How to visit Mont Saint Michel

The castle church on an island in the bay is one of the most stunning sights you’ll find in France.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


How to visit Mont Saint Michel

It's easy to see why Mont Saint Michel is so captivating, with the imposing church rising up like a fortress at the top of a hill surrounded by water.

But there's much more here than just the abbey - so, whether you're about to stay overnight or you're just visiting Mont Saint Michel as a day trip, here are all my tips to make the most from your time here.

As the legend goes, the Archangel Michael appeared to the Bishop of Avranches, Aubert, in the 8th century and told him to build a church in his honour.

Bishop Aubert ignored him, so Saint Michael asked him again, and again he was ignored. This continued until the Archangel burnt a hole in the bishop’s skull with his finger, and Aubert agreed to build the church.

Visiting Mont Saint Michel, France

It seems quite mean to burn a hole in someone’s skull just because they won’t do you a favour.

But, then again, when you look at Mont Saint Michel today, it’s hard to imagine France without it, so I’m kind of glad that Archangel Michael was a bit heavy-handed (so to speak).

Visiting Mont Saint Michel, France

Mont Saint Michel really is a symbol of France, up there with places like the Eiffel Tower and the Palace of Versailles. The castle church rises up the side of the mountain island, the water surrounding it at high tide, reflecting on the surface. It is a stunning vista, no doubt.

But it’s not until you visit Mont Saint Michel that you look at the details of the island and the surrounding region and realise the depth of what is here.

If you would like to visit Mont Saint Michel from Paris, then I would recommend this excellent guided day trip that organises everything for you,

There is Mont Saint Michel Abbey itself, the jewel in the crown. It stands at the top of the mountain and is an enormous complex of stunning rooms that have evolved over hundreds of years from the first sanctuary built here in the 8th century.

It takes hours to explore it properly and appreciate the different phases of its construction that have merged religious devotion with fortifications and more utilitarian uses.

Visiting Mont Saint Michel, France

Beneath the abbey is the island town of Mont Saint Michel, the quaint collection of buildings full of little discoveries (although you need to navigate your way through the crowds and the tacky tourist offerings).

Visiting Mont Saint Michel, France

Then, surrounding the island, is the Bay of Mont Saint Michel. This is more than just the water that flows in at high tide and creates the island. It’s easy to forget that there is a whole ecosystem here in the sand and the marshes by the shore, and it’s worth exploring on its own.

And there’s the mainland as well, with a large part of the Mont Saint Michel town, with hotels and restaurants and transport links. It has its own charm and is not simply a community to pass through.

I end up spending a couple of nights here – probably longer than the average visitor – but even that seems too short and I’m not quite ready to leave.

Because as soon as you start looking at Mont Saint Michel as more than just a single tourist site, you realise that there is a whole landscape to explore.

Visiting Mont Saint Michel, France

What makes it particularly special, is the way everything changes throughout the day. As the sun moves from one side of the sky to the other, the light shifts dramatically and the morning Mont St Michel looks very different to the evening Mont St Michel.

And the change in the tides also has a huge effect, with the exposed sand of the bay at low tide creating a very different effect to the water of the high tide.

Visiting Mont Saint Michel, France

On top of all of this are the details that only show themselves when you give yourself the time to discover them.

The tidal wave that comes in just twice a day as a prelude to the water rising; the views from the top of the abbey that you can access with certain special tours; the local specialities in the town’s restaurants; the quicksand in the bay; the perfect spot for an unusual photo.

These are the real treasures when you visit Mont Saint Michel.

History of Mont Saint Michel

Before I run through the details of what to do at Mont Saint Michel, let’s have a quick look at how it’s ended up like it is today.

Before a single brick was laid here, the site of Mont Saint Michel was a rugged granite outcrop that rose up from the water in the bay.

It was in 708 AD that the first sanctuary was built here. The legend, as I’ve mentioned, is that the Archangel Michael appeared in a dream and told the Bishop of Avranches to do it.

