Nancy is Lorraine’s largest city and the former capital of the Dukes of Lorraine. The historic town boasts a great number of listed historic monuments. Since 1983, UNESCO has listed three of its squares as a World Heritage Site: Place Stanislas, Place de la Carrière and Place d’Alliance. Here is my list of 10 things to see in Nancy, Lorraine.
The Capital of the Dukes of Lorraine
Nancy lies in northeastern France, not far from Metz and Strasbourg. It is easily accessible from Paris with TGV trains running from Gare de l’Est. It takes the high-speed train 1.30 hrs to reach the railway station of Nancy, making it a very nice 2-3 day excursion outside Paris.
As you can guess there are definitely more than 10 things to see in Nancy but I choose to list what I think a visitor should absolutely see when visiting the capital of the Dukes of Lorraine.
Things to see in Nancy #1. Place Stanislas
Architect Emmanuel Héré built the pavilions of the square while Jean Lamour designed the beautiful wrought-iron railings. These have made the city famous: finely decorated with gold leaf, occasionally surrounding majestic fountains by Barthélemy Guibal.
The former King of Poland Stanisław I Leszczyński (in French: Stanislas Leszczyński) commissioned the square in 1751 in honour of his son-in-law, Louis XV. It original name was Place Royale (royal square).
Find out more about Place Stanislas.
Things to see in Nancy #2. Place de la Carrière
If Place Stanislas is the image of Nancy that is most often conveyed to the world, it should not overshadow the delightful Place de la Carrière which lies on the other side of the triumphal arch. The discreet square is part of the architectural ensemble of the 18th century wanted by Stanisław I Leszczyński.
Finally, Place de la Carrière is a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with Place Stanislas and Place d’Alliance.
Find out more about Place de la Carrière.
Things to see in Nancy #3. Place d’Alliance
The Place d’Alliance is certainly the smallest, however the most intimate square of Nancy. It lies just a stone’s throw from the Place Stanislas. UNESCO listed it as a work of art, of peace and refinement alongside the adjacent Place Stanislas and Place de la Carrière.
Find out more about Place d’Alliance.
Things to see in Nancy #4. Ducal Palace
The Ducal Palace (in French: Palais ducal) is the epicentre of the Lorraine territory ruled by the eponymous Dukes. However today’s Palace is but a pale reflection of its prestigious past.
For when the Dukes and their Courts inhabited it, Lorraine was an independent Duchy of significant importance, nestled between two worlds:
- the Kingdom of France and
- the Holy Roman Empire (ruled by the Habsburgs).
Like the Louvre in Paris, the Palace became a museum. Since 1848, it has displayed the history of Lorraine. (Please note: the Historic Museum is currently closed for renovation).
Find out more about the Ducal Palace.
Things to see in Nancy #5. Medieval gates and triumphal arches
Nancy has a number of gates and arches that were built in the Middle-Ages and in the 18th century.
Of all the extensive fortifications constructed around the Old Town until the 16th century, only a very few parts of them remain today. The best example is the impressive Craffe Gate dating to the 14th century. It remains the oldest and the most remarkable part of the city’s walls. Its twin towers (from 1463) have walls three metres thick. The windows allowed soldiers to fire in all directions to their enemies.
Other gates from the 14th to the 16th centuries include Porte Saint-Nicolas, Porte de la Citadelle and Porte Saint-Georges.
In addition, the city built many more arches in the 18th century as triumphal monuments: Arc de Triomphe Héré between Place Stanislas and Place de la Carrière, Porte Sainte-Catherine and its counterpart Porte Stanislas, and Porte Désilles on Cours Léopold.
Things to see in Nancy #6. Pépinière Park
The Pépinière Park is adjacent to the Place Stanislas, which can be reached through the golden arches of the fountain of Amphitrite. Covering 21 hectares, the park lies in the centre of Nancy. Locals simply call the lungs of the city “la Pep”.
