Just as recognizable as the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre in Paris, Mont St. Michel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Normandy, France. With its ramparts, cathedral and abbey this fairytale island is popular and well worth seeing. The cobblestone town with its steep, narrow alleys and walkways has much to offer for a day of sightseeing. If you plan on staying overnight, I recommend staying on the mainland as hotels can be quite expensive on the island. My guide to Mont St. Michel has some important information for planning your trip.
The story goes that Archbishop St. Aubert of Anranches had a visit from St. Michael, who instructed him to build a church on the island in the early 8th century. The construction of a Benedictine Abbey followed in 966 A.D.. Throughout the next few centuries, many extensions were added. It served as a main pilgrimage sight in the 8th and 9th centuries, and as a prison for political prisoners under King Louis XI. Today, roughly 3 million people visit Mont St. Michel per year.
There are two ways to get to Mont St. Michel. Hop in a car and drive from Paris, which will take about 4 hours or so. There is a parking lot on the mainland from which you will need to walk to Place des Narvettes and catch a free shuttle to the island. The shuttle drops you off by the footbridge to the island, so there is walking involved. You can also take a day tour from hotels in Paris and leave the driving to the bus driver, but it will take all day.
Another way to get there is by taking a TGV train from Paris Gare Montparnasse to Rennes and then hopping on a bus to Mont St. Michel. Or, change trains in Rennes to the Ponterson-Mont-St.-Michel station, from there you can take a shuttle to the island for 2 Euro.
The shuttle drops you off by the footbridge and you have to walk about 1/4 mile to the entrance to town, kind of like the people on pilgrimages centuries ago. Although rare, the bridge can be under water if tides are extremely high and it won’t be possible to get on or off the island. So check the tides before you go. The first time I went there was no bridge and you could only get to the island during low tide!
What to See
Be sure to walk along the ramparts. Enter at Porte Eschaugette, just to the left of the main gate, for the easiest and fastest way up onto the rampart and the most amazing views. Walk along the narrow cobblestone alleys and the main street Grand Rue to browse the many boutiques, museums and galleries.
Stay on Grand Rue to reach the steps that lead up to the abbey. There is an entrance fee, €10 last I checked, but it’s so worth it. Tours are available and last one hour. However, it is entirely possible to see the abbey on your own. Check out the massive fireplace in the dining hall, the water mill, the gardens and so much more.
What to Eat
There are plenty of restaurants, cafés and crêperies to chose from in Mont St. Michel. I have a rule about eating out when traveling: never eat at a restaurant if the menu displayed outside has pictures of the food! That just screams tourist trap to me. In a town like Mont St. Michel almost all of the restaurants are touristy. The crêpes are delicious and available everywhere. To satisfy your sweet tooth, stop by a bakery for a delicious treat. However, you should definitively try an omelet at the world famous La Mère Poulard. You can watch the chefs making them in the window! Since it’s so famous it gets very busy, but you can make a reservation if you plan ahead.
Best Time To Visit
Best time to avoid the crowds is in the Winter, from November through March. Avoid long weekends and holidays, especially in Summer. If you are there during busier times of the year, go early in the morning or later in the afternoon after the tour buses leave. Be sure to bring an umbrella and dress in layers, it can get quite wet, cold and windy on the island. Wear comfortable walking shoes with non-slip soles, because those cobblestones get slippery when wet and there are steep walkways and stairs to stumble through.
I love Mont St. Michel and hope you do too. If you’re headed there be sure to read What to See in Normandy and include some of those tips on your trip. Email me or comment below! Keep calm and travel on!