visit saint malo in brittany

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I went to Brittany totally on a whim. The initial idea was to go to Mont Saint Michel (yes, I know, it’s not really in Brittany) and take advantage of the current low tourist numbers, but as long as I was there, I might as well explore the surrounding area. And that’s how I ended up in the pretty town of Saint-Malo, the corsair and spa capital (the two are probably unrelated). I’d already visited it a few years ago, a bit on the fly, with a feeling of unfinished business. So this was my chance to discover a little more, and as we’ll see, there really is a lot to see and do, both in Saint-Malo and in the surrounding area!

Why visit Saint-Malo

The corsair city is a very pleasant little town where you can easily stroll around, take your time and feast your eyes. You could find X number of reasons to come to Saint-Malo, but if I were to mention just 3:

  • The superb views from the ramparts, at any time of day
  • You can easily radiate around the city to great places.
  • You feel very much at home in and around the city, the setting is top-notch and soothing.
Sunset Saint Malo from Dinard

The history of Saint-Malo, the city of privateers

Surprisingly, the city of Saint-Malo was founded by… Saint Malo (known as Saint Mac’h Low or Saint Maclou, of course) after emigrating to Armorica from Wales in 538. Saint Malo is one of what are known as the Seven Founding Saints of Brittany, and followed Saint Aaron who had settled on a rock just opposite the city of Aleth, founded by the Romans but burnt and pillaged by just about every people who passed through the area (Saxons, Alans, Normans…). In the 12th century, the town was finally moved to the rock of Saint-Malo (where Aaron was, if you can keep up), as it was much more difficult to access (approved by the English). The town was then divided between Brittany and France. With the discovery of the Americas and trade with India, the town took off and became a major port. Jacques Cartier was a Malouin, and privateers such as Surcouf made the town famous. At the end of the Second World War, the town was almost completely razed to the ground (80%) by American bombing raids. However, it was rebuilt identically, thanks in particular to donations from Quebec, testifying to the links between the town and the region “discovered” by Jacques Cartier. Did you know that the Falkland Islands / Islas Malvinas / Iles Malouines were named after the many sailors from Saint-Malo who called there before crossing the perilous Cape Horn?

Below are the statues of two local children: Jacques Cartier and Surcouf

statue jacques cartier saint malo
statue surcouf saint malo

Saint Malo intra muros, the old town

Of course, the old town is surrounded by those famous ramparts and is the nicest part of town. As mentioned above, it was almost entirely razed to the ground at the end of the Second World War, but fortunately rebuilt almost identically to the original plans. As a result, the city has an “old young” feeling – old architecture, old style, but in a (relatively) new way. And it looks great! It’s a real pleasure to wander through the streets of the city, and especially to try and get away from the 2-3 touristy streets and into the charming little lanes.

Saint Malo intra muros old town
Saint Malo intra muros old town
Saint Malo intra muros old town

The Saint Vincent Cathedral of Saint Malo

In the center of the city stands Saint Vincent’s Cathedral. Highly visible from afar, it’s the highest point of the city’s roofs, especially when you’re on the other side of the bay, in Dinard, or simply on one of the small islands opposite. Built in the 12th century in Romanesque-Gothic style, it was badly damaged during the war. It’s a fairly quick visit, but it’s in a very nice little neighborhood, and away from the crowds, which is not bad when you know the hustle and bustle of Saint-Malo:D

Cathédrale saint vincent de Saint Malo
Cathédrale saint vincent de Saint Malo

The privateers’ house

The privateer’s house is the oldest house in Saint Malo. It was built in the early 18th century by François-Auguste Magon de la Lande, a major shipowner and privateer under Louis XIV (hence the name, logically). He was also director of the Compagnie des Indes Orientales, created to gain a foothold in the Asian market and compete with the English and Dutch. It was entered in the French Favourite Monument competition, with an interesting video presentation here.

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Tour des remparts

Saint Malo’s ramparts are really what make the city so charming and attractive. Surrounding the city walls for 1.7km, you can walk around them in half an hour, or even longer with all the photo breaks. Because the viewpoints are really great. You’ll see the beaches, of course, and the forts, too, but also some lovely views of the city’s interior. If you have the time, it’s also the best place to watch the tides, especially from the few little cafés overlooking the sea. It’s ideal, relaxing and refreshing with the wind!

