14 Top Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc
Few sights on earth compare to the awesome spectacle of Mont Blanc in the French Alps, the highest mountain peak in Europe. Mont Blanc was first climbed by Jacques Balmat and Michel-Gabriel Paccard in 1786, and it is still the dream of many climbers to conquer this legendary mountain. In the shadow of Mont Blanc's majestic snowcapped peak is the traditional alpine village of Chamonix - a quaint little town filled with historic churches and charming auberges (inns). Chamonix has been a world-renowned ski resort ever since the Winter Olympics of 1924 were held here. Six different ski areas cater to all levels, from beginners to extreme skiers.
Besides skiing, Chamonix is a great place for hiking, rock climbing, paragliding, golf, and tennis, or just relaxing. Breathe in the alpine air, soak up the inspiring scenery, and listen to the sound of rushing streams. Discover the delightful, rustic atmosphere of cozy chalet restaurants. Savor delicious meals of authentic Savoy cuisine-hearty country cooking based on potatoes, cheese, and charcuterie. Specialties like fondue and raclette are satisfying after a long day on the slopes or hiking in the mountains.
See also: Where to Stay in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc
1 Mont Blanc
One of nature's most spectacular sights, Mont-Blanc is the highest peak of the Alps and forms part of the French border with Italy. Mont Blanc reaches an altitude of 4,810 meters, so high that it is always covered in snow-explaining why it's called the "White Mountain." Experienced climbers with a guide are able to climb to the top of Mont Blanc, although it is extremely strenuous. From Les Houches, the climb takes 10 to 12 hours. The most common climbing route is through the Aiguille du Goûter and the Arête des Bosses. After conquering Europe's highest mountain, climbers are rewarded with absolutely breathtaking panoramas from the summit. Mont Blanc is known as "the Roof of Europe" because of its thrilling viewpoints of the Aiguilles Rouges mountain ranges and Chamonix Valley. Tourists can enjoy the scenery and views on various hiking trails or by taking one of the gondola lifts.
There are many options for easy to intermediate hiking around Mont Blanc. The Au Tour du Mont Blanc hiking trails include routes for all ability levels. The trails range from gentle walks to treks along more vigorous uphill terrain. All of these trails have gorgeous scenery, and some feature perfect photo-ops of Mont Blanc in the background. Admire the views and stop for refreshments at the traditional alpine huts and restaurant chalets along the way.
2 Tramway du Mont Blanc
The Tramway du Mont Blanc offers a classic Chamonix experience, ideal for visitors who simply want to admire the scenery. The tramway departs from Le Fayet or Saint-Gervais. The Saint-Gervais Buffet de la Gare at the train station is a wonderful Old World style restaurant. The train journey takes about one hour and stops at Motivon village at the Col de Voza pass (there is another restaurant here), which has views over Contamines Valley, the Aiguille du Goûter peak and Aiguille du Midi peaks, and the Aiguilles Rouges mountain range. After winding around the mountain pass, the train continues towards Bellevue.
Admire the scenery of pastures and forests as the tramway ascends to Bellevue at 1,800 meters. True to its name, Bellevue offers exceptional views. Bellevue has an elegant mountain restaurant with good food and a pleasant ambience. From Bellevue, mountain biking trails lead to Les Houches village. To continue up the summit, take the 25-minute tramway ride until reaching the Nid d'Aigle at 2,372 meters. The Nid d'Aigle is nestled under the Aiguille du Goûter mountain peak (where mountaineers set out for their climb of Mont Blanc). There are many hillside walking paths around the Nid d'Aigle including the scenic paths to Bionnassay Glacier and the Tête de Charme. The Nid d'Aigle mountain hut offers gourmet dining in a comfortable rustic setting.
3 Chamonix Village
Chamonix was put on the map by two English aristocrats who discovered the place in 1741. They were enchanted by the charming alpine village called the "Prieuré de Chamouni" surrounded by awesome snow-covered mountains. The village's first inn was opened in 1770 when interest in mountaineering was beginning to take off. Soon, many visitors flocked to Chamonix to see the mystical summits. In 1816, the first luxury hotel was created, with more to follow later in the 1800s. During the reign of Napoleon III, the road access to Chamonix was improved and railways were inaugurated. The train allowed visitors an easy way to arrive at Chamonix in winter, making it a popular winter sport destination.
