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Visit Mont Saint Michel. It’s as simple as that. This UNESCO Heritage Site thrills, no matter the time of day nor the season.
Majestically Mont-St-Michel rises from the sea, making your heart leap upon sight. It soars determinedly as a beacon honouring faith and French resistance.
1. Where Is Mont Saint Michel?
Mont Saint Michel is in Normandy, France right at the border between Normandy and Brittany. It is about a four-hour drive southwest of Paris or a three-hour train trip depending on the station you choose. (see below) It is possible to visit Mont Saint Michel as a day trip from Paris.
If you are planning an itinerary through Normandy, France, read this post about the top things to see in Normandy.
2. When To Visit Mont Saint Michel?
Mont Saint Michel gets about 2.5 million visitors a year and is the second most visited tourist destination in France after Paris. Try to time your visit in the off-season. July and August are peak season and the narrow streets get extremely crowded. If summer is the best time for you, arrive early in the morning or stay in the village overnight to enjoy the evening when most tourists have left.
Try to visit Mont Saint Michel in the offseason. I was there in January and although a bit chilly if the wind was blowing, there were few other tourists.
Consider the Tides: Another consideration when planning your visit to Mont Saint Michel, is the tides. Do you want to walk on the tide floor with a guide?
3. Visit Mont Saint Michel: How To Get There
Many people take an organized day trip from Paris or Mont Saint Michel is part of an organized trip through Normandy. Independently, travellers can rent a car or take the train from Paris (or other parts of France). Note: the train does not take you directly to Mont Saint Michel.
Visit Mont Saint Michel From Paris:
By Train To Rennes, France:
Take the train from Paris Montparnasse to Rennes, France. The journey is about 1.5 hours. A connecting bus for Mont Saint Michel will leave shortly after the train arrives. The bus ride is approximately one hour.
By Train To Pontorson, France:
Pontorson is the closest train station to Mont-Saint-Michel. There are shuttle buses that run between the town and Mont-Saint-Michel.
By Bicycle From Pontorson To Mont-Saint-Michel:
You can rent a bike, or use a bicycle touring company to ride the 12 km from Pontorson to Mont-Saint-Michel along the designated bike path. Imagine riding with Mont Saint Michel in view! There are designated places to park and lock your bicycles.
Organized Tours From Paris and Bayeux:
Parking At Mont-Saint-Michel:
Parking is in designated parking lots and then either take the shuttle or walk across the bridge to the island. The bridge has magnificent views as you approach Mont Saint Michel.
The parking lots, and available spaces, are well-marked as you approach Mont-Saint-Michel. Pay by card at the machines ( €11.70) or by cash in the two machines behind the Tourist Information Centre.
The Tourist Information Centre: Make sure you pop in here. The Tourist Information Centre can answer all your questions about your visit – tours, tidal bores, discovering the abbey at night. Great bathrooms too!
The Shuttle/ The “Navette” To Mont Saint Michel
Once you have parked, you can either walk about 50 minutes on the footbridge or take the navette (about 12 minutes) which picks you up in front of the Tourist Information Centre. The Navette to Mont Saint Michel is free and runs every 15 minutes. It drops you off on the bridge just in front of Mont-Saint-Michel. This is also where you will find it for returning to the parking area.
The shuttle is a reversible bus. There are driving controls at both ends of the bus. The driver gets to the destination, gets out and drives away in the other direction.
Stay Close By:
Staying close to Mont Saint Michel allows you more flexibility in your visit times. I found a housesit nearby in Brittany and was able to visit Mont Saint Michel several times. Interested in house sitting? Find out how in this house sitting guide.
4. Visit Mont Saint Michel: Origins
As the story goes, Saint Aubert, a bishop in the nearby town of Avranches, had a vision from Archangel Michael to build a church on a pinnacle of rock. Saint Aubert ignored the first sign. Archangel Michael allegedly poked a hole in the bishop’s skull to emphasize the importance of the request. Who could discount that invitation? Saint Aubert initiated the building of Mont-Saint-Michel. The year was 708.
Thirteen hundred and seven years later, Mont-Saint-Michel with its remarkable church, ancient town and sweeping views of the sea cannot help but stir your soul.
5. Mont-St-Michel And The French Resistance
Make your way up the ramparts, high above the sea and be transported back to a time gone by when this sanctuary was under siege. For twenty-five years, in the Hundred Years War, the British attacked. I stare out across the bay and visualize monks, scanning the tide’s reach, defending their holy place. Mont-Saint-Michel has never been seized and to this day stands as a symbol of French resistance.
6. Mont Saint Michel: The Village
After crossing the footbridge, the medieval town rises before you. Every visit to Mont Saint Michel includes a lot of climbing. Be prepared to climb up narrow staircases and wander upwards through cobbled alleys. Pilgrims, prisoners, ordinary folk, and tradespeople have travelled these same footsteps. The sense of history is palpable. The past beckons, full of tales and remarkable humans.