Ramparts of Saint Malo
Saint Malo, tower, ramparts at low tide, brittany
Saint Malo and its ramparts in Brittany

Great sunset spots

These ramparts, in addition to being very nice, well preserved and with a very nice view, offer great opportunities to see and photograph the sunset. For a start, they’re very well oriented. You’ve got unobstructed views to the north, east and west, and all in a very nice setting, so there’s more to it than just being in front of the sun. From the various towers and along the ramparts, you’ll be able to see the lighthouse, Dinard, the islands of Petit and Grand Bé, and Fort National in particular. So, the best way to spend the rest of the day is to stand on the ramparts and find a spot you like. Given the length of the ramparts, you can be sure of finding the right spot for you. And on top of that, with the different tides, it can really add up to something really nice. Ideally, though, the sun should be out, but there’s not much we can do about that:D

Sunset Saint Malo Petit bé
Sunset Saint Malo Fort National Brittany

Bidouane Tower

The Bidouane Tower is the largest tower in the ramparts, the one that is furthest forward and really faces the sea. It’s also one of the city’s best vantage points. And it’s a place with a pretty funny history. As we’ve seen, one of the corsair town’s main missions was to nail the English and catch all the ships passing through the area. Louis XIV, sensing the tide was turning, decided it stank a bit, and asked Vauban to fortify the town even further in preparation for battle, as well as adding artillery and gunpowder in anticipation. A great idea: place explosives in the most accessible tower, which is bound to give ideas to the Anglo-Dutch coalition (and, more broadly, the Augbourg League), and the English spend 2 years building a war machine whose objective is to crash into the Bidouane Tower and detonate what was stored there. Obviously, not everything goes according to plan. After a superbly botched raid on the city, the British send this infernal machine towards the Bidouane Tower, but a gust of wind blows it onto the rocks. As the boat sank, the captain tried to light the gunpowder. There’s a street in town called Rue du Chat qui Danse, named after the only victim of the raid, a cat that received an ember on its tail. Teasing, those Malouins 😀

Môle des Noires lighthouse

A very nice place, very photogenic. It’s south of the ramparts, a jetty that runs right up to the lighthouse and gives a superb view of the ramparts, the town, the port and Dinard in the distance. I also think it’s a great spot for sunsets, but also sunrises, given its orientation. You can also see Le Môle beach.

Lighthouse mole des noires in Saint Malo Brittany
Lighthouse mole des noires in Saint malo Brittany

Duchess Anne’s castle

Totally on the other side, at the level of the Saint-Thomas entrance to the north, we’ll find, in my opinion, the most beautiful part of Saint Malo. This is the castle of Duchess Anne, future Queen of France (among other things, she’s got quite a pedigree!), defeated by the Dukes of Brittany to establish their domination over the city of Saint Malo. Since then, the castle has become the Hôtel de Ville and the museum (soon to be transferred), and it’s not necessarily possible to visit it. A pity, as the exterior is magnificent.

saint malo château duchesse anne

Fort National

Perhaps Saint-Malo’s main attraction, the Fort National is truly classy and impressive. A true Vauban fort, accessible at low tide, commissioned by Louis XIV to protect Saint-Malo from the English (them again!). During World War II, it was used as a prison by the Germans, and can be visited in about half an hour with an enthusiastic guide, with times varying according to the tides, for €5.

Le fort national à Saint Malo
Fort National in Saint Malo Brittany

The islands of Grand Bé and Petit Bé

Just opposite the ramparts, these two islands are only accessible at low tide. So make sure you check the tide before you go, otherwise you’ll have to wait 6 hours 😀 On the Ile du Grand Bé, you’ll have a magnificent view of the ramparts of Saint Malo and, if the weather’s fine, beautiful turquoise water. It’s a big rock and requires a bit of effort to get to the top, but it’s well worth it! You’ll also find Chateaubriand’s tomb, anonymous and facing the sea, but once there, you might as well take the opportunity to visit the island of Petit Bé, a rikiki island with a Vauban fort, in the series of those used to prevent the English and Dutch from taking the town. You can visit it, and it’s pretty quick, so there’s little risk of getting stuck here. Access is super-easy, from the Sillon beach, at the Bidouane tower, which is hard to miss.

Grand bé and petit bé in Saint Malo Brittany
ramparts of Saint Malo view from Grand Bé

Saint Malo’s beaches and high tides

I shouldn’t surprise many, but the town of Saint Malo is surrounded by beaches. And with the very high tides, we’re going to have huge, beautiful beaches for part of the day. The tides come and go very quickly, so you can play with the reflections between the sand and the water when the weather’s fine. I confess I’m not much of an original when it comes to these beaches, but the ones around Fort National are great. Then there’s the tiny Plage du Mole, at the foot of the ramparts and enclosed, with few people on it but plenty around, sheltered from the wind.

