Monaco is one of the most exclusive and popular destinations in Côte d’Azur. Nestled on the Mediterranean coastline, halfway between Nice and the Italian border, Monaco has traditionally been compared to the likes of Las Vegas and Dubai – on a much smaller scale, however! Despite having a total area of barely a square mile, the second smallest country in the world after the Vatican comes with its very own tax-free status and has been a worldwide reference for luxury and gambling for more than a century. The glitz and eternal glamour have survived throughout the years thanks to Grace Kelly, various James Bond movies, the Monaco Grand Prix, lavish five star hotels and casinos and countless luxury yachts and cars.
Its strategic location (just a 30min train ride from Nice!) and rather smaller size than its neighbouring French resorts make it the perfect place for a quick day trip. Exploring Monaco in a day is actually possible and the micro-state is full of lesser known hidden gems for those looking to be money savvy. Here are our top tips on things to do in Monaco on a budget.
1. Try your luck at the Monte Carlo Casino
The elegant and posh district of Monte Carlo is home to the emblematic Casino de Monte-Carlo. This impressive beaux arts gambling and entertainment complex sits on the Place du Casino. It was designed in 1863 by Charles Garnier and it features a palace-inspired façade with an equally impressive belle époque interior. You can see luxurious fast cars such as Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Rolls Royces outside, just a few steps from the extravagant five star Hotel du Paris.
It’s a delight for gambling lovers. The marble and gold complex does not only have 7 games rooms but is also home to the Grand Théâtre de Monte Carlo and Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. Did you know that some of the private rooms, such as the iconic Salle Médecin, were featured in Ocean’s Twelve and several of the James Bond movies? You can see them in Goldeneye, Never Say Never Again and Casino Royale.
The Monte Carlo casino also has the largest slot machine collection in Europe. There are more than 1,000 of them spread across the different rooms! The Salle des Amériques, for example, is made entirely for slot machines. The rest, on the other hand, also have a selection of European (English and European French Roulette) and American table games (Blackjack and Texas Hold’em Poker).
The rooms are constantly updated to incorporate the latest slot machine models. It’s one of the most exclusive casinos in the world, after all!
Visiting the Monte Carlo Casino
A strict “over eighteen only” admission (with ID or passport) and appropriate casual clothes rule applies from 2pm. For the evening, a smart dress code is required. Entry costs 10€ plus a further 10€ for anyone wishing to gamble in a private room. The casino is also open for tours every day from 9am to 2pm, except when the Monaco Grand Prix is on.
2. Walk along the Monaco Grand Prix circuit
The prestigious Formula 1 circuit is one of the most reputable racetracks in the world. Its 3,337km long circuit runs along large parts of the everyday roads of Monte Carlo and the harbour streets of La Condamine every May. This gives you the opportunity to walk or take a taxi ride along the street circuit and spot the famous start/finish line! Not to mention the red and white striped corners such as La Rascasse and Fairmont Hairpin Curve. And, of course, the Monaco Grand Prix tunnel section.
Monaco is also home to one of the six statues of the famous Argentine Formula 1 driver Juan Miguel Fangio. Channel your inner racer by sitting inside his car and pretending you’re part of the Monaco Grand Prix!
3. Walk up to the top of “The Rock of Monaco”
You can see a completely different side of Monaco within the city walls of the historical old quarter of Monaco-Ville. Colourful buildings, narrow medieval alleyways and charming gardens fill the 62m (203ft) high Le Rocher, a fortress-like hill home to the Prince’s Palace of Monaco.
Walk up the red bricks of the Rampe Major and through the two 16th century gateways. You can get the best views of the downtown districts of Monte-Carlo and La Condamine from here. You can also spot the luxury yachts of Port de Fontvieille and Port Hercule blending in with the blue Mediterranean Sea.
4. Admire the Prince’s Palace of Monaco
An unmissable spot within Le Rocher is Le Palais des Princes de Monaco. This Genoese fortress dates back to 1191 and has been home to the Grimaldi family since the 13th century. It’s currently the official residence of the Sovereign Prince of Monaco (and previously actress Grace Kelly, after marrying Prince Rainier III in 1956).
The Prince’s Palace architecture reflects the history of the Grimaldi family and Monaco. Unlike other European palaces, it has been extended and fortified throughout time after being bombarded and besieged by foreign authorities on several occasions, giving it a unique puzzle-like shape.
The Prince’s Guards (Carabiniers du Prince) date back to 1817 and provide 24/7 security for the Palace and the Royal Family. They’ve worn the same uniform ever since: an all white uniform in summer and a blue, black and red one during winter. Don’t miss the opportunity to see the Changing of the Guard. It takes place every day at 11.55am in front of the entrance to the Prince’s Palace and attracts multitudes of tourists.
5. Visit Grace Kelly’s tomb at the Monaco Cathedral
6. Marvel at the Monaco Palace of Justice
Next to the Cathédrale de Monaco lies the small, Neo-Florentine and curvy Palais de Justice. You can spot “LEX”, the Latin word for “law”, carved above the main entrance. Unfortunately, tours aren’t available as the building is still used by the Monegasque judiciary. However, don’t miss the opportunity to check out its façade! Built in 1924 using sea tuff, the Monaco Palace of Justice has a characteristic exterior with small mollusc shells and pebbles embedded in its walls.
7. Learn more about the sea world at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco
Built on the cliffs of “The Rock” overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the Musée Océanographique is both a museum and an aquarium. Founded in 1910 by Prince Albert I (aka the Navigator Prince), this Baroque Revival structure took 11 years to build and used 100,000 tons of stone!
The museum is now home to over 6,000 species in reconstructed natural habitats. It also has more than 90 tanks. Sharks, tropical fish, molluscs, invertebrates, turtles and shellfish cohabit with marine mammal skeletons and marine paraphernalia. Here, the largest cabinet of marine world curiosities displays more than 1,000 objects including fossils, photographs, books and diving gear.
The Oceanographic museum of Monaco opens daily (excluding the F1 Grand Prix weekend and Christmas) from 9.30am/10am to 6pm/8pm. Tickets range from 7€ to 20.50€ depending on the season.
8. Get the best sunset views at the Saint-Martin Gardens
Just a stone throw from the Oceanographic Museum, the beautiful Jardins de Saint-Martin offer incredible views of the sea and Port de Fortvieille. Marvel at the koi carp pond and the many statues dotted throughout the gardens. There’s one of Prince Albert I dressed as a sailor and standing at the wheel of a boat facing the Mediterranean Sea!
9. Eat local at La Condamine Market
And now, the food! Don’t miss the opportunity to pay a visit to La Condamine Market. Opened on 18th November 1880, this traditional open-air/covered market is the best place to find fresh local food in Monaco. Wine, cheese, fish, meat, vegetables, flowers and a whole lot of regional specialities – it has it all!
Head over to A Roca, a traditional bakery that has been offering the best flavours of the French Riviera for the last 25 years. Our favourites? Barbajuan, a puff pastry filled with Swiss chard, ricotta cheese, leeks and garlic. And Fougasse Monegasque, a hard biscuit with almonds and small red and white aniseed sweets on top.
Top tip: indulge on an ice cream from L’Atelier du Glacier near La Condamine Market for an amazing, refreshing treat.
- A Roca | Halle du Marché 15 avenue Place d’Armes 98000 Monaco
- L’Atelier du Glacier | 9, Rue Princesse Caroline, 98000, Monaco
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