Right on the border with Brittany, overlooking the northern French coast, stands one of France’s most iconic and scenic silhouettes, Mont-Saint-Michel. A place of extraordinary beauty, known the world over for its unique and singular location.
The abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel was built on a small rocky islet, surrounded by a magnificent bay, nestled between the Breton peninsula of Grouin and the Norman peninsula of Cotantin.
Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, the sanctuary witnesses the largest tides in Europe and enchants its three million visitors a year with its fairy-tale panorama, the beauty of the natural landscape and the charm of the surrounding medieval village.
According to legend, the sanctuary of Mont-Saint-Michel was built on the spot where the Archangel Michael appeared in a dream to the Bishop of Avranches. Subsequently, a small community of Benedictine monks was founded and, at the same time, a village began to develop at the foot of the sanctuary to accommodate the first pilgrims.
Over the course of time, the abbey was enlarged in several stages to create a true architectural feat: four crypts, two three-storey buildings, the cloister and the monks’ refectory, in a small and limited space. Only at the time of the Hundred Years’ War was the island protected by military fortifications, which enabled it to withstand a siege of almost 30 years.
After the French Revolution, the monks had to abandon the abbey, which became a state prison. The tides and shifting sands made any escape from this Bastille des Mers, or Bastille of the Sea, which held 14,000 prisoners until 1863, impossible.
The Benedictine abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel is a jewel of religious and military architecture from medieval times. The structure has undergone many changes over the centuries due to fires, collapses and modernisation.
The visit, which follows an obligatory itinerary, allows you to admire almost all of the sanctuary’s rooms: its enchanting courtyards, the cloister immersed in silence, the abbey church, the refectory, the interior gardens, the scriptorium, all the way to the oldest part, the Romanesque crypts .
Not to be missed are the monks’ dwellings, built in the Norman Gothic style, and the churchyard, also known as the Terrace of the West, from where the best views are enjoyed during the tides.
A visit in summer is wonderful, when the abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel is cloaked in magic, with a night-time tour enhanced by sounds and lights.
The abbey is open all year round, except on 1 January, 1 May and 25 December. Opening times vary according to the season.
It is possible to visit the sanctuary on one’s own, or to take advantage of the help of an audio-guide or to participate in a guided tour.
Tickets cost 11 euro for adults, while admission is free for children under the age of 26 who are residents of the European Union. The price does not include the guide or the visit with audio-guide.
Only in July and August it is also possible to take part in a night tour at the end of which an impressive sound and light show is staged, highly recommended!
The small village, a wonderful example of medieval architecture, spreads out at the foot of the sanctuary and is still inhabited today: it is a village in its own right, with its town hall, parish church and cemetery. Perched and built around the abbey, it offers visitors enchanting glimpses into the picturesque alleyways and incredible views of the bay surrounding the island.
A visit to the village starts from the Grand Rue, the main street, protected by three gates in quick succession: the Porte de l’Avancée, a picturesque passage, the Porte du Boulevard, which is opposite the drawbridge, and the Porte du Roy. From here, one ascends towards the abbey through the village, which has preserved its medieval shops and signs, up an impassable staircase of no less than 350 steps.
Unfortunately, during the day, especially in summer, the village is taken by storm by tourists, who crowd along the narrow alleys and flock to the souvenir shops.
Within the village, there are some interesting museums to understand the life and history of Mont-Saint-Michel: the Musée Historique, tells 1300 years of history with the help of a rich collection of ancient objects; the Musée Maritime, will introduce you to every secret of the tidal phenomenon and also houses a large collection of 250 ship models while the Archéoscope is a multimedia show that traces the history of this unique place.
Venelle du Guet is the smallest street in Mont-Saint-Michel, nicknamed Ruelle des cocus. It is so narrow that only one person can pass through at a time. To find it, you must take the Grande Rue and turn left in front of the Hotel La Croix Blanche.
This scenic tower, built around 1524, protects the west side of the island. Over time, it has had various functions including a mill and especially a lighthouse, an indispensable aid for directing boats entering the Couesnon.
A small door to its right provides access to the old wharf: you can still see the rings where boats used to dock, bearing witness to maritime activity in the past.
To survive the Hundred Years’ War, the island of Mont-Saint-Michel was equipped with fortified ramparts, which gave this incredible place its reputation as an impregnable fortress.
The walls are connected by seven towers, which communicate with each other thanks to a walkway open to the public. Don’t miss the tour of the walls up to the North Tower, one of the best spots to observe the power of the tides. Moreover, the ramparts offer magnificent views of the village below, the boundless bay and the abbey.
