A guide to Monaco
Monaco; the small principality that exudes luxury, exclusivity and where a movie star married her very own Prince charming. Monaco's history is intertwined with famous names, glamorous living and sometimes the scandal that comes when royals mingle with politicians, artists, icons of the fashion world, sports and movie stars.
A melting pot of cultures and nationalities and taking up an area just over 2km squared, Monaco is nestled between the French and Italian Rivieras. It offers up an array of luxury hotels, international sporting events, the F1 Monaco Grand Prix, multi-million euro yachts and of course the chance to visit the infamous Monte-Carlo casino. This legendary building is not only the most famous casino in the world, but also an architectural gem and wonderful example of the Belle Epoque style.
With a population of around 36,300, Monaco is the most densely populated country in the world. And although not quite a city, the Quartier of Monte-Carlo is a bustling hive of activity, shopping, fast cars and leisurely lunches! The three main areas within Monaco are La Condamine, Monte-Carlo and Monaco Ville.
La Condamine lies to the south-west of the principality, and includes Port Hercules and Monaco's business district. Restaurants and bars line the port, looking out on superyachts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The port is seriously good for people-watching, particularly during the Monaco Grand Prix when F1 cars scream around the infamous bend at Rascasse. The Princess Caroline district is a smart pedestrianised area set back from the port with lots of good shops and plenty of places to eat and drink. It is distinctly upmarket, but has a relaxed friendly vibe and is a nice place to browse for a couple of hours. La Condamine is home to a traditional covered market that has been selling local produce since 1880; if ever there was a time to try some hot socca or a slice of fresh pissaladiere, this is it. During the summer months, the promenade above the port is transformed into a long noisy strip of fairground rides, bouncy castles, go-karts, and ice cream stalls-there’s also an open-air swimming pool with twisty water slides- what more could you want?
Monte Carlo: just the name conjures up images of glittering casinos, supercars and belle epoque hotels. And the truth is exactly that: this tax-free haven under the Mediterranean sun attracts celebrities and oligarchs in droves! The greatest drawcard is the famous Place de Casino with its glittering Casino de Monte Carlo, Hotel de Paris and grand gardens with fountains. In the district's east quarter you'll find the Grimaldi Forum Convention Centre and Monaco's only public beach, Larvotto. The place to be seen is the Café de Paris, right next door to the famous Monte Carlo casino. It is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and after dark it fills up with people celebrating casino wins with champagne cocktails and partying on the open air dancefloor. Other glamorous nightspots include Jimmyz and Buddha Bar, both nearby.
Monaco Ville refers to the old town of Monaco, or 'The Rock' which sits perched on a peninsula high above the Mediterranean. Many people refer to Monaco-Ville as an outdoor museum, and as you wander through the narrow medieval streets and vaulted passageways and watch the changing of the guard in front of the Prince's palace high above the sea, you'll probably feel the same way. Monaco Ville is often mistakenly believed to be the 'capital' of Monaco, though in fact it is a city-state. Some of the old town has been restored or rebuilt in grand style to look much older- such as the 'medieval' clock tower, which was actually built in the 19th century. Yet the effect is all very impressive- and the views up here are spectacular- you can actually see three countries at once!
Where is Monaco?
The train station at Monaco lies on the very scenic Nice-Ventimiglia trainline- you can then connect to local bus line 1 or 2 to get to Monaco Ville. These local buses connect all of Monaco, or you can get a hop on hop off day pass on a tourist bus for €10. If driving, there is a parking lot 'Chemin des Pêcheurs' in Monaco Ville. To get to Monaco you can also take a bus from Nice-the 110 express runs from Nice airport (€20) and the 100 runs from Nice town (€1.50). You could, of course, always fly or sail into Monaco, in which case there is Port Hercules or the Monaco heliport at your disposal. (You may scoff, but the helicopter isn't outrageously expensive at 165 euro when you consider that a taxi will generally set you back up to €90. And let's face it, Monaco's the kind of place where one should arrive in style.)
Also see: How to Get to Monaco
History & Culture in Monaco
Monaco has a history dating back to the 6th century BC when the Greek god Hercules is said to have passed through the area. As a result, a temple was constructed in his honour and named the temple of Hercules Monoikos. Thus it is now known as Monaco. Or at least that is one story!
First ruled by a member of the House of Grimaldi in 1297; that has continued, with brief interruptions, to this day as it is now ruled and governed under a form of constitutional monarchy with Prince Albert II as head of state. Prince Albert was born Albert Alexandre Louis Pierre Grimaldi, to parents Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace of Monaco in March 1958.
