Monaco in a Day
The Côte d’Azur seems something expensive and distant, like Mars. But if Mars is not technically feasible, then Monaco is above average, but quite realistic if you really want to. Who hasn’t dreamed of feeling like the master of life for a day or two? We tell you what to see in the luxurious principality in one day (and not to go bankrupt). Gardens and parks, promenades, panoramic views of the city and port, the cathedral and Oceanographic Museum, the palace and casino await you.
Somerset Maugham succinctly called Monaco a sunny place for dark people, and had in mind a revolutionary for the beginning of XX century, when the Monaco Princes suddenly freed all local business from taxes. This trick nearly created an international scandal – and indeed, billions (and not always clean) of capital from all over Europe, and especially from France, instantly flowed into the Ligurian coast. Fortunately, the government of Monaco made concessions in time and returned the same part of the taxes, which, however, did not prevent the “dark” rich from taking a fancy to this piece of land between the sea and the rocks and turn it into a virtually private elite club.
Making Monaco the main purpose of a visit to the Cote d’Azur is hardly worthwhile. When you cross the crowd of tourists in a narrow street, maneuvering between the cars, and the persistent feeling that just about you nick nicked a backpack someone’s “Rolls-Royce” or “Ferrari” and will be sold right there into lifelong slavery. And there are so many luxury cars, threatening slavery, in the streets of Monaco that sometimes you get the impression that somewhere nearby they have a beehive.Nevertheless, to come for a full day for a promenade and photographing in this den of millionaires is definitely worthwhile. And then behind the glittering luxury tinsel, you might discover the soulfulness of Monaco.
It is better not to settle in Monaco itself. This pleasure is worth leaving for when you come with your first million euros in the account. Neighboring Nice or Menton does not dare to call cheap, but only by contrast: rent a bed in a hostel in Nice in the season will cost € 20-35, while in Monaco there are no hostels in principle, and the price list for hotels starts from € 150 per night. Menton is slightly better priced than Nice: rooms in season start at €60, according to Booking, but it’s cheaper than staying in Monaco anyway.
Living in Nice or Menton is also convenient because you can get to Monaco from them for only €1.5. Every day from 5:55 am to 6:00 pm, about every 20 minutes the number 100 bus leaves Nice from Place de l’Île de Beauté. The stop is called Le Port. From Menton, the bus leaves from the local Menton Gare Routiere bus station. Tickets are purchased directly from the bus driver. Get off at the Place D’Armes stop.
LIFT: If you’re coming from Nice, sit on the right side; if coming from Menton, sit on the left. The serpentine ride with its breathtaking views of the Ligurian Sea and the white yachts and boats along the coast will organically prepare you for Monaco, where not having a yacht is a mauvais ton.
If you get dizzy on the serpentine or simply miss the bus, there is an alternative way – the train. Nice has three train stations. In addition to the central Gare de Nice-Ville, there is the Gare de Nice-Riquier East train station and the Gare de Nice-Saint-Augustin at Nice Airport. The train from Gare de Nice-Riquier takes you to Gare de Monaco in 15-20 minutes. Price €3.5, travel time 12 to 22 minutes. If you go from Menton, it’s best to get on at the station with the same name. Trains go every 20 minutes, the average travel time is 10 minutes and the price is less than €3.
You can see train schedules and buy tickets online. You can buy tickets for the next train at the station – even those who do not speak a foreign language can understand the ticket vending machines.
If you want to get back in Monaco, stay close to the head carriage, otherwise you may not catch the train.
An option for those who want to chic out already on the outskirts of the dwarf state. A huge number of travel companies offer boat trips from Menton and Nice at a price of € 15. This is the fastest, but the most picturesque and certainly the most elegant way to get to Monaco, not counting the helicopter. Travel time is about an hour. Tourist ships mostly dock at Fontvieille port, just west of Monaco Ville, where it’s convenient to start an exploratory promenade.
