Along the French Riviera, a short drive up along the coast from Nice and on the edge of the Western border of France, is the microstate city of Monaco. Known for its casinos and its grand prix track, Monaco has attracted actors and high-rollers from all over the world. The smallest member of the United Nations, just under 40,000 people call this place home, but it is also one of the wealthiest, with one out of three of them being millionaires. For most of our itineraries, we’d normally split the destinations into smaller manageable chunks to do throughout the day. Granted, Monaco has a few historic and administrative districts.
The thing with Monaco, though, is that it is 0.8 square miles large, making it the second-smallest sovereign state in the world after Vatican City, so you don't necessarily need to split your two days between neighbourhoods to see the most of it. Central Park in New York is larger than this city-state! However, you might want to make sure that you have a fair bit of money saved up - as well as its gambling reputation, Monaco is also one of the most expensive places in the world. While you’re here though, experience the vibrant nightlife by visiting one of the stylish bars or lounges in the Monte Carlo area. If you aren’t sure where to start, you can take part in a self-guided tour and you can jump on a bus tour of Monaco.
Know Before You Go
There is no airport in Monaco itself. The closest airport is Nice-Cote D’Azur in France, but there is a direct bus service that connects the airport to Monaco, and the journey takes about 45 minutes.
The Monaco Bus Company services the small country and allows travellers to move throughout from 7am to 9:30pm, with another evening bus service running between 9:20pm and 12:20am and a night service operating on Saturday and Sunday from 12:20am to 4am. Click here for more information on the bus network. There is only one train station in Monaco - the Gare de Monaco-Monte-Carlo - which connects Monaco to Nice.
You don’t necessarily need a car to travel throughout Monaco - it’s a very walkable city, and you can walk from the east to the west side in less than an hour, and most of the parking is charged. It may be an option worth considering if you choose to stay outside of Monaco though. You must be 18 or over to drive in Monaco, though different rental companies may ask that you hold your license for a certain amount of time, you drive on the right-hand side, and the speed limit is 50km/h unless otherwise prompted by road signs.
Due to its location on the Mediterranean coast, Monaco has hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. The best time to visit Monaco is between mid-June and the start of September, though hotel prices can spike during this time. Temperatures are milder in April and May, but the sea is also colder during this time.
Though Monaco isn’t a member of the European Union, the currency they use is the euro. Though you’ll get away with using your card, carry some cash for small purchases or if you decide to check out the casinos.
Where to Eat
For dinner, indulge in a delicious meal at one of Monaco's renowned restaurants. There are numerous options to choose from, offering various cuisines. One of the places you could start is the Coya in Monte Carlo, which does Latin American food and offers stunning views of the med.
Monte Carlo Casino
If you’re going to check out the casinos in Monaco, you might as well start off with the crown jewel. The Monte Carlo Casino is the most famous of all the gambling establishments in the city. You might’ve seen it before in movies, as it was used for a location during the filming of Ocean’s Twelve and the James Bond film Goldeneye. The games room is open from 2pm until 6am, but if you aren’t the gambling type, you can still admire the grand architecture and take a stroll in the surrounding gardens. The casino is open for visits from 10am to 1pm. There is a dress code for entering - during visiting, old jeans, tank tops, sportswear, shorts, beach dresses, running shoes and flip-flops for men are not permitted, while from 7pm the dress code smartens up, so maybe consider bringing your suit, because when in Rome…
There isn’t just the casino to admire here - Monte Carlo Casino is also an entertainment complex which includes other worthwhile attractions, like the Opera de Monte Carlo, several luxury stores and the offices of Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. They host different events throughout the year, and you can see what events are being hosted at the opera here and which ballet performances are taking place here.
Prince's Palace of Monaco
Next up is the official residence of the ruling Prince of Monaco. Located on the Monaco Rock, the Prince’s Palace of Monaco is close to Monaco’s Old Town and has been the seat of the ruling family of Monaco - the house Grimaldi - for 700 years. The palace sits on the site of an old fortress, and the story goes that Francesco Grimaldi and his companions captured the fortress by dressing up as monks and sneaking in. You can see the family coat of arms as you enter the palace, which has two monks holding swords. They also have a Changing of the Guards ceremony here, which usually takes place around 11:55am.
