A crown jewel of Normandy, Mont Saint-Michel is a dream destination for many landscape and travel photographers. A fairy-tale castle surrounded by water immediately captures the imagination of those who lay eyes on it. In this Mont Saint-Michel photography guide, I will share the best photo locations as well as tips and tricks that will help you get some stunning images.
- Meet the Incredible Mont Saint-Michel
- Best Photo Locations for Mont Saint-Michel
- Is It Possible to Walk Around Mont Saint-Michel?
- What About Photography in Mont Saint-Michel?
- Photography Tips for Mont Saint-Michel
- Planning the Trip
- Final Thoughts
Meet the Incredible Mont Saint-Michel
Mont Saint-Michel is a fortress on an islet near the Atlantic coast in Normandy, northern France. At low tide, Mont Saint-Michel is accessible by foot. But the rising water turns the castle into an amazing fairy-tale island.
Then the only link to the mainland remains a two-kilometer bridge constructed a few years back. During especially strong high tide even that becomes partly submerged.
The sight of magnificent towers and fortifications rising as if directly from the sea is incredibly picturesque. So much so, that many of those who see it for the first time, have trouble believing it is real!
And yet, it definitely is. Dating back to the 8th century, Mont Saint-Michel played an important role in French history and culture. According to the legend, the archangel Michael himself gave instructions to build it.
It is no wonder that Mont Saint-Michel has inspired numerous photographers, artists, and filmmakers. The kingdom in Disney’s Tangled or the city of Minas Tirith in Peter Jackson’s epic The Return of the King were both modeled based on the famous castle.
In other words, for any photographer traveling to Normandy, Mont Saint-Michel should be a must-visit item on the itinerary.
Best Photo Locations for Mont Saint-Michel
So, what are the best spots to photograph Mont Saint-Michel? Obviously, it is best photographed from afar, where you can comfortably fit its imposing outline into the frame.
There are several locations in the proximity that allow you to do exactly that, each featuring a unique angle on the castle. I have marked them on the following map for easier visual reference.
All of these spots are completely safe in the sense that you won’t be caught off-guard by the rising tide.
However, should you decide to venture further into the bay in search of a better view, please remember that the sea can be extremely dangerous in Normandy. So be careful and mind your surroundings.
The “classic”, most famous view of the castle that you see so often is from the dam over the Couesnon river. The location is very easy to access, so if you only have limited time in the area, this would be my number one recommendation.
The dam is situated at the beginning of the causeway connecting Mont Saint-Michel with the mainland. You will be shooting directly towards the castle, in the northern direction. Keep in mind that Mont Saint-Michel is still a fair distance away, so have something with a telephoto reach.
Because the dam is directly south of Mont Saint-Michel, in summer it works really well for both sunrise and sunset. In spring or autumn, however, your mileage may vary. With the sun east or west, you would need the sky to cooperate.
I got fairly lucky with my image. Although it was April, and the sunset played out far to the left, some of the clouds to the north caught the light. The show only lasted for a couple of minutes, but it was enough for me to get the shot.
I should also mention that the dam is made of wood and tends to vibrate whenever people cross it. The resulting shake may ruin longer exposures. To avoid it, position yourself at the rear end of the walkway, which is more stable.
Lastly, the area around the dam is off-limits to cars. Unless you are staying in one of the nearby hotels, you will need to park in the visitor parking lot. From there, it is a 15-minute walk.
Alternatively, you can take the free shuttle bus to Mont Saint-Michel. One of the stops is right next to the dam.
Since 2014, Mont Saint-Michel is linked to the mainland by a new elevated bridge that replaces the previous causeway. It is approximately two kilometers long, and along it, you will encounter additional photo opportunities.
Here, you are closer to Mont Saint-Michel and thus can fill the frame with the subject more easily. You can also use the road as a leading line towards the island.
That said, during the day, I generally find the photos from the bridge somewhat lackluster. There are lots of tourists, and the road doesn’t make for a very appealing foreground in my opinion.
To me, this is an excellent place for night photography. Mont Saint-Michel stands illuminated nicely in the background, and you can play with the light traces left by passing traffic to create additional interest in the picture.
Since you will probably be heading to Mont Saint-Michel anyway, I recommend walking instead of taking the shuttle bus. That way, you can scout possible photo spots and return later when the conditions are more favorable.