Photo: Inga Mendelyte
The area of the Principality is only about two square kilometers, and at first you may think that it is very easy to see it in a day, but this feeling is deceptive: the main attractions of Monaco are located on different levels, there are elevators and elevators everywhere, and it is not always easy to orient a beginner in the narrow streets and labyrinth roads, even with a map.But most importantly, almost every landmark of the Principality – not passable, it attracts a long time. You’ll have to accept the fact that you can’t cover all the local beauties in a day’s sightseeing, so relax and enjoy the most recognizable of them.
Administratively, the area is divided into 10 districts, but conceptually there are four: Monaco-Ville, or The Rock, the oldest, which houses the residence of the Princes of Grimaldi; La Condomin, the district which adjoins the port of Hercule; Monte Carlo, the most touristy district, where almost all hotels and the most famous casino are located. Behind Monte Carlo lurks another district – Larvotto, where an entire beach is placed.
By the way, the territory of Monaco is increasing over the years: the Principality is reclaiming land from the sea, thus ensuring the growth of its territory. By 2025 the Monegasque are planning to drain 6 hectares, build luxury housing and plant gardens on them. The future will tell, but the work is currently underway, creating additional logistical difficulties in an already small, congested millionaire space.
The easiest place to start a walk in Monaco is the hill of Monaco-Ville where the Prince’s residence is located. Monaco-Ville is sometimes referred to as the capital of Monaco, but it is simply the oldest district in the Principality: a small medieval quarter with several administrative buildings, places of interest and the Saint Martin garden with romantic sculptures and colourful flowerbeds. The colourful flowerbeds are a trademark of Monaco’s historic area: on every spot not covered with stone or asphalt something is in bloom: on the balconies and eaves of houses and ministries, in private mini gardens and pots in the street, near lampposts and along the steps – flowers and even vegetables everywhere. There’s no stopping to take pictures of them and send them off to a home chat room with the caption, “Look how cool these flowers are along with the kale planted!”
The Grimaldi family are shudderingly proud of the history of their own reign.And although there is nothing worthy of pride in the secret infiltration of the castle in the guise of monks and the subsequent massacre, the history of Monaco for seven centuries is inextricably linked to the Grimaldi family, who live in the castle atop the cliff and rule this piece of land longer than any other monarchy family in Europe.
Once the princely castle was an impregnable fortress, but compared to other castles it looks more like a scenery for a Disney cartoon than a real palace. From early April to mid-October tourists can tour the palace’s state rooms. Admission ticket for an adult costs € 8 (€ 14 if you want to see the exhibition of rare cars). And visitors also have the opportunity to catch one of the summer classical music concerts that take place regularly at the palace – their schedule is always available on the website.
St. Nicholas Cathedral
The neo-Romanesque cathedral, the main Catholic church in Monaco, was built in the 19th century. A special limestone was used during construction, which acquires a snow-white hue under the influence of moisture, so rumor has it that in cloudy, rainy weather the cathedral seems even whiter and as if it glows. St. Nicholas Cathedral, among other things, is the Grimaldi family tomb: all members of the princely family, including the most famous Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco, are buried within its walls.
Admission to the cathedral is free. You might be unlucky, if some sort of solemn aristocratic wedding is scheduled on the date of visit – in that case you won’t be able to get inside and will have to content yourself only with the exterior, and the views of ladies in hats and gentlemen in tuxedos.
Oceanographic Museum of Monaco
The unofficial name of this museum is Jacques-Yves Cousteau Museum, because the famous oceanologist and inventor of the aqualung led the museum for more than 30 years.
When viewed from the sea, the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco stands on the cliff of the Monaco-Ville, like an enormous octopus emerging from the depths of the sea. If you look from the city side, however, everything is less romantic – the building resembles a small palace, which appeared in Monaco thanks to the passion of Prince Albert I, who ruled Monaco at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. The Prince was a successful oceanographer and seafarer, and apparently also a romantic at heart, but since affairs of state did not allow him to be away from the country for long, he ordered the Oceanographic Museum to be built near the Princely Palace in a record 10 years. It combined not only the museum itself with an aquarium on the lowest floor, but also a whole scientific institute with laboratories, library and lecture halls.
