Monaco may be small, but it certainly packs a punch. Beyond its luxurious and enigmatic persona, the Principality is a rich melting pot of culture, entertainment and history. There is so much to do in Monaco, it is difficult to fit it all into one day. But if you must, here are our top picks!
The Prince’s Palace of Monaco
Any trip to the Principality of Monaco must include a visit to the Prince’s Palace, which sits proudly on The Rock of Monaco and overlooks the sparkling Mediterranean sea. This is an important landmark as it was the first conquest of the Grimaldi dynasty. Hence, the rulers of the country for more than 700 years.
But to really appreciate the Palace, you have to understand its history. The palace was originally established as a fort in 1191. For hundreds of years, it served an integral role as the Grimaldi’s fought to keep their land and sovereignty. Waging wars against the likes of Genoa, France, Spain, Germany and England. Over the years, the Grimaldis have added to the palace, building a new tower or wing.
Today, it remains the official residence of the Sovereign Prince of Monaco. Likewise, a selection of elegant rooms, known as the state apartments, is open to visitors from June to October.
Art exhibitions are often held at the Prince’s Palace, organised by the Palace Archives. Meanwhile, summer concerts are held throughout July and August. Check the website for more information.
Villa Paloma and Villa Sauber
Two of Monaco’s most important villas are now home to a selection of art exhibitions, collectively known as the New National Museum of Monaco (Nouveau Musée National de Monaco), or NMNM.
Villa Paloma was built by American Edward N. Dickerson in the early 1900s and remains one of the most beautiful aristocratic residences in the Principality. The villa offers several exhibitions per year around the general theme of ‘Art and Territory’.
Villa Sauber is one of the last Belle Epoque villas in Monaco and hosts exhibitions on the theme of ‘Art and Spectacle’. The splendid garden with its many citrus blossoms, roses and exotic plants is also open to the public. Unfortunately, Villa Sauber and the gardens will be closed from 28th October 2018 for three years while it undergoes renovations and improvements.
Villa Paloma is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm during exhibitions. Tickets are 6€, and entrance is free on Sundays.
The top of everyone’s list when visiting Monaco is Casino Square because it is literally the epicentre of Monaco’s glamorous world. The square is home to the palatial Monte Carlo Casino, the luxurious Hôtel de Paris Monte Carlo, and the legendary Café de Paris. The Belle Epoque architecture is breathtaking, and time spent wandering around the area is a must.
Take an organised tour of the casino for a glimpse of utter extravagance. Admire the gilded interior of the gaming rooms and the exquisite opera hall built-in 1878 by Charles Garnier, the architect of the Paris Opera House.
People watch on the sprawling terrace of the Café de Paris and choose your favourite among the luxury cars stationed nearby. To really soak in the legend of Monte Carlo, order a cocktail in the Bar Américain at the Hotel de Paris Monte Carlo while enjoying some live jazz music. If you have a chance, try and see a concert or ballet at the stunning opera hall, Salle