Crammed into a primo plot of Mediterranean-fronted real estate along the French Riviera, Monaco’s glamorous, jet-setting reputation far exceeds its miniscule size. Measuring in at less than one square mile, it’s the world’s second-smallest country after the Vatican.
Set nine miles east of Nice, France, and just five miles west of the Italian border, you’ll find perpetually sunny skies, a who’s-who rolodex of ritzy residents, and countless things to do in Monaco.
The pint-sized principality claims a seven-centuries-long legacy tied in to the royal Grimaldi clan. Notably, Americans went gaga when Prince Rainier III married actress Grace Kelly, making her the Princess of Monaco back in the 1950s. And nearly a third of Monaco’s population today are millionaires (not having to pay taxes, it turns out, is quite the draw).
But you needn’t be a royal, millionaire, or James Bond to experience some of the best things to do in Monaco. Wander the tiny territory’s sparkling port, littered with mega-yachts. Stroll streets that turn over with wow-factor cars (especially each May, when Grand Prix race cars take over). Crane your neck to take in the cluster of posh high-rise hotels and apartment buildings.
Plus, there’s Monaco’s famous high-rolling casino, spectacular gardens, an actual prince’s palace, and destination-worthy museums, too. Make the most of your trip with this essential list of 10 things to do in Monte Carlo and Monaco’s other attractive quarters.
1: Experience the Life of a Royal at the Prince’s Palace of Monaco
Hardly a relic, this still-functioning palace, perched atop Le Rocher, or the Rock—a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea—serves as the private residency to Monaco’s royal family. Accordingly, much of the palace is closed to visitors, but the State Apartments are open to the curious public seasonally.
With the origins of its fortress and ramparts dating back to 1215, the palace has been transformed into a seat of opulence over time, filled in with lavish furnishings, frescoes, paintings, and tapestries, much of which was inspired by the Louis XIV era.
A visit—supported by an audio guide partially narrated by Prince Albert himself—includes a glimpse of sites like the Hercule Gallery (with its marbled double staircase), ceremonial Throne Room, Yellow Room (also called the Louis XV bedroom), Mirror Gallery (a Versailles knockoff), Red Room (filled in with Louis XV-style furnishings and Flemish paintings), and the frescoed York Room. You can also pop in to the 17th-century palace chapel, dedicated to St. John the Baptist.
There’s a separate entrance for the palace’s antique cars collection, where roughly a hundred vehicles, some dating back to the 1950s, were compiled by automobile aficionado Prince Rainier III. You’ll find all the big names like Lamborghini, Ferrari, Rolls Royce, Maserati, and more on display.
Tip: Time your visit to sync up with the brief changing of the guard ceremony, which takes place outside the palace on Palace Square every day at 11:55 a.m. The well-coordinated military ritual sees a swap in shifts for the palace guards and is one of the quintessential things to do in Monaco.
2: Try Your Luck at the Casino de Monte-Carlo
If you’ve cut your teeth on gaming alongside the over-the-top slots and all-you-can-eat buffets of, say, Las Vegas or Atlantic City, get ready for Monaco’s old-school-style take on gambling to bring a glamorous upgrade to the experience. Visiting the country’s world-famous casino—its landmark Casino de Monte-Carlo—is one of the top things to do in Monte Carlo, which wouldn’t feel out of place in a James Bond movie (little wonder, given that it starred in two of the franchise’s films).
Set inside an ornate Belle-Époque building dating to 1863, gamblers looking to try their luck can pass through the marbled atrium to reach games like roulette, Baccarat, and blackjack that beckon underneath the glow of shimmering crystal chandeliers. Slot machine players have two rooms all their own, too, as do high rollers and frequent patrons, who can dip into the exclusive salons privés.
All around, you’ll find fine scene-setting details with plenty of gilt, stained-glass windows, sculptures, and paintings, and a panoramic outdoor terrace touting grand Riviera views. Even if you do little more than order up a martini (shaken, not stirred, of course) and keep an eye on the high-stakes scene, it’s well worth the outing for the atmosphere alone.
Note that an admission fee is charged and a dress code is enforced (a jacket is required for men in the salons privés). If you’re not looking to play, keep in mind that the casino opens early for self-guided audio tours, too.
3: Channel Your Inner Jacques Cousteau at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco
Situated atop the Rock and looking out over the sea, Monaco’s Oceanographic Museum is one of the best museums in the world. It’s been dazzling visitors with an interest in the marine world for more than a century. It was founded by Prince Albert I, a sailor and pioneering oceanographer, and has ties to legendary French explorer Jacques Cousteau who once directed it. The massive museum claims over 6,000 specimens, spilling over with aquariums and displays in its stately, colonnaded halls.
Attractions include a shark lagoon with several species of shark and a tropical zone filled in with coral, piranhas, clownfish, stonefish, boxfish, and seahorses. There’s also a display native to the invertebrates of the surrounding Mediterranean, with pools of octopus, moray eels, and jellyfish.
