of the old embrasure at the Porte Saint-Michel gate. Part of the rampart is still visible across from the half-timbered houses.
13. Place des Lices
For almost 400 years, the Marché des Lices market has been held at the Halles and been a centre of Rennes’ way of life: this is the place to stock up on local products and eat them on a terrace.
- Did you know? The square takes its name from arenas (“lices”) where knights would compete in memorable tournaments. Brittany’s most famous knight, Bertrand Duguesclin, jousted here when he was very young.
14. Place de Bretagne
It’s an important crossroads in the city for cars, but especially for cyclists. Several cycle routes in the Réseaux Express Vélo (REV – Express Cycle Network) converge here. There is even a counter to keep track of how many cyclists cross the bridge.
- Did you know? It is impossible to miss the statues on this square. “The rather unconventional bathers” by artist Gérard Collin-Thiébaut represent Venus and Diana coming out of a bath and are given colour using paint intended for cars.
15. Place du Calvaire
Place du Calvaire is one of the oldest in Rennes. A small, shaded corner with pleasant terraces, a crossroads between rue Saint-Yves, rue du chapitre, rue de Montfort, rue du Cartage and rue Beaumanoir.
- Did you know? Place du Calvaire used to be called Place de la Grande-Pompe, which is a reference to the city’s most important public fountain that was here between 1510 and 1595.