In just 90 minutes by train from Paris, you can be whisked to Nancy, where you will be immersed in the birthplace of the Art Nouveau art and design movement and one of the most spectacular squares in Europe. Nancy is an off-the-beaten-path destination in the Alsace Lorraine region, which is in northeast France, close to Germany’s border. A rich history, gorgeous architecture, and fantastic local foods and dishes make Nancy your go-to destination list when you visit France.
The origins of Nancy start in 1050 when Gerard, the Duke of Lorraine, builds Nancy, a village with a fortification. Nancy was burned down in 1218 and rebuilt in the next few centuries with stone edifices and gained importance as the capital of the Duchy of Lorraine, a territory owned by the Duke of Lorraine. Stanislaw I Leszczynski, an exiled king of Poland, was given the title of the Duke of Lorraine by his father-in-law, the French king Louis XV in 1736. In the following years, the new Baroque architecture and culture flourished in the city, replacing the more austere medieval structures. Nancy, along with the Alsace Lorraine region, was occupied by the Germans in WWII but was liberated by the U.S. army in 1944 during the Battle of Nancy.
Here are our best picks for the must-see and must-do things in Nancy.
1. Place Stanislas
The top attraction and the centerpiece of Nancy is Place Stanislas, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The massive square, measuring 410 feet in width and 347 feet in length, has been frequently named as one of the most impressive squares in Europe. It was commissioned by Stanislas Leszczynski, the exiled king of Poland who became Duchy of Upper Lorraine after the War of the Polish Succession in 1737. Designed by the court architect to the king, Emmanuel Here de Corny, Place Stanislas was constructed between 1752 and 1755.
Other notable buildings on the square are the Opera house, Hotel de Ville/City Hall, Musee des Beaux Art/Fine Arts Museum, and an Arc de Triomphe, similar to the one in Paris. A number of pleasant cafes and restaurants proliferate in Place Stanislas. One of the outstanding architectural features of the square is the ornate, Baroque style gates in wrought iron and trimmed with gold leaf.
2. L’Ecole De Nancy Museum
The Art Nouveau style of architecture and design is best exemplified at the
L’ Ecole de Nancy Museum. Housed in the former home of Eugene Corbin, a patron and sponsor of the movement, the house was designed by Lucien Weissenburger, who was one of the significant architects of the period, and it was converted into the museum in 1964. The official Art Nouveau movement was started in 1901 by Victor Prouve, Emile Galle, Antonin Daum, Jacques Gruber, Louis Marjorelle, and Eugene Vallin, a group of leading artists, furniture designers, glassmakers, and architects of the time.
The museum features an exquisite collection of some of the finest examples of Art Nouveau in mint condition, including furniture, glasswork, lamps, objets d'art, ceramics, decorative screens, stained glass, and fabrics. The large and lovely garden has lush plants and flowers along with a pavilion with an umbrella-shaped roof, which stores an aquarium.
3. Villa Majorelle
If you want to extend your immersion in Art Nouveau, the Villa Majorelle is another great showplace.
A decorator and furniture designer by trade, Louis Majorelle was a substantial contributor to the Art Nouveau movement and served as the vice president of the Ecole de Nancy in 1901. Originally named the Villa Jika after Majorelle’s wife, the three-story mansion was constructed in 1901and designed by architect Henri Sauvage. Majorelle designed the furniture, ironwork, and interior woodwork, and Jacques Gruber created the decorative stained glass.
4. Musee Des Beaux Arts/Museum Of Fine Arts
One of the oldest fine arts museums in France, the Musee Des Beaux Arts has an extensive collection of important 17th, 18th, and 19th century paintings and artworks including works by Rubins, Delacroix, Manet, Modigliani, Caravaggio, and Rodin.
The building of the museum itself is of note, as it is listed as a UNESCO Heritage site. Built under the reign of Duchy of Lorraine in 1793, it is one of the four pillar stones of Place Stanislas, and the handsome, classic building is made of limestone.
Don’t miss the amazing collection of over 300 Daum glass vases and glassworks on the lower level. Daum was the leading producer of Art Nouveau glass in the early 20th century.
