Day Trip to Monaco

View of all of Monaco from the hills aboveAn easy day trip from Nice, Monaco is the storied playground for the rich and famous.

The entire country of Monaco is less than a square mile but there is a lot to see so start early to give yourself a full day.  If you run out of stuff to do (doubtful), you can always take the bus up to nearby Eze Village on the way back.  Here is a custom itinerary to see the best of Monaco, and with an interactive map at the bottom of the page.  To make your day even more interesting, before you go, check out my 50 Fascinating Facts about Monaco.

Be sure to bring your passport (for the casinos), a scarf or sarong in summer (for the Cathedral), and dress smart but with comfortable walking shoes (not easy, I know!)

Start with the Old Town and Palace

Old b&w photo of Monacoville

“The Rock” in 1890

The old town is called Monaco-Ville, Le Rocher or ‘The Rock’. If arriving by bus you would get off at the Place des Armes stop or else the Port stop; by train you walk down the steps on the train platform and follow the white marbled tunnels to the Port.

From the Port, I recommend walking up the zig zagging path from the Port to the Palace; this medieval arched pathway will set the tone for what you will find at the top.  But if you are not a big walker, just hop on the local bus #1 or #2 to Monacoville (It’s 2€ a trip so just buy the daypass from the driver for 5.50€, you’ll be glad you did).

  • Quick History Note:  In medieval times, this strategic territory was constantly being fought over between Genoa and the Grimaldi monarchy.  In 1297 it was held by Genoa, but the Grimaldis planned a sneak attack.  Disguised as wandering monks, in the middle of the night they knocked at that impressive door that you see on the way up, supposedly asking for alms.  Monaco coat of armsWhen the unsuspecting guards let them in, the ‘monks’ whipped out the knives hidden in their robes, killed the guards, and opened up the door to the awaiting Grimaldi soldiers, who then stormed the palace.   Monaco has been ruled by the Grimaldis ever since, and that’s the story behind the monk statue at the top of the stairs, and why the Monaco flag and coat of arms features knife-welding monks.  For more stories of Monaco, check out my Fascinating Facts about Monaco page.

From the Palace courtyard you have incredible views over the rest of Monaco. That scraggly slope just below you is the ‘cheap seats’ for the Grand Prix, where you can straddle a clump of weeds as you sit on the dirt, but have the best view into the pits to see the 10-second tire changes.  It’s also the best vantage point to spot the super-yachts with helicopters.

Now cross to the other side of the Palace courtyard where you will see a second smaller port, a stadium, lots of condos, and the big-top tent of the Cirque de Monaco …all of which was built on reclaimed swampland by Prince Rainier, increasing Monaco’s total land mass by 20%.

Silhouette looking into the giant aquariumIf pomp and pageantry is your thing stick around to watch the daily changing of the guard ceremony at 11:55am (but get there early, especially in summer).  If not your thing, use this tourist distraction to visit the Cathedral without the crowds, or spend the morning at the vast Jacques Cousteau Oceanographic Museum when it is the least crowded (and check out that link to my page to help focus your visit, and info on the discount combo ticket available for this plus the Classic Car Museum)

Don’t bother with the Palace Tour (April-Oct), it’s a snooze.  If the Palace flag is flying, it means Prince Albert is in town, and if you see a cortege of electric cars with darkened windows and little flags leaving the palace, he is probably in one of them.  In case you were wondering, Princess Stephanie and Princess Caroline don’t get to live in the Palace, but they have private villas right across from the Oceanographic Museum.

As you wander the narrow cobblestoned streets of the old town, imagine that this was very similar to what the Chateau of Nice was like in medieval times, tiny houses packed into a walled hilltop fortress.

Don’t miss the Saint-Nicholas Cathedral where Grace Kelly became Princess Grace on the day of her marriage to Prince Rainier, and where she is now buried (walk all they way up to the front – her tomb can’t be missed as it is always covered with flowers).  The church is open from 9am-6pm daily unless there is a church service, and like most churches in Europe, they don’t allow bare shoulders, mini skirts, or short-shorts, so just bring a scarf or sarong to wrap around any part that is too bare.

  • History note:  Since Princess Grace was a commoner that just married into royalty, she actually didn’t have the right to be buried in the Cathedral with the other monarchs.  Prince Rainier was so distraught at her untimely death that he insisted that if she couldn’t buried there, he wouldn’t either, so in haste the Monaco constitution was changed, allowing their tombs to be side-by-side.

Next head down to the Port, either walking or one stop on the local bus.

  • Option: If you want to skip the port and just go straight up to Monte Carlo, you can take the escalator by the Oceanographic Museum, then follow the signs to the Parking de Pecheurs elevator.  From there you can cross the harbor by boat with the Bato Bus for 2€, and then take the Auditorium Elevator to the top of the other side.

