Time zone: UTC +1
Closest airport(s): Nice Côte d'Azur Airport
A little bit about Monaco
Monaco is a European micronation located on the southeast coast of France. It is the second-smallest country in the world at 0.78 square miles and has a constitutional monarchy with Prince Albert II its leader.
Monaco has been presisded over by the House of Grimaldi since 1297 when Francois Grimaldi size the fortress of Monaco from a rival Italian faction. The only time it hasn’t been under their control since in when the rock wan annexed by France during the French Revolution, although the annexation was cut short with the abdication of Napoleon
Tourism drives the economy of Monaco as gamblers flock to the famous casino in Monte Carlo while every may the nation hosts the world’s most famous motor race – the Monaco Grand Prix. Monaco is also a major banking centre and closely guards the privacy of clients, while it doesn’t levy income tax on its residents.
Why should I go?
Monaco is one of the world’s most fascinating nations. The rich person’s playground has a lot of history, beautiful architecture and plenty of places to eat and drink. Its biggest love may appear to be money, but it’s really motorsport, evidenced by the entire country transforming into the world’s most famous racetrack on Monaco Grand Prix weekend.
But even when it’s not race season, Monaco has plenty going for it. It’s the perfect place to spend a few days of summer, and Nice’s proximity almost makes it a twin-centre. Monaco isn’t cheap, but for those willing to spend the outlay, it is most definitely rewarding.
The main attractions
Prince’s Palace of Monaco
The Prince’s Palace of Monaco is the official residence of Albert II, the Sovereign Prince of Monaco. The palace was built in 1191 as a Genoese fortress, but since the end of the 13th century, it has been the stronghold and home of the Grimaldi family.
Despite Albert II and his living in the palace, its state apartments are open for public viewing. Here you can see lavish furniture and priceless artworks collected by the royal family over the centuries. Outside the palace, the changing of the guard takes place daily just before midday and is one of the country’s greatest spectacles.
The Oceanographic Museum is one of Monaco’s most popular tourist attractions. Boasting world-renowned expertise, this marine sciences museum boasts over 6,000 specimens in a faithfully reconstructed natural habitat.
Stuck dramatically to the edge of a cliff since 1910, the aquarium is home to more than 90 tanks containing 450 Mediterranean and tropical species, sustained by freshly pumped seawater. Make sure to go to the feel-the-fish sessions where you can stroke a shark!
Monte Carlo Casino
The legendary marble-and-gold Monte Carlo Casino is a symbol of Monaco, even if the Monegasque people are, by law, forbidden to set foot inside it. Whether you’re there just for a photo in front of its impressive façade or to throw the chips down, it’s certainly worth visiting.
Visitors can take a peek inside the casino when it opens to the public each morning, while those wanting to place a bet will need to wait until it opens for business at 14:00 when a strict over-18s only rule kicks in. Monte Carlo Casino has English and European roulette, black blackjack, poker and craps, as well as a plethora of slot machines to keep punters entertained.
Saint Nicholas Cathedral
Located across from the Oceanographic Museum, Saint Nicholas Cathedral is second only to the casino when it comes to the famous buildings of Monaco. Entrance is free, and visitors can enjoy this beautiful baroque building with its stunning altarpiece designed by French painter Louis Bréa, which dates back to 1500.
Saint Nicholas Cathedral is also the location of the tombs of many of the Grimaldis, including Prince Rainier III and Grace Kelly.
Stade Louis II
Stade Louis II is the home stadium of football team AS Monaco, who compete in the top tier of French football. The team’s home games are played here, and visitors wishing to go and watch the team can purchase tickets online, at the club shop or at the stadium. The team rarely sell out their games, so ticket prices are ridiculously cheap despite being located in one of the world’s wealthiest countries.
Half-hour tours of the famous venue run daily, and allow you to see the players’ facilities as well as go pitchside and into the stands, where there is plenty of time for photos. Again, ticket prices are cheap, but tours don’t always run to schedule. Tour tickets need to be booked and purchased at the stadium, and you can ask about the appropriate timeslot for your tour at the front desk.
Unless you’re driving or sailing your yacht into the harbour, there are two main ways you can get to Monaco. Monaco’s closest airport is located in Nice, which is served by several flights a day from Europe’s major cities. Budget airlines including Jet2, easyJet, Ryanair and Wizz Air all fly to and from Nice Côte d’Azur Airport, connecting the French Riviera with destinations across the continent and beyond. There is a helicopter service connecting the airport with Monaco, but it’s not budget friendly and costs hundreds of Euros.
