I spent the whole of June working on a project in the South of France for my degree. I was working everyday so didn’t have much time to explore the area. On the last 2 days we decided to spend them sightseeing. On the first day we explored St Tropez, which I will make a separate post about when I have time. On the second we took a day trip to Monaco as it was only a 2hr drive away.
Monaco was not what I expected it to be like. The things I went there to see such as the casino and fancy shops were disappointing. However, my experience of other parts of the city, ones that I didn’t go in knowing anything about or expecting to see, were more than enough to make up for my initial disappointment.
Central Monaco, which houses all the essential sights to see, is so small that everything is literally a 10 minute walk away from each other, I’m not even joking. Therefore it is more than achievable to see all of Monaco in just one day, in this case we did it in 8 hours! My aim with this post is to provide an itinerary to accomplish this. It includes all the essential sights and some hidden gems, but by no means rushes the experience or misses anything out. If you like to take things easy you could split in to 2 days, but it really isn’t necessary, I’ve done it!!
Firstly, I would recommend visiting Monaco during peak season, this means July and August, this is when it is at its busiest and most exciting. The rest of the year it is just locals and is completely dead, to the extent that restaurants and shops don’t even open. Having said that, I would advise you to be prepared for 32 degree heat and to take sun cream and keep drinking water, there isn’t much shade walking around so you would have to go in a shop or cafe to cool down.
We arrived in Monaco around at around 10am, normally in such a hot place I would leave as early as possible to do the majority of walking in the morning when it is cool. However, when we got there the shops and cafes were only just opening! Begin your day in the Carré d’Or shopping plaza, which offers all the excitement and new trends that the luxury brands offer, such as Chanel, Prada, Dior etc. Obviously I could never afford to shop here but you’re in Monaco, so you have to experience the luxury at some point, even if it is pretend! 🙂 I was a bit disappointed with the complex itself, it is very modern, which I disnt expect and didn’t feel like it tied in with the grand old Monaco I had envisioned. Especially being located so close to the ornate and marbled old Monte Carlo Casino, it didn’t really feel right. Having said this it is nice to see all the cool window displays and we had a coffee in one of the stands while watching all the beautifully dressed ladies go by!
Just down the road is the famous Monte Carlo Casino. Obviously you have to see the casino if you are in Monaco! It is really beautiful, although much smaller than expected. The slightly disappointing bit is that it was so crowded by groups of tourists you couldn’t really enjoy its grandeur, I felt like this made it feel less exclusive and luxurious. Although I cannot deny that it was great to see!
If you continue to walk down the promenade, you go past all the fancy hotels, some cute boutiques and eventually you’ll hit the beach. The beach is super nice and is lined with restaurants and cafes. They also have a marked off area for swimming in the sea. It also helps that they have super hunky lifeguards on duty! This makes it perfect for having a drink while still being able to keep an eye on the kids. It is about a 15 minute walk from the casino so isn’t a detour at all if you want to see it or fancy a swim.
If this isn’t for you then head the other way towards the harbour. This will take you along ‘The Champions Promenade’ which is basically a Walk of Fame style street going along the seafront but features the golden footprints of famous football players from around the world.
Just past ‘The Champions Promenade’, en route to the harbour and other sights, is the tunnel made famous as part of the F1 track around Monaco. If this is your thing then this is the perfect place to take a souvenir photo and stop by the F1 souvenir shop about half way through the tunnel. This walk takes about 15-30mins depending on how many times you stop but leads you all the way to the harbour and the other treasures of Monaco.
As you emerge from the tunnel you are greeted by a beautiful view of the harbour filled with its luxury yachts, set to a backdrop of high-rise buildings and the Prince’s Palace of Monaco perched a top the hill. These yachts are so cool, if only I could have one for myself and my puppy! 🙂 The ones docked close to the harbour walkway are close enough to see inside them, they are literally like hotels on water, so cool!
Start to head towards the palace at the top of the hill, located on the other side of the harbour. As you walk along the harbour front you will pass some lovely cafes and boutiques. This is where we decided to treat ourselves to an ice cream as we walked. Now don’t be put off by the daunting hill, because, yes, you will have to walk up there to the palace. But trust me it is not as bad as it looks. It is literally a 5 minute walk up there and once you are up you have the most amazing views and the cutest little part of ‘old’ Monaco.
The views are unlike any city view I’ve ever seen, its amazing as you can see! The Prince’s Palace is also really pretty and was once home to Grace Kelly. There are tours around the palace that are €11.50 for adults and €5 for children over 6. This is for full access to the palace and the collection of antiques. However, if you are a family or this isn’t your thing then hold off as I have another suggestion coming up later!
Up on this hill is what is called the old town of Monaco. It is one of the cutest places I’ve ever been. It has cute cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops all huddled along narrow alleys packed with tourist and locals alike. I could have spent ages here because I am a sucker for some souvenirs! This is also where we decided to have lunch, at a restaurant called Bar Express. The restaurants here are always busy and have great outside seating areas. They serve a lot of fresh fish which is my dream, I had seabass with potatoes and veg. But don’t worry, I know a lot of people aren’t keen on fish but be assured they serve pizzas, burgers and pastas, which are equally as good! The food is more expensive than your average lunch on England, but isn’t extortionate by any means! My meal and drink was roughly €22, but I did have fish, so a pasta dish and drink was around €17. The food was excellent and service impeccable , waiters were friendly and spoke English, French and Italian.
If you can draw yourself away from the shops you can easily find your way to St Nicholas Cathedral, which is situated in a beautiful square with a view over the ocean. This area on the hill aka ‘old’ Monaco is definitely the highlight of my day in Monaco, it has such a different feel from the main street of Monaco with the luxurious shops and casino.
Just down the road from the cathedral is the Oceanography Museum of Monaco. This is my suggested alternative to the palace. It really is a great experience. It is not just a very good aquarium but also a museum dedicated to the great connection Monaco has with the ocean. It has hands on experiences for kids and is really not boring at all, trust me!
It is slightly on the expensive side. In high season it is €16 for adults, €12 for teenagers, €8 for children and €8 for students. It also has a great view over the ocean from the cafe on the top floor, as it is literally built on the cliff at the top of the hill. It is amazing, it actually looks as if the building is part of the cliff side! It takes about 2.5 hours to fully explore the museum, this can be longer if you plan to shop or have a drink while there. It is then about a 20 minute walk from here back down to the harbour and then another 10 minute walk back to the casino and car park.
Overall Monaco surprised me in ways I didn’t expect. I would go back in a heartbeat! I wouldn’t say it is a destination for a long holiday, but is worth a visit if you are on a road trip as it is perfectly situated between France and Italy. Or you can do what I did and drive from France or Italy for a day trip.
This is my guide to a day trip to Monaco! I hope you enjoyed my photos and that it has persuaded you to visit Monaco in the future! Feel free to comment and share your opinion.
Thanks for reading! Em x
*If you are thinking of visiting Monaco, then as an alternative to the tours or museums I have suggested I would say to look at the Museum of Prehistoric Anthropology as a possibility. It is a 5 minute taxi ride from the above areas. I am mentioning this because it is where I would go if I visited Monaco again. As a geologist, this is my passion and I couldn’t make a blog post without mentioning it. It contains collections of fossils from the area and documents the milestones of humans over the past 1 million years or so. It also has a cave observatory which could be great fun for kids!