Your Guide To Visiting Mont Saint-Michel: France’s Most Picturesque UNESCO World Heritage Site

We rolled out of the car, stood up and slowly stretched towards the dark sky. The sun was still slightly below the horizon as we made our way towards the bay. It was Sunday morning, and instead of sleeping in and lazing around the rented house, we got up early, had a light breakfast and drove to Mont Saint Michel to catch a glimpse of first light.

We have seen it in countless photographs, and let me tell you; it is even more impressive and quite divine in real life; light changes Mont Saint -Michel in its entirety from dawn to dusk, and there are plenty of quiet nooks and crannies to sneak away from crowds.

For us, 2017  regarding travel was vividly saturated. We spent a week closely observing the world’s best surfing athletes doing airs and competing for the title in Peniche, Portugal

We visited sun-drenched Biarritz beaches, wandered around Tartu Old Town, explored beautiful Lisbon city and went home to Latvia to celebrate Ericeiras 1. st Birthday yet nothing compared with a trip to the UNESCO World Heritage site situated just where Brittany and Normandy meet.

It was so beautiful to experience this landscape of vastness, mudflats and shifting sand that we just couldn’t wait to share it with you. On the day that we visited the air was hot and laden with laughter. We watched a sunrise over the broad fields and waited for the first lights to brighten the island after nightfall. We climbed all the way to the gothic abbey and came back to witness the sunrise.

In prehistoric times the island was connected to the mainland but over time erosion reshaped the surrounding landscape.

Visiting Mont Saint-Michel: France’s Most Picturesque UNESCO World Heritage Site

If you are tempted to discover this magical-looking place for yourself, then keep on reading as in this blog post, we share a few useful tips and hints. Let’s start with the obvious one, where is it and how to get there!


How to get to Mont Saint-Michel

Mont Saint-Michel is situated in northwest France, just between Normandy and Brittany.

By car | Driving to Mont Saint-Michel by car is very convenient if you are exploring either Normandy or Brittany. From Brittany drive along A13 towards  Rouen and Caen and then use A84 to Le Mont Saint Michel. The best thing about travelling by car in Brittany, is there are no toll roads.

If you are travelling from Paris, use the A11 motorway towards Chartres Le Mans and then exit Fougeres towards Mont Saint-Michel. Keep in mind that the distance from The City of Lights is around 358 km.

If arriving from Normandy, you can easily access Mont Saint-Michel from the town of Bayeux or  Caen.

Alternatively, let someone else do the driving and join day tours from Paris (although a 14-hour day tour does not sound too pleasant).

By train | Another way to reach Mont Saint-Michel is to travel by train from the Montparnasse train station in Paris to the capital city of Brittany-Rennes, worth visiting on its own.  Journey times are around two hours, and from Rennes, Keolis buses offer direct services to the island up to four times a day (1 hour and 20 minutes).  It is also possible to travel to Pontorson train station and from there, use the shuttle bus to Mont Saint-Michael.

Read More: A Wee Guide To Some Of The Best Things To See And Do In Brittany, France

When visiting the site, bring a warm jacket, plenty of water and snacks.

Know before you go

Mont Saint-Michel is one of Europe’s most symbolic sites and has even been used as an inspiration for the Disney movie Tangled.  Before the trip, we did extensive research about the region and stumbled upon good few travel bloggers advising us to skip the excursion to the island; it’s hugely popular and always busy.

Thanks to budget airlines, travel is more affordable now than ever before, there are many sites around Europe where visitor numbers have skyrocketed. Mont Saint-Michael is one of Frances’s most visited sites, in fact, three million people come to the tidal island every year to see the 1,300 years old Norman Benedictine abbey ( used as a prison in French Revolution) and to wander through the beautiful medieval city.

Don’t let this stop you from exploring the world or losing your sense of wonder. Just plan properly, make the effort of getting up early and be two steps ahead of everyone else.  See the two photographs below for comparison, the first one was taken shortly after sunrise while the other – was just before lunchtime.

Read More: Your Ultimate Guide To Planning The Best Biarritz Holiday In France

The population of Mont Saint-Michel is less than 50 people, and the streets are empty very early in the morning.
The main pathway of the village is as far from prehistoric as possible with fast-food restaurants, ATMs, souvenir shops and fancy hotels accommodating modern tourists.

