Known as the ancient home of French corsairs, Saint Malo is now a popular tourist destination. I have been to Saint-Malo many times at many different stages of my life. Is Saint Malo worth visiting? No doubt here: it’s one of my recommended places to visit in Brittany. Here are my tips on Saint Malo’s points of interest to help you plan your visit to Saint-Malo and the region.

View of the beach of Saint Malo next to the rampart with buildings on the other side
Saint Malo

Is Saint Malo worth visiting?

Absolutely. Saint Malo is a beautiful town with a very special history and sights you won’t find elsewhere. It’s a lovely port on the English Channel with a great History. For three centuries, it was the main port of the French kingdom. It’s been a popular seaside destination since the 1930s.

Plus, Saint Malo is very easy to reach. There are direct trains from Paris to Saint Malo and will only cost you 20 euros if you find a good deal to book in advance. There are multiple trains per day, and it usually takes around 2.5 hours, so it is possible to visit Saint Malo on a day trip from Paris by train. It’s a lot longer to go from Paris to Saint Malo by car; you’ll need at least 4.5 hours. There are even direct connexions by boat to the UK (Plymouth, Portsmouth, Jerney and Guernsey).

However, Saint Malo can be very busy during the peak season in summer, especially from mid-July to Mid-August. It’s still worth visiting at that time as you’ll get a higher chance of lovely weather. But you’ll have to be patient to visit the main points of interest and park your car. Make sure you book accommodations, tours and restaurants in advance when visiting during the peak season.

What is Saint Malo known for? Points of interest in Saint Malo

Saint Malo is known for being a town of corsairs (pirates supported by the King) in the Middle Age. Today, visitors enjoy wandering around the medieval fortifications that make up the old town centre. From there, you can view Saint Malo beaches which are very popular in summer. Saint Malo is also famous for its incredible tides (some of the largest in the world) when the waves crash into the city walls. Although most people go to Saint Malo for the history and the beach, it’s a very reputed thalassotherapy destination too. Here’s what you should not miss when visiting Saint Malo:

The numbers in brackets refer to Saint Malo’s point of interest map at the end of the article.

The ramparts

Whether you arrive by car, by boat or by train, the ramparts are one of the most remarkable things you first notice in Saint-Malo. They go around the entire town centre, called Saint-Malo intra-muros. The 2 km walk on the walls of the city gives a beautiful view of the harbour, the bay, and the inner city centre. It’s not rare to find walls around Brittany’s most beautiful towns, but it’s still something remarkable! Porte Saint Vincent (1) is one of my favourite places in Saint Malo.

The castle and forts

Beach in Saint Malo with a fort on the rocky end that will become an island at high tide
Fort National (plage de l’Eventail) – Saint Malo

The Chateau de Saint-Malo (2), built in the 15th century, provides great views of the city too. You’ll find a museum inside to learn more about the history and the life of the city.

In the 17th century, Vauban – a French military genius very highly respected by Louis XIV – was sent to Saint-Malo to design the defence of the city. From the ramparts and the beach, you can see a few forts designed by Vauban on the small mounts in front of the city. Make sure to time your visit well; some of these forts – including the famous Fort National (3) on Plage de l’Eventail and Petit Bé (4) on Bon-Secours Beach – become an island at high tide

The cathedral

The Cathedral Saint-Vincent (5), built in the 12th century, has been renovated and is worth a detour. You’ll find there the tomb of Jacques Cartier, the French explorer who left Saint Malo to “discover” Canada.

The lovely town centre “intra-muros”

Inside the walls, the ancient style of the city of Saint-Malo has been preserved, which gives a lot of charm to the town. It is gorgeous. I liked wandering the streets; it’s the best way to enjoy the intra-muros Saint Malo. Take a detour to Cour la Houssaye (6) to see one of the most remarkable houses in Saint Malo that didn’t get destroyed during the war.

If you visit Saint Malo on a Tuesday or Friday morning, you may be interested in going to the market (7).

You’ll find many restaurants in Saint Malo intra-muros. I just love seafood, and there are plenty of options for great local food in Saint-Malo. If it’s your first time in Brittany, you have to eat a “galette“. They use buckwheat flour to make this local savoury crepe. I love Brittany for the stunning landscape and culture, but eating local food is also one of the best things to do in Brittany.

The seaside and beaches

I honestly wouldn’t choose to visit Saint Malo if I wanted to spend a day on the beach. There are so many stunning beaches in Brittany that have fewer people and stunning views. But Saint Malo has been a popular destination to enjoy the beach since the 1930s! Of course, the seaside views when you’re going around town are surely one of the reasons why Saint Malo is known for and is so popular.

Beach in Saint Malo with a seawater swimming pool and two rocks on a peninsula with forts built at the top
Bon-Secours beach

Families visiting the town in summer enjoy having a break on the beach with the kids. The most famous one is Bon-Secours beach (4), which is very scenic with the two small islands just next to it – le Petit Bé (the furthest one with the fort) and le Grand Bé, where Chateaubriand, a very famous French writer, is buried. On Bon-Secours beach, there’s also one of the two seawater pools in Saint Malo. It’s quite useful to be able to swim at low tide. However, families with kids will prefer the seawater pool of Plage de l’Eventail (4).

Boat tours

A sailing boat in Saint Malo bay

With such a focus on the sea with the corsairs, famous explorers (Jacques Cartier, Surcouf) and the port, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to go on a boat in Saint Malo. There are a few cruises organised for tourists to see the city from the water. La Companie Corsaire is one of the biggest tour operators for boat trips in the Saint Malo Bay. We could also spot a few sailing boats touring the bay, so check if they’re available for booking when you visit Saint Malo.

How long should you spend in Saint Malo?

One day should be enough to explore Saint Malo’s points of interest, but you would not get bored if you choose to spend an entire weekend there. This area has plenty to offer if you are there for longer, so you won’t regret spending at least a weekend in Saint Malo.

Staying in Saint-Malo for the night? Make sure you book in advance if you’re going there in peak season (summer). If you’re just there for only one night, I highly recommend staying in Saint-Malo intra-muros. It’s more expensive than outside the city centre, but you’ll maximise your time in the town and enjoy the atmosphere and the walls at night. We enjoyed our stay at Hotel des Marins, The Originals*.

Things to do near Saint Malo

Mont St Michel

The Mont St Michel, in Normandy but at the limit with Brittany, is only 50 kilometres away. It’s an excellent visit and can be perfect as a bundle with Saint-Malo for a great weekend gateway.

Dinan

If you have time to add Dinan to your visit, it’s one of the most beautiful towns in Brittany (and even in France). You can go there on a day trip with a tour by boat on the Rance River.

Cancale

I used to spend my summer holidays just near Saint-Malo when I was very young, in a small town named Cancale, reputed for its oysters. You can find many seafood restaurants there, in the city centre and at the port. There is a very nice hike to do there called le Chemin des Douaniers to go to la Pointe du Grouin, to admire the bay and, if the weather allows it, you can see the Mont Saint Michel far away.

Dinard

Dinard isn’t my favourite place in the region, but some people love it, so it’s worth mentioning it. The former fishing village became a prestigious seaside resort at the end of the 19th century, with beautiful villas of eclectic styles. Visitors are attracted by the many beaches and the mild climate. You can easily drive there from Saint Malo, but it’s more scenic to take the boat.

Saint Malo’s points of interest map

Do you think Saint Malo is worth visiting? Share your experience in the comments below!

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