Did you know that Monaco is the second smallest country in the world? Yes, that’s right – it’s not actually part of France but is its own principality since it has its own monarchy. That came as a surprise to me when I visited but one thing which I had known already was that Monaco has money!! (I feel like I could make a pun about it being called ‘Money-co’ or something but I am going to refrain myself) In 2014, 30% of the population was made up of millionaires and this is really clear when you visit – designer shopping bags, luxury cars, un-countable numbers of yachts. Monaco is definitely the place where the super rich live but I still found plenty of things to do which required very little money at all.
Monaco is separated into 10 different wards and arguably the most well known is ‘Monte Carlo’ (we can thank Mr Bond for that) I found a lot of stuff to do there which I will explain first and then go on to what’s around the other side of Monaco. It’s hard to explain but I always see Monaco as having two main sections – Monte Carlo to the East and the old town ‘Le Rocher’ to the West, separated by Port Hercules in the centre. The port is located in between two hills so I would suggest strategically planning your day around this (once again, this was another time I massively regretted wearing my heels!!) Like most popular cities, there is a ‘hop on hop off’ bus and this would be one of the places I would definitely consider using this. It takes you to all the popular places in Monaco for a price of €23 per day – more information can be found on https://www.monacolegrandtour.com’ Similarly, ‘Le Petit Train de Monaco’ is a small tourist train which also goes to roughly the same places for a fraction of the price – only €10 per day. You can buy tickets at the ticket office opposite the ‘Musée Océanographique’ but note that it closes for the low season (reopening 10th February 2019)
‘Casino Square’ is located in Monte Carlo and I bet you can’t guess what you can find there?! Yes, top marks if you said ‘Monte Carlo Casino’. For all James Bond fans out there, a trip here is a must (and even non James bond lovers like me can be wowed by the grandeur and beauty of the building) For those who didn’t get the reference, the casino has been used in two James Bond films – ‘Never Say Never Again’ and ‘GoldenEye’. If you have some cash to splash, then take a trip inside and test your luck but if not, it is still well worth a visit just to stop and stare from outside.
In the square, you can also find an opera house named ‘Opera de Monte Carlo’ and a grand display in the centre featuring trees and a majestic water fountain – it’s all very glitz and glamour! Café de Paris can also be found in the square; possibly the most iconic café in Monaco, it is always very crowded but beware that the prices are not easy on the bank balance!
Not far from Casino Square, you can find ‘Le Metropole Shopping Centre’ which is an indoor shopping centre full of luxury shops and boutiques. I visited at Christmas time and the decorations inside were truly a work of art and enough to give anyone major tree envy. It was one of those places which you walk into, do a quick tour and leave after realising you can’t afford anything on sale – although I did find a Sephora which was exciting and there are some other slightly more affordable shops to be fair.
The place where the super rich shop is ‘Avenue de Monte Carlo’ where you can find designer shops including Hermes, Gucci and Valentino to name a few. Unless you’re looking to buy luxury goods, I wouldn’t say that Monaco is the best place to go shopping if you’re living on a standard wage like me – I didn’t really find an area with a great deal of affordable shops but it was certainly interesting to see how the other half shop.
Okay, so this may seem like a weird addition to the list and you may be wondering why I come all the way to Monaco to come to a Starbucks. I thought the same when I read about it on a tourist website but trust me, it’s worth a visit. Only in Monaco would you find a Starbucks with those views!! Despite this, prices seem relative to what they would be elsewhere (Starbucks is overpriced everywhere though isn’t it!)
Another district in Monaco, located not far from Monte Carlo, is ‘Larvotto’ and it is here that you can find one of Monaco’s only free public beaches – ‘Larvotto Beach’. It is a large stretch of beach made up of small fine pebbles (it sounds less glamorous than pure white sand but I much prefer this over being covered in a million tiny particles of sand!)
It’s fair to consider Monaco as being a concrete jungle with its numerous skyscrapers, blocks of flats and ongoing construction work. But amongst this, you can find many gardens and parks such as ‘Jardin Japonais’ located close to Monte Carlo. This open space includes features you would typically find in a Japanese garden like water fountains, temples and ponds. You may be wondering why you would come all the way to France (well Monaco should I say) and go to see a Japanese garden. Well, look at it this way; you’re able to experience a taste of Japanese culture without having the pay the enormous fees to go to Japan – win win!