Mole Beach Saint Malo Brittany
Mole Beach and Saint Malo ramparts Brittany
Plage du sillon Saint Malo
Seafront Sillon Beach Saint Malo

Saint Malo’s famous thalassotherapy centres

Okay, it’s super cliché. But Saint Malo is one of the best places for a thalasso, and I know what I’m talking about. A few years ago, at a rather tense moment, I spent two days at the Thermes de Saint Malo. And it felt great! It’s not cheap (but you can regularly find special offers), but boy, the massages, baths, jets and all, with the seafront, it feels really good. I’ve only been to one institute, so I can’t tell you what’s best and what’s best to avoid. All I know is that I really enjoyed being at the Thermes de St Malo. Well, I didn’t have to look far, it’s the most famous 😀 (the view over the beach is pretty good, and the baths are crazy). There are quite a few others, so I can only advise you to compare services and prices

Other activities in Saint-Malo

The Saint Malo aquarium

One of France’s largest aquariums is located in Saint Malo, and it’s a pretty good one. You’ll find the region’s ecosystem, as well as a tropical basin, an abyssal basin (with strange creatures in it!) and a mangrove swamp. There are two main attractions in this aquarium, the famous Nautibus, a 4-person mini submarine that moves around the tanks, and the Abyssal room, a deep-sea diving simulator. I think it’s great fun, and I loved it when I was a kid (I still do, I admit).

You can find out more about the aquarium on their official website, which costs €12 for children and €17 for adults

The micro-zoo, miniature animals

In the ramparts of Saint Malo, you’ll find a zoo with a difference, dedicated to small animals. From snakes and spiders to dwarf crocodiles and piranhas, you’ll find a whole host of adorable animals! It’s not cheap, at €9.50 for adults, but it’s a nice change of pace from the ramparts and cookie shops 😀 You can find out more about the micro zoo here.

Discover the bay of Saint Malo by boat

Did you know? There’s another way to discover Saint Malo, its bay and the surrounding area. You can hire a boat for one or more days and travel from Saint Malo to Dinard via Dinan on the magnificent Rance. From what I’ve seen, you can hire a boat whether you’ve got a license or not, as some boats are “supplied” with a skipper. I particularly recommend Filovent, a specialist in boat hire, which has plenty of availability in Saint Malo and a wide range of rental facilities. Whether you’re looking for a Zodiac for a day or a boat with cabin and bathroom for several days of relaxation, you should be able to find what you’re looking for!

But if you don’t have a boating license and would like a local sailor to show you around the bay, then you have the option of using the Marin Malouin company, a very nice boat trip for 1h30.

bateau baie saint malo marin malouin

What to see near Saint Malo

It would be a shame to stop only at Saint-Malo when there’s so much to do less than an hour’s drive away! So Saint-Malo can serve as a nice base for exploring the surrounding area without driving too far. The list below is not exhaustive, I’m just telling you what I was able to visit during my stay there 🙂

Mont Saint Michel

Almost indispensable! The Mont Saint Michel is a marvel less than an hour’s drive from Saint-Malo. I’ll do a super-full article on it, but I’d advise coming during high tides and ideally doing sunrise or sunset. The colors are magnificent. And although the Mont is fairly quick to visit, take the time to visit the abbey, but above all to walk around it, in the bay, to take in the different viewpoints, it’s super pleasant. A practical tip: the Mont is accessible 24/24, so you can come very early to visit the narrow streets and be the first at the Abbey (for which it’s best to book your ticket in advance, as on this site), knowing that it’s possible to come to Mont Saint Michel by train!

Sunset Mont Saint Michel
Mont Saint Michel low tide
Abbey Mont Saint Michel France
Mont Saint Michel Village

Cancale and the Pointe du Grouin

About ten kilometers east of Saint Malo, you’ll find the pretty town of Cancale. Of course, the main attraction is the famous oysters, but that’s not all. You can also watch the spectacle of the oysters being picked up before the tide comes back in, take a stroll around the town, which is well worth a visit, and also go to the superb Pointe du Grouin to the north of the town, a perfect place to stroll, feel like you’re in the middle of nature and enjoy the sunset.Cancale is one of the most beautiful places on the Emerald Coast!

