Mont St Michel France – Go Before 10 am or Don’t Go at All!
Mont St Michel France is a beautiful island off the coast of Normandy. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, basically a monastery and an abbey built on an island that was cut off from the mainland at high tide. It includes a little village built on the route leading up to the 8th-to-13th (parts, pieces, and fires) century religious compound. A place where religious pilgrimage dictates a visit once in your life (if you believe that kind of stuff). And a bucket list item for many. It is an easy day trip from Paris and easy to fold into a weekend trip or road trip to either Normandy or Brittany (it is right on the border of the 2 regions).
But honestly, it is just nutty.
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So NOT worth a visit UNLESS you visit before 10 am.
8 million people visit every year, the daily average is 8,000, higher during the traditional summer vacation season. A teeny, tiny island. 8,000 people. You do the math.
We visited for the first time in 2010 prior to the parking lot, the bridge, the visitor's complex. It was a Tuesday in October. We were lucky. There weren't a lot of crowds. We didn't wait in line. I didn't feel like I was in an amusement park. Fast forward almost 10 years. Last October (2018) we spent a weekend in Saint-Méloir-des-Ondes/Cancale and took the opportunity to head back over to Mont St Michel for a sunrise shoot. Our target was the GR-22 (GR223) which connects with the GR-34. This is the hiking path that I have frequently mentioned in posts about places along the Brittany coast, like Saint-Malo and Cancale. The GR-34 runs right in front of Mont St Michel and as it is public land, there are no restrictions for walking through.
Here there is a sheep farm, the famous pré-salé sheep. These are lamb raised in the salt marsh fields in front of Mont St Michel. The sheep graze on the high salinity grasses giving their meat a distinctive taste. It is considered a delicacy and there is an annual festival in the spring where they grill the lamb and celebrate. An entrance to the GR-22 runs alongside this sheep farm. If you arrive just before sunset you can watch the farmer and his trusty dog herd the sheep from their barn in the center of their little village across the street and onto the pasture. If you are cautious and courteous you may even be able to capture it on film. We decided not to but did follow the sheep out as the sun began to rise on the mist, producing a beautiful golden tinge.
You can follow the trail all the way out to the Bay. Word of caution. It is muddy and well, there are hundreds of sheep so you know, lots of stuff you don't want to step in with dainty sandals. It is also fairly chilly in the morning, so dress in layers and be prepared. You have beautiful unobstructed views of Mont St Michel and the Mont St Michel Abbey whether the tide is in or out and I highly recommend taking advantage of this little walk. Just be respectful of the farm and watch your step!
How to access this entrance to the GR-22/GR-34: the sheep farm is in Pontorson, along the D275 (departmental road 275). Almost at the intersection of D275 and D280, if you hit the Auberge de la Baie you've gone a tiny bit too far. There is a parking “area” that will accommodate about 6 cars, otherwise, you'll need to drive down the road, park and walk back. (Do NOT block the farmer's gate!). The GPS coordinates are 48.616179, -1.489061. There is a wood step to access the GR-22 path that runs between 2 of the farmer's pastures until it opens up about 1/2 mile down.
During that particular weekend adventure, we did not attempt to visit the actual island but made our way through the countryside around it. Another great view of Mont St Michel and the Mont St Michel Abbey is from the village of Beauvoir. There are multiple places from the small village where you can have a fantastic vantage point of Mont St Michel. The image below is at sea level, we could have gone up a little hill a bit, but we liked the flowers in the fields. (Actually, the stuff in the right is colza or rapeseed that is harvested for oil). When we returned in April, the fields had been harvested and the photo wasn't as nice.
If your early morning excursion has fatigued you a bit, stop into the St Michel Café (they don't open until 9 am!) and visit the Biscuiterie de la Baie du Mont St Michel, a cookie and souvenir shop right down the street from either the sheep farm or Beauvoir. They have large front windows that have a great view of Mont St Michel. The coffee is pretty good and the pastries as well. We sat there and admired the view for quite a while.
