Photo: kavalenkau/Shutterstock

This Is France’s Most Famous and Mysterious Island That You Can Visit

France Insider Guides Culture Art + Architecture
by Morgane Croissant Apr 17, 2023

This French island is not one where you can spread out your beach towel and go for a lazy swim in warm, turquoise waters. Mont-Saint-Michel, arguably France’s most famous island, is a huge rock off the coast of Normandy, where a village and an incredible abbey have been standing for over 10 centuries. The islet looks like it’s straight out of a Disney fairy tale, and has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979 — two great reasons to plan a trip to this wonderful and mysterious location.

What is Mont-Saint-Michel?

View of Mont-Saint-Michel in France

Photo: kavalenkau/Shutterstock

Mont-Saint-Michel is a small and rocky French island located in a bay in the English Channel, off the coast of Normandy. It is famous for its environment (the islet is entirely surrounded by water at very high tide and wet sand at low tide) and the grand architecture of its imposing 10th-century abbey.

Where is Mont-Saint-Michel?

Mont-Saint-Michel is located in the English Channel, off the coast of France. While officially in Normandy, it is at the very border between Normandy and Brittany.

How to get to Mont-Saint-Michel from Paris?

The bridge that links the island of Mont-Saint-Michel to the mainland

Photo: RossHelen/Shutterstock

Mont-Saint-Michel is a four-hour drive from Paris, but if you prefer to get there by train or bus, it’s possible, too:

  • You can ride the train from one of Paris’ train stations to Pontorson. Pontorson is 5.6 miles away from Mont-Saint-Michel and is the closest train station to the site. From Pontorson, there are buses that you can take to get to the official entrance. Note that taking the train from Paris to Pontorson involves at least one connection in the city of Rennes, and takes a total of about 4.5 hours.
  • You can take the bus from Paris, Rennes, Saint-Malo, or Avranches with a variety of bus companies, including BlaBlaBus, Flixbus, Kéolis Armor, BreizhGo, or Nomad.

No matter how you get there, once at the official Mont-Saint-Michel entrance, you can either walk for 30 minutes to get to the island (there is a bridge so the tides never affect access to the island any longer), or take a 12-minute shuttle ride. Shuttles run every few minutes throughout the day, from very early morning until late at night, so you never have to wait for long.

When was Mont-Saint-Michel built and why?

The rocky island is a natural formation that became a religious site in the year 708 when Aubert, Bishop of Avranches, built a sanctuary dedicated to the Archangel, i.e. Saint Michel. The Abbey, the village below it, and the ramparts and fortifications around both, however, were built between the 11th and 16th centuries. The island became a prison from the French Revolution (1789) to 1863.

What’s inside/on Mont-Saint-Michel?

Mont-Saint-Michel consists of a village with hotels, inns, restaurants, shops, museums, a post office, a church, etc. as well as a large abbey that dominates the island.

What you need to know about the Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey

Cloister of the Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey

Photo: Ivan Soto Cobos/Shutterstock

The most important structure on the islet, the Abbey was built between the 11th and the 16th century — a feat considering the extreme environmental conditions. The Gothic-style Benedictine abbey is dedicated to the Archangel Saint Michel whose gold and copper statue stands at the top of the belfry.

Adults who want to visit the abbey need to pay an entrance fee of $12 (11 €); children enter for free. Audioguides are $3.30 (3 €). Guided visits are also available. Booking your ticket online in advance is highly recommended.

Once you have purchased your ticket, you can visit, freely and at your own pace, 15 areas within the Abbey, the most impressive of which are the west terrace, the church, the cloister, the great pillared crypt, and the refectory. The visit takes around 90 minutes. There are 200 steps to get to the Abbey and 150 steps to tackle within it.

Monks and nuns belonging to the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem live in the abbey. You can’t miss them — they are dressed in long, blue robes.

The abbey is open from 9 AM to 8 PM from May 1 to August 31, and from 9:30 AM to 6 PM from September 1 to April 30.

Numbers, facts, and tips about Mont-Saint-Michel

  • There are over 3 million people visiting Mont-Saint-Michel every year.
  • It is not recommended to go for a walk on the surrounding sand on your own. There are areas of quicksand that are extremely dangerous to those who don’t know the site. Also, you don’t want to be caught far away from land when the tide comes back in. Guided visit with experts are the safest way to learn about the natural environment around the island.
  • Mont-Saint-Michel has been a site of pilgrimage for nearly 1200 years, starting in the year 708.
  • If you’re coming all the way to Normandy from Paris, make the most of your trip by visiting the WWII sites around the region, checking out the cliffs of the Alabaster Coast, and carving out some time to see the beautiful fortified city of Saint-Malo.
  • If you prefer walking instead of riding the shuttle from/to the official entrance to the island, do so on your way to the Mont-Saint-Michel rather than on your way back from it. That way, you’ll get to see the magnificent views rather than turn your back to them.
  • While restaurants on the island are expensive and need to be booked in advance, you can buy a sandwich or a slice of pizza for cheap. There’s no need to make or purchase your picnic ahead to save money.
  • It is free to walk around Mont-Saint-Michel, but you must pay to visit the abbey and the various museums.
  • Mont-saint-Michel is not a destination for those with mobility issues. The streets are narrow, made of cobblestones, and mostly vertical, with 350 steps to get to the top. Don’t bring luggage, baby strollers, and anything you don’t want to haul up uneven stones stairs for hours on end.
  • Book your tickets to the abbey online before you come so you don’t have to wait in line. It gets very busy in the summer, during school vacations, during long weekends, or even during regular weekends.

Do people live on Mont-Saint-Michel?

Yes, Mont-Saint-Michel is inhabited. There are around 20 people living on the islet, including the town’s mayor, priest, a mail person, police officers, etc. There are also five monks and seven nuns belonging to the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem living in the Mont-Saint-Michel abbey.

Can you stay on Mont-Saint-Michel?

Yes, you can stay the night on Mont-Saint-Michel. There are six hotels and inns throughout the islet where you can book a room.

Hotels on and around Mont-Saint-Michel

We hope you love the spaces and stays we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay.

Hôtel la Croix Blanche

Photo: Expedia
Photo: Expedia
Photo: Expedia

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Located on the island and in the village, the three-star Hôtel la Croix Blanche is a small property (only nine rooms) that mixes elegant and rustic decor to offer its guests a truly authentic historical experience. The restaurant offers beautiful views of the bay. This hotel is open between February and December only.

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La Mère Poulard

Photo: Expedia
Photo: Expedia
Photo: Expedia

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La Mère Poulard, a property located on the island and in the village of Mont-Saint-Michel, comprises 27 rooms in a beautiful historical home. Decorated with medieval authenticity in mind, the interior is chic and traditional. You can book a room with views of the bay, the Abbey, or the roofs of the village’s homes for an immersive stay.

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Le Relais Saint Michel

Photo: Expedia
Photo: Expedia
Photo: Expedia

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This four-star property is not located on the island but it is an easy and beautiful walk of less than two miles to get there. A shuttle is available for guests who want to visit the surrounding area without having to walk. The decor at the Relais Saint Michel is simple and elegant, and the views on the island, the surrounding salt marshes, etc. are breathtaking from the large windows throughout and the patio. There is an on-site restaurant.

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