Aptly called Les méandres (the meanders, or river bends) on the map, this is another indisputable classic of Mont Saint-Michel photography. Not least because of the variety of compositions it features.
The neatly symmetrical bends of the river zigzagging away towards the abbey in the distance are famous among the photographers. When filled with water, the river serves as an excellent foreground. If dry, its prominent line can still be used, although arguably with a little less impact.
Because you are looking at Mont Saint-Michel from the east, this is a marvelous sunset location, especially in summer. Unfortunately, this is also when the river is most likely going to be dry. To catch it flowing, try coming in spring or autumn instead.
Still, should you get unlucky with the river, you can still capture some stunning sunsets from here, so it’s worth coming nonetheless.
The field is also used as a pasture. If you are after that dreamy image of Mont Saint-Michel with the sheep in the foreground, this is where I would go first.
To reach the spot, you will need to park near the hotel Auberge de la Baie. You can also simply walk here from the bridge. This will take you 20 minutes or so.
The area is fenced off, but there is a small ladder that you can climb to get in. I don’t know if you are permitted to do so, but I have seen many people do it. Plus, there are no signs indicating otherwise.
Once in, search for compositions along the path. There is no particular point to reach, just find something that works for you, then take it from there.
The Eastern Meadows
While the river is an ideal choice to photograph the sunset, this next location is fantastic for sunrises. Since it doesn’t seem to have an official name (other than rather nondescript “Fotospot Mont-Saint-Michel” suggested by Google), I took the liberty of coming up with my own.
The meadows are kind of in the middle of nowhere. If you have a car, you can drive to the pin I marked on the map and park there. I don’t think you are supposed to do that as the roads are used by agricultural transport. But early in the morning, I doubt anyone would object.
Otherwise, it is about 25-30 minutes by foot from the dam.
In many ways, these meadows are very similar to the ones on the opposite side of Couesnon.
Except, in this case, Mont Saint-Michel dominates the horizon to your right. You might even discover sheep here as well but I didn’t see any when I was there.
On the satellite image, you will notice a clear line separating the cultivated fields from the marshy grazing land extending into the bay. If you want to get a bit closer to Mont Saint-Michel, wear water-resistant shoes because that terrain is rather hard to navigate.
Personally, though, I found the edge of the pastures a decent enough position. The foreground is nothing much to look at but the sunrise drama in the sky more than compensated for that.
Pointe du Grouin du Sud
The final photo location I would like to mention is a viewpoint called Pointe du Grouin du Sud. Situated on the tip of the cape on the far side of the bay, it offers a less common perspective of Mont Saint-Michel.
The viewpoint is best visited early in the morning when the sun rising behind you highlights the castle walls. Alternatively, sunsets can be equally gorgeous, allowing you to capture the silhouette of Mont Saint-Michel against the burning skies.
Because of the distance, you obviously need a telephoto lens here. Although depending on the sea level, you might be able to work some rock formations into the frame.
Pointe du Grouin du Sud is a relatively lengthy 40-minute drive away from Mont Saint-Michel. Because of it, I wouldn’t pick it over the other spots. But, if you want to try something different, keep this one in mind.
Is It Possible to Walk Around Mont Saint-Michel?
During the low tide, it may be tempting to venture off to the bay in search of a different composition. Indeed, scattered pools of water left by the receding ocean may seem like a perfect opportunity to catch some reflections.
As long as you remain relatively close to the walls and other people, this should not be an issue. However, I would strongly caution you against going far into the bay on your own.
The water around Mont Saint-Michel rises very quickly. Even if you know the schedule, you might underestimate the speed of its return and end up separated from the land like these poor chaps.
Another danger is the quicksands. The last thing you want to experience is getting stuck somewhere you may not be able to receive help.
Therefore, the safest way to explore the bay is with a certified guide. But, should you decide to navigate the surroundings of the island on your own, there are a few easy rules to follow.
Study the tide schedule and only head out at low tide. Avoid patches that look suspicious and get out of quicksand immediately if you encounter them. Know how to escape in case you get stuck.
Last but not least, wear shoes and clothes that you are fine with getting wet or dirty. Better still, take off the shoes completely. You won’t be walking on solid ground, but rather on the mix of wet sand, silt, and mud. Its effect on your clothing can be devastating.
And of course — you do it at your own risk. But as long as you respect the ocean, come prepared, and are mindful of your surroundings, you should be fine.
What About Photography in Mont Saint-Michel?