Near Beauvoir is the Moulin de Moidrey, a working flour mill that you can visit near Mont St Michel. The miller sells his flour and does his own tour. He is quite attentive and guides you through the milling process like a proud papa! There is a view of Mont St Michel from the windmill as well, but we captured the actual windmill instead! The Moulin de Moidrey is located at 35 Rue des Moulins (Pontorson).
Okay, okay. I know! But what about the actual Mont St Michel? During our latest Brittany road trip, we went back to Mont St Michel. Our intent was to get the sunrise and then visit the Mont St Michel Abbey afterward. But when it came down to it, we just couldn't stand the thought of those crowds. So here is what we did do. We arrived at the parking complex at about 6 am. Given that the bus service does not start until 7:30 there weren't any cars in the lots (except those lots for hotel guests of people staying on Mont St Michel). We had our choice of spots. If you visit and find yourself in the same situation, choose parking lot 9 or 10, they are actually the closest to the ticket booth, transit area, and walkway. The walk to Mont St Michel from the parking lot is about 2km/1.25mi.
If you go early as we did, you have the walk all to yourself and you have plenty of opportunities to take photos as you head into the island. The bridge allows people to enter nearly around the clock, but there are high tides that still cut off the island from the mainland. So know where to check the tide charts and pay attention.
Once you arrive, walk right in. There will probably be a few employees of the various shops and restaurants slowly making their way in, but otherwise, you will be pretty much alone. Do me a favor and close your eyes as you walk past all the crappy/over-touristic/made-in-China restaurant, shops, and hotels. Don't stay on the island, don't eat on the island, don't shop on the island. You will be ripped off and disappointed. Service in France is not great, to begin with, add in 8,000 people a day and the service is atrocious. And that famous La Mère Poulard omelet? Do you really want to pay €34 for some eggs? Or the La Mère Poulard fish stew? It was trash day the morning we were there and that famous stew they charge €15 a bowl for? Straight from a bottle. I took a photo of dozen of bottles thrown into the trash in front of the restaurant. My point is, don't get sucked into the hype. Visit the island. Visit the Abbey. Forget the rest. Including the crowds! Go in the morning!
In the morning you will be able to take shots of empty streets.
And gorgeous shots of the bay that you don't have to stand in line for.
When you get to the top of the hill and reach the Abbey and Monastery you won't be able to enter as they do not open until 9:00 or 9:30 depending on the time of year, here is all the information you need on opening hours, etc. My recommendation to you is that you pre-purchase your tickets online and be there before opening to pass with ease and have an opportunity to see the church before the majority of the crowds descend. You can buy online here, here, or here. The Mont St Michel Abbey is quite beautiful and definitely worth a visit, just be prepared. Get in first thing and get out.
Places to Visit Around Mont St Michel
After your morning visit to Mont St Michel, you can spend the rest of your day enjoying the surrounding area
- The medieval villages of Dinan or Fougeres, both 1-hour from Mont St Michel. You've got the entire second half of your day to get lost in the middle ages in these pretty villages.
- Hit the coast and check out oysters in Cancale an hour from Mont St Michel. Or hike the GR-34, from Mont Saint-Michel to Cancale is 9 m/15 km.
- Learn about pirate history in Saint-Malo an hour from Mont St Michel.
- For other spots in Normandy, Mont St Michel is an hour and 40 minutes from Omaha Beach; 2 hours from Deauville and a little over 2 hours from Honfleur.
How about you? Have you been to Mont St Michel? What was your visit like? Do you have recommendations for people wishing to visit?
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Wow it looks so beautiful. thanks for sharing
I am totally blown away by your pictures! The place looks amazing and I would LOVE to travel here. Thanks for sharing!
My son, Michael, and grandson,Ian, were just over there last month for D day events. They visited this place among many others, and enjoyed seeing it. I’d love to see it myself one day. Thanks for the advice as to when to go and what to avoid while there!
