St Malo and Dinan are two famous towns in Brittany worth visiting. And the St Malo to Dinan boat trip is a fantastic way to go from one place to the other while learning more about the region. Here’s an overview of what you’ll see going from the coastal city of St Malo on the Rance River to Dinan, and a few tips to help you organise your day.
How to book a St Malo to Dinan boat trip
You can book your boat trip from St Malo to Dinan on the Compagnie Corsaire website. When we visited, the English page for bookings wasn’t working, so we had to proceed in French. We also had to enter first the destination on the left and then the departure port on the right, which I didn’t find logical. Make sure you double-check the trip just above the day on the right (for example, St Malo -> Dinan).
Different options: departing St Malo (one-way or return) and departing Dinan (one-way)
There was only one boat going all the way from St Malo to Dinan when we visited. So when booking your boat trip, you’ll only have to think about two things:
- Will you leave from St Malo or Dinan?
- Do you want to return by boat? If so, you have to leave from St Malo, and it means staying on the boat and not visiting Dinan.
There are no right or wrong answers, just decisions to be made.
You’ll see below I recommend allowing time at some point in your trip to visit Dinan. If you’re not likely to come back later, maybe you should consider stopping in Dinan.
If you can come to Dinan another day, it’s easier to come back by boat. You won’t have to worry about getting back by bus. You’ll go back the same way, but if the weather or the tide has changed, it will look different. It’s also a good opportunity to better see a few details you may have missed on the way up.
Dinan to St Malo or St Malo to Dinan by bus
If you don’t want to travel back by bus, or if the bus timetable doesn’t fit into your plan, it’s possible to go from St Malo to Dinan by bus and vice-versa. During the peak season, you can book a ticket to return by bus directly on the Compagnie Corsaire website. And during the low season, you can catch a public bus and pay the driver directly.
How long is the boat trip from St Malo to Dinan?
The boat trip from St Malo to Dinan takes 2h45. You’ll need to be in St Malo at 9 am to embark on the boat that leaves at 9.15. The boat first stops at Dinard after 10 minutes and then arrives in Dinan at around 12.10 pm. It will go back straight away to St Malo, so you won’t have time to disembark if you booked a return trip. If you booked a one-way boat trip, you can go back to St Malo by bus (times vary according to the season).
Tips to enjoy your St Malo to Dinan boat trip
Book in advance during the peak season
Going by boat from St Malo to Dinan is a very popular activity. Many tourists visit St Malo during summer (even more from 15 July to 15 August), so it can be booked out. If your time in St Malo is limited, you’ll want to secure your spot in advance to avoid disappointments.
Double-check the departure spot and ask staff for confirmation when you arrive
Our boat left from the terminal near Porte de Dinan. It was a five-minute walk from the small ticket office located just in front of Porte de Dinan. I’m glad we asked the person selling tickets if we were at the right place.
When we departed, the skipper was kind enough to make a detour to pick up a couple of people who waited next to the ticket office. But it isn’t ideal at all, and they may not always do it.
Stay in St Malo intra-muros the night before
We really enjoyed our evening in St Malo intra-muros. We spent the night at the Hotel des Marins*. In the morning, it made it really seamless to buy our bread for our picnic and board the boat. If you don’t want to worry about traffic and parking, I highly recommend it. Parking didn’t seem to be a problem on the day we joined the boat tour, though.
Stay outside on the boat if the weather is good
You’ll want to be able to look around you during the tour. The views are very limited when you’re inside. The top of the boat or the front of the boat (if you don’t mind standing) are the best spots to admire the views and take photos during the cruise.
Arrive early to choose your seat
You cannot book a seat when you purchase the tickets. It’s first in, first served. If it’s a lovely day, you’ll surely want a spot outside. And if it’s raining, you may want to stay inside. The bigger your group, the more it makes sense to arrive early if you want to be seated together. But if you can’t arrive early enough to stay as a group, don’t worry. You’ll be able to move around the boat during the trip.
