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Travel to Mount. St - Michel

I am thinking of doing a day trip to Mount St Michel when I'm in Paris this June. I visited there years ago during a driving trip to Normandy, but this time I am taking my 17 year-old cousin just for the day. I see there is a high speed train from Montparnasse with a change in Gare de Sol Bretagne that takes you to Mt. St - Michel and that seems to be a good option...gets there between 10 and 11 AM.

Has anyone done this mode of travel to Mt St- Michel and what has been your experience? Also, I was thinking of hiring a local guide and wondered if anyone had any recommendations. Thank you!

Posted by
6594 posts

To be frank, doing MSM as a "day trip" (even from someplace closer than Paris) is not a good choice. MSM is one of the most heavily touristed places in Europe. It's world famous. Lots of people go there. It's also a tiny space - one narrow, short, then even more narrow, street. That's it. Thousands of people, the surface area not much larger than a basketball court. Most problematic: almost everyone "does' MSM as -- wait for it...A DAY TRIP. So from mid-morning to mid-afternoon, the place is as crowded as a Chinese train station on Chinese New Years Eve.

MSM is not near Paris. It's going to take a non-trivial amount of time to get there, and to get back. If you follow your plan, you will have a couple hours (at most) in MSM, exactly at the most crowded time you could imagine. And in June, it will be doubly so. In short, your plan guarantees you see MSM at it's absolute worst.

What a shame that would be. Because it's a unique, magical place, when it's not completely jammed with mobs of squished day-trip tourists.

Do yourself a favor: See MSM at its best, not its worst. Spend the night. Like other places in Europe, it's easy to flip this crowding problem into an opportunity, if only you are smart: Arrive mid afternoon. Note how horribly crowded it is. Also note how the tide of humanity is already receding visibly. Luckily for you, smart traveler who has a reservation for the night, nearly everyone else will all be gone by 5 pm. By sunset, the place will be empty - all yours. Magical and memorable. Sleep in your hotel, preferably one of the funky but somewhat expensive places on the Mont itself (you're not paying for 5 star luxury, you're paying for Location Location Location, and being free of the crowds of day-trippers). Wander the empty street and explore hidden corners at night. Go to bed early. Sleep. Get up early and watch the sun rise. MSM will be yours alone, blissfully with no crowds at all, to wander and savor for a few wonderful hours. Breakfast, check out of your hotel. Note the rumble you hear in the distance - hundreds of tour buses. Watch them roll up and disgorge the day's human tide. Then get outta Dodge by 10 am, head back to Paris or to your next destination in beautiful Normandy or Brittany. Don't look back as you leave, remember MSM as you experienced it, your private little slice of medieval French heaven.

Posted by
7677 posts

The train bus set up is convenient but It is going to be kind of crowded to tour at that hour.

Posted by
299 posts

David said it all beautifully. I agree. And you don't need a tour guide.

Posted by
9 posts

Thank you, everyone, for your replies. A special thank you to David who confirmed some research I did after posting earlier today. Your idea for spending the night there is perfect and really sounds like the best way to see MSM!

The one and only time I visited MSM was in 1987 on our driving trip through Normandy. While I've been to France many times since I have not returned to MSM.

After Paris we are taking the train to Chartres for one night and then on to Dinan in Brittany and will be traveling that region for 8 days. If we cannot spend the night at MSM, perhaps we can visit late in the afternoon after the crowds have departed. If not, I will keep your sage advice in mind for our next trip.

Yes, a day trip to MSM is not the best idea; but I'm glad I explored it as I got back some excellent ideas!

Thank you!

Posted by
36 posts

Sorry for diverging just a little but ...
In late September I will be spending a night in the nearby St Malo area. I will have a car and was thinking that a MSM visit would work as it takes about an hour to drive from St Malo. Thinking that a mid-afternoon/early evening visit would work best (on my way from Bayeux to St Malo). An early morning visit the next day would also work but this would take away some of my St Malo time as I head out for the Loire that day. The lower tides seem to be convenient as they occur in the early morning and early evening at that time of year.
Do you agree with my reasoning?