Just outside of the Jardin Japonais, you’ll find a stretch of pavement lined with the footsteps of some of the biggest football stars in the world – ‘The Champions Promenade’. Consider it as the Hollywood of Football with names including the likes of Pelé, George Best and Ryan Giggs. If you’re into your football, then make sure to visit.
That sums up most of what I found in the Monte Carlo/ Eastern side of Monaco. Head west down the hill towards Port Hercules and there is plenty more left to see!
To really get a true display of the wealth in Monaco, you don’t need to look any further than Port Hercules (well there isn’t really a way to look past those MASSIVE YACHTS!)
PALAIS DU PRINCE
As I’ve previously mentioned, Monaco is a principality which means that it is run by its own monarchy – Prince Albert II is the head of state. His place of residence ‘Le Palais du Prince’ is located on ‘Le Rocher’ which simply means ‘the rock’ (if you look at photos, the old town and palace are literally placed on top of a large rock) It’s quite a steep climb up some steps but they are shallow which makes them easier and the view over the Port is amazing. The ‘Palais du Prince’ is as grand and spectacular as you would expect a palace to be. Come at 11.55am and you will be able to witness the changing of the guards and, from the ‘Place du Palais’, you can see an incredible view over Monaco’s second and slightly smaller port, ‘Port Fontvieille’. You are able to visit inside the palace when the Prince is not home for a fee of €8 but this is discounted when bought alongside tickets for ‘Musée Océanographique’.
Opposite the Palace is where you can find ‘Monaco Old Town’ with its small alleys, souvenir shops and cafés. It is very busy so you may not feel the old town charm as you would in other smaller towns but it is still very picturesque and scenic.
At the end of the small streets in the old town, you will come across ‘Monaco Cathedral’. If there isn’t a religious service on, then members of the public are free to enter and I would deffo recommend doing that. The 19th century architecture is incredible and you can see the tombs of Monaco’s previous royalty including Princess Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III.
Another popular outdoor park in Monaco is ‘Jardins Saint-Martin’ which can be found just behind the cathedral. It is full of meditteranean plants, small paths and plenty of benches to sit down and admire the view.
Wander through the ‘Jardins Saint-Martin’ and you can find ‘Fort Antoine’ tucked away. Once used as a functioning fort, it is now an outdoor theatre which holds performances during the summer months – it’s open all year round though and a nice little addition to your day if you have a bit of spare time.
The ‘Musée Océanographique’ is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Monaco and it is not difficult to see why. Located at the end of the ‘Jardins Saint-Martin’, this museum contains an aquarium as well as a museum containing information on marine biology and the history of oceanography – there is also a topical section on plastic pollution which shows shocking pictures and animations of the human damage being done to our oceans. I hadn’t been to an aquarium in yearssss so I was very pleased to finally be able to get my finding nemo on – yes he’s there! Tickets are priced between €11-€16 depending on the season with discounted rates for students, teenagers, children, disabled people and tickets bought alongside tickets for visiting inside the ‘Palais du Prince’.
PORT DE FONTVIEILLE
If you head down the other side of the hill from ‘Le Rocher’, you’ll come across the ‘Port de Fontvieille’ – a slightly smaller port than Port Hercules but none the less impressive.
HOW TO GET THERE
If you don’t own a private helicopter or yacht to get to Monaco in, then fear not. There are plenty of other ways to visit which are a bit softer on the bank balance. From Nice, take the #100 bus from the port. It is a slight inconvenience that it is a bit of a walk from the centre of Nice but the fact that the buses come every 15 minutes and cost only €1.50 deffo make this worthwhile. I got off the bus at ‘Monte Carlo’ and explored everything there before trekking down to the port and up to ‘Le Rocher’ (it saved me the walk back up so be smart when choosing your stop) Alternatively, you can get the train; a slightly more expensive but much more efficient choice (the train station itself is an impressive start to your visit!)
Despite it’s affluent and glamorous reputation, there are so many things to see in Monaco without even spending a penny at all (even if a lot of it was admiring the rich!) If you’re looking to get an insight into how the super wealthy live, Monaco is the place to go!