In today’s episode, Elyse and Annie give you and overview of Paris museums. Big museums, small museums, museums that present great temporary exhibits, museums that appeal to locals, museums famous for their permanent collection. Odd little museums around a specific topic, museum who are good for visitors who bring children, and museums that are good for people who don’t really love museums.
If you’re preparing your first visit to Pairs, this episode is important for you because that’s how you’ll learn about what’s out there for you to enjoy besides the ones everyone has heard about like the Orsay and the Louvre.
We don’t list all Paris museums, there are too many, but we do our best to give you a comprehensive review of the wonderful Paris museum scene. And if you don’t understand some of the names of the museums we mention verbally, read on, the list is all written out here!
Don’t miss our tip about the Museum Pass for children and teens at the end of the episode!
Is It Possible to Visit the Mont Saint Michel as a Day Trip from Paris?
The question of today is how to visit the Mont Saint Michel by train from Paris? Lots of people want to know about this because if visiting the Mont Saint Michel is on your bucket list, it’s a priority for you!
The whole idea of this episode is how to visit the Mont Saint Michel from Paris on your own, so I won’t go into booking a tour, but there are lots of companies that offer such day-trips between Paris and the Mont Saint Michel.
The Mont Saint Michel isn’t that far from Paris, but it’s far enough that doing it as a day trip with a rental car can be tricky. We explore that option and I bring up all the things a visitor may not consider that are important.
What other options do you have? Are there good train options? Yes, indeed! That’s my favorite option. But there are good trains and bad trains. I tell you about both so you don’t waste your time.
Overall, getting to the Mont Saint Michel from Paris isn’t so hard to do, but you definitely need to plan this out so it is a long wonderful day instead of a long painful day!
This is Join Us in France Episode 186. Bonjour, I’m Annie and Join Us in France is the podcast where we talk about France, its many quirks, its history, its language, and of course, destinations in France you want to learn about because, hopefully, you’ll be visiting soon and you need all the best tips from a local!
In today’s episode, I answer this question: is it possible to visit the mont saint michel as a day trip from paris, on your own, without joining a tour? Lots of people wonder about this, but is it possible or even advisable? Let’s talk about it in today’s episode.
Join Us in France is brought to you by Patreon supporters and Addicted to France, the small group tour company for people who want to enjoy France to the fullest with zero stress. Check out our upcoming tours on AddictedtoFrance.com
Today’s episode is going to be short, I think, because I am simply answering one question: is it possible to visit the mont saint michel as a day trip from Paris, on your own, without joining a tour? Well, of course, we’ll also talk about how to go about that, and we’ll end on Is it a good idea?
Lots of people wonder about this because onces you’re in Paris, you’re thinking the Mont Saint Michel isn’t that far, is it? And visiting the Mont Saint Michel is a lot of people’s bucket list, so let’s get into the nitty-gritty of this plan.
Can I Visit the Mont Saint Michel as a Day Trip from Paris in a Car Rental?
There are 360 kilometers (that’s 224 miles) between Paris and the Mont Saint Michel by car, average drive time is around 4 hours each way. This is the kind of distance where it’s far enough that doing it as a day trip with a car may be a bit much.
I don’t know about you, but when I drive for 4 hours and then walk around a Medieval City for 6 hours (which is about how long it’ll take you to do the Mont Saint Michel Justice), I wouldn’t be up to driving back for 4 hours again. But some people wouldn’t mind doing that, so of course it’s an option.
Renting a Car for One Day in Paris
Car rental agencies are not open around the clock in France, not even at major train stations in Paris. So, you’re on the clock, you want to drive off early to avoid commuter traffic jams. You’d like to drive off at 6 AM. You have two choices:
1. You could go get your car at the Charles de Gaulle Airport (that’s open longer hours although not around the clock). But that means leave your hotel in central Paris at 5 AM.
2. Or you could pickup your car the night before and park it in Paris overnight. This can be done, but it introduces complications and extra expense.
If you’re going to go the early morning route, you really need to leave Paris by 6 AM because that puts you at the Mont Saint Michel by 10 AM, visit for 6 hours, and drive off again t 4 PM to drop off your car at 8 PM at CDG and get to your hotel by 9 PM. Long day, but I suppose doable.
