While it may be known for its high-roller and haute-couture crowd, Monaco also offers diverse cultural events, appealing public parks and historic sites, and a contagious joie de vivre.
Roughly five kilometres long and almost two kilometres wide, Monaco, a sovereign state on the Mediterranean coast, is eminently walkable. Most tourist attractions cluster in Monaco-Ville, the old city near the prince’s palace, and the wealthy Monte Carlo area around the Casino and beaches. Head to La Condamine, behind the port, and Fontvieille, west of Monaco-Ville, for peeks into local life. The public bus makes stops in every quarter and is an efficient, pleasant way to tour.
In a prime location along the waterfront, the Grimaldi Forum, Monaco’s main event space, hosts contemporary dance performance, musical concerts and exhibitions featuring portraits, sculptures, jewellery, and other artifacts. Inspired by Princess Grace, the neighbouring Japanese Garden—a haven of trimmed trees, arched bridges, and water features—was inaugurated in 1994 by Prince Rainier III.
Entry into the storied Casino requires €10 (₹732), a passport check (Monaco citizens aren’t allowed in gaming rooms), and a jacket for men. The place may look familiar to James Bond film fans; the casino had starring roles in Never Say Never Again and GoldenEye. Note the eight crystal chandeliers and the art-laden walls of Le Salon de l’Europe, the casino’s first gaming room, opened in 1865. Not a high roller? Access to the casino’s atrium is free and there are lots of one-euro slots.
Bargain is a word rarely uttered here, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. Provision a picnic at the daily open-air Condamine Market on Place d’Armes, near the pedestrian-only shopping street Rue de la Princesse Caroline. Locals have been coming to the market since 1880 to buy bread, wine, fruit, and cheese.
Champagne may be Monaco’s elixir of choice, but the local beer is worth a try. Founded in 1905, the Brasserie de Monaco shut down for over 30 years before being resurrected in 2008 at the encouragement of Prince Albert II. Reserve ahead for a brewery tour and souvenir glass.
Rising 200 feet above the sea and jutting between Port Hercule and Fontvieille is the Rock, crowned by Monaco-Ville and the Prince’s palace. The Grimaldi family have ruled from this fortress since François Grimaldi, disguised as a monk, captured it in 1297. Watch the changing of the guard each morning at 11:55 and from June to October tour the royal courtyard as well as several interior state rooms (entry €8/ ₹585). The Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra performs during July and August evenings in the courtyard of the palace. Coveted tickets go on sale in early June.
The narrow streets of Monaco-Ville amble toward the Cathedral of Monaco. Princess Grace and Prince Rainier III wed here and are now interred behind the altar alongside other Monégasque sovereigns.
The site of their son’s wedding dinner and ball is the grandiose Oceanographic Museum, built a century ago by Prince Albert I and home to marine curiosities, including a reassembled skeleton of a baleen whale and an aquarium with 90 tanks filled with 4,000 fish. The terrace boasts a photo worthy view (entry €14/ ₹1,025 for entry to museum and Prince’s Palace).
Monaco’s restaurant scene is rife with big-name chefs and boasts an impressive eight Michelin stars. Dinner can be budget-savaging, but prix-fixe lunch menus dish up starry cuisine at affordable prices. At French super-chef Joël Robuchon’s Japanese restaurant Yoshi, inside the tony Hotel Metropole, sample traditional sushi and sashimi and sip sake or tea in the interior Japanese garden. The bento menu is (€29/ ₹2,122) for three courses.
On a neighbourhood street above Monte Carlo, Polpetta (2 Rue Paradis) is a local favourite, known for their handmade pasta and fresh fish prepared tableside.
Just steps from the palace on a narrow street of Monaco-Ville, the family-run U Cavagnetu (14 Rue Comte Félix Gastaldi) has been serving traditional Monégasque cuisine, which is influenced by nearby Italy and Provence, for 40 years. Try steamed salmon with dill sauce or pissaladière, a tomato-less pizza topped with onions, anchovies, olives, and garlic.
Escape Monte Carlo’s bustle in this quieter neighbourhood.
This annexed hundred-acre land west of the Rock was reclaimed from the sea during the 1970s and today harbours one of Monaco’s most treasured gardens, a rare car collection, and a restaurant lined port that’s more low-key hangout than hip.
H.S.H. The Prince of Monaco’s Vintage car collection Motorcar buffs drool over this collection of vintage and rare automobiles, including the Rolls-Royce Princess Grace used on her wedding day.
Princess Grace rose garden This peaceful green spot tucked into Fontvieille Park is scented with over 8,000 rosebushes.
Columbus brasserie For more than just a croissant to start the day, head to this popular breakfast spot for eggs Benedict or a full breakfast of eggs, sausage, tomatoes, and toast.
Fontvieille flea market Juxtaposed against Monaco’s luxe boutiques, this small Saturday morning market of old books, cutlery, and knick-knacks is fun to sift through before settling into one of the busy cafés along Fontvieille’s port.
The sculpture path The curvy pedestrian lanes of Fontvieille Park reveal about a hundred sculptures from contemporary international artists such as Fernando Botero.
Louis II stadium The 18,523-seat stadium is home to the AS Monaco soccer team, but sprawling under the ground is a vast sporting complex, including an Olympic-size freshwater heated pool that’s open to the public and used for international competition.
Appeared in the December 2013 issue as “Monaco Within Reach”.
This piece has been updated in December 2015.