Le Mans is a town in France, best known for its annual 24 h automobile race.
The rich and 17 centuries long history of Le Mans, former capital of the province of Maine, is too often eclipsed by the annual worldwide famous 24 h race, held on the brink of the city.
There are, however, beautiful reminders of the past and a gloriously restored old city, which was used as a backdrop for several movies. The cathedral Saint-Julien, at its heart, is a wonder and should not be missed.
The city is very easily accessible from Paris, it has much to offer and deserves more than only a short trip to its circuit when the motors roar. The "Cité Plantagenêt" may be one of the best-kept secrets in France.
There is a very small airfield  located near the circuit, with no regular connections to other major cities. As there is a direct TGV access from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, there is absolutely no point in trying to get to Le Mans by plane, unless you have a private or chartered (small) plane. Ryanair operate flights from London and Porto to Aeroport Tours Val de Loire, just outside the city of Tours approximately 100 km from Le Mans.
The TGV stops in Le Mans, and many TGV West-bounded trains leaving from Paris stop in Le Mans.
From Gare Montparnasse in Paris, there are trains every hour or so, and the 210-km trip takes 55 min.
There is also a direct TGV service from Charles de Gaulle Airport (through TGV bypassing Paris to go to Nantes or Bordeaux), the trip takes 90 min, and the train to Le Mans can be combined with your incoming flight, as if it was a connecting domestic flight. On arrival at Charles de Gaulle, swap your boarding pass for a train ticket at the dedicated TGVair desk in the SNCF travel centre in the TGV station. This can be done up to 15 minutes before the train is due to leave.
Le Mans has many good road links to the rest of the country. The A11 L'Oceane highway runs from Paris to Nantes via Le Mans, and the A81 from Le Mans heads West to Rennes. It takes roughly 2h from Paris to drive to Le Mans. The city of Chartres, halfway from Paris has a magnificient cathedral which deserves a stop.
Public buses are available, and a tramway is in operation. It runs from the university on the west of the town, through the centre and then out east, where it splits in two. The "Antares" terminus is at the Le Mans 24 hour circuit. Anyway, for tourists, major "getting around" is from/to the station from/to town center, which involves either a long 30 min walk, a short taxi ride or a 5 min bus ride.
Getting to the circuit is a bit longer (20 min by taxi, or 30 min by public bus). Walking to the circuit from the town is not really convenient exept when there is too many cars and roadblocks.
The modern city centre is the Place de la Republique, whereas the old heart of the city is behind the Place des Jacobins. Various shops (including the Centre Jacobins shopping center), bars and restaurants dot the 20 min walk between the two areas.
Rillettes, a kind of boiled pork pate, is the culinary specialty of Le Mans. It actually tastes much better than its description. You can buy some rillettes in almost every meat shop in town, and it makes for the perfect sandwich pasted on some fresh baguette.
A very good variety of restaurants is found in the town center and especially in or around the old city. For 50 Euros and a very good sample of French cuisine, give a try to Le Grenier A Sel, 26 Place de l'Eperon, La Ciboulette, 14 Rue de la vielle porte, or Le Nez Rouge, 107 Grande rue, all of them close or inside the old city. Le Baobab, on the same street as La Ciboulette, offers some African cuisine at the very heart of the old city.
The area closer to Place de la Republique, popular with young people on weekends, offers cheaper eats, with several kebab shops that would fill you for 10 euros or less.
Le Mans is a rather quiet town (except for a few hours once a year) and the university campus is quite far from the centre, so on weekdays the streets are almost empty and the bars are calm, to say the least.
The majority of bars and pubs are located close to Place de la Republique. The main arteries for an evening drink in Le Mans would be Rue du Port, going from Place de la Republique to Sarthe river, and Rue du Docteur Leroy, also starting from Place de la Republique.
On weekends, there are a few busy spots, you can check Le Mulligan's, 44 Rue du docteur Leroy, an Irish pub, or the Le Passeport du cochon vert, 25 Place d'Alger (its name would poetically translate as The Green Pig's Passport), both are frequented by a young clientele.
In the old town, Le Saint-Pierre, 7 Place Saint-Pierre (facing the town hall), is completely packed during the week-ends.
One of the heritage houses of the old city, Le Pilier Rouge, 5 rue du Pilier Rouge, has been fully restored into a bar. It is located right above the huge tunnel crossing under the old city.
There are a few gay bars, notably La Limite, 7, Rue Saint-Honore in the old city, or L'Arc en ciel, 2 Rue Doree, also in the old city.
The area around, and even inside, the loop of the circuit is full of campgrounds (the Houx and the Maison Blanche), which are very busy during the race. We are talking here about campgrounds located very close to a deafening source of noise, invaded by hordes of motor and beer fans, so the last thing you should expect to be doing there is sleeping. But if you are in Le Mans for the 24 h, you do not want to be sleeping. For more information about camping around the circuit, take a look at the aptly named Le Mans Camping Survival Guide.
Just 7 km north of the city is the quieter Camping du vieux moulin.
You can find some business hotels directly at the train station (south exit), or just across the street at the north exit. There are some average to luxury hotels in the centre (for instance Hotel Concorde, located on Avenue du General Leclerc, not very far from the station, or Mercure on Rue Chanzy). If you come for the race, book well ahead, but at other times, it should not be a problem to get a room.
There is actually one hotel located directly on the circuit, the hotel Arbor, located at km 6 on the Hunaudieres straight, just before Mulsanne. Book years ahead.
There is few information on the danger that Le Mans can represent for independent travelers, as the city is very peaceful most of the time. However people who live in the city would advise you not to hang around too close to the train station ("Gare du Mans") after dusk, as it becomes fairly unsafe after a certain time.
The "Quartier des Sablons" is also percieved as fairly unsafe when you are on your own, although those are only rumours amongst the inhabitants of Le Mans, and there hasn't been any official reports of incidents.