The price of admittance for an adult is €10, and discounted tickets are available to children aged 6–17 and students at €5. You can also purchase combined tickets that let you visit the Palace and other nearby attractions. The Prince’s Palace of Monaco is open to visitors from April to mid-October, every day between 10am and 5:30pm, except in July and August when it is open ‘til 6:30pm.
Another attraction worth visiting on the Monaco Rock is the Monaco Cathedral. Built-in the 19th century, this Neo-Romanesque style building is also known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception and the Saint Nicholas Cathedral. Inside this cathedral are the tombs of former Princes and Princesses of Monaco, including Prince Rainier III and his wife, the iconic American actress Grace Kelly.
There is free admission to the cathedral, except during religious services, from 9 am to 6 pm, but as is the case with many establishments in Monaco, there is a dress code. This is because of the cultural importance the cathedral has to Monaco. Visitors should have their shoulders covered, and miniskirts and short shorts are not permitted, while Bermuda shorts are acceptable.
Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium
Located on the cliffside of the Monaco Rock overlooking the Mediterranean Sea is the Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium, or the Musée océanographique. Inaugurated in 1910, this building is constructed in the Neo-Romanesque architectural style and is run by the Institut Océanographique, an educational organisation which shares information about the oceans.
In the basement of the museum is the aquarium, where habitats have been recreated to house marine life, including a shark tank! It’s not just what’s in the building that makes this such a worthwhile destination but the outside. As well as the design of the building, the museum’s location offers some absolutely breathtaking views. You can purchase tickets to the museum here.
While there are private beaches throughout Monaco, you don’t need to pay an exorbitant price in order to enjoy a dip in the sea. Larvotto Beach is Monaco's main public beach, but be sure to bring a thick towel and some decent shoes - like many beaches throughout the French Riveria, Larvotto Beach is a pebble beach, though unique in the fact it’s a man-made one. There are loungers here, but while the beach itself is free to access, they will cost you a little bit extra.
This is an ideal spot to take a load off, where you can relax and soak up some sun after your first day of exploration. Take a dip in the crystal-clear waters, which are a trademark of this area - in the summer, a jellyfish net is put up, and lifeguards operate here, so you don’t have to worry about getting stung or being in danger. There are also nearby beach clubs and bars if you fancy rubbing shoulders with the locals.
Tête de Chien
If you want to see one of the best views of Monaco, be prepared to go for a hike up to the Tête de Chien. Translating to Dog’s Head, the Tête de Chien is the highest point on the Grande Corniche road, a 550-meter-high rock that overlooks Monaco as well as surrounding towns. Many different people have witnessed this stunning landmark - American diplomat Samuel S. Cox wrote that it resembled more of a tortoise’s head than a dog's, and it’s speculated that a commander during the German occupation in WWII, Leopold Bohm, witnessed the final flight of aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry when he was stationed here in 1944.
There is a couple of different routes that you can use to get up to the Tête de Chien. The easiest way of getting there is first heading for the village of La Turbie. There are signposts for the Tete de Chien along the way. This will lead you to a free parking lot. From there, if you have travelled by car, you’ll have to go the rest of the way on foot. If you fancy a longer route, you can take a hiking trail starting at the Cap d’Ail, and follow the loop trail of the Tour de la Tête de Chien. This’ll take a couple of hours, so if you’re going, take some water and lather on sun cream.
Where to Stay
(Note: Accommodation in Monaco is expensive. Like, REALLY expensive, so for the budget and mid-range stays, I am going to recommend nearby towns).
Budget - Studio 30 m2, Contes
While most accommodations aren’t in our definition of the budget range, this apartment comes close and has a private pool with views of the mountains and the sea.
Mid Range - Hotel Olympia, Beausoleil
Just on the border of France, the cheaper rooms at this hotel offer a reasonably priced stay within walking distance of Monaco
Luxury - Boutique Hotel Miramar, Monaco
If you’re going to stay in Monaco, do it in style at this luxury hotel in Monte Carlo, which includes a balcony or terrace with views of the sea.
