Mont Saint Michel: One amazing day trip from Paris

Le Mont St Michel at low tide polaroid overlay

There’s some debate online over whether or not Mont Saint Michel is a good choice for a day trip from Paris.

Let’s clear up this debate right now: it is. In fact, it’s a MARVELOUS day trip from the City of Light!

So, after two full days in the French capital, we made our way up north to the Normandy coastline to explore this beautiful, isolated walled city.

 

Mont Saint Michel fun facts:

  • Inspired the castle in “Tangled.”
  • Parts of the abbey – deep down within the current structure – were built as early as the 1100s AD.
  • The abbey is the purpose for the city, but it has truly become a tiny walled city complete with shops, restaurants, tiny gardens, and even a graveyard.
  • When the tide comes in, Mont Saint Michel is only accessible by boat, and this coastline sees some of the highest tides in Europe.

 

Getting there

No direct train routes run between Paris and Mont Saint Michel. So, we got up and out of our AirBNB absurdly early on a Wednesday morning and headed to Gare Montparnasse to catch a high-speed train north to Villedieu-Poêles. From there, we hopped a bus to the Normandy coast.

About 40 minutes into the bus ride, Mont Saint Michel finally made its much-anticipated first appearance on the horizon.

And it’s every bit as magical as it looks.

Once we arrived at the drop-off point, we had three options: wait in an absurdly long queue to catch a shuttle to the city, pay to take a horse-drawn carriage, or hoof it ourselves 2.5 km (1.5 miles) to the main gates.

Considering the treatment often received by carriage horses (though, admittedly, these guys were chubby and shiny), we opted to take a walk.

Boyfriend Perspective:  While the line for the shuttle was long enough to entice us into walking, they continuously run 4+ shuttles. We literally walked in just after the people in front of us at the shuttle line did, but we got to stop and take the scenic pictures above on the way in. Worth it.

The experience

Have you ever walked over dunes and sand — and asphalt — to get to the gates of a castle, in the style of medieval pilgrims?

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Neither had we, and it’s a good thing we skipped taking the shuttle, or we would’ve missed an amazing experience.

It felt like we stopped every few hundred feet to take photos (the danger of putting two photographers on the same trip!), because it seemed impossible that the abbey could get any more beautiful or imposing. And then, oh hey, it could!

Once we FINALLY made it to the gates, we realized just how cramped and crowded this place could get. In a way, it’s probably not unlike it would have been in its heyday as a religious center – crowded with devotees, monks, and other religious men, and shop owners hawking goods that catered to them.

We made our way up, up, up, stopping to take photos and navigate through the crowds. We even got some lovely – and derpy – shots of the nearly-tame seagulls living all over the city.

Boyfriend Perspective: The place is a bit of a tourist trap so be aware of all the pros (English-speaking shop workers) and cons (ridiculously busy). And if you don’t like crowds, maybe avoid until an off season.

Once at the top of the city, we climbed a few more steps, and entered the Mont Saint Michel abbey, where this whole, beautiful place began.

 

The abbey

Happily, tours are pretty inexpensive. You can opt to add on an audio guide, or you can just show yourself around and enjoy the sights. We did the latter, particularly because we both had cameras, and juggling a DSLR and an audio guide is a unique challenge. No regrets!

Up is honestly the only direction you can go at MSM. So, get climbing!

We immensely enjoyed meandering through the old abbey – it’s significantly quieter than the bustling city outside. This makes reaching the top even more enjoyable as, if you’re lucky as we were, you may hear lovely strains of music drifting toward you. These are the sounds of services being conducted in the abbey church. Even though it’s wired for sound (as any modern church would be), it’s quite lovely hearing choral music echoing through the gothic church and out into the sea air. There’s a lovely deck just outside, perfect for pictures and fresh air.

Boyfriend Perspective: At the top, you’ll have two doors: one to the church and one to a small room with miniature models of the varying stages the castle went through from the initial abbey to modern day castle. Worth the few minutes to stop and read about the castle’s architectural history.

