Spend an Unforgettable Day At Mont-Saint-Michel

Mont-Saint-Michel

On the border of Normandy and Brittany, Mont-Saint-Michel rises above the bay like a bastion. This medieval fortress is chiseled into the granite that formed this small island. One look at it and you can understand its allure. There is something so unique about this little island. Mont-Saint-Michel is just one of the many historical treasures found in Normandy. It may take a little extra work getting here, but the historical significance and beauty of this region are well worth your time and effort!

Discover for yourself why over 2 million people visit this island every year. This article includes everything you need to plan your visit to Mont-Saint-Michel, whether you’re visiting from Paris or another area of France.  Don’t be put off by the extra effort to visit this remarkable destination. It’s easier than you think!

What You'll Find in this Article

About Mont-Saint-Michel

Mont-Saint-Michel is a UNESCO Heritage Site. It reportedly dates back to 708. The story is that the Bishop of Avranches had a vision from the Archangel Michael telling him to build a sanctuary here. So one of the first things you might notice when looking up at Mont-Saint-Michel is the golden spire with the Archangel Michael rising high above everything else.

Benedictines settled in the abbey in the 10th century, where the town began to grow outward on the rocky island, and by the 14th century, it reached the foot of the rock.  It was used as a stronghold during the Hundred Years War and became a symbol of national identity. The Germans also occupied Mont-Saint-Michel during World War II, bringing with them thousands of German tourists seeking to visit this incredible place. So, as you can see, this small island is rich with history!

mont-saint-michel bay at low tide

Explore the area around Mont-Saint-Michel at low tide.


As you explore the village of Mont-Saint-Michel, you will discover what a feat of engineering it is.   The walls are built into the granite rock that makes up the island. This was certainly not the most natural choice of terrain for construction, and that is what makes it so extraordinary!

The tides at Mont-Saint-Michel are another aspect that makes this island fortress so remarkable. The highest tides in all of Continental Europe are observed here!  Access to the island is restricted during “spring tides.” This is when the tide is the highest. You can view the tide charts for the whole year and also check Mont-Saint-Michel’s website for dates when they are closed

Arriving at Mont-Saint-Michel

Whether you arrive via bus or car, you will still need to either walk the remaining 1.5 miles across the causeway to the island from the car park or take the complimentary shuttle.

Mont-Saint-Michel at low tide

This is the most water we saw surrounding Mont-Saint-Michel during our low-tide visit.

Parking at Mont Saint Michel: It costs around 9€ to 15€ to park for 24 hours at Mont-Saint-Michel. Prices vary depending on what time of year you visit. 

Walking to Mont-Saint-Michel: It is approximately a 40-minute walk (~1.5 miles) from the parking lot at Mont-Saint-Michel to the main entrance into the walled city. There are signs posted along the trail telling you how long from “this” point the walk will be.

Complimentary Shuttle: You can walk over to the complimentary shuttle area following the signs from the parking lot or bus stop (if arriving via bus) and wait for the next free shuttle to transport you across the causeway. 

My Recommendation: 

If the weather is nice and you’re able to do it, I recommend walking. You have beautiful views all along the way to Mont Saint Michel. It gives you time to soak in the size and location of this walled island and the abbey rising from the top. You can always choose to ride the shuttle back at the end of your visit.

My friend Angela and I chose to walk the 1.5 miles, and although it was a cold day, the walk was beautiful. It helps that it is a flat, easy walk.  There were lots of people out walking with us too.  Oh, and of course, we chose to walk it before realizing that it would be a 40-minute walk in the cold.  However, in the end, I’m glad we didn’t know how long it was, otherwise we would have missed out on admiring and photographing the views as we walked. So skip the shuttle and walk to the island, then take it back when you’re ready to leave. 

Things to Do at Mont-Saint-Michel

La Grande Rue

 
La Grand Rue Mont Saint Michel

Enjoy exploring the narrow streets of Mont-Saint-Michel.

Upon arriving at Mont-Saint-Michel, you’ll pass by public restrooms and enter the archway on to La Grand Rue. This narrow street is the main street in the village.  This is where you’ll find souvenir shops, hotels, cafes, and restaurants.  Continue up this street to visit the abbey. I recommend you do that first, then take your time stopping at the shops and sites along La Grand Rue on your way back down.

Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey

This is the one attraction you must see while visiting Mont-Saint-Michel.  If you only pay for one, make this it. The historic Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey crowns the top of this rocky fortress. The Benedictine abbey was built around the 10th century and was used as an abbey until the French Revolution when it later became a prison; this lasted until 1863. Then in 1874, it became a historical monument. It took over 1300 years to build the abbey!

The climb up to the abbey is a steep one. However, it is fascinating to look up at this magnificent medieval structure rising and towering over everything surrounding it.  It also makes your neck hurt!

looking up at the abbey towering above

Looking up at the Abbey can be a real pain in the neck!