Getting inside the museum means getting lost in time – it is a must for lovers of marine life and everything related to the oceans. A ticket to the fairy tale costs €14 and there is a restaurant on the roof with a wonderful view of the Ligurian Sea.
We descend the hill where the Monaco-Ville is located and find ourselves near Port Hercule. This natural deep-water cove, where thousands of years ago Roman and Greek ships docked, has now become a place of mooring for the most expensive and luxurious ships from around the world. Every year a variety of water competitions and regattas are held there, and the port has a single capacity of more than 700 ships, ranging from small yachts to giant cruise liners. You admire all this beauty and think: how nice it is to see – it’s free.
For those who get seasick on the waves, Monaco has a different kind of entertainment. Along the waterfront of Hercule Port, the Monaco Grand Prix has been held every year since 1950, a race considered to be one of the most prestigious in the Formula One championship. The harborfront grows grandstands for spectators of the upcoming races, and the asphalt becomes menacingly good for ordinary cars.
Monte Carlo Casino
Perhaps Monaco’s most famous landmark, the oldest gambling establishment in Europe, is located in the Monte Carlo area. The Monte Carlo Casino is a kind of symbol of the Dolce Vita on the Côte d’Azur, where luxury is felt at a molecular level. Poker, blackjack, French and English roulette, slot machines if you prefer solitude, vip-halls if you have an extra couple of hundred thousand euros – and all this in the baroque interiors of the famous casino.
Entrance to the casino lobby is absolutely free for the curious, for those who want to take pictures or sit in a cafe. But entrance to the gaming halls – only after paying a fee of € 10 and only with an identity document. Staff are required to certify not only that you are 18 years of age, but that you are not a Monegasque, whose entry into the casino is prohibited by law.
Taking photos and videos in the gaming room is strictly prohibited: phones and cameras are confiscated at the entrance, unless you are filming something like another episode of “James Bond”. It is known that one of the key scenes, namely the scene of Daniel Craig and Mads Mikkelsen playing in “Casino Royale”, was shot exactly in Monte Carlo, as well as fifty more famous Hollywood movies. By the way, if you are going to enter the gaming halls, take note of the outfit of the above mentioned characters: the dress code prohibits wearing light resort or sports clothes in casinos.
To the right of the casino you can dine at the iconic Café de Paris, which has also been seen many times in movies about the rich and beautiful life. Lunch per person in an institution where you can easily find yourself at the next table with some celebrity will cost about €30-60 per person.
As everywhere else, in Monaco it is cheapest to eat on your own. Buying food in a supermarket is the best idea for a budget tourist. Prices in grocery stores in Monaco are almost the same as everywhere else in France, although the choice is not too rich. You can buy a sandwich which will be heated in the supermarket – it will cost about € 5, the same price for a cup of coffee or tea.
Monaco has developed a system of wine to go – by analogy with coffee, only you do not come out of the coffee shop with a cup of latte, and from the wine shop with a glass.
For lovers of cafes and restaurants the minimal prices in local establishments are the following: breakfast – from € 5-10; lunch – from € 8-17; dinner – from € 12-22 and up to infinity.
Being a budget tourist in Monaco
Being a budget tourist in Monaco is a good thing. First of all, most attractions are free. Public gardens, parks, promenades, panoramic views of the city and ports Hercule and Fontvieille, the Cathedral and the Oceanographic Museum – the eye has plenty to dwell and relax on even if you don’t score €20 for the palace and casino. The Principality is great because you can just contemplate its beauty and luxury while staying a little out of the way, enjoying the splendor without overdosing.
Go up to the Monaco-Ville, sit down on a bench or on the cool grass in the Saint Martin garden and watch the sun of the day slowly disappear behind the Tete de Chien mountain, as the sky tints into delicate shades of rose wine and dusk gradually descends. Can you hear the nightingales singing overhead? Can you smell the pines and damp earth in the breeze? Now that’s real luxury. Just do not miss your return train!
