If you drive to Mont St-Michel you may be lucky to get a parking spot on the causeway that joins the island to the mainland. This parking costs 4 euro (June 2006), unless you arrive late in the evening and then it is free.
But, please make sure you take note of the parking signs…when the tide comes in, sometimes one or all of the parking areas are submerged! Before walking through the island gate, there is a sign that states when the next high tide is due.
Please take care….losing your car is not a great way to prematurely end your French vacation!
For all intents and purposes, Mont St Michel has a single street - La Grande Rue - that is accessible to tourists. This street offers pedestrian access only, and despite its promising name, is in fact narrow and steep.
In addition to the shops and restaurants which cause people to mill around and linger on this street, the congestion is exacerbated by the fact that this is the only access to the monastery, and I can only imagine how congested this gets in high season.
People visiting with small children or people with impaired mobility should also note that the street is cobbled - and that's not even considering the flights of stairs in the monastery itself. The combination of cobbles, congestion and steep slope add up to a nightmare scenario for prams, pushchairs (strollers) and wheelchairs, and I would really question whether you should even consider visiting if you (or a member of your party) have limited mobility, particularly at busy times.
There is an area before the entry to the monastery where people had parked their pushchairs: however, this did not appear to be supervised, so it would be easy for items to be stolen (or indeed to confuse similar pushchairs), particularly over busy periods.
If you have small children and really feel that you cannot miss out on the opportunity to visit Mont St Michel, then I would strongly recommend that you bring a 'backpack' baby carrier with you as it will make your life infinitely easier.
Mont St Michel is France's third most visited tourist location - attracting 3 million visitors a year - so unless you decide to visit on a Monday afternoon in the middle of a late November gale, chance are that there are lots of other people who will have had exactly the same idea. Indeed, one of my favourite VT writers, pfsmalo - who lives nearby - has commented that although it's a lovely place, he refuses to bring visitors here between mid June and mid September!
Because the Mont itself is such a confined area, space constraints are a real challenge on the island, and the sheer weight of tourist numbers make even the provision of adequate parking ploblematic. Thus, you need to be realistic in your expectations: if you visit any other time than in the depths of winter, you will not find parking right next to the navette (shuttle bus) stop, you will experience crowds (particularly on the lower part of the Mont), you will have to queue for a navette and will most likely experience delays in being seated in a restaurant.
That being said, I don't know if I've ever visited a major league tourist destination that has done - and continues to do - so much to address these challenges in a user friendly and cost effective manner. The useful map pictured above indicates how extensive parking areas have been developed and integrated into the other tourist infrastructure, and how a free navette service has been established to shuttle visitors between the mainland and the entrance to the Mont. When we visited in July 2012, the road to the Mont was being upgraded and the causeway was being replaced with a bridge to restore the natural tidal flow regime. Most amazing of all, although the parking fee is predictably hefty, entrance to the Mont itself is still free (although you'll have to pay to enter the monastery, which occupies the top section of the Mont).
So, some simple pointers on how to minimise the impact of fellow tourist hoards on your visit. Firstly, if you can avoid visiting in high summer, then you will save yourself a lot of grief. If you can't then try to time your visit for early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the worst of the crowds. Also consider visiting on bad weather days: compared to many of the other outdoor tourist attractions in Normandy and Brittany, your enjoyment of the Mont is not necessarily weather-dependent, particularly if you're interested in the monastic history. So although it's obviously preferably to experience such a beautiful place in good weather, its foreboding character would only be enhanced by sullen weather, and this may be an acceptable trade off if it allows you to appreciate the place with reduced crowds.
Also you might consider staying at one of the hotels on the Mont itself, or on the mainland at the end of the causeway: I haven't done this myself, so can't comment on how good or affordable these are, but this will at least allow you to start early and/or finish your visit late, as well as perhaps offering preferential parking and/or a dedicated hotel shuttle to the Mont.
If you have no choice about the timing of your visit, you'll have to accept the inevitability that crowds are unfortunately unavoidable in high season. However, a surefire way of minimising their impact is by retreating to the monastery: almost unbelievably, only a third of visitors to the Mont actually bother to visit the monastery to which it owes its existence!
Lastly, you can avoid the crowds and delays in restaurants by bringing your own picnic: if this ideal appeals, then hopefully this 'user's guide to picnicking on the Mont'.
Mont St. Michel is only an island when the tide is high. The tide drops 60 feet (among the highest tide drops in France) which reveals sand mudflats you can walk out on for views of Mont St. Michel. But it's no sandbox. Guides say that the tide can rush in suddenly trapping unwary tourists on sand banks, and many people must be rescued every year. Besides the tides, quicksand threatens to suck you down. It's so treacherous, that tour guides are required to walk you out on the mud flats.
If you're parked on the causeway, remember it to disappears when the tide comes in.
It is not recommended to walk alone in the bay of the Mont Saint Michel unless with an experienced guide:
1. Highest tides in Europe at Mont-Saint-Michel (up to 15 metres difference between low and hight water. During top of the spring tides, the sea goes out 15 kilometres from the coast and comes in again very quickly).
Have a look on the times schedules if required (link below)
2. Areas of quicksand
Hipeople have been cut off and even drowned due to rising tides. There are also areas of quicksand that surround the mount.
Anyway, you can race with the sea or play in the quicksands or during the rides ... but not alone and with a guide. Just be aware there are basic advertises ... The main risk I think is still to fall in the staircases.