This also means that you’re going to be at the Mont Saint Michel exactly at the least desirable time because that’s also when everybody else is there!
If you want better timing for your visit, this is what I believe: pickup your car at noon, get to the Mont by 4 PM (that’s when the masses of visitors start leaving), go directly to the top and the Abbey so you can see it before they close (check on opening times, they change throughout the year.)
Stay as late as the last shuttle back to your car, because you’ll have to park a few miles from the Mont Saint Michel as we’ve mentioned in episode 175 which was an episode on the history of the Mont Saint Michel and episode 176 a trip report on the Mont. The shuttles end service at midnight. Then drive back to Paris in the night. This is a pretty good plan if you are a nocturnal bird or if your jet-lag works in that direction, and that will depend on where you are coming from, so I won’t even try to guess!
We’ve mentioned driving in France on many episodes, but the two main ones you should listen to if you are considering doing this are Episode 16, titled Driving in France, and Episode 138 Tips for Driving in France.
So, these are your driving options. Honestly, if I were driving, I’d either do the late departure from Paris or book at hotel near the Mont. For a hotel for the one night I recommend the Mercure Mont Saint Michel because it’s well situated and not that expensive. It’s near the Mont but not on it.
How About Taking a Train to Visit the Mont Saint Michel as a Day Trip from Paris?
There is no train station at the Mont Saint Michel, so the train cannot take you all the way there. But, since the Mont Saint Michel is such a popular place for visitors, there are really good options on getting there by train. Why isn’t there a train station right at the Mont Saint Michel? Because there are 33 full-time inhabitants there right now, so setting up a train station isn’t high on the list of priorities!
On the other hand, there are so many visitors that there is a regional bus line that takes you the rest of the way between when you get off the train and straight to the Mont. This is not one of those silly buses that stops constantly, it’s a direct bus. So, total between Paris Gare Montparnasse and the Mont Saint Michel is 90 minutes on the bullet train and 45 minutes on the bus. So, this combo fast train + bus will take you 2 hours and 15 minutes. That’s almost half the time it would take driving! That sounds good to me!
Let’s Talk About Some Bad Train Options That You Need To Know About Before I get to the Good Stuff
The closest train station to the Mont Saint Michel is called Pontorson–Mont Saint Michel, but that’s 10 kilometers from the Mont, and it’s not the most efficient way to go. Should you book your train ticket to Pontorson–Mont Saint Michel, you’d have to change trains in Rennes, get on another train to Pontorson–Mont Saint Michel, then get on a bus that will drive you 10 kilometers to the Mont (there are 4 of those a day, timing may be an issue), and then take the free shuttle. That’s too convoluted, you can do simpler than that!
The other bad train option would be to get on a slow train, and by slow train I mean any train that is not a TGV. Slower trains are a little cheaper than the TGV train, but they take a lot longer, they are as slow as a car. So, don’t take the slow train!
Some people can’t resist cramming in more than they really should do in a day and so they have the not so brilliant idea to take the train to Saint Malo or Bayeux, and then take a bus to the Mont Saint Michel. That’s a bad idea because there aren’t that many buses between the two and the schedules will not work out well. You can do better than that!
Kim Henry, on Episode 106 told us that she took the train to Bayeux, and then joined a tour to Mont Saint Michel, and if the schedule works out, why not? But that seems waaayyy too much for me. I’m French, I believe in taking things slow if at all possible.
The Right Way to Do Your Day Trip Between Paris and the Mont Saint Michel by Train
The right way to do this is to take the TGV train and get on a bus line that’s dedicated to taking you the rest of the way to the Mont Saint Michel. This bus is timed to allow TGV passengers to get off the train and get on the bus just outside of the train station. And if the train is delayed, the bus will wait for the TGV to arrive. And if the TGV is delayed so much that the bus can’t wait that long (because they are also taking people back from the Mont Saint Michel back to the train), they’ll add an extra bus to serve the passengers who are arriving late. So it’s not just any bus service, it’s made to serve visitors who choose to take the TGV then the bus to the Mont Saint Michel. Their website is in English and they explain really well how to find the train too. Please check their site because this is all true as of February 2018 as I record this, and things can change!