As strange as it may sound, purely from the photography standpoint, there isn’t much reason to go inside. Mont Saint-Michel is mostly known for its fairy-tale dreamy look which is best captured from outside the city walls.
Inside, Mont Saint-Michel is a small and rather typical medieval town. Its ramparts, tile roofs, and brash seagulls are all quite photogenic, but I wouldn’t expect to come away with anything truly groundbreaking.
For best results, I suggest staying in Mont Saint-Michel until dusk. With tourist crowds gone, the narrow streets illuminated by the evening lights regain their original charm.
That said, Mont Saint-Michel is well worth a visit purely for educational and entertainment purposes. It is fun to explore and there are quite a few things to occupy yourself with.
One of the more popular attractions is watching the tide rise. If you can time your visit to be there when it happens, head to the battlements to witness the spectacle. It is phenomenal how quickly the ocean surrounds Mont Saint-Michel turning it back into an island.
Other than that, there are numerous souvenir shops, cobbled side alleys, and an impressive medieval abbey at the top.
All in all, I wholeheartedly recommend spending a couple of hours inside. After all, it is not always only about photography.
Photography Tips for Mont Saint-Michel
Now that you are familiar with the shooting locations, let’s talk about some of the general photography principles in Normandy. There aren’t many, but here are some topics I thought are worth covering.
Tide Schedule is Key
Understanding the tide schedule is imperative for photography around Mont Saint-Michel. Not only does it dictate where you can and cannot go, but also has a drastic effect on how the scene looks.
The general consensus is that Mont Saint-Michel is best photographed during the high tide. So ideally, I would suggest planning your trip so that your preferred photography time (sunset or sunrise) coincides with that.
There are several websites to check the tide schedule, but I find the official Mont Saint-Michel page the most useful. It displays the highs and lows up until the end of the following year. This is especially handy for planning a future trip.
An important thing to remember is that the magnitude of tides varies. To see Mont Saint-Michel become a real island with even the bridge submerged, the water needs to reach a level of at least 12.75 meters.
Some sites don’t display the height in meters, but rather a tidal coefficient. In this case, look for a value of 100 and above.
In other words, Mont Saint-Michel is fully surrounded by the ocean only a few days a year. For 2021, for example, I counted around 15 occasions. This is of course extremely limiting with regards to when you can travel to Mont Saint-Michel.
The good news is that you don’t need to sweat over these numbers to have a great experience and capture wonderful images at Mont Saint-Michel. Some of the locations (the meadows and the river in particular) work equally well regardless of the sea level.
For the first-ever visit in particular, just pick whatever suits your plans and go from there.
Bring the Right Gear
To photograph Mont Saint-Michel you don’t require any special equipment apart from the basic landscape photography setup. All you need is a camera, a tripod, and a set of lenses.
As far as glass is concerned, I would bring a full range of lenses. Normally, you photograph Mont Saint-Michel from far away, so a telephoto zoom is definitely a requirement. Meanwhile, a wide-angle could also be useful on the bridge.
I wouldn’t rely solely on a versatile travel zoom, such as 24-105. You might end up struggling on both ends of the range.
To shoot during sunrise or sunset, a tripod is a must. It is also a good idea to bring both ND and polarizer filters if you have them. ND in particular could be helpful to smoothen out the ripples and waves.
Drone, in my opinion, is optional, but I will talk more about why in the next section.
Drones Are Not Allowed
If you’re a drone owner, you might be tempted to fly it near Mont Saint-Michel for some sweet aerial photos. Unfortunately, doing so in a legal manner is… complicated.
I’ve touched upon the general rules for drone operation in France in my recent blog post about Étretat. You are welcome to check it out, but the general principles are — register your drone, complete the online test, then follow all the common rules.
The main issue, however, is that the area around Mont Saint-Michel is a no-fly zone. France has a detailed map outlining where drones are allowed, and, you guessed it, Mont Saint-Michel is off-limits.
The closest you can launch from is on the outskirts of the Eastern Meadows and from Pointe du Grouin du Sud. Both are very far from the island, so you might not get the image you are hoping for.
Now, to play the Devil’s advocate, nothing will likely happen if you do fly a little (or a lot) closer. Just keep in mind that doing so would be illegal, and you are solely responsible for your actions.
Personally, I would just leave the drone at home and concentrate on nailing the ground-level shots. After all, those can be every bit as lovely.
