About The Top Attractions in the Chamonix Valley
There is so much to see and do in and around the wonderful Chamonix Valley that we decided to narrow it down to just a few 'must see' things for you! This is by no means an exhaustive list, but we certainly don't want you to miss out on the best that the area has to offer.
The Chamonix valley is a haven for rock climbers; everything is available from bolted sport routes in the valley crags, to trad climbing in the higher mountains, plus numerous opportunities bouldering. Mountaineering and rock climbing often go hand in hand with many people coming to enjoy the mixed climbing (on both rock and ice) in the high mountains.
The French Alps in general have a healthy reputation for road cycling and the Chamonix area has seen and continues to see some top class athletes and races pass through or close by. But whether you head out of the valley towards to Switzerland or back out of the valley to Sallanches you will no doubt have a good climb on your hands...either on your way or on your return!
Savoyard is the traditional style of food in the Alps and Chamonix certainly has more than it's fair share of top class Savoyard restaurants. Just be prepared for the sheer amounts of cheese, meat and potatoes that you are about to ingest! It's no wonder the area favour a certain 'digestif' after a hearty meal. It may look like a rather random green liquid but it serves a purpose after you've gorged on a rich meal.
Being best known as a rather famous centre for Alpine sports, the valley is lucky enough to host some of the biggest and best events in the sporting calendar, including the IFSC World Cup series, the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc and the Freeride World Tour. No matter what time of year you visit there is bound to be some kind of event coming up, taking place, or having just passed. There is always a buzz around the sporting events, but we must not forget the strong history and heritage of the area as well and there are numerous events throughout the year that will entertain, educate and surprise visitors.
The Mer de Glace
This is one of Chamonix's most visited attractions and is France's largest glacier. Ever since two English explorers, William Windham and Richard Pocock, first discovered the Mer de Glace (“Sea of Ice”) in 1741, it has become one of the world’s most visited natural sites and is a huge draw of visitors to the Chamonix Valley. The area became accessible by mule from 1802, but it was the opening of the Montenvers Train in 1908 that really opened the site up to the masses. As well as enjoying the unique experience of the Montenvers train itself, the main draw for visitors to this site is the Mer de Glace. At 7km long and with a surface area of 40km2, it is also France’s largest glacier, extending from an altitude of 3900m, at the point where the Leschaux, Le Tacul and the Talèfre glaciers converge, down to 1400m, just below the Hotel Montenvers. The width of the glacier varies between 700m to 1950m and the depth of the ice averages around 200m but is as much as 400m thick in places!
Up until 1820, it was still possible to see the Mer de Glace from Chamonix, but since then it has steadily retreated out of sight as the vast rocky moraines along its edge will testify. However, like all glaciers, the Mer de Glace is constantly being renewed by snowfall and is permanently “flowing” under the effect of its own weight. Although this movement isn’t perceptible to the naked eye, it advances around 120m per year on the upper, steeper part and 90m per year lower down by the Montenvers viewpoint. The most obvious evidence of this movement can be seen at the entrance to the ice grotto – an impressive cave that is carved out of the ice, enabling you to pass right into the heart of the glacier. For more than 50 years the grotto has been meticulously sculpted each year, shaping the ice into scenes depicting mountain life from the early 19th century. Inside, the light reflects off the beautiful blue ice to create a wonderfully eerie, sub-glacial atmosphere.
You can access the caves from the Montenvers train station by a small gondola lift (or via a footpath for the more energetic) and then a flight of approximately 300 steps. Entrance to the cave costs a few euros for holders of a Mont Blanc Multipass or Mont Blanc Unlimited ski pass or it is also possible to buy a combined ticket for the return train and gondola trip, plus entrance to the caves - find prices here. Wear sturdy footwear and take warm clothes with you (even in summer) as inside the caves the temperature remains at a cool 8 degrees. During winter, one of the highlights for many visitors to the Mer de Glace is to watch skiers returning from the Vallee Blanche which ends just above the entrance to the ice caves. Thousands of people each year ski this legendary high mountain itinerary usually in the company of a mountain guide due to the glaciated nature of the terrain. It is also a great spot to watch mountaineers coming and going from their high mountain adventures on some of the classic peaks in the area – Les Drus (3754m), Les Grandes Jorasses (4208m) and the Aiguille du Grepon (3482m). In the summer, you will often see groups of people out on the ice practicing crevasse rescue techniques, ice climbing, glacier walking and a whole host of other skills that come in useful in Chamonix all year round. If you fancy learning any of these activities yourself, then contact some of the mountain guides and guiding schools via the above link. The train to the Mer de Glace runs regularly throughout the year and the time table can be found here.
