Mont Saint Michel - Know before you go

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Posted: April 23, 2023 | Last Update: 25. Apr 2023

Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy - a must-see iconic place in France

Mont Saint Michel, Normandy, France

The 'holy island' and 'Wonder of the West' of Mont-Saint-Michel is a tidal island topped by the abbey 'Abbaye du Mont-Saint-Michel'. It is one of Europe's main pilgrimage destinations, tourist attractions and has been named UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Rena at Mont Saint Michel France

I remember my first time visiting as a child in the early 90s - back then, the Mont was accessible only during low tide. As we were going to Normandie for a wedding this summer, I felt the need to reconnect with this childhood memory and compare them to today's reality. Read on to find out what has changed:

Admission fees: How much does it cost to visit Mont Saint-Michel?

Access to the island of Mont Saint-Michel, as well as the shuttle bus and the general area around the village on the island is free!

However, there are some costs (prices as of 2023):
1. Parking: 15€ per day in high season / 10€ in low season
2. Horse-carriage: 7€ per person
3. Admission to the abbey:
- 11€ per adult over 25 years
- Free for French residents and EU citizens under the age of 25, otherwise:
- 8€ for 18-25 year olds
- free for all under 18

Getting to Mont St Michel

The Mont's connection to the mainland has changed over time. Originally, from the late 1800s until very recently, it used to be a tidal causeway. A lot has happened there in the last 30-ish years in terms of accessibility: a €200 million project in the early 2000s saw the island finally permanently connected to the mainland via hydraulic dam and bridge which opened in 2014.

Getting to Mont Saint-Michel

Getting to Mont Saint-Michel by car

Arriving by car, you will need to park your vehicle at the tourist info's main parking lot (24h fee is 15€ in high season and just under 10€ during low season). You can then choose to get to Mont Saint Michel either on the free shuttle bus, on foot or pay an extra fee of around 7€ one way to use the 'Maringote' (horse-drawn carriage).

We took the shuttle bus. Here is a video of the drive over the causeway:

But what if you'd love to visit Mont Saint-Michel but find yourself in a bit of a pickle because you don't have a car or you are staying in Paris rather than locally?
Don't worry, I've got all the information you need to get there anyway :)

Getting to Mont Saint-Michel by public transport (bus / train)

When using public transport, the closest bus station to Mont Saint-Michel is Pontorson, which also happens to be the last village before the Mont.
You can get there e.g. from Caen.
If you are based in Paris, it will however be a rather long train journey (at least 4.5 hours).

Paris to Mont Saint-Michel

Visiting Mont Saint-Michel from Paris

France is not a small country and therefore distances can be long.
Mont Saint-Michel is over 220miles / 360km from Paris, which makes it at least a 4 hours drive by car (and that is if you are lucky and don't get stuck in traffic).
Equally, the fastest public transport connection between Paris and Mont Saint-Michel is 4.5 hours one way.

Therefore, if you really want to do a return-trip in one day, we strongly recommend booking a 'Day Tour from Paris' *, so you can relax during the drive and are well rested and ready to jump into the adventure of exploring Mont Saint-Michel once you arrive.

Should I do a day trip to Mont Saint-Michel or stay overnight?

In my opinion, that very much depends on how you travel. Do you have a car and are you staying locally (i.e. within a 1-2 hours drive max)? In that case, you can do a self-guided day trip.

We decided to stay local, arriving on the night before our visit, in order to get the maximum out of the next day.

Staying at Mont Saint-Michel: hotels and more

Hotels around Mont Saint-Michel are very likely to book out fast, especially if you are going during high season, so I recommend reserving your room as soon as you start planning your trip. Here is a great overview of all hotels in the surrounding area!*

If you are looking to stay in the area for a bit longer (after all, there are many places to explore, like e.g St. Malo), maybe a vacation rental * is a better option for you?

*affiliate Link

Mont Saint-Michel, Normandie, France - everything you need to know about France's most iconic destination

Explained! What is Mont Saint-Michel?

What is Mont Saint-Michel famous for?

So, what is the reason for all the hype around Mont Saint-Michel?
Aside from its geographic uniqueness (see below), it is famous for its stunning medieval monastery and abbey, which is perched on top of a rocky peak at the island's highest point.
Each year, millions of tourists flock to the Mont to admire its beauty.

UNESCO World Heritage Site and 'Wonder of the West'

Mont Saint-Michel has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979.

