14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc
Few sights on Earth compare to the awesome spectacle of Mont Blanc, the most famous mountain of the French Alps and the highest point 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 Chamonix, a touristy alpine village brimming with restaurants, cafés, shops, stylish hotels, and old-fashioned auberges. 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 one of the best places to visit in France for hiking, rock climbing, paragliding, golf, and tennis. It's also worth the journey just to breathe in the fresh Alpine air, soak up the inspiring scenery, and listen to the sound of rushing streams.
To experience the rustic charm of Chamonix, visitors should stay at a typical Alpine chalet and dine at traditional restaurants. Authentic cuisine of the Savoy region is hearty and delicious. Typical meals feature potatoes, cheese, and charcuterie. Specialties like fondue and raclette are satisfying after a long day on the slopes or hiking in the mountains.
Discover the best things to do in this magical mountain region with our list of the top attractions in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc.
See also: Where to Stay in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc
1. Mont Blanc
Mont-Blanc is the highest peak of the Alps and forms part of the French border with Italy. Soaring to an altitude of 4,810 meters, Mont Blanc is always covered in snow, explaining why it's called the "White Mountain."
Mont Blanc is known as "the Roof of Europe" because of its thrilling viewpoints of the Aiguilles Rouges mountain ranges and Chamonix Valley. It's also one of the best ski areas in France. Tourists can enjoy the scenery and views on various hiking trails or by taking one of the gondola lifts.
The Tour du Mont Blanc hiking trails include routes for all ability levels and offer some of the best hiking in the world. The trails range from gentle walks and intermediate hikes to treks along more vigorous uphill terrain. The scenery is gorgeous, and some trails feature fabulous photo-ops of Mont Blanc in the background. Along the way, traditional Alpine huts and chalets offer refreshments, meals, and overnight accommodations.
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. Climbers are rewarded with absolutely breathtaking panoramas from the summit.
Official site: http://www.autourdumontblanc.com/en/
2. Tramway du Mont Blanc
The Tramway du Mont Blanc offers a chance to admire the area's awe-inspiring Alpine scenery. From the tramway's drop-off points, outdoor enthusiasts can embark on trails for taking nature walks, hikes, or mountain bike rides. During summer, the highest drop-off point (Nid d'Aigle) is open.
The tramway departs from Le Fayet or Saint-Gervais-les-Bains. The train has two stops: Bellevue and Nid d'Aigle. Tourists are awed by panoramic vistas of Mont Blanc, as well as other mountain peaks, Alpine pastures, and expansive forests as the tramway ascends to Bellevue at 1,800 meters.
At Bellevue, tourists may take a scenic walk around the verdant Bellevue plateau. True to its name, Bellevue features beautiful views, and it also has an elegant mountain restaurant with good food and a pleasant ambience. From Bellevue, there are easy walks through a valley and Alpine meadows, as well as trails that lead to the hamlets of Les Houches.
During summertime, visitors may continue up the summit by taking the tramway ride to the Nid d'Aigle at 2,372 meters, which offers stunning views of the landscape. A scenic walking path leads from the Nid d'Aigle to the Bionnassay Glacier.
For overnight stays, the contemporary-style Refuge du Nid d'Aigle mountain hut provides basic dormitory accommodations and a half-board meal option (breakfast and dinner). At a higher altitude (3,167 meters), the Refuge de Tête Rousse offers "base camp" tents and dormitory accommodations with a half-board meal option.
The Nid d'Aigle nestles under the rugged Aiguille du Goûter mountain peak (where mountaineers set out for their climb of Mont Blanc). En route to the summit of Mont Blanc at 3,815 meters (the highest elevation of any hotel in France), the Refuge du Gouter mountain hut provides mountain climbers with meals and lodging.
3. Chamonix Village
Today, Chamonix is a world-famous ski resort destination, but the town was once just a humble mountain village. When two English aristocrats discovered the place in 1741, they were enchanted by the charming hamlet, called the "Prieuré de Chamouni," tucked away in a valley surrounded by 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 year-round even during inclement weather, making it a popular winter sports destination.
