While Monaco may be little, it never fails to impress. This country is a small city-state that sits in the French Riviera, where it is bordered by the country of France and the Mediterranean Sea.
With just under 40,000 residents, wealth is abundant, and Monaco is considered to be one of the most expensive places in the world. But to many, Monaco is most famous for the Monte Carlo Casino, hosting the Formula One Grand Prix, and its ties to the famous American actress, Grace Kelly.
Bienvenu – Welcome to Monaco
Beyond the glitz and shine of the “Billionaire’s Playground”, Monaco does have a hidden charm. The old town architecture and quiet side streets are vastly different from the hustle and bustle of the main port. While the twisted street throughout Monaco are typically less packed than those centered around the waterfront, they do come alive during the Formula One race as the driver’s wind and turn throughout the hillside. But even in the off season, Monaco is still an impressive destination with its displays of pure wealth.
Due to Monaco being smaller than Central Park in New York City, this city-state is its own capital. The capital of Monaco is Monaco. There is no one specific area within Monaco that is defined as a true capital. But Monaco is divided up into four quarters, which are then further divided into a total of 10 wards between them. Monte Carlo is the most famous quarter, but the oldest quarter is Monaco-Ville. La Condamine is another ward and the newest ward that Monaco made is named Fontvieille.
Culture and Language
The geography of Monaco has actually played a very important part of the city-state’s history. The Rock of Monaco is a large geological landmark, which was once used by early humans as a place of shelter. Throughout history, the Rock of Monaco has developed, and it was turned into a fortress in more modern times.
By the year 1297, the Rock of Monaco was seized by Francesco Grimaldi. This began the reign of the Grimaldi Royal Family, who have ruled over Monaco for hundreds of years. Monaco was briefly under French Occupation, but even after France relinquished its power over the city-state the Grimaldi family regained power. Even now, the House of Grimaldi rules over Monaco with the current head being Albert II.
Monaco is also a rather diverse and it is estimated that up to 75% of the residents are foreign born. However, most of Monaco’s diversity comes from France, Italy, Germany, Britain, Switzerland, and America. But the local culture is most strongly influenced by the nearby countries of France, Spain, and Italy.
The most notable influence from France is the language. French is the official language in Monaco. About 58% of the population uses French in their daily life. However, other languages spoken in Monaco include Monégasque, Italian, and English.
With such a large international community, it is estimated that up to 8.5% of residents in Monaco speak English. Most of the English speakers reside in their own community within Monaco, but with tourism being so important for the city, English is a popular common language.
Due to Monaco’s unique relationship with France, the country upholds the Schengen Agreement. This means that if you are required to have a tourist visa to enter France, you will need a tourist visa to enter Monaco. But most French tourist visas will allow you to also visit Monaco.
For US citizens, you do not need a visa to visit France and therefore, can enter Monaco visa free. However, you will need to meet the requirement of the Schengen Agreement and Area. This means that you need to have a valid US passport. The validity should extend at least 3 months beyond your intended date of departure from Monaco. But many airlines suggest that your passport validity extend a full 6 months beyond your intended date of departure from the Schengen Area.
You will also need a few blank pages for your stamp. But aside from simply having the passport and space, you do not need a visa to enter Monaco is you are staying for less than 90 days.
While Monaco has a very, very high status and association with wealth, the country can be visited on a budget. While it isn’t the most affordable destination in Europe, it also isn’t the most expensive and a budget for a trip to Monaco tends to sit right in the middle. Tourists can find ways to save money in Monaco or you can choose to spend lavishly if you wish.
Outlining a spending budget and travel plan can help you estimate the costs of a trip to Monaco. The most important parts of a budget include your airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation. But it is important that you book and plan ahead to save money. Due to Monaco’s small size, affordable places tend to fill up quickly.
One of the first challenges and a big portion of your budget will go towards the airline ticket to get you to Europe. Most people who visit Monaco will fly into Nice, France because of the large international airport. The Côte d’Azur Airport in Nice is only about 18 miles away from the border of Monaco. The average cost of a flight from the US to Nice is about $800 US dollars. But due to the popularity of the French Riviera, you may be able to find special deals that lower the cost of a flight by $300 or $400 US dollars.
Flight costs will also be higher if you travel during the peak tourist season. Summer is the high season in Monaco with most tourists visiting the city in June and August. This is the time when the city is at its busiest and advanced booking or reservations are a must, even for dinner. However, there are also big peaks in tourism in May and September, which is when the Monaco Grand Prix and the Monaco Yacht Show are held annually.
