Chamonix is a year-round destination that’s popular for its stunning day hikes, turquoise alpine lakes, surreal mountain peaks, and charming downtown that looks out of a fairytale. When planning a trip to Chamonix, many people set aside a few hours to visit the impressive Mer de Glace glacier and ice cave that is carved into the glacier every year.
Mer de Glace is France’s largest glacier and also one of the biggest glaciers in the Alps. This attraction brings in more than 400,000 visitors a year who travel from all over to step inside this grand glacier.
Mer de Glace is truly one of the best things you can do in Chamonix and something that will leave you in awe long after your trip!
In this post, we share details on how to visit the Mer de Glace attraction in France. We cover train information, cost, how to reach the glacier ice caves, and other helpful tips!
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Guide to visiting Mer de Glace glacier and ice caves:
How To Get To Mer de Glace
Mer de Glace (also called the Sea of Ice) is located in Chamonix resort town near the France-Italy border. The best way to reach this glacier is by taking the Montenvers train from downtown Chamonix up the mountain to the base of the glacier.
TRAVEL TIP: For traveling around Europe, we recommend getting a rental car because of how spread out everything is. While public transportation is reliable, you will be more limited in time and how much you can see, especially if you’re looking at going to some of the best hikes and mountain destinations which tend to be far apart from each other. Browse the best rental car deals here!
To visit this attraction we purchased the Mont Blanc MultiPass which includes tickets for the train. I recommend getting this pass if you plan to do various activities in this area including visiting Aiguille du Midi and hiking to Lac Blanc.
The Mont Blanc MultiPass costs:
- 72 euro for 1 day
- 87 euro for 2 days
- 101 euro for 3 days
- 114 euro for 4 days, etc
You can see up-to-date Mont Blanc MultiPass rates here!
TIP: Be sure to reserve the time slots for the train online ahead of time to ensure the best visitation times.
We took the early 8:30 am train in the morning to avoid the crowds. After scanning the tickets at the Montenvers station, we got in a line to board the train and get seats by the window for better views. If you have extra time before the departure, you can walk around the train station and check out exhibits about this glacier.
This charming little red train was built in 1909 to transport visitors from downtown Chamonix to the Mer de Glace glacier. The train ride is about 20 minutes long and travels through a forest, rock tunnels carved into the mountain, and alpine terrain gaining nearly 1000 meters (3280 feet) in elevation.
The train stops at the Montenvers – Mer de Glace station at the top. Once the train drops you off at the summit, you can walk to an observation deck with stunning panoramic views of the glacier and Grandes Jorasses mountain from the viewpoint.
If you need a caffeine fix, stop by the Bar des Glaciers coffee shop that sells coffee, pastries, and small snacks. There are also restrooms and a gift shop with trinkets, clothing, and typical souvenir items to bring back home for memories.
Here you can also find the Le Glaciorium museum with interactive displays where you can learn more about the discovery and history of Mer de Glace.
Many people ride the Montenvers railway to the summit, enjoy the views, and then leave. If you have the time, I recommend taking a gondola or hiking down to the Grotte de glace (ice caves) to experience this enormous French Alps glacier up close.
Hiking Down To Grotte de Glace
In the summer months, visitors can ride a cable car that goes from the observation platform down to Grotte de Glace ice caves. In the winter this gondola is used to transport skiers after completing the Vallee Blanche ski run that goes along the top of the glacier.
We visited Mer de Glace in September and we arrived extra early to avoid the crowds. Unfortunately the day of our visit the gondola was closed for maintenance.
After waiting around a while and realizing that the gondola won’t operate that day, we decided to hike down from the observation platform to the ice caves. This trail is short, but very steep so be prepared for a difficult trek. The starting point is located just a few feet from the observation platform behind a small wooden gate.
The trail starts on a narrow and slippery path in a forest and descends along switchbacks toward the glacier caves. It’s about a 30 minute walk down to the glacier and about an hour’s hike back up.
The trail will end at the bottom gondola station and turn into a metal walkway. From here, you will need to walk on metal steps all the way to the ice grotto entrance.
These metal stairs were built because the glacier was shrinking too fast to relocate the lower gondola station. Instead, extra 30-40 steps are added to the walkway every year as the glacier recedes further back. As time goes on, the walk is becoming longer and longer.
Along the metal pathway, you will see signs marking where the previous level of the glacier used to be. It’s a stark reminder of the effects of climate change and how global warming shapes glaciers every year.
Mer de Glace used to fill the entire Chamonix Valley back in the day, but now it has dramatically receded. On average, the glacier loses around 30 meters (98 feet) of length per year.
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Visiting Mer de Glace Ice Caves
Once you arrive at Grotte de Glace, you will be able to enter the glacier through a large opening in the ice. The parts of the glacier that we can walk through now were formed over two centuries ago.
Since 1946, every year a new cave has been carved out for visitors to enjoy. As you get closer to the entrance, you’ll be able to see where the previous tunnels used to be.
Once you enter the glacier, the temperatures will be much cooler so bring a warm jacket to stay cozy as you explore the tunnels. There are mats on the ground to prevent you from falling on the slippery ice.
Inside, you’ll be able to walk through a small maze of tunnels going in different directions. There were lots of fun ice sculptures like seats, windows, and a bar where you can stop and take photos. You can also check out informative signs and exhibits on Mer de Glace’s history.
On the inside, the ice looks very smooth and blue. Water can’t absorb the blue frequencies from the sun so in large volumes (like an ice cave), the ice looks blue instead of transparent (like an ice cube).
Once we finished walking through the cave, we started making the hour trek back to the observation platform. The hike up takes much longer due to the steep elevation gain and rocky terrain.