Have English explanations with you
They made commentaries during our St Malo to Dinan boat trip, but they were entirely in French. If you cannot understand French, then I highly recommend taking English notes about the trip with you. The section I wrote below about the things to see and the map below can be a good starting point.
Allow time to visit Dinan
There are many things to do in Dinan, so it’s worth getting off the boat. There’s a stunning medieval city centre that you won’t see from the port. You won’t be able to go back to St Malo by boat if you decide to visit Dinan unless you stay there for the night. A bus organised by the ferry company (in peak season) will take you back to your starting point, or you can catch a public bus in the low season.
Bring water and snacks
The boat travelling between St Malo and Dinan is quite big, but surprisingly, they don’t sell anything on board. You have to be self-sufficient with snacks and water. If you plan to do the return trip by boat, you won’t have time to get out of the boat at Dinan. So make sure you bring lunch with you.
Most shops will be closed in the morning when you board the boat in St Malo. You may find a bakery to buy sandwiches. But I recommend buying a few things the night before, so you only need to purchase bread at the bakery to make your sandwich; it’s less risky!
Protect yourself from the sun
You often won’t feel hot while on a boat in Brittany. So I know many people who got surprised when they realised they got sunburnt! Even if there are clouds, I still recommend wearing a cap and putting sunscreen on, especially in spring and summer.
Bring a warm jacket
They say in Brittany that the sun shines multiple times a day. It’s not rare to have showers during the day. Often, the weather changes with the tide, so don’t be too sad if you wake up with an overcast sky. But even if you wake up with a bright blue sky, I recommend bringing a warm jacket with you on the boat. The weather when you arrive in Dinan may be different.
Bring binoculars and/or a camera with a zoom
The boat will often stay in the middle of the Rance River. You don’t need binoculars to enjoy the views at all, but if you like to see details, they will be quite handy. Photos taken with a phone might be a bit frustrating as the objects will appear quite far away, so if you have one, it is a good opportunity to bring your camera with a zoom.
Have you travelled from St Malo to Dinan by boat? Share your experience in the comments below!
Things to see on a St Malo to Dinan boat trip
Unfortunately, the explanations during the excursion by boat from St Malo to Dinan were in French only. I didn’t find a leaflet to get them in English. So I’ve written below a few details and explanations about the highlights of our trip.
It’s by no means as exhaustive as the explanations they gave on the boat, but if you don’t speak French, you’ll still find them useful to follow what’s around you. The numbers in brackets refer to the map at the end of the article.
As you leave St Malo behind, it’s an excellent opportunity to view the fortified town from the sea. Of course, you’ll see the ramparts but also the forts built on rocks that become islands at high tide.
Dinard (1) is reputed for its beaches which often have warmer water than other places in the region. In the 19th century, it became a popular holiday destination with luxurious villas and an annual international film festival.
The Solidor Tower (2) was built at the mouth of the Rance River in 1382 to control St Malo. It’s quite iconic with its three 18-metre-high towers. It had different uses over the years: it was a jail during the French Revolution and a warehouse under the French Empire. It’s also the place where Jacques Cartier left in 1534 to “discover” Canada.
The Bizeux rock (3) is famous for the statue of the Holy Mary that stands at the top of it. The three-metre-high statue was built at the end of the 19th century.
Rance River dam
Built in 1966, the Rance River dam (3) is the world’s first tidal power station. It has 24 turbines that can give a maximal output of 240 megawatts and an annual output of 500 gigawatt hours. It’s enough to power a city as big as Rennes, the biggest city in Brittany. You can learn more about the dam in the video below.
It’s the first sluice you’ll pass on your way to Dinan. When the sluice opens, it stops the cars on the bridge above the dam. Hence, it opens only at a fixed time every hour to allow people to plan their trips.
Castle of Montmarin
The Castle of Montmarin (4), built in 1760, is one of the rare malouinières (manor houses) still standing on the bank of the Rance river. It’s listed as a National Monument.