Peruse massive marine mammal skeletons and mounted specimens in the Whale Room (including a nearly 60-foot-long skeleton of a fin whale), where an hourly sound-and-light show adds to the dramatic effect. Meanwhile, the Océanomania display serves as a “cabinet of curiosities,” brimming with antique diving gear, fossils, and other rare objects related to ocean exploration.
Little ones will appreciate the touch tank exhibit, where they can have hands-on interactions with Mediterranean flora and fauna, like handling a starfish or the quills of a sea urchin. In 2019, a new outdoor turtle display devoted to rehabilitating injured Mediterranean sea turtles was inaugurated and is now open to public viewing.
4: Pay Your Respects to Monegasque Royalty at the Cathedral of Monaco
With its current incarnation dating to 1875, the white-stone Cathedral of Monaco stands in stately testament to Roman-Byzantine-style architecture. (A previous church, built in dedication to Saint Nicholas, patron saint of seafarers, stood on its place as far back as the 14th century.) Inside, visitors can pay their respects at the tombs of the former royals of Monaco—including the former princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly.
The cathedral offers an assortment of other fine details and embellishments worth looking out for. Among the highlights: a throne carved from white Carrara marble; a high altar featuring artwork painted in 1500 by Louis Bréa; and a 7,000-pipe grand organ.
To enter, shoulders should be covered and shorts or skirts above the knees are not permitted.
5: Embrace Your Love of the Auto Race
The annual Monaco Grand Prix event, dating back to 1929, marks one of the world’s best-known auto races when Monaco’s city streets are transformed into a high-speed circuit of snaking track. The atmosphere is positively energized as race car thrills take over the streets for four days each May; it’s little wonder that it’s one of the most famous things to do in Monaco.
But you needn’t be in town for the big event to engage with Monaco’s love affair with fast, luxury automobiles. Any time of year, you can experience the thrills of driving the roads used in the F1 Grand Prix, or on other scenic routes along the French Riviera, in an amped-up Ferrari or Lamborghini. You’ll get a feel for what these high-powered vehicles are capable of—just keep in mind that the driver must adhere to local speed limits!
6: Get Lost in History Atop the Rock
Atop the history-rich Rock—or Le Rocher, as it’s known locally—is the old town of Monaco (aka Monaco-Ville), a relaxed neighborhood filled in with narrow, medieval streets overlooking the Mediterranean. It’s also the atmospheric tourist hub for many of Monaco’s main sights, including the Prince’s Palace, the Oceanographic Museum, and the Cathedral of Monaco.
Surely, one of the top things to do in Monaco is to leisurely explore the network of historic cobblestoned alleyways that fall between the city’s blockbuster sites, lined with casual restaurants, ice cream shops, galleries, and boutiques. Meander the remains of the ancient city walls, and then take a breather at the pretty, two-centuries-old Saint Martin Gardens, an oasis filled with both Mediterranean and exotic flora alike, all interspersed with stellar views out to sea.
7: Tuck Into Local Fare at La Condamine Market
Monaco, with its Mediterranean flavors and French and Italian influences, predictably does food well. And while gourmands will find no shortage of Michelin-starred eateries, one of the best foodie experiences around is a whirl though the indoor-outdoor La Condamine Market. Established in 1880, the Provençal-inspired market emphasizes regional fare and products, featuring vendors selling local produce, fish and meats, flowers, breads and bakery items, and specialties from small-scale producers.
It’s the perfect spot to mingle with the locals and to sample regional specialties such as socca (a chickpea flatbread), barbagiuan (a savory pastry stuffed with Swiss chard and ricotta), pissaladière (an onion-heavy tart), and fougasse (a local bread).
8: Recharge Amidst the Exotic Garden of Monaco
This well-tended clifftop garden, dating to the 1930s, offers an exotic oasis where some thousand cacti and other succulents sourced from around the globe are spread out, sharing in the sweeping views over the principality and coastline.
At the base of the cliff, admission to the gardens also includes entry to a limestone cave. For geology buffs, it’s worth descending the 300 steps to a subterranean world filled with natural features like stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and more.
9: Soak Up the Posh Maritime Vibe at Port Hercule
Set at the foot of the Rock, Port Hercule is a natural bay with a picturesque port that’s well-suited to wandering on foot.
Monte Carlo is one of the most luxurious cities in the world, and here, you’ll pass by pleasure boats and yachts aplenty. There’s room for 700 of them, and they have long since replaced the ships of Greeks and Romans who once used this as a trading port. For visitors arriving by cruise, this is also the entrance for ships calling upon Monaco.
Along Port Hercule’s fringes, you’ll find VIPs hobnobbing at the prestigious yacht club, while several restaurants and bars propose the perfect portside perch to tuck into a plate of fresh seafood or raise a glass to this superyacht capital and one of the best places to visit in the Mediterranean.
10: Beach Bum at Larvotto Beach
One of the very best things to do in Monaco is to simply relax seaside. Along Avenue Princesse Grace, Larvotto Beach offers the best stretch in town, with its twin coves that deliver more than 1,300 feet of Mediterranean-fronted, pebbled shores. Beachside eateries, a playground area, watersports rentals, and a beach volleyball court round out the offerings at this top beach in the French Riviera.
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