It is during these times that it is very important to book your accommodation arrangements well in advance of your arrival to Monaco. There are not many hostels in Monaco, but there are a few scattered throughout the city. Most hostels are rather expensive and will cost about $60 US dollars per night for a private room. Dorm rooms are cheaper, and you should be able to find a bed for about $22 US dollars per night.
Most travelers are more comfortable with non-shared accommodation and there are plenty of hotels in Monaco that offer services to tourists. Budget hotels will be the most affordable and have nightly rates that start at about $120 US dollars per night. Midrange hotels will be more expensive, and you should expect to pay about $250-$300 US dollars per night for a room.
But with plenty of luxurious offerings throughout Monaco, you can spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars per night for your accommodation. Luxury hotels will normally start their rates at about $350 US dollars per night and then raise the cost based on the type of room or accommodation style.
Airbnb is also an option in Monaco, but the rentals tend to be quite pricey. If you are traveling in a group, splitting the cost of an Airbnb can help you save some money on your trip. Most Airbnb nightly rates start at $60 US dollars, but don’t be surprised if you find listing that are well over $100 US dollars per night.
While staying in Monaco is only one part of a luxury experience, visitors are also eager to head out to the local restaurants. With influence from nearby countries like France and Italy, as well as being seafront, the cuisine in Monaco is quite diverse. Barbajuan is the national dish of Monaco and it comes from France and Italy. The dish is most well-known for being an appetizer of fried ricotta cheese and Swiss chard.
For the love of the sea, bouillabaisse is a fish stew, which has become very popular in Monaco. The fish are caught fresh from the sea and they are cooked into a rouille sauce and served alongside bread. Another favorite dish is gnocchi, which is a soft dumpling that originated in Italy. Italy’s famous Porchetta is another dish that has transferred well into Monaco’s cuisine and the meat is flavored with strong spices.
Monaco also has their own type of crepe, which they call socca. Socca has become very popular as a street food in Monaco and the small pancakes are often served hot and garnished with vegetables. Finally, for dessert, you may want to try galapian. This sweet dish is a small tart that features cantaloupe, cherry, and almond as the main flavors.
While you may be eager to dive into the local cuisine, you do need to be mindful of your budget. Restaurants are expensive in Monaco and if you want the best dishes, you should be ready to pay higher prices. Inexpensive meals will cost about $25 US dollars, but most people are more comfortable dining at a mid-range establishment. Mid-range restaurants may be as affordable as $50 US dollars for a meal, but you could spend up to $75 US dollars for a meal.
The best restaurants in Monaco will cater to the wealthy, which means that a meal could cost well over $100 US dollars. There are also world-class and Michelin star awarded restaurants throughout Monaco with one of the most famous being Le Louis XV Alain Ducasse. If you choose to go to these kinds of restaurants, you should expect to pay up to $500 US dollars for a meal.
While most meal prices do not include drinks, you should also be careful about how much you spend on alcohol, if you are trying to be mindful of your budget. But similar to restaurants, there is a big range in prices for drinks. An affordable drink would be about $8 US dollars or less. Beer is the most affordable with many costing less than $4 US dollars. But with luxury comes high prices and you can easily spend a few hundred dollars on a bottle of wine too.
Overall, travelers need to be aware of their budget and spending. Visitors can explore Monaco without breaking the bank, but even with a backpacker’s budget, you should expect to spend $100-$150 US dollars each day in Monaco. A mid-range budget means that travelers would spend up to $340 US dollars per day in Monaco, while anything over that is typically considered to be a luxury vacation. But be aware that even luxury has a big range and you can spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars per day in Monaco.
How to Get Around
While Monaco is small, that doesn’t mean that you always want to have to walk everywhere. With city that is smaller than the size of Central Park in NYC, you can walk, but there are plenty of options for public and private transportation too.
Walking is the best way to get around Monaco because it is free and allows you to explore more of the city. But with there being four different areas within Monaco, you may also be interested in taking a public bus or hiring a taxi.
There are a few different buses that service Monaco and its different areas. Most buses are very affordable and a single ride costs less than $3 US dollars. But there is a daily tourist pass available for $7 US dollars that has no ride limit. If you are staying in Monaco for more than a day and plan on hopping around, this is the best deal for visitors.