The Port

View of Monaco Port from the Palace courtyardThe Monaco Port is packed with super-yachts; you can do a quick google of the boat names to find out who owns them, how big they are, and some of their more outrageous features.

In the middle of the Port is an Olympic-sized heated seawater public swimming pool, in case you want to take a dip in summer (12€).

In front of the pool is the Monaco Grand Prix starting line, finish line, and the pit stop area, and during May this area is ringed with some of the most sought after seats for the famous race.  If you are a big racing fan, from here you can walk the entire 2-mile/3.3k legendary race course, just click the link below for the map.

But if you’re not here during the Monaco Grand Prix, get a little taste of it in the Monaco Classic Car Museum, right next to the swimming pool.  It’s only 10€ and well worth it to see the famous race cars up close and personal, not to mention the rare antique automobiles.  Prince Rainier was a car fanatic, and this is just a small portion of his vast collection back in the day.

Walk inland to the left corner of the Port to find the Condamine Market on the Place d’Armes, a charming covered market with 20 food stalls where you can sample local specialties, and is one of the few places where you can eat well and relatively cheaply for Monaco, and open every day.

As opposed to Monte Carlo, the back streets in the Port hold some reasonably priced boutiques, including Le Dressing, Monaco’s only vintage consignment shop which is full of eccentric finds, at 1 Rue Princesse Florestine.

If you want to stroll the Port and take a closer look at the stunning yachts, walk all the way back out along the Palace-side of the Port… at the end of the breakwall there is a little boat, the Bato Bus, that will ferry you across the harbor, so you don’t have to walk all the way back around.  It is the same price as a local bus, so 2€ for the 4-minute trip, or included in the bus daypass for 5.50€, and runs from 8am-8pm all year.

Now head up to Monte Carlo.  You can either take local bus #1 or #2, walk up (15-20 minutes from the middle of the Port), or walk half way then take the Auditorium Public Elevator.

Sweeping view of Casino Square in Monte CarloWelcome to Monte Carlo

The heart of Monte Carlo is Casino Square, bordered by the Casino/Opera in the middle, the Hotel de Paris on one side, the Café de Paris on the other, and magnificent manicured gardens leading up the hill.

  • History note:  Monaco used to have a large territory up the coast, and financed their opulent palace life by heavily taxing the olive and lemon-growers.  In the mid-1800’s, the towns from Roquebrune to Menton revolted and declared independence from Monaco, and the Principality suddenly found itself with very little land and no income.  An audacious plan was hatched to pivot from lowly crops to high-end tourism, so they built a casino, spa, and luxury hotel and restaurant.  Problem was, at the time you could only get there by boat or dirt road, so Monaco then had to finance the building of the French train tracks, roads and tunnels from Nice.  After a very rocky start (only 3 customers the first year!) the casino finally started attracting its target clientele, an opera house was added, and by 1869 the whole enterprise was raking it in so strong that income tax was abolished in Monaco.

You’ll see some of the most expensive cars in the world parked in front of the Casino.  In fact in 2011 an inattentive driver of a Bentley Azure T bumped a Ferrari F430, pushing it into an Aston Martin Rapide, which then hit a Porsche 911 Carrera S and a Mercedes S-Class.   It was a million dollar fender bender… oops, guess she shouldn’t have been texting…!

Don’t let the bouncers dissuade you: go ahead and walk right right up the steps and into the entrance to the Opera House and Grand Casino.

To get into the famous Casino itself, you’ll need to pay a fee (18€, but up to noon includes an audioguide, and after 2pm includes 10€ in slots), show your passport, and be smartly dressed (…all the other casinos are free and sans dress code, so try the one next to Café du Paris or in the Fairmont Hotel).  This is where the James Bond movies Golden Eye and Never Say Never Again were filmed, and more recently Ocean’s Twelve. Inside the casino itself are a series of gaming rooms, each one with successively larger entry fees and minimum bets for the highest of high rollers.

  • Fun Fact: From the beginning, Monaco residents have never been allowed in the casinos; you have to show a passport to get in and Monagasque passports will not fly.  They knew the casino would be a cash cow, but wanted to make sure it wasn’t their citizens that got milked!

You may have worked up quite a thirst by now, so I would recommend a glass of rosé on the Café de Paris terrace, the ideal spot for people-watching and scoping out the luxury cars on Casino Square.  Or head upstairs to the newly opened rooftop patio bar for a less crowded birds-eye view.  The Café de Paris is also a memorable spot for a Monaco lunch, specializing in French brasserie classics such as French Onion Soup and Crepes Suzette.