5. Art Nouveau Architecture Tour
A great way to see the Art Nouveau architecture of Nancy is to do a self-guided tour.
The tourist bureau of Nancy has an easy to follow, numbered map and brochure of all of the most important Art Nouveau structures including The Brasserie l’Excelsior restaurant (1910), Credit Lyonnais bank (1901), France-Lanord building (1902-1904), Rue Felix Faure (1900-1910), and Jacques pharmacy (1903). Saurupt Park is a gated park where six detached Art Nouveau houses were constructed in 1901 which you can visit today. Check out the three main structures, the caretaker’s lodge (Loge du Concierge), Villa Les Glycines, and Villa Les Roches.
If you prefer a guided tour, you can book one at the Nancy Tourist Office.
6. Nancy Cathedral
A baroque style gem, the Nancy Cathedral was constructed in the start of the 18th century by two of the best-known architects of the time, Jules Hardouin-Mansart and Germain Boffrand. Standout architectural details include detailed ironwork by ironmaker Jean Lamour, a cupola hand-painted by artist Jacquard, and the celebrated organ by master organ builder Nicolas Dupont constructed in 1763 and now designated as a historic monument.
7. Jean-Marie Pelt Botanical Garden
Just outside of the center of Nancy is the Jean-Marie Pelt Botanical Garden. More than just a garden, it’s a living museum of over 12,000 plant species from around the world. The 67-acre garden also has tropical greenhouses filled with orchids, water-lilies, coffee, banana, citrus trees, and different cacti species. The gardens also sponsor botany classes, conferences, tours, and exhibitions.
8. Local Foods: Quiche Lorraine, Bergamotes, And Macarons
The famous quiche Lorraine, prepared with eggs, cream, and bacon, is a specialty of the Alsace Lorraine region and is a standard dish in almost every restaurant and cafe in Nancy. Brasserie Excelsior, a gorgeously decorated, turn of the century restaurant has one of the best quiche Lorraine’s in Nancy, followed by L’Epicerie, and Jean Lamour restaurant.
Although the sweet flavored macarons are all the rage now, the celebrated macarons of Nancy are a simpler formula of egg whites and almonds with a dash of sugar. Nathalie Lalonde, a local bakery since 1901, is a favorite among locals for their macarons.
The essence of Italian bergamot oranges is the key ingredient in the historic bergamot candies of Nancy. Rene d'Anjou and Rene II, two Dukes of Lorraine and Kings of Sicily, were the first to bring the flavor of bergamot to Nancy, and in 1750, bergamot had the exclusive domain of King Stanislas, whose head chef concocted a candied version of the fruit mixed with barley sugar. In 1857, bergamots became available to the public by confectioner Godefroy Lillig, who shaped them into squares in an amber color. Maison Des Soeurs Macarons, a little bakery and confection shop, is known for their bergamots.
9. The Grand Hotel De La Reine
If you want to spend the night in Nancy in luxury and style, stay at the Grand Hotel de la Reine. Located on Place Stanislas, the Grand Hotel de la Reine is a former palace that was built in 1748 and in 1769, Queen Marie Antoinette visited to listen to the poems of Nicolas Gilbert. Today the five-star hotel has 51 rooms and suites which are decorated in the Louis XV and 18th-century style. The elegant Louis Restaurant offers an excellent, three-course lunch and dinner for 39 euros per person. A wide selection of Champagnes and whiskeys are offered at the Louis XV Bar in a cozy, intimate setting.
10. Fun Annual Events
Saint Nicolas Day
Every year on December 6, the residents of Nancy get festive and celebrate Saint Nicolas for two days in a big way with a parade, music, live events, and lights on the historic Place Stanislas.
Nancy Jazz Pulsations Fest
Started as a standard jazz festival, over the years, the Nancy Jazz Pulsations Fest has morphed into a multi-category music event with blues, rock, electro, reggae, hip-hop, and world music. The 2-week festival usually runs the first two weeks of October.
Pro Tip: Book tickets in advance on their website.