Updated: Aug 2, 2019
Taking the drive from Paris to St-Michel in one day is not for the faint of heart, however, I have known for over ten years that one day I would see this place! There is a lot of driving past fields of emptiness then squeezing through quaint little towns, when suddenly far, FAR out in the distance, you can see the shadow of the small island.
If you asked me how I discovered this place and what made me want to see it? Well, if you know me, then you know I love all things archaeology, haunted places, and castles. Great architecture mixed with the mystery of its past really intrigued me. I have been reading up on this for years, and have even gone to a few Rick Steves talks about Mont St-Michel.
What exactly is Mont St-Michel?
Mont St-Michel has Europe's highest tidal variations. The difference between low and high tides (only about six hours apart), can reach 15m. The Mont is only completely surrounded by sea every month or so, but tides can sweep in at an astonishing rate.
Mont St-Michel has had several different purposes:
It was built in 708 as an oratory after Saint Aubert saw the archangel Saint-Michel in his dreams three times
The Mont then became a fortress, holding out against siege for 30 years during the Hundred Years War.
Mont St-Michel then became a prison until 1860.
Mont St-Michel used to be an island, however, there is now a long bridge that connects the mainland to it.
Getting to Mont St-Michel from Paris
There are a few different ways you can get to Mont St-Michel.
You can take a tour bus. The easiest and most comfortable way you can get there is by tour bus. Be ready for a long day. The bus ride each way is about 4.5 hours with a short bathroom break each way. Luckily, the bus is comfortable and you have time to read, sleep or listen to music. We booked a trip through Viator which hooked us up with Paris City Vision tour group. We were given an audio tour to take with us through the abbey. The trip for 2 cost us about $300.
You can drive. It will take around 4 hours each way. You can then park on the mainland and take the tram out to the island.
You can take the train and then a bus. The closest rail station to the island is located in Pontorson, and so you can take a regional train from Paris. From Pontorson, you can take a bus to Mont Saint Michel (approximately 9 kilometers). There is also a wheelchair-accessible bus shuttle connection that is dependent on the train schedules, and it will arrive 300 meters from Mont Saint Michel. If you choose this option, you can purchase your train tickets online in advance, but you will need to purchase your bus ticket locally.
Navigating Mont St-Michel
The main attraction is The Abbey. If you aren't taking a tour bus to the Mont which will include your entrance to the Abbey, make sure you get tickets to the Abbey.
Cars and tour buses are no longer allowed to drive right up to the Mont. There are parking lots before the bridge. Guests can then hop on a shuttle that will drive them 3 minutes out to the entrance. If you have time, you can also take the walk out to the Mont. It will take you about 30-45 minutes depending on how fast you walk.
When you get there, don't be overwhelmed by the amount of people. It's going to be crowded. This is one of the most visited sites in France and is a UNESCO world heritage site. The walk ways are also very narrow.
Make a beeline straight to the top of the hill to the Abbey. We went on a day that was 65-70 degrees and we were sweating and out of breath by the time we got to the top.
If you don’t have an audio tour and are not part of an actual tour group, make sure you get an audio guide. I found having this made my experience that much better!
Take your time going through the Abbey. The architecture and history are just amazing! The views from the Abbey are amazing as well.
Make sure you leave time to have lunch. There are a few places you can eat that have amazing views. The food is decent and the prices for a sit down meal are a bit on the high side in my opinion. There are also a ton of gift shops to check out. You will find a lot of the same thing in each of the shops. I am not big on buying a ton of souvenirs so I stuck to buying a small book and postcards. We had planned to save 45 minutes to take the nice walk back to the tour bus, but as luck would have it, the weather changed. We got caught in high winds, cold, and rain. This was very different weather than what we had experienced when we first arrived.
Overall, I am glad I was able to visit. I have been wanting to see this place for years and it did not disappoint. I would recommend if you didn’t have the same connection as I did to this place, and only have a few days in Paris, stay in Paris and explore. This is a day trip that will literally take up your entire day.