The Principality of Monaco is a dwarf state on the shores of the Ligurian Sea, hosting almost a million tourists a year. Despite its more than modest size – the area of the country is a ridiculous 2 km² – Monaco looks incredibly respectable and glossy. The ports, packed with snow-white yachts, a lot of serious banks, which attract money from all over Europe, and a well-functioning mechanism of tourist infrastructure help the local population to live the high life, not denying themselves anything.
Save on your trip to Monaco!
Monaco is still the French Riviera but it no longer belongs to France. However, the independence of the Principality is a very, very relative concept. Important public decisions in the country are always made in the light of its stronger neighbor (France), to which Monaco is attached on the right of free association. As for the powers of the Prince of Monaco, he is not a nominal figure in his own country, and it is his voice that is decisive.
The bulk of the Principality’s inhabitants are foreigners who, for some reason, benefit from living on the shores of the Ligurian Sea. The indigenous or, in the language of documents, autochthonous population of the country (Monegasque) makes up only 20% of the total number of citizens. However, unlike, for example, the United States, the indigenous people here are a privileged caste. They communicate in their own dialect and are in no hurry to switch to literary French, do not spend a single euro cent on taxes, and also have the exclusive right to choose the parliament. In fact, it is thanks to the Monegasques that the phrase “subject of Monaco” is associated worldwide with premium, status and fabulous money.
The country itself does not lag behind the residents in terms of elitism of image. The first thing that catches the eye when visiting the Principality – is the sharp differences in altitude and the lack of space, which makes Monaco look like a toy kingdom. Pompous historical buildings scattered on rocky cliffs and interspersed with modern high-rise buildings, narrow streets with rows of boutiques and sports cars on the roadsides turned a dwarf state into a place with an off-scale level of photogenicity. Add to this the Formula 1 racing, the world famous casino and the atmosphere of the eternal feast of life and you understand why the Principality is so sought after by the European aristocracy and the oligarchs from the Forbes top 100.
Map of Monaco (click to enlarge)
A curious feature: in Monaco there are no cities – the territory of the state is simply divided into districts. In addition, the country tends to expand its borders. But as there is simply nowhere to grow on land, Monaco prefers to reclaim land from the sea, the Fontvieille district being a good example of this. Another characteristic of the Principality is its love of money. The attractive taxation system and the strictest banking secrecy have given the country a solid reputation in the circle of foreign businessmen. However, Monaco knows not only how to attract foreign capital, but also how to spend it in style. Luxury car showrooms, antique stores and designer showrooms abound here.
The Phoenicians and Greeks who arrived here in the 10th century were the first to develop the territory of today’s Monaco. But the foundations of statehood were laid here in the late Middle Ages, when the Principality became a colony of the Republic of Genoa. At the end of XIII century the civil war broke out in Genoa and Francesco Grimaldi seized the Monaco fortress. Disguised in a monk’s robe, the rebel entered with a group of accomplices through the city gates and arbitrarily settled on the throne of the country. The result of this sudden invasion was that all subsequent rulers of the state were members of the Grimaldi clan, including the current Prince Albert II.
Panorama of Monaco, 1874 Poster of the 1933 Monaco Grand Prix
As for the relationship with France, Monaco voluntarily came under its patronage in 1641, tired of the harsh and devastating to the treasury Spanish protectorate. However, later the Principality had to fight for independence, first with France and then with Sardinia. Monaco began to turn into an elite resort and gambling capital of Europe from the imitation of the German Bad Homburg. Namely, in the second half of the XIX century Prince Charles III set out to “rob the whole of Europe”, concluding a contract with businessman Francois Blanc for the construction of the casino. The end result of the deal was the appearance on the national map of the Monte-Carlo area with its famous roulette, as well as a sharp influx of “fat wallets” eager to be the first to upgrade the tables of the gambling establishment.