Planning the Trip
Before wrapping up this photography guide for Mont Saint-Michel, here are some basic suggestions on how to plan and organize the trip. These assume that photography is the main purpose but can be used as more general guidelines as well.
Hopefully, these will help you have a great journey to Normandy and come back with some remarkable photos.
How Many Days to Spend at Mont Saint-Michel
Two nights is a perfect length of stay at Mont Saint-Michel. With two sunrises and two sunsets to work with, you should bag some very solid photos. Plus, you will be able to visit the town and scout the locations in the meantime.
With one night you have to pick the locations carefully and are dependent on the conditions. Regardless, if that is the maximum you can dedicate, it’s a decent option.
Stay longer, and you might feel bored. To tour Mont Saint-Michel you only need a couple of hours, and there isn’t much else of interest in the proximity.
When to Visit Mont Saint-Michel
In my opinion, for photography in this part of Normandy, the season does not matter too much. I would avoid winter because it rains a lot, and the landscape looks a bit bleak. Besides, the sun’s position is less than ideal for photography.
Other than that, you can get some stunning images whenever you choose to go. Spring and autumn especially are easy to recommend. The conditions are pleasant but the weather is still versatile enough to produce some juicy drama in the sky.
Summer is also beautiful, but it is the peak season in Normandy, which means more people and higher prices. Plus, waking up for those super early northern summer sunrises is always a pain. 4:30 am alarm clock, anyone?
Where to Stay and Eat
As a rule of thumb, I advise you not to stay or dine within Mont Saint-Michel. The prices are exuberant, while the value for money ratio tends to be abysmal. Besides, you will have to rely on the shuttle service or cross the bridge on foot whenever you want to go somewhere.
The venues near the dam offer a far better deal. Many cost half as much for the same or better quality. As a bonus, you will receive a code allowing you to park inside the fenced-off area, thus shortening the walk.
This lifehack actually works even with restaurant bookings. I called to arrange dinner the evening before and received the entry code. With it, I could then park inside for free the entire next day.
And while we are on the subject of dining, I do recommend Restaurant La Ferme Saint Michel for a nice evening outing.
If you have a car, there are a plethora of options even further away from Mont Saint-Michel. Just pick something you like and roll with it.
How to Get to Mont Saint-Michel
The simplest way to get to Mont Saint-Michel is by car. From Paris, it is a 4.5-hour drive. Because there are tolls for highways in France, expect to pay approximately 25 EUR in addition to fuel costs.
When driving from somewhere else, this online toll calculator will help estimate your expenses. Remember that you can always avoid tolls by driving the country roads, although these are generally slower.
You can also access Mont Saint-Michel by train from Paris. The official website has all the required information, so you can check it out there.
If you arrive by car, you need to park at a large visitor parking lot. From there, you either walk (16 minutes to the dam, approximately 40 to the castle) or take a free ‘passeur’ shuttle bus.
The shuttle bus runs from the Tourist Information Centre, right next to the parking area, between 7:30 am and midnight. The journey lasts around 12 minutes.
Do You Need a Car at Mont Saint-Michel
Having a car makes things easier, but it is not really required. As long as you stay close to the Couesnon river and the dam, you can reach both the island and all the major viewpoints on foot.
Other than Pointe du Grouin du Sud, the farthest location in this article will be a 25-minute walk or so. Not exactly a stone’s throw away, but still very manageable.
Therefore, the only major benefit to having a car is the ability to choose accommodation within a wider radius. The rest is purely a question of your preference.
Mont Saint-Michel is one of the most remarkable and memorable places in Normandy. Coming as if straight from the fairy tale, this charming island never fails to amaze.
If you love photography and want to bring home some gorgeous images from northern France, Mont Saint-Michel should definitely be on your itinerary.
I hope you enjoyed this photography guide to Mont Saint-Michel. If so, I would appreciate it if you could share it with your friends and whoever else might find it useful.
I’ve made a YouTube video of my trip to Mont Saint-Michel, have a look. I also have other articles on this blog that may be of interest to you. Here are just some examples to get started:
- Landscapes of Normandy – Easy Photography Guide to Étretat
- Lisbon Photography Guide: 10 Fabulous Spots to Capture
- One day itinerary for landscape photography in Southern Bavaria
- Best Landscape Photography Locations in Patagonia
- Mallorca Best Photo Spots and How to Plan A Trip
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With that, thanks for reading, happy travels, and let’s meet each other again soon!