Mont-Saint Michel is famous not only for its abbey and medieval village, but also for the incredible spectacle of the tides, which can be observed at certain times of the day.
In fact, the bay of Mont-Saint-Michel is the scene of the largest tides in Europe: at low tide, the sea recedes about 25 metres while 12 hours later, it returns with great speed with a wave almost half a metre high. In ancient times, the sanctuary’s isolation in the middle of the sea made it virtually impregnable: at high tide, the village was completely surrounded by water, while at low tide, the bay became treacherous and dangerous due to the presence of quicksand.
A few years ago, the tides of Mont-Saint-Michel were about to disappear completely, due to the accumulation of debris from the nearby Couesnon river estuary. The island was in danger of silting up and being surrounded by salt meadows, thus losing its unique character. For this reason, a major redevelopment project was initiated, which in 10 years led to the restoration of the natural environment and the normal tidal cycle.
A new bridge-passerelle has been built to allow the water to circulate freely, without hindering the tidal phenomenon: when the tide rises, the water reclaims the landscape and the island regains its maritime character.
The tides of Mont-Saint-Michel can be observed all year round, but there are certain days that are best suited to admire this spectacular natural phenomenon.
These particular moments are called the days of the Great Tides: if you are lucky enough to visit the sanctuary during these periods, you will see spectacular tides, with a coefficient of over 100. This means that the sea comes to completely surround Mont-Saint-Michel, which becomes an island in its own right. When the phenomenon is at its highest, even the new footbridge is completely submerged, isolating the village for several hours.
In general, the most impressive tides are those occurring 36/48 hours after the full and new moons. In fact, the natural spectacle is determined by the action of the moon, which causes the movement of the oceans. These indications are only indicative and can be influenced by various conditions. To plan your visit, you can consult the Mont-Saint-Michel Tides Calendar, where precise days and times are indicated.
To observe this phenomenon, we recommend that you arrive at Mont-Saint-Michel at least 2 hours before high tide.
The best vantage points inside the island are the walls of the village of Mont-Saint-Michel and the West Terrace, located on the Abbey parvis.
The most scenic views outside the island can be found at certain lookout points such as Roche Torin in Courtils, Grouin du Sud in Vains-Saint-Léonard or Gué de l’Epine in Val-Saint-Père. From here you can admire the island completely surrounded by the sea in all its splendour.
Despite its small size, Mont-Saint-Michel boasts some incredible experiences that are unique in Europe.
During the day, Mont-Saint-Michel is stormed by hordes of tourists who descend in droves from buses and crowd along the main street. The charm of the place is definitely compromised. However, when the village empties out at nightfall, everything changes.
Those who decide to stay overnight in Mont-Saint-Michel can see the alleys of the village relive their medieval magic and take part in nocturnal tours of the abbey . At night, the sanctuary is cloaked in an authentic charm that seems to re-emerge directly from the Middle Ages, a charm that is heightened by concerts, Gregorian chants and sacred music played by young minstrels in the most beautiful corners of the complex, which is lit up by torches and braziers in summer.
The rising of the high tide at sunset seen in total solitude is an incredible experience: you will hear the sound of the rising water, the thud against the rocks, the screeching of the birds as they soar overhead and you can admire the incredible colours of the sun as it descends over the bay. In summer, by prior arrangement, you can enjoy the unique experience of a guided night crossing of the bay: departure in the late afternoon, photo shoot at sunset, and return in the evening, with the illuminated mountain in the background.
Once, in the Middle Ages, crowds of pilgrims travelled to the sanctuary of Mont-Saint-Michel and walked across the bay to the island.
Many visitors are tempted to hike and stroll along the endless expanses surrounding the abbey: great care must be taken both with the rushing tide, which can catch you unawares (there are signs and pamphlets with tide times) and the quicksand that ensnares unwary pedestrians.
Since the bay of Mont-Saint-Michel is the scene of the largest tides in Europe, it is strongly recommended to be accompanied by a guide at all times. The presence of shifting sands makes it impractical and dangerous to do this on your own. Even today, the crossing is done barefoot and is an absolutely unique experience: you will experience an incredible sensation of contact with nature and the surrounding environment
There are many different types of excursions: on foot, on horseback, at sunset, even a quicksand experience. They can be done barefoot or with neoprene shoes and you need to set off well equipped and with the right clothing.
