The village of Chamonix occupies a striking spot on the European continent. The town sits below the towering Mont Blanc massif, the tallest mountain in the Alps at 15,781 feet. From the peak’s white spires, blue glacial tongues reach down toward Chamonix. Strolling the shop- and restaurant-filled streets, the mountain and its impressive ice are an ever-present backdrop.
Chamonix is well known as a top European ski destination, and for its launch point for summer hiking in the Alps. Here are the best things to do while you’re in town.
Try regional cuisine
The region’s Savoyard cuisine—consisting of hearty potato and cheese dishes—is a highlight here. Fondue, raclette, and tartiflette—a casserole of potatoes, onions, bacon, and reblochon cheese—are common dishes. Try this cuisine at restaurants in town like Le Chaudron, La Calèche, and Restaurant La Moraine.
L’Aiguille du Midi
The “Needle of the Mid-day” is easily the top attraction in Chamonix, and for good reason. This spire floats above town, just under the peak of Mont Blanc. The needle is reached via cable car, and once at the top, you can visit several attractions in one. At the Step into the Void, you’ll float above the glaciers in a glass cube. There are a few exhibits, several viewpoints, and even a chance to watch climbers setting out for the summit.
Musée Alpin andMuséedes Cristaux
This museum covers Chamonix history, from its origin as a farming community to the rise of tourism in the 1700s. And, there is plenty real estate dedicated to the region’s alpine ties, including a history of mountaineering. The entry ticket knocks a Euro off the entry fee for Musée des Cristaux, a collection of crystals harvested from the nearby mountains.
Chamonix is a fantastic launch point for an array of outdoor adventures. There are multiple ski lifts accessible from town; serious skiers will want to invest in a Mont Blanc Unlimited Pass, which allows entry onto all the lifts in the valley, plus Courmayeur in Italy and Verbier in Switzerland. Though the mountains here are steep and the skiers serious, there are options for beginners, like Le Tour & Vallorcine, Les Planards, Les Chosalets, Les Houches, and La Vormaine. More challenging options include La Vallée Blanche, which starts at the Aiguille du Midi and heads back to Chamonix by way of the crevassed Mer de Glace glacier.
In warmer months, hiking trails abound, with highlights that include Lac Blanc and the Grand Balcon Nord trail. Both offer options for viewing the arresting Mont Blanc massif and the surrounding peaks. Cycling, rafting, and paragliding are also popular options—there are plenty of guide services in town that will set you up for these activities.
Mer de Glace
This river of blue ice is the largest glacier in France, and it’s easily accessible from Chamonix. The adorable cog railway, the Train du Montenvers, does all the climbing for you. At the end of a breezy five-kilometer ride above the valley, you’ll stand at a viewpoint overlooking the glacier. There’s also a cable car that descends toward the foot of the glacier. A further walk down 420 stairs (this glacier is receding, after all) will bring you to the Grotte de Glace, a cave carved into the ice. There’s a poignant exhibition on glaciers—and their strained future—called the Glaciorium, and another one displaying a series of massive crystals harvested from the mountains. After exploring the ice and the exhibits, there’s a lovely café near the train station serving espresso, pastries, and quiche—all of which can be enjoyed in view of the glacier.