Here is what UNESCO says about it: "Perched on a rocky islet in the midst of vast sandbanks exposed to powerful tides between Normandy and Brittany stand the 'Wonder of the West', a Gothic-style Benedictine abbey dedicated to the archangel St Michael, and the village that grew up in the shadow of its great walls. Built between the 11th and 16th centuries, the abbey is a technical and artistic tour de force, having had to adapt to the problems posed by this unique natural site."
(Read the whole UNESCO listing here)

The unique geography of Mont Saint-Michel

Situated on the French Atlantic coast of Normandie, Mont Saint-Michel is a tidal island that lies one kilometre (0.6 miles) off the Norman coast in north-western France.

What is a tidal island?

Simply put, it means that Mont Saint-Michel is connected to the mainland during low tide but becomes completely isolated and surrounded by water during high tide, caused by the rise and fall of tides in the surrounding sea.
So a few times a day, the dramatic tides rolling in and out from the Atlantic Ocean transform Mont Saint-Michel from a peninsula to an island.

Did you know? The tides at Mont Saint-Michel are among the strongest in the world and can rise as much as 14m (46ft).

High Tide and Low Tide at Mont Saint-Michel, France

Why was it built in the water?

Mont Saint-Michel was built on a tidal island, a mere rocky outcrop in the water. The location made for a strategic choice, as it was easy to defend against attacks by either land or sea. One could say the island is an ideal fortress, as the surrounding mudflats and quicksands were treacherous for any army attempting to attack by land, while low tide also meant it could not be invaded by raiding Vikings approaching by sea.

Things to do on Mont Saint-Michel

Explore the Village on Mont Saint-Michel

Once you enter through the city walls, you will feel like you just travelled back to the medieval times with all crooked half timbered houses, steep narrow alleys and quaint little shops. Or at least you might be reminded of Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter franchise.

Village on Mont Saint Michel, France

The place is absolutely packed with tourists!
Granted, we were there on a hot and sunny Sunday in July, which is the absolute prime time for vacation makers and weekend tourists alike to be flocking to this amazing place.
However, it did feel like we were walking through a very crowded theme park (more specifically I was very much reminded of the film set of 'Diagon Alley' in Harry Potter), rather than a pilgrimage site.

Visit the abbey 'Abbaye de Mont Saint-Michel'

The abbey on Mont Saint-Michel must not be missed!
The abbey perches on top of the island and in order to get there you have to climb some 350-ish steps. But worry not, they wind through the entire medieval village and offer magical views over the bay, onto the picturesque buildings, quaint shops and hidden gardens.
Once you arrive at the top, you get in line for a ticket, unless you have booked a 'skip the line' tour*.
When we visited, there was a short line, but the waiting time was very pleasant as there was a group of girl scouts singing, which was a joy to watch.

Inside, the marvels await and I promise you won't be disappointed! One of the main attractions of the Abbaye du Mont Saint Michel is the abbey church, which is a stunning example of Gothic architecture. The church features soaring arches, intricate stone carvings, and beautiful stained glass windows.
The abbey's courtyard offers absolutely breathtaking views of the island below and the ocean beyond.

(*affiliate Link)

abbey Abbaye de Mont Saint-Michel, France

Travel to France

Tour recommendations including Mont Saint-Michel
If you are like us and love to discover the full package of a destination's rich culture, architecture and food and satisfy your wanderlust at the same time, we strongly recommend booking a vacation with TourRadar's trips with 'Mont Saint Michel' on the itinerary. They also include in-depth cultural, explorer and bicycle packages as well as river cruises, where you get to immerse yourself in local customs, explore hidden gems, and create unforgettable memories that will last a lifetime. You can use this link* to find more inspiration or book now and let the adventure begin!
*affiliate link

Mont Saint-Michel in movies and art

Given its unique architecture and location, the iconic Mont Saint-Michel has been an inspiration to many artists, writers and film-makers.

Mont Saint-Michel as filming location

You can see the Mont Saint-Michel in popular films such as 'Armageddon' or 'The Wonder', but the list of movies that used it as a filming location is actually much longer. Take a look at the whole list.

Mont Saint-Michel as inspiration for fictional locations

I am sure you already noticed the stark resemblance of Mont Saint-Michel to 'Minas Tirith', the capital city of Gondor, in J.R.R. Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings' books and Peter Jackson's movies.

Hogwarts, the school of witchcraft and wizardry in J. K. Rowling's 'Harry Potter' franchise, too, was inspired by the Mont.

Disney lovers will probably have realised that the kingdom castle of Corona in 'Tangled' very much looks like Mont Saint-Michel, too.

And even video game creators love incorporating Mont Saint-Michel's unique architecture into their worlds, such as Bevelle in 'Final Fantasy X', Alexandria in 'Final Fantasy IX' or 'Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance'.

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