The other way to get to Monaco is by train. Monaco-Monte-Carlo station is huge and mostly underground, with direct lines running to Nice, as well as Paris. To get from the airport to Monaco by public transport, you either have to catch the train from Nice St-Augustin, which is a 15-minute walk from the terminal, or get bus 99 to Gare SNCF, then take the train from there.
Monaco is a fantastic place to explore on foot, with plenty of designated pathways and shortcuts for pedestrians. There are also escalators and elevators to counteract the terrain, making it easier for people to get around.
Public transport comes in the form of a local bus service. This might be helpful for those who have a harder time walking, but unless you are in a rush it’s better to save the Euros and continue on foot.
Where to stay
Staying in Monaco is not a cheap affair, especially if you are a solo traveller. There are plenty of hotels there, but there aren’t any hostels or genuine budget accommodation. My advice is to stay in Nice and travel to Monaco on the train. I know it isn’t convenient, but it will save you so much money and the train takes less than half an hour to go from Nice Ville to Monaco-Monte-Carlo, so there isn’t that much travelling involved.
Nice is full of affordable hotels, hostels and apartments, and Booking.com have a great selection with competitive prices. There are also hotels in Monaco listed on there, although Airbnb is a decent alternative if you just want a bedroom, as this can work out cheaper.
Eat and drink
Monaco has a great selection of high-quality restaurants and, considering its average clientele, that’s not really surprising. Café de Paris, across from the casino, is one of Monaco’s most famous foodie spots, while the likes of Stars ‘n’ Bars and Pizzeria Monegasque are cheaper options which don’t compromise on quality.
If you want to try something local, I’d recommend Biere De Monaco. It’s not anything special, but it tastes nice and is cheaper than a range of popular, fizzy soft drinks.
Monaco has a huge Carrefour supermarket near Stade Louis II and the UNESCO Garden at Fontvieille Shopping Centre, so if you’re looking for a quick and cheap lunch or breakfast it’s best to head there.
The nation so nice I visited twice
I headed to Nice for a trip split between the French city and Monaco. I was intending to have a full day in each, but ended up spending two in Monaco because it was that good. You can read more about that here.
Expensive, but cheap
Monaco has the highest GDP per capita of any United Nations member and isn’t a cheap place to be as a tourist. Aside from paying €6.90 for a pint of Coca-Cola, accommodation is incredibly priced, and I can’t imagine the port fees that the yachts pay is much better.
But its not really a vibe you’d get from looking at some of its buildings. While parts of Monaco are picturesque and beautiful, the high-rise buildings that overlook Port Hercule are actually quite ugly and look more Benidorm than bling. It was definitely one of the things that surprised me most about Monaco.
It’s still on my bucket list
Although I’ve been to Monaco before, it’s still on my list. I loved spending time there, and it’s a great place to explore. But I still want to have the ultimate Monaco experience, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of Grand Prix weekend.
As a Formula 1 fan, it was great to walk the streets and see the famous turns of the Monaco Grand Prix track – but to actually see the cars racing on it? That would be something else.
Taking a dip
The Rainier III Nautical Stadium houses one of the most incredible swimming pools in the world. Sandwiched between the high-rises and the harbour, this heated saltwater pool has both diving platforms and a waterslide.
I was so intrigued by it that before I got the train to Monaco for the second time, I stopped by Zara in Nice and bought some swimming shorts. It was such a great way to chill out and relax in the urban sprawl of Monaco, and its setting made it extra-special.
Monaco is Nice
Despite staying in Nice for my trip, I spent both of the full days in Monaco. I’d have loved to stay in the microstate itself but staying the south of France saved me a lot of Euros. The train journey wasn’t bad, either, as I could go door-to-door from my hostel to Monaco in under 45 minutes. I’d highly recommend the stay in Nice, play in Monaco solution. The only real downside is you can’t stay in Monaco too late or you’ll miss the last train.
Did you know?
The flags of Monaco and Indonesia are extremely similar. The only difference? Indonesia’s is slightly wider. The red and white colours of the Monegasque flag are the heraldic colours of the House of Grimaldi.