I mentioned the TGV train, but maybe some of you aren’t familiar with that acronym. TGV stands for Train à Grand Vitesse. It’s the French bullet train. Between Paris and Brittany it can go at a maximum speed of 320 kilometers per hour (that’s 200 miles per hour). So yeah, it’s a fun ride! And you’ll only spend 90 minutes on the train. And there is WiFi on the train, but it’s made for people who have a data plan, either from a French carrier or from a company that has agreements from a French carrier. If you bought a data plan for you trip, it will work on the train. If you didn’t buy a data plan, bring a book!
You will have to choose between two destinations for your TGV ride: either one will work, they both depart from Gare Montparnasse in Paris, but at different times. Your TGV destination should be either Rennes or Dol-de-Bretagne. If you go to Rennes, you leave Paris at 7:40 and arrive at the Mont at 10:55. If you choose to go through Dol-de-Bretagne, you’ll leave at 8:14 and arrive at the Mont by 11:20. Either way, there will be a special bus waiting for you right outside of the train station. There are also other departure times, but those two seem the most sensible to me.
You have to buy your TGV ticket in advance, the earlier you buy it, the less you will pay. Pay attention to this: last minute TGV tickets are expensive! For the bus ticket, that’s cheap and the price stays the same: you pay 12€ to the driver, bring exact change or as close to exact change as you can.
Bottom line: this TGV train + dedicated bus service is a great way to go. I don’t know if it’s the best way for YOU, but it seems to me totally doable and enjoyable.
Least Busy Times at the Mont Saint Michel
I won’t lie to you: because the Mont Saint Michel is such a touristy place, it’s best to be there outside of the hours of 11 AM until 5 PM, but depending on the time of year you go, this may not be such a big deal. When I look at the site that predicts waiting times for major museums and attractions in France, it’s called jaimeattendre and you’ll find a link to it on joinusinfrance.com/links, they say that July isn’t as busy as August, other than July 14th week-end, and that the last week of July is relatively calm. Last week of August is bad, the week of the Marathon is bad (around May 13th), 3 day week-ends are bad, spectacular tide days are bad. September is relatively low attendance and the weather tends to be pretty good. This is Normandy, no promises, but those are the trends.
I didn’t talk about companies that will drive you there on a bus from Paris, but there are many of them. Use your google fingers to find them!
Thank you Barbara Livieri, Shelah Miner, Anne St George, Cas McIntyre, and Sarah Root for pledging to support the show on Patreon this week and thank you to all the other patrons who support the show month after month, it’s really gratifying to have new people find so much value in the show that they want to give back. To support the show on Patreon, go to PATREON.COM/JOINUS and thank you!
Short show update: I am so excited to announce that the Amazon Echo Skill dedicated to Join Us in France is going to be available soon. It’s not ready yet, but things have made great progress. This will make Join Us in France one of the earliest podcasts to get its own skill, which is a big deal because I know those Echos are really popular. Nobody I know has one in France, we’re probably 5 years behind the trend as alway.
For a personal update, well, it’s been cold in Toulouse and all over France. I was hoping for signs of spring, but nope. The daffodils got fooled and bloomed early and last night they got frost bite because it froze hard. It snowed in Corsica and in Provence and pretty much all over France today. So, for those of you coming soon, please check the weather forecast and remember this is France, not southern California, it gets cold and wet!
And, I am getting new glasses. Why am I mentioning that at all? Well, because since getting lasik surgery in 2003 I haven’t needed glasses. At that was so nice! But it’s back to the point where the myopia is back, not too bad, but I can tell, especially when driving somewhere new where I actually need to look at the road signs! I’ve needed glasses for up-close for a while now, but I’ve been in denial about that too. Ah well, at least my vision is easily corrected with glasses.
And that brings me to another thing that’s been on my mind: should I get a new dog or not? My old lady Luna dog died a few weeks ago, and I am faced with a choice. Get my own dog or take care of guide dog puppies?
It’s really hard to do both because when you have a guide dog puppy, you’re supposed to take them lots of places. The guide dog in training goes to all the stores with me and takes special trips on the bus and on the metro, goes to the movie’s and concerts and everything. My own dog doesn’t get to do those things. And dogs have a keen sense of fairness and unfairness.