Reflecting its history, Chamonix features a mix of traditional Alpine architecture and more modern buildings. At the center of the town's pedestrian area is a lovely Baroque church. Scattered around Chamonix are old-fashioned chalets and Belle Epoque hotels, as well as rustic country lodges.
The village bustles with tourist shops, upscale boutiques, and gourmet restaurants. Dining options range from casual cafés and bustling brasseries to fancy gastronomic establishments. For an authentic experience, try the regional cuisine at a welcoming auberge or mountain refuge.
4. Mer de Glace
Discovered by tourists in the 19th century, the Mer de Glace is one of the largest glaciers in Europe. Its French name translates to "Sea of Ice," which makes sense considering the glacier spans seven kilometers in length.
The Mer de Glace is accessible by taking the Montenvers railway, an old-fashioned red train. The train departs from the village of Chamonix and reaches the Mer de Glace glacier 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. Vistas sweep across the majestic Les Drus and Les Grandes Jorasses mountain peaks.
The site includes the Grotte de Glace, a 100-meter-long cave that gives visitors an inside view of a glacier, and Le Glaciorium, a small museum about glaciers. Here, visitors learn about the formation of glaciers, along with other fascinating scientific details.
Several hiking trails 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.
The Refuge du Montenvers, a classic hotel built in 1880, has several dining options. The hotel's stylish Montenvers Restaurant specializes in local cuisine of the region, while the more casual Le Panoramique bistro delights guests with traditional Savoyard (Alpine) meals and mountain views from the terrace. The Bar des Glaciers serves snacks and refreshments.
5. Aiguille du Midi & Panoramic Mont-Blanc Gondola
One of the most exhilarating places to visit in Chamonix, the Aiguille du Midi viewpoint affords 360-degree panoramas of the Alps. The sweeping vistas extend to the mountain peaks of Switzerland and Italy. From the highest viewing terrace at 3,842 meters, there is a direct outlook onto Mont Blanc.
The Aiguille du Midi viewpoint is reached by taking the Téléphérique de l'Aiguille du Midi from the Chamonix town center. This scenic gondola ride takes 20 minutes.
The gondola ride from Chamonix to the Aiguille du Midi includes two parts. 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). Lunchtime meals and refreshments are available at the Refuge du Plan.
The second part of the ride continues to the Aiguille du Midi summit. Be sure to wear warm clothes and sunscreen and bring sunglasses, as the viewpoint terraces are completely exposed to the elements.
For a memorable experience, try the local seasonal cuisine offered by Restaurant Le 3842 at the Aiguille du Midi summit. This fine-dining restaurant delights diners with panoramic mountain views, thanks to its amazing location at an elevation of 3,842 meters.
From June through September, the Panoramic Mont Blanc gondola takes travelers from the Aiguille du Midi to Pointe Helbronner in Italy. On a thrilling 50-minute journey, the gondola soars past striking high-mountain terrain, including the Mer de Glace glacier below and the Mont Blanc massif.
6. Le Brévent: Spectacular Views and Secluded Hiking
Visitors can discover some of the most beautiful scenery of the French Alps by taking the gondola rides up to Le Brévent. First, hop on the gondola lift from the Chamonix village to the first stop in Plan Praz (at an elevation of 2,000 meters).
From Plan Praz, well-groomed hiking trails lead to the tranquil Lac Cornu and the Grand Balcon Sud. On this southern slope, there is a fantastic panoramic view of Mont Blanc.
At the Plan Praz level, the award-winning La Bergerie restaurant serves seasonal cuisine of the region in a cozy chalet or on an outdoor terrace that affords magnificent views of the Alps. The menu focuses on dishes prepared from fresh local ingredients.
