[y] Monaco Visitors Guide
Monaco is one of the world’s most sought-after addresses. Nestled between France and Italy, the city-state bristles with towers made of gleaming glass and terraces offering stunning views over the sparkling Mediterranean. The Belle Epoque grace of a bygone era is still present on the city’s streets, conjuring up Monaco’s elegant past, and the capital is a symbol of glamor. International glitterati flock to Monaco to gamble in the grand casino, score the latest fashions in the luxury shops, and sip drinks in chandeliered palace lounges and hotels. Visiting the city is like experiencing a whole other world, dripping with luxury, elegance, and grace.
Luxuries are common on the Côte d’Azur, but nowhere – not even Cannes – can outdo Monaco. This tiny independent principality, no bigger than London’s Hyde Park, has lived off gambling and catering for the desires of the idle international rich for the last hundred years. Meanwhile, it has become one of the greatest property speculation sites in the world – a sort of low-rise Manhattan-on-Sea with an incredibly dense concentration of fin-de-siècle Edwardian hotels standing in for the skyscrapers.
The principality has been in the hands of the ruling Grimaldi family since the thirteenth century, and legally Monaco would once again become part of France where the royal line to die out. The current ruler, Prince Rainier, is the one constitutionally autocratic ruler left in Europe, under whose nose every French law is passed for approval prior to being applied to Monaco. There is a parliament, but with limited functions and elected only by Monegasque nationals – about sixteen percent of the population. But there is no opposition to the ruling family. The citizens and non-French residents pay no income tax and their riches are protected by rigorous security forces; Monaco has more police per square meter than any other country in the world.
One time to avoid Monaco – unless you’re a motor-racing enthusiast – is the last week in May, when racing cars burn around the port and casino for the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix. Every space in sight of the circuit is inaccessible without a ticket, making casual sightseeing out of the question.
The oldest part of the two-kilometer-long state is Monaco-Ville , around the palace on the high rocky promontory, with the new suburb and marina of Fontvieille in its western shadow. La Condamine is the old port quarter on the other side of the promontory; Larvotto , the bathing resort with artificial beaches of imported sand, reaches to the eastern border; and Monte Carlo is in the middle.
A great place to begin your journey is Monaco-Ville, the historic medieval core of Monaco. Known for its charming, narrow streets and picturesque buildings, Monaco-Ville is one of Europe’s most wondrous treasures. The district is packed with a wealth of upscale shops, cafes, and fine restaurants as well as many of Monaco’s top attractions such as the Prince’s Palace and Monaco Cathedral.
Start your visit to Monaco-Ville in style by entering the decadent Palais du Prince, serving as Monaco’s royal palace since the 13th century. Each of the ruling Grimaldis has left a mark on the palace, resulting in one of the most eclectically elegant castles in Europe. Fifteen rooms are open to the public, and each gives way to more and more opulent treasures. The south wing is occupied by the Musee des Souvenirs Napoleoniens, featuring a collection of the military and political leader’s personal objects.
The Monaco Cathedral stuns with its Roman-Byzantine style architectural beauty. Many of the sovereigns of Monaco are buried there, including Princess Grace and Prince Rainier. The interior features an early 16th-century altar designed by the Nicois master Louis Brea and a four-keyboard organ. Visit on a Sunday to hear mass sung. It is an experience you will not soon forget.
One of Monaco’s most famous attractions is the internationally renowned Oceanographic Museum. Built in 1910 at the dramatic edge of a cliff near the Monaco Cathedral, the museum is a real stunner. Exhibits include an enormous coral reef that is home to both vivid tropical fish and deep-sea predators, the fanciful Whale Room and nearly 100 tanks containing 450 tropical and Mediterranean species of ocean creatures.
The crown of Monaco is Fort Antoine, an 18th-century fortress built on the tip of The Rock. Today, the fort is one of the country’s premier performing arts venues, but it is still worth a visit even if you don’t have a ticket to a show. The impressive military architecture includes a watchtower that offers magical views of the city and the Mediterranean.
The intoxicatingly beautiful Jardin Exotique is also worth a visit. The exquisite botanical gardens are home to a myriad of native plants and also houses the Museum of Prehistory and Anthropology. There, visitors can explore relics dating back to the pre-Roman era and learn about the country’s rich history.
Historic La Condamine district
While in the city, visitors can also walk through historic La Condamine district, attend a show at the exceedingly flamboyant Monaco Opera House or view paintings by masters like Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró at the Marlborough Fine Arts Gallery. Elsewhere in Monaco, visitors will find a wide range of private art galleries as well as upscale boutiques and some of Europe’s finest retail outlets.
Monte Carlo Casino
Monaco is also known far and wide for its world-class casinos. The principality boasts a number of them, but the spectacular Monte Carlo Casino is an absolute must-see, even if you don’t plan on gambling. The posh Monte Carlo district also holds a number of casinos as well. To see Monaco in all of its beauty, take a trip on the Azur Express train throughout the city embark on an Aquavision boat tour along the elegant coastline. Both options offer spectacular views of Monaco and are great ways to get acquainted with its layout and key landmarks.