It took a few generations for the sanctuary to grow, but by the 10th century, there was a Benedictine community here that constructed the first substantial church.

Pilgrims had also started to come, and so a village appeared at the foot of the mountain to cater to them.

Visiting Mont Saint Michel, France

From the beginning of the 13th century, construction began on the most impressive part of Mont St Michel – the Merveille. Spread over three levels, this huge Gothic structure is a masterpiece that is still one of the main focuses today.

Then, over the following centuries, the church buildings atop the mountain gradually grew and were renovated in different forms, until the final shape that has become so iconic.

Visiting Mont Saint Michel, France

With the Reformation in the 16th century, the religious buildings here had lost their prestige in the public eye and there weren’t many monks living here by the time the French Revolution began in 1789. The abbey was closed and converted into a prison.

Eventually the prison was closed in 1863, and there was a huge restoration project from the end of the 19th century that brought it back to glory and allows us to see it in such a stunning state today.

Things to do in Mont St Michel

Mont Saint Michel has long been an important pilgrimage destination and that has not changed today. There are still groups that make a religious pilgrimage to the island – but the tourists, making a different sort of pilgrimage, vastly outnumber them.

But the tourists tend to arrive mid-morning on day trips from Paris and focus just on the main parts of the island. With some clever planning, you can avoid the peak times each day and have a more relaxed experience.

The Abbey of Mont Saint Michel

The Mont Saint Michel Abbey is the most important part of the site and is the highlight of a visit. You reach it by walking up one of the paths from the entrance gate at the bottom of the island.

You really can’t miss it – in either sense! You’ll easily spot it at the top, and don’t even think about not going inside!

You’ll save time by being able to use the shorter queue when you arrive if you buy your entrance ticket in advance here.

As I mentioned, the first sanctuary was founded here in the 8th century but it wasn’t until a Romanesque church was built around the end of the 11th century that the site began to take on its current form.

Visiting Mont Saint Michel, France

Over the years, there were more expansions, with some ramparts in the 13th century but most of them appeared in the 15th century, for example. The last addition was the spire at the end of the 19th century.

On your visit to the Mont Saint Michel Abbey, you’ll see how the different stages blend together, and how there is a wide variety of styles within the complex.

Visiting Mont Saint Michel, France

There are the terraces with magnificent views stretching across the bay. There are the fortifications that give the abbey the feeling of a castle in parts. And there are the dungeon-like rooms in the heart of the mountain that transport you back to the Middle Ages.

The main church of the abbey is an impressive space, decorated in a flamboyant Gothic style. On one side, a statue of the Archangel Michael looks out across the church, presumably pleased that his skull burning led to something so beautiful.

Visiting Mont Saint Michel, France

From the church, you can go through to the structure known as the Merveille (which means ‘marvel’ in English). The construction lives up to the name because this really is a masterpiece.

On the top level are the refectory and the cloisters, with their bright symmetry and detailed design, so dainty in appearance. One level down is the cavernous dining hall with imposing fireplaces.

Visiting Mont Saint Michel, France

It really serves to take your time as you walk through the abbey and explore the different areas. There’s much more to see than I can tell you about here, and I would recommend getting an audioguide or taking one of the free guided tours so you appreciate it all.

Visiting Mont Saint Michel, France

There are also some special guided tours that you can do for an extra cost. These will take you to areas that are not normally accessible.

One of these tours, called ‘In the Sky of the Archangel’ goes higher up the abbey, on the roof of the church above the choir, from where you can look down at the complex and see the stunning architecture from a different angle, perhaps the way that it would look from the heavens.

It’s only available on the weekends and fills up quickly, so have a look here at availability. If you have the opportunity, it is certainly a very special experience.

Mont Saint Michel island

The town beneath the abbey on the island of Mont St Michel is quite small – the official population is only about 50 people and most buildings are used as hotels, shops and restaurants.

While it’s interesting to wander the main street that winds up the hill and explore some of the little side alleys, there is not too much heritage value here. It’s more interesting for shopping and eating.