Continuing from Plan Praz, another gondola ride (the Téléphérique de Brévent) takes travelers up to Le Brévent summit (which is the highest point of the Brévent-Flégère Ski Resort) at 2,525 meters, where exceptional panoramic views await. The ascent takes visitors to more serene high-mountain nature sites.
For an invigorating intermediate-level hike, take the footpath from Le Brévent summit to Aiguillette des Houches. Along the way, hikers will find the Refuge de Bellachat, a simple "mountain hut" (open from the end of June through mid September) that provides dormitory-style accommodations and hearty Savoyard meals. The refuge's sunny dining terrace features splendid views.
Hiking enthusiasts will enjoy the secluded trails that begin at Plaques du Brévent (this departure point is a five-minute walk from the gondola drop-off point in Le Brévent). These hiking paths all face Mont Blanc, offering inspiring views.
Before or after setting out on a hike, Le Panoramic restaurant in Le Brévent is a delightful spot to relax and refuel. This casual café-restaurant delivers dazzling views of Mont Blanc from the outdoor terrace. The menu includes snacks, refreshments, and hearty meals.
7. Grands Montets
During summertime, Les Grands Montets is a verdant area of green pastures and vibrant wildflowers. This area reveals the diversity of natural landscapes in the French Alps. One of the most distinctive sights is the Argentière Glacier.
At the Lognan plateau (accessible by gondola from the village of Argentière), there are many nature walks. The scenery is striking, with the Aiguilles Rouges mountain range as a backdrop.
When the snow season arrives, the Les Grands Montets is a popular ski area. 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.
8. Brévent-Flégère Ski Resort
Prized for its south-facing location, the Brévent-Flégère Ski Resort gives skiers the chance to bask in the sunshine while gliding down snowy slopes. Plus, the scenery is as thrilling as the ski runs. Panoramas of the French Alps provide a breathtaking backdrop.
The Brévent-Flégère Ski Resort offers 56 kilometers of ski runs. It is possible to spend the entire day skiing here without going down the same run more than once.
Visitors can reach the Brévent ski area from the Chamonix town center, whereas the Flégère side of the ski resort can be reached from the village of Les Praz (three kilometers from Chamonix). The two ski areas are linked by a cable car, making it easy to cover more terrain, and with 33 ski slopes, the Brévent - Flégère ski resort has more runs than any other resort in Chamonix.
This ski resort is a good choice for skiers of any ability level but is especially suitable for intermediate skiers (and snowboarders). The long runs are covered in powder snow and surrounded by towering mountain peaks; many runs overlook the emblematic Mont Blanc massif.
Besides skiing, visitors can take a ride on the Téléphérique de Brévent gondola just to admire the spectacular mountain views. Other things to do include dining at Le Panoramic restaurant in Le Brévent and relaxing at one of the ski resort's sunny outdoor terraces such as at L'Adret restaurant on the Flégère side.
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 chairlift, which glides above lush green Alpine meadows to arrive near the Chalet du Glacier des Bossons at 1,425 meters. The chalet's terrace affords views of the Bossons Glacier and the Plateau des Pyramides.
A hiking trail leads from the Glaciers des Bossons chalet to the Chalet des Pyramides. From here, there's an outstanding view of the glacier's frosty ice cascade and ice pinnacles. Both the Chalet du Glacier des Bossons and the Chalet des Pyramides serve hearty meals of regional fare.
The Chalet des Pyramides is the starting point for another hike, 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.
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 Premier Refuge, a sleek contemporary-style Alpine lodge. Other hiking paths lead through the forests and wild terrain.
During summertime, the Chalet de Charamillon and the more basic Col de Balme Refuge welcome guests in traditional Alpine style. Both restaurants are known for their convivial atmosphere, authentic mountain-style decor, and delicious hearty food.
In winter, the Balme-Vallorcine ski resort is accessed from the villages of Le Tour and Vallorcine. The snow-covered alpine pastures on the 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.
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 28 ski runs that traverse forests and wide fields of powder snow dotted with chalets. Les Houches also boasts gorgeous views of the Aiguilles mountain peaks.
