The city state of Monaco is the second smallest country in the world after the Vatican City. Its high GDP per capita and unrivalled fame in part due to the famous Casino, make it an outstanding destination for anyone travelling alongside the French Riviera.
Whilst we were in Nice in France, we decided to take a day trip to Monaco. Read more below about our top recommendations for places to visit including how to get into the Monte Carlo Casino for free and explore in Europe’s billionaires playground.
- Travel to and around Monaco
- Where to Stay in Monaco
- Things to do in Monaco
- Climb up the Rock of Monaco
- See the Famous Formula 1 Racing Circuit
- Admire the Yachts at Port Hercules
- See the Monte Carlo Opera
- Explore the Monte Carlo Casino Square
- Walk through the Princess Grace Japanese Garden
- Go to the Larvotto Beach
- Final Thoughts
Monaco pronounced /ˈmɒnəkoʊ/ is a city state founded by the Grimaldi family by purchasing land from the HRE Henry VI and establishing it as a Genoese colony.
Its history however dates back to when the Greeks settled here and established a colony in the 6th century B.C. called Monoikos or “single” + “house”.
The principality has been pretty much sovereign with minor exceptions although the Grimaldis had to make certain compromises throughout the ages to ensure the city state’s survival. Many policies or even interests coincide with those of France whilst France takes care of defence policies and world affairs.
Although, when we think of Monaco we think of opulence, it hasn’t always been like this. With the opening of the Monte Carlo Casino in the second part of the 19th century the Grimaldis finally had a steady and generous source of income.
Nowadays the local economy comprises of tourism, casino and financial services. It is estimated that more than 100 bn. euros are kept in Monacan banks.
The local population is called Monegasque and their language is a crossover between Italian and French. Most signs in Monaco are bilingual in French and Monegasque.
The local currency is the euro and although not part of the E.U., Monaco has implemented several policies around customs and border control. They are also part of the Schengen area making travel from France seamless.
Travel to and around Monaco
The city itself is accessible by all means of transportation although flights to this destination tend to be fairly accessible especially out of season.
If you are looking for suitable flight options, make sure to check out this article with top tips on how to find cheap flights.
The local airport Nice Côte d’Azur Airport (NCE), is conveniently situated a few kilometres away from the city, on the coastline. Once you arrive at the airport you are presented with a few convenient ways to make your way into the city.
You can choose to head to your accommodation either by renting a car or simply hopping on public transport to Nice train station and getting a train.
We travelled from Nice to Monaco by train. Trains are almost every half and hour and are very accessible. You can check times and prices here.
Word of advice, as you arrive at the train station find the lifts that take you down to the city as the main station is at Monaco’s highest point and unless you have a car you will have to walk all the way down. We obviously did the latter. Lesson learned.
Transportation in Monaco is fairly easy with public transport and you will mainly use buses. There is also a boat service connecting Monaco-Ville with Monte Carlo.
During the month of October when we went there, they even had a promotion allowing you to travel for free on public transport in an attempt to encourage more eco friendly travel.
You will also notice that Monaco has a few overlapping levels of highways and roads to make use of the restricted space.
When looking up directions on your mapping app make sure you thoroughly understand the journey you have to take as you might find yourself being mislead.
Where to Stay in Monaco
In general, there are plenty of hotels and accommodation options, however, we would recommend staying somewhere central as you can get around quite easily.
We would recommend booking your accommodation through an aggregator such as Booking.com or Agoda to get the best rates.
We visited Nice with friends and chose to stay there instead of Monaco, so an apartment through Airbnb was a better option for us on this occasion.
Sure, like we say in our article on how to plan a holiday, do account for the overall cost as you have to factor in breakfast.
Things to do in Monaco
Monaco itself isn’t a large city and you could think you may not need public transport. We believe you should consider a day pass at least as you will find yourself out of breath going up and down the mountainous landscape. You can check fares and passes here.
Alternatively, you might consider a Hop-on, Hop-off Bus Tour to cover the main attractions.
