Mont-Saint-Michel is a highlight for any trip to France, and Europe for that matter. The historical abbey topped island sits in a picturesque bay and feels more at home in a fairytale than reality. The abbey was founded in 966 and holds a claim that the archangel Michel has a role in it’s founding.
For centuries it was supported by French Royalty, survived the English Armies, and drew in pilgrims in search of religious knowledge. Now, Mont Saint Michel is an icon of France and a breathtaking sight to see.
With the grand towers and spires of the abbey that sits atop the rock and the winding lanes and back alleyways to discover, it still remains an enchanting place to explore – despite the high visitor numbers.
To help you out, we have decided to put together a guide to visiting Mont Saint Michel in Normandy so that you can get the most out of your trip.
Info about Mont Saint Michel
Mont Saint Michel is located around a kilometer off the northwest coast of France and sits in a bay where Normandy and Brittany merge. The island’s history stretched back for over a millennia and is arguably the most scenic place to visit in France.
The island itself is quite small, being just 400 hectares (900 acres). And believe it or not, there is actually a population of 50 people, which seems crazy when you consider that three million people visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site on average each year.
It’s not just the stunning scenery that draws the millions of visitors a year, but the history and religious significance. Mont Saint Michel, complete with its own abbey, has a long and rich history that makes it an interesting destination to learn about the early history of France, and Europe as a whole.
History of Mont Saint Michel
In spite of being a tiny island off the coast of France, Mont Saint Michel is thought to have been founded by an Irish hermit. After this, during the 6th and 7th centuries AD, the island became a stronghold for the Gallo-Roman peoples who populated the region.
For the next few centuries, it went through different hands, with a few changes in sovereignty, but the first abbey was founded on the island in the 8th century – back when it was called Mont Tombe. Following this, becoming a definitive part of Normandy in 933, the island became popular for pilgrims. One of its claims to fame during this period was being depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry in 1066.
Assaults on the island came from the English during the Hundred Year War between France and England (1337 to 1453). Interestingly, Napoleon made the island a prison in the early 19th century, and it remained a penitentiary until 1863, being declared a monument of the country for the first time in 1874.
The entry price for Mont Saint Michel?
Surprisingly, there are actually no fees involved in walking yourself over the newly installed bridge (no longer do you have to wait until low tide) to the island of Mont Saint Michel. The Old Town, with its timber frame buildings, stone arches, and cobbled streets, has no opening hours and no admission cost – which is awesome, if you ask us.
To get into the soaring Abbaye du Mont-Saint-Michel itself, there is an admission fee. It costs €10 for adults (or €8 for 18 to 25-year-olds), children under 18 are free, and if you are a lucky EU citizen – or permanent resident of France – you get free admission.
You can buy your ticket at the entrance to the abbey or online in advance to skip the lines. If you want to save the time you can purchase your ticket here online!
How to get to Mont Saint Michel?
Being a very popular site for everyone from pilgrims and package tourists to independent travelers and backpackers, getting to Mont Saint Michel is pretty simple – even though it is in a relatively rural area of France.
Car Rental – Self Drive
Self-driving is definitely the easiest way to get to Mont Saint Michel. There are large parking lots here, which usually have loads of spaces, located at Beauvoir; parking for a day costs €9 in the low season and €14 in the high season. Campervans have a higher price at €12 in the low season and €17.60 in the high season.
On the plus side, the shuttle bus is free and frequently runs throughout the day from the car park, as it’s actually pretty far from Mont Saint Michel. The shuttle continues on to the visitor center where you can take the scenic walk to the abbey or to the island itself.
It’s a short drive (15 kilometers) after turning off Exit 33 from the A84, which connects Caen and Rennes; a good idea is to arrive as early as possible. This is something you’ll want to factor in if you are driving from Paris, for example, which takes four hours.
We picked up our rental car from Sixt who we find to be the best rental car company in Europe. However, we suggest giving a search for the best rate as several other car companies remain competitive in terms of service.
Tour – Day Trip
If you don’t want the headache of renting a car or taking public transportation you can book day trips from Paris. Expect a long day as the drive is four hours from Paris, but you will receive a guide, skip the line tickets, and not worry about parking. It’s a good idea for those looking to cross it off the bucket list and short pressed on time.
That being said Normandy and Brittany are two regions well-loved by travelers and they have a lot more to offer travelers. We spent around 10 days in the region and left ready to return — not near enough time. If you still don’t feel like driving in a foreign country or the hassle of public transport try out a multi-day tour. We like G-Adventures as they keep tour groups to a manageable size at 16 max, instead of mass tourism. Check out their 8-day tour that shares the highlights of Paris and Normandy.
