What would you recommend-making our own travel plans from Paris to Mont St. Michel and back in one day or get on a tour? How difficult is it to navigate on our own?
Travel plans: 1. Ride the metro. 2. Ride the train. 3. Ride the shuttle. 4. Walk in the gate. 5. Reverse the above to get back. The bear to doing it in one day is going to be the four-hour train ride each way. Figure ten hours of transit time for the round trip. I don't think a tour bus could shave much since it'd take me well over four hours each way to do it - - which I wouldn't try. There's probably some trains that take closer to three and a half hours and if you're staying near Gare Montparnasse you could cut a little more, but it'd be hard to get under nine hours of travel time. I've no idea how the tour buses work, but there's so many out there they must come from somewhere. The drawback there is that you're guaranteed to arrive with the throngs.
What Ed says. Then add in that you want to do it when the tide is right, and watch out for them being on strike. At the moment the staff have a grievance about the rebuilding so are taking it out in strikes.
My family and I just got back from France. We had a cottage in Normandy and drove to Mount St. Michel. Rick recommends arriving early and leaving before 11:00AM. How right he is. We did arrive early (9:00AM). It was relatively crowded but not too bad. When we were leaving at 11:00AM, the tour busses had arrived and it was a tidal wave of people arriving. I can't imagine the narrow lanes packed with people. I would think one could barely move. It would not be worth the trip, at least for me. Of course this is July. If you're traveling off season, it may be better
Here's another option, in addition to Ed's otherwise wise council above: Note - Allow at least 2-3 days for the following side-trip - don't try to do Mont St Michel as a day trip. Normandy is worth a few days. 1. Rent a car. Enjoy a leisurely drive though Normandy, one of the most beautiful parts of France, filled with rich historical sights, great food and wonderful scenery. Stop at any/many of the really cool places across the region. 2. Be sure to include the D-Day beaches and surrounding areas - you need at least a full day to do it right. 3. Plan your Normandy side-trip so you arrive at Mont St Michel late afternoon, just as all the crowds are leaving. Stay at one of the small hotels on the Mont itself. You're only going to have a few hours there before the thousands of day-trippers show up and wreck the place, so you want to make the most of it by being on the Mont itself. Enjoy a couple hours in the evening when the thousands of day-trippers have left, and the place is yours. 4. Sleep in some funky little room on the Mont. Yeah, it's spendy - suck it up, you only do this once. Get up early. Enjoy the beauty - and solitude - before the armies of day-trippers show up and jam the streets again, around 9 am. When they do, it's time to get outta Dodge. Flee to your car, and drive away. Stop one last time and look back to get that signature view of the Mont in the distance (thankfully, you can't see the crowds in the streets from that far away), then head back to Paris or the rest of your France trip knowing that you were one of the lucky few who had Le Mont (almost) to yourself, experiencing it the way it should be. File that memory away and cherish it. Hope that helps.
If you plan to limit your time in Normandy to Mont Saint-Michel alone, here is a possible way to do it. Take a TGV from Gare Montparnasse to Rennes, departing at 14:05. Connect to a bus operated by SNCF (French National Rail) that arrives at Mont Saint-Michel at 18:00. Enjoy an evening without crowds and spend the night on the Mont. Get up early in the morning and see what you can before the crowds arrive. Take the SNCF bus to Rennes, departing at 11:25. Connect to a TGV to Paris, arriving at Gare Montparnasse at 18:11. See the timetables at tgv-europe.com or bahn.de.
Barb, I couldn't agree more with David. For me, Mont St. Michel was always a bucket list item. We went last year and it was all I had hoped for. We drove in from Normandy and when we rounded a curve and saw the Mont, it was breathtaking. But, if you can't spend the night on the Mont, I would recommend skipping it altogether. It is absolutely magical at night when no one is there. We had the street and the ramparts to ourselves while we roamed around. We toured the abbey in the morning before the crowds arrived. We arrived when the crowds were still there. We had to fight our way through throngs of people to get to our little hotel. It was shoulder to shoulder people...and not one bit fun. Think Disney World in summer time...
Tip for those who plan to share the single very narrow lane of Mont St. Michel with several thousand of your fellow visitors from across the globe: before you plunge into the seething crowd, apply a liberal amount of oil to your torso, shoulders, arms and legs - you're going to need it to squeeze between all the other tourists if you expect to be able to get more than a few feet onto Le Mont. If you're going to be there anytime between 10 am and 4 pm during the summer months, you'll be glad that you used this technique. You can thank me later...