By the beginning of the twentieth century Monaco had become quite “untwisted” financially, but it did not stop being interesting. So in the “Roaring Twenties” a new attraction was invented for the foreign beau monde – the Grand Prix races. Betting on the millionaires’ passion for extreme sports was right, and the golden stream flowing into the principality, turned into a real moneyfall, providing the Grimaldi family for several generations to come. It was 1956, when Monaco ruler Rainier III married Hollywood film diva Grace Kelly. The media all over the world were breathlessly watching the wedding and the subsequent (rumored, not very happy) family life of the couple.
Best time to go
Monaco is a typical Mediterranean, where the change of seasons is not accompanied by extreme temperature changes. Accordingly, it is possible to find holidaymakers strolling imposingly through the city streets and losing money at the Monte Carlo casino all year round. A special influx of tourists is noted from May to October. Firstly, because this is the best time to swim and get a glamorous tan. Secondly, because during this period in the Principality a variety of celebrations and social events, from the Monaco Grand Prix to the festival of fireworks take place. There is a high season and a significant disadvantage – filled to capacity hotels, so if you dream to relax on the beach with European beau monde, prepare to book accommodation in late winter.
Early autumn in Monaco is a time of slight decline. The water in the sea slowly cools down and becomes pleasantly invigorating, and the sun provides an elegant golden tan without burning the skin as it sometimes happens in the summer. September is also when the Principality hosts the famous Monaco Yacht Show, where oligarchs flaunt their giant yachts while mere mortals gaze in raptures at the Vanity Fair.
A September evening in Monaco
In November, the bathing season is closed and the Ligurian coast begins to experience dreary rains. The main highlight of the month is November 19, Monaco’s National Day. So if you want to see Albert II and Princess Charlene with your own eyes, try to check out the event, which begins with a celebratory mass in the Cathedral and ends with an opera performance in Monte Carlo (admission only for members of the Princely Family and their entourage). In general, late fall in this “golden corner” is the best time to have a good time in the nightclubs and lose all the money in the casinos. It’s a bit dull and wet outside, but the bars and gambling houses are cosy and cheerful inside. But only if you have a solid cash reserve.
The closer the Mediterranean winter with its overcast, plus temperatures and dreary rains, the cheaper the accommodation and restaurant menus become in Monaco. Of course, hanging out in the Principality for next to nothing, but if you arrive at the resort in January and February, you can count on a nice discount. In addition, winter – it is necessarily a huge sale and the International Circus Festival.
Important: The most expensive winter month in Monaco is December. On the one hand it attracts tourists to the Principality, and on the other hand it allows hoteliers and restaurateurs to raise prices for their services.
Spring in Monaco is very picturesque and ideal for excursions. To bathe in full during this time, alas, do not get, although in May you can try to dip at the shore. But to get the necessary portion of ultraviolet light, starting in April, is quite possible. Rich Mediterranean spring and festive events, the most noisy of which are the Spring Festival of Arts and the Festival of Comedy Films. So if you love film premieres and dream of getting selfies with Emir Kusturica and the like, stop by the Principality in the spring.
Attractions and Entertainment
Tiny but charming Monaco is a colorful mix of architectural monuments and pathos entertainment venues, where it’s so nice to feel “at home”, throwing crisp banknotes right and left. Usually people come to the Principality not for the specific sights, but to touch the legend of the Cote d’Azur and the replicated atmosphere of “dolce vita”, which is available here not only to a bunch of millionaires, but to any buyer of the tour. Still, Monaco has a lot to show a visiting visitor, so try to make the most of the breaks between roulette and hanging out in beach clubs and take a walk (or drive) through the country’s iconic sites.
