Le Mans is no stranger to celebrity faces. Brad Pitt, Patrick Dempsey, and Keanu Reeves have all jetted in for its flagship motorsports endurance race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Leonardo DiCaprio’s 1998 movie The Man in the Iron Mask was shot in its exquisitely preserved medieval cité. More recently, Christian Bale and Matt Damon were in town shooting Ford v Ferrari. Yet this unassuming riverside city in France, between Normandy and the Loire Valley, still flies under the radar of most tourists.
As Le Mans celebrates the centenary of the 24 Hours race in 2023, take the time to discover the city beyond its star-studded sporting calendar. You’ll stumble upon architectural treasures, Instagrammble alleyways, and a dynamic street art scene underpinned by a fascinating Anglo-French history.
What to do
Step back into medieval times
At first glance, Le Mans’ modern city centre appears to be nothing special, but stroll up into the medieval Cité Plantagenêt, and you’ll be reaching for your camera at every twist and turn. It’s easy to imagine yourself on a medieval film set as you explore the warren of sloping cobblestone lanes and steep stairways, with its assortment of half-timbered and brick facades.
Maison du Pilier Rouge offers guided walking tours in English (every Wed, June–August, €6) which reveal architectural details and historical context that you’ll probably miss otherwise. Highlights include the imposing remains of the Gallo-Roman city walls and towers, the magnificent Saint Julien’s Cathedral, and the Maison Suspendue with its cute teddy bear waving from the window. History buffs take note: Le Mans was home to Henry II, the first Plantagenet king, and Berengaria, the enigmatic wife of Richard the Lionheart, and your guide will no doubt regale you with tales of the Anglo-French royals.
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Indulge your inner speed demon
Motorsports are the lifeblood of Le Mans, and even if you don’t know your Ferraris from your Mazdas, it’s hard not to get swept up in the excitement. If you can’t make it for the big events – the annual 24 Hours of Le Mans in June and the biennial Le Mans Classic – a visit to the 24 Hours of Le Man Museum gets you close to the action, and you can even visit the famous race circuit (museum only: €10; plus circuit €13).
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