The most amazing part about the whole tour is that the further you go into the abbey, the further you go into the past. Much of what you see from the outside is relatively recent – in the scheme of architectural history, of course. But once you get deep into the abbey, you’ll find dark rooms dating from the 1100s. For a couple of Americans who think pre-Civil War houses are old, we ogled it all with sincere appreciation, despite having a hard time getting our heads around 1100 AD.

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Finally, we finished the tour, waded through the gift shop crowds, and made our way back out into the city in search of food.

 

Everything else

The food we had wasn’t really good enough to talk about. Your options are either: theme-park level or really nice theme park level (with the associated price tag).

Boyfriend Perspective: There were one or two restaurants that were more upscale and had patios to enjoy food and wine while looking out over the grounds of the city. But at €35 per entree, we opted to avoid going broke and went for deli food instead. Also, try the ice cream. Any ice cream. So good.

Once you’re refueled and have finished your tour, there are plenty of twisty, winding walkways and staircases to explore. You’ll probably get in most of your walking here, peeking into tiny gardens, down stairways to nowhere, and continuing to enjoy those fantastic views.

 

Things to note:

  • MSM is not friendly to those with movement-inhibiting disabilities. There are no elevators and tons of stairs, many of them steep or winding.
  • You will desperately need comfortable shoes, particularly if you’re walking back and forth from the car park.

Boyfriend Perspective: Did we mention walking and stairs? We covered about 8 miles of walking that day. Be prepared!!

 

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Also published on Medium.

36 Replies to “Mont Saint Michel: One amazing day trip from Paris”

  1. Mont Saint-Michel looks magical! Beautiful pictures!

    1. Thank you so much! 🙂 It’s even more stunning in person.

  2. Really insightful post, your pictures are amazing and I can really get a true sense of being there. I’ve bookmarked this post for future reference for if I ever visit 😀

    1. I’m so glad!! If you ever get there, hopefully you’ll let us know what you think 😀

  3. In many must see lists I find the Mont on second place next only to the Eiffel tower. That says something about how culturally important and majestic it is! A must see in France.

    1. Definitely! It presides over much of the Normandy coast the way the Eiffel Tower presides over Paris – you can see it from surprisingly far away. It’s certainly iconic and not to be missed 🙂

  4. authenticfoodquest says: Reply

    Beautiful pictures. I visited once and I agree it really felt way too touristy. I didn’t have the chance to go up the Abbey and I wish I did. Your pictures are stunning. It is indeed magical and worth a visit from Paris. Thanks for this great article which has taken me down memory lane 🙂

    1. Aw! Well, who knows – maybe the French travel fairies will give you a second chance at it 😛 Seeing the really historical bits does help take some of the sting out of the uber-touristy parts 🙂

  5. I have seen so many pictures of Mont Saint Michel and it looks like a photographer’s paradise. I had no idea that you could make it there in a day from Paris. And to be totally honest I wasn’t even sure what was inside the castle or how one went about visiting. This was an excellent run-down of what to expect. Thanks!

    1. I think that’s a pretty common situation 😉 glad the post helped! And yes, there are so many things to take photos of – your eyes will get tired before you run out!

  6. This is the first time I have come across some pictures of the town. I have always seen pictures of the area from a distance, so the place has grown in fascination for me even more now. Next time in Paris, we are doing a day trip here.

    1. That’s awesome! I very much enjoy following your adventures, so would love to see your take on the place, too 🙂

  7. This looks absolutely beautiful. I would love to visit one day. The stairs might be an issue but I think my hubby and I can swing it. However, he may have the same response as your boyfriend, lol! I can’t believe I’ve never been here and I lived in France for nearly a year. I’ll check it out next time though.