Taxis are another option, but they can be quite expensive. With regular traffic in Monaco, most taxi rides will cost about $16 US dollars. If you are traveling out of Monaco, such as to the airport in Nice, France, you should expect to spend up to $100 US dollars for a taxi.
Another affordable way to get around Monaco is on the water with a water taxi. These types of taxis are popular with many tourists because they let you see great views of the coast, while also transporting you to your next destination. Water taxis also have similar rates to the public buses and some companies do offer a single day or multi-day pass.
Best Places to Visit
Monaco is a small place but that doesn’t mean that you’ll be stuck in one area. There are four different quarters in Monaco, and each has a small section of wards. Here is an overview of each quarter in Monaco and what makes it a tourist attraction.
What is known as the quarter of Monaco or Monaco-Ville, is the oldest part of the city, which is located close to the Rock of Monaco. This area is also the place where the Royal Palace is built, and it also houses the Oceanographic Museum. As the oldest part of Monaco, this quarter is a popular tourist spot due to the various restaurants and boutiques that line the streets. Monaco-Ville also tends to be the most historic area in Monaco, which is where you can visit the colorful European houses and walk the narrow streets.
Monte Carlo is the most famous area in Monaco because it houses the most popular residential and resort areas. Most tourism is focused on Monte Carlo due to famous landmarks like the Hotel de Paris and the Monte Carlo Casino. Monte Carlo is also the place where people go to shop for luxury goods. The area is consistently kept in a pristine state and many visitors will often comment that it takes perfection to the next level.
La Condamine is another historic part of Monaco, which is known for being the oldest commercial area in the city-state. This quarter is located in the northwest of Monaco and it encompasses the famous Port Hercule. La Condamine is also famous for its market, which is open every day of the year. The market is also known for being quite beautiful because of its indoor and outdoor settings.
Fontvieille is the newest part of Monaco that was once a part of the sea. The area has been reclaimed and built to house a few of Monaco’s industries. Some of the most popular industries include a brewery, chocolate plant, and a flour mill. But with the popularity of Fontvieille expanding throughout the years, there are now residential and commercial business areas too.
Points of Interest
With an overview of each quarter, you may still have a hard time deciding what to do and see. Here is a breakdown of the top points of interest in Monaco that are worth checking out. This can help you plan for your time in Monaco, whether you’re staying for a day or a week.
Palais du Prince
The Royal Palace of the Grimaldi family is open to the public for tours when the Prince is not currently home. A flag outside the Palais du Prince tells you the Prince’s status and if it is raised, it means he is currently in the castle and it is closed to visitors. But when the palace is open, you are free to book a tour and explore the palace grounds and gardens.
Monte Carlo Casino
Built in 1893, the Monte Carlo Casino is perhaps the most famous place in all of Monaco. The casino is known for its extravagant style and beauty. With plenty of game rooms, the interior of the casino has also been garnished with fancy chandeliers and stunning works of art. Monte Carlo Casino has also been immortalized in film and was most recently used as a location in the James Bond movie, Casino Royale.
Sitting right on the cliffside above the sea, the Musée Oceanographique is one of the oldest aquariums in the entire world. The museum is home to plenty of artifacts that have been used in oceanography and it features collections of previous explorers like Prince Albert I and Jacques-Yves Cousteau.
The Monaco Cathedral is a famous landmark in Monaco because it houses the remains of Monaco’s past royal family members. Some of the famous royals who have been buried within the church include Prince Rainier III and his wife, the American actress, Grace Kelly who became the Princess of Monaco. The cathedral is open to the public and is well-known for its all white stone exterior.
Larvotto Beach is one of the few public beaches in Monaco, which has made it a popular tourist hotspot. The beach’s close proximity to the Avenue Princess Grace also places it near the center of Monaco’s most popular shops, hotels, and restaurants. The beach is kept clean and the water is netted off to protect swimmers from jellyfish. There are also local companies that rent out kayaks and jet skis.
Get Out and Go
With so much to see and plenty of iconic places, it is easy to understand why Monaco has become such a hotspot for vacations. The extreme wealth of the area has made Monaco a unique country that attracts visitors from all over the world. Whether you just want to explore the area or visit some of Monaco’s icons, the city will welcome you with open arms. You can plan your trip for the high season or enjoy some fancy events in the off season to make your experience in Monaco complete.
Visit Monaco’s official tourism website.