Coming out of the Monaco-Monte Carlo Train Station, the Mediterranean Sea and the Port of Hercule appear between the tall cliffs. Gorgeous residences tower on the edge as if these cliffs were built as pedestals to hold them up. We saw a few roads zigzag below in and out of tunnels and we just paused taking in the sight.
We had arrived on the overnight train from Paris to Nice (this was quite an adventure itself, stay tuned for the article to describe getting around in Europe) followed by a local train from Nice to Monaco. We had wiped the sleep from our eyes exiting the station, but never expected to awaken to such beauty. Travel Tip: We later found out we could have taken a bus from Nice to Monaco which would have dropped us off within steps of our Airbnb rental for 1.50euro per person (darn!). If you aren’t in a hurry, we recommend taking this bus from Nice to Monaco (Bus Line 100) as the drive is extremely scenic, following the coast line and overlooking the sea cliffs.
The Principality of Monaco, a sovereign state on the French Riviera, is a well-known playground of the rich and famous. As spectacular as this blog is, I can’t consider myself famous much less rich and famous. So with our Airbnb in Roquebrune Cap Martin on the border of Monaco and our usual stock of groceries, here is how to see Monaco like us regular folk without the yacht, Bentley, Ferrari, and unlimited credit and cash.
The main things to do and see are the old town, the port, the Grand Prix circuit, the high-end retail shops, and finally the famous Larvotto Beach.
I suggest getting an unlimited daily Monaco Bus pass (5.50euro) and heading to Place d’ Armes in the morning. Grab a cappuccino or coffee and wander through the small market.
Once ready, head up the Rampe de la Major, a gradual pathway with stairs on the opposite side of the road heading up to Le Palais des Princes de Monaco. This palace is home to Prince Albers II the current Prince of Monaco. Consider taking a tour of the palace if you are interested; we saved our money. There is also a small changing of guard at 11:55am in front of the palace if you happen to be there at the time, but don’t make a special trip for it.
Next make your way across both sides of the square to observe the scenic views over Port de Hercule and Port de Fontveille. There are a handful of streets going through the old town; the three main roads are Rue Basse, Rue Comte Felix Gastaldi, and Rue Emile de Loth. They are mostly crowded with tourists during the day, but have an authentic feeling of old world charm. There are many shops and restaurants here if you are hungry, but if you can wait there are other options.
After wandering the town, head back toward the square and follow Rue Colonel Bellando de Castro. There will be cars and buses occasionally passing through the area and this would be the correct road to follow. As you pass through the buildings, you will see the Palais of Justice and then the Cathedrale de Monaco on your left. Continue to follow this road with the sea appearing through the trees to the right until you near the Musee Oceanographique de Monaco. Before arriving at the museum and considering a tour, turn right and enter the Jardins de Saint-Martin. Stroll through the paths of these beautiful gardens and find a quiet area to rest in the shade and simply enjoy the sea breeze. So peaceful.
Head back out toward the museum. We did not take the time to see the museum; we simply passed by. Next, take the path down just past the museum and begin to descend. Eventually you will pass Fort Antoine a small amphitheater.
As you get all the way down to port level head toward the Bateau Bus (There was a bit of construction going on at the time, so we just made our way toward the water until we saw a sign). This boat is a considered one of the public buses of Monaco and passes directly across the harbor. It is included in the unlimited bus pass and definitely worth the 2 euro it costs even without the pass. It gives the chance to pass by many of the luxury super yachts and get a few up close photos.
Once on the other side, head left going further into the port. As you come around there are a few restaurants on the port edge and many with outdoor seating. We had lunch at Le Pattaya and loved it. There is also a series of smaller restaurants and sandwich shops on Rue Princesse Caroline further around that was much lower priced.
After lunch head back out past the Yacht Club de Monaco, follow the pathway toward the Casino de Monte-Carlo. There was a bit of construction going on here as well when we were there, so try to follow the signs to the casino which may take you through a few underground pathways and up a couple lifts until you are out front of the Casino. The architecture of the building with the array of exotic cars out front provides for some great photos. At this point, we recommend grabbing a table at Café de Paris. Keep in mind it is way overpriced, but if you request one of the tables at the front for drinks and possibly dessert it could be a great time people watching.
From here, there are a few more options. First you could walk the Grand Prix circuit through the streets of Monaco. Google the circuit and a number of maps are available. Second, you could head through the Montecarlo Pavilions and up to Boulevard des Moulins to see all the high end shops and browse.
Lastly, you could do what we did after the café, which was to make our way back down to the port level streets. We then followed the pathway along the sea’s edge all the way to Larvotto beach to relax on the pebble sand and catch the remaining rays of sun. An absolute necessity after the long day on our feet.
I should also mention on the way to Larvotto beach was a Japanese Garden and is definitely worth checking out as admission is free.
There was also another more private beach just over the eastern border of Monaco in Roquebrune Cap Martin that we also loved and spent an entire day at. If Larvotto beach is too crowded continue along Avenue Princesse Grace past Le Meridian Beach Plaza Hotel and the Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel and Resort until you see the small beach on your right. This beach has larger pebbles/rocks instead of the tiny pebbles of Larvotto, but was without the crowd.
We wanted to tour as much as possible in our short time here and found this to be the best way. There is plenty of nightlife in Monaco that we did not get into on this trip, but saw the opportunity. Also we could have broken the old town and new town tours into a couple days to slow it down for next time.
Au Revoir Monaco!