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, an impressive beaux arts gambling and entertainment complex sitting on the Place du Casino. Opened in 1863 and designed by Charles Garnier, architect of the Opera of Paris, it features a palace-inspired façade and an equally impressive belle époque interior. Luxurious fast cars including Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Rolls Royces sit outside, just a few steps from the extravagant five star Hotel du Paris.
A delight for gambling lovers, the marble and gold complex features not only 7 games rooms but also the splendid Grand Théâtre de Monte Carlo and Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. Various private rooms, such as the iconic Salle Médecin, were featured in Ocean’s Twelve and several of the James Bond movies (Goldeneye, Never Say Never Again and Casino Royale). The Monte Carlo casino also holds the largest slot machine collection in Europe, with more than 1,000 of them spread across the different rooms. The Salle des Amériques is made entirely for slot machines, while the rest of the rooms also incorporate 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, making it one of the most exclusive casinos in the world. A strict “over eighteen only” admission (with ID or passport) and appropriate casual clothes rule is applied from 2pm, requiring a smart dress code in the evening. 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; however, it’s currently undergoing renovations and tours are suspended in the meantime.
2. Walk along the Monaco Grand Prix Circuit
The Monte Carlo district is also home to the Monaco Grand Prix, held in the principality’s streets every May. The prestigious Formula 1 circuit is widely recognised as one of the most reputable racetracks in the world, with its 3,337km long circuit running along large parts of the everyday roads of Monte Carlo and the harbour streets of La Condamine. This gives you the opportunity to walk or take a taxi ride along the street circuit and spot the famous start/finish line, the red and white striped corners such as La Rascasse and Fairmont Hairpin Curve and, of course, the Monaco Grand Prix tunnel section.
The micro-state is also home to one of the six statues of the famous Argentine Formula 1 driver Juan Miguel Fangio, dotted across several race venues in the world. 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“
A completely different side of Monaco can be seen 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 to get the best views of the downtown districts of Monte-Carlo and La Condamine, with 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, a Genoese fortress built in 1191 and occupied by the Grimaldi family across various periods of time since the 13th century. 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) were established back in 1817 to 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. The changing of the guards takes place everyday at 11.55am in front of the entrance to the Prince’s Palace, an activity that 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, with “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 presents 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 (also known as 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 and features 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, with tickets ranging 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, including 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. Delicious!
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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