When I hear the word Monaco a few things come to mind; the iconic Monte Carlo casino, yachts, James Bond, the Grand Prix and pretty much anything else that screams bucket loads of money. The type of money I will never, even in my wildest dreams, come close to owning. But just because I could never afford to live in Monaco didn’t stop me from wanting to see it.
Despite the flash and luxury of this tiny country, Monaco is an affordable place to visit for a day and an easy trip from most places in the French Riviera. As long as you are content with window shopping rather than the real thing, you can embrace your inner James Bond or Bond Girl and spend a day in the land of the elite.
The ultimate way to arrive in Monaco is via private helicopter, but chances are if you are reading this that’s not exactly an affordable option. Not to worry- there are much cheaper ways. If you are staying in Nice, the easiest method is to take bus #100 from place Garibaldi to Monte Carlo city centre by the Casino. The ride is about 35-45 minutes depending on traffic, and offers stunning coastal views. Be aware that the busses are almost always packed so you may have to stand. Busses depart about every 20 minutes or so but it’s not uncommon for them to be late, or maybe not show at all, so be ready to wait a little. Cost at the time of my visit (April 2014) was 1.50 euro each way- an absolute steal compared to a private helicopter!
The majority of the city is pretty walkable, although it is quite hilly. There is a hop-on-hop off bus that will take you to the main sights priced at 21 euro per person for a day, as well as local city busses which cost 2 euro per ride. Tickets can be bought on board, and local busses run every 20-30min. For more information and a city map to best pick your route, visit the tourism office outside the Casino bus stop in the city centre (they also frequently have discount coupons for city attractions).
When planning my day trip I was in a bit of a panic deciding what to wear. I knew I would be walking a lot so I needed something sensible, but I wanted to look nice- didn’t I have to? Turns out no- you don’t need to pull out the LBD. I saw more local women in tracksuits than stylish dresses, and if it weren’t for the flashy watches and jewelry, they wouldn’t have stood out at all. So don’t worry about having the perfect outfit, but if you do want to channel your inner bond girl- by all means go ahead!
As small as it is, there’s something to look at nearly everywhere you go in Monaco. My favourites are:
This is the oldest section of Monaco where the old town and palace are located. Every day at 11:55am changing of the guard ceremony takes place in front of the Prince’s Palace. It’s not the biggest show but fun to see if you are there at the time. If interested, try to come a little early to get a better view. The state apartments of the palace are also available for viewing at a cost of 8 euro per person, but be sure to check the schedule ahead of time.
The Rock is also a great place to take photographs of Monte Carlo and the port, and to souvenir shop or grab a bite to eat in one of the many cafes in the old town.
The Oceanographic Museum
I’m not a museum person but even I couldn’t resist checking out this famous attraction. Located on the cliff of The Rock overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, The Oceanographic Museum, nicknamed the Temple of the Sea, is worth going to for the views alone. Tickets aren’t cheap, running at 14 euro per person (April 2014), however at the time I visited the visitor centre had discount coupons for 3 euro off, which I gladly took advantage of.
The museum is home to over 6000 species, which can be found in the multitude of aquariums located on the lower level. Take a look at schools of tiny clownfish, seahorses, tropical fish, and even sharks. On the higher levels you can also find the skeletons and preserved bodies of different species of sharks, as well as ‘Oceanomania the biggest collection of ocean curiosities’. This enormous book-case style exhibit is full of skeletons, diving gear, books, and even a stuffed white bear from Greenland.
The Oceaographic museum has a couple other displays, along with a rooftop terrace with incredible views and is home to a family of African spurred turtles. The museum restaurant is also located on the roof, with both indoor and outdoor seating offering stunning views over the city and the sea.
My favourite experience at the museum though, was the shark tank near the exit. A knowledgeable guide invites you to stick your hand into a tank of friendly sharks which will curiously approach you and allow you to run your hand along their sides. Just be sure to wash your hands first, and please don’t touch their heads or back fins!
The Exotic Gardens
Located at the top of the city, it’s probably easiest to take a bus to the Exotic Gardens. Tickets cost about 7euro/adult for entry but once inside you are privy to the best views in the country. The Exotic Gardens are home to a bunch of flora and fauna but it’s the scenery that makes it worth the money. I happily spent nearly an hour sitting on a bench over-looking The Rock and the ports where I got to see the private helicopters land.
Probably the most iconic sight of Monaco, the Casino is top of my list of things to visit. It’s also a great place to look for fancy and expensive cars; taking photos with them is fine, but don’t try to touch any unless you want an army of security after you!
The Casino opens its doors at 2pm to the public, so I would recommend making it your last stop for the day (the bus stop to return to Nice is conveniently close by). There is no dress code or fee to go inside the main area, but there is for the private rooms where you will also need to hand over your passport. Inside the casino is absolutely stunning, but sadly no cameras are allowed in the building so you will be kindly asked to stow your bags behind the counter (at no charge). Once inside you are free to wander the areas with the slot machines, and a public room with card tables where you, along with the other tourists, are more than welcome to try your luck at Black Jack or roulette. I risked a whopping 5 euro at one of the slot machines but sadly watched it disappear way too quickly. At least I tried!
Unless you won big at the casino chances are you can’t afford to do much other than window shop. But if you are willing to forgo the fancy designer brands and are looking for some souvenirs, you can find some good buys near the Casino and in the Old Town on The Rock. Like all other places, shot glasses, post cards, and souvenir t-shirts are easy finds. For something a little more authentic to remember your Monaco experience, look for some Grand Prix merchandise- sure it comes with a price tag but it’s a pretty neat buy.
Monaco is the perfect spot for a day trip. Even if you will never be able to afford living there yourself, it’s incredible to see the wealth of this luxury destination.