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Set against the sprawling bay where Brittany and Normandy meet, Mont Saint Michel is easily one of France’s most spectacular sights. In fact, the surrounding terrain is so flat for miles around that when you first spot the castle-like fortification from a distance, it seems almost like a gravity-defying mirage.
Perched high on a rocky islet, this tidal island is crowned by a Benedictine abbey erected in 708 at the bidding of Archangel Michael. Because of its strategic position, battlements and fortifications were added in the fourteenth century. During the Hundred Years War, monks defended the abbey so effectively it was dubbed, “the Impregnable Fortress.”
During the medieval period, the sanctuary became a popular pilgrimage site and a village evolved within the fortified walls. Today, Mont Saint Michel is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s one of France’s most-visited tourist sites and one of the world’s Top 25 Best Castles.
While the abbey’s remote location adds to its mystique, it’s easily visited as part of a trip to Normandy or while enjoying the beach resorts of France’s Brittany region. From Paris, it’s a bit longer journey, but still entirely possible as a long day-trip or, even better, an overnight stay.
How to Get to Mont Saint Michel from Paris by Train
From Paris’ Gare Montparnasse, take the TGV train (Train A Grand Vitesse) to Rennes. Once you arrive at the Rennes train station, follow signs that say, “Exit North” and “Bus Station” to catch a Keolis bus to Mont Saint Michel. The one-way bus ticket costs 15€ and buses run up to four times a day. Reservations are not needed, you can purchase your ticket on the bus from the driver, at the bus station or when you purchase your train ticket. You can check the bus timetables here.
The entire journey takes about 3.5 hours. When you get off the bus at Place des Navettes, you can take the free, modern shuttle (the Passeur) that will take you to the island. The shuttle drops visitors about halfway across half mile long causeway (Pont Passerelle) that connects the mainland to the island.
This leaves you with a quarter mile walk remaining to reach the island (this walk is one of the best spots for photo ops!). Shuttles operate every day from 7:30 AM to midnight.
How to Get to Mont Saint Michel by Car
If you opt to drive from Paris, the drive will take approximately 4 hours and the tolls will run you about 20€ along the way. For those arriving by car (whether from Paris or surrounding towns), Mont Saint Michel does have a dedicated car park on the mainland. In order to preserve the maritime beauty of the site, this parking lot is located 1.5 miles away from the island. Parking fees vary by season, from 9.10€ in low season to 14.20€ in high season.
Once parked, walk approximately half a mile to reach the Place des Navettes where you can board the free shuttle.
Or…Take a Guided Tour of Mont Saint Michel!
If you’d rather not deal with the fuss of figuring out the train or renting a car, there are tons of guided tour options available from Paris, Bayeaux, Caen or Rennes. These typically depart Paris at the crack of dawn, include lunch and a guided tour of the monastery and return in the evening.
If you’re not opposed to group tours, it’s definitely the stress-free way to visit Mont Saint Michel from Paris. Here are a few good options:
Where to Stay Near Mont Saint Michel
While Mont Saint Michel can definitely be visited in a day trip, if you want to see it without tourists, spend the night. It’s the only way to enjoy the island before and after the rush of tour groups each day.
Yes, you can stay on the island!
If you do decide to spend the night, I’d highly recommend staying at one of the handful of hotels located directly on the island. While the on-island options are a bit more expensive, there’s something very special about having 24-hour access to the quiet, narrow streets of this unique island. It allows you to appreciate it in a way the vast majority of tourists never do.
Here are my two favorite options ON the island:
Hotel La Mère Poulard – Located just inside the gate from the causeway, access to the hotel is only by shuttle bus (they do provide parking off the island). The hotel’s restaurant is world-famous as the original creator of the island’s two culinary specialties – giant, fluffy omelets and butter cookies.
Le Mouton Blanc – Situated at the base of the abbey, rooms are cozy (i.e. small), yet comfortable. Of the three buildings that make up the hotel, one has medieval-style rooms, while another features views of Mont Saint Michel.
If you’re on a tighter budget, staying just off the island will save you some money and still allow you to enjoy the evening and early morning hours when tourists are few. Here are two good options on the mainland, both with easy access to the shuttle:
Hotel Mercure Mont Saint Michel – Features stylish, comfortable rooms and amenities like a full restaurant and bar. Free parking is also available.
Hotel Vert – A great option for budget travelers, rooms here can often be had for less than $150/night. Rooms are simple but modern and clean. Summer travelers should note that this hotel does not have A/C.
When to Visit
High season is, of course, during the height of the summer months from May to August. So, unless you love mixing with tour groups, this is not the ideal time to visit. Rather, spring and fall are ideal seasons to plan a visit while the weather is still seasonable and crowds are much lighter.
To capture the iconic image of the island’s reflection on the sea, you’ll need to consult the tidal schedule and aim for a visit around the highest tide of the day. I failed at this on both recent visits, hence the low tide photos. This is yet another reason why an overnight stay is a good idea, so you can appreciate the magnificent views at both extremes, high and low tide.
What to See
The island’s dramatic silhouette from a distance notwithstanding, the main thing to see on the island is the abbey. Summer hours (May 2 – August 31) are 9:30am-7:00pm. The rest of the year it closes one hour earlier at 6:00pm. The last tickets are sold one hour before closing.
Note that the abbey is closed to visitors on January 1, May 1, December 25 and on the few days of the year with extremely high tides that make the island inaccessible. Entry tickets are 11€ and can be purchased online in advance or at the visitor center.
Don’t miss a walk around the fifteenth century ramparts for amazing views over the bay. And be sure to veer off the main street and climb one or two of the narrow flights of stairs to explore a little. You’ll likely discover charming homes, hidden gardens and still more panoramic viewpoints.
So, Why Visit Mont Saint Michel?
There’s a reason this dramatic island has been a pilgrimage destination for centuries. Both the island and the surrounding tidal landscape and ecosystem make for a fascinating visit. It’s well worth the effort to reach Mont Saint Michel’s somewhat remote location, whether on a day trip or an overnight stay.