Telegraph: How to spend a Weekend in Monaco
Telegraph: 48-Hour Guide to Monaco
Monaco is glamorous, irreverent and often misunderstood. This miniature principality fights against stereotypes from a haven for tax-dodging billionaires to the overused words of Somerset Maughan: “a sunny place for shady people”. It’s also a year-round home for families seeking a crime-free haven in the sunshine and a five-minute commute by foot to work.
This sunny city-state on the French Riviera coastline is a Disneyesque Utopia whose spotless, litter-free streets are lined with Rococo façades, helipad-topped super yachts and gilded shopping arcades selling Old Masters. This is the place where you can spot celebrities as you drink methusalehs of champagne at a floating lagoon bar or dine on San Remo raw king prawns at a cliff-top restaurant as you gaze over the Mediterranean Sea. Beneath the decadent surface, you can grab a taste of local life at an earthy food market or enjoy myriad cultural attractions on a shoestring.
For further Monaco inspiration, see our guides to the city's best hotels, restaurants, nightlife and things to do.
All roads in Monte-Carlo lead to the place du Casino. There’s no better place to glimpse the over-the-top extremes of this miniature principality than here in this central square with its Rococo architecture, its designer shops and its manicured gardens frothing with rare cultivars. Grab a coffee at the Café de Paris as you ogle the Ferraris and Aston Martin cars lined up outside the famous Hotel de Paris.
Meander downhill towards the one of the only deep-water ports along the entire French Riviera, Port Hercules. This 700-berth port is lined with some of the world’s largest superyachts that you could buy if you had £500 million or so to spare. After you’ve wandered around the quayside, take the return journey across the port on a solar-powered boat service for just €2 departing from the end of quai Antoine 1.
From there, it’s a short walk down boulevard Louis II through the underpass (or bus 1 direction Saint-Roman) to avenue Princesse Grace where you’ll find plentiful lunchtime options. The best is the popular Italian bistro Cantinetta Antinori.
Next door to Cantinetta Antinori lies the beautiful Villa Sauber, one of the last Belle-Epoque villas in the principality. Forming one half of the New National Museum of Monaco, this contemporary visual art museum showcases two Art and Performance exhibitions annually.
Take some time to relax at the Japanese Garden (opposite Song Qi) with its bamboo hedges, teahouse and a waterfall made from stone blocks brought all the way from the Auvergne, Tinée Valley and Corsica. This Zen garden may inspire you to visit Le Tea Shop (place des Moulins, accessible from avenue Princesse Grace by lift opposite the Grimaldi Forum), a well-priced tea emporium where you’ll spot locals enjoying 130 tea references from Japan to Taiwan.
It’s time to put on your glad rags for dinner with a sea view at Elsa. Monaco’s only 100% organic, gastronomic restaurant serves a Mediterranean menu focusing upon wild fish and produce fresh from its own vegetable garden.
After supper, you can groove to the beats of the resident DJ over Pisco Sours at nearby Peruvian hotspot, Coya before stepping next door to continue the party until dawn at Jimmy’z nightclub: the place for celeb spotting over bottles of champagne on a floating bar. For more suggestions of the best nightlife in the area, see our guide.
Breakfast like a local in place d’Armes in La Condamine district. Over a noisette (macchiato coffee) and a chocolate croissant under the arcades, you can soak up the authentic Monegasque atmosphere of the daily flower-and-food market that has taken place in this pretty square since 1880. It’s your chance to discover local snacks such as barbagiuans (fritters stuffed with ricotta and Swiss chard).
From here, a five-minute walk up paved steps will bring you to place du Palais in the Old Town. The Prince’s Palace presides over the famous rock with its far-reaching views over the Monte-Carlo coastline. Though the palace’s sumptuous state apartments are worth a visit, it’s the changing of the guards in their immaculate white uniforms (at 11.55am daily) that is most memorable.
Turn right down rue Colonel Bellando de Castro to find the Notre-Dame-Immaculée Cathedral where Grace Kelly is buried. Next door is the Palais de Justice. With its unique circular structure built from stones containing mollusc shells, it’s arguably the world’s most elaborate-looking courthouse (though you can’t go inside as it’s still a working courthouse).