  • Fun Fact: This is where Crepes Suzette was accidently invented in 1896 when a dessert crepe caught fire in front of the Prince of Wales.  Enchanted by the spectacle of the flaming crepe, he asked for the recipe.  The chef admitted it was an accident, but suggested ‘Princely Crepes’, but the prince gallantly suggested instead naming it after his lovely dining companion of the evening, Suzette.

Another good spot to have a (even pricier) drink is the American Bar inside the Hotel de Paris.  That drink makes you a client, so entitles you to discretely wander around the lobby a bit, with its gilded arches, incredible florals, but there is a no-photo policy, so no selfies!  In the lobby is the entrance for the Louis XVI restaurant, one of only 2 Michelin 3-star restaurant on the French Riviera.  They have a 4-course weekday lunch deal with 2 glasses of wine for just 280€ in case you want to splurge.  Underneath the hotel, accessed through a series of tunnels and gates, is the largest hotel wine cellar in the world, with over 350,000 bottles in 16,000 square feet (1500 m2).

Famous hairpin turn from the Monaco Grand Prix Now stroll between the Casino and Café de Paris to the far side to see the famous hairpin turn of the Monaco  Grand Prix, right in front of the Fairmont Hotel, which also has a casino inside with no cover charge.

Now, retrace your steps back to Casino Square and window shop the jewelry stores and chic boutiques, and be sure to walk up through the gardens.

At the top of the Casino Square gardens, to the right, is the Monaco Tourist Office.

How to get to Monaco from Nice

  • By bus (2.50€ each way, 50 minutes, and possibly the most scenic bus ride in the world).  But there is a strategy to this so see my Taking the Bus to Monaco page…
  • By train (4.40€ each way, 20 minutes, very scenic, and your train ticket gets you 2€ off at the Oceanographic museum)
  • By boat (35€ one way or 43€ round-trip, 45 minutes of stunning coastline). Only from May through October, and only on Tues/Thurs/Sat; boat leaves at 9:30am, back in Nice at 6pm.
  • Uber for around 40€ (but to get an Uber back from Monaco, you have to cross the street into France!)  First-time Uber users can click here and save 10€ on each of your first 5 rides
  • Drive  parking is roughly 4€/hour, but I don’t recommend it due to traffic, and very confusing signage in Monaco: if you miss your (badly signed) exit out of a tunnel round-about, you could be in for a Kafkaesque 12k/7mile detour.

In the summer there is also a Pass SudAzur which gives you unlimited trains, trams and buses, including local buses in Monaco.  You can choose 3-days for 35€, one week for 50€, or two weeks for 80€.   Just for comparison, if you take the train both ways to Monaco, plus buy a daypass on the local Monaco bus, it will cost a total of 14.30€

Getting Back

To catch the bus back to Nice from the Tourist Office, I would recommend walking 10 minutes to the right (or taking any local bus one stop with your day pass), to Place de Moulins , where you will be able to get seat on the bus #600.  You can also exit the tourist office and cross the street then walk to the left for 1 minute to catch it (under the ‘Park Palace’ sign), but then you risk standing for the whole ride.  This is also where you can catch the bus #602 if you want to visit Eze before heading back to Nice.   

If you want to catch an Uber back, since Uber is banned in Monaco, the secret is just to return to the top of the Casino Gardens and continue up the street; as soon as you get to the top of the little stairway, poof, you are now in Beausoleil, France, and you just walk just a little farther in and the Uber app will work again.

To find the train station go to the top of the Casino gardens, continue up the stairs, then take a left and walk straight for about 10-15 minutes, until you see the unassuming entrance ‘Gare SNCF’ on your right. Or, from across the street from the tourist office, take the local bus #2, #4, or #5 with your bus daypass, getting off at the ‘Gare’ stop.

Getting back from Monaco at Night can be Tricky

The bus #600 stops running at 8:30pm, but in the summer (June 21 to end of August) you can catch the bus #602 from the Casino stop at 9:15pm, and after there is a summer night bus #601 that you can catch at the Casino, or the Place d’Armes stop near the Monaco Port, and it leaves at at 11:35pm, midnight, 1:45am, 3am and 4am, dropping you off at the Nice Port.

But other than that you have to take the train, but they don’t run super late (midnight usually) but check on the app or Google Maps/direction to verify.

If you miss the last bus, or even the last train, instead of taking a taxi back which will set you back around 100€, better to take an Uber which will only cost around 40€.

…Or just roll with it and find a casino, an all-night restaurant (Tip Top) or dance ’til dawn (Jimmyz) when the trains and buses start running again…

This map was made with Wanderlog, a travel planner on iOS and Android

And here’s the local Monaco bus map:

Monaco local bus map

See related pages:

Back up to Main Daytrips from Nice Page

Photo credits: Port by R Meehan – Own work, Public Domain, both licensed by Creative Commons.  View of Monaco from above, Oceanographic Museum, Casino, and Hairpin Turn all by Best of Nice.

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