A true gastronomic speciality of Mont-Saint-Michel are the lambs prés salés, or lambs raised on the pastures of the bay.
The meat of these animals is particularly delicious and renowned for its unique flavour, which has earned it the AOC label. Indeed, the lambs of the bay feed on ‘salted’ grass, which grows on brackish meadows, irrigated with sea water rich in salt and minerals. As a result, the meat is already tasty and naturally enriched with an unmistakable flavour.
We would like to warn you that the village of Mont-Saint-Michel is not the best place to taste lamb pres salés: restaurants are very expensive and of poor quality. Better to choose a good place in neighbouring villages, which are certainly more authentic and where you will pay much less for this renowned dish.
If you have time to spare and want to take a scenic walk over the bay and Mont-Saint-Michel, there are several routes from the car park that will take you to the entrance in 50 minutes.
The East Edge route offers a breathtaking view of the bay: it is completely pedestrianised, accessible to all and winds through a bucolic, wooded setting.
The western route leads to the bay along the banks of the Couesnon, observing the new Mont-Saint-Michel dam, an element that was crucial in restoring the maritime character of Mont-Saint-Michel, interesting both for its hydraulic function and its architecture.
The central Mont-Saint-Michel route is the least scenic: it passes through the Mont-Saint-Michel locality (formerly Caserne), where there are restaurants, accommodation and a supermarket.
The same route can also be covered by the Maringote, a horse-drawn shuttle that will take you to the entrance of the village in about 25 minutes.
Sleeping in the village of Mont-Saint-Michel has several disadvantages: it is very expensive, the variety of accommodation is limited and you need to book well in advance in the high season months. In addition, the restaurants in the village are few and far between, decidedly touristy, extremely expensive and do not even offer excellent quality cuisine.
The advantages, on the other hand, are those of having the village all to yourself, of enjoying the silence of the narrow alleys, of being able to admire the panorama and the landscape in total solitude: only in the evening does the ancient charm of the village re-emerge, when the throngs of tourists have already returned to the car park.
The lucky ones who have chosen to sleep inside Mont-Saint-Michel will have the chance to go back in time and experience the spirit of the place in harmony. During the evening, the alleys of the village relive the medieval magic and exclusive night tours of the abbey are organised.
The most economical alternative and one that guarantees a variety of different solutions, from charming hotels to B&Bs in the middle of nature, is to stay in the surroundings of Mont-Saint-Michel or to stay in nearby Saint Malo, where you will also find a lively evening life.
Since the new dam was inaugurated in 2015, access to Mont-Saint-Michel has drastically changed and there are several options for reaching the island.
Most tourists arrive in Mont-Saint-Michel by car or camper van.
Those who land at Paris Orly Airport and Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport and want to travel to Normandy to visit Mont-Saint-Michel will have to take the A13 motorway towards Caen and then the A84 towards Avranches Rennes (337 km). Or, if arriving via the Loire Valley, you must take the A11 motorway towards Le Mans, follow the A81 towards Fougères and finally the A84 towards Caen.
If, on the other hand, you are arriving from Nantes, you must take the A84 motorway towards Rennes Avranches Caen (188 km).
Once you are near Mont-Saint-Michel, you must leave your car in the large car parks numbered P2 to P13.
Prices vary according to the type of vehicle and include the free Passeur shuttle, which will drop you off 400 metres from the main entrance in about 12 minutes. The shuttle leaves from the terminal located next to the Tourist Information Centre, right next to the car park: the service runs non-stop from 8.30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For those who have decided to travel by train, the nearest railway station to Mont-Saint-Michel is in Pontorson, which is about 9 km away.
There are several route options, depending on the place of departure:
If arriving by train from Paris, buses from Pontorson, which is 9 km away, have two stops in Mont-Saint-Michel: the first in the village of Le Mont Saint-Michel, first called La Caserne and then the terminus just 350 m before entering the village of Mont-Saint-Michel.
From Rennes railway station, Kéolis buses run daily to the shuttle parking area.
On the other hand, the Normand NOMAD bus line 8 connects the Mont-Saint-Michel car parks with Granville and Avranches.
If you are in Paris but don’t want to miss the excitement of seeing Mont-Saint-Michel, the most convenient solution might be to join a bus tour.
What's the weather at Mont-Saint-Michel? Below are the temperatures and the weather forecast at Mont-Saint-Michel for the next few days.
Mont Saint Michel is a small island located on the northern coast of France, at the mouth of the Couesnon River: it lies on the border between Normandy and Brittany.