5 Ways to See Mont Saint-Michel Without the Crowd
Learn how to avoid the masses at this popular French landmark.
It stands in the middle of the English Channel, rising from the surf in defiance of the sea. For more than 1,500 years, Mont Saint-Michel has fortified the coast of Normandy and wowed visitors from all corners of the globe. And today, the coastal castle is more popular than ever, drawing in 2.5 million travelers a year from around the globe.
But you don’t want to see this wonder with 2.5 million other people, do you? You want to see it as it appears in photos — gleaming and isolated, a fairytale island in the sea.
Well, there’s good news. For travelers craving a less crowded experience, we’ve discovered five ways to see Mont Saint-Michel without the crowd:
1. Slumber party it.
The castle grounds are home to 44 residents and at least six hotels. Rates vary by your requirements, from €130 per night and up. The hotels here are located on the island’s Grand Rue, which also hosts a variety of restaurants, gift shops and historical sights to see inside the walls of Mont Saint-Michel. Burning the midnight oil or rising with the sun on the island itself will give you unfettered access to solitude on the medieval streets and ramparts.
Access to history is surprisingly easy on Mont Saint-Michel. Ancient stoneworks, doorways and arrow slits are yours to enjoy, provided you’re not caught in a throng of people. A sleepover at one of the island’s hotels could put you alone in the heart of history, with time for breakfast as well.
2. Camp it.
There’s no better way to beat the crowd than to get an early start. Both RV and tent campsites are available on the grounds of the Mont. And while you can’t camp on the island itself, you can camp just across the causeway with excellent views of the sunset. For around €25, Camping Du Mont Saint-Michel will supply you with electrical hookups and working restroom facilities. For around the cost of a crepe, you can pitch a tent there as well.
Countryside roosters will ensure you get an early morning wakeup call and a slice of the castle to yourself before tour buses start rolling in. Campsites are also available along the coast, within a short distance of the Mont.
3. Bike it.
While the tidal island may be one of the most popular tourist attractions in France, most of those tourists find their way in on a shuttle bus. The good news for you is that you don’t have to ride that shuttle. Miles of bike trails line the Normandy countryside, offering serious cyclists the opportunity to bike in from nearby towns like Saint-Malo. A 25-mile ride will take you along the emerald green coast with an ever-enlarging view of the Mont.
For the more casual cyclist, bike rentals are available in the nearby village of Pontorson, just 5.5 miles away. Bike racks are available at the foot of Mont Saint-Michel.
4. Drive it.
Automobile access to the causeway is tightly controlled; however, that doesn’t mean adventurous drivers are out of luck at the Mont. The roads surrounding Mont Saint-Michel Bay splinter off towards Brittany and the Cherbourg Peninsula, offering sweeping views of the wonder engulfed in one of the most beautiful waterways on the planet, according to UNESCO. Relaxed countryside driving through historic French villages — with plenty of seafood and crepe restaurants — keep your head out of the crowd and your belly in the clouds. For the scenic route, ditch the main road outside of Beauvoir, and head west via the D776 and D797 towards the historic port of Saint-Malo.
American drivers will feel right at home in France, where U.S. drivers licenses are accepted by rental companies, and most street signs closely resemble the ones stateside. Automatic car rentals are available; however, manual transmissions remain dominate in France, so it’s a good idea to know how to operate one.
5. Grab the early bus.
If you’re not an athlete or a camper, or you prefer to overnight off of the Mont, you can still beat most of the crowd by arriving to the attraction (very) early. The first Passeur shuttles begin running at 7:30 a.m., which is near sunrise for much of the summer. The earliest buses to Le Mont sometimes cross the causeway with very few people on board: a sight that becomes rarer as the sun climbs. The trek coincides well with abbey tours at the top of the fortification, which begin at 9 a.m. from May 2 to Aug. 31, and at 9:30 a.m. from Sept. 1 to April 30.
For many travelers, seeing Mont Saint-Michel is the stuff of dreams, but seeing a packed parking lot on arrival can turn those dreams into a nightmare. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to see one of Europe’s most impressive fortresses without swimming through the crowds.