The French equivalent of the Hamptons, Île de Ré is all postcard-pretty villages, honeyed beaches and oyster shacks. Just 19 miles by five, the tiny island is best explored by bike or on horseback, while its coastline can be discovered by canoe, kayak or boat. 

If you’re looking for luxurious places to stay in France then Île de Ré should be top of your list for a relaxing holiday with plenty of activities on offer that make it a particularly good choice for families. For a taste of how you could spend your time when visiting this popular French region, here’s our roundup of the top 10 things to do in Île de Ré.

Ramble the ramparts

Saint-Martin-de-Ré ramparts

If you’re looking for a historical attraction then a highlight of  Île de Ré tourism is the cobblestoned core of UNESCO-listed Saint-Martin-de-Ré. Enclosed by 17th-century ramparts, this small commune can be traced on foot for picturesque views and a chance to feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

Louis XIV’s chief military engineer, Vauban, designed the fortifications, which led to the creation of the ancient citadel – an impressive collection of walls, moats and drawbridges. From 1860 to 1938, this was the departure point for bagnards (prisoners) bound for the French penal colonies, including Alfred Dreyfus en route to Devil’s Island. Today, it’s a prison. Visit the Ernest Cognacq Museum to learn more about its history.

Île de Ré Cycling

Île de Ré was made for cycling: it’s flat, idyllic and crisscrossed with 60-plus miles of marked trails. Don’t worry about trying to bring your wheels with you on holiday; you’ll find bike-hire shops in most villages. Try YooToo in Saint-Martin-de-Ré and grab a cycle map from the tourist information centre. 

Tackle the hour-long, impossibly scenic ride to Baleines lighthouse from the capital or, if you’re short on time, follow the 45-minute triangular route between the three main towns – Saint Martin, La Flotte and Le Bois Plage. Cycling is one of the best things to do in Île de Ré in the summer, especially if you’re on holiday with a mixed-aged group.

Take a hack on horseback

For a break from bikes, try a different sort of saddle: horse riding. It’s incredibly enchanting to canter through fragrant pine forests and along windswept beaches, trot down lanes choked with honeysuckle, and pause by salt marshes dotted with rare birds. 

Horse riding is one of the most unique things to do in Île de Ré and offers a truly memorable experience of the area’s gorgeous scenery. Sign up for a hack with Moulin Moreau or Equipassion in La Flotte Île de Ré.

Climb the lighthouse

Phare des Baleines

Once you reach the Phare des Baleines by bike you’ll be met with the striking sight of a singular tower rising up on the edge of the coast. Climbing the octagonal 19th-century lighthouse is one of our favourite things to do in Île de Ré. 

Named after the many beached whales sadly found nearby, Baleines looms above the northwest tip of the island. Ascend the 257 steps of the spiral stone staircase for spectacular views of mainland France. There’s a French-spoken museum at the foot, surrounded by five acres of parkland.

Hop aboard a boat

If you’re wondering what to do in Île de Ré when the weather is calm and clear, take to the water with a tranquil boat trip. There’s a good sailing school at Plage de la Cible, the little beach of Saint-Martin-de-Ré, or a popular centre with outposts in Le Bois-Plage-en-Ré, Couarde-sur-Mer and Loix called Ile De Ré Voile. 

You can either sign up for sailing lessons or rent a boat for the day to explore on your own. If you’re celebrating a special occasion, or would rather admire the views from the water rather than worry about steering a ship, chartering a boat for the day is a really special way to spend your time.

Find Bliss at the Spa

France is famed for its thalassotherapy spas that draw upon the therapeutic properties of seawater, from saltwater pools to algae-based treatments. With its prime position on the Atlantic coast, the Isle de Ré is a fantastic place to treat yourself to a pampering session and reap the benefits of naturally occurring beauty products.

Taking a trip to a spa is a great way to add another touch of luxury to Île de Ré holidays. Three of the best spas in Île de Ré include Côté Thalasso at Ars-en-Ré; Centre de Thalasso le Richelieu at La Flotte Île de Ré; and Relais Thalasso at Sainte-Marie-De-Ré.

Explore the Coastline by Canoe or Kayak

Île de Ré beaches are a major attraction for holidaymakers on the island, but the coastline also has a lot to offer when it comes to things to do. Paddle around the coast in a canoe or a kayak for a different perspective of the area, or try your hand at stand-up paddleboarding if you’re confident in your balance!

Sign up for a guided tour to explore Fier d’Ars by canoe, a wide bay and vast marshland to the west. Alternatively, rent a kayak to glide across the magnificent salt pans of Loix – the source of the prized sea salt in shops and restaurants across the island. The latter is a great option for birdwatchers, as the marshland is home to everything from belted kingfishers to black-winged stilts and pied avocets – and even the rare bluethroats.

Go oyster mad

Oyster banks in Ile de Re

Oyster banks in Île de Ré

Sample the Oysters

Seafood is a speciality when you’re at many of the Île de Ré best restaurants, and you can’t visit the island without sampling freshly shucked oysters. You can pick them up from cabanes dotted across the island, particularly along the western coast (try the popular Cabanajam or family-run Les Copains Bâbord). 

If you’re feeling adventurous, try the homemade, oyster-flavoured ice cream from La Martinière’s parlours in Saint-Martin-de-Ré and La Flotte Île de Ré. Or just enjoy a bed of oysters paired with a light and sparking drink as the sun sets – There’s no better way to finish your day!

Try Windy Watersports

Île de Ré is a watersports hotspot thanks to strong offshore winds. Tackle the swell with a spot of surfing, windsurfing and kitesurfing – some of our favourite things to do in Île de Ré. 

There are plenty of rental outlets across the main beaches, including Le Bois-Plage-en-Ré, Rivedoux-Plage, Pointe du Grouin and Plage de Gros Jonc. This is a great activity for an Île de Ré family holiday if you have older children, as everyone can enjoy being out on the water and trying something new.

See Donkeys in Trousers

Yes, you read that right. Poitou donkeys once worked the salt flats in Île de Ré wearing pyjama bottoms to keep pesky mosquitoes off their legs. Today, they’re a symbol of the island and spotting the tributes to the creatures is a major part of Île de Ré tourism.

You can meet these peculiarly dressed creatures at Parc de la Barbette, next to the port of Saint-Martin-de-Ré. Be sure to pick up a soap made from donkey milk as a souvenir!


If you’re looking for a holiday destination in France that offers stunning scenery, a wide range of attractions and a peaceful atmosphere, Île de Ré is an ideal choice. Whether you’re planning a trip with family and friends or seeking an active and romantic adventure for you and your partner, the island has plenty of places to explore, from the famous salt marshes to the beautiful beaches and historic towns.

Now you’ve explored the best things to do in Île de Ré, why not check out the Best Beaches in Île de Ré and our Île de Ré Destination Guide? Or if we’ve got you excited to plan a holiday to this beautiful part of France, take a look at our collection of Île de Ré villas and discover unforgettable places to stay on the island.

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