Everytime I picture Monaco; I imagine well-dressed gamblers playing a game of poker at Monte Carlo, uber luxurious yachts with black-tie parties and of course, F1 Formula races with celebrities and stars. Unfortunately, my visit to Monaco would have nothing of those sorts– I was traveling on a budget. No fancy dresses, high-end restaurants or even trying a round at the table in the Monte Carlo casino. Despite that, I enjoyed my one day visit to the small country. Monaco is picturesque, beautiful, and oh so alluring.
The Principality of Monaco is considered a city-state. It is located on the French Riviera, surrounded by France and facing the Mediterranean Sea. It is the second smallest country in the world, and is governed by a monarchy– the House of Grimaldi. The main source of income in Monaco is tourism– for its beautiful weather and world-famous casino; but the most awesome thing is that people here don’t pay taxes!
I started the day early to have as much time as I could to explore Monaco. I took the train from Nice Ville Station to the Monaco-Monte Carlo Station— trains run a few times every hour; the trip took less than half an hour and cost €3.60=US$4 per way. There were not many people on my ride to Monaco, but coming back was extremely crowded. People were piling into the train from the platform and there was no place to sit. Thankfully it’s a short trip back to Nice.
Also, bear in mind that the trains stop service later on in the night, so do check the time of the last train so you don’t get stranded in Monaco!
I was slighty disoriented when coming out of the train station– I’m not exactly good with directions and had no idea where I was supposed to head to! Thank God for the bus stop just in front of the train station, with buses that run through most of the major routes in the city and stop at the popular attractions. Using the bus was a great way to save on walking time; and only cost €5=US$5.50 for a whole day, or €1.50= US$1.50 per ride. The network map helped me get my bearings straight.
The Palace Princier
I alighted the bus at Monaco-Ville, the old village in Monaco, where the Prince’s Palace is located. The entire village is located on top of a huge 141m tall monolith, and is also known as Le Rocher, or the Rock. It was quite a climb to get to the top, but the gorgeous sweeping views of Port Hercule and the rest of Monaco made the climb so much more interesting. My way up was filled with dozens of stops as I couldn’t get enough of it!
I made it in time to watch the changing of the guard ceremony at 11.55am, but there were so many people crowding around the front that I could only get a few glimpses here and there. After the ceremony though, the crowd slowly subsided and I eventually made it into the palace to have a look around. The royal family still lives here, so only some rooms and a portion of the palace is opened to the public. The place is undoubtedly grand; decorated with colors of gold, and made with marble and wood and all things pretty. The audio-guide I was given gave me a pretty good insight into the palace and the lives of the royals. It comes with the ‘paired’ ticket at €19=US$20, and includes entrance to the Oceanographic Museum.
The village on the rock is filled with narrow streets and pathways lined with old buildings of restaurants, shops and cafes. It was packed with people during my visit; and I had to squeeze my way through the lanes– but there were instances where I chanced upon a quiet corner and found a pretty sidewalk cafe and a few souvenir shops with pretty trinkets. As I was on a budget, I just browsed around and grabbed a sandwich for lunch.
There is a walkway that runs along the edge of the rock around Monaco-Ville, and I followed it from the Palace to the Cathedral. I was rewarded with breathtaking views overlooking Fontvielle and its port on one side; and pretty little village houses on the other.
The Monaco Cathedral houses the remains of the past Monaco princes, as well as the beautiful Princess Grace. I stopped by the cathedral for a picture of two, but didn’t head inside. The town hall is located right next to the cathedral.
The Oceanographic Museum is located on the Rock in Monaco-Ville, overlooking the sea. I was contemplating on whether to visit it, but curiosity got the better of me as the museum is internationally well-known. Plus, there’s also the combined ticket option with the Prince’s Palace.
The aquarium is gorgeous– it is home to about 4000 species of fish and sea animals; and the museum of marine sciences on the top floor displays sea related objects like model ships, stuffed sea creatures and skeletons. I spent almost 2 hours exploring the museum.
A couple of minutes walk downhill from Monaco-Ville is Port Hercule, also known as Ports de Monaco. It’s a great place to ogle at luxury yachts and admire the view of the Rock as well as Monte Carlo from down below. I had a jolly time window-shopping for the yacht I will one day buy, just like I’ve been doing while visiting all the other ports in the French Riviera area.
The F1 Grand Prix race that happens in Monaco in May passes through the main port area as part of the circuit. There’s a bronze statue of Juan Manuel Fangio (5-time F1 race champion) and his Mercedes race car near the tunnel at the corner of the port. I jumped into the car for a photo opp!
Monte Carlo and the Casino
From the port, I took a bus ride to Monte Carlo. If there is one place not to miss in Monaco, it’s the world-famous casino situated here; the Casino de Monte-Carlo. The casino square is filled with luxury cars; from porches to rolls-royces and lamborghinis, and people were crowding around them snapping away. I was more interested in heading into the casino to have a look see.
There is a charge to enter the casino (and you also have to show your passport), even if you don’t intend to gamble. It costs €10=US$11, and after entering, I realized that it was not a must-visit, especially if you’re on a budget. All I did was walk around the casino area, took a peek at some of the tables and the jackpot machines. The place is grand with intricate designs and lovely art-pieces, but it is much grander on the outside.
Hotel de Paris, Cafe de Paris and the Opera de Monte-Carlo
These three historical buildings are located next to the casino. Just like the casino; the hotel, cafe and opera house were opened for business from the late 19th century. They are all beautifully designed and exude an air of luxury and class. All I could do was wonder around the Monte Carlo area and admire the facade of these buildings.
Window Shopping in Monaco
You’ll need deep, full pockets to shop in Monaco. Most of the boutique shops carry luxury brands and exclusive items, especially around the Avenue Monte Carlo area. Since I didn’t plan or budget to buy anything, I had a good time just browsing around the shops until closing time at about 7pm.
So that was how I spend my day in Monaco. You don’t need a big budget to enjoy and admire this glamorous city. If you have a couple more days, you can either laze on the Larvotto Beach or explore the many gardens and museums around the city. There’s also the interesting Observation Cave with stalagmites and stalactites at the Boulevard du Jardin Exotique (Exotic Gardens) on the cliffside of Monaco. Save some energy to conquer the stairs.