Simply put, the Mont Saint-Michel will blow you away. It’s the second most visited place in France after Paris, and earlier this month, Tom and I headed to Normandy for the second time together. The monument is instantly recognizable in photos and just as gorgeous in the daytime as it is at night. This Normandy must-see tourist stop borders Brittany and dates back to the year 966. Since then, the Mont Saint-Michel has been a monastery, prison, and a historical monument. If you have the chance to visit, be sure to go all the way to the top to see the stunning abbey and its cloisters, chapels, and crypts. Let me answer some of the top questions about Le Mont Saint-Michel and tell you if I think it’s worth the trip.
Tips for visiting Mont Saint-Michel
Le Mont Saint-Michel is technically stunning. Several generations of builders have worked to make the Mont Saint-Michel what it is today and the site welcomes over 3 million visitors each year. Before the first church was built, the island was called Mont Tombe and later became Le Mont Saint-Michel. It was named after Archangel Saint Michael when Saint Aubert, Bishop of Avranches, was said to have visualized it in a dream. A statue of Saint Michael is at the very top of the abbey’s spire if you look all the way up.
Between 1792 and 1863, the monument was used as a prison and housed 14,000 prisoners during that period. Much later, Le Mont Saint-Michel and its bay became the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in France in 1979.
When is the best time to visit the Mont Saint-Michel?
If at all possible, try to visit before or after the peak summer months to avoid the crowds. If you have the option, a trip any time between April and June or in September would be ideal because the weather will hopefully still be somewhat comfortable and there will be fewer tourists and lower prices. Avoid the months of July and August at all costs if you can and I don’t say that lightly.
In terms of timing, try to go early in the morning or later in the evening, as it can get extremely busy during the day. Think long waits at restaurants, full parking lots, packed bus tours and shuttles, and no space to move around. There’s no bad time to see the Mont Saint-Michel, but be prepared for rain and wind in cooler months and general crowds.
Be sure to book the self-guided tour of the abbey first thing. It’s worth it to learn about the medieval history and architecture.
Do you need a car to visit the Mont Saint-Michel?
To get around the island and village, the answer is no. The public isn’t allowed inside with their cars so you park and walk. But in terms of getting to and from the Mont Saint-Michel itself, I’ve found that renting a car is the most convenient. Driving to the area gives you the most freedom so you can come and go as you please and make stops along the way. With your own vehicle, you aren’t reliant on public transportation schedules and can go off the beaten path and also visit nearby towns like Cancale, Dol-de-Bretagne, etc.
The monument has plenty of secure on-site parking (cheaper after 7 p.m.) where you leave your car to then walk the 45-minute or so walk to the base of the Mont Saint-Michel or you can opt for the free shuttle that’ll get you there in about 10 minutes. The walk from the parking lot is doable but take the shuttle if you don’t have time to spare. We left our car at the Ibis Pontsoron Baie du Mont Saint Michel and rented their electric bikes that we locked at the dam and then walked the rest of the way, about 20 minutes.
If renting a car is not an option, the closest train station is 9 kilometers away in Pontorson and from there you can take the bus to the main attraction all year long. Check the bus schedule here. There are a few train options from Paris including the TGV that departs from Paris-Montparnasse to Rennes. After the 2-hour ride, you can then take the local train, the TER to Pontorson and then the bus. There’s also special train pricing here for trips to the Mont Saint-Michel from Paris.
In my opinion, if you are planning to stay in Normandy/Brittany for a couple of days on your own and are debating over whether or not to rent a car, I highly recommend it for the convenience factor. I don’t recommend relying on public transport if you’re on a tight schedule and have a ton of luggage because there’s always a bit of waiting involved and there could be unexpected delays.
Where’s the best place to stay when visiting the Mont Saint-Michel?
If you plan on spending the night, you can either stay at a property within the Mont Saint-Michel’s walls or somewhere nearby. For several reasons, I’d opt for staying at a nearby property.
First, the Mont Saint-Michel has limited accommodation options and they tend to be on the expensive side. To access them, you may have to walk a bit, often uphill, and when you have luggage it’s not always easy to maneuver through the crowds on cobblestone streets. In addition, even if you have a car, it’ll take you a little while to get to and from it. The quickest option to get to your car is to take the free shuttle, but it still requires you to get to the shuttle stop and then possibly wait a few minutes. This can be inconvenient if you just want to run a quick errand.
Furthermore, only about 50 people live on the Mont Saint-Michel and the rest are tourists. There’s not much in the way of energy or nightlife especially in the off season, so if that’s what you’re after, it’s worth staying nearby instead where the evenings are more lively.
An advantage of staying on the island is if you want to take photos very early or very late, you’re already there. The Mont Saint-Michel is a photographer’s dream and all of my photos in this post are minimally edited. Yes, sometimes you’ll catch an amazing sunset that actually looks like these photos to the naked eye! When the tide comes in, depending on the time of day, the water looks like a mirror and you can get some cool shots.
Photo tip: Go at low tide if you want to walk out on the mudflats and get photos of the monument without the bridge. Check the Mont Saint Michel tide timetable here.
During the summer, the crowds and the prices are major downsides to staying within the monument’s walls. But there are options if you’d like the the unique experience of staying at the Mont Saint-Michel itself. If you’re celebrating a special occasion or just want to see what it’s like for a night, some of the most popular hotels on the Mont Saint-Michel island are:
Although there are hotels a short walk from the base of the monument, both times we’ve visited the Mont Saint-Michel, we’ve stayed at a nearby hotel just a 10 to 15-minute drive away. You can also stay a little further if you plan on exploring other towns in the area such as Dol-de-Bretagne (closest to Mont Saint-Michel), Cancale, Dinard, Dinan, and Saint-Malo, all of which are no more than an hour away.