Hours & Ticket Information:
 Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey Ticket Prices and Opening Hours

The price of your ticket includes a guided tour (during certain hours). You can also purchase an audio guide for an additional 3€ and take a self-guided tour. There are a lot of stairs to climb as you make your way to see the abbey. However, the view from the top is worth it.

Skip the ticket line at the abbey and purchase your abbey tickets in advance

Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey Church

The Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey Church as seen from the terrace.

Terrasse de l’Ouest

Don’t miss this stop on your visit to the abbey.  The terrace is located outside the abbey church and has incredible views! You can walk down the backside of the abbey from the terrace to return to the main town. I highly recommend you do this! There are also restrooms at the terrace.  Soak in the views before exploring more of this unique island.

My friend, Angela, met the woman she was studying French with online before our trip, at Mont-Saint-Michel and we toured it together.  It was fun to meet a local and get a chance to learn more about French culture.  The French people I know are warm and funny, and yes, they love food! I love getting to learn about a country from the locals. 

Travel, and be prepared to have your preconceived ideas forever transformed in the light of reality.

My friend Angela and her French friend Bernadette

One of the gifts of travel is friendships made around the world!

Église Saint-Pierre

Step inside this small chapel just off the La Grand Rue and enjoy a quiet break.  Make sure to also stop at the cemetery just up from the church.  It is a unique setting with views of the bay below.  This local parishioner’s church provides a more simplistic and less touristy space in which to have a quiet moment. Admire the beautiful stained glass windows as well as an impressive statue of the Archangel Michael slaying a dragon.  You are welcome to join them in mass during its observed hours.

La Chapelle-Saint-Aubert

This small chapel was built towards the foot of Mont-Saint-Michel, you can access it via a path near the front entrance to La Grand Rue.  It is best seen during low tide, though, due to its low position. Although you may not be able to go inside, you can look around the outside and take a peek in the windows.

Explore the Sandy Bay at Low Tide

Check with the Tourist Information Center to see whether or not there are any guided tours of the mudflats surrounding the island. Also, make sure to check the tide charts and ask the tourist information center about when it is safest to explore.  Even if you can’t take a tour, you will have fun walking around the outside perimeter of the island, examining it from the ground level.

Views of Mont-Saint-Michel Bay at low tide

A view of the bay at low tide and the causeway leading up to Mont-Saint-Michel.

Getting to Mont-Saint-Michel

You have a lot of options when traveling to Mont-Saint-Michel. I will focus on the two most common options.

Fastest Route to Mont-Saint-Michel from Paris by Train:

If you’re coming from Paris to Mont-Saint-Michel on the train, the quickest route will take you about 3.5 hours to get to Mont-Saint-Michel.  Take the train from Paris’ Montparnasse Station to Rennes and then a shuttle bus from Rennes to Mont-Saint-Michel. You can book the entire trip ahead of time online. Prices start around 50€ to travel from Paris to Mont-Saint-Michel (one-way). 

In addition to passing through Rennes, there is also an option that takes you to Dol de Bretagne. Then it’s just a 20-minute shuttle from there to Mont-Saint-Michel. The travel times are similar for both options leaving Montparnasse Station. Visit SNCF’s website to view a timetable for the day you wish to travel. 

You don’t have to book your shuttle bus from Rennes Station to Mont-Saint-Michel ahead of time either. You can always purchase your ticket at the Rennes train station.  They schedule shuttle buses in conjunction with the arriving trains from Paris. Upon arrival at the station, you can purchase your ticket for the next departing shuttle (or purchase ahead of time online at SNCF). The ticket price from Rennes station to Mont-Saint-Michel is 30€ for a round trip ticket.

Here are some additional train options, as well as shuttle bus information if you’re arriving from Pontorson.

Car Rental Option from Caen:

Another option when traveling from Paris to Mont-Saint-Michel is to take a train from Saint-Lazare Station to Caen. If you plan to visit other sites in the Normandy region of France, such as historic D-Day sites, then Caen makes an excellent starting destination for your trip to Mont-Saint-Michel.

This is the option I chose for my trip.  My friend Angela and I planned to see D-Day sites the following day, and we also had a flight scheduled from Caen to Toulouse, so it made the most sense for our trip. Our car rental experience turned out to be far more of an adventure than we had planned! However, renting a car in France is pretty much the same process as renting one in the States. 

They drive on the right side of the road, so there’s no learning curve for American drivers.  You do, however, need to know that when you rent a car in Europe, you will get a car with a standard transmission, unless you specifically request an automatic (subject to availability). So if you don’t know how to drive a clutch, learn before you go, or plan for another option.

With Google Maps, it is easy to navigate from Caen to Mont-Saint-Michel via their freeway systems.  We had no issues getting lost, and there are lots of signs along the freeway for the major tourist sites too. We used our rental car to drive to all the D-Day sites, and the flexibility it provided is worth any extra hassle, in my opinion.