Streets of the Old Town
Traditionally, the most spectacular buildings are clustered within the state capital, Monaco-Ville, aka the Old Town. The pompous district occupied the rocky part of the promontory of Saint-Antoine and practically soared above the sea, which gave its appearance even more fairy-tale flavor. The first places worth seeing in Monaco-Villa are St Nicholas Cathedral, the Chapel of Divine Mercy whose altar is littered with precious pilgrims’ donations, and the Princely Palace which has been home to the descendants of the trickster Grimaldi for 700 years. A little clarification: everyone is allowed to enter the residence, but only the southern wing of the castle and the state apartments can be viewed from inside. Another must-see of Monaco-Ville is the botanical garden which is called the Exotic Garden. Even if you’re not a big fan of neat rose gardens and giant cacti, try to stick around for a while – there aren’t many green squares and recreational areas in the Principality where you can escape the heat.
Saint Nicholas Cathedral Monaco’s Princely Palace
Be sure to walk around Palace Square to catch the marching guard of honor, a hypnotic sight that makes you want to watch more and more. Then visit all the museums in the Old Town – the Monaco Rulers Wax Museum (the brilliant Grace Kelly is also present), the Old Monaco Museum, the Oceanographic Museum and the Napoleon Museum (the southern wing of the royal palace).
Guard of honor on the palace square Oceanographic Museum of Monaco
The Fontvieille district is a more recent attraction than the Princely Nest of Monaco-Ville. Built in the 70s on land reclaimed from the sea, this part of the Principality is considered to be its industrial center, but this does not make it any less interesting. Tourists in Fontvieille are usually attracted by two objects: the Museum of vintage cars, where the bulk of the exhibits (and there are more than a hundred) belonged to Prince Rainier III, and a soccer stadium “Louis II”. The neighborhood is also home to the famous Grimaldi Rocks which are always full of people who want to conquer them.
Fontvieille Stadium Louis II
Chasing after tycoons and movie stars with a camera is best done in the La Condamine district. Firstly, because this is the main marina of the Principality, where the most expensive yachts are moored (Port Hercules). And secondly, because it is a business center of the country, where rushing businessmen from around the world to put their own money. As for sightseeing and sightseeing program the area is also not an outsider. St. Devotee Church, Princess Antoinette Park, Rainier III outdoor pool in the port, which turns into a huge ice rink in winter – these and other attractions belong exclusively to the territory of La Condamine.
Port Hercules Church of St. Devotee Open swimming pool Rainier III
The most famous area of the country, surpassing even the pretentious Monaco-Ville in popularity, is certainly Monte Carlo. This old-school Mecca of gambling where it is customary to meet losses without drama and with champagne, and to rejoice in winning with maximum restraint, has an incredible magnetism, which is impossible to resist. By the way, it is forbidden by law for the Principality’s citizens, including representatives of the Grimaldi family, to play roulette, but guests from the rest of the world are always given the green light here.
The Monte Carlo Grand Prix The street in Monte Carlo
The building of the first resort casino is a separate attraction, with the hand of Charles Garnier himself (the same one who designed the Grand Opéra in Paris). Paradoxically, you can easily get into the richest gambling house in Europe without a penny in your pocket. Further than the main hall, however, you will not progress, but you can take pictures of the ornate interiors of the room, if you give an oath not to catch the staff in the frame.
Interesting fact: they say that Monte Carlo casinos do not forgive losses, but there is one occasion in their history when an exception was made. In the XIX century Russian officer, who left the local croupiers all his wages, climbed aboard his ship and shot in the direction of the city with the ship’s guns. The frightened casino staff returned the money to the angry customer, but stopped allowing uniformed men at their tables after the incident.
A little piece of Asia in the heart of Europe – the Japanese garden in Monte Carlo. The creation of landscape designers on Princesa Grace street masterly squeezed between apartment complexes and multi-storey new buildings. By the way, it’s the only place in the Principality where there’s no place for the pompousness and the atmosphere of premium exclusivity that permeates even the air in Monaco. So if you’re looking for a place to gather your thoughts, come here and enjoy complete relaxation and tranquillity.
The Japanese Garden in Monte Carlo
Another popular sight in Monte Carlo is the Formula 1 circuit where European drivers have been racing since 1929. Of course it is best to watch the roaring cars in the midst of the championship, but if this is not possible, you can try to repeat the iconic route in a rental car.