On our road trip in Europe, driving from Paris to Portugal, we took a little diversion and headed north towards Normandy to visit Mont St Michel. This gorgeous tidal island with its charming medieval walled city and Abbey had been on our bucket list for a very long time. Jonathan especially wanted to go to so he could make Mont Saint Michel photos.
A Little History of Mont St Michel
Mont St Michel history dates back as far as the 6th century. The small tidal island was once known as Mont Tombe, but according to legend, a Saint Aubert, a bishop from the nearby town of Avranches had a vision that the Archangel Michael told him to build a church on the island. However, Saint Aubert ignored the vision, so the Archangel Michael persuaded him to build the church by burning a hole in his skull with his finger. Well, that worked, and a small chapel was consecrated to Saint Michel in October 709.
In 966, a group of Benedictine monks arrived and began to build a Romanesque style church. The legend of Mont St Michel and the presence of the monks turned the island into a pilgrimage site. Mont St Michel became so famous as a religious site, it even appeared on the Bayeux Tapestry.
Over the centuries, the abbey grew, and during the Hundred Years War in the 14th century, walls and defences were built to protect from the sieges by the English.
During the French Revolution, the abbey closed and up until 1864, it was used as a prison.
Then in 1979, having been classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Mont St Michel is one of the most visited sites in France.
The Grande Rue, Mont St Michel
As you enter Mont St Michel through the Porte de l’Avanceé (the main gate), the Grand Rue aka Main Street will be to your right, and the tourist information centre will be just to your left. The Grand Rue is lovely to walk along. It’s lined with 15th and 16th-century buildings that now house shops, restaurants, and hotels. It does get very crowded so try to get there early morning or very late afternoon to avoid the crowds. Or meander through the back alleys off the Main Street.
The Grand Rue climbs steeply through the town to the Abbey.
Entering the Abbey at Mont Saint Michel
It’s a steep climb to the top to see the Abbey, but it’s worth it for the views. The west terrace has incredible views across the bay. It’s interesting to explore the Romanesque, with a touch of Gothic, abbey, the church, and the cloisters. You can join a guided tour of the Abbey or use an audio guide, but we always prefer just to wander and explore at leisure.
Opening Hours and Entrance Fees for visiting Mont St Michel
It’s free to explore the old town on Mont St Michel, and that is open all the time.
Entrance Fees to Mont St Michel Abbey or Abbaye du Mont Saint Michel are:
€10 per adult
€8 for 18-25-year-olds (free if you are EU citizen)
Free for children under 18.
Mont St Michel Abbey or Abbaye du Mont Saint Michel is Open:
Open daily except Christmas Day, New Years Day and 1st May.
Open 09:30 – 18:00 September to April
Open 09:00 – 19:00 May to August.
Last admission, one hour before closing.
Top Tips for Visiting Mont St Michel
Do wear comfortable shoes, you will be climbing a lot of steep hills and steps.
Arrive early or stay late to avoid the coach loads of tourists.
Consider staying at least one night, you’ll be glad you did.
Walk along the ramparts for magnificent sea views.
- Walking the Camino de Santiago
- Our Tour of St Petersburg Russia
- Grand Europen Tour with Viking River Cruises
Where to stay in Mont St Michel
Many people opt to stay on Mont St Michel but be warned, you can no longer drive across, so you’ll be carrying your luggage, and there are lots of steep hills but what a fantastic place to stay.
We opted to stay at Les Portes de Mont St Michel because not only is it a little cheaper, easier to park but from our room, we had a fantastic view of Mont St Michel. You don’t get that view if you stay on the island. From Les Portes, it’s only a 20-minute scenic walk to Mont St Michel, or you can take one of the regular shuttle buses.
How to get to Mont St Michel
By car – Private cars are not allowed to drive along the causeway to Mont St Michel. If arriving by car, follow the P signs for parking and Navettes (shuttle buses) which will take you to Mont St Michel. The shuttle bus transfer takes around 8-10 minutes, or you can walk there in under half an hour.
If you follow the signs for Mont St Michel, you will end up at a barrier, that only authorised vehicles can drive through. If you are staying at Mont St Michel or Les Portes de Mont St Michel, your hotel will give you instructions on how to pass through the barrier and where to park.
By train – The nearest train station is ten kilometres away in Pontorson. Regular shuttle buses operate from the train station to Mont St Michel.