My Luna was already 11 when I started volunteering with guide dogs, so as long as she got her long walk every day and plenty of attention, she was OK. But I don’t want to do that to a young dog because they won’t understand. So for me it’s either go with my own dog or volunteer with guide dogs.
On the other hand, when you raise a guide dog puppy, you have ZERO say as to what happens with that dog. So long as things go well, it’s fine. But what if there are problems and you completely disagree with what the dog school intends to do with the dog? It’s their dog, their decision. That’s hard to take. I’ve seen some examples of that lately, and it’s not good
So, I don’t know what I’ll do. I am leaning just taking my own dog because that’s a lot less work than a guide dog puppy, and it’s not like I am not too busy as it is. But that will feel a tad selfish. At the same time, I’m hardly the only person that volunteers at the Toulouse Guide Dog school! So I don’t know. The breeder I want to buy from won’t have puppies for several months, so in the meantime I’ll help out at the guide dog school and see how that goes.
All right, that’s going to do it for today’s show. Elyse and I are supposed to be recording an episode in a couple of days that will be a rundown of Paris Museums and what you can expect to see there, the big ones, the minor ones. So I think that’ll what you’ll get to hear about next week.
Thank you for listening and welcome to all the new listeners who found the show recently, it’s good to see new people! The best way to connect with me is via email email@example.com or if you have a question you’d like answered on the show, leave a message on 1-801-806-1015. Au revoir!
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This question comes up all the time on the Facebook group, so let’s talk about it: is it smart to rent a car in France or not? Hint: Yes and No, it’s all explained in the episode!
Is renting a car in France worth the trouble? In other words, for my intellectual friends: To drive or not to drive, that is the question! Wise visitors will weigh the pros and cons of driving vs. finding another mode of transportation while on vacation in France. Fools will ignore this, do what they want, and get stuck in traffic.
As you will find out in this episode, sometimes driving in France is no problem at all. A lot depends on where you are going and when you are going. In general, driving in France is surprisingly easy for most of the people who have talked to me about it on trip reports (see Related Episodes).
But there are a few times and places where driving in France is a terrible idea and I want to tell you why because I am a local and I’ve gotten stuck in traffic myself many time! I also want to give you alternatives that probably won’t pop into your mind naturally if you’re a visitor from North America.
Listen up! This episode will save you a lot of time and aggravation!
What You Will Learn About in this Episode with Timestamps
Is renting a car in France worth the trouble?
[01:23] Here’s the questions we’re going to think about in this episode: Is renting a car in France worth the trouble?
The question is not CAN you rent a car in France. Of course you can, if you have what it takes to rent a car in America, you can rent one in France, the requirements are pretty much the same. So let’s not sweat the small stuff: renting a car in France is no harder than renting a car in North America!
The question you need to ask yourself is SHOULD I rent a car in France? Are there circumstances where I should NOT rent a car in France? In other words: when does it get to be a royal pain in the behind to have a rental car in France?
I decided to address this question because this has come up on several occasions the last few days on the Join Is in France Closed Group on Facebook, and it is confusing indeed.
I live in France, I love to drive, my nickname is “the parking queen”, but still, I have to admit that sometimes I get mad at myself for choosing the car over other modes of transportation. So let me tell you about the times when you do NOT want to have a car in France!
You Should NOT Rent a Car in Paris
[02:45] I suspect most of you won’t have too much trouble understanding that you don’t want a car in Paris. Why? Because parking on the street is really difficult to find (even for me, the parking Queen), there are meters everywhere and when you find the ever elusive parking spot, you have to go back to feed the meter every 2 hours. There are underground parking lots in Paris where you can leave your car longer, but you’ll pay a lot for parking and many of them are not easy to get in and out of.
French parking lot designers don’t think like normal human beings. They have crazy notions like all you really need is 1″ clearance, or that we all drive tiny Smart Cars! You know, it’s just really tight everywhere you go. So, pay parking lots in France will make you sweat bullets when you’re trying not to damage your rental car.
Forget everything you know about parking your car at home! Paris is not American suburbia with straight driveways and a nice wide garage door that you open with the click of a button. I want you to understand that no matter how much you pay for parking in Paris, it will be considerably more complicated than that!