Monte Carlo Harbor
While on the coast, visit the Monte Carlo Harbor to immerse yourself in the wonderful chaos of the sea-faring life. Passenger ferries, sailboats and luxurious yachts pack the harbor, making it a great place to people watch and catch a glimpse of the rich and famous.
Beaches of Monaco
The beaches of Monaco are some of the finest on the Mediterranean coast, and Larvotto Beach is a favorite for both locals and visitors. Spend an afternoon splashing in the warm, clean water or relaxing on the fine white sand. The peaceful atmosphere is a great respite from the excitement of the rest of the city, but there are also a number of places to eat and drink nearby.
Of course, no visit to Monaco is complete without sampling its world-renowned dining, shopping and nightlife scenes. The city boasts a wealth of fine restaurants, cafes and eateries that offer exceptional cuisine and offers an incredible array of fine shops, galleries and boutique stores to choose from.
La Condamine and the old town are replete with restaurants, but good food and reasonable prices don’t exactly match. The best-value cuisine is Italian, notably Le Pinocchio , at 30 rue Comte-F.-Gastaldi lunchtime menu.
Alternatively, try L’Orangeraie , 42 quai des Sanbarbani, Fontvieille, which has good seafood, and a menu at 135F/¬20.59, or Castelroc , in the old town on place du Palais (tel 22.214.171.124; closed Sat & Dec-Jan), which has a generous 125F/¬19.06 menu.
You can also eat a decentish 80F/¬12.20 menu at La Cigale , 18 rue de Millo (tel 126.96.36.199; closed Sat & Sun & Aug).
It’s really not worth going upmarket in Monaco unless you’re prepared to hit 900F/¬137.25-a-head bills, in which case head for the Belle Époque glory of the Louis XV (closed Tues, Wed & Oct; 500F/¬76.25 lunch menu) in the Hôtel de Paris .
From world-class gambling to exclusive shopping, fascinating museums to splendorous natural scenery, Monaco has something for everyone. Despite its small size, Monaco is packed with much to see and do. Visitors seeking somewhere beautiful and unforgettable would be wise to pay Monaco a visit, as the experience is nothing short of astounding.
Your best bet for non-casino nightlife is the large Stars ‘N’ Bars on the quai Antoine 1er, packed out on Fridays and Saturdays, with a lively club upstairs where drinks will cost you 60F/¬9.15. Otherwise, you might like to try out Chérie’s Café , near the casino at 9 av des Spélugues, which serves food throughout the night and has regular live bands.
Monaco Geographical Location
Monaco is located on the Mediterranean Sea, west of the border between Italy and France. There is no distinction between the city of Monaco and the country of Monaco.
Monaco is the second smallest country in the world with a population of approximately 36,000.
French is the official language of Monaco. Italian is common due to its proximity to Italy as well as English and Monegasque.
Monaco Predominant Religion
- 90% Roman Catholic
- 10% Other
The official religion of Monaco is Roman Catholic but the constitution does guarantee freedom of religion.
The Euro is the official currency of Monaco.
Monaco has a Mediterranean climate and is mild throughout the year with warm summers and cool winters. Precipitation is more common during the winter months but snow is extremely rare.
Monaco Main Attractions
- Prince’s Palace
- Monte-Carlo Casino and Opera House
- Oceanographic Museum
Other Attraction in Monaco
- Jardin Exotique
- Monaco Cathedral
- Fort Antoine
- Museum of Antique Automobiles
- Azur Express
The gare SNCF is on avenue Prince-Pierre in La Condamine, a short walk from the main gare routière on place d’Armes. Municipal buses ply the length of the principality from 7am to 8pm (8.50F/¬1.30 single; four-trip card 21F/¬3.20). Buses following the lower corniche stop at the gare routière ; other routes have a variety of stations; all stop in Monte Carlo. Local bus #4 runs from the gare SNCF to the “Casino-Tourisme” stop, close to the tourist office at 2a bd des Moulins. One very useful public service is the incredibly clean and efficient free lift linking the lower and higher streets (marked on the tourist office map). Bicycles can be rented from Auto-Moto-Garage, 7 rue de Millo, off place d’Armes (tel 188.8.131.52).
The best areas for hotels are La Condamine and Beausoleil, just across the northern boundary in France, where you’ll find the pleasant Villa Boeri , at 29 bd du Général-Leclerc (tel 04.93.78.38.10, fax 04.93.41.90.95; 220-300F/¬34-46), only a couple minutes’ walk from Monte Carlo center. In Monte Carlo itself you could try Cosmopolite , 4 rue de la Turbie, near the station, or its neighbour the Hôtel de France , at no. 6. Another reasonable option is Helvetia , 1bis rue Grimald, a small and comfortable old hotel with en-suite bathrooms and a bar for guests. If you’re aged 17 to 21, you may be able to get a hostel bed at the Centre de Jeunesse Princesse Stéphanie , just north of the station at 24 av Prince-Pierre (tel 184.108.40.206, fax 220.127.116.11; midnight curfew); be sure to turn up early. Monaco has no campsite, and caravans are illegal in the state – as are bathing costumes, bare feet, and bare chests once you step off the beach. Camper vans have to be parked at the Parking des Écoles, in Fontvieille, and then only between 8am and 8pm.