If you’re visiting the French Riviera, we highly recommend spending one day in Monaco. This itinerary covers our step-by-step plan of attack for seeing Monte Carlo Casino and other top spots in the world’s second-smallest country–as well as the most expensive and the wealthiest.
For starters, some quick background for those who are only familiar with Monaco from James Bond, or those who may think it’s a city in France. Monaco is officially known as the Principality of Monaco, and is a sovereign city-state, country, and micro-state. Within Monaco is the ward of Monte Carlo/Spélugues, an administrative area where the Monte Carlo Casino is located.
Aside from James Bond, others are likely most familiar with Monaco thanks to Grace Kelly. She was one of Hollywood’s most famous actresses in the 1950s, having appeared in several Hitchcock films (including To Catch a Thief, which is set in Monaco). Kelly left acting behind to marry Prince Rainier III, becoming Princess of Monaco in the process. If movies aren’t your thing, the Monaco Grand Prix and other major auto events are held here.
If all of that isn’t enough to convince you to visit, I’ll offer my perspective: Monaco is a gorgeous and lovely place. During our extended stay in the Côte d’Azur, we traveled all over the South of France and Italy, but Monaco was my favorite place. I was weary that it’d be stuffy or pretentious, but found Monaco to be welcoming, naturally beautiful, walkable, and rich with culture in addition to money.
In fact, I loved Monaco so much that as soon as I make my first billion, I fully intend upon buying a private jet and super yacht, then relocating to Monaco. I might have to get a second job as “oil tycoon” to make that dream a reality, but I’m fully committed.
I’ll be in good company. Even though the average net worth in Monaco is “only” $2.1 million, the country has the world’s highest density of not just millionaires, but billionaires, as well. (Seriously, we saw numerous ads for private jets and even one for “super yacht insurance” in Monaco.)
Despite its riches, Monaco is the second-smallest country to the Vatican, with a size of only 2.02 sq. km. You can traverse pretty much this entire nation within a day, which is exactly what we’ll do in this 1-day Monaco itinerary…
Jardin Exotique de Monaco – Whether you should do this depends upon two things. First, your interest in gardens. (There are a lot of other good ones in the French Riviera, but this is the second-best those.) More importantly, whether you want to visit Casino de Monte-Carlo and, if so, for what purpose. If you want to tour the casino and see its architecture, you’ll need to skip the exotic garden. If you want to gamble or don’t want to go inside at all, you’re fine to do this.
To access the Jardin Exotique de Monaco, you’ll walk about 17 minutes from Gare de Monaco-Monte-Carlo. It’s a pleasant stroll that’ll take you into an area of Monaco that you otherwise wouldn’t explore–lined with classic and ultra-modern architecture.
The exotic garden itself is perched upon a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean. The mostly open-air displays of succulent plants from arid regions around the world (including the Americas, Africa, and Arabian Peninsula) wind down towards the sea.
At the base of the cliff is the Observatory Cave, a large cavern that winds deep underground and offers visitors a look at prehistoric limestone rock formations dug by the water full of carbonic gas. The cavern is filled with stalagmites, stalactites, draperies, columns, and other stunning features.
The Observatory Cave is only accessible via guided tours, and there’s a set schedule for these each day. It takes roughly 45 minutes from start to finish, but is pretty cool. If you have the spare time, we’d recommend doing it.
Prince’s Palace of Monaco – Not far from the Jardin Exotique de Monaco (in fact, you can easily spot it from the garden’s overlook) is the Prince’s Palace of Monaco. It’s a longer walk than you’d expect by looking at the map, but it’s an interesting walk through alleys, up and down stairs.
This palace is the official residence of the Sovereign Prince of Monaco. Built in 1191 as a Genoese fortress, the Prince’s Palace has a long and dramatic history, and is quite stunning. Unfortunately, the State Apartments at the Prince’s Palace are often closed, but it’s worth a stroll around the grounds regardless.
Monaco-Ville – After leaving the Prince’s Palace of Monaco, you’ll walk through the Place du Palais courtyard and into what’s commonly called Monaco’s Old Town…or Monaco City…or The Rock (my personal favorite). Technically, the Prince’s Palace is part of this headland, which is one of the four traditional quarters of Monaco.
