Chamonix Mont Blanc is one of the most famous mountain resorts in the world. Positioned in a valley at the base of Mont Blanc, it’s home to some of the top adventure sports athletes in the world. The choice of activities can be overwhelming, and you would need a lifetime to explore everything the valley offers. To help, here are our recommendations for the top things to do in Chamonix:
1) Aiguille du Midi Cable Car
With some of the most spectacular views in the Alps, it’s no wonder that this is the second most visited tourist site in France (after the Eiffel Tower). It was also an easy choice for our list of top things to do in Chamonix!
Precariously perched at 3842 meters, the Aiguille du Midi is the highest lift-accessed mountain in the world. It offers breath-taking views of some of the highest peaks in the Alps. From the viewing platforms, you’ll enjoy unrivaled views of Mont Blanc; on a clear day, you’ll even spot the Matterhorn in Switzerland.
For experienced alpinists, the lift provides easy access to the nearby summits. You can watch the alpinists roping up and strapping on their crampons, ready to start their adventures. On the cable car, keep your eye on the cliffs below, as you might spot climbers going up the North face towards the summit of the Aiguille du Midi.
There is a café and a museum at the summit, and you can marvel at 1920s-era photos of workers beginning to construct the cable car. It was finally completed in 1956 and has since been renovated several times.
In peak season (summer and winter), the queue for the lift can be several hours long. So it’s worth getting to the ticket office early to reserve a time slot on a cabin!
2) Montenvers Train Ride
First opened in 1908, the Montenvers train is an equally amazing feat of engineering. It provides access from Chamonix to the base of the immense Mer de Glace Glacier (1913m). At seven kilometers long and 400 meters deep in places, the Mer de Glace (“sea of ice”) is France’s longest glacier.
Since 1802, tourists have been visiting the glacier on the back of donkeys. When the railway began construction, many locals were unhappy at the prospect of losing their jobs as guides. (They didn’t know then that the train ride would become one of the best things to do in Chamonix!) In protest, they dismantled the train tracks at night, but the railway still opened a few years later.
Train enthusiasts will enjoy the half-hour ride on this cog railway. On special occasions, historic carriages replace the modern red trains for an authentic experience. From the top station, you have fantastic views of the Mer de Glace and two of the world’s most notorious north faces — the Dru and the Grand Jorasses.
Enjoy the views with a coffee from the café before taking the gondola to the ice cave. In 1988, the gondola reached the base of the glacier, but global warming has caused the glacier to recede at an alarming rate. There are now 440 steps from the gondola to the ice cave, and plaques along the way show the glacier’s height in different years.
Carved anew every year, the ice cave gives visitors the chance to walk inside a glacier. It’s just 100 metres long, but this novel experience is worth the trip up and down the stairs. You’ll see for yourself how fast the glacier alone is receding.
If you have time, it’s also worth visiting the small museums near the train station. The Glaciorum explains how glaciers are formed, and the Temple of Nature describes the work of early scientists who visited the region.
3) Visit the Aiguille Rouge National Park
For nature enthusiasts, a visit to the Aiguille Rouge National Park is one of the best things to do in Chamonix! It’s a good place to spot wildlife, including Chamois, Ibex, and a host of birds and alpine flowers. An excellent visitor centre provides a café and information about the local flora and fauna. From the centre, you can follow a short, well-marked nature trail, with labels identifying many alpine flowers.
To find out more about the nature in the area, read our guide to Wildlife on the Tour du Mont Blanc
4) Visit the Merlet Animal Park
With a view across the Mont Blanc Massif, the Merlet Animal Park is the perfect place to spend an afternoon. You can get up close and personal with some of the region’s iconic species, such as Chamois, Ibex, and cheeky Marmots. There are a number of walking trails around the park and a lovely café whose veranda has some of the best views in the valley. This fantastic half-day is one of the best things to do in Chamonix for young families.
5) Hike to Lac Blanc
If you only have time for one day hike in the valley, then this has to be it! The Lake sits on the opposite side of the valley to Mont Blanc, meaning you’ll have an incredible view of the massif. It’s reflected perfectly in the crystal-clear water. In the summer, it can become very crowded at the Lake, so it’s worth getting there early or late to enjoy the views peacefully.
If you aren’t feeling energetic, then you can take the Flegere Cable car to cut out most of the ascent. This will leave just a couple of hours’ hike each way to the Lake. The most interesting hike is taking the trail from the Col des Montets through Aiguille Rouge National Park and walking down via the cable car.
If you have a couple weeks in Chamonix, then the best long-distance trek in the area, and arguably in the world, is the Tour du Mont Blanc.