Your desire to explore France takes you to visit Saint-Malo? Discover the must-sees of this magnificent city known as “la Cité Corsaire”. All aboard!
Located in Ille-et-Vilaine, Brittany, Saint-Malo is impressive. Indeed, while it was once known as a haven for privateers, the ramparts and fortress that bear witness to this give it unparalleled prestige today. You should visit Saint-Malo on foot, leisurely, taking the time to discover each of its nooks and crannies, each of its secrets. And so that you don’t miss anything, we have selected for you the 13 must-dos in Saint-Malo. Now you have all the cards in hand to discover the treasures of this city!
1. The Ramparts of Saint-Malo
A significant highlight of the city, the Ramparts of Saint-Malo span nearly two kilometers. Constructed in the 12th century, they were devastated by a massive fire in the mid-17th century. Two centuries later, they were fortified and subsequently designated as historical monuments. As for where to start, there’s no specific entrance or exit; you can begin your exploration wherever you please! However, consider stopping at Fort La Reine, the Bidouane Tower, or the Grand’Porte before delving into the city.
Beyond the charming streets with stone houses and slate roofs, discover the Bastion de la Hollande, which houses cannons and a statue of Jacques Cartier, the famous French explorer born in Saint-Malo in 1491. Additionally, the city boasts two religious structures classified as French Historical Monuments: the Saint-Vincent Cathedral, a 2nd-century architectural gem, and the Saint-Sauveur Chapel, located near the Bastion de la Hollande, dating back to the 18th century.
2. The Aquarium of Saint-Malo
Situated at the city’s southern entrance, you’ll find the Grand Aquarium of Saint-Malo. Opened to the public in the mid-1990s, it is home to over 11,000 marine creatures from 600 different species. Here, you can admire a variety of jellyfish, sharks, corals, and crabs. The aquarium also offers unique attractions, including :
- A touch tank where you can feel local species like spider crabs, turbots, rays, and dogfish;
- A realistic simulation of descending into oceanic abysses;
- And the Nautibus, a vessel that takes you deep into a tank housing hundreds of different species.
3. Saint-Malo ‘s Beaches
While Saint-Malo is often associated with its ramparts and its intra-muros city, it’s also renowned for its stunning beaches, particularly the expansive Grande Plage du Sillon. Other notable beaches include La Hoguette, Le Môle, and Bon Secours, the latter of which provides access to the Île du Grand Bé during low tide.
4. The Bés Islands
A visit to Saint-Malo is incomplete without exploring the Bés Islands, accessible only during low tide via the Passage des Bés. The Petit-Bé Island, the more distant of the two, houses a fort built in the 17th century to protect Saint-Malo. The Grand-Bé Island, besides its defensive fort, is also the final resting place of the writer François-René de Chateaubriand. However, be cautious and monitor the tide schedules before crossing the Passage des Bés, as the sea can rise rapidly.
5. The Solidor Tower
South of the fortified city and overlooking the port stands the majestic Solidor Tower. This imposing medieval dungeon from the 14th century was once used to control maritime entries into the Rance River. Until early 2020, the tower housed a museum dedicated to the history of Cape Horners. However, the collections, after restoration, will be relocated to the upcoming Maritime History Museum of Saint-Malo. Nevertheless, the Solidor Tower remains a delightful visit, even from the outside.
6. The Môle des Noires Lighthouse
The journey to the Môle des Noires Lighthouse in Saint-Malo is as captivating as the destination itself. The Môle des Noires dike not only encloses the port but also provides access to the lighthouse, offering a spectacular view of Saint-Malo. The lighthouse itself, while not overwhelmingly grand, is undeniably beautiful.
7. The Rochebonne Dike and its Villas
Many are drawn to Saint-Malo for its intricately designed villas, which contribute significantly to its allure. On one side of the dike lies the Grande Plage du Sillon, and on the other, a series of stunning 19th-century villas. Whether made of stone or half-timbered, these villas lend a unique and serene charm to the Malouin coastline. Allocate one to two hours for a leisurely stroll here!
8. The Sculpted Rocks of Rothéneuf
Located in the northeastern part of the city, in the Rothéneuf district, you can discover rocks sculpted directly into Breton granite. These are the creations of Abbot Adophe Julien Fouéré, who spent 25 years of his life carving these rocks. The sculptures depict scenes from the life of the Rothéneuf family, a family of corsairs from the 16th century. The site offers a unique blend of art, history, and nature.
9. The National Fort
Similar to the Bés Islands, the National Fort of Saint-Malo is accessible only during low tide. This fort, built in the 17th century, was designed by Vauban, a famous military engineer. It was intended to protect the city from potential English invasions. Today, the fort offers guided tours, allowing visitors to delve into its history and architecture.
10. The Castle of Saint Malo
Positioned at the end of the Grande Plage du Sillon and at the entrance of Saint-Malo intra-muros, stands the Castle of Saint Malo. This castle, which now houses the city’s town hall and the Museum of History, offers a panoramic view of the city from its keep. The museum provides insights into the city’s rich maritime history, from its origins to the present day.
11. The Pointe de la Varde
Not far from Rothéneuf, the Pointe de la Varde is a natural rocky expanse offering a breathtaking view of the bay and the city of Saint-Malo. This site, classified as a Natural Area of Ecological, Faunistic, and Floristic Interest, is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna. It’s an ideal spot for nature lovers and those seeking tranquility.
12. The City of Alet
Located in the Saint-Servan district, you’ll find the City of Alet and the 39-45 memorial. This ancient city, which predates Saint-Malo, offers a blend of history and nature. The memorial, situated in a former German blockhouse, recounts the history of Saint-Malo during World War II.
13. A Boat Excursion
If you’re touring the Breton coasts, don’t miss out on a boat excursion, offering a unique perspective of the region. Whether you opt for a trip around the bay, a visit to the nearby Chausey Islands, or a journey to the Gulf of Saint-Malo, you’re in for a treat. The boat rides provide an opportunity to admire the city’s ramparts, forts, and beaches from a different vantage point.
How to get to Saint-Malo ?
Reaching Saint-Malo is straightforward, whether by car, plane, or train.
- By car, the D168 from the west (Dinard) or the D137 from the south (Rennes) will guide you to Saint-Malo.
- Alternatively, train enthusiasts can reach the corsair city via TER from Rennes station.
- The nearest airport is in Rennes, and it’s advisable to rent a car if you opt for air travel. The Rennes airport offers numerous domestic flights, making Saint-Malo easily accessible.
Where to stay in Saint-Malo?
Being a traveler’s city, Saint-Malo boasts numerous hotels and guesthouses eager to welcome you. Whether you choose to stay within the city walls or in neighboring areas like Paramé, Rothéneuf, or La Madeleine, you’re in for a treat. The seafront, along the Grande Plage du Sillon, is an ideal spot for a memorable stay.
For the best accommodation deals, consider using a hotel comparison tool. With a range of options, from sea views, authentic architecture, to modern comforts, there’s something for everyone.
For an authentic Malouin experience, consider AirBnB accommodations in Saint-Malo, some of which are truly exceptional. After that, all that’s left is to explore Saint-Malo at your own pace!