At the arrival area, you can wait for a descending train to Chamonix which runs every 20 minutes. Altogether, a visit to Mer de Glace takes about 2-3 hours so be sure to set aside plenty of time if you have multiple activities planned on the same day.
Looking for more fun things to do in Chamonix? Check out this paragliding tour where you’ll get to fly over Chamonix and enjoy stunning views of the mountains and French villages from up top - an unforgettable adventure of a lifetime! Book the Chamonix paragliding tour here.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few frequently asked questions about visiting the Mer de Glace glacier in Chamonix, France.
Is Mer de Glace Worth Visiting?
If you have a few hours to spare on your trip to Chamonix, visiting the famous Mer de Glace is so worth it! This is such a beautiful tourist attraction where you’ll get to see one of the largest glaciers in the Alps and walk through ice caves – a unique experience that you’ll remember long after your trip!
How Much Is Mer de Glace?
We paid 87 Euros each for a 2-day Mont Blanc Multipass which includes the train ride to Mer de Glace. With this pass, you can visit multiple attractions within Chamonix saving you money in the long run.
Unfortunately the day after our arrival in late September, many attractions in Chamonix shut down for the season. While we paid the full price for the Mont Blanc Multipass, most of the lifts and natural sites were closed to visitors. We ended up driving to Aosta Valley in Italy and exploring this historic medieval town which was a great day trip on its own.
You can also purchase a direct train ticket for Montenvers Mer de Glace instead of getting the Mont Blanc Multipass. The tickets currently cost 35.50 Euro and can be purchased on voyagemerdeglace.com here.
How Long Does Mer de Glace Take?
On average, visitors spend around 2.5 hours at the Mer de Glace attraction.
If you’re short on time, you can take the Montenvers train, see the glacier from a viewing platform and be back in Chamonix within 1 hour. This is also a great visitation option for those with limited mobility.
If you have more time on your hands, I recommend taking a gondola or hiking down to the Grotte de glace ice cave that is carved into the glacier. Depending if the gondola is operational or not, visiting the ice cave can add another 1-2 hours to your trip.
How Many Steps Are There Down To Mer de Glace?
Currently, there are 580 metal steps that go from the gondola down to the Mer de Glace glacier. But as the glacier recedes, 30-40 steps are added every year making the walk longer and longer.
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What To Bring
Here are a few things that we recommend bringing for outdoor adventures in the Alps:
- Warm Puff Jacket. Weather in the mountains can change drastically without much notice. I always bring an insulated jacket in my backpack in case it starts raining or the temperatures start dropping. With a windproof and moisture-repelling shell, the Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket will keep you warm by trapping your body heat and blocking the cold, especially in chilly places like the ice caves.
- Danner 600 Hiking Boots. A good pair of hiking boots can make all the difference in outdoor adventures! I recommend getting a pair that are tough and have lots of traction so you don’t fall, especially if you plan to hike down to the glacier. The Danner 600 boots are lightweight, durable, and made with Vibram Fuga outsoles for traction on wet and slippery surfaces.
- REI Co-op Nalgene Water Bottle. Bring plenty of water since there are no amenities past the arrival center. I love my reusable REI Co-op Nalgene bottle which is leakproof and so easy to clean!
- Anker Portable phone charger. I always bring a battery pack when going on international trips. A portable phone charger can come in handy in case your phone runs out of battery and you need to use it to look up directions, reservation information, and places to eat after.
- Small Day Pack. I have a small lightweight day pack that fits all my essentials, water, and camera gear. The Gregory Nano pack comes with a padded mesh back, several adjustable straps, and plenty of pockets where you can put small things like hand sanitizer, sunscreen, a headlamp, and a medical kit.
Where To Stay In Chamonix
Chamonix is a small mountain town and a great place to stay for those exploring nearby attractions such as Mer de Glace, Aiguille du Midi, and Lac Blanc. Chamonix has plenty of hotels, restaurants, and shops to make your visit comfortable and enjoyable.
Here are some of the best places to stay in the area:
Refuge du Monenvers is a historic hotel built in 1880 to serve as a refuge for mountain climbers, outdoor enthusiasts, and travelers. Guests can book one of the standard rooms, suites, or dorm rooms that are upgraded and beautifully decorated with modern furniture and wooden accents.
This grand hotel is situated at 6300 feet in elevation just steps from the Mer de Glace. It not only offers an excellent location just a short walk from the glacier, but it also has an excellent restaurant du Refuge du Montenvers serving traditional meals and French cuisine.
Out on the property’s exterior, there is a large outdoor terrace boasting spectacular views of the mountains all around! There is also an onsite bar where you can grab a drink and relax after fun outdoor adventures.
This hotel can only be reached by taking the Montenvers Mer de Glace Train from Chamonix. All in all, this is a wonderful place to stay if you want to enjoy a bit of mountain life hidden away from the rest of the world!
This beautiful hotel is located at the centre of Chamonix and features fantastic amenities. The Alpina Eclectic Hotel is a modern 4-star hotel that offers plenty to keep the guests occupied.
There is a restaurant, 2 bars, a wellness area, and a fitness room for those who can’t miss a day at the gym. Buffet breakfast is served in the mornings to start the day off right!
This property is within short walking distance of local attractions including the Aiguille du Midi cable car and train station. The on-site ski rentals and grocery store are there to make your stay as convenient as possible!
This classic alpine hotel can be found in an excellent location a short walking distance from the train station and the downtown. The Chalet-Hôtel Hermitage has been open since 1920 offering 28 upgraded rooms and suites, plus one chalet.
After an exciting day exploring Chamonix come back to the hotel for a relaxing time in the garden featuring 3 outdoor saunas and a spa bath. Other amenities include an onsite bar, lounge, in-room breakfast service, and ski storage for winter sports enthusiasts.
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