What a beautiful place! I’d love to visit here someday. Definitely before 10am 😉
Well that is really good to know! I honestly never thought it was THAT popular of a destination that you need to plan to go so early. We are going to Brittany next year and I’d love to check this out as well!
What a gorgeous place to visit, the pictures are amazing! Thank you for the tips, hope to make it there some day!
Ok, wow, until now I never realized there is a little village on the island. I always thought it was a monastery on a rock! Love your photos!
I am with you, I would way rather go early in the morning to enjoy all the sights without every other visitor haha! Plus the views you saw! So pretty!
I live so close to here and still havent got to Mont St Michel! But your headline says it all and is the best advice you can give. So I plan to go at sunrise when I get round to it so I can capture those moments with my camera! 😀
I agree with you about ignoring the tourist tat, but that is the same for anywhere in the world where tourists flock. We have visited in the evening both times, and found if you go mid-week / not in July or August, the crowds aren’t too bad. I worry you’ve had bad service in France – we live here and don’t experience that – perhaps a cultural gap?! Hope you get to see some better service soon – it exists, I promise you!
I don’t feel I need to go because you just gave me a great tour with incredible pictures. They are breathtaking! Thank You for sharing your insights!
Breath taking photos!
Didn’t know that there are 8,000 visitors per day during the summer months. Good to know, because I haven’t been to the Mont St Michel yet. Also, love the suggestion about checking the tide charts, I was wondering about that.
Beautiful photos! It looks like such an amazing place and I would like to visit right this minute.
How fun! Your photos are gorgeous!
Such beautiful pictures Andi. Mont Saint Michel is incredibly stunning and worth visiting. We were there in May running the Mont Saint Michel marathon and unfortunately did not have the “legs” to actually go visit the abbey. The race started in Cancale and ended right at the entrance of the Abbey and it was 42 km. I’m surprised the hike GR 34 is only 15 km. Completely agree with you, for the best food experience, eat off the island. Although after running for more than 4 hours, crepes sarrasin on the island did the trick. We are looking forward to going back and visiting soon.
Absolutely stunning photos. I love your advice about going early to enjoy the experience. I’ve learned that’s the best time of day in some of these very crowded places… and it’s provided some amazing travel experiences because I’m actually staying IN these places to experience the off-peak times and experiences.
Those are such surreal photos of Mont St Michel!!! The island plus Omaha Beach are what I would like to do! Thanks for this nudge!
These photos are absolutely incredible! I would love to explore mount St Michel and see the medieval towns! xo – Kam
This place is beautiful! I never heard about it until today. And your photos… Wow! They are incredible! I love the fact that you can get this scenery just by walking around the surrounding area. Of course, I wouldn’t resist visiting Mont St Michel, so your early bird tip is so precious. More and more I find that you have to get up early to see the more tourist attraction. Or else you’ll have a dreadful experience.
Amazing photos as always. Great, and honest, info about when to go and what to avoid. I prefer visiting early in the morning most places but it sounds especially important here. I haven’t been to Europe in quite a few years and all the talk about crowds blows me away. I was lucky to not have to experience that.
Wow, 8.000 visitors a day! I had no idea that Mont St Michel is so visited. Especially if looking so beautiful photos like yours with no people in it. Congrats for impressive photos, Andi!
Duly noted. Mornings only. If I could take pictures as stunning as yours and beat the crowds by getting there early, that’s all I need to know. Mornings are my favorite time of day anyway and this place looks so serene that it would be awful to find yourself there with thousands of other people.
Interesting side note about the food prices and the stew. Valuable information, Andi! Thanks!
I managed to tick this one in my younger years, maybe around 12, so it is a little bit blurry, but think we went pretty early in the morning. I didn’t realise it attracted that many tourists every day, I can imagine it taking away the experience when crowded by people.
