Visiting Mont St Michel is a fairytale dream, it feels like you have just stepped back in time. The hilltop abbey is a masterpiece of medieval architecture and is truly magical both at night and in the day. The walled city welcomes around 2.5 million guests every year and is one of the most stunning places to visit in France. Mont St Michel became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979 because of its outstanding value for humanity and is considered one of the most important sites of medieval Christian civilisation. The incredible rocky islet is in the Normandy region and takes just under an hour to get there by car from St Malo. You will not be able to drive all the way; all visitors walk the remaining distance or take the free shuttle bus. Make sure to bring your walking shoes as there are cobbled streets and stairs to get to the top, but it is well worth the effort.
Mont Saint Michel in France is a jewel of the Manche department and is an unbelievable attraction in and of itself but there are also lots of sights and attractions to visit whilst you are there!
Tides here are not to be trifled with, nor are the patches of glistening quicksand that could you fast in an instant. However, walk the sands and shallows at low tide with a guide and you regain that sense of awe that must have greeted medieval pilgrims. A magical experience at any time of year. Victor Hugo famously wrote that the tide comes in as fast here as a galloping horse. Whichever angle you look at it, Mont Saint-Michel never fails to pack a punch. It is important to check the tide before you visit.
Undoubtedly, the main reason people visit the walled city is for the beautiful abbey. The unbelievable Romanesque and Gothic architecture is magnificent, so make sure you take the time to explore this extraordinary monastic establishment for all its glory. The building of the abbey on the Mont began in 708 when Bishop Aubert created the first sanctuary in honour of the Archangel. The construction of the building took over a staggering 1,300 years by generations of masterful builders.
For all the historians out there, the history museum on Mont Saint Michel is not to be missed. Within the museum you will be able to unravel the past of the walled city, admiring the medieval instruments of torture and the impressive collection of weapons. Whilst you are there you can visit the spooky dungeons where the priests were imprisoned during the revolution. There is so much to see at this unique museum and the weird and wonderful wax figures add an element of eeriness to the atmosphere.
For a historical adventure enjoy a 25-minute ride in a ‘Maringote’ horse-drawn carriage to experience a taste of the charming character of Mont Saint Michel. This is an alternative option to the shuttle bus or 30-minute walk to the island. The shuttle is pulled by two horses and departs from the shuttle hub, near the parking area. The tranquil ride allows you to admire the magical views of the gorgeous city and is truly an experience like no other. Animals are not allowed in the shuttles, except for guide dogs.
Halfway up to the abbey, you will come across the well preserved Eglise Paroissiale Saint-Pierre chapel. The beautiful chapel has exquisite paintings with a selection of incredible artefacts for you to look at. Admire the silver statue of Saint Michel slaying the dragon and the gorgeous stained-glass windows. The perfect place for tranquillity and to escape from the crowds. It is a true hidden gem.
The Archéoscope museum in Mont Saint Michel immerses you in the incredible history and legends of the city in a modern way. The sophisticated multimedia light and sound show unravel the history of the Mont and includes a remarkable 3D model of the Mont that rises from the water. The contemporary museum offers something unique in a city of traditional history. The typical visit duration is around 20 minutes and costs 9,00€ for adults and 4,50€ for children.
Famous for its extreme tidal range – up to 15 metres in difference between low and high water, the surrounding bay has been gradually filling up with silt, and the passage of water was blocked by the old dyke. But in 2009, a new dam was put in place across the river at Couesnon beside the approach road, which flushes out sand twice daily with a combination of fresh and saltwater. The dam offers impressive views and is the perfect destination to settle down for a picnic.
This hidden little chapel is located at the foot of the island just outside the fortifications of the walls which many stumble across by accident. It is a marvelous architectural accomplishment that is often very quiet and peaceful, away from the bustling tourists. The intimate chapel is dedicated to Saint Aubert and has a selection of paintings to admire. It is best to visit at low tide especially if you are with children or elderly travellers.
The delectable food in Mont Saint Michel is not to be missed, their most well-known dishes include the mouthwatering crepes and omelettes. The best place to go to enjoy a delicious omelette is La Mère Poulard which is home to The Omelette de la mère Poulard, otherwise known as the most famous omelette in the world! If you fancy trying one of these notable omelettes yourself, expect to pay premium prices and make sure to book in advance.
If you have more of a sweet tooth head to La Sirene or Crêperie La Cloche for an excellent crepe and an array of delicious desserts. If you fancy eating in a more rural setting visit La Ferne Saint-Michel which is just outside of the islet. The former polder farm is beautifully unique and serves delicious Pré-Salé “Grévin” lamb. It is far from the tourists making it the perfect place to stop before or after your relaxing walk.
Before your trip, stop by a local supermarket and pick up some tasty French food for a picnic, there are some quaint spots on the westside of the Barrage sur le Coueson but be careful of the tide!
As you would expect there is a range of keepsake shops dotted around Mont Saint Michel where you can pick up some little trinkets and memorabilia to help remember the incredible holiday. Postcards, magnets, prints, calendars and souvenirs are all available to pick up on your visit. If you are on a budget and would rather pick up some cheaper alternatives, head to the local supermarché and find some delicious French sweet treats and mementos.
La Grande Rue is an incredible street full of little shops and delightful cafés. The location is breathtaking and feels as though you have ended up in an enchanting fairytale. The streets are often full of tourists during the day and throughout peak season, so it is best to head there in the early hours or late at night. Not only will you have a quieter experience, but you may also catch the best light. The street is rather steep so make sure you wear sensible shoes!
France is the largest cider producing country in the world, so it is always worth picking some up from the local shops when you visit. Calvados is an apple or pear brandy from Normandy and another flavorful drink to try when you are in Mont Saint Michel. Don’t forget to purchase some delicious French Sablé Breton biscuits - the melt in your mouth butter cookies are simple but delicious and originated from Normandy.
Staying on Mont St Michel island is a lot pricier than if you were to stay somewhere nearby. If you want to stay directly on the island Le Mouton Blanc is situated at the foot of the abbey and is a simple and comfortable hotel on the Grande Rue. In the heart of Mont Saint Michel is Hôtel la Croix Blanche, the gorgeous hotel offers an incredible terrace with breathtaking views. The 14th-century Auberge Saint Pierre is also on the main shopping strip; the exposed beams ooze period charm and you can even find authentic French cuisine served at their restaurant. The Traditional La Mère Poulard incorporates classic-style rooms, all of which overlook the Bay of Mont Saint Michel. All the rooms at this hotel are equipped with a flat-screen TV and free Wi-Fi access. During peak season most of these hotels cost around £300 per night for 2 adults (prices may change).
La Caserne is the perfect location when looking where to stay when visiting Mont St Michel. It is close by but is typically half the price for a hotel room compared to those on the islet itself. Mercure Mont Saint Michel is a beautiful 4-star hotel that is situated 1.2 miles from the island. The restaurant Le Pré Salé is popular amongst the locals and serves mouthwatering regional cuisine and seafood. The hotel is around £120 (prices may change) during peak season, significantly cheaper than staying on the island. Le Relais Saint Michel is also located nearby and faces towards the bay of Mont St Michel, the free shuttle service stops in front of the hotel and will get you to the landmark in just 10 minutes, prices are around £200 for a standard double during peak season. There is also a selection of B&B’s available nearby including La Jacotiére, Etoile des Grèves, Chambres d'Hôtes Les Vieilles Digues and Etoile des Grèves, all of which are conveniently located.