Saint Malo, known as the ancient home of French corsairs, has transformed into a popular tourist seaside destination over the years. As someone who has visited Saint-Malo at many different stages of my life, I can confidently say that it’s worth the visit. In fact, it’s one of my recommended places to visit in Brittany. To help you plan your visit to Saint-Malo and the surrounding region, I’ve compiled a list of the top points of interest in Saint Malo.
Is Saint Malo worth visiting?
Absolutely. Saint Malo is a town with a rich history and unique sights that you won’t find anywhere else. This beautiful port on the English Channel was the main port of the French kingdom for three centuries and has been a popular seaside destination since the 1930s.
One of the best things about Saint Malo is its accessibility. There are direct trains from Paris to Saint Malo that only cost around 20 euros if you book in advance. With multiple trains per day, it’s even possible to visit Saint Malo on a day trip from Paris by train, taking only around 2.5 hours. However, driving from Paris to Saint Malo takes at least 4.5 hours, so it’s best to plan accordingly. If you’re coming from the UK, there are direct boat connections from Poole (near Bournemouth), Portsmouth, Jersey, and Guernsey.
While it’s worth visiting Saint Malo during the peak season in summer for the chance of lovely weather, it can be very busy from mid-July to mid-August. You may need to be patient when visiting the main points of interest and finding parking. To avoid any inconvenience, make sure to book accommodations, tours, and restaurants in advance during the peak season.
Discovering the wonders of Saint Malo: Top points of interest to visit
Saint Malo is famous for being the town of corsairs (pirates supported by the King) during the Middle Ages and it has left its mark on the town. Today, visitors can stroll around the medieval fortifications that make up the old town centre and enjoy the stunning views of Saint Malo beaches, which are particularly popular in the summer. Saint Malo is also famous for its incredible tides, some of the largest in the world, which send waves crashing into the city walls. While many visitors come to Saint Malo for its fascinating history and beautiful beaches, it’s also a highly reputed destination for thalassotherapy. If you’re planning a trip to Saint Malo, don’t miss out on these top points of interest:
The numbers in brackets correspond to the numbers indicated on the map included at the end of the article.
Whether you arrive by car, boat, or train, the first thing that strikes you in Saint-Malo is the imposing ramparts surrounding the entire town centre, known as Saint-Malo intra-muros. Walking the 2 km stretch atop the walls offers a breathtaking view of the harbour, the bay, and the city centre. While walls around Brittany’s most beautiful towns are not uncommon, the ramparts in Saint Malo are truly remarkable. One of my favourite spots in Saint Malo is Porte Saint Vincent (1).
The castle and forts
The 15th-century Chateau de Saint-Malo (2) offers panoramic views of the city that are simply stunning. Once inside, visitors can explore the museum and delve deeper into the history and daily life of the city.
During the 17th century, the French military mastermind Vauban was tasked with designing the city’s defence system. Today, visitors can see several forts on the small mounts in front of the city, including the renowned Fort National (3) on Plage de l’Eventail and Petit Bé (4) on Bon-Secours Beach. However, be sure to plan your visit around the tide schedule, as some of these forts become islands at high tide.
The Cathedral of Saint-Vincent (5), originally built in the 12th century, has undergone renovations and is definitely worth a visit. Inside, you’ll find the tomb of Jacques Cartier, the French explorer who departed from Saint Malo on his expedition to “discover” Canada.
The lovely town centre “intra-muros”
has retained much of its original character and charm, making it a fascinating place to explore. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and I loved wandering through its streets; it’s the best way to enjoy intra-muros Saint Malo. The architectural is pretty typical of the region, with narrow cobblestone streets and granite buildings. Don’t forget to take a detour to Cour la Houssaye (6) to see one of the most remarkable houses in Saint Malo that survived the war.
If you happen to visit Saint Malo on a Tuesday or Friday morning, don’t miss the chance to visit the market (7).
Inside the walls, you’ll find many restaurants serving great local food, especially seafood. If it’s your first time in Brittany, you must try a “galette,” a savoury crepe made with buckwheat flour, which is a local specialty. I love my region for its stunning landscape and rich culture, but exploring local cuisine is definitely one of the best things to do in Brittany.