Oysters Cancale Brittany
La pointe du Grouin in Cancale, brittany

Discover Dinard

When you arrive in Dinard, you’re in another world. A casino, magnificent and truly impressive houses, it’s a town that contrasts greatly with Dinan or Saint Malo. It’s a nice town, but what I really enjoyed was the seafront, walking along the rocks for a few kilometers to get a breath of fresh air in a magnificent setting. And as it’s right opposite Saint Malo, you’ve got a great view of the city and, if the weather’s right, it’ll make for some great sunrises and sunsets. From the beach, take the time to walk along the coast (before the tide gets too high!) towards the east, it’s really beautiful and refreshing! During the summer months, there’s an evening light show, but… the night I was there it was cancelled. Damn.

View over Dinard in Brittany
Saint Malo view from Dinard

Dinan and its castle

A beautiful medieval town on the banks of the Rance. But Dinan isn’t just a pretty little port, it’s also an old town behind ramparts, a preserved historic center and a castle still standing. Dinan’s magnificent stone streets and half-timbered houses make it a real pleasure to stroll through the town, to get lost and, above all, to take your time. What’s more, there are some really good crêperies. I’m going to write you a little article with all the info you need on Dinan, but above all, take the Rue du Petit Fort into the heart of the town, ideally early in the morning or at the end of the day to keep the crowds down, and don’t hesitate to take the few mini alleys on the sides, it’s really quite cute.

city Dinan Brittany
Visit dinan Brittany

Cap Frehel, Fort la Latte and the GR34

We’re only 45 minutes from Saint-Malo but it’s well worth the trip! Fort la Latte is a very nice 14th-century Vauban-style fortified castle built on a rocky cape that’s really not easy to access. Very well preserved and very well maintained, it’s not only a great place to visit, but also offers superb views of the Brittany coast. Another advantage of this castle is that it’s located on the GR34, a magnificent hiking trail that circumnavigates Brittany. And from here, you can go to Cap Frehel, which isn’t far (1h30 at first sight), along a truly magnificent coastline, turquoise waters and pretty cliffs. Cap Frehel, that is! It’s also a beautiful spot, especially for sunsets. It’s made of pink sandstone, so the colors are very pretty, and the cliffs are 70m high. Really, it’s a great place to come in the late afternoon for the slightly softer colors, a good gust of wind, and a magnificent view of the coast and cliffs. There’s a parking lot at the lighthouse, but I’d recommend either coming from Fort la Latte or, simpler and closer and just as beautiful, from the parking lot halfway up the coast. It’s a very easy 30/45min walk and a fantastic view of nature, the coast, the sea and the superb colors.

fort la latte in Brittany
GR 34 seaview Cap Frehel fort la latte

The cider museum… and tasting

I thought this was a tourist trap, but it’s not! Recommended by the restaurateur at the Petit Galet crêperie (very good) in Fort la Latte, the Musée du Cidre is, as its name suggests, a museum that retraces the history of cider making, fun and interesting with several videos and old machines. But, most importantly for our taste buds, it’s run by a family of producers, and so there’s tasting of super good ciders and apple juice. I might as well tell you that I’ve put the heat on the CB, and the prices are very reasonable. It’s located a little south of Saint Malo, in Pleudihen sur Rance

4 recommended accommodations in St Malo

Hotel Porte St Pierre Saint Malo


  • St Malo Intra Muros
  • 8.7/10 on Booking
  • From 78€
st malo hotel kyriad


  • Plage du Sillon
  • A famour one in St Malo
  • From 113€ 
Hotel Bristol st Malo intra muros


  • 4* Intra Muros
  • 8.9/10 on Booking
  • From 93€
Hotel St Malo le nouveau monde plage


  • 4* by the sea
  • 8.9/10 sur Booking!
  • A partir de 180€

Practical information about Saint-Malo

How long to stay in Saint-Malo

The city itself is pretty easy to get around. But the great thing about Saint Malo is the beaches, the activities, the whole environment, the pretty houses. You don’t have to go to a thalasso to enjoy the benefits of the city, so it’s perfectly possible to stay in Saint Malo, take 2-3 days to do the city, relax and then take advantage of the surrounding area, like Dinan, Dinard and others as mentioned above. I had decided to stay closer to Mont Saint Michel for a week, but clearly you can spend that week in Saint Malo, it’s even more convenient and you drive less.