Train – Public Transportation
It is possible to get the train to Mont Saint Michel, too. The closest station is Pontorson. Although this isn’t directly at Mont Saint Michel itself, there is a handy (free) shuttle bus that will take you to the island in about 20 minutes.
From Paris, you can take a train from Gare du Nord directly to Rennes. From Rennes train station, there is another shuttle bus from there that runs to Mont Saint Michel, too. Alternatively, another train runs from Paris Saint-Lazare to Gare du Caen, from where you can take a bus. Both these trains cost around €25.
Can you stay on Mont Saint Michel?
Yes, you can spend the night on Mont Saint Michel. There are a number of hotels and guesthouses on the island and in the visitor center that provide easy access and a serene setting to spend the night. However, we would recommend spending the night elsewhere in Normandy or Brittany. We booked a lovely farmhouse only twenty minutes away in Brittany on Airbnb.
That being said there are a number of properties that are well worth a stay if you have your heart set on spending as much time as possible with Mont Saint Michel.
The Mercure Mont Saint Michel would get our pick as the hotel offers affordable rates and we trust the product from a well-known hotel chain in Europe. That being said the property is not located on the island but is at the start of the bridge to the island around the visitor center. Not far from the Mercure is Le Relais Saint Michel it’s a dated hotel, but offers spectacular rooms with views of Mont-Saint-Michel and the bay.
Do not expect a plethora of options for accommodation on the island and prices in high season go for a premium. They do offer a sublime location and may provide spectacular views out over the sea. It does come with the negatives of difficulty to access, crowds, and poor value. However, the best-reviewed guesthouse on the island is Auberge Saint Pierre.
Essential tips to know for visiting Mont Saint Michel
Being so popular – literally receiving millions of visitors every year – Mont Saint Michel gets super busy. It’s only a tiny island, after all, so the crowds can feel even more intense.
The busiest time of year to visit Mont Saint Michel is during the summer – specifically, July and August during the school holidays – as well as weekends and public holidays throughout the year.
The best time to visit Mont Saint Michel to avoid the crowds is during November and at the beginning of December. The end of January, February, and March also see fewer tourists visiting.
If you do want to go to Mont Saint Michel in the summer months but don’t like the idea of sharing the island with thousands of other people, then our advice would be to visit late in the day (after 3 p.m.) or early in the morning (before 9 a.m.).
A good tip is to visit after dark. The abbey may be closed, but the island itself is always open, so strolling around on a warm summer’s evening after dark, once all the daytrippers have left, is pretty nice – especially since the island is illuminated in all its glory!
Another hot tip: be prepared for the high prices in the island’s cafes and restaurants. In fact, you may want to avoid them entirely, because there is little thought to service or quality, despite the insane prices. You should bring your own food, or wander back to shore to find something a little more local.
Opening hours are important to know, for obvious reasons. As we mentioned earlier, access to Mont Saint Michel itself is not restricted by opening times, and you are free to wander about as you wish.
However, the Abbaye du Mont-Saint-Michel does have opening times: from September to April, it’s open from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and from May to August, it’s open from 9:00 a.m. to 7 p.m. (last admission is an hour before closing).
If you’re traveling with luggage or a heavy bag, you’ll be happy to know that there are lockers available for visitors to use.
You’ll find these on the mainland at the Tourist Information Center. Bonus – they’re free, which is good because you’re not actually allowed to take luggage onto Mont Saint Michel.
Another good thing about the Tourist Information Center is the fact that you can pick up a tour guide there. These are pretty affordable and won’t necessarily just show you around the abbey for the cost of your entry fee; in fact, you could get a €5 tour of the mudflats that surround the island at low tide.
There are two shops connected to the abbey on the island which you can enter for free, so you can pick up a souvenir or two.
Dogs are allowed on the island, but not into the abbey itself, nor are they allowed on shuttle buses. If you happen to be with your dog but want to enter the abbey, there is the option of leaving your dog at the kennels located at the Tourist Information Center; this service costs €8 and can only be used during opening hours. The island also, thankfully, has toilets.
Weather and Terrain of Mont Saint Michel
Mont Saint Michel, if you haven’t already guessed, is an island. It’s a kilometer from the mainland and was formerly only accessible during low tide. Now that there’s a bridge, you can go any time you like.
