The island abbey on Mont St Michel is one of the top sights to see in Normandy and Brittany in France. Visit the abbey, ramparts, and old town but avoid the other tourist traps and restaurants.
Mont St Michel is one of the most picturesque historical sights to see in France. Medieval Mont St Michel abbey famously perches on top of a rocky island near the coasts of Normandy and Brittany. This UNESCO World Cultural Heritage-listed site is hugely popular and always busy. The Romanesque-Gothic abbey complex is absolutely worth seeing but most of the other museums on the island are of little real interest. The restaurants and shops are pure tourist traps and few would regret eating elsewhere. Hiking around the island on the mudflats is very popular too and afford fantastic views. All visitors arrive at the island either by walking or on the free shuttle buses. Buy tickets for the abbey in advance from Tiqets to avoid queuing. Transportation to Mont St Michel is easy or book a day trip from Paris.
Note: The Abbey of Mont St Michel is open for visitors in summer 2020 but advance tickets with time-slot admission times are essential. Tickets are mostly only sold only a few weeks in advance but due to lower visitors numbers are not that hard to obtain, e.g. August tickets are only available from mid-July 2020.
Visiting Mont St Michel in Basse Normandie
Mont St Michel is a small island off the coast of Normandy and Brittany that is most famous for its magnificent Romanesque-Gothic abbey buildings. Annually, around 2.5 million people visit Mont St Michel of whom around half visit the abbey complex as well.
Mont St Michel is a fortified island – once through the admission gates, a single steep road leads up past the tiny village to the abbey complex at the top of the rock. In this street – Grand Rue – are endless tourism-related shops selling souvenirs and overpriced food. A few small museums and attractions are hardly worth entering.
Despite the crowds, the tiny village and especially the abbey are well worth visiting. The crowded Grand Rue can be avoided by using the walkways on the ramparts – with magnificent views – to head up to the abbey. Either way, expect loads of stairs and steep gradients.
Visiting the Abbey of Mont St Michel
The former Benedictine abbey of Mont St Michel is an absolute masterpiece of medieval architecture – both as a religious center and military stronghold. It is surprising, if fortunate, that only around half of all visitors to Mont St Michel enter the abbey itself.
The abbey can be seen without a guided tour – audio guides are available but the free pamphlet (in various languages) is sufficient for most visitors. Guided tours are free and often in English.
The history of Mont St Michel as a Christian center goes back to at least AD 708 – visitors can see architecture ranging from Carolingian to the present but most of the abbey complex is Romanesque and Gothic.
Some of the highlights of the abbey complex include:
- The west terrace with marvelous views of the bay.
- The 1000-year-old Romanesque abbey church built 80 m above sea level with a fifteenth-century High Gothic chancel.
- Cloisters with light double-row pillars and the most magnificent views.
- The Merveille (marvel) – a huge thirteenth-century three-level construction in two blocks that were built to help support the weight of the massive church at the top of the rock.
The huge statue of the archangel Saint Michel crowning the 32-m high steeple of the church can be seen from far away. The statue dates from the end of the nineteenth century.
Mont St Michel famously held out against the English during the Hundred Years War. After the French Revolution, the abbey was used as a prison until 1863. Since 1874, Mont St Michel has been a national monument and inscribed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list in 1979.
Since 1874, Mont St Michel has been a national monument and inscribed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list in 1979.
Opening Hours and Admission Tickets for Mont St Michel Abbey
There are no opening hours or admission tickets for the old town area of Mont St Michel. The village is particularly pleasant early morning or in the evening after the day-trippers have left.
Admission to the Abbaye du Mont Saint Michel is €10 for adults and free for EU citizens or permanent residents of France up to age 25 (otherwise €8 for 18 to 25-year olds and free for all children under 18).
Tickets are only sold the abbey entrance, so expect to queue, or online from the abbey or easier from Tiqets or GetYourGuide that sell mobile phone tickets allowing holders to go straight into the building.
The abbey complex is open year-round except on December 25, January 1, and May 1.
Opening hours are 9:30 am to 6 pm from September to April and 9 am to 7 pm from May to August. Last admissions are an hour earlier.
In summer, a light and sound display in the abbey grounds last from around 7 to 10:30 pm. Visitors, who entered before 6 pm may linger for free, otherwise purchase separate tickets for the night event.
Tips on Visiting Mont St Michel
With 2.5 million annual visitors, it is prudent to expect crowds most days. On the whole, it is best to avoid Mont St Michel in summer, during school holidays, and on weekends, especially long weekends. Visitor numbers are the lowest in November, early December, late January, February and March.
If busy periods cannot be avoided, it is best to arrive late afternoon (after around 3 pm) or early morning, although queues can already form before opening time during summer. Visiting late afternoon makes it also pleasant to stay until after dark, when much of the island is romantically lit.
Prices on the island carry a tourist markup and without repeat customers, the restaurants have little incentive to provide good quality or service. Few would regret carrying a picnic lunch or even better, eat elsewhere.
Walking around the island on the mudflats is popular but best done with a guide, as the fast and dangerous tides of the bay have already been recorded in the Bayeux tapestry. Enquire from the tourist office about guides – the price can be as low as €5 per person.
Free luggage lockers are available at the tourist information center at the parking lots on the mainland. Dogs are allowed on the island but not in the abbey or the shuttle buses – kennels (€8) may be used during the opening hours of the information center.
It is no longer possible to drive all the way to Mont St Michel. All visitors have to take the free shuttle bus or walk the last few kilometers via a bridge to the island.