As you might imagine, Mont St Michel offers a range of restaurants to cater for the ravenous tourist hoardes.
I can't comment on the quality of any of these, as we didn't eat in any of them, but a cursory revue of the menus on display outside indicated a pretty standard range of tourist-focused and pris fixee menus. The prices were higher than we'd encountered elswhere, but given that this is the number one tourist destination in the region and has infrastructure challenges that other more conventionally located restaurants don't have to deal with, the mark up didn't seem unreasonable.
The other downside of eating on the Mont is that in peak season, all the restaurants - be they good, bad or indifferent - are likely to be packed out, so there will most probably be quite a waiting period.
By far the most flexible and cost effective option is to have a picnic, especially if you're travelling with children. However, be warned that there are no takeaway options on the Mont - except for ice cream - so if you want to avail yourself of this option, then you'll need to plan ahead and bring the picnic with you. If this idea appeals, then this 'user's guide' to picnicking on the Mont will hopefully be of use to you.
Don't forget your car! The parking on the causeway is never covered by the tide. Others yes, so, read carefully at what time you're advised to move your car. (refer to link for details or advanced information's).
In case of high tide, you can let your car on the causeway. If there are two many cars you will have to use the parking lot at two kilometers. It is free of charge and situated at the entrance of the causeway.
Thanks to VT memeber Kakapo2 who advised me about some errors ... with my English.
We arrived at the Mont early morning. As we approached, we could see that the tide was well out and that they were parking cars where the tide comes in. There was a queue already!
BE AWARE....PARKING IS NOT FREE
Parking for our Car was in 2011 .....6 euros.
NEXT.....Before you leave the carpark, check the tide times as you don't want your car surrounded by sea water.
BE AWARE, the water rises up to 2 hours before high tide.
In case of high tide, you can leave your car on the causeway. If the causeway is full, then you will have to park 2kms away for FREE.
Mont Saint Michel is always accessible, the causeway is never covered by the water.
Having done all this, then it is time to walk a bit closer to "the Mont" and take a nice photo!
Time to enjoy!
Please check the website for tide times and more details. It is quite interesting reading about the tides.
Now we are going to start the hard, high climb to the top. This is the Grand Staircase and there are many steps, I believe 350 or more.
Right from entering "The Mont" you are climbing, even if not steps, SO if unfit, you may be feeling the pinch already.
Next are the steps, and it is quite a climb, I needed several rest breaks like a lot of other people. I wouldn't advise the climb if you are unfit or have health problems.
The danger and also I found the excitement of this place, is that it is very much contolled by the rise and fall of the tide. All the businesses , resturants, hotels and shops open and close according to the tide coming in and out. This is an island in every sense of the word, as the causeway strip that links the island to the mainland is very narrow and low down, when the tide comes in (it was about 7pm when i was there) everyone rushed to close up , unless they wanted to be stranded on the mountain till the next day.
The wardens in the parking lot warned for all visitors not to park their cars beyond a certain point for fear of them getting submerged by the fast moving tides. We heard stories of people that had simply gone for a walk and wondered too far from the mainlan only to be airlifted bby a helicopter because after 20mins they had realised that they were surrounded by water.
The bay cuts 23 km into the land. If, at firstsight, the bay looks very inviting and seems fit for an agreeable promenade, it is very dangerous. The tides are terrible and can be hazardous. The sea mounts sometimes at a speed of 3,7 km an hour (2,5 miles), which is a lot. But at some places the speed of upcoming tide is much quicker, some say, at the speed of a horses gallop
The easist way to get to and from the Mount is a bus (Courier-Breton) that takes you to and from Rennes, Saint Malo, and other cities with a train station for transports. They only arrive and depart in the early morning and late afternoon. Word of advice - BE EARLY! The bus was scheduled to depart Mont Saint Michel at 9:30 for Rennes. We had a late start and after checking out of the hotel, we ran to the bus stop and made it at 9:27. THE BUS WAS GONE! Another bus wasn't scheduled until 2:30. We were so paranoid about not making it onto this bus that we sat down at the bus stop at 1:50. The bus arrived at 2:15 and we pulled away at 2:25. For the unlucky souls who too had banked on a 2:30 depature, they were also left wondering where the bus had gone.
The well-known peculiarity of Mont-Saint-Michel - that it is an island connected to the continent by a strip of land that twice a day disappears under the rising tide - has had the effect of preserving here a sort of microcosm that might be said to be the epitome of the Middle Ages. You must know well when the water will cover the land, to have time to get out Mont Saint Michel. To be stuck there could be very dangerous for your life.
It is a long way to the top. If you are not used to walking, you will make it, don't worry, there are things to stop and see along the way.
Two things you should have are good shoes, and a bottle of water. Not only going up but coming down you need traction, and with flip flops... not a good idea. Leave them in the car.
There are places to buy water along the way, and snacks, etc., but water bought from the market is much cheaper.
The most important thing to remember when thinking about safety at MSM is that the tides around the island rise and fall extremely rapidly. Many, many people have perished over the course of the centuries because they thought they knew better than those who would undoubtedly have advised them not to do it.
It is possible to journey across the water at low tide, but you must only do this when in the company of a professional and very experienced guide. Don't ever assume that because the water is only ankle deep when you start out that you have plenty of time to make the crssing.
The causeway is there for a very important reason. Heed the warnings and you will be fine.