We separate out Monaco-Ville here because most visitors will view this old town district as a distinct point of interest. Here you’ll find narrow alleyways from the middle ages, vibrant facades, intimate cafes and restaurants, and a variety of worthwhile architecture. Be sure to check out the picturesque Place Saint Nicolas and Placette Bosio, the Chapel of Mercy, Palais de Justice and the Cathedral, a Roman-Byzantine style building built in 1875. (This area is also a good place to eat.)
Oceanographic Museum – The Musée Océanographique was founded in 1910 by Monaco’s modernist reformer, Prince Albert I and was directed by Jacques Cousteau from 1957 to 1988. We lead with that because history, legacy, and more stunning Baroque Revival architecture are just as integral to the Oceanographic Museum as are the exhibits.
To be sure, the displays about various species of sea fauna are interesting, but you can see all of that at any aquarium. What elevates the Musée Océanographique into something special–and a must-visit destination–are its displays relating to marine culture and advancements. The exhibits on the upper floor showcases the work of Prince Albert I, including a research yacht laboratory.
Start on the upper level museum, spending the majority of your time in the Whale Room (which has a periodic light show!) and Oceanomania. Allocate significantly less time for the aquarium below.
Casino de Monte-Carlo – This casino is absolutely stunning inside and out, owing in large part to the design by Charles Garnier, the architect whose work also includes the lavish Palais Garnier Paris Opera house. The Casino de Monte-Carlo isn’t as impressive as that–at leas the areas you can publicly tour, but it’s nonetheless impressive.
If you’re going to go inside at all, we’d recommend arriving by noon. That will necessarily require reshuffling this itinerary (luckily Monaco is pretty compact–see above). Arguably, that’s not worth doing, especially given the limited area you’re able to see and the cost. Going later in the day or evening and partaking in the action on the casino floor is another option, but we were way too intimidated to do that. If you’re not a high-roller dressed to the nines, you’re going to feel out of place.
Japanese Garden, Monaco – Less an authentic or meticulously designed Japanese garden and more a public park, this features statues for various figures in Monaco’s history (including Princess Grace) plus a stylized hill, waterfall, beach, brook, and a Zen garden for meditation.
Along the way, it offers stunning views and a nice setting for a leisurely stroll. The Japanese Garden of Monaco is not a destination worth seeking out, but it’s a nice option since you’ll already be in the area.
Sunset View – There are a few options for this. If you want to get some steps in and are dumb like me, the best option is Vue Panoramique sur Monaco (06240 Beausoleil, France in Google Maps). That’s where I shot the photo above. This is a 30+ minute walk from the Japanese Garden, and involves climbing more flights of stairs in random neighborhoods than I cared to count. However, the view from the overlook is absolutely epic.
For more reasonable options, head over to Port Hercule (do some window yacht shopping while you’re there), Fort Antoine Theatre, or even back up to Monaco-Ville where there’s another Vue Panoramique sur Monaco (32 Rue des Remparts, 98000 Monaco in Google Maps). That’s the view pictured below.
If you’re really ambitious, you can hike up above Monaco (technically into France) then back down to check out the hoppin’ scene around Casino de Monte-Carlo. From there, take a stroll around Port Hercules before continuing back up to Monaco-Ville for a tranquil evening in the old town.
While all of the spots we’ve highlighted in this 1-day Monaco itinerary are must-dos, we honestly had the most fun just wandering around. In part, that’s why this isn’t such a jam-packed itinerary. There are other points of interest you could seek out, but just soaking up the atmosphere and walking around Monaco is probably what you’ll enjoy the most!
If you’re planning, we recommend starting by consulting our Ultimate French Riviera Vacation Guide to prepare for all aspects of your trip. You should also check out our other posts about France for ideas on other places to visit!
Have you visited Monaco? If so, what did you do? What do you think of the recommendations in this itinerary? Anything else you’d suggest in terms of walks, things to do, or places to see? Restaurants you thought offered a great view, good drinks, or exceptional cuisine? Any additional tips to add that we didn’t cover? Any questions about planning a trip to the Côte d’Azur? Hearing from readers is half the fun, so please share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!