If one excludes the Vatican City, Monaco is the smallest country in the world. It's a popular tourist destination due to its proximity to the French Riviera and tax free status. It's also the place where the rich and famous come - full of luxurious hotels, resorts and casinos. It could be compared to Las Vegas or Dubai, however, on a much smaller scale - the whole area of Monaco is only 2 square km (less than 1 mile)!
Monaco was never a destination I dreamed to visit. Nevertheless, we got a great deal - extremely cheap flights to Nice in winter, so why not also see the surrounding towns (and a completely different country)? On the way from Nice, we stopped in a spectacularly beautiful, although lesser known town of Eze perched on a steep, rocky cliff overlooking the incredible coast, then we continued on to Monaco itself.
How to get to Monaco
Reaching Monaco couldn't be simpler. The closest airport is in Nice and from Nice you can get a bus for 1.50 EUR (1.90 USD) that will take you to Monaco in around 1 hour! The route is very scenic, along the beautiful coast. As I've mentioned before, do not miss Eze (I'll describe it in the future)!
Monaco - First impressions
Having traveled to many other rivieras, sea side towns and unknown places (that are hardly ever visited by the tourists from the west or are considered unattractive, for example: Albania, Georgia, Ukraine) which all, contrary to popular belief, were a piece of heaven on Earth; I am easily capable to objectively compare and tell whether Monaco is as attractive as it's presented by the media.
Coming from Nice, you won't even feel that you're crossing a border or you're in a different country. But soon later, it's easy to notice that in Monaco everything is strangely perfect - the sidewalks, the streets, the buildings are all spotlessly clean - the whole country just looks like one big outdoor shopping mall!
Opinions about Monaco vary - those who love splendor, luxury and "being" in places where famous people come, may feel better about themselves because they are spending their vacation in one of the world's most famous and expensive resorts.
Those who hate it say that it's very little to see there, nothing original and the blocks that spread upwards along the slopes of surrounding mountains resemble South American favelas destroying the otherwise beautiful nature.
My stance is somewhere in the middle. The natural location of Monaco is indeed impressive and if Monaco is one of the first countries in Europe you've visited - you'll love it. It is also great for photographers - especially at night. The historical buildings and the ports shine with bright, colorful lights. However, if you compare it to the nature and towns in the Balkans, Caucasus or Central Asia (where no one seems to be interested of visiting), Monaco pales in comparison.
The other thing you'll notice is quite a high number of stuck up people, especially from Russia. You can clearly recognize them by tacky, bright clothes with lots of golden jewlery, horrible make up and hairstyles. I don't like to generalize but that was my observation. Coming from a post communist country myself, I understand that some people have the need to posses more, to show off their wealth, to be in famous places. Not because they really want it, but because this is what's considered "trendy" and "on top" in society. There's many westerners like that too though.
What to see in Monaco
Old Village - Monaco-Ville
Now, let's look at the nice things in Monaco - you might have not known that there actually exists an old town district in Monaco - yes, this tiny country is not only about Casinos, yachts and the forest of high-rise modern concrete blocks.
Monaco-Ville is a typical historical quarter filled with extremely narrow pedestrian streets, beautiful, colorful buildings and nice restaurants. However, in other similar cities (like Kotor, Mostar, Split, Nice, etc.), you can feel that they were built ages ago - the old buildings seem "worn out" and that's what creates the charm. Monaco-Ville, in turn, gives the impression as if the old-style town has been made very recently - it's so spotless and perfect.
Within the old city walls, you can admire the impressive Prince's Palace which is especially attractive at night, the 19th century Monaco Cathedral and spectacular views over both ports: the quiet Port de Fontvieille and the luxurious Port Hercule in Monte Carlo district. It's a good idea to visit the old town around the sunset - Monaco at night is really pretty.
By the sea, you can also find the Oceanarium - if you wish to visit it, make sure you arrive at least 1 hour before closing. We got there within the last 30 mins and weren't allowed to enter. The price is quite high, around 20 EUR per adult and I don't regret not seeing it that much as I've already experienced the similar aquarium in Dubai Mall. Nevertheless, nothing can compare to admiring the nature in real life - Oceanarium is just like any other museums. I've tried diving in tropical places (Lakshadweep - have a look here) and seen sharks in the real sea while cage diving with the sharks in South Africa. If you did similar activities, you can easily skip the Oceanarium, however, if you want to see the beautiful sea life, go for it!
Monte Carlo is the famous, posh district filled with extremely luxurious hotels, casinos resorts and beaches. You can simply walk from Monaco-Ville, on the way, have a look at beautiful old houses in the second oldest district - La Condamine. If you prefer, you can also take a bus - it's surprisingly cheap, contrary to other prices in Monaco.
Strolling around the curvy roads and streets, you'll spot the typical landmarks of Monaco - exceptionally expensive yachts, stylish buildings and elegant boutiques - everything to the highest standards suitable for the high class. If you're from the unfortunate lower levels (like us), you can feel a sting of jealousy and that Monaco lacks "the soul" - it all seems the artificial copy of the typical places of this sort. But it wouldn't be fair to say it's an ugly place! It's very pretty.
Monte Carlo is the place where the famous Formula 1 Grand Prix is held. If you can afford, a seat is available for "merely" 90-500 EUR. We visited Monaco in winter, so it was a low season, the little twisted streets of Formula 1 Grand Prix seemed quiet but charming.
Also, winter is a great time to be in Monaco because you can avoid masses of tourists, the prices are lower and the Christmas decorations - real spruces and pines sprinkled with artificial snow stand side by side with palm trees and other tropical plants creating a stark but beautiful contrast.
Of course, when you're in Monte Carlo, you must see the famous Grand Casino. If you want to gamble, your wallet would better be fat. Otherwise you can try playing online on casino.betway.com.
The building of the casino, both outside and inside is typically lavish and luxurious. It looked different and interesting with all the winter decorations around. In front, you'll see many Ferrari and Lamborghini cars and on the other side the Pavillons Monte Carlo which reminds of the famous Yas Viceroy Hotel in Abu Dhabi (have a look at my post here where I've described it).
Is Monaco worth visiting?
At first, especially having read so many bad reviews online, I was tempted to prepare a mostly negative article about Monaco. It would suit the blog's main objective - promoting off the beaten places. But, honestly, the visit in Monaco was better than I'd expected. Beautiful nature and old town architecture is enchanting. And, if you are a photographer, the night time illuminations are astonishing.
It's not a place, however, where I would like to return to nor I would have chosen as a primary travel destination (it all depends on expectations and personal taste) but I think it was nice enough for a little weekend winter break. It is different from the French Riviera yet so close and accessible. So when you're in Nice and have a spare day, it is worth indeed just to experience and observe Monaco and its perfect world, seemingly locked in a bubble, separated from the rest. You don't necessarily need to purchase the expensive items or gamble in casinos. Treat Monaco as an option, but do not miss the original, medieval towns like Eze or Antibes - do not limit yourselves only to Nice, Monaco and Cannes!
Copying without permission is not allowed. If you wish to use any of the site's content (photos or text) or work with us, please contact us.
We welcome questions, advice, support or criticism. However, spam comments will be removed.