French Intersections Will Kill You, Really
[04:06] The other problem with having a car in Paris is that there are a lot of intersections that you won’t understand as a North American driver. They won’t make any sense to you because they barely make sense to French people who learned how to drive in Paris! And when you don’t understand how an intersection works, you’re putting yourself and others in danger.
Many of these truly bizarre intersections have been fixed in other parts of France because they are the cause of many accidents. But in Paris and other large cities, they can’t close the intersection long enough to really fix it, so they slap on a band-aid and everybody has to live with it!
If You Must, Rent a Car from a Train Station
[05:06] So, if you absolutely need to pickup a car in Paris because you’re driving out to other parts of France, I recommend you get your car at one of the major train stations in Paris. There are 6 major train stations in Paris: Gare du Nord, Gare de l’Est, gare Saint-Lazare, gare Montparnasse, gare d’Austerlitz, and gare de Lyon.
You could also go to one of the airports, but that’s harder to do, a simple metro line will take you to any of the train stations. I’ll put a map on the show notes so you can see where they are in Paris, to see that go to joinusinfrance.com/185
All of these train station have car rental agencies, but not all of them have all agencies. So, if you absolutely want to rent from Hertz, check out which ones have Hertz, but they probably all do. I think you should avoid Paris city driving as much as possible. So, if you’re going to drive in the direction of Lyon, then pickup your rental at Gare de Lyon. If you’re going to drive in the direction of Toulouse, rent from Gare Montparnasse. If you’re going to Alsace, rent from Gare de l’Est, makes sense? And come to the train station with all your luggage so you don’t have to track back into the city.
What Is It Like in the Rest of France?
[06:59] Now, let’s talk about other areas in France. Outside of big cities, France is easy to drive in. Most French people follow the rules, we’re predictable well trained drivers. Roads are well-maintained overall, all of that is going to seem normal to you. One of these days I’ll put out a book on driving in France because I used to teach driving and it’s fun to think about how it all works. But in general, if you can drive in a major metropolitan are in America, you’re not going to be startled driving in France.
Most of the Time You’ll Need to Park Far Away from the Main Attraction
[07:47] Most of us think of cars as a great option for people with limited mobility. Well, in France, they are and they’re not. Let me explain. If you, the driver, has limited mobility, it’s going to be a problem. You need a driver who can do a fair bit of walking, up and down hills, stairs, without a proper sidewalk also.
As you visit scenic little villages perched up on a hill or medieval towns with beautiful half-timbered houses, you will always need to park quite far from the place you want to visit. And when you are visiting a place with narrow streets and cobblestone paths, you will not park in that village. Most of these places make you park away from the village. Sometimes it’s not very far away, sometimes it is quite a way!
French People Are Unruly When It Comes To Parking
[09:06] These villages need tourism, so they do the best they can to be accommodating. They often have a small parking lot pretty close to the village and an overflow for high affluence days. I’ve seen places where the overflow is full and people start parking every which way along the roads which makes it hard for everyone trying to walk to the village. But if a village only gets that busy a few days a year they can’t invest in an expensive parking lot just for those few days.
French people don’t care anyway, they’ll park anywhere. But we get visitors who are used to a little more structure and might get startled. I overheard an English visitor say “why don’t they hand out tickets to all those badly parked cars?” The reason is, this is a village that needs the visitors, they don’t want to get a reputation for ticketing people!
Parking at Les Baux-de-Provence and the Mont-Saint-Michel
[10:49] One example, Les Baux-de-Provence. Beautiful place. But you park far away from the center of the village and it’s up-hill and most of that way there isn’t a proper sidewalk, It’s totally doable and worth it for most of us, but if you’re going with a person who requires a wheelchair or strollers, you won’t enjoy the walk! These are things you need to know in advance.
I’m not saying don’t go, but I am saying, be aware that there is no parking in those scenic little villages! Some places have shuttles at high season between the parking lots and the venue you want to see. Those are wonderful but most places don’t have one because it’s expensive. So, you’ll need to walk. It’s good for you, right?