The Argentiere Glacier
This impressive glacier can be easily viewed from the top cable car or the Lognan mid station at Grands Montets in both summer or winter.
Les Bossons Glacier
One of the lowest hanging glaciers in Europe, the Bossons glacier is easy to spot as you're driving in to the Chamonix Valley and even more impressive from hiking trails on the other side of the valley. The stuff of legends, this glacier has gradually been ejecting parts of two planes that crashed back in the 1950's and more recently was the site of the discovery of a box of jewels from one of those planes. In summer you can take the small chairlift up to the view point overlooking the glacier and walking much higher up to the 'Junction' you'll also be able to see its neighbour the Taconnaz glacier.
The Glacier du Tour
This glacier lies at the very top end of the valley, on the way towards Switzerland. You can see it easily from the parking area at Le Tour lift station, and there are a number of hiking trails that lead up to it so you can get a better view.
The Bionnassay Glacier
This glacier can be found on the westerly side of the Mont Blanc massive in Les Houches. You get spectacular views from the Nid d'aigle at the end of the Tramway du Mont blanc train, and it's on the route of the Tour du Mont Blanc so you can't fail to miss it if you're taking on this iconic tour around the mountains.
The mountains here are huge, so the higher you go the better the views! The biggest attraction in the Chamonix Valley is of course Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe, measuring in at 4808 metres above sea level. Most visitors to Chamonix come here to see this mighty mountain, and although many visitors are content just with the spectacular views, many others come here to climb it.
Of course the whole valley is dotted with iconic mountain peaks - Les Drus, Mont Buet, the Dent du Geant to name a few. The best way to explore and the enjoy the most exceptional views are by using the lift systems in summer and winter. Getting up amongst the peaks is fairly easy due to the number of lift accessed view points, trails and walking paths.
However, the mountains, despite their beauty, can be a dangerous place and you should always take care when venturing into them. Ensure that you have a map, know how to call for help and have the appropriate footwear, clothing and supplies for your trip. With the quick changes in weather conditions you can easily find yourself in trouble on a seemingly innocent path or route. Make sure you read our Hiking & Walking Guide before you set off!
Nature & Wildlife
Stepping through many shop doorways in Chamonix and you will hear the traditional whistle of the marmot. The cuddly creature that is a firm favourite with many people here in the Alps. But they are not only soft toys but actual furry mammals that can be seen during the summer months, either jumping from rock to rock, foraging in the long grasses or sunbathing on the warm stone.
The local Alpine Ibex, or Bouquetin as they are known in France, are equally as fascinating and in certain areas, very much easier to spot to than their shy cousin the Chamois. A trip into the Aiguilles Rouges Nature reserve will usually reveal a few glimpses of these agile creatures or for a guaranteed sighting then the Merlet Animal Parc is a good bet.
To find out a bit more you can check out our Flora & Fauna section.
The Mont Blanc Express
This is the train that takes visitors all the way from St Gervais Le Fayet to Martigny, passing through the all of the Chamonix Valley's villages on route. It's additional windows in the sides and part of the roof, offer spectacular views of the mountains and glaciers as the train trundles along the valley floor. The train is free with your guest card (available from your accommodation provider).