Posted by
8151 posts

Late afternoon, early evening is better than mid-day. Many of the day visitors have left or are are leaving at that time.

Posted by
7057 posts

I think it's more of a personal travel style decision. Due to overtouristing, there are a lot of places that are unpleasantly crowded, including many museum interiors. Let's make a list of towns that have some, at least superficial, commonalities with MSM:

St. Malo
San Gimignano

of course, you could make a much longer list. The question is not what cities did I leave out, it's "Do I need to spend the night in every one of these cities to 'experience' it?" (Whatever "experience" means ... ) Or, more tightly related to this thread, "What is so special about MSM that I need to spend the night there?"

We happened to have a rental car, and spent about 4 hours at MSM one summer day. Sure, it was crowded. We took Rick's advice and went UP the walls, and DOWN the main street, after our wait to enter the crowded Abbey. The most "depressing" thing about the crowds wasn't the Disneyfied junk shops and jammed restaurants, it was the commercial "strip" that has been built between the "new" Disney-like parking lots and the Mont itself.

Of course not everyone wants to see three attractions a day, but the pace set by many posters here, and indeed, many of the "day one/two/three" advice in Rick's books, suggests that most MSM visitors are not going to spend the night. I think that's fine. The 4-hour visit was fine for us.

I happen to dislike changing hotels. But doing MSM (or the D-Day Beaches) as a same-day runout from Paris is a gut response to assuming that the visitor will only have one visit to France in their entire life. It's a brutal day of more travel than sightseeing. We had the luxury of doing MSM and a few smaller sights as a day-out from Dinard, where we slept for three nights. You can argue that we should have slept in St. Malo, but the parking and the coming-and-going were much easier than it is at St. Malo. We chose our hotel specifically because it had private parking. It just turned out to have a nice beachfront location, with a view of St. Malo. (Hotel Reine Hortense.)

Posted by
7057 posts

Yeah, it's in the last sentence of the post. The rooms were small, but well ventilated, and the overall feeling was the place James Bond might take a girlfriend if he didn't want to be found at a big luxury hotel. Dinard was little quiet in shoulder season. Even maybe dull. But the seafood was very good. The parking lot had padlocked bollards that you folded down to park your car.

I should note that Dinard (like St. Malo) is on a peninsula, so there's a "spur" delay in getting going on a car trip. But the road is not as busy as that for St. Malo.

Edit: I should add that most beachfront hotels in Dinard have a lot of exterior stairs, because the beach is at least 50' below the road. I also think Reine Hortense didn't have an elevator inside.

Posted by
30 posts

Adding to the original topic: when visiting MSM, is it possible to stay in one of the hotels near the parking lots and still see the site "after tourist hours"? Do the shuttle buses to MSM run late into the evening? In other words, can one stay close to the site without spending the night in a hotel on MSM, and avoid the daytime crowds?

Posted by
5697 posts

We stayed at one of the off-island hotels and were able to walk to and from the island -- and the shuttles ran fairly late as well.

Posted by
22 posts

Thanks Tim. I must have been sleeping to miss the hotel name in the last sentence. Appreciate the info.

Posted by
151 posts

Even if it is more pleasant to allow for more time in MSM than a day trip only from Paris, it is still possible. Especially if you take a TGV train from Paris to Rennes, and then a guide from the train station to drive you to MSM : that gives you a few possibilities with the train schedule to avoid the crowd in MSM (and even to visit St Malo).
If you rely on public transport only, connections are necessarily in the middle of the day, with the peak of affluence in MSM.

Posted by
594 posts

I recently purchased the RT TGV/bus option from Paris (like another poster, time is very limited on this trip and there is no chance of staying the night near MSM). I purchased on the website and it listed the last stop as Mont Saint Michel (TGV from Montparnasse, connection in Dol De Bretagne, bus from Dol de Bretagne). Question is, where exactly does this bus stop?