7. Mont Saint Michel: The Abbey
For centuries, the Abbey has been a pilgrimage site welcoming pilgrims that walked great distances to arrive at this sacred Benedictine abbey dedicated to the Archangel Micheal. It is a statue of him that is perched at the very pinnacle of the spire. Explore the magnificent Abbey, sitting on a pinnacle of rock, with its crypts, cloisters, chapels and monks quarters,
The Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel was surprisingly a place where prisoners worked. Mont Saint Michel was a prison of the sea – “Le Bastille de Mer” from 1793 to 1863. Thousands of prisoners toiled inside the Abbey making goods to sell in town. The narrow streets of this village have been lined with shops for pilgrims and visitors since the middle ages.
Prisoners also operated the massive wheel which transferred 2 tons of stones and building supplies from the sea to the summit.
A highlight from every visit to Mont Saint Michel is the stupendous, sweeping views from the Abbey and the narrow cobbled roads. Gaze across La Baie at the open sea. Here, you bear witness to the highest and most powerful tides in Europe.
Visit Mont Saint Michel Abbey:
2021: Book your entrance tickets in advance (Covid-19). Try this link.
Admission to the Abbey is €10 ($14 Canadian) and includes a tour. It is well worth going into the church. The English tour I had was excellent. I was the only person! Oh, January… (it was also freezing!)
Admission to the Abbey is free on the first Sunday of every month from November to March.
An audio guide is €4.50 ($6.30Canadian) which you don’t need if you take the tour.
Open every day except January 1, May 1 and December 25
January 2 – April 30 from 9:30 – 18:00
May 2 – August 31 from 9:00 – 19:00
September 1 – December 31 from 9:30 – 18:00
8. Visit Mont-St-Michel: Walk On La Baie
The bay surrounding Mont-Saint-Michel, which stretches into both Brittany and Normandy, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Exploring the bay with a guide is a unique experience to learn about the fragility of the ecosystem. It is mandatory to have a guide when exploring at low tide.
Pictures of bare-footed explorers crossing the Baie grace all the brochures. It is mandatory to cross with a guide and on the day I am booked to go, the threat of a lightning storm cancels the walk.
I call all the organizations listed in the guidebook for another day’s crossing. Nothing is available. It is low season and many guides are away.
I luck out and am told where to meet my guide, Jacques. Two Parisienne families and I head out with Jacques on the low tide. We walk for 2 hours on the seafloor close to Mont-Saint-Michel. Jacques is full of stories, local history, information about the ecosystem.
Book A Tour of the Bay of Mont Saint Michel:
This was a highlight of my visit to Mont Saint Michel. Book your tour here.
9. Viewpoints Of Mont-St-Michel
I have been twice to this UNESCO World Heritage Site and have not yet had my fill. Driving around Brittany I find myself on a mission to discover viewpoints where I can witness the beacon rising towards the heavens.
I drive one afternoon to the Normandy side of the bay to “Les Falaises” (the cliffs). I park the car and wander down a long road to the sea. I sit dreamily at low tide watching the locals pick mussels and oysters as seabirds squawk overhead, the vista of Mont-Saint-Michel ever-present, reaching for the heavens.
The locals are friendly and curious about a nomadic Canadian on the shores of the bay. I am gladdened to hear that the key ingredients for a classic Normandy life are eating mussels, and camembert accompanied by a locally crafted cider. Ahhh.. I am on the right track!
10. Visit Mont Saint Michel: Where To Eat
A visit to Mont Saint Michel just has to include a stop at La Mère Poulard. They have been serving their famous fluffy omelettes (secret recipe) since 1888 and still serve up a whopper today!
Try their biscuits too!
11. Visit Mont Saint Michel: Where To Stay
There are several options here. There are hotels right on the island of Mont Saint Michel. You could also stay in locations nearby such as Pontorson, Rennes or Saint-Malo. Also, as mentioned above, you could try your hand at house sitting.
Here is a look at accommodation at Mont Saint-Michel. How great would it be to be there in the evening after all the crowds have left?!
Here is a look at accommodation available in Rennes, France.
Here is a look at accommodation in Saint-Malo.
There is something about Mont Saint Michel. Perhaps it is my squelching oversized rubber boots sinking into the mucky sand that makes me feel connected to something larger. Is it the sight of golden Saint Michael peering down from the pinnacle of the Abbey’s spire that is making my spirit soar?
Three trips to Mont-Saint-Michel – low tide, high tide and on the bay. I leave, with one final glance over my shoulder. It is a sight that will never fail to mesmerize.
“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”Gustave Flaubert
France Travel Info
If you’re loving France ( I mean who doesn’t?!), here is some more reading for you:
Dinan – a fabulous medieval town to visit (maybe one of my favourites!) Read more about Dinan, France.
Normandy: 19 Wonderful Things to do in Normandy
Etretat – the stunning white cliffs and if you are an Arsène Lupin fan… exactly where the series ends ( Season 1). Read more about Etretat.
Giverny– another fabulous day trip from Paris. Claude Monet’s house and gardens inspired his gorgeous water lily paintings. Learn more about visiting Giverny.