Dinan is arguably the most beautiful town in Brittany. The quaint cobblestone streets around the old town have merely changed since the Middle Age. It will make you feel like you’ve travelled back in time. There’s something special about these stunning medieval towns. And Dinan has a little extra: from the port, you can explore the lovely Rance river to see more of the region. Here are some ideas of the best things to do in Dinan for a one-day itinerary.
Is one day enough to visit Dinan?
I recommend spending at least one full day in Dinan and one night. Two days and two nights would be better as there are a lot of things to do in Dinan. But you can see all the main attractions in one day. I know there are many things to do in Brittany and near Dinan, so I condensed this itinerary for those who don’t have time to spend more than one day in Dinan.
If you’re spending only one night in Dinan, I highly recommend staying in the town centre. You’ll maximise your short time in the town. I’ve added recommendations about where to stay in Dinan at the end of the article.
How to get to Dinan
There are many ways to get to Dinan. And the best way isn’t necessarily the most obvious way.
How to go to Dinan by car
The most obvious way to reach Dinan is by car. It takes only 40 minutes to drive from Rennes, Brittany’s biggest city, to Dinan. Dinan is also not far from the very famous Saint Malo and Mont Saint Michel.
We parked the car very close to the town centre, where our hotel (Hotel Cafe du Theatre*) was. We were lucky to find a free parking spot at Place Dugesclin (but don’t park there on Wednesday night and Thursday as it’s market day). If it’s full, there are also paid parking options not too far.
Parking looked challenging during the peak season in Dinan. If you only have one day in Dinan, try arriving before the crowd (9 am is good). Then you can forget about your car and visit Dinan on foot (and by boat).
How to get to Dinan by boat
It’s my favourite way to get to Dinan. You can hop on a boat from Saint Malo or Dinard and cruise down the Rance River all the way to Dinan. It’s a good opportunity to learn more about the region and the river (if you understand the French commentaries or have an English guidebook). Check out the Companie Corsaire website to see their timetables. Our boat arrived in Dinan at midday, and visitors had a few hours before catching a bus back to Saint Malo. Alternatively, you could spend one night in Dinan and go back the next day.
It’s also possible to navigate on the small canals from the south of Dinan. But this is a totally different experience, and it would take a few days!
How to get to Dinan by train
Although there’s a train station in Dinan, it isn’t the most straightforward way to travel to the town. The trains going to Dinan are on the line linking Dol de Bretagne to Saint Brieuc. Unfortunately, there are no direct trains from Rennes, the biggest city nearby, with direct trains to Paris and many other French cities such as Lyon.
The best things to do in Dinan
The numbers in brackets help you locate the attraction in Dinan on the map at the end of the article.
1. Walk to the port via the old town
Our early morning walk to the port at 8.30 am was fantastic. We were all alone in the beautiful and famous streets Rue du Jerzual (1) and Rue du Petit Fort with the Governor House (2). Take your time there to go down the 75m slope to the port. The atmosphere later in the day will be totally different. Early in the morning, all shops are still closed, and you’re likely to only see a few people (maybe training for the Jerzual Challenge). It’s perfect to take photos. Later during the day, you’ll be too busy looking at all the interesting shops and artists on the street.
We took our breakfast near the port and the old bridge at the bakery Gât’&Vous (3). It’s a good opportunity to try some local sweet specialties like Kouign Aman and Far Breton.
The port is lovely with many restaurants and the view from the old bridge (4) of the remarkable 40-metre high viaduct from 1852 with ten 16-metre high arches.
2. Explore the Rance River
We hired a small electric boat with Dinavig from 10 am to 2 pm (the maximum time) to explore the Rance River (5). You don’t need a licence to drive these boats, and you’ll have plenty of time to admire the landscape as they’re very slow and super quiet. We went south to the Lehon Abbay (6) and all the way to Pont-Perrin Sluice (7) in less than one hour. If you’ve never experienced a sluice, it’s a fantastic opportunity to do it and find out more about fluvial navigation.
If you only have one day in Dinan, you may want to stick to a couple of hours on the Rance River. But for nature lovers and those with a bit more time, it’s worth hiring a boat for four hours to go all the way north to the Châtelier Sluice (8). We passed along a reserve with many birds. Make sure you pack a picnic to have on the boat. Most shops were closed before we hopped on the boat, so we went shopping the day before and bought bread in the morning to make our sandwiches.
If you don’t feel like driving your own boat, you’ll find many other options to explore the Rance River in Dinan. You can simply walk along the river on the Chemin de Halage (towing track, where horses used to tow boats up and down the river before we had motors) or hire a bicycle. Hiring canoe and kayaks is also a lovely option. And for no effort at all, hop on a cruise on the Jaman V to see the most interesting spots.
If you’re in town for more than one day, you may be interested in following down the Rance River all the way to Saint Malo and the ocean.