A week to visit the surrounding area, the Emerald Coast and the Côtes d’Armor, is not bad I think.

But if you want to discover more from Brittany, why not heading south in Morbihand and discover the Carnac menhir alignments

Saint-Malo with children

Honestly, I think it’s a great place for kids. They all love fortifications, so here they’re going to be served between the ramparts and the forts. The beach, the wind, sporting activities (including sand yachting), an aquarium and zoo, the spectacle of the high tides, there’s really plenty to do. What’s more, with the crêpes and cookie shops, I think they’ll be delighted 😀

Hotel accommodation in Saint-Malo

There’s a huge range of hotels in Saint Malo, so we’ll try to get a clearer picture. First of all, it’s worth noting that prices between low and high season vary by as much as double. The prices I’m going to give you are for the high season and double rooms, so as not to have any surprises. Within the city walls, it’s obviously a little more expensive, but also super-expensive, I must admit. You’ll find quite a few, the best being the 4* Golden Tulip du Grand Bé at 130€. The Quic en Groigne and the Hôtel des Abers, at €100, are among the best-rated hotels within easy reach of the city center. At less than €100, there are also a number of very decent hotels, such as the Ajoncs d’or at €80 and the Hôtel de France and Chateaubriand. Outside the city center, especially along the beaches, there are some superb spa/thermal hotels, such as the Oceania at €170 and the famous Hôtel des Thermes at over €200. For more classic seaside hotels, there are fine 4* hotels at around 110/130, such as the Mercure St Malo or the superb Villefromoy mansion. If you want to sleep in a château, then the magnificent Château du Colombier is for you, starting at 130€. Finally, a little further out, in classic but very good and functional hotels, we have the Kyriad Prestige at 85€ or the Ibis on the Sillon beach at 83€. And there’s a lot more! I’ve just made a selection of what stood out, was the most relevant, and removed the crazy stuff. But you’re bound to find what you’re looking for 🙂

An apartment in Saint-Malo

We’re going to find quite a few apartments in the very heart of Saint-Malo, and not necessarily overpriced. You’ll find 2-room apartments at around €80 a night, like this one right in the center, for example, or this big one. These apartments are full of charm, so you’ll need to get in early to take advantage of the high tourist season

Getting to Saint-Malo by train

From Paris, it’s super simple. There are direct trains (between 2h15 and 2h45) from Montparnasse, otherwise there’s a stop in Rennes and you have to take a TER. It takes barely 3 hours in total, which is still reasonable. From other cities, it’s at best one change, if not two. At least one change in Paris (even from Bordeaux), then Rennes. Otherwise, there are a few possibilities by bus, but it’s really not the most convenient. You can take a look here at Flixbus. It exists, it’s done, but it’s a bit long (and not particularly expensive)

Find your train to Saint Malo !

Saint malo de nuit

Parking in Saint-Malo

The entrance to Saint Malo intra muros is reserved for locals only. And that’s a good thing, because with the super-narrow streets and the tourists, it would be a real nightmare to get around. Around the ramparts, you’ll find plenty of not particularly expensive parking lots. In high season, it’s 1.5€ an hour, and free from 7pm. In low season, it’s 0.5€ an hour


Some good restaurants

So you’d think that in such a touristy city center you’d find mostly overpriced niggles, but actually not. Well, not so much. It’s easy to find quality crêperies that aren’t particularly expensive, such as the highly reputed Bergamote, Le Tournesol and Les Lutins. I also tried out an excellent meat restaurant, La Petite Rotisserie


The famous cookie factories

In Saint-Malo, and throughout the region in fact, you’re in for a treat. Not just crêpes, but a whole host of delicacies, cookies, caramels, kouign amann… in short, everything you need for winter! And in Saint-Malo there are several good cookie shops to stock up on. Of course, the best-known is Maison Larnicol, with its delicious Kouignettes. But there’s also Biscuiterie de Saint Malo (their palets are a killer) and Maison Guella. For caramels, I went on a rampage further afield, next to Mont Saint Michel at Maison Pèlerin, where they make them.


Frankly, you can’t miss Saint Malo, especially if you don’t know it. It’s a pretty little fortified town, with a big history, plenty to relax on, the beach, the sea (logical if there’s a beach), and good food. It’s touristy, but if you leave the 2-3 very touristy streets, frankly it’s okay. And the beaches are huge and very pleasant. It can also be a good place to explore for a few days, as the region really does have a lot to offer 🙂

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