Visit St. Michael’s Mount

St Michael's Mount

When I was planning my trip to Cornwall last fall, I kept seeing photos of this island off the coast with what looked like a castle stuck on top. I would be puzzled by why pictures of Mont Saint-Michel – a French tourist site – kept showing up in my UK Pinterest searches. Turns out I’m the dummy, I was wrong, and it was actually St. Michael’s Mount off the coast of Cornwall in the UK. Who knew the Brits had their very own version of the iconic French site. Having worked that out, a visit to St. Michael’s Mount was in order!

St. Michael’s Mount

St. Michael’s Mount is a tidal island, off the coast of Marazion in southern England. It is accessible at low tide by foot across the causeway. Or, during the high season, you can travel by boat from Marazion.

As part of the National Trust, there is of course history to be seen and absorbed at the Mount. The harbour and grounds are free to visit, but the garden and castle require visitors to pay admission. If you are spending lots of time in England seeing historical sites, you might consider a National Trust membership. If you have one, then your visit to the castle and gardens is included, though booking ahead is required.

Getting There

Getting to St. Michael’s Mount is, in some ways, more interesting than actually being there. (That’s perhaps not fair since I didn’t visit the castle or the gardens, but it was certainly more of an adventure figuring out the transportation!)

Marazion is a small village that is quite near Penzance, a small town, which is sort of not really near anything. Cornwall is the lower southwest tip of England, and Penzance is a town in Cornwall… you can find it on a map.

Penzance (which naturally makes me think of pirates) is about two and a half hours from Exeter by train. We were staying in Falmouth, about an hour up the coast from Penzance on the train, but because of the rail strikes at the time, things were a bit more complicated. We opted to take the train to Penzance and stay the night, using the time to explore the town and leaving a full day to visit St. Michael’s Mount.

From Penzance, there’s a nice seaside walkway for walkers or bikers that runs the 5 kilometers or so between Penzance and Marazion. Or, there is a little bus you can take from town. We walked one way, and bussed back.

From Marazion, head down to the beach and wait for the tide to go out, then walk along the damp and slippery rock causeway to the castle. Or, go in high season (not in November like I did) and take the boat.

It was surprisingly difficult to exercise the patience required to wait for the tide to go out completely. And so basically no one did. We all lined up on the beach and as the tide drifted slowly away from shore, we would all inch forward. But of course the tide doesn’t go out linearly, and so quite often a wave would come back, soak the causeway, and dampen everyone’s footwear/ankles/pant legs causing much ruckus. My traveling companion did not find this as amusing as I did.

On The Mount

I chose not to splurge on the castle/garden ticket. An adult single for both is £26 – not cheap – and didn’t seem worth it on a beautiful day. But if you’re there for the history, you probably should opt to see the castle at least, and you can purchase tickets for the garden and the castle separately, saving a bit of money if that’s your preference.

Visiting Cornwall for longer? Definitely visit Falmouth…

The little harbour and the art gallery were the highlights for me. There is also an interpretive centre which you can enter for free. It tells a bit about the community that lives on the island and how they function. For example, one of the women on the island is a teacher, and commutes by boat to the mainland to teach her class every day.

If you’re just there for the free offerings, I would set aside about one and a half hours for your visit – assuming the weather is good – for a coffee, a tour of the harbour, and visits to the various displays. Give yourself longer if you plan to do the gardens and castle of course. On your way back across, the tide will still be out and because it’s Europe, they don’t stop you from playing on the rocks and making all the dangerous and risky choices you want.

Is it worth it to visit St. Michael’s Mount?

I think yes! This was a major highlight of my five weeks in England in the fall. It was super memorable – getting there, the walk across on the causeway, the beautiful scenery on the island and looking back at Marazion. I’ve also never been to Mont Saint-Michel, but after a visit to St. Michael’s Mount, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything! It’s also definitely not the most difficult place to get to, and the travel – and the trip to Penzance- are lovely.

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