A Guide to Monaco: What to Do and Where to Stay

by Amanda Canning in Destination Guides

Monaco fills its 2.1 square km with a rich array of attractions, offering all the museums, galleries and gardens you could possibly need to sustain a memorable weekend. Late May is generally when the F1 comes to town in all its high-speed glory – be sure to arrange accommodation and your event tickets well in advance if you're coming to watch the action. From the world-famous Casino de Monte-Carlo to the superyacht-filled harbour and sumptuous Prince's Palace, here's how to make the most of your time in Monaco.

The best neighbourhoods to visit in Monaco

The seafront

A stroll along the waterfront of Monaco brings you to many delightful corners

A stroll along the waterfront of Monaco brings you to many delightful corners (Photo: Getty Images)

When visiting Monaco, you quickly get a feel for how the principality is defined by the Mediterranean and the mountains that rear up behind it – you’re never far from a stupendous view of either. 

A stroll past the sandy crescent of Larvotto Beach brings you to Belle Epoque Villa Sauber, one of the best places to visit in Monaco. The elegant property was once owned by the family who built Monaco’s famous casino, and now belongs to the New National Museum of Monaco. It hosts temporary exhibitions of contemporary visual art, from Surrealist paintings to late-twentieth-century photography.

A little further on from the villa is the Japanese Garden. Built to Zen principles in the 1990s, the garden mixes Japanese design with Mediterranean planting and is a wonderful little patch of calm in the city. Spend some time appreciating its stone lanterns, waterfall, pond and tea house before moving on.

In the summer – on a handful of evenings in each of July and August – Monaco holds its celebrated fireworks festival, called 'Art en Ciel' (Art in the Sky). It's a competition, with different pyrotechnic teams vying for the most impressive display, and has been running since 1966. Book a seafront restaurant and enjoy the spectacle over dinner.

A fine base from which to launch your Monaco explorations is the centrally located Le Méridien Beach Plaza, one of the best places to stay in the principality. In the morning, throw open the windows of your guest room to views of the dazzling sea below, before stepping out into the Mediterranean sunshine for the day. In the evening, return for sunset cocktails on the private beach and a seafood dinner at the terrace restaurant.

Place du Casino and Monaco's shopping hubs

The Casino de Monte Carlo has played a starring role in films including Golden Eye and Ocean’s Twelve

The Casino de Monte Carlo has played a starring role in films including Golden Eye and Ocean’s Twelve (Photo: Getty Images)

Place du Casino shows a very different side to Monaco. A magnet for big-spenders – and the simply curious – the square is surrounded by exclusive boutiques, restaurants and bars. It’s also home to the Casino de Monte Carlo, which has played a starring role in films including Golden Eye and Ocean’s Twelve. Call in to the nineteenth-century building to play poker, roulette or black jack, or leave the gambling chips alone and just take a tour. The marble-floored atrium, an architectural wonder of onyx columns, gilding and frescoes, looks more like the entrance to a palace, and leads into the equally impressive gaming salons. 

Next, take a look around the Metropole Shopping Center. The crystal chandeliers and floors lined with Carrera marble make perfectly clear that this will be no ordinary shopping experience.

Port Hercule

Port Hercule is where the world’s high-rollers moor their superyachts when they sail into town

Port Hercule is where the world’s high-rollers moor their superyachts when they sail into town (Photo: Getty Images)

A stroll south along the coast brings you to Port Hercule. The port is where the world’s high-rollers moor their superyachts when they sail into town, and might be familiar as one of the most iconic sights along the route of the Monaco Grand Prix

There are F1 cars on show among many others in the Cars Collection of H.S.H. the Prince of Monaco. The space is given over to the private collection of former monarch and car enthusiast, Prince Rainier III, and includes gleaming old Cadillacs and Rolls Royces as well as Lamborghini supercars. If you’d like to get behind the wheel of a supercar yourself, several companies rent Ferraris and Lamborghinis for the ultimate driving experience around the F1 circuit.

The Port Hercule neighbourhood has loads of great places to eat. Fill up on French classics such as escargots and grillade de la mer at the Quai des Artistes brasserie, in full view of the harbour. Just a few minutes round the harbour, microbrewery Brasserie de Monaco is an excellent option if you fancy sampling some local specialities, from craft beers to nibbles like barbagiuan, a triangular pastry traditionally stuffed with ricotta and Swiss chard. It's considered the national dish of Monaco. The more substantial Provençal fish stew bouillabaisse is also one of the best dishes to try here.

Place d’Armes and the Jardin Exotique

The terraces of Monaco's Jardin Exotique offer terrific views back over the sea

The terraces of Monaco's Jardin Exotique offer terrific views back over the sea (Photo: Getty Images)

The next step takes you away from the sea, to Place d’Armes. The pretty, red-tiled square is a centre of community life for locals, particularly for its regional produce market. Open since 1880, it turns into a gourmet food hall in the evenings. Continuing up and inland, you’ll pass La Distillerie de Monaco. The principality’s only distillery makes artisanal vodka, gin and orange liqueur – the perfect souvenir of your stay.

On from here and perched on a cliffside are the terraces of the Jardin Exotique, which has over 1000 varieties of cacti and succulents, and terrific views back over the sea. Nearby, in another lovely garden, sits the Villa Paloma, the sister museum to the Villa Sauber. The handsome white building displays changing exhibitions of contemporary art over three floors.

Le Rocher

Accessed via elevator or stairs, the Le Rocher headland is the oldest and most atmospheric part of Monaco

Accessed via elevator or stairs, the Le Rocher headland is the oldest and most atmospheric part of Monaco (Photo: Getty Images)

There are stellar views on offer in the area of Monaco known as Le Rocher (The Rock). Accessed via elevator or stairs, the headland is the oldest and most atmospheric part of the principality. It’s easy to while away an hour or two getting happily lost in Le Rocher's narrow, pedestrianised streets, emerging at viewpoints to gaze down on the Port Hercule on one side and the Port de Fontvieille on the other. 

Le Rocher is home to some of the highlights of any trip to Monaco. First, the Prince’s Palace, which is the residence of the ruling Grimaldi family. Still a private home for the current sovereign, Albert II, it’s nevertheless possible to tour its grand state apartments between April and October. No matter when you visit, you’ll be able to see the ceremonial changing of the guard, which takes place outside the palace daily at 11.55. A fifteen-minute stroll south from the Prince's Palace brings you to Riviera Marriott Hotel La Porte de Monaco, just over the border into France. With balconies overlooking Cap d'Ail Marina and its proximity to a lovely sandy beach, this stylish hotel is a great base for your Monaco experience.

A couple of minutes’ walk from the palace is the Romanesque-Byzantine-style Saint Nicholas Cathedral. Many of the Grimaldi family are buried in the beautiful, white-stone building, including the former actress Grace Kelly, whose marriage to Prince Rainier III and untimely death captured the imagination of the world.

The Musée Océanographique de Monaco is a little further on. Facing out over the Mediterranean and seeming to grow up out of the rock, the marine museum houses a stunning aquarium and an open-air turtle centre, as well as displays on polar explorers and ecosystems. Before you head back for dinner under the umbrella pines at Le Méridien Beach Plaza, head up to the museum’s rooftop and enjoy some final views over Monaco.

Go deeper

While Monaco is distinct from France, there are no border formalities to navigate. Note, however, that certain laws are different. It is illegal, for instance, to wander about in swimming suits, bare-chested or with bare feet away from beaches and pools when in Monaco. When moving around Monaco, keep an eye out for the very welcome lifts that operate between streets at different elevations.

Published: January 25, 2023

Article Tags:  Monaco , Monte Carlo

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