The city itself is split into wards that follow the former administrative segregation up until the 1900s, listed below. By in large you can group your visit as follows:
- Monaco-Ville, the old city and seat of government of the principality on a rocky promontory extending into the Mediterranean, known as the Rock of Monaco, or simply “The Rock”;
- Monte Carlo, the principal residential and resort area with the Monte Carlo Casino in the east and northeast;
- La Condamine, the southwestern section including the port area, Port Hercules.
Below we cover them in more detail and expand each attraction.
Climb up the Rock of Monaco
This is situated within what it was “Monaco-Ville” area where the seat of government is and the royal residence of the Grimaldi family.
This climb isn’t too bad and the views from the top are rewarding. Once you reach the top in the Palace square, there are plenty of viewing points and benches overseeing the Marinas.
On top of the mountain you will be able to see several points such as the Palace, Monaco Cathedral or simply enjoy a coffee watching tourists go by.
Visit the Prince’s Palace of Monaco
This is a great opportunity to see the state rooms of the Palace and learn more about the Grimaldi family and their heritage and history.
The palace showcases many works of art as well as the Royal Library and Chapel. The visit shouldn’t take longer than 45 minutes so definitely worth your time. To check prices and admission times follow this link here.
See the Change of the Guard at the Prince’s Palace
Although not as impressive as the change of the guard at Buckingham Palace, it is still worth going on time for the spectacle.
There will be some crowd but we can’t say it was that crowded. In many terms the guards were fairly close to the people similarly to the ones we have seen in Stockholm, Copenhagen and in Oslo.
You can see more about times and additional information here.
Explore the Picturesque Old City
Walking through the old city centre one can clearly see the Italian heritage of the Grimaldis. Similar to Niçoise architecture you will see a fairly abundant amount of Italian architecture.
Again, plenty of restaurants also offering Italian specific cuisine such as pizza or pasta. Overall the aspect looks very colourful and joyful.
Pay a visit to St. Nicholas Cathedral & Gardens of St. Martin
The cathedral is right next to the Palace of Justice which boasts an interesting design with white stone. The cathedral itself looks magnificent and overlooks the Gardens of Saint Martin and the Mediterranean.
The inside décor of the cathedral is just as impressive and serves as the final resting place for the royal family of Monaco. The bright stained glass alongside the paintings make this cathedral stand out from others you might have seen.
As you make your way down, take a moment to enjoy the beautiful Gardens of St Martin and the amazing views towards sea.
Visit the Oceanographic Museum
At the end of the Saint Martin Gardens you will be able to see the Oceanographic Museum. From what we read, this is very similar to SEA LIFE London Aquarium and we didn’t feel like visiting on this occasion.
If you haven’t been to a place like this before or if you are visiting Monaco with kids, then the Oceanographic Museum might just be the right thing for you.
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Take a Photo at the “Frame”
As you walk down from the St. Nicholas Cathedral on the St. Martin Avenue you will be able to see a large frame where tourists take portraits with the city in the background and Port Hercules and the opulent yachts.
See the Famous Formula 1 Racing Circuit
As you explore Monaco and descent from The Rock, you’ll see many race tracks from the Monaco Grand Prix which is one of the world famous Formula 1 racing circuits.
If you are a F1 fan, you can even book a Monaco Formula 1 Walking Tour where you can walk the 3.3km circuit and learn about the history of the race, its winners, and its crashes.
The Circuit de Monaco consists of the city streets of Monte Carlo and La Condamine, which includes the famous harbour. It is unique in having been held on the same circuit every time it has been run over such a long period.
Admire the Yachts at Port Hercules
As you head into the Condamine area of Monaco, it’s worth exploring the Port of Hercules. This is where stunning yachts owned by the super wealthy set anchor. Monaco is definitely part of the well known “Billionaire’s Social Calendar” where the mega wealthy come here especially during the Grand Prix days.
If during normal days, docking your yacht in Monaco costs a few hundred euros, during the racing competition it goes up by several thousand euros. Given the central location one can easily understand the hike in price.