Whether it’s high tide or low tide will affect your experience of viewing Mont Saint Michel; arguably, it looks much prettier surrounded by water – like something from a fantasy novel. And it varies quite a lot: 14 meters between the high and low watermarks.
It’s surrounded by a salt marsh, which isn’t something we would recommend exploring by yourself – this is best done with a guide.
The location of Mont Saint Michel in this part of Normandy means that it does get cold here during the winter months, and the days will be shorter. The lowest average temperature is in January (between 4 and 7°C), whereas the highest average temperature occurs in July and August (between 15 and 22°C). No matter what time of year you go, prepare for changeable weather – bring waterproof coats and layers.
Good to know
If you’re thinking about visiting the island in the summer, then it might be a good idea to turn up later. Visitors who enter the abbey grounds before 6 p.m. (last entry) will not only find fewer crowds, but will also be able to stick around for the light and sound display, which is (usually) a separately ticketed event.
This light and sound extravaganza takes place from 7 to 10:30 p.m. Another thing that’s good to know about Mont Saint Michel: there are a lot of steps and staircases around the place. Needless to say, it’s not an ideal place to navigate in a wheelchair or if you have difficulty with mobility.
Folklore around Mont Saint Michel
The origin story of Mont Saint Michel’s religious buildings is itself related to legend. Saint Aubert allegedly had a vision of the Archangel Michael, appearing to him in 708 AD and telling the future saint that he should build a church on the island.
We mentioned the Bayeux Tapestry earlier, but let’s have another look at that. The Bayeux Tapestry (completed in 1066) depicts the story of the Norman conquest of England in the same year.
In scenes 16 and 17 of the tapestry, Mont Saint Michel is clearly depicted. Amusingly, you can see knights floundering in the mudflats between the island and the mainland.
Another interesting fact about Mont Saint Michel is its connection to the island of the same name (well, almost) in Cornwall, England: St Michael’s Mount.
Because the Abbaye du Mont-Saint-Michel became so wealthy and was so highly regarded as a place of pilgrimage, they helped establish a counterpart in Cornwall on a similar island only accessible via a causeway at low tide.
Fun fact: Mont Saint Michel was the inspiration for the setting of the Disney film Tangled (2010).
What to see around Mont Saint Michel?
Although Mont Saint Michel is a wonderful stop, it could seem like a little far to go just to see one attraction. Luckily for you, there’s a lot of history in the surrounding area that is well worth your time.
If you are a WWII buff, you’ll probably already know that the D-Day Landings took place relatively nearby. Sword, Omaha, Juno, and Gold Beach, as well as other landing sites, are a two-hour drive to the north, close to Caen, perfect if you’re already on a road trip.
Then you have the two regions of Brittany and Normandy that are full of beautiful seaside towns, castles, charming villages. Both are renowned for their quality of food and you can sample some fantastic local specialties such as cheese, oysters & scallops, fruits, and calvados. The two stars of each region are Saint-Malo in Brittany and Honfleur in Normandy. They’re breathtaking, home to fantastic dining, and packed with history.
Back at Mont Saint Michel itself, the north side of the island is where you can find something called “The Marvel.” The buildings here include the cloister, surrounded by delicately carved granite pillars, as well as a dining hall with a beautiful roof, and a Gothic-style guest hall, to name just a few.
There is also a small hidden chapel to find on the island: La Chapelle Saint Aubert. This small stone building is a nice place for reflection away from the crowds – and has great views at high tide.
Plan and Pack for France
You’re going to need something to carry your belongings in while you’re traveling around the world. Even if you’re not doing extensive hikes you need at least something small for day trips. My favorite daypacks are from Camelbak. You can see all our other backpack recommendations below:
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun when you’re traveling. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses, but they do make a huge difference from the crappy $10 ones.
We’re building up a collection of shell jackets. We always carry one in our pack and they’ve come in handy many times. Weather around the world can be iffy in October, so it’s best to be prepared. They are lightweight, durable, packable, waterproof, and windproof and really a great travel rain jacket. We have a bunch of different shell jackets after several years, but my favorite right now is from Arc’teryx.
Any jacket can do the job, but the top-dollar ones will hold up and really help in inclement weather. Or you can opt for a blend of style and techincal elements check out our post on the best jackets for travel.
I love real books, but for traveling it can be easier to carry a lighter and more compact item like a Kindle. Plus, then you can download new books on the go!
Please consider purchasing a travel water bottle before your trip! We hate to see one time use plastic bottles ending up in the ocean. The tap water is so good here – seriously please don’t be one of those tourists that buys plastic water bottles. It’s a waste of money and plastic!
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