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Mt St. Michel

How should I best plan a one day trip to Mt St Michel? How can I find out what times the tours of the abbey are scheduled?

Posted by
5766 posts

It's been years since I was there, but...I have a feeling my suggestion is even more valid now.

Places like Mont St. Michel are the stuff travel dreams are made of. The problem with that is that everybody in the world has similar dreams, and if you just go there you are likely to meet a good portion of the rest of the world, and you will share the dream with them, up close, personal, and not exactly how you fantasized about it. This is true of many places that the world is, unfortunately, loving to death.

Almost everyone goes to Le Mont as a day trip. They roll in around 9 or 10 am, and leave around 4. As reliable and predictable as the tides. During the middle of the day during summer, you will be shoulder-to-shoulder, cheek-by-jowl with hundreds or thousands of people from everywhere. I mean that literally - you'll be physically pressed up against strangers because the tiny, narrow street (there's just one) will be so crowded you can't take a step without needing to squeeze between others. It was like this when I went years ago, and that was before billions of Chinese, Indians, and others from countries with recently mobile middle classes who have a serious desire to see the world began traveling in large numbers. Nowadays, I can only imagine the crush of humanity in that one little street.

There is a way to beat the crowds, fortunately: be there when the other 99% of the visitors are not there. This requires you sleep in one of the (few, and somewhat expensive) hotels on the Mont itself. Arrive late in the afternoon, push your way upstream through the sea of humanity that's draining away - you will definitely be fighting the tide. Enjoy the Mont for the last few hours of the afternoon and into the evening, when it's relatively empty (there will still be people there, but most leave by dusk). Sleep, and get up early - the first hours after dawn are when you will enjoy the place the most, with few crowds. Make your escape by mid-morning when the street overflows.

Accomplishing this is not difficult, it only requires 3 things:

  1. accepting that it's worth doing (to me, it's a no-brainer - how many times you gonna go there? what kind of an experience do you want?)
  2. some advance planning (beds on the Mont are very limited, book far in advance or be disappointed), and
  3. a little more money than you might want to spend (rooms are not cheap and you don't get a lot for your money - other than Location Location Location - suck it up and get over the expense, you're sleeping on frigging Mont St Michel, fer cryin' out loud...)

I'm sure some will say I'm crazy. That's OK. I watched the dawn break from up there, you can call me whatever you want.

Good luck.

Posted by
1685 posts

It depends a lot what time of the year you want to plan your daytrip. I visited Le Mont-Saint-Michel the last day of last June and arrived around 9 pm at the big parking lot at the mainland and was surprised to be the only passenger on the shuttle to the island. The same as David says there were just still a few visitors left (besides those in the restaurants) and had the feeling having the place mostly for myself, well accompanied by a lot of seagulls. But around 11 pm getting dark the place is illuminated and attracts a lot of visitors again, on the way back the navette was full with people who had enjoyed sunset.

Did not visited Le Mont-Saint-Michel early in the morning, but this must be the times you can enjoy the tranquility, making the visit much more worthwhile. I expect during high season July and August it will be lesser easy to have this kind of silence.
For planning the visit it makes a difference if you go with a car or public transport. Enjoying the early morning and dark try to stay a night on the island or a hotel just at the mainland. There are not so surprisingly a whole lot of B&B’s a bit further away like in Bas-Courtils, due to the competition good value for the money. Nice views of the island from there too, but for staying a car will be a better choice to my opinion.

Nowadays there is a big parking lot on the mainland and a free shuttle brings you pretty close to the entrance. After 7 pm (till 2 am next day) parking is free, more info:

Posted by
1782 posts

Hi alis, we did exactly as David suggested a few years ago as part of a RS tour (Paris and the Heart of France). The Mont is a totally different place when the tourists depart. We had dinner then walked along the ramparts as the tide came in at sunset. I had never seen anything like that! It rained the night we were there but the sky was clear by sunrise the next morning. I was able to get some amazing photos. Well worth the trip but make plans to spend the night and avoid the crowds.

Posted by
249 posts

Here is a link that gives information about guided tours and private guides. You can also get an audioguide there.

If you can go in the late afternoon, early evening after most of the tours have left, it is much more enjoyable and less crowded. Also, seeing it in lights at night is impressive.

If you can't get a hotel on Mt. St. Michel, there are some nearby B&B's and Airbnb's that are nice and only a few minutes drive away. I spent the night at one after touring it in the evening. I drove a rental car from Bayeux; left in the afternoon and arrived at Mt. St. Michel in the late afternoon.

Posted by
5584 posts

This NY TImes article (July, 2016, read down within the longer story) specifically reports on current tourism declines at Mt. St. Michel, and even layoffs at nearby (I think they are talking about the mainland, near the shuttle) hotels:

Posted by
341 posts

If you can't get a hotel on Mt. St. Michel, there are some nearby B&B's and Airbnb's that are nice and only a few minutes drive away.

There are some hotels right across the bridge that don't require driving at all. You park in the hotel lot and take the shuttle that runs every few minutes during the day and evening (and about every 10-15 min until 1am).

Posted by
736 posts

Just returned from France that included a night on the island of Mont St Michel. We arrived mid-day, parked, caught the shuttle and did have to walk through the crowds to get to the hotel where we stayed. By the time we toured the Abbey ( a must as there is really nothing else to do there) the crowds had left and we had the streets to ourselves. It was magical! We enjoyed a nice dinner overlooking the bay and went back to our room. When we realized the stars were out we threw clothes over our pjs, ran outside the gate to the island and took pictures of the Abbey lit experience we will never forget! We loved being on the quaint and a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Posted by
2 posts

Thank you so much, everyone, for your advice. We are looking forward to our trip!

Posted by
139 posts

Yeah, we did the late afternoon arrival, magical sunset and OK dinner, up for the Abbey tour and depart deal. Went against the crowds both in and out, best way to do it!

Posted by
285 posts

Can anyone also recommend one of these hotels that has parking and shuttle service to MSM island?

Posted by
341 posts

Can anyone also recommend one of these hotels that has parking and shuttle service to MSM island?

The hotels don't provide the shuttle service, assuming you are asking about one of the hotels just across the bridge and not a hotel in some other more distant location. Here is a map: The hotels are on either side of the street the shuttles from the main parking lot travel on their way across the bridge, and there are also stops in front of the hotels.

I stayed at Le Relais du Roy. It was a decent hotel, a bit tired perhaps. So if I were ever to go back I'd probably try another hotel, although there was nothing wrong with this one. One the other hand there is a restaurant associated with the hotel and the dinner there was literally one of the best I have ever had in France! It was a total surprise, usually food in tourist locations illustrates the truism that location multiplied by quality is a constant.