Gambling in Monaco dates back to the 1850's when the House of Grimaldi were in desperate need to generate cash. The first casino began operation in 1856. With good train connections from France, a growing tourist trade and the casino, Monaco finally recovered from its economic slump and began making vast sums of money. In only 12 years the casino was generating so much cash that the principality decided to end tax collection from residents. This in turn attracted more affluent people from all over Europe, to come and settle in the area.
With the recent film release about the life of Grace Kelly, who became Princess Grace of Monaco, there has been an increase in interest around the Royal family and the addition of the Royal twins in December 2014 has further added to this.
Also see: History of Monaco
Events in Monaco
Well known for some of the world's biggest and best events, such as the Monte-Carlo Rally and the Monaco Grand Prix, the Monte-Carlo Masters (tennis) and the Monaco Yacht Show, this small principality has a very large and exclusive events calendar.
Fashion and art are also popular and you will find events taking place throughout the year that attract some of the biggest names in both fields. The music scene too brings in the big hitters!
Sights & Attractions in Monaco
There are no shortage of museums to be enjoyed in Monaco, for both adults and children. A real treat is the collection of vintage cars owned by the royals of Monaco, even if you're a 'petrol head' this one is sure to impress.
Despite the relatively small land mass of this principality, you will also find a surprising amount of green space and beautiful park land to wonder round. The perfect escape away from the hustle and bustle of the town and harbour.
Luxury Hotels in Monaco
5 star luxury is readily available in Monaco but for the real star treatment head to the Hotel de Paris or the Chateau Eza. Amongst the long list of luxury hotels you will find several Michelin star restaurants and chefs in these establishments and the service is second to none.
Things to Do in Monaco
So cars, shopping, gambling, yachts and general luxury. If you have the money to spend then you will find some the most exclusive jewels, clothes, yachts and works of art...and if you don't have the cash to flash then you will certainly enjoy people watching and soaking up the surroundings in this unique and fascinating place!
Beaches in Monaco
Monte Carlo is the home of the Monaco beaches - you'll find the only public beach, Larvotto Beach nearby, which is reachable by bus numbers 4 and 6. It's gravel and man-made, but it is clean and has lots of restaurants backing the beach for a pleasant lunch. If you have money to burn and want a special day out, head to Monte Carlo Beach, which is a private sandy beach that is part of the Monte Carlo Beach Hotel. It has an Olympic sized swimming pool too. Further down the coast is the lovely beach at Cap d'Ail, or head around to spectacular Villefranche near Nice.
The Ministry of Health in France provides up-to-date information regarding the cleanliness of beaches. The interactive map (which is available in English) allows you to zoom in on the beaches of interest and to review recent test results. The beaches and rivers are ranked from excellent (blue) to prohibited (pink), meaning that entering the water is strictly prohibited. The monthly testing and monitoring makes it possible to assess the effects of wastewater sanitation and dirty rainwater runoff into swimming sites.
Also see: Beaches in Monaco
Restaurants in Monaco
Not lacking in top quality restaurants and well known chefs, your only problem in Monaco will be deciding where to go...
Restaurants in Monaco can get painfully pricey- although suprisingly La Condamine offers some of the most reasonably-priced options in town. Monaco Brasserie does a good club sandwich and burger, and has a restaurant next doo with a more extensive menu. For an international menu including Tex-Mex, and chicken wings, then sports bar Stars and Bars is for you-there's also a sushi restaurant upstairs. Read our full Monaco restaurant guide here.
Monte Carlo is the spiritual home of the super-chefs. Your wallet will probably not thank you for eating in this fancy district, but your taste buds (and memories) certainly will. This place is simply littered with Michelin stars.
Many restaurants up on 'The Rock' could be accused of being tourist-traps, but there are a few exceptions serving up tasty traditional Monagasque and Provencal fare. Family run restaurant ‘Cavagnetu’ (meaning picnic basket) is a very good choice indeed- try the barbajuan, socca or pissaladerie here. It has a lovely terrace and a cosy, vaulted interior- full of locals and tourists alike.
Nightlife in Monaco
Nightlife in Monaco is incredibly varied, from the superyacht parties in the harbour to the beach club DJs and nightclubs where the rich and famous go to mix and be spotted. Going out in Monaco is certainly not for the faint hearted though - prepare to spend some serious cash, and that's just on your outfit, hair and make-up before you leave the house!
Gambling is another favourite past time in Monaco and the Monte-Carlo Casino is possibly the best known gambling spot, second only perhaps to the bright lights of Las Vegas...Today there are several more high class casinos in operation and they are worth a visit for the stunning architecture and décor alone! The Casino de Monte-Carlo is still housed in its original building and has now been joined by the equally stunning Casino Cafe de Paris, with a more modern looking building and interior.