Montenvers - Mer de Glace Train
Take the train to visit this impressive "Mer de Glace" glacier & the ice caves. Ever since two English explorers, William Windham and Richard Pocock, first discovered the Mer de Glace (“Sea of Ice”) in 1741, it has become one of the world’s most visited natural sites and is a huge draw of visitors to the Chamonix Valley. The area became accessible by mule from 1802, but it was the opening of the Montenvers Train in 1908 that really opened the site up to the masses. The train to the Mer de Glace is a rack and pinion line and runs regularly throughout the year. The time table can be found here.
Tramway du Mont Blanc
The Tramway du Mont Blanc runs from the bottom of the valley in Le Fayet all the way up to the Nid d'Aigle at 2380 metres. This rack and pinion train stops at St-Gervais-Les-Bains, the Col de Voza and Bellevue before stopping at the Nid d'Aigle (eagle's nest) viewpoint, from where you get a fabulous view of the Bionnassay glacier. The journey up from St Gervais Le Fayet takes around an hour and a quarter and allows you to climb from 580m up to 2380m at its final stop. You'll have the pleasure of being in one of the retro tram carriages named Anne, Marie or Jeanne, after the daughters of the owner of the site. There are a number of lovely hikes in the area and mountain bikes are permitted on the tram subject to space. During the winter, the train stops at Bellevue and provides access to the Les Houches ski area. Find timetables here for winter & summer.
Chatelard Funiculars & Train (VerticAlp)
At the very edge of the Chamonix Valley (and technically on the Swiss side of the border) is a two stage funicular and scenic train that takes you up to the Emosson Dam. The first part of the journey leads up the mountain on the steepest funicular ride you'll ever take. At 87 degrees incline you'll be wondering how they even built it. At the top you join a small train that winds its way around the mountain side and then you hop onto another small funicular to the dam. Lots of hiking routes can be found up here. Find more details here.
Also see: Trains in Chamonix
The Aiguille du Midi
The Aiguille (or the Midi as it's known by locals) is the highest point that can be accessed by cable car in the Chamonix valley at 3,777m above sea level. The station itself stands at 3842m and is situated directly across from Mont Blanc. For over 50 years, people from all over the world have been taking in the stunning panoramic views of the French, Italian and Suisse Alpes from station's terraces. First constructed in 1955, the two stage cable car takes passengers from the valley floor to its dizzy heights in 20 minutes. Once at the top there are a number of things for visitors to do. During the summer months you can access the Mont Blanc Panoramic cable car and travel to Helbronner in Italy. This amazing 5 km gondola journey passes over the Geant glacier, giving you spectacular views over ice-falls, crevasses and the Mont Blanc massif. A one-way trip takes 30 minutes in a 4-person gondola. Its operation is very weather dependant – if the wind is too strong, or if there is poor visibility, the gondola will close. Also in summer mountaineers can choose to access various trails (including paths to the Mont Blanc summit) and refuges from the roped ridge known as the Arete. During the winter, the narrow arete down from the lift station is the starting point of the famous 18km off-piste route, the Vallee Blanche. It is worth noting that the average visiting time to the station is between 2-3 hours. Be warned, even in the summer months temperatures can be as low as -10 C, so make sure you wrap up warm, wear non-slip shoes and don’t forget your sun cream, it is easy to burn at altitude!
Step into the Void
The most recent addition to the Aiguille du Midi is the "Step into the Void" where you can stand over a 1,000m drop in a glass box. The views from this spot are second to none, and you quite often find BASE jumpers or wingsuit pilots jumping off just to the side, so you might get even more of a spectacle than you bargained for! Two lifts access the summit terrace where you'll find the attraction, at a giddying height of 3,842m. Opening dates and times for the Aiguille du Midi lifts & the Step into the Void.
Also accessible from the top of the Aiguille du Midi is the Panoramic gondola, which is only open during the summer months. This little gondola takes you across the heads of the glaciers towards Helbronner and the new Skyway Mont Blanc cable car, and over into Italy. It's possible to go up and over the mountain top in summer instead of taking the Mont Blanc tunnel, and although this route is definitely more scenic, it's certainly not the cheapest!
Location: Chamonix / Mont Blanc Valley