Ile aux Moines (Monks Island)
The Ile aux Moines is one of the three islands near the village Saint-Jouan-des-Guérets. You can spot the ruins of a chapel from the 15th century. Hermits lived on the island until the 18th century. They used to light fires to guide barges on the river. When it was misty, they would ring the chapel bell. Sailors would thank them by throwing supplies on the island. Nowadays, it’s a bird reserve.
Before leaving for Newfoundland (North Atlantic) in 1893, fishermen from Saint-Suliac committed to building an oratory for Saint Mary (6) if they all came back safely from their fishing expedition a year later.
Saint Suliac (8) is reputed for being one of the most beautiful villages in Brittany (and in France). It’s a former fishing village that still has a lovely port and a remarkable church from the 12th century.
The nearby mount, Mount Garrot (9), is a reputed lookout (73-metre high). From up there, at low tide, you can see stones emerging on the bank of the Rance River. These are the ruins of an old Viking camp (9) that has been taken over by nature. They pointed it to us from the boat, but we couldn’t see much of it. You might get a better view from the top deck.
Chateaubriand and Saint Hubert Bridges
The Chateaubriand Bridge (11) and the Saint Hubert Bridge (12) aren’t the most interesting bridges on the Rance River, but they do get a mention during the boat trip. They link the area of Cotes d’Armor (where Dinan is located) on the right bank of the river to the Ile-et-Vilaine area where St Malo is located.
Many fortifications were built on this promontory over time to defend villages on the river. The fort (13) from the 13th and 15th centuries looks stunning, with the river and the trees next to it.
You’ll see a few tide mills on the Rance River during the boat tour. The two most remarkable ones are Moulin de Mordreuc (14) and Moulin de Prat (15).
Moulin de Prat (15) was built around the 15th century, making it one of the oldest tidal mills in the region. It was used to mill grain until the 18th century. Many tide mills have now been turned into houses, but not Moulin de Prat. It’s now a small museum and tours are organised every day in summer should you wish to visit it if you have your own vehicle.
There are mentions of the Moulin de Mordreuc in 1506, but the building that remains was rebuilt in 1898. It operated until 1955.
The best way to see tide mills is on foot; you can even walk from one to the other at low tide (6 km). It’s a bit hard to see details of tide mills from the boat and understand how they worked, especially at high tide. You may want to take binoculars. For a peak at the inside of a tide mill (Beauchet mill – you won’t be able to see this one from the boat), you can watch the video I shared above about the Rance River dam. In the video, they mention Josephine, the most famous inhabitant of the Rance. The seal lived at Mordreuc harbour, not far from the tide mill, for 20 years.
The initial Lessard Bridge (16) was built in 1879 to link by train Brittany and Normandy. In June 1944, just after the Normandy landings, the Allies tried to destroy it so German soldiers in Brittany would not be able to help those in Normandy. They failed, but the bridge was destroyed a couple of months later by the Germans to slow down the Allies. The bridge was rebuilt in 1950.
After you pass the bridge, you’ll see many fishermen’s houses on the bank of the river. Some are in better shape than others, but they all give a certain charm to the river.
The Chatelier sluice (17) marks the limit between brackish water in the north and fresh fluvial water in the south. The bridge turns to let boats access the other side of the river.
Before you arrive in the famous Dinan, you’ll sail in beautiful nature, with cliffs and trees all around. They installed yellow buoys to restrict access to a large area in the river, even to non-motorised vessels such as kayaks. It’s a bird reserve (18) so keep an eye out.
The Rance River gets narrower as you approach Dinan, and you may notice a path that goes along the river for kilometres. It’s a great spot for walkers and cyclists to enjoy the river, but back in the day, it was a towing trail (19). Horses would tow boats up and down the river thanks to this path.
17. Dinan harbour
Dinan is one of France’s most beautiful towns. You’ll arrive in the lovely port, but there’s so much more to explore around Dinan‘s charming medieval ramparts, cobblestone streets and half-timbered houses.
Map of St Malo to Dinan boat trip
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