Monaco might be small, but it is perfectly formed. The Principality of Monaco lies on the Mediterranean sea and is bordered by France, with Italy also within easy reach. Monte Carlo is often mistaken for the capital of Monaco, but it’s actually one of the four government districts. The advantage of its compact size, at 1.95 square kilometers, is that it’s very easy to explore. I recently visited and am sharing my tips on how to get the best from your trip with 48 hours in Monaco. Having said that, there’s so much to see that you might well want to stay longer.
WHAT TO SEE
The Casino is a spectacular Belle Epoque building that also houses the Opera House. Designed by Charles Garnier, the famous architect of the Paris Opera House, it was opened in 1875. The interior is as impressive as the outside, with huge chandeliers and stained glass. When visiting, remember to take your passport and for men, to wear a jacket and a tie. The entry fee varies depending on which rooms you are visiting.
The Cathedral is often known as Saint Nicholas, and is the place where Prince Rainier and Princess Grace were married. Built in 1875 on the site of a 13th century church, it’s located in the old town.
Also in the old town, nicknamed The Rock (or Le Rocher in French), don’t miss the changing of the guard, every day at 11.55 am.
The guards stand watch over the Prince’s Palace, an imposing building that definitely merits a visit. The State Apartments house stunning 16th century frescoes. The old town itself has some picturesque cobbled streets lined with restaurants and gift shops.
Monaco is famous for its association with Formula One racing. The circuit is in the heart of the city and you can retrace the steps of so many racing drivers yourself if you come with a car. The Automobile Club de Monaco celebrated 125 years of racing passion in June 2015.
The Exotic Gardens contain thousands of rare plants, as well as a grotto. The Princess Grace Rose Garden is located within Fontvieille Park, and has recently been remodelled and extended. There are 8,000 rose bushes and 300 different varieties.
La Condamine holds the Port of Monte-Carlo, and the new Yacht Club designed by Sir Norman Foster and Partners. It takes centre stage in Monte-Carlo’s remodelled harbour.
The Oceanographic Museum is a must-see, containing a world-class aquarium with 4,000 species of fish. There’s even the possibility of stroking a shark with a special tank where the (thankfully very small!) sharks swim up to you if they want to be stroked. There’s a terrace restaurant and well stocked gift shop.
The Zoological Gardens are fun to visit if you have children with you, or even just if you are a big kid like me – who could resist this meerkat!
Another interesting attraction is HSH The Prince of Monaco’s Vintage Car Collection. There are almost 100 classic cars, Formula one race cars, and a very rare pink Mercedes Benz 300 SL Gullwing Coupé. The Lexus LS600h Landaulet is an ecologically advanced hybrid that was used for the marriage of Prince Albert and Charlene in 2011. Prince Albert is passionate about limiting climate change and whilst we were in Monaco, we saw him and his family participating side by side with local people on a World Climate March.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
You’ll be spoilt for choice in Monaco, as there are so many excellent restaurants specializing in fish and meat, to suit all budgets. We particularly enjoyed Les Perles de Monte-Carlo, Beef Bar, Maya Bay and the Brasserie de Monaco. With over 300 days of sunshine every year, you may even be able to eat outside as we did a couple of times, despite it being December.
WHERE TO SHOP
Monaco has some very luxurious shops and is the perfect place for a spot of retail therapy. The Monte-Carlo Pavilions are striking pebble-shaped pop up shops in the Boulingrins Gardens, next to the Place du Casino. You’ll find a range of luxury brands here including Bottega Veneta, Lanvin and Miu Miu. There are many more in the nearby Carré d’Or (Golden Quarter, literally translated) including jewellers and antique dealers.
The Metropole shopping gallery is opposite the Casino Gardens, and houses 80 boutiques.
By plane – Nice Côte d’Azur International Airport is 14 miles from Monaco and serves more than 86 worldwide destinations.
By helicopter – Monaco’s Heliport, on the seafront, reduces that journey time to just 6 minutes from the airport to the centre of the Principality.
By train – There are regular trains from Monaco/Monte-Carlo station to a variety of destinations including Nice.
By car – Around 30 minutes drive from Nice International Airport.
Monaco has an extensive network of buses but to really travel in style, I recommend hiring a car at Nice Airport. We chose Auto Europe and were really pleased with our luxurious Audi A4, which had plenty of boot space, air conditioning and ample acceleration. No we weren’t trying to outdo the Formula One drivers, but there are a few hills where it definitely came in handy! Pick-up was easy but the system for returning the car was particularly efficient. We just drove into the designated car park area at Nice airport, handed over the keys and someone inspected the vehicle, then we were on our way.
WHERE TO STAY
Monaco has a range of hotels for different budgets, all within easy reach of the main attractions. We stayed at the Columbus Monte-Carlo, which has a fantastic location overlooking the sea and the Princess Grace Rose Gardens. It has the added advantage of not being situated within the main Formula One racing circuit. This means that hotel guests can come and go freely during the race, and many racing drivers choose to stay here. Our newly redecorated deluxe room had a balcony with a Rose Garden view, air-conditioning, soundproofing, a flat-screen TV, safe and complimentary wifi. We particularly liked the substantial roof terrace, also overlooking the garden, and the spacious lobby lounge.
Have you ever visited Monaco and Monte-Carlo?