Side Note: If driving from Paris, make sure to choose the “avoid tolls” option with Google Maps, so you aren’t surprised by any huge toll fees. I’ve read they can be surprisingly high.

Thoughts on Driving vs. Public Transportation:

It depends where you are driving from, but for the Normandy region of France, unless you’re booking through a tour company, I think renting a car makes the most sense.  A car gives you the most flexibility, and it is an easy area to navigate using Google Maps.  

It will depend on your trip plans.  If you’re going to be in the area for 2-3 days at a minimum, then renting a car probably makes the most sense, however, if you are planning this for a day trip only, then you may want to take the train and shuttle option or book through a tour company. If you’re traveling solo, this will most likely save you money. However, if you’re in a group, then a car rental might save you some money.

Approximate Travel Times: 

  • Train from Paris to Rennes leaving from Montparnasse Station: Approximately 2 hours
  • A shuttle from Rennes to Mont-Saint-Michel: Approximately 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Train from Paris to Caen leaving from Saint-Lazare Station: Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes
  • Drive time from Caen to Mont-Saint-Michel: Approximately 1 hour 40 minutes
The cloister at Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey

The cloister at Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey.

Tips for Your Visit to Mont-Saint-Michel

Best Times to Avoid the Crowds:

Spring to Fall is the busiest time to visit Mont-Saint-Michel, with summer being the absolute peak.  If you can visit in the off-season (mid-October to February), you will be rewarded with fewer crowds.  However, as I discovered during my visit there at the end of October, it can be frigid, so plan ahead and wear layers. Pack a scarf and gloves if you plan to visit during the colder months of the year.

Plan to arrive between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. to avoid the crowds brought in on the tour buses.  This is especially important during the peak season.  When I visited in October, I didn’t arrive until around noon, and although crowded, it wasn’t unbearable.

Weather is typically the best April thru September. If you plan to explore outside and photography is one of your primary reasons for visiting, then I’d research weather patterns ahead of time to give yourself the best chance of good weather.

Where to Eat:

If you don’t plan ahead and pack a lunch or don’t plan to wait until you are off the island to eat, here are a couple of options for dining while at Mont-Saint-Michel. Just know that the prices and quality at most establishments here reflect the tourist-generated economy. In plain English: Prices are high, and food quality tends to be lower.

Au Pelerin: This is one of the more reasonably priced options off the Grand Rue at Mont-Saint-Michele.  They serve baguettes and pizza and are a casual family-friendly establishment.

La Sirene: If you wish to try the local dish of galette bretonne (which I recommend you do while in the area), then this is a good choice. The galette bretonne is a savory style crepe filled with ham and served with an egg. It is a simple but delicious meal!

a galette bretonne

Make sure to eat a galette bretonne while in the area.

What to Wear:

Wear comfortable walking shoes as the climb up to the abbey is a steep one with lots of stairs.  Additionally, if you plan to explore the area surrounding the island during low tide, you’ll want shoes that you’re okay with getting a little muddy.  

If coming during the spring or fall, you’ll want to pack a light jacket, at least, plus a scarf.  Even in summer, I’d pack a rain jacket.  In the late fall and winter, you’ll want to dress in layers and wrap a scarf and gloves and perhaps a hat too.

How Much Time Should You Plan to Spend Here:

Plan to spend around 4 hours here.  That allows you time to explore the village, tour the Abbey, and grab a bite to eat if you wish.  You can also take time to explore the mudflats if the tide is out.  However, make sure to check with the tourist office and tide charts first!

Consider spending the night if you want to see the tide at different levels and experience what it would be like to live on a small fortified island.  You will also get a chance to explore the village at night and early in the morning without the crowds.

Mont-Saint-Michel at Night:

You may want to consider visiting here in the late afternoon and then plan to stay for the sunset and views of Mont-Saint-Michel lit up at night. Seeing the island’s lights reflecting off the surrounding sand and water makes for beautiful photographs and treasured memories.

Final Thoughts and Tips

This small island is built out of a large mound of granite. This means that they only had one way to go–up!  This is the way you will go too. The streets are narrow because once again, this is a small town built on a small island chiseled from rock.  So expect it to get crowded and to take things slow. 

Your climb up to the Abbey is a rather steep one, especially towards the top, but take it slow and stop for breaks as you need to.

The goal is not to speed through this medieval village, but instead to take it all in, slowly meandering through the streets, stopping at whatever strikes your interest.  Mont-Saint-Michel is a unique destination. I have not visited any other place like it. So give it some time and try to imagine what it was like 500 years ago.

If you’d like to read about Angela and my surprising discovery in the parking lot at Mont-Saint-Michel, then read Misadventures in Normandy France. If you have any questions about the trip that aren’t covered here, please don’t hesitate to ask!

Bon Voyage!

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