3. Dinan old town circuit
Dinan is one of the most beautiful and best-preserved medieval towns in France. So wandering in the lovely pedestrian streets is one of the best things to do in Dinan. A few circuits exist to see the best spots. These were a few highlights for me:
- The view of the port from the St. Catherine Tower on the 13th-century ramparts (9)
- Rue du Jerzual and Rue du Petit Port (it’s steep but easier than it looks)
- The beautiful Saint Sauveur Basilica (10)
- The glass stained windows of Saint Malo Church (11)
It is possible to climb the Clock Tower (12), built in the 1400s, to get beautiful views of the region for 4€ per adult. Those who speak French may want to experience a complete immersion in the medieval society of the 14th and 15th centuries by visiting the castle (13), built in the late 1300s, for 7€50 per adult.
If you’re visiting in the summer, you may be interested in looking at the exhibitions at Les Cordeliers. You won’t be able to access the site during the rest of the year as it is a high school.
4. An evening in Dinan: where to eat and sleep
I highly recommend spending one night in Dinan. It’s lively in summer evenings with many restaurants and terraces in the old town.
Where to eat
I couldn’t believe the number of crêperies in such a small area. I wonder if there’s a world record here! If you’re there in summer, it’s recommended to book a few hours in advance if you don’t want to ask several places if they have a table available. Otherwise, just go down the Rue des Poissonniers and the nearby streets, and you’ll find many restaurants.
A night in Dinan is a great opportunity to try local food. We had dinner at the moulerie La Lycorne (where they specialise in mussels), as Moules-Frites, although originally from the north of France, is a reputed way in Brittany to enjoy seafood. If seafood isn’t your thing, they also offered Andouillette on the menu, another Breton specialty.
We picked a creperie for our second dinner in Dinan. It looked like they served galettes bretonnes everywhere in town. The choice was overwhelming. They weren’t the best we had in Brittany, but it’s an easy and rather cheap option to eat out in Dinan.
Where to stay in Dinan
A hotel in the town centre isn’t the quietest place if you need silence to sleep, but it’s for sure the best option to get the most out of your visit. Dinan is a lovely touristy town with many restaurants, and it’s lovely to have everything on your doorstep.
We spent two good nights at the Hotel Cafe du Theatre*, which was the cheapest available option with a fantastic location. It’s in the heart of the old town with many restaurants nearby. The room was simple but had everything we needed. However, it’s not a good option if you struggle with stairs, and some may miss the air conditioning or a fan if visiting in summer. Young couples may also not feel very comfortable as the bathroom (and toilet) has kind of a plantation shutter sliding door with no noise isolation (it’s fine if you just play some music!).
For a bigger room (but also a bigger price), check out the Hotel Arvor* next door. And if you don’t mind spending more money on accommodation for something special, you may like the Logis Du Jerzual* or La Maison Pavie*. For your romantic weekend, you’ll also find just outside the old town centre a spacious suite with a spa at La Villa Côté Cour*.
When is the best time to visit Dinan?
You may have heard that it often rains in Brittany. If you don’t like walking in the rain, summer days are usually lovely in Dinan and a good place to escape from heat waves. However, Dinan is a very reputed town, and summer is the peak season for tourism, so it comes with challenges. You’ll struggle to park your car, and there will be many people around the town’s two most famous streets. But if you stay in a hotel in the town centre and book your activities and restaurants in advance, the crowd won’t be a problem.
May and June may be the best time to visit Dinan to avoid the crowd but still have a high chance of nice weather. But the good weather in Brittany is never guaranteed. It was drizzling when we visited Dinan in August. We still had an amazing time despite the rain.
Tips for your visit to Dinan
Bring water-repellent clothes
We always say “the weather is lovely multiple times a day” in Brittany. Indeed, it’s not rare to have sunny breaks between showers. Although it rarely rains all day in summer (the clouds come and go with the tides), it’s still a good idea to pack a light rain jacket and an umbrella. It rained a bit during our visit, but it didn’t affect our itinerary too much.
Bring sunscreen and a cap
Even if the sun isn’t shining all day long, don’t underestimate its power. I know many people who got sunburnt on a cloudy day in Brittany. Sun protection, especially if you spend lunchtime on the water, is necessary.
Wander in the streets early in the morning or late in the afternoon
If you can explore Dinan before 9 am or in the evening, all the day trippers visiting Dinan are gone. The town is a lot quieter, and it’s more enjoyable to take photos and watch some details of the beautiful buildings.
Wear comfortable shoes
Everything in Dinan can be done on foot (with a small part on a boat). But Dinan is built following a hill and has many charming cobbled streets, so you’ll need good shoes to enjoy your visit.
Choose your accommodation wisely if stairs are an issue for you
I highly recommend staying in the town centre. It means being surrounded by old buildings, which look lovely but can come with some accessibility challenges. If you struggle with narrow stairs, make sure you ask your accommodation about the access to the rooms. Don’t learn the hard way that some hotels don’t have lifts. If you use Booking.com*, you can often see “Upper floors accessible by stairs only” listed in the facilities when you open the room description.
What are the best things to do in Dinan? Share your experience in the comments below!
Map of things to do in Dinan
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