    1. The good news about the stairs it you can take them slow if you need to – they’re wide enough in most spots that if you stick to one side, two columns of people can still get around fairly easily. There are also various spots to stop and catch your breath, if need be 🙂 Let us know what you think after you visit! 😀

  8. I’ve always seen photos of Mont Saint Michel and been intrigued by it. Thanks for the tips and practical info. We have a baby so good to know about the limited mobility. If we go there soon we know to leave the stroller back!

    1. Definitely! And I’m so glad the tips and such are helpful 🙂

  9. You know this came just right in time. I am flying to Paris next month and i have a day to kill. I had been to Paris before so I was looking for nearby places. The place looks great for a day trip. Your post just solved by problem. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Oh my gosh! That’s amazing – I’m so glad the timing was right 🙂 Enjoy, enjoy!

  10. I’ve always wanted to visit Mont Saint Michel! Would love to do it as a day trip like you did. Sounds like a really great option! And it also sounds like you made the right choice with walking instead of the shuttle–the photos you got along the way are beautiful! Looks like a great day!

    1. It was a absolute blast – if a bit tiring 🙂 Hope you can make it there soon, too!

  11. We’ve been wanting to visit Mont Saint Michel. When we go, we’ll definitely skip the food and go straight for the ice cream!

    1. Solid plan of attack! 🙂 Hope you get there soon!

  12. A place I have always wanted to visit, but have never gotten to. Yet. I have been to St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall!

    1. Well, we haven’t been there… yet 😉 hope you make it to MSM soon, and we’ll try to make it to St Michael’s Mount!

  13. I’ve wanted to visit this castle ever since I found out about it. Thanks for including the very helpful travel tips about getting there and what to do when you are there That’s a bummer that the food wasn’t that great.

    1. You’re so welcome! I hope you make it there at some point – it’s definitely worth the trip! 😀

  14. I just love your faraway shots of Mont Saint-Michel. So beautiful! My sister keeps saying that she wants to go to Paris for her birthday. I could see us taking a day trip here, for sure. It looks so charming and magical. I can see why Disney used it as inspiration for Tangled!

    1. Oh my gosh, do it! You’ll have a blast 🙂 happy early birthday to your sister!

  15. It sounds like a wonderful day trip from Paris! The walk that you had certainly has it’s advantages like more time to take in the view and take photos which is hard to do when in a public transport. The place is beautiful! I love following the travel stories of you two!

    1. Thank you so much! 😀 And yes, the walk was definitely something we’d recommend, even if it means you’re a little tired by the time you get there 🙂

  16. I’ve been to France a few times & travelled all over but have not made it to Mont Saint-Michel, though it was on my very 1st French bucket list! It looks so beautiful, this has be just dreaming of it all over again..

    1. Once I learned about it in high school (I think we had to choose a city besides Paris to do a report on, and no one could duplicate) I was in love, so I definitely feel you there 🙂 Even though it’s a little touristy, I’ll tell you that standing at the base of the compound, looking up makes the train trip and bus ride both completely worth the time and money. Absolutely unreal!!

  17. I haven’t had a desire to go to Paris yet but Mont Saint Michel, definitely! This is so fabulous, I would love to see it up close and personal. Loved your pic of the alley/town taken from I assume from the top of a building. Stunning!

    1. The lower level is a little touristy for what we usually like, but no regrets whatsoever – the history and everything else about the day made it 100% worth the trip! And I’m so glad you liked the shot 😀

  18. I love Paris but I must admit I can’t spent the whole trip there. We went a couple of months ago and spent more time doing day trips than days in Paris! We didn’t visit Mont Saint Michael but it looks like something we would love. Def coming here next time! Oh and if you want a good Paris day trip recommendations have a look at Provins. Great place!

    1. I’m not as sure about Luke, but I think I could stay in Paris longer-term and be very happy. That said, the day trips were also very welcome. We didn’t make it to Provins this time, but we’ll definitely add it to the list – thank you for the reco!! 🙂

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