Reflecting its history, the architecture of Chamonix is a mix of traditional and modern. Wander through the town and discover the quaint alpine chalets, lovely Baroque churches, and historic Protestant chapels. Many visitors stay in luxurious modern hotels, but there are also rustic country lodges. Chamonix is renowned for its upscale atmosphere and fancy boutiques. The village also boasts dozens of top-rated restaurants-from casual cafés and bustling brasseries to fine dining establishments. For an authentic experience, try the regional cuisine at a welcoming auberge or local farm.
4 Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice)
The Mer de Glace is one of the largest glaciers in Europe. Its French name translates to "Sea of Ice," which makes sense considering that the glacier spans seven kilometers in length. This historic site drew many tourists in the 19th century and is still a must-see attraction. The Mer de Glace is accessible (in summer and winter) by taking the Montenvers railway, an old-fashioned red train. The train departs from the village of Chamonix and reaches the Mer de Glace at Montenvers (1,913 meters) in about 20 minutes. First impressions of the Mer de Glace can be underwhelming as it's sometimes difficult to distinguish the glacier from the terrain. However the scenery and the views are sensational. Take in the panorama of the majestic Les Drus and Les Grandes Jorasses mountain peaks. For a meal break, enjoy a casual snack at the railway station or indulge in a gourmet meal at the Grand Hôtel in Montenvers, a legendary Chamonix hotel.
Be sure to tour the "Grotte de Glace" (Ice Cave), about a 15-minute walk away from the Mer de Glace. This incredible 100-meter-long cave gives visitors an inside view of a glacier. Tourists can also visit the Glaciorium, a small museum about glaciers, and the Temple of Nature that shows innovative educational nature films. There are also wonderful hiking trails that depart from Montenvers, including the Grand Balcon Nord hillside walking trail. For those who'd like to hike back to Chamonix village, there are trails that pass by Les Planards and Les Bois villages.
5 Aiguille du Midi: Panoramic Mont-Blanc Gondola
A top attraction of Chamonix, the Aiguille du Midi is considered the gateway to the Alps. This point is reached by the Panoramic Mont-Blanc Gondola. The two-part cable car ride takes a total of 20 minutes from the center of Chamonix to the top. Allow around two to three hours for the entire journey (and longer if stopping for a meal). The first part of the ride reaches the Plan de l'Aiguille at 2,310 meters, which is the departure point for the Grand Balcon Nord hike to Montenvers (also accessible from the Montenvers railway that drops off at the Glace des Mer). About a five-minute walk away, is a lunchtime restaurant called Refuge du Plan. This is a pleasant place to stop for a meal or snacks while enjoying the mountain scenery.
The second part of the ride continues to the Aiguille du Midi summit, at a height of 3,777 meters. Be sure to wear warm clothes and sunscreen and bring sunglasses. This wonderful spot has terraces with 360° panoramas of the French, Swiss, and Italian Alps. There is another lift (only open June through September) that travels over the Glacier du Géant to reach the Pointe Helbronner summit terrace at 3,842 meters. It's worth the extra ride for the stunning view of Mont Blanc. At this amazing altitude, there is Restaurant Le 3,842, open in summer. This stylish restaurant offers superb Savoy cuisine in a modern dining room with many windows to enjoy the views.
6 Le Brévent: Spectacular Views and Secluded Hiking
Discover some of the most pristine scenery in Chamonix on the Le Brévent gondola line. Take the gondola lift from Chamonix village to the first stop in Plan Praz (1,999 meters). From here, there are well-groomed hiking trails that lead to the tranquil Lac Cornu and the Grand Balcon Sud. On this southern slope, there is a fantastic panoramic view of Mont Blanc. This area is also popular for paragliding. At the Plan Praz level, La Bergerie Restaurant serves traditional Savoy cuisine.