The seaside and beaches
If you’re looking for a secluded beach getaway, Saint Malo would not be my first recommendation. It has been popular as a tourist destination since the 1930s, so the beaches can get quite crowded. However, the stunning seaside views from around town are undoubtedly a highlight of Saint Malo. From the ramparts, you can gaze out at the expansive bay and watch as the tides change dramatically throughout the day. While there may be other beaches in Brittany with fewer crowds, Saint Malo’s reputation as a seaside getaway is well-deserved.
Families visiting Saint Malo during the summer months often take a break from sightseeing to enjoy the town’s picturesque beaches with their children. The most renowned of these is Bon-Secours Beach (4), which has stunning views of two small islands, Petit Bé and Grand Bé. The latter is where the famous French writer Chateaubriand is buried. In addition to the breathtaking scenery, Bon-Secours Beach is also home to one of the town’s two seawater pools, which can be particularly handy during low tide. However, families with children may prefer the seawater pool at Plage de l’Eventail (4).
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.
To fully appreciate the maritime history of Saint Malo, taking a boat tour is a must-do activity. With its strong connection to corsairs and famous explorers like Jacques Cartier and Surcouf, the city has a lot to offer in terms of sea adventures. Several tour companies operate in Saint Malo, offering various cruises to explore the city from the water. One of the most well-known operators is La Companie Corsaire, providing boat trips in the stunning Saint Malo Bay. We spotted numerous sailing boats touring the bay, so if you’re interested in sailing, be sure to check their availability when planning a trip to Saint Malo.
How long should you spend in Saint Malo?
One day should be enough to explore the major points of interest in Saint Malo, but if you have more time, spending a weekend in the area is highly recommended. There is plenty to do and see beyond the main attractions, so you will not be bored. Whether you want to explore more of the city’s history, relax on the beach, or take a boat tour of the bay, you will find something to enjoy during a longer stay in Saint Malo.
Staying in Saint-Malo for the night? It’s important to book your accommodation in advance, especially during the peak season in the summer. For a one-night stay, I highly recommend choosing a hotel within the walls of Saint-Malo intra-muros. Although it may be slightly more expensive than options outside of the city centre, you’ll be able to fully experience the town’s unique atmosphere and enjoy the sight of the illuminated walls at night. We enjoyed our stay at the very central Hotel des Marins, The Originals*.
Things to do near Saint Malo
Mont St Michel
The Mont St Michel, located at the border of Normandy and Brittany, is just 50 kilometres away from Saint-Malo. It’s a must-visit attraction and makes for a perfect addition to a weekend getaway in Saint-Malo.
Dinan is an absolute gem that should not be missed if you have time during your visit to Brittany. It is one of the most beautiful towns in Brittany, and even in France. A day trip to Dinan is a must-do, and if you want to make the journey even more special, you can take a boat tour on the Rance River.
When I was young, I spent my summer holidays near Saint-Malo in the charming town of Cancale, which is famous for its oysters. The town has many seafood restaurants, both in the city centre and at the port. If you’re up for a nice hike, I highly recommend the Chemin des Douaniers, which leads to la Pointe du Grouin. From there, you can take in stunning views of the bay and, if the weather permits, even catch a glimpse of the Mont Saint Michel in the distance.
Dinard isn’t my favourite place in the region, but some people love it, so it’s worth mentioning it here. The former fishing village gained popularity in the late 19th century as a prestigious seaside resort, attracting wealthy visitors who built stunning villas in various architectural styles. Today, visitors can admire these villas and stroll along the seaside promenade, which offers panoramic views of the bay. Dinard is also known for its mild climate and beaches, which are popular with swimmers and sunbathers. While driving is an easy option, taking the boat to Dinard provides a more scenic and relaxing experience.
Map of the points of interest in Saint Malo
Do you think Saint Malo is worth visiting? Share your experience in the comments below!
Did you like this article about the points of interest Saint Malo is known for? Add it to your Pinterest board: