Visiting Mont St Michel was one of the highlights of our weekend trip to France! We visited in early March during their off season – it was chilly but not too cold and the crowds were manageable. It felt like we were standing in a fairytale or we were transported into JK Rowling’s Harry Potter.
Mont Saint-Michel is tidal island and a UNESCO World Heritage Site located off the coast of Normandy, France. The island is rich in history, dating back to the medieval times. It’s probably most famous today for the abbey that sits on top with its stunning, gothic architecture.
Visiting Mont St Michel – How to Get There
Mont Saint-Michel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located off the coast of Normandy. It’s about a 4 hour drive or train ride from Paris. We decided to drive since we were going to lots of other spots in Normandy we’d need a car for but if you’re only leaving Paris to visit Mont St Michel as a day trip, I would probably recommend the train! Exploring Paris? Check out our blog things to do on a weekend trip to Paris!
While there is no direct train to Mont Saint-Michel from Paris, there is still a way to get there by train. You can take the train from Paris Montparnasse station to Rennes. It takes about 2 hours and tickets can be purchased ahead of time on the SNCF website. After arriving in Rennes, you will take a shuttle bus directly to Mont St Michel. Tickets for the bus can be purchased in advance from the SNCF website, in the Rennes train station, or on the bus and costs around 15€.
When visiting Mont St Michel by car, the quickest route by car is taking one of the toll roads since the majority of the drive is on a highway. We took the non-toll route which was around 45 minutes to an hour longer. It was mainly on backcountry roads with slower speed limits and lots of round-a-bouts. It was a little more scenic, if you like to look at open fields and cows. :)
We ended up taking the toll route back to save time and were so glad we did! It cost us around 10-15€ but the drive was much smoother, quicker, and had more gas stations and places to stop for food along the way.
If you travel by car, you will need to be mindful about parking. You cannot park in Mont Saint-Michel unless you are staying there overnight and have prior arrangements. The parking lot is offsite, on the mainland. Be sure to follow these directions from their website:
“As you approach Mont St-Michel in your car, look for signs reading Navettes (shuttles) and the ‘P’ parking symbol. Follow these signs, not the signs reading simply Mont St-Michel. (The Mont St-Michel signs will direct you to a barrier on rue de la Caserne through which only authorized vehicles may pass.) Following the navettes signs will get you to the mainland car parking lots.
From the mainland, you can reach the island by walking (free, 30 to 45 minutes), shuttle bus (navette, free, 5 to 8 minutes), or by horse-drawn carriage (maringote, fee payable, 15 minutes)”
You do have to pay for parking but it’s a relatively small fee, especially since you don’t have to pay to enter Mont St Michel. We decided to walk to the island so we could soak up the view and take the shuttle bus home after exploring all day. Highly recommend that choice! We didn’t see the horse-drawn carriages when we visited but it was in the off season, early March.
BY TOUR COMPANY
There are lots of different tour company’s that offer day trip tours from Paris to Mont St Michel. Personally, I like the flexibility of traveling by your own means so you can decide how long you want to stay or if you see anything interesting on the drive, you can stop. Plus, I don’t love the idea of arriving with 100 other people at the same time on a tour bus. I didn’t look much into this option but it is out there for you to choose from!
Visiting Mont St Michel – What to Do
While it may look huge from the outside, Mont Saint Michel is rather small comparatively. A few hours inside is more than enough time to explore! Below are some of my favorite things to do when visiting Mont Saint-Michel!
1. Explore the outside walls of Mont St Michel by walking around the sandbanks
This is where I believe you get the best view of Mont Saint-Michel because you’re close enough to see the detail but still far enough away you can see the entire island! Before walking out on the sandbanks, make sure you’ve read the tide schedule for that day as it changes daily. It is very rare to see the water fully around the island [it actually only happens about 20 times a year]. Be careful of where you are walking and if you have kids, watch them closely, because there are patches of quick sand around the island.
2. Walk down La Grande Rue and all of the medieval streets
La Grande Rue is a very narrow and steep cobblestone pathway that is the main street in Mont St Michel. This is where most of the restaurants and gift shops are located. Upon entering, you won’t miss it – you’ll be walking right down it! I would highly recommend starting here but continuing to walk down all the medieval streets to find new views from the island and beautiful architecture of the buildings all around. Walking down the streets truly transports you back in time!
3. Visit the Mont Saint Michel Abbey
The Abbey has a long standing history starting back in 708 when Bishop Aubert erected a first sanctuary on Mont Tombe in honor of the Archangel. You can read more about the history from is start to present day, here. While you don’t have to pay an entrance fee to enter Mont Saint-Michel, you do have to pay a small fee of 11€ to explore the Abbey if you do not live in one of the EU countries. It’s recommended to purchase your tickets in advance online for a specific date and time [only one month before]. Tickets can be purchased in person during your visit but only if they aren’t sold out. Sadly, we were not able to visit the inside of the Abbey on our trip!
4. Enjoy an Omelet at La Mère Poulard
La Mère Poulard was built in 1888 and still functions as both an inn and a restaurant. It’s famous for their omelets, some even claim that it’s the most famous omelet in the world! Guests can watch the omelets being made over an open fire in a copper skillet during their visit. If you enjoy good local food while traveling, I’d highly recommend stopping here to enjoy a meal!
5. Explore the Old Fortifications
Mont Saint-Michel fortifications has survived through many battles over the centuries due to it’s massive fortifications! The medieval defense structures were built in the 13th century to defend the mount and Abbey. Man of these fortifications still remain today. It was super cool to see the history of where knights use to defend the island, most notably during the Hundred Years War!