In the marina, there is also a small boat ferrying passengers from one side to another. This could be a great way to go to Monte Carlo and head over to the Casino. This is what we did 🙂
See the Monte Carlo Opera
As you head up Monte Carlo or Charles’ Mountain in English, there is a slight hike again to the casino area. The Opéra de Monte-Carlo is an opera house which is part of the Monte Carlo Casino located in the Principality of Monaco.
First we suggest you go at the Opera which opens up to a wonderful view of the sea and you can easily enjoy a few scenic photos there. Next is the famous Monte Carlo Casino.
Explore the Monte Carlo Casino Square
Starting off, in the Casino Square you will see plenty of opulence and by that I mean anything from Porches to Ferraris parked in front of the Casino. All with custom plates of course.
On one side you can see Hotel de Paris, with its elegant and yet stunning looking façade as well as the Café de Paris which is situated right in front of the hotel.
Play at the Monte Carlo Casino
Before going to the casino, we suggest you sign up for the Monte-Carlo loyalty programme as you get a free entrance for you and 1 guest into the casino and a 5 euro voucher for you to play. Otherwise you will have to pay a ticket, which was 17 euros per person at the time of our visit. You can find out more here.
You can get your membership card online or on the spot from Café de Paris Casino which is right next to the Monte Carlo Casino. If you do get it online you will still need to go to the Café de Paris Casino and collect it.
For the visit you will need to have your government I.D. or passport on you.
In general they do suggest you can go in business casual attire which is a fair request considering the legend shrouding this Casino.
Entering the Casino is simply a once in a life time experience. You can finally say you’ve been rubbing shoulders with the “1%”.
The inside décor and architecture are truly amazing. Lavish and exuberant are excellent choices of words when describing this place.
We actually even played a bit in the Casino at the slot machines. Hristina won some money whilst I won 18 euros and then lost them all. Hey, I guess the house always wins.
Walk through the Princess Grace Japanese Garden
Another great activity you can do is explore the serene Japanese Gardens. They feature a pond with a bridge & a tea house.
They are a great place to sit down and relax and watch some of the colourful Koi fish in the pond.
As throughout Monaco, everything is very clean and you can’t see even a cigarette butt and these garden are no exception.
Go to the Larvotto Beach
Since we are at the Mediterranean why not go to a beach? This popular, artificial beach features clear waters, a volleyball court & a scenic promenade. Perfect to finish off your day in Monaco.
Entrance is free and the water is crystal clear just like in Sharm El Sheikh. Nearby you will see a few restaurants and bars where you can sit and enjoy your favourite adult beverage.
We think Monaco is an excellent city to visit. It’s very easy to reach to from France whether by plane or train.
We think prices for accommodation and food can be prohibitive for many but even so a day trip still wouldn’t hurt which is what we did on this occasion.
The location is great for couples and solo travellers and is one of the few times you can see a Ferrari next to a Lamborghini whilst you sip on your 15 euro beer before heading back on your 5 euro train ticket.
Ready to book? Below are some recommendations to get your trip started:
- Flights – we use flight aggregators such as Skyscanner and Google flights to find the best options. You can find more information about finding cheap flights here.
- Flight compensation – Compensair or AirHelp for flight delays and cancellations.
- Accommodation – would recommend booking your accommodation through an aggregator such as Booking.com or Agoda to get the best rates. We also use TripAdvisor to read reviews.
- Transport – consider Rentalcars.com for car renting or if you rely on public transport, you can use Omio for trains, coaches, ferries, airport transfers and even flights.
- Activities – a great option is GetYourGuide or Viator for tours, excursions, experiences and tickets to many tourist attractions.
- Travel money – we have Starling Bank accounts (UK residents only) with 0% fees on FX and a good Mastercard exchange rate. Revolut is another good option.
- Internet abroad – with Airalo you can access a wide range of eSIMs (digital SIM cards) available for different countries and regions.
- Luggage storage – if you need to store your bags whilst exploring the destination, you can use Radical Storage to find your closest luggage storage and enjoy your journey until the very end.
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