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Brest’s buzz comes from its status as an international maritime centre, set in a sensational location overlooking the inland sea of the Rade de Brest. It’s very much a split site as the lively commercial port area contrasts with the sober grid-plan of the centre above, softened by green nooks and modern art installations along the new tramway. Modern architecture and resources are to the forefront, as the city had to be almost completely rebuilt after WWII attempts to bomb the German submarine base. The Moulin Blanc pleasure port just to the east of the city is also an important piece of the Brest jigsaw, with one of the most visited attractions in France in Oceanopolis.
Our top five sights
Not only for kids, the famous white domes of Océanopolis contain exhibitions of arctic, tropical and temperate marine life of every imaginable shape and size. You can watch the mesmerising sharks or cute penguins, or find out what wonders flourish in Breton waters. Moulin Blanc, 02 9834 4040
Conservatoire Botanique National
The Conservatoire Botanique National de Brest. A wonderful place to go for a walk and to relax for everyone in the family.More
Musée National de la Marine
The imposing Château de Brest, restored after WWII bombing, dominates the Penfeld River and now houses a maritime museum with some choice exhibits from the Bretons’ unparalleled sea-going past. Stunning views over the Rade de Brest add an extra dimension. Château de Brest, 02 9822 1239
The naval base including former German submarine pens can be visited at certain times, but you need a passport for identification and cameras are not allowed. The guided tour usually involves boarding a warship.02 9822 1178
A jaunty restored 14th-century tower overlooking the river contains the town history museum, a quirky and very visual display with models and photos that really do tell a good story. Entry is free. Square Pierre Péron, 02 9800 8793
Our top five activities
Sailing on the Rade de Brest
Azenor offers daily boat trips around the Rade de Brest and Crozon peninsula in the summer months.Moulin Blanc, 02 9841 4623
Visit the Atlantic island
Take a boat further afield to visit the Atlantic islands of Molène (ideal day trip) or remote and mysterious Ouessant. If you’re lucky, there may be dolphins near Pointe Saint-Mathieu. Penn Ar Bed operates from the Port de Commerce.02 9880 8080
The Centre Nautique du Moulin Blanc is the best base for sailing or floating off across the Rade, with tuition and equipment hire, and there are also diving possibilities with Eau Libre (rue de Amiral Trude).02 9802 3673
Two courses (18 and 9 holes) designed by Michael Fenn and renowned for their beautiful setting are available at Golf de Brest Iroise, about 20 minutes from the city in Saint Urbain. Parc de loisirs de Lann Rohou, Saint Urbain, 02 9885 1617
For the ultimate thrill, what about an accompanied parachute jump over the island of Ouessant? Aéro Tandem Celtic will hold your hand.06 6250 4464
Our top five events
June: Fête des Fraises
Plougastel (9km from Brest) is famous for its succulent strawberries and this annual festival celebrates their bounty with parades in local costume, music and Breton dancing.
July: Fêtes Mediévales de Saint Renan
This lovely Old Town (11km from Brest) re-enacts its medieval past every two years (next 2013) in grand style, with a great market, costumed spectacles and music.
July/August: Les Jeudis du Port
Free concerts and entertainment on Brest commercial port every Thursday from 25th July to 15th August, 2013.
October: Atlantique Jazz Festival
A week of fine jazz offerings from traditional to experimental, where international artists rub shoulders with local talent at various venues in Brest.
November: Brest European Short Film Festival
Le Quartz arts centre hosts this collection of sharp, serious, ingenious, funny and sometimes downright strange films from all over Europe.
Brest is known for its sophisticated boutiques in and around the central Rue de Siam. There’s everything from traditional hats (48 rue de Siam) to the hip streetwear of Since Street (182 rue Jean-Jaurès, 02 9082 5236). Try the full chocolate experience at Histoire de Chocolat (60 rue de Siam, 02 9844 6609) or the enormous Dialogues nearby for books and music, with coffee while browsing. For Breton products, the best range is at the Roi de Bretagne in the Port de Commerce. There are local markets every day in Brest but the best are foodies’ favourite on Saturday mornings in Saint-Martin and a large collection of mixed stalls on Sunday morning at Saint-Louis.
Food & Drink
Brest’s restaurants mostly specialise in seafood, from Michelin-starred L’Armen (21 rue de Lyon, 02 9846 2834) to the famous Crabe Marteau (8 quai de la Douaine, 02 9833 3857) whose name says it all – you get a crab and mallet (with sauces and potatoes alongside). L’Imaginaire (23 rue Fautras, 02 9843 3013) offers stylish dining with an emphasis on quality local products, like fashionable Le M (22 rue Commandant Drogou, 02 9847 9000), an off-centre venue popular with locals. For a real marine experience and absolutely delicious seafood, visit Aux Vieux Gréements (145 quai Eric Tabarly, 02 9843 2048). Just out of town in a verdant valley near Moulin Blanc is the Crêperie du Stang Alar for a simple meal of traditional tasty Breton pancakes.
The liveliest night scene in Brest is to be found around the Port de Commerce where bars and restaurants line the quays. On Thursday evenings in summer, huge music stages are erected here with headline bands from around the world. Make for Le Living Room (9 rue Amiral Nielly, 02 9844 2595) or Le Square up in the town (14 rue Kéréon, 02 9843 4363) for dancing to current sounds. The Carène (30 rue Jean-Marie le Bris, 02 9846 6600) is the hotspot for contemporary music, and jazz/electro-jazz lovers will want to check out the Cabaret Vauban (17 avenue Georges Clemenceau, 02 9846 0688). Quality theatre, dance and classical concerts are to be found at the arts centre Le Quartz (Place de la Liberté, 02 9833 9500).
Accommodation in Brest
Brest has a good range of hotels from the vibrant art deco luxury of Le Continental (Square de la Tour d’Auvergne, 02 9880 5040) to a well-situated budget option like the Agena (10 rue Frégate la Belle Poule, 02 9833 9600) above the commercial port. Local icon the Hotel Vauban (17 avenue Georges Clemenceau, 02 9846 0688) near the tourist office is moderately priced, and so is Les Gens de Mer (44 quai de la Douane, 02 9846 0740) if you want to be in the thick of the quayside nightlife. Apartments are another possibility but they tend to be situated a little way from the centre - Appart’City (02 9846 3606) has two offerings in Brest.
Several times a day, the shuttle connects the Brest Bretagne airport with the tramway station at Porte de Guipavas (10 minutes).
Brest Airport Information
CityJet offer flights to Brest from London City.
CityJet Flight Routes
Amsterdam to London City
Amsterdam to Avignon
Amsterdam to Brive - Dordogne Valley
Amsterdam to Perpignan