Monaco Travel Guide
If your idea of fun is rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous and gawping at ostentatious displays of uber-wealth and enormous yachts, then Monaco is the place for you. The second smallest independent state in the world, Monaco’s relaxed tax laws and superb Mediterranean climate have long made it one of the most desirable places for those with more money than sense.
Why You Should Go
What’s Cool: Hanging loose at the fabulously swish Monaco Grand Prix, marvelling at just how much a yacht that size could cost, inhaling the wonderful aromas at the Princess Grace Rose Garden, sampling the delicious cuisine, looking at the wonderful fish in the aquarium at the dramatic Oceanographic Museum (once directed by Jacques Cousteau) and high-rolling at the casino.
What’s Not: Taking out a second mortgage to get a cup of coffee, realising just how wealthy you are not, leaving the casino with half your budget in a croupier’s pocket, getting scared of your own shadow at the eerie waxwork museum and paying US$40 for a glass of champagne.
When to Go
Monaco’s climate is, as you’d expect, highly conducive to bronzing and generally looking fabulous. Mild and sunny throughout the year, it gets really hot in summer (June to August) and pleasantly cool in winter (December to February). It’s sunny most of the time and it rains a bit in winter, but not enough to warrant disgracing yourself in the style stakes by donning a cagoule.
Getting There & Away
Monaco doesn’t have an airport so the only way to enter by air is on a helicopter shuttle from nearby Nice Airport. This is definitely a cracking way to start your visit if you can afford it. The airport in Nice is one of France’s busiest and regular flights arrive from all over Europe and North America. If you’re rolling in cash, buy a yacht and sail into the harbour looking cool at the wheel. Otherwise, the best way to enter the country is by road, train or car from France. Once inside the principality, the best way to get around is on foot or by car, scooter or local bus.
Health & Safety
The fact that the inhabitants of Monaco are filthy rich means that there aren’t too many pick-pockets around and the place is crawling with police. However, like in any big city, you should be careful with your stuff and make sure you keep an eye on everything. On the plus side, if someone’s going to get robbed for their money, it probably isn’t you. On the whole, Monaco is a pretty stress-free place for tourists.
Food & Hospitality
The food in Monaco is magnificent even if it’s a little on the pricey side, as you might expect. In the winter, the prices drop significantly so if gastronomy is your bag, this is the time to go. Finely crafted and usually very French, the food and service in almost every restaurant is a real treat. Highlights include the wonderful thick fish soup concoction that is Bouillabaisse and any seafood dish. Champagne has the status of a national beverage in Monaco, but don’t expect that to mean its price is subsided to sedate the masses. Oh, no. A glass can cost as much as US$40 in a fashionable restaurant.
A week in Monaco is more than enough to see the main attractions and cripple you financially for life.
A day or two ambling around the harbour marvelling at the fact that most of the yachts are bigger than your house.
A day at the amazing cliff-top aquarium at the Oceanographic Museum.
A day driving the route of the Grand Prix (at a slightly more sedate speed) or better still, go in May and watch the real thing.
A few days tanning yourself by the coast or your hotel pool.
Look down disdainfully at the opulence below in a panoramic helicopter flight over the principality and surrounding areas.
Relax, re-invigorate and re-energise your aching limbs and mind at one of the many health spas and beauty centers.
Monte Carlo: home of the casino and the Grand Prix, this millionaire playboy’s paradise has to be seen to be believed.
Monaco Ville: perched on top of a rocky outcrop overlooking the Mediterranean, the views are stunning.
Oceanographic Museum: gaze at the fish in the amazing aquarium and find out everything you ever wanted to know about aquatic life.
Exotic Gardens: take a walking tour around a bewildering and beautiful array of some of the world’s most rare and exotic plants.
Japanese Garden: on the seafront, this lovely garden is an oasis of peace. Unbelievably, entrance is free.
Wealth-spotting: stroll along the harbour and wonder just exactly who owns that big white monster bobbing in the water.
Eating: Monaco’s restaurants are rightly renowned for their quality and level of deliciousness.
Flora and fauna: enjoy a peaceful walk in the Exotic Gardens or the Japanese Garden.
Racing: bite the bullet and buy a ticket to the world famous Monaco Grand Prix, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Fish-gazing: marvel at the ocean wonders at the Oceanographic Museum.
Festivals & Events
Monaco is really one long festival for those fortunate enough to reside here, but for the rest of us, there are a number of great times to visit.
February: watch the greatest circuses in the world compete for the amusingly named ‘Gold Clown’ at the Monte Carlo International Circus Festival.
February: founded in 1960, the Monte Carlo Television Festival is a major fixture on the international TV industry calendar.
May: the extravagant circus that is the Monaco Grand Prix, possibly the most famous race in the world, hits town.
July: ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ with the best of them at the International Firework Festival.
November: grab a pack of Gitanes and a beret and hang out at the Monte Carlo Jazz Festival, now in its second year.