Mont-Saint-Michel does this well. They make you park pretty far, and then they give you a free shuttle. There are also tiny towns that do this. Once you’ve decided where you want to go, look it up, the google will tell you about parking anywhere you wish to go. Why do they have a nice shuttle service at the Mont-Saint-Michel and not at Les Baux-de-Provence? You guessed it: money!
If You Have a Car Drop If Off ASAP
[12:23] The other thing I want to emphasize is, Provence with a car in the summer is hell. There are so many people driving around just trying to find a parking spot that city streets are always packed with cars going nowhere. It will be as much fun as LA at rush hour. So, if you are going to Cannes, Nice, Sainte-Maxime, Saint-Tropez, Fréjus, Antibes, Cagnes-sur-Mer or anywhere along that coast, don’t go by car, or if you do, drop off the car at a car rental agency as soon as you arrive.
Go By Bus If That’s An Option!
[13:04} If you’re staying for several days and you picked a hotel in Nice for example. You want to go to Saint-Paul-de-Vence for the day. The first thing you should ask yourself is “Is there a bus that will take me there?” That’s a good question for the local tourist office, isn’t it? Ask them! Their job is to help you find local transportation! They know all the lines, they know all the good tips, that’s what they are there for! So, first, try to go by bus! It’s cheap, it’s clean, it’s safe, and you don’t have to mess with driving or parking!
Don’t Keep Your Rental Car For Several Days In A Row
[14:09] If you want to take a day-trip somewhere that doesn’t have a bus from where you are, rent a car for the day, but only for that day. One of the worst things you can do in the summer in those popular vacation spots is rent a car and keep it for several days. You’ll be stressed out about parking the car the whole time. Renting a car for several days in a row doesn’t even get you a discount on the rental, you pay same per day if you keep the car for one day or for one week, so don’t keep it for a week! Go back a get a different car for a few days in a row if you need to.
Choose a Hotel that Will Work for You
[15:00] If you’re going to be mostly on the beach and don’t plan on day trips or visiting museums or anything like that, stay at a hotel on the beach. If you’re going to be moving around visiting various places, get a hotel near the city center. I like to stay next to the main city plaza or the main cathedral or a major covered market, but always city center.
In France Avoid Hotels Right Close to the Train Station
[15:54] Train station and bus station are usually next to one another and they are always walking distance to city center. So, a hotel or apartment city center, but not right at the train station is ideal. Why not right at the train station? Many cities in France the area right next to the train station can be a bit seedy. Not always, but for a long time that’s where you went to find a prostitute or buy weed, I mean nothing too bad, but the area right around the train station is never as nice as the city center.
Parking Is Difficult In All Popular Spots In France
[16:22] I’m telling you this about Provence, but it’s not just Provence. It’s anywhere that’s popular for summer vacation or long weekends (and we have a lot of those in May and June). Anywhere there’s a beach, when the weather is good, parking is awful. Or if it’s beautiful and scenic. Parking will be awful.
Your Homework For Today
[16:57] Your job, as a smart visitor, is to figure out where you want to go. Make a real plan and then when you are ready with your real plan in hand, you can figure out the specifics of the easiest way to get there. If you show up at the Tourism Office asking “Is there a bus between Nice and Menton?” they can help you with that. If you show up saying “I have no idea what to do and I don’t even know what I want, but I hear this place is cool” they’ll shove a map in your hand and hope you leave soon. So do your job, decide what you want.
This podcast is a great resource to help you decide what you want and there are other resources like it. So keep listening, and decide what you want. If you have friends who are coming to France, tell them about this resource and encourage them to be a well-prepared traveler. You vacation time is precious, don’t waste it looking for a parking spot!
[18:15] To conclude: if you need a car, keep it for as little time as you can. Check it back in to the car rental agency and let it be their problem, not yours. Use tourist offices to find out about bus service and excursions to various places. You could call an Uber too, we have that in France you know! Maybe they’ll tell you to take the train. They know what’s best for that area! Summer in Provence and anywhere near a beach is driving and parking hell. You have been warned!
The best way to connect with me is via email firstname.lastname@example.org or if you have a question you’d like answered on the show, leave a message on 1-801-806-1015. Don’t be shy, call 1-801-806-1015! Au revoir!
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