A brief history of  Mont Saint-Michel 

If you are unfamiliar with Mont-Saint-Michel, here’s a brief history. Up until the 7th century, the island was called Mont Tombe and belonged to the Diocese of the Avranches. The legend has it that the bishop of Avranches, Saint-Aubert, had a dream where Saint Michel told him to construct a church on top of the Mont Tombe.

Once it was built, Vikings arrived and occupied the newly built church, scaring away all the monks. Benedictine Abbey was built in 966 and was partially burned when the King of France tried to capture the mount.

Benedictine monks settled back around the 10th century and started re-building the place, which gradually became a pilgrimage site, attracting visitors from near and far.

Read More: France Travel Guide-A week Long Road Trip Along The Beautiful Basque Coast

Mont Saint-Michel is famous for the highest tides in Europe, with up to 15 meters between the lowest and highest points.

Accessing Mont Saint-Michel island 

The Mont Saint-Michel, Nicknamed “Saint Michel in Peril of the Sea,” is an island just 600 meters off the Normandy coast and a brand new 2,500ft boardwalk has been built to access it( it took nearly ten years to design and build).

There is a regular shuttle bus service, called  Le Passeur; visitors can use it to get to the entrance of the walls, and you can also walk along a pedestrian path or book a horse-drawn carriage. The shuttle buses run very frequently and have 4 drop-offs/pick-up points along the route.

It is also possible to walk across the bay at low tide with an experienced guide and learn about the history, waves, flora, and fauna along the way. Don’t be tempted to go alone, quicksands and unexpected riptides are too dangerous.

We parked at a visitor’s car park, located 1.5 miles away, walked all the way to Mont Saint-Michel and used a shuttle bus on our way back to the mainland. The parking fee depends on the length of your stay, and you have to pay admission to visit the abbey; however, entry to the island itself is free.

Read More: A Short Guide To The Best Things To See And Di In Beautiful Bayonne, France

The highest tides can be observed 36 to 48 hours after the full and new moons.

Where to stay near Mont Saint-Michel

One of the options for visiting Mont Saint-Michel,  you can stay overnight on the island itself in one of the charming hotels or choose accommodation on the mainland.

Staying on the island is very popular but can be pricey, hotels situated a little further coast are about half the price, and you get the additional advantage of the view. If you fancy though, compare prices and book in advance.

Another great way to find reasonable accommodation is through Airbnb since prices are often lower than in hotels. We have used it throughout Europe and France and have always had a good experience.

We stayed in a little town called Pontorson and were happy with the choice as we could see the Mont Saint -Michel from a living room window.

Check out these hotels, situated on the island:

• Auberge Saint Pierre  | Situated on Mont Saint -Michel tidal island,  Auberge Saint Pierre is a 14th-century half-timbered house with clean and comfortable rooms. There are restaurants on-site, and some of the rooms offer sea views.

• Les Terrasses Poulard | Located in the centre of Mont Saint-Michel, Les Terrasses Poulard is a historic property overlooking the village and offering traditional French cuisine and rooms with modern décor.

Pontorson village is located 9 km from Mont Saint-Michel and much to our delight; we could see the island from our living room window.

Tips, hints, and things to do in Mont Saint-Michel

  • Consider a visit during the off-season or shoulder season (May/September). Streets are very narrow, and the little village gets very busy during the summer month, especially during July and August, with hour-long lines outside the Abbey entrance.
  • Although Mont Saint-Michal is famous for its gastronomy of traditional omelette and seafood, bring your food for a picnic or lunch. Tourist cafes offer average and quite pricey food (think fries and boring sandwiches), and you’ll be charged around 40 EUR for the traditional omelette.
  • Choosing when to visit is essential. To avoid big crowds of tourists, visit early in the morning or late at night. Colours and shades during the golden hour are incomparable if you are into photography, and it’s spectacular to see the island lit up after dark.
  • To see the tides coming in ”at the speed of the galloping horse,” you have to be there during the highest of high tide. Mont-Saint Michel’s official website has the tides schedule you can see here.
  • Climb 700 steps to admire the main attraction-beautiful Gothic Abbey. The entrance includes an hour-long tour around this engineering masterpiece built by monks in the 13th century. To check the prices and opening hours see here.
  • If travelling by car from Paris, make sure you have plenty of Euros on hand as part of the way is on toll roads and many don’t accept American credit cards.
  • Visit one or all of 4 museums on the island; Historical, Maritime and Ecology, Historical Home of Bertrand du Guesclin and Archeoscope and gain more insight about ”Wonder of the West” by checking out collections of ancient objects, paintings and more.

