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.
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.
Have you ever walked over dunes and sand — and asphalt — to get to the gates of a castle, in the style of medieval pilgrims?
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.
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.
Finally, we finished the tour, waded through the gift shop crowds, and made our way back out into the city in search of food.
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.