Continue ascending the mountain to explore more serene nature sites. Take the cable car up to Le Brévent summit at (2,525 meters). Visitors are rewarded at the top of Le Brévent with exquisite views. For a scenic walk, take the footpath to Aiguillette des Houches, stopping at the inviting Bel-Lachat mountain hut with its sunny terraces. Take a moment to repose in nature and enjoy the truly rejuvenating scenery. Hiking enthusiasts will enjoy the secluded hiking paths that begin at Plaques du Brévent (this departure point is a five-minute walk from the cable car drop-off point in Le Brévent). These hiking paths all face Mont Blanc, offering inspiring views. Before or after setting out on a hike, enjoy a meal at Le Panoramique Restaurant in Le Brévent. Savor the delicious cuisine while admiring Mont Blanc.
7 Grands Montets
Head to the Grands Montets to appreciate the many different angles of the Alps. Take the cable car from Argentière to Lognan Plateau (1,972 meters), an area with many nature walks and viewpoints of ice pinnacles. Lognan has a snack bar at the cable car station, and there is a restaurant chalet a 30-minute walk from the station. Then continue to the Aiguille des Grands Montets (3,295 meters). From this point, there is a sensational panoramic view of the soaring Les Drus, Aiguille Verte, the Aiguilles de Chamonix mountain peaks, and the expansive Argentière Glacier. During summer, Les Grands Montets is a verdant area of green pastures and vibrant wildflowers. During winter, the Grands Montets ski area offers exhilarating vertical drops. The ski runs are spread over three different slopes: the Argentière Glacier, Lognan, and the Pendant. This ski resort is known for its excellent snow coverage in the spring, even until May. The Lognan area allows freestyle skiing back to the Pierre à Ric lift.
8 Brévent-Flégère Ski Resort
The Brévent - Flégère Ski Resort is the biggest ski area in Chamonix with 56 kilometers of ski runs. The two ski areas are linked by a cable car, making it easy to cover more terrain, and with 32 ski runs, the Brévent - Flégère ski resort has more runs than any other resort in Chamonix. It's a good choice for intermediate and advanced skiers; there are seven advanced runs and 13 intermediate runs with a wonderful variety of slopes. The long runs are covered in powder snow and surrounded by idyllic scenery; many runs offer panoramas of Mont-Blanc. The south-facing slopes are appreciated for the sunshine. It's possible to get a tan while gliding down the beautiful snowy slopes.
9 Glacier des Bossons
To experience a completely unique nature site, visit the Glacier des Bossons during summer. From the village of Bossons, take the chair lift to the Bossons Glacier at 1,400 meters and get ready to be dazzled by icicles. From the chair lift drop-off, hike to Les Pyramides chalet-a great place to enjoy a meal of hearty country fare. From here, there's an outstanding view of the glacier's frosty ice cascade, ice pinnacles, and ice pyramids. Next, hike along the rocky La Jonction trail that winds up in the High Alps at an altitude of 2,589 meters. This route was hiked by pioneering mountaineers J. Balmat and Dr. Paccard on their first ascent of Mont Blanc in 1786. From the top of La Junction trail, take in the stunning views of the Bossons and Taconnaz glaciers. In winter, this area is ideal for alpine skiing at La Vormaine ski resort.
10 Col de Balme
During summer, the Col de la Baume is covered with wide-open green pastures and colorful wildflowers. This area has gentle hiking trails that travel through the landscape of local farms and chalets. It's ideal for a relaxing nature walk and a picnic. Certain parts of the Col de Balme area offer more challenging hiking, such as through the hills up to the Albert I mountain hut, an alpine refuge known for its blueberry tarts. Other hiking paths lead through the forests and wild terrain. There are also mountain-biking trails from Charmillon to the Col des Posettes pass, which lead down to the villages of Le Tour and Vallorcine. In winter, the Balme-Vallorcine ski resort is accessed from the villages of Le Tour and Vallorcine. There are two distinct areas. The snow-covered alpine pastures on Charamillon side feature gentle slopes overlooking the Chamonix Valley. On the sunny Vallorcine side (in the Franco-Swiss domain), the steeper tree-lined ski runs are near the border with Switzerland. The ski resort's Chalet de Charamillon and the Col de Balme mountain chalet are known for their cozy atmosphere and hearty food.
