With Princess Grace, medieval palaces and all by the roaring sea – Monaco is one of those enchanted places that feels like a fairytale destination. A sovereign city-state and microstate (the area of Monaco covers just 1 square mile), Monaco’s ‘quartiers’ and ‘wards’ are a hotspot for the rich and famous. Renowned for its glitz and glamor, Grand Prix and Casino, Monaco is a place with a diverse cultural heritage as well as thriving economic development. Contrary to what you might think, you really don’t need the bank balance of a monarch to enjoy spending time here it’s possible to do so even on a limited budget.
Things to do in Monaco
Monaco’s luxury hotels may be out of your budget, but that needn’t spoil your visit. One of the cheapest ways to take in the sights and sounds of the state is by taking a day trip from Nice (which has a selection of hostels you can stay in, unlike Monaco). Regular trains run throughout the day till late in the evening, and returns cost around €10. You can find up-to-date timetables and book tickets on the Rail Europe website.
Once there you’ll find that Monaco is really easy to get around. Public elevators and escalators make navigating the hillsides easier for disabled visitors, and daily passes can be purchased to make use of regular buses that travel throughout the quarters of the city.
Monaco-Ville, aka ‘le Rocher’ or ‘the Rock’, is the oldest part of the city and was the House of Grimaldi’s first conquest in 1297. It is both the base for the Monégasque Royals and the current Monaco government and remains an important area of cultural significance. Monaco-Ville is an incredibly picturesque medieval village, complete with narrow cobbled streets and a uniquely Mediterranean feel. It can be accessed by bus or by walking up the ’Rampe Major’
Once there I’d recommend visiting the following sites:
The Palais Princier de Monaco had its origins as a fortress in the 12th Century, and for over 700 was the stronghold of the Grimaldi family (you can read more about the historical invasion of Monaco on the official Palace website) Historical military traditions are still honoured here, and every day at 11.55am visitors can observe the changing of the guard.
Although the exterior of the Palace is quite unassuming its interior, consisting of the main courtyard and State Apartments, is exquisite with its frescoed walls, chandeliers and marble. Still the private residence of the Prince of Monaco, the State Apartments are open for public visits throughout the year and summer concerts celebrating music and performance are held annually. Admission costs are fair (€8 for adults) and can be booked online.
Located to the East of the Palace, the Chapelle de la Visitation is a former 17th Century Baroque chapel. Now a museum that houses a portion of Mrs. Piasecka Johnson’s collection of sacred works of art. Contained within the collection are renowned masterpieces from Ribera and Zurbaran and Italian baroque masters. 30-minute visits are available throughout the day.
Situated on the South-West face of the Rock, the Jardin St. Martin is a beautiful spot right on the cliff-edge. Consisting of a series of pathways the gardens are the environment for wild Mediterranean flora and more exotic species. Dotted with random works of art, like the bronze statue of Prince Albert I as a sailor, miniature fountains and other water features, the gardens make a lovely place for lunch or quiet reflection.
Curiously idiosyncratic, the Oceanographic Museum is located directly on the rock at the very edge of Monaco-Ville. Typically Victorian in its Neo-Classical style, the museum is quite literally a Palace dedicated to Science and Art with its huge aquariums (including a Shark Lagoon) and collections of Natural History. Although the entrance fee is rather high (€14 for adults) you can certainly make the most out of your visit here, particularly if you happen to visit when the museum has opened its doors to internationally renowned artists. Former exhibitions hosted here include works from Damien Hirst, Marc Quinn and Huang Yong Ping. Opening times, online booking and further details of events can be found on the Museum’s website.
A trip to Monaco wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Casino de Monte-Carlo. Opened in 1863, this beautiful complex houses gaming rooms, the Opera de Monte Carlo and the offices of Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. The casino as it stands today was completed to the designs of Jules Dutrou and Charles Garnier (the architect who designed the Paris Opera House) and has an intriguing history, initially being a proposition to save the ruling House of Grimaldi from bankruptcy.
Today the casino plays host to a wealth of events, including the European Poker Tour. It has a close association with Ian Fleming’s 007, being the inspiration for the fictional resort featured in his first Bond novel ‘Casino Royale’, and a location used in a number of the film installments. Although you’ll have to pay for admission to the gaming rooms, access to many of the sumptuous gardens and terraces surrounding the complex like the Japanese Garden on Princess Grace Avenue are free to visit.
Have you ever been to Monaco? What were your favorite things to do in Monaco?