Visiting Mont Saint Michel, France

It is worth having a look at the small Church of St Peter, which is about halfway up the main street. It is from the 15th century and, although it’s dedicated to the patron saint of fishermen, Saint Peter, there is a statue of Saint Michael slaying the dragon – a reference to its famous location.

If you stay overnight in Mont Saint Michel, I would suggest going for a walk in the town early in the morning before the crowds arrive – it’s a very different experience compared to later in the day!

Mont Saint Michel Bay Crossing

Looking out from the island, your view will be dominated by the impressive bay, which may be covered in water or sand, depending on the times of the tide the day you visit Mont Saint Michel.

The bay is not just for looking, though. It is also for walking because it has been part of the route for pilgrims for centuries. You can experience some of this yourself with a ‘Bay Crossing’.

Visiting Mont Saint Michel, France

There is nothing stopping you from walking out on the sand by yourself during low tide but the advice is that you shouldn’t go too far on your own. The tides do come in quickly and it’s possible to get trapped. There are also patches of quicksand and other dangers to look out for.

A better option is to go on one of the guided tours of the bay crossing that are taken by the Chemins de la Baie organisation. There are a few options but I enjoy the one I do, where we walk from the Mont Saint Michel island, across to Tombelaine island.

Visiting Mont Saint Michel, France

The island is small but has its own history. It was home to two monks in the 11th century and, during the Hundred Years War, had fortifications built on it as a military base.

The group is mainly French speakers and the guide, Bertrand, speaks to them in French.

Then he walks alongside me and explains in English what he has been saying about the history, nature, and the unique ecosystem of this tidal basin.

Walk from Mont Saint Michel town

Many visitors skip the mainland town of Mont Saint Michel, just getting the shuttle bus straight from the car park to the island and back again. But it’s a pleasant area that you don’t need to ignore.

You’re more likely to spend some time here if you’re staying overnight because this is where the most comfortable and convenient hotels are – and also where you’ll find reasonably-priced restaurants. There are particularly good meal deals at lunch.

But the reason I want to mention the town is not because it has the best sights within it, but because I would recommend using it as your base for walking to the island. Rather than get the shuttle bus, there are wonderful paths that go through the town – along the river, in the woods, or along the main street – and onto the bridge to the island.

Visiting Mont Saint Michel, France

This bridge is relatively new, opening in 2014, and was part of a grand project to “make Mont St Michel an island again”. Previously there was a causeway that meant the water couldn’t go all the way around.

I love walking across the bridge – there are such beautiful views of the island and the bay as you make your way across. And between the town and the start of the bridge, there are some great vantage points for photos that you can access.

I would recommend leaving yourself enough time to walk, stop, photograph, and detour a little. It’s not hard to get away from the hordes of tourists and explore the marshes a bit. Particularly as the tide is coming in, or the sun is setting, there are some magical views to be found!

Best Mont Saint Michel tours from Paris

If you can, I certainly recommend spending the night at Mont Saint Michel. It means you won’t feel in a rush to visit everything, you can see the mount in all different lights, and you’ll have time to do more than the average day-tripper.

But, having said that, I understand that not everyone has the luxury of being able to dedicate a couple of days to just one attraction during their trip to France.

If you just have one day, then a day trip to Mont Saint Michel from Paris is still an excellent option.

Visiting Mont Saint Michel, France

Most of the Mont Saint Michel day trips are quite similar. They start at around 7:00 at either a meeting place in Paris or with a hotel pick-up, then you’ll be driven by bus to Mont Saint Michel, which takes up to four hours, depending on traffic.

You’ll usually then get a bit of a tour around the island to get your bearings and then a visit inside the abbey – which could be on your own, with a guide, or with an audio guide.

There’ll then probably be a few hours to explore the village, get some lunch, walk around any of the natural areas, and do anything else you would like to – remember there are plenty of things to do at Mont Saint Michel, as I’ve just discussed!

Then it’s time to drive back to Paris for another 3.5 or 4 hours.