11 Les Houches Ski Resort
At the foot of Mont Blanc, this family-friendly ski resort is one of the largest Chamonix ski resorts with 55 kilometers of ski runs. There are 22 ski runs, each with its own unique scenery. Glide through forests and wide fields of powder snow dotted with chalets. Les Houches is ideal for beginners-there is a specially equipped space for new skiers at the top of the Prarion lift. The ski resort also welcomes freestylers in its snowpark. Other areas are designed for cross-country skiing, snowboarding, telemarking, and speed-riding. Les Houches boasts some of the best mountain scenery in the Chamonix Valley, with views of the Aiguilles mountain peaks and the tiny hamlets scattered among meadows and forests.
12 Beginners' Ski Resorts
Although often associated with extreme skiing, Chamonix is well equipped for beginners. Les Planards ski resort is perfect for children; there's a learning treadmill, a toddler's telecord, and two very easy beginners' runs. La Vormaine in the Col de Balme ski area has gentle sunny slopes ideal for beginning skiers and snowboarders, plus a kindergarten ski school for the little ones. Le Savoy at the foot of the Brévent gondola has two drag lifts, a rolling carpet for first-time skiers, and a ski kindergarten. At the Grands Montets site, the ESF d'Argentière ski resort has a ski school for children aged four years and older.
13 Musée Alpin (Museum of Alpine History)
Housed in a "Chamonix Palace" built at the beginning of the 20th century, this museum illustrates the history of Chamonix-from the first tourists who admired the "Glacières de Savoye" (Savoy Glaciers) to the installation of cable cars and the golden era of glamorous ski resorts. The museum has an excellent collection of prints and photographs, which show the development of the town between the 18th and 20th centuries. There are also antique objects of art and traditional costumes that provide insight into the cultural heritage of Chamonix Valley.
Address: La Résidence, 89 avenue Michel Croz, Chamonix-Mont-Blanc
14 Rock Climbing at Rochers des Gaillands
Many extreme mountain climbers aspire to climb the granite rock face at Chamonix. There are extremely challenging mountain climbing routes along the north faces as well as boulders for amateur climbers and beginners. About two kilometers south of Chamonix next to the Gaillands Lake, the Rochers Gaillands offer a range of climbing routes from easy to difficult. The legendary mountaineer, Roger Frison-Roche, created the first mountain climbing school at Les Gaillands in 1936.
Where to Stay in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc for Sightseeing
The best place to stay in Chamonix is as close as possible to the center of the quaint mountain village. From here, visitors have easy access to fantastic restaurants, cafés, and shops, as well as the Aiguille du Midi cable car and the Brévent gondola. Here are some highly-rated (and mostly pet-friendly) hotels in this convenient location:
- Luxury Hotels: In the center of town, with spectacular Alpine views, the chic Hotel Mont-Blanc blends its 100-year-old history with contemporary accents. Guests enjoy the spa, heated outdoor pool and hot tub, free ski lift shuttle, and gourmet restaurant. With stylish and sleek retro interiors in two mountain chalets, Hotel l'Heliopic is near the Aiguille du Midi cable car and comes with an indoor pool, sauna, and spa. The apartments are perfect for families and extended stays. Also with a pool and spa, the boutique and eco-chic Le Morgane is only a couple of blocks from the center of town and the Aiguille du Midi cable car. Rooms have mountain-view balconies.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Less than 10 minutes from Montenvers Mer de Glace train station and the Brévent ski lift, cozy Hotel Le Faucigny has comfortable, compact rooms; large communal areas; and an indoor pool. Like its name suggests, Mercure Chamonix Centre, with a terrace-style restaurant and mountain views, is in the heart of the village and also near the train station. The Hotel de l'Arve is great for families and longer stays, with its modern rooms and apartments. It sits in a quiet riverside location only a short stroll to the town center.
- Budget Hotels: Cute and cozy, Hotel Le Chamonix is only minutes on foot from Montenvers Mer de Glace train station, and the chalet-style Le Vert Hotel is about a 20-minute walk from the town center. It offers comfy rooms, a ski shop, and a complimentary shuttle to Le Brévent's slopes. The BEST WESTERN PLUS Excelsior Chamonix Hotel & Spa is about five kilometers from town, but guests can hop on a free shuttle to the ski slopes and town.