I haven’t been to the Mont St Michel in 30 years. I would love to go back. When I do, I will definitely check out the trails through the sheep farms. I’ll be happy if I get some photos half as lovely as yours
Your photos of the place are gorgeous (and those sheep are adorable). It’s really too bad that places like this become over-saturated with people. I mean, I can see why. It’s a stunning place with a unique story. Your tips are great and I’ll keep them in mind since I’m planning to visit France next year!
Priceless tip on getting their early. Your photos are breathtaking. How sad that they cannot regulate things a bit more so visitors can see your less crowded version. I think I would be kicking myself to visit Mont St. Michel with 8000 people only to later see that it isn’t always like that.
Great tips, we try to avoid crowds so filing this away for future reference. Fantastic photos, well worth getting up early. Will also pack some snacks to avoid paying big bucks for breakfast.
I’ve always wanted to go to Mont St Michel, but alas, I guessed it would be this way. Thanks for these helpful tips, though, I will definitely use them. Your husband’s photography is fabulous and just makes me want to go even more!
Girl, you are absolutely speaking my language. I highly appreciate the boldness of if you don’t go before 10am just don’t go! It makes a huge statement (in addition to the, you know, 8,000 people!! just how busy it gets. I am someone who really loves getting photos without people in them and I’ve almost made it a game (sort of bucket list checkoff) to see how many really busy touristy places I can get without people in them. They just about always require getting there right when things open or staying until closing. And 34Euro for eggs? Nope, won’t be eating on the island, thanks! Your photos are beautiful and this is a place I highly want to visit!
Andi I LOVE this post and I actually just showed it to my whole family, haha. First of all your photo of Mont St Michel in the mist, with the sheep in the foreground, is STUNNING and I really think you should print it out and frame it – or sell it! Second of all, thank you so much for sharing your expertise on this region of France, and how Mont St Michel has changed over the last 10 years. Sadly that’s a trend I’ve noticed in many major sights in Europe (Barcelona coming to mind as having the most growth in tourism since my first trip 10+ years ago). I had no clue that Mont St Michel was on the same ‘tourist route’ though. I have to say I still would love to visit (although I would go at sunrise !). I fell in love with Mount St. Michael off the coast near Penzance, Cornwall when I first moved there 5+ years ago. Ever since I first saw it I’ve wanted to see the “original” Mont St Michel. Hopefully soon, and definitely in off season! What do you reckon the tourist crowds would be like in October? There’s a chance I would visit then 🙂
@Sarah, The first time I went was in October and the crowds are WAY better, especially if you can go during the week.
I honestly didn’t know anything about this place but after seeing your pictures, I’d love to visit. That photo with the mist and the sheep in the foreground is absolutely stunning and so moody and I love it. Good thing that I love mornings and sunrises way, way more anyway so this is perfect for me.
Andi, I really loved this post! I’m not a morning person, so it takes A LOT to get me up in the mornings, but a lack of crowds is one surefire way to motivate me to be up by 6 AM (haha). As others have mentioned, I’m stunned that 8,000 people visit Mont St Michel in a day — that’s nuts! I loved your candid line about “Do you really want to pay €34 for some eggs?” Nope, I definitely do not, and I appreciate the heads up. Will save my omelette needs for Paris or elsewhere 🙂 Your photos of Mont St Michel are gorgeous and I bet people would buy them, too!
I like how straightforward you are with your tips. I’d definitely take your advice and be early to visit Mont St. Michael. Perhaps, I’ll have the opportunity to take great pictures too… And I agree with others about your pictures. You should license them. They are awesome!
What a gorgeous spot! I knew it was famous, but had no idea it was that crowded! Great tip, and I love your morning light photos too. Excellet plan to visit alongside Normady and even Paris.
Thank you for all the information I need especially vantage points for pictures with sheep in the foreground. If the weather cooperates, this will be an awesome bucket list visit for my 65th!! Your photography skills are awesome!
Yet another place I have to visit in Bretagne. Again, your photos are stunning!
I don’t like your flippant attitude about pilgrimages. Unprofessional. You have a good eye for photographs.