Meander through the Saint-Martin Garden (opposite the Palais de Justice) with its wild Mediterranean flowers, kids play area and sea viewpoints towards the Oceanographic Museum. This naval museum houses over 6,000 specimens and frequent exhibitions by artists from Damien Hirst to Marc Quinn. Extra-keen visitors may want to explore all floors, but otherwise head straight for the aquarium in the basement. Here, you’ll enter the darkened sub-aqua world of diaphanous moon jellyfish, knobby seahorses and large sharks.
The Old Town’s cheek-by-jowl cobbled streets blend architecture from the 12th-century onwards. Amongst the second-rate tourist shops, you’ll find occasional gems such as Chocolaterie de Monaco in place de la Visitation where you can pause for a cup of their own blended tea and handmade chocolates.
For dinner, take the lift from avenue Saint Martin next to the Oceanographic Museum down to the port. Here you can enjoy quayside views as you dine on excellent French cuisine at the much-loved Monegasque brasserie, Quai des Artistes. For more suggestions of the best restaurants in the area, see our guide.
After dinner, head back up the lift to the car-park roof (Level 2). No summertime stay in Monaco is complete without a trip to the Open-Air Cinema hewn literally into the Old Town’s rock. There’s little to beat watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster (in English) projected against the cliff-face under the stars.
If you’re angling to dine at the pantheon of Monaco’s Michelin-starred restaurants without going bankrupt, go at lunchtime. Illustrious chefs around the principality offer lunchtime deals that cost a fraction of the evening bill. Hotel de Paris’ Le Grill restaurant offers a three-course lunchtime menu for €75, while Pavyllon charges €78 with a guaranteed service within 60 minutes for those squeezing lunch between sightseeing tours.
It’s best to check opening hours of attractions on the Monaco tourism website before your visit. Despite being a capital city, Monaco has some seasonal variation on attraction openings. Museums are open year round, but other popular attractions such as the Prince’s Palace and Le Petit Train are closed in winter months.
At the entrance to Monaco lies the often-overlooked district of Jardin Exotique. After exploring the giant cacti and the limestone cave at the eponymous Exotic Garden, you’ll be inspired by the contemporary art at the new Villa Paloma museum. Families will like the neighbouring Princesse Antoinette park with its play areas and farm animals.
Did you know?
Look out for hidden lifts (78 in total) dotted around the hilly principality. Locals rely on this lift network to connect between streets and even neighbourhoods at the press of a button. You can find them all on the Monaco access map.
The upside of Monaco’s resort monopoly is that Hôtel de Paris, Hôtel Hermitage, Monte-Carlo Beach and Monte-Carlo Bay all share free access to sister attractions such as the Monte-Carlo Casino, Thermes Marins spa (Hôtel Hermitage and Hôtel de Paris even have their own underpasses) and Monte-Carlo Beach Club (except for the Monte-Carlo Bay that has its own sandy lagoon).
More places to stay
Everything about this landmark palace screams over-the-top decadence, from its three-Michelin-starred restaurant to the world’s largest wine cellar. Hôtel de Paris is a magnet for the silver screen: not one, but two Bond movies have been filmed here. The latest facelift takes it to an unprecedented level of luxury.
Monte-Carlo Beach is known for its beach club and Olympic-sized pool has been on the society scene since the 1920s. Golden-heeled guests arrive at the boutique hotel by boat to the private jetty, and these days it's also home to a 100-per-cent organic gastronomic restaurant and an eco-ethical spa.
Hôtel Capitole is one of Monaco’s secret bargains. This three-star hotel stays under the radar as its street address is in France, while Monte-Carlo lies literally across the street. It’s the only decent place to stay for around £100 in high season. Don’t be surprised if you spend more on your night out than your stay here.
What to bring home
Buy a bottle of Monaco’s only homegrown liqueur from L’Orangerie Monte-Carlo. The brainchild of a young Irishman, this orange liqueur is brewed from the handpicked fruit of 600 bitter orange trees that line the principality’s boulevards.
A gift from two classic Monaco manufacturers comes with a royal seal of approval. Created by Erich Rozewicz in collaboration with Prince Rainier, the porcelain shop Manufacture de Monaco in the Métropole Shopping Center offers good-quality tableware and table linen.
Meanwhile, Chocolaterie de Monaco in place de la Visitation sells its own blended tea and handmade chocolates.
About the author
Louise Simpson swapped her Cambridge University French literature degree for a life of bikinis and Rococo architecture in this sun-kissed Mediterranean principality. Today, you’ll spot her studying superyachts over a noisette coffee in Port Hercules.