Visiting Mont Saint Michel, France

If you’re keen to do a guided day trip, I would recommend this tour to Mont Saint Michel from Paris, which normally has a great guide.

Or, there are a few other options here, including a private trip:

A Mont Saint Michel tour from Paris is a long day and you’ll spend most of it sitting on the bus, but if this is your only chance to see this masterpiece, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Visiting Mont Saint Michel

If you’re coming to Mont Saint Michel independently, there are some logistics that are fairly straightforward but are worth planning for.

From Paris to Mont St Michel by car

Mont Saint Michel is about 350 kilometres away from Paris and it’s a fairly simple drive, if you have a car. The best route to take is via Caen and it should take you about four hours.

If you are driving, I would recommend stopping at the Museum of the Manuscripts of Mont Saint Michel in Avranches on the way to (or on the way back).

When you arrive, the closest you can get in your car is about three kilometres from the island. There’s a large parking lot where you can leave the car (€9 a day in low season and €14 a day in high season).

From the car park, you can get the free bus shuttle to the island, or it’s about a 30-minute walk. (Be warned, there can be long queues for the bus at the peak times of the day.)

From Paris to Mont St Michel by public transport

If you’re coming from Paris to Mont St Michel by public transport, the best option is to catch the train to Rennes and then get the bus from the Rennes train station to Mont St Michel town.

There are quite a few TGV trains each day between Paris Montparnasse and Rennes, which can be as fast as 90 minutes. There are four buses from Rennes each day, that are timed to meet particular TGV trains. You can see the schedule here.

The bus will drop you at the Mont Saint Michel car park and from there you can catch the free bus shuttle to the island, or it’s about a 30-minute walk.

Visiting Mont Saint Michel, France

When you’re coming back to catch the bus for your return from Mont Saint Michel to Paris, leave yourself enough time to wait in the queue for the shuttle bus (or be prepared to walk, to guarantee how long it will take).

Exploring the Mont Saint Michel area

The general area around Mont Saint Michel is open all the time, in the same way that any town or natural bay would be. So, early in the morning or after dark, you can wander around and explore the region.

In fact, seeing as many tourists come just for a day trip, I think morning is the best time to see the streets of the island town. And sunrise and sunset are the most beautiful times of the day to get views of the island with the bay and surrounding natural areas.

Visiting Mont Saint Michel, France

It is free to visit the general Mont Saint Michel area, including the town on the island. The shuttle bus that runs between the main parking lot and the island is also free.

You’ll find that the village on the island is very quiet after the day-trippers leave, though. There’s a bit more going on in the town, where there’s more accommodation and restaurants for dinner.

Visiting the Abbey of Mont Saint Michel

As I’ve discussed – and as is probably pretty obvious – it’s the abbey at the top of the mount that is the highlight.

I would recommend buying your ticket in advance here, because that will let you use a shorter entrance line, which is great in busy periods.

Once you’re at the Abbey ticket office, you can choose to buy an audioguide or join a guided tour.

A few other things worth knowing:

  • You can’t take suitcases or large bags and there is no luggage storage.
  • There are steps throughout the monument and much of it is not easily accessible for wheelchairs.
  • There are some adapted tours that can be offered for visitors with disabilities.
  • There are toilets at the beginning and in the middle of the tour.
  • Smoking and eating are not permitted anywhere in the monument.

The abbey does get busy in the middle of the day when many of the day tours arrive. So, if you’re staying overnight, consider visiting first thing in the morning or later in the afternoon.

How do you get to the Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel?

You’ll need to walk from the bottom of the hill up to the abbey and there is no other mode of transportation. If you can walk quickly uphill, it will take about 15 minutes through the crowds.

When is the Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel open?

From September to April, it’s open every day from 09:30 – 18:00.
From May to August, it’s open every day from 09:00 – 19:00.

What is the Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel entrance fee?

Admission to the abbey is €13 for a standard ticket.
It is free for children under 18 and EU residents aged between 18-25.

You can see more information at the abbey’s official website.