Explore the Surrounding Area With Caution

Arguably one of the most important things when visiting Mont Saint Michel is caution. When the tide is gone, the surrounding area offers unbeatable views of the island. That said, the waves are extremely unpredictable and can change in an instant. Moreover, the surrounding grounds have patches of quicksand that are sure to ruin your trip. If you plan to explore at a low tide, do so carefully and keep an eye on the returning water at all times.

Mont Saint-Michel is nothing short of beautiful.

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Now, over to you!

Have you been to Mont Saint-Michel? Did you go at high tide? Let us know in the comments!

Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Mont Saint-Michel and have travel-related questions!

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44 thoughts on “Your Guide To Visiting Mont Saint-Michel: France’s Most Picturesque UNESCO World Heritage Site

    1. Thanks so much. Mont Saint Michel is one of France‘s most visited destinations for its idyllic beauty and historic charm, and we had a memorable time exploring the island and nearby sights. Thanks for stopping by and have a lovely day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I hope to get there someday. Your photos of the quiet/busy streets is very interesting. We will be in Carcassonne during the busiest months this summer but we are going into it with eyes wide open. We know it will be jam packed like your bottom picture during the main part of the day, so we are staying two nights in the walled city in order to take advantage of the quiet mornings and evenings. That is probably a wise idea for Mont Saint Michel, too, although you intrepid early risers didn’t even need to stay there to take advantage of the quiet times. Impressive!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Who could blame anyone for wanting to experience this iconic island, with over one thousand years of history under its belt? With so many visitors, it’s important to be savvy with your planning. But unfortunately, you can apply the same principle to many cities and tourist sites around Europe. Apparently, Dubrovnik in Croatia has a staggering 36 tourists for every one of its inhabitants closely followed by Venice and Bruges! Have a great time visiting Carcassonne, I very much look forward to reading all about your trip. Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a place and a travel experience I will never forget, Allan. I have to say that at high tide, Mont Saint-Michel appears from afar as a mystical island. At low tide, it is possible to walk around the island. Because of the surrounding shallow bay, Mont Sant Michel actually only becomes an island at a very high tide, but we didn’t get to see it, therefore I wouldn’t exclude a return trip. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much. While it looks like a castle standing freely in the middle of an island from afar with the tower of the Abbey soaring through the sky, when you come closer, you’ll realize that it’s actually a village with inhabitants and leaders just like any other community. It’s a place unlike any other we have seen and I can highly recommend visiting. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much. Mont Saint Michel is considered by many to be one of France’s most breathtaking sights. While Mont Saint Michel is an incredible place to see, the majority of visitors probably won’t feel like they need more than a day or two to explore everywhere on the island, so a day trip is far from a bad option.

      Take care 🙂 Aiva xx

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  2. We have not been there … but it almost feel as if we were just there after reading your post! Mont Saint-Michel is a unique and beautiful sight – you have so many lovely photos! And yes, it seems it definitely pays getting there early in the morning, judging by your photos! Thank you for all the info and amazing pics!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Corna. There’s no bad time to visit the island, although it does get very crowded during the high season (mostly in the summer months). If you have the chance to spend the night at one of the island’s hotels, we highly recommend it. But even if you’re only able to visit for a few hours, we guarantee you won’t regret visiting Mont Saint Michel, a gem that deserves to be on everyone’s bucket list. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It would definitely be worth it. You can go by car, by train, by bus or on an organized tour. The option you choose entirely depends on your budget and your style of travel, but I would suggest travelling by train.

