The dreamy island enclave of Mont Saint-Michel is a must-see for families visiting Normandy. In fact, this local treasure did indeed start with a dream: Saint Aubert, bishop of Avranches, saw the archangel Michael appear to him in his sleep one night in 706, calling on him to build a sanctuary in his name.
In the year 966, a community of Benedictine monks established and built the first church here. It was at this time that the abbey began to receive its first pilgrims. The site grew and was fortified during and after the Hundred Years’ War and the French Revolution. Today, families can wander the commune and marvel at the ancient abbey, its ramparts and the Gothic Revival and Norman architecture.
Allow a full day to reach and explore the abbey and surroundings. Many visitors choose to make the trip from a larger town nearby, such as Bayeux. It is essential to leave ample time for this day trip as cars are not allowed directly onto the island — you can access the commune via the free Mont Saint-Michel shuttle, “Le Passeur,” which runs every 15 minutes between 7:30 am and midnight. Although tides don’t typically interfere with shuttle service, there are occasional days in any given year when high tide blocks access for roughly an hour.
From June to September, it’s possible to make a Mont Saint-Michel day trip by taking the train from Paris and then a bus to the inside. However, we don’t recommend this option for families as the journey alone takes almost four hours.
TIP: Bayeux also makes an ideal home base for those incorporating the D-Day beaches into their itinerary.
It’s helpful to have a guide for Mont Saint-Michel to truly understand the unique history, architecture and ecological aspects of this famed UNESCO World Heritage site. Along with helping families navigate the busy lanes through the commune and find less-traveled paths to escape crowds, a guide can also tailor the visit to your specific areas of interest. If you choose to explore on your own, the audioguide in the abbey is well worth it.
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At low tide, families with older children and teens can wade into the quicksand around the island, or even make a full crossing of the bay to get a feel for the pilgrimage that the faithful have made to Mont Saint-Michel over the centuries. (A guide in this case is strictly required.) With a guide’s help, you could also arrange a seaside lunch or combine a visit to the abbey and commune with a stop in a local town like Villedieu-les-Poêles, which is famous for its copper pots.
Mont Saint-Michel has become fairly touristy, so we suggest getting to the island by 9 am in order to enjoy the sights and not have to wait too long for the shuttle. The abbey and its ramparts are the marquee attraction and do require climbing many stairs. For this reason, this outing isn’t ideal for families with very small children or strollers in tow. Make sure to pack water and snacks, and plan to dress for variable weather, which can change quickly.
TIP: Make sure to stop for panoramic photos after you get off the shuttle and before you arrive fully onto the island — ideally at the outset of your trip while everyone is still fresh!
Although there are Mont Saint-Michel hotel options right on the island, these are simple — there are no family-friendly accommodations in the luxury category. We prefer basing in one of the towns in Normandy that offer more choice and also put you within easy reach of other sights in the region. Our Family Travel Advisors can help you book accommodations that suit your plans and the ages of your kids, often with exclusive amenities and perks, and we can arrange private guides and tours as well. Reach out to us for more information.
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