Mystical, medieval Dinan

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Overall rating:4.0 out of 5 (based on 1 vote)
Recommended for:
Activity, Cultural, Short Break, Mid-range

Mystical Dinan is a must do when visiting Brittany, even if you can only manage two days. The history, art and medieval houses will astound you

Brittany, with its rich historic culture, is a perfect escape at any time of the year. Dinan is a gem of a waterfront town in Brittany, situated along the River Rance, twenty kilometres from popular Dinard and St. Malo on the north west coast of Brittany.

In France, Dinan is listed as a ville et pays d’art et histoire (town and country of art and history). For me, Dinan is both mystical and intriguing.

Cobbled streets and medieval architecture

The only way to capture this mystique is by strolling through the town centre, through the narrow cobbled streets packed with and 13th and 14th century half-timbering architecture, all beautifully restored. There are at least 120 of these houses in Dinan; no wonder it is reputed to be the best medieval town in Brittany.

The Bureau de Tourisme, situated in Rue du Château will provide maps of the town centre. The leaflets use different colours to direct visitors to the old town, the rampart and religious monuments. Almost everything worth seeing is contained in the old city.

Head towards the old town at Place des Cordeliers and Merciers; lean against the facades, dart in and out of the many boutiques if only to capture this medieval knights and dragons atmosphere. The houses might look somewhat fragile as they lean towards each other but artisans and craftsmen in the shops have existed here for generations working side by side.

The town square nearby called Place du Guesclin is named after the Breton militant, Bertrand du Guesclin, famous for fighting against the English in the 100- year war. Every Thursday, market day, it becomes alive, vibrant and colourful with a multitude of vendors and buyers.

When in Rue de L’Horloge, look out for the clock tower. Dating back to 1498, it chimes every quarter of an hour. It’s worth climbing the 158 steps up to the tiny balcony especially on a clear day; the views of the nearby countryside and the towns are quite spectacular.

One of the prettiest traffic free lanes in Dinan is Rue Jerzual (which turns into Rue du Petit Fort) leading to the River Rance and the old port. The walk is steep, even invigorating, but as you wend your way down and up again, enjoy the craft shops, the art galleries, the weavers, and museums. You can always stop for a drink at one of the many cafés and bars at the old port. A thousand years ago much trading and exporting went on here. Just think of the traders who used this very port, who trudged up the Rue Jerzual with all their goods.

Today, the river is canalized with locks and a towpath.

Chateau and ramparts

Dinan has a walled citadel consisting of 10 watchtowers and four gateways which run two miles around the town. The Tower of St. Anne and the castle are highlights within the walls; these buildings were formerly used as residences, prisons, artillery platforms. Today it hosts a small museum which can be visited in the summer.

Every two years in July, Dinan prepares for the Fête des Ramparts; locals dress up in medieval garb and the streets are decorated with flags for the two day festival. The town becomes quite busy with medieval things including food, drink, games and craft.

Religious monuments

The most visited religious monument is St. Saviour’s Basilica; visitors come here to admire the mixture of architectural styles (Renaissance, Gothic and Romanesque periods) and to see where Bertrand du Guesclin’s heart is laid.

Just behind the Basilica, backing on to the rampart is the Jardin Anglais (English garden) built on the old cemetery.

Fancy a cruise down the river?

Corsaire runs a daily boat service from Dinan to Dinard and St. Malo along the River Rance between June and September. The trip lasts around two and a half hours.

Where to stay

Le Papillion is a quiet friendly hotel and bar situated right on the water front. Costing 58 euro for a comfortable room and hearty continental breakfast, this is good value. Le Papillion also prepares snacks such as mussels and chips for lunch. Pascal, the owner, knows his birthplace well, enjoys a good chat and is happy to answer all questions concerning Dinan.

If you fancy being in the town itself, and don’t mind the chimes of the clock tower (they stop between midnight and 7am) there is the Hotel de la tour L’Horloge which will cost you between 47 – 58 euro. From some of the top floor rooms you can even view the clock tower.

More up market is Duguesclin, situated near the ramparts at Rue de Brest. Here you can rent an apartment or studio if you fancy staying longer in Dinan. The hotel also has a swimming pool and fitness centre. Prices vary depending on the season; a studio costs around 90 euro per night in the busy month of August.

What to eat and drink

Dinan has a multitude of restaurants to choose from, both in the old town and near the river. Eat like a local and visit one of the many creperies. Creperies specialize in crepes, flat pancakes which can be both savoury and sweet. La Bigouden in the town centre at Place des Cordeliers is good value with a wide range of crepes to choose from. Have your crepes with cider (cidre) or a Muscadet, Breton wine. Try the galette complete which comes with ham, egg and cheese.

If you like seafood, go to La Lycorne (the Unicorn) at Rue de la Poissonerie as they specialise in it - especially mussels - but make sure you book if you plan to go in the evening.

Getting to and from Dinan

Dinan is only four hours by train from Paris. There are good connecting roads between St. Malo and Dinan if you’re driving from the coast.

Condor Ferries assures a regular ferry service from Guernsey.

Ryanair has direct daily flights from Stanstead to nearby Dinard in the summer.

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More information on Mystical, medieval Dinan:

Alice Alech
Traveller type:
Travel Enthusiast
Guide rating:
Average: 4 (1 vote)
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First uploaded:
19 January 2010
Last updated:
5 years 10 weeks 5 days 3 hours 6 min 37 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Trip types:
Activity, Cultural, Short Break
Budget level:
Free tags / Keywords:
walking, art, historic sites

Alice recommends


Price from Rating
(out of 5)
1. Duguesclin
2. Hotel De La Tour De L'horlage
3. Le Papillon

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Community comments (1)

0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Alice, thank you for a guide that nicely combines personal touches, historical insights and some lovely descriptive passages - I like the picture you have painted of fragile houses leaning towards each other. In parts this guide would benefit from some more detail - for example, what is in the Jardin Anglais? Why would you recommend going?

To make this guide more useful to the reader it would be great if you could add contact details after each recommendation (address; phone number; website is ideal). I would also love to know when the next Fête des Ramparts is. On an editorial note, please make sure that you highlight key phrases in bold rather than italics.

Overall, though, this guide provides a good overview of Dinan. I look forward to reading your next guide, Alice.

What do other readers think of this guide? Has it inspired you to visit Dinan? Can you add any other tips or recommendations? Thanks.

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