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Espadon submarine The extraordinary life of submariners

1964: mission under the ice! The Espadon was the first French submarine to dive under the ice field. Imagine yourself diving down into the depths of the sea… Go through the passageway, examine the listening post, be amazed by the impressive torpedo tubes… All the members of the crew were in position. Now it’s your turn to go down into this steel giant to experience all the sound effects of life underwater, just like a submariner. As an official exhibit for Saint-Nazaire Ecomusée, the Espadon is the only floating submarine in France that you can board and visit.

Come aboard the Espadon submarine Saint-Nazaire

A modern submarine for a long military career

This 78-meter-long submarine was built in Le Havre and put into service in 1960. The Espadon was able to dive for up to 5 or 6 days. Her electric engines (we are talking about a period well before nuclear submarines) ensured a top speed of 16 knots on the surface and 18 knots under water (approximately 18 and 20mph)

During her 25-year-long career, the Espadon spent 2,561 days at sea and 33,796 hours diving. She covered 360,547 nautical miles, i.e. approximately 17 times the Earth’s circumference! The Espadon was active during The Cold War but has never been involved in a military conflict. Towards the end of the tour you will see the impressive torpedo tubes: they were used regularly, but only for exercise.

The first French submarine to dive under the ice field

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea… do you remember? Maybe the Nautilus, the submarine in French writer Jules Verne’s famous novel, was one of your childhood favourites. In Saint-Nazaire, you can visit a real submarine. During her 25-year-long military career, the Espadon (“Swordfish”) sailed under the seven seas. She was also the first French submarine to sail beyond the Arctic Circle. So, are you ready to shiver?

In May 1964, the Espadon was sent on a secret mission to the ice fields along with its sister ship Le Marsouin, to dive into the unknown. The Espadon crossed the 70th parallel north into the Arctic, where the temperature plummeted: 13°C! But the submariners were delighted, as the Espadon was the first French submarine to cross into the Arctic Circle. This mission had several objectives for the French Navy: testing how the equipment and the crew reacted and ensuring that there was a French presence north of Iceland.

The visitors’ circuit
1964: mission under the ice field

Having been extensively restored, the Espadon now has a new, innovative circuit for all visitors, one that gets you even more involved. You’ll follow the crew on a secret mission to the North Pole that took place in real life back in 1964.

First, you’ll stroll around the quayside and go down to the surface of the water where the views are incredible and the submarine is in full view. The play of light and reflections give you an entirely fresh perspective of this mysterious vessel.

Once on board, explore the main passageway, the listening station and the torpedo room and imagine what it would be like at the depths of the sea. Here, the 65 crew members shared everything: cramped living spaces, narrow bunks and a single shower. Follow at your own pace, using a modern audio-guide to plunge you into the world of the submariners as they undertook a special mission that took them to the Arctic Circle. An additional audio-guide circuit has been especially designed for our youngest visitors, who can follow Jean – the youngest member of the crew.

Top 5 reasons to visit the Espadon:

  • Set sail on a secret mission for the ice fields and learn about life on board for the 65 crew members.
  • Discover the submarine’s amazing views.
  • Enjoy the audio-guide tour for adults and children that brings everything to life.
  • Let yourself get carried away by the sound effects: hear the crew snoring, the beeps of the radar… the Espadon really feels as if it’s back in action.
  • Visitors with any impairment can experience the visit by sharing it with their companion thanks to a specially-designed sharing platform.

What our visitors think 

“When visiting Saint-Nazaire it’s worth it to spend an hour and walk through a retired submarine. Kids loved it, parents were impressed”

“Visit of L’Espadon is very interesting for almost anyone, but for those interested in military history it is great, great, great. The audioguide is excellent.”

“How folk lived aboard these things is amazing. We stayed on an extra night just to go aboard. Well worth a visit.”

Practical Information

Visitor Info:

  • Self-guided audio tour, approx. 45 minutes. Booking essential.
  • Audio guide tour for adults and children available in 9 languages: French, English, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Russian and Polish.
  • Pushchairs and strollers are not allowed on this visit.
  • Animals are not allowed, except guide dogs for the blind.
  • See booking terms and conditions for groups of 20 people or more  or our small groups offers from 10 adults.

Prices – Submarine Espadon

FullReducedChildren aged 4-17

The more you see, the more you save!

#’PassPort 4 sites’
Escal’Atlantic + Submarine Espadon + Écomusée + EOL Centre éolien
FullReducedChildren aged 4-17
#PASS Ecluse
Submarine Espadon + EOL Centre éolien
FullReducedChildren aged 4-17
  • Reduced price (on presentation of proof): students, job seekers, people with disabilities with one accompanying person, groups from 10 to 19 adults
  • Free admission for children under the age of 4 and annual PASS holders
  • Where can I buy tickets?
    • On this website
    • On site, 3 ticket offices: submarine base, fortified lock and Écomusée
  • Means of payment: cash, credit card (VISA and Mastercard)

Last entrance 1h before closing time.

How to get here?

The Espadon submarine is located inside the fortified lock, Avenue de la Forme Ecluse, Saint-Nazaire.

It is a 10-minute walk or short bicycle ride from the submarine base (bike stands and lockers available on-site). For those driving, there is a car park opposite the fortified lock.

Public transportation:

  • Saint-Nazaire is served by both the TGV and the regional trains.
  • From the railway station, the nearest bus stops to the submarine are:
    • ‘Rue de la Paix’ (Hélyce line, daily) + 17 minutes walk
    • ‘Ruban Bleu’ (U2 and U4 lines, from Monday to Saturday) + 14 minutes walk


  • Mobility impairment:  visitors with any impairment can experience the visit by sharing it with their companion thanks to a specially-designed sharing platform. The submarine is not wheelchair accessible.
  • Deaf and hearing impaired visitors: no specific arrangement
  • Blind and visually impaired visitors: audio tour
  • Mentally impaired visitors: very confined space, presence of anxiety-inducing elements

For further clarification or information, please call +33 (0)2 28 540 640

Services & Shop in the fortified lock  

  • Services

    We are committed to making sure our visitors have the most memorable experience possible. This also involves providing quality services to you at the Admissions desk of the fortified lock.

    Free services

    • Phone charging stations
    • Lockers
    • Water cooler
    • Bottle warmer
    • Baby changing facilities
    • Bicycle park
    • Bicycle repair kit (available on request at the Admissions Desk)
    • Wi-Fi
  • Gift Shop

    At the heart of the fortified lock, right next to the Admissions Desk, the newly-equipped shop is waiting for you! A wide selection of gifts, souvenirs, books and games on the theme of submarines, wind power and more broadly the sea, are available for purchase. As for foodies, the shop offers a large array of local and regional products.

    Find out more about our gift shops

Reach for the sky! Viewing platform

Climb up to the viewing platform of the fortified lock and you’ll be rewarded with a staggering view over the port, the shipyard, the bridge and the Loire estuary.
Do not miss the artistic gem from Felice Varini, ‘La Suite de Triangles’.