In our case, we stayed close by at the 3-star Ibis Pontsoron Baie du Mont Saint Michel. It’s an excellent choice and is only a 10-minute car ride from the Mont Saint-Michel’s parking lot. If you’d like to leave your car at the hotel’s free parking lot and ride over on two wheels instead, you can rent one of their bikes — electric or regular — and take a scenic bike ride to the Mont Saint-Michel. It’s an easy 20-minute ride on country roads.
We’ve stayed at Ibis hotels all over France and have found them to be comfortable, clean, and affordable. The Ibis Pontsoron Mont St-Michel is only two years old, has modern furnishings, a Tesla charging station, free Wi-Fi, an on-site Courtepaille restaurant and bar, and is a perfect home base from which to explore the area. I was pleasantly surprised that the bed was soft and the pillows were even softer. I’m particular about these things. 😉
Keep in mind that no matter where you stay, there’s no longer any issue with accessing the monument due to the tides because a permanent bridge was built in 2014 making it easy to get on and off the island no matter the water level. The exception is during spring tides when the water does get quite high but these are rare.
What should you wear when visiting the Mont Saint-Michel?
I always recommend that people dress in breathable layers, have a jacket/windbreaker with a hood (depending on the season) and scarf, wear sturdy walking shoes, and bring an umbrella. Even in the summer, it can get quite cool and breezy and the weather can change quickly.
We visited in June and it was quite cool and rainy, although the sun did peek out from time to time and I was majorly sweating when racing up the stars to the abbey. I wore a tank top with a long-sleeve shirt over the top and a light hooded rain jacket. Once the sun went down, I put on my jacket, scarf, and hood. The Mont Saint-Michel weather can vary greatly even during the same day, so it’s best to be prepared and it’s often cooler than you’d think.
In terms of footwear, a close-toed shoe is best so any type of sneaker, hiking boot, or sturdy shoe will do. This is not the place to wear your new platform shoes, heels, or ballet flats because the streets are cobblestone and can be uneven and steep in some places. If you want to walk out on the mudflats, don’t wear new shoes unless you don’t care if they get all dirty!
Even from the shuttle, it’s still a 350-meter walk to the Mont Saint-Michel and if you’re walking up to the abbey, it’s a bit of a trek, so you’ll want to wear shoes that you’re comfortable in that support your feet.
While there, be sure to support local brands like Armor Lux and Saint James. They are both fantastic for the striped Breton shirts, la marinière, we’ve all come to know and love. They have a full line of men and women’s wear that’s high quality, luxurious, and makes a great souvenir.
Can I make it to the top of the abbey even if I’m not fit?
Yes! If you’re able to walk and are comfortable on your feet — even if slowly — you can visit the Mont Saint-Michel, but be advised there are 900 steps (luckily broken up into different sections). You may need to go at your own pace and take breaks, but as long as you can climb stairs and keep your balance, you’ll be fine. That said, if you have reduced mobility, are in a wheelchair and/or are elderly and cannot walk comfortably unassisted, I think it’s a safer option to stay at the base. Unfortunately, there’s no elevator.
The Mont Saint-Michel is incredibly beautiful to look at from afar. You can sit on the bench where the shuttle lets you off and admire the monument at a distance. We did a lot of that as well (including a live stream linked below).
A reader also let me know that there’s an easier route with fewer stairs only known to locals that starts from a small street at the base by La Mère Poulard restaurant. It leads up to the abbey the back way along the ramparts instead of all the steps. Ask the tourism office or a local if you’re more comfortable taking the easier route.
Is it worth it to visit Le Mont Saint-Michel?
The short answer is yes, but it’s going to depend on a few factors: how much time you have and the season. If you’re visiting the area in the dead of winter when temps are an average of 6 C/43 F, expect rain and chilly wind that could put a damper on your trip. If you’re looking to make a day trip in peak summer season, the crowds might make it difficult to see everything comfortably.
Something that doesn’t attract quite as many people is to do a guided tour of the mudflats at low tide, but be sure to not roam too far on your own if you’re not familiar with the area. There are pockets of quicksand and the tide can come in fast, so be sure to exercise caution if you go exploring.
Ideally, you’d come to the area for two nights or more to give yourself time to explore the Mont Saint-Michel and the nearby towns of Cancale, Dol-de-Bretagne and even St. Malo, Dinard and Dinan if you head a little further. You don’t need more than a day to see the monument itself and could get it done in a half day if you don’t spend time in a restaurant. You might feel a bit rushed doing a day trip from Paris given the travel time each way making it a long day, but if that’s your one chance to see the Mont Saint-Michel and it’s on your bucket list, absolutely do it.
Check out my Mont Saint-Michel live streams!
This is a live walk where I show you around the monument right after travel restrictions were lifted. It was quite a unique experience with NO CROWDS:
This one is where I chat with you as the Mont Saint-Michel sun sets and goes from dusk to dark. I hold this static shot so you can watch the monument light up:
Have you visited Le Mont Saint-Michel? What did you think of it?
Hope you enjoyed my tips for visiting Mont Saint-Michel!
Disclosure: Thank you to the Ibis Pontorson for hosting us for the weekend!