Where to stay at Mont St Michel

When it comes to accommodation at Mont St Michel, there are three locations to consider. Do you want to stay on the island itself, in the mainland town, or in a different nearby town?

The benefit of the island is that you are staying in the heart of the site, surrounded by history, with a unique experience. However, the accommodation here is expensive and many of the rooms are actually quite small because of the limited space.

Still, the best hotels in Mont Saint Michel island are Auberge Saint Pierre, or Les Terrasses Poulard, or La Vieille Auberge.

In the mainland Mont St Michel town, you’ll find some excellent hotels that are modern and comfortable. I would recommend the Mercure Mont Saint Michel, or Le Relais Du Roy, or Hotel Gabriel.

Just a little bit further away is the town of Beauvoir, where you can still easily access Mont Saint Michel but you’ll get much cheaper prices for accommodation.

If you don’t mind a 20-minute walk to the bus station, I would recommend Résidence Fleurdumont. which has apartments that can fit different sizes of groups.


You’ll get quite different experiences (and value) depending on how close you stay to the Mont St Michel abbey itself.


In the nearby town of Beauvoir, Résidence Fleurdumont has great value apartments of various sizes.


Really clean and comfortable, the Mercure Mont Saint Michel is an excellent modern four-star hotel.


You pay a lot to stay at one of the hotels on the mount itself, so I think Les Terrasses Poulard is the best mix of value and quality.


A few kilometres from the main sight, Ermitage is a relaxing country chateau with beautiful rooms and excellent service.

Time Travel Turtle was supported by UNESCO as part of the World Heritage Journeys of Europe but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.


This site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
I'm on a mission to visit as many World Heritage Sites as I can. Only about 800 more to go... eek!

16 thoughts on “How to visit Mont Saint Michel”

  1. wow, it looks very beautiful and feel of royalty. You are lucky that you went and enjoyed the heritage tour. I also would go once, if ever get a chance to visit mont saint.

    Thanks for sharing such informative article.

  2. I read about MSM as a child and visited three years ago. Such a wonderful place. Every corner I turned and step I took I felt history. I have yet to stay overnight but look forward to doing so in the future.

  3. “There are also some special guided tours that you can do for an extra cost. These will take you to areas that are not normally accessible.”
    Hi! Can you provide a link or info as to how to book one of the special guided tours?
    I’m visiting September 2023 and would love to do this!

    • Hi Jeanne. Unfortunately it looks like those tours are not being offered right now (I’ve updated the story to reflect that). It’s a shame – but hopefully they’ll be back soon, and I’ll let you know if it’s before September.

  4. I am there in sept as well wondering about other tours as well? Also how late do the shuttles run I have found wandering around after the crowds have left can be magical.

    • Hi Bec. It looks like those tours are not being offered at the moment, I’m sorry. (I’ve updated the story to reflect that now). I’ll be getting more info from the abbey about when/if they will restart and will let you know if it’s before you’re heading there.

  5. Please tell me of a reputable private overnight tour for my husband and I from Paris to MSM that would include transportation to and from as well as overnight stay. We will be traveling in September.

  6. Thank you, Michael Turtle for such a comprehensive and delightful article. You have done a marvelous job of sharing your expertise!!
    I have arthritis in both feet and knees, and I use a walker to get around….but I hope to visit and stay on the island for two nights in September 2023. I know that I will be limited in places I am able to access…. but I do have a walker that folds and that I can carry up stairs as long as there is a handrail to hold on to. Of course, I have to limit the total amount of stairs I can climb and descend in a day, but I want to try to explore this unique historical site while I am in France.
    What tips do you have for making this a possibility for me? Or do you think (and recommend) that I should skip this once-in-a-lifetime experience as unrealistic? And is there any golf cart type of assistance available to help me get from the main streets where the hotel would be located up to the Abbey?
    Thanks in advance for any info you can provide!!

  7. HI. We will be visiting in the last week of September 2023. Is it still very busy at that time of year? Thanks.


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