Find out more about the Pépinière Park.
Things to see in Nancy #7. Nancy Cathedral
The Cathedral of Nancy is part of the grand 18th century district which Duke Stanislas completed in the mid-18th century.
In fact the sanctuary is an interesting mixture of neo-classical and baroque styles, echoing the neighbouring Place Stanislas.
Find out more about the Cathedral of Nancy.
Things to see in Nancy #8. Fine Arts Museum
The Fine Arts Museum in Nancy is Lorraine’s most visited museums after the Pompidou Centre in Metz with over 100,000 visitors each year. One of the beautiful 18th century pavilions of Place Stanislas hosts the works of art in a brilliant display with subtle use of light effects on a total surface of 9,000 m2.
You’ll find works representing every European school of art, spanning a period from the 14th to the 21st centuries.
The museum’s painting collections include a series of works by Perugino, Tintoretto, Caravaggio, Rubens, Eugène Delacroix, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Modigliani, Raoul Dufy, Picasso, Jan Brueghel the Younger… to name but a few.
A visit to the museum progressively takes you towards works by contemporary French and foreign artists.
Find out more about Nancy’s Fine Arts Museum.
Things to see in Nancy #9. School of Nancy Museum
The museum of the École de Nancy is located in the villa of Eugène Corbin and displays the diversity of the creative techniques practiced by artists of the “School of Nancy” (furniture, art objects, glassware, stained-glass, leather, ceramics, textiles…) hence restoring the atmosphere of the period.
In addition, other unique and prestigious pieces are on display, such as:
- Eugène Vallin’s dining room (salle à manger Masson),
- Emile Gallé’s bed “Dawn and Dusk” (Aube et Crépuscule), and
- table “Rhine River” (Le Rhin),
- as well as Louis Majorelle’s Villa Majorelle bedroom, and
- piano “Death of the Swan” (La mort du Cygne).
An exceptional set of glassware by Emile Gallé exemplifies the outstanding technical skills and the naturalist influence of this artistic movement.
Find out more about Art Nouveau in Nancy.
Things to see in Nancy #10. Excelsior Brasserie
Architects Lucien Weissenburger and Alexandre Mienvillehe built the emblematic restaurant in 1910 opposite the railway station, across Place Simone Veil (formerly Place Thiers).
The sober exterior façade of the building contrasts with the stunning interior decorated with vegetation and exotic themes. The restaurant is still operating today and has become an institution for locals and tourists alike.
Find out more about Art Nouveau buildings in Nancy.
Where to stay in Nancy
This map will help you find your accommodation in Nancy according to location and prices:
Events in Nancy
The capital of the Dukes of Lorraine hosts a number of popular events across the year.
- Foire Attractive de Nancy, one of France’s largest fun fairs organised in a city-centre (Spring)
- Rendez-Vous Place Stanislas, a magnificent sound and light show which takes place on the five pavilions of Place Stanislas during the summer months.
- The Jardin Ephémère on place Stanislas (September-October)
- Le Livre sur la Place: the first major national book fair of the autumn publishing season in France (September)
- Nancy Jazz Pulsation: non-stop concerts including jazz of course, but also modern musical movements such as blues, rock, chanson française, electro, reggae, hip-hop and world music (October)
- The St Nicolas celebrations which take place during 6 weeks from the end of November to early January.
What to see around Nancy
There is a lot more to discover in Nancy and its surroundings.
Situated some 55 km North of Nancy, the city of Metz should not be missed. It offers to its visitors one of France’s premier museums (Centre Pompidou Metz), a beautiful old town and a fine Gothic cathedral.
The Lorraine Natural Park
In the region of Lorraine are found other attractive tourist sites: Verdun in the Meuse and the Natural Park of Lorraine.
To the east of the region lies the Vosges. The mountain range marks the border with Alsace.
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Check out the website of the Tourist Information Centre for more info about Nancy.
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