      Take a train from Gare Montparnasse to Villedieu-les-Poêles. This should take around 4 hours. From here, there will be a bus to take you to Mont Saint Michel parking which takes around 45 mins to 1 hour. This is probably the easiest and cheapest Paris to Mont St Michel Train. You’ll need to purchase your ticket on the SNCF website in advance as it requires booking seat numbers. I should also note that this ticket caters to both train and bus rides. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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  3. Beautiful photos and a very informative article as always, Aiva. I would love to visit Mont Saint-Michel some day. I saw that gorgeous photo of a quiet street and thought what a lovely and picturesque place to live. However, the next photo of super busy, tourist-packed streets dissuaded me. Nevertheless, an off season visit and an early start sound great.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Leighton. Rising out of the sea like a beacon, Mont Saint-Michel is a soul-inspiring sight. But like most tourist-drenched places, Mont Saint Michel is best visited early on in the day around 8 am. This way, you have the entire afternoon to explore and get your start without bobbing and weaving between tourists. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It is indeed, and I hope you get to visit. Most visitors go home as the sun goes down having visited the Abbey and the museums. This is a great time to arrive as the atmosphere completely changes. It feels like being on the set of a medieval film. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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  4. Wow! A truly gorgeous place! Those photographs were magnificent and the information super! I want to go… Cheers Aiva for a wonderful trip…through your narrative…to a beautiful place in the world. All the best!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Francisco. It’s an amazing place to explore and photograph. It is famous for its monastery and is one of France’s most recognisable landmarks. Many people visit every year just for a few hours but what most people don’t realise is that it is actually a small town where you stay in one of the hotels along the tiny alleys for a romantic getaway. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. I hope all is well 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I have yet to visit the one in Cornwall. But in my humble opinion, perched atop a tidal island in Mount’s Bay, Saint Michael’s Mount is as beautiful as its French counterpart. Thanks for stopping by and have a lovely day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    1. Thanks so much. Despite the large tourist crowds, I cherished every minute we were able to spend at the site. At high tide, you will be spellbound as the sea rushes to surround Mont Saint Michel at a galloping speed to separate it from the mainland. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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  5. It has been on my list for years. Ever since I saw a picture of it. I had no idea so few people lived there. Who the heck works there or do they come over daily. It might be worth staying if it gave you access to late night and early morning when the tourists haven’t descended. Bernie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Bernie. Prior to our trip, I’ve seen a good few photos, but nothing really came close to seeing it in real life! As we were up very early, we were able to observe that people who work in shops and restaurants on Mont Saint Michel, commute every morning from the mainland. Most of the people who live on the tiny island are monks and nuns that reside in the Abbey. . Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    1. Rising like a mirage on the horizon, the small magical island of Mont Saint-Michel is well worth a visit. It’s only one of the highlights of this multi-day activity that visits the storied attractions of Normandy and even takes you into Brittany. Now I just have to make it to its Cornish ‘twin’. Thanks for stopping by, Marion, and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Mont Saint-Michel looks so charming. How nice to spend the entire day there and to see how different it looks from low to high tide. Walking across the bay at low tide sounds like a fun adventure (minus the whole quicksands part). That’s such a cute family picture of you guys.

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    1. Thanks so much, Linda 🙂 Mont Saint-Michel is, by far, the most indescribable place I’ve ever visited in France. It is said that during the Middle Ages, this was the second most important pilgrimage site in Europe, right after Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia, Spain. Thanks so much for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Fantastic post! I didn’t know the history behind this magnificent landmark, and I’m glad I know a bit more now! I remember visiting many years ago when I was about 6 or 7, so my memories are a bit blurry but I can recall being very impressed by how big everything was (even more so for a 6 year old!). There is also a “Saint Michael’s Mount” in the UK, in Cornwall, which is very similar to the French one, though it is much smaller. Thanks for sharing!

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  8. This is a great resource for when we one day visit Mont Saint-Michel. The quiet morning and busy afternoon shots are a great reference to realize how important it is to go early or late. I’d also like to see it at high and low tides. Maybe one day… Maggie

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  9. Mont-SAint-Michel is indeed magical. Haven’t been in… 30 years maybe? Not sure I could stand the crowds. The streets are very narrow…
    Thanks for the trip “back” Aiva…
    Au revoir.

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  10. What gorgeous photos you took of Mont Saint-Michael. I’ve never been, but now, it is on my list of places to visit! Thank you for sharing your adventures and wonderful photos with us 😊

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  11. We were just there a couple of weeks ago. It was raining as we walked along the dyke. From 4km it grew bigger as we approached. There’s a way to avoid the retail crush. Take the nondescript looking archway to the left of the main gate and wander uphill. I think the old village is charming but there are many other places in France with less crowds and less touristy ambiance. It’s actually more fun to admire it from afar and imagine the pilgrims trying to cross the mudflats back in the olden days.

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  12. I love that you included the hotels on the island and when to watch for the tides. I can’t tell you how many clients I have had to tell… don’t forget about the tide 😉 and they forget! Great article!

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  13. I always wanted to visit Mont St Michel and now I have! Thank you, Aiva, for your informative guide. Such a beautiful place. The only part I didn’t like was all those tourists – eek! It sounded like a marvelous trip for you, as a family. K x

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