Les Houches is ideal for all levels of skiers, including beginners. There is a specially equipped space for new skiers at the top of the Prarion lift. Other areas are designed for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
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 ski school, a toddler's telecord, and 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 three years and older.
13. Musée Alpin (Museum of Alpine History)
This museum immerses visitors in the fascinating history of the French Alps. The extensive collection is displayed in a former luxury hotel from the Belle Epoque era.
Visitors learn about the rich regional heritage and culture. Exhibits tell the story of Mont Blanc and Chamonix, from the first mountaineering expeditions to the arrival of tourists who admired the "Glacières de Savoye" (Savoy Glaciers) and the golden era of glamorous ski resorts.
A superb collection of prints and photographs shows 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.
The museum is open the second two weeks of June, from Thursday through Sunday. In July and August, the museum is open every day. Guided tours are available in English or French.
Address: 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 is an elegant historic hotel featuring five-star amenities and contemporary-style guest rooms. The hotel has an upscale spa, outdoor swimming pool and jacuzzi, and fine-dining restaurant.
Housed in two stylish mountain chalets, the sleek, modern Heliopic Hotel & Spa is steps away from the Aiguille du Midi gondola. Amenities include an indoor pool, spa with sauna, and gourmet restaurant. The apartments are perfect for families and extended stays.
The four-star Le Morgane Chamonix offers stylish accommodations only a couple of blocks from the Chamonix town center and the Aiguille du Midi gondola. Rooms have mountain-view balconies. The hotel's spa includes an indoor pool, hammam, and sauna.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Less than 10 minutes from Montenvers Mer de Glace train station and the Brévent ski lift, the three-star Hotel Le Faucigny has compact yet comfortable guest rooms and spacious communal areas. The hotel also has a spa with a sauna and Jacuzzi.
The four-star Mercure Chamonix Centre Hotel is in the heart of Chamonix village near the train station. The hotel delights guests with its astounding mountain views, restaurant featuring a vast outdoor terrace, and entertainment during the ski holiday season.
With its spacious wood-paneled guest rooms and well-equipped apartments, the Hotel de l'Arve is great for families and those planning longer stays. There are also smaller guest rooms for single travelers. In the center of Chamonix, this peaceful hotel has a flowering garden by the banks of the Arve River.
- Budget Hotels: The small two-star Hotel Le Chamonix is in the town center of Chamonix, a short walk from the Office of Tourism and near many restaurants and shops. Guests are pleasantly surprised by the hotel's charming decor and incredible mountain views. Many of the guest rooms look directly out onto Mont Blanc.
The chalet-style Le Vert Hotel offers basic guest rooms at affordable rates. About a 30-minute walk (or five-minute drive) from the center of Chamonix, the hotel has a restaurant that's open during high season. The superior guest rooms overlook Mont Blanc.
Featuring views of Mont Blanc, the four-star Best Western Plus Excelsior Chamonix Hotel & Spa offers great value for the price. The hotel is less than two kilometers from the Flégère ski area; guests can take advantage of the bus service to the ski slopes. Other amenities include an outdoor swimming pool, fitness center, spa, and restaurant.
More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com
Nature Sites and Quaint Towns: Excursions in the French Alps within a two-hour drive from Chamonix include the magnificent glacier-cut mountain of Cirque du Fer-à-Cheval, spa resort towns on Lake Geneva, and the enchanting lakeside town of Annecy. Nature lovers also appreciate the Jura region, a pastoral landscape of green, rolling hills dotted with beautiful historic villages. The Parc Jura Vaudois is a two-hour drive from Chamonix.
Cultured Cities Nearby: Art and culture enthusiasts could instead head to the cosmopolitan city of Geneva (just an hour drive or two-hour train ride away) or elegant Lausanne (about a three-hour train ride) in Switzerland. Less than a three-hour drive from Chamonix is France's gastronomic capital, Lyon, renowned for its authentic French restaurants and marvelous art museums.