Where to eat
If you fancy treating yourself on this trip, check out the Horizon Rooftop. The prices may be on the high end - to be fair, this is usually the case in Monaco - but this Mediterranean waterfront restaurant overlooks the sea, where you can enjoy a cooling breeze while enjoying your meal.
Exotic Garden of Monaco
Our first stop is located on the cliffs overlooking the city of Monaco. The Jardin Exotique, or Exotic Garden of Monaco, has a remarkable collection of plants from all over the globe. First opened to the public in February of 1933, you can enjoy panoramic views of Monaco and the French Riviera as well as the botanical garden itself. At the time of writing this, the garden is currently closed for renovation work and is due to reopen in 2024.
As well as the garden itself, there is the nearby Observatory Cave. This limestone chamber has been eroded over thousands of years to create unique geological formations inside. Along with the entry ticket, an expert guide is included. A visit to this cave will complement the next attraction on our itinerary.
Museum of Prehistoric Anthropology
Founded in 1902 by Prince Albert I, the Museum of Prehistoric Anthropology was established as a place to showcase ancient artefacts and archaeological finds from the region. Originally situated on the Monaco Rock, its new premises sits close to the Exotic Garden. Here, you can gain an insight into Monaco's prehistoric past, including findings that were discovered in the Observatory Cave.
Not all the exhibits here come from Monaco, though - the mammoth skeleton actually came from Siberia. There are also temporary exhibits which offer something new with each visit. The museum is open all year except for November 19th (Monaco National Day) and Christmas Day, between 9am and 6pm.
Formula One Grand Prix Circuit
This will be the most iconic attraction for petrolhead tourists. Playing host to annual motorsport events like the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix, the Formula One Grand Prix Circuit is a street circuit that winds and twists through Monte Carlo and along the harbour of Monaco.
The track has remained largely unchanged since it was first built in 1929. Even when the race isn’t on, you can still go down and admire the luxurious yachts at Port Hercules and imagine the excitement of the race.
Princess Grace Japanese Garden
At the end of Avenue Princesse Grace, just a short way away from Lavrotte Beach is another botanical garden. Opened in 1994, the Princess Grace Japanese Garden was commissioned by Prince Rainier III and designed by landscape architect Yasuo Beppu.
This attraction has all the elements of a traditional Japanese garden while still being in the middle of the Mediterranean. As a serene oasis in the heart of Monaco, the Princess Grace Japanese Garden is a perfect place to enjoy beautiful landscapes and traditional Japanese architecture. The Gardens are free to enter and are usually open between 9am to 5:45pm or 6:45pm, depending on the season.
H.S.H. Prince Rainier III Collection of Cars
Though he has appeared regularly throughout this itinerary, Prince Rainier III has one final attraction to contribute before calling it a day, and this is quite the attraction for car fans. Towards the end of the 1950s, Rainier III started to collect antique cars. We all need a hobby, I suppose. Finally, in 1993, the Prince opened up his collection to the public.
And so the H.S.H. Prince Rainier III Collection of Cars Museum was born. The collection has a wide variety of different vehicles, from ancestors of the automobile to formula one cars. It moved from its original setting in 2022, and entry prices are anywhere between 10,00 € and 5,00 €. You can even host an event there if you so desire! If you can’t quite visit Monaco yet, but you are still interested in this attraction, you can have a look at the collection here.
Where to Stay
A short drive away from Monaco, this private apartment in Beaulieu-sur-mer has all the comforts of a home in the French Riviera without the steep price tag.
Mid Range - Monte Carlo Terrace Monaco, Beausoleil
Close enough to Monaco, this accommodation is an ideal location to travel as a couple or family and includes an airport shuttle for that added convenience.
Luxury - Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo, Monaco
As part of the chain Leading Hotels of the World, this hotel is the creme de la creme of luxury stays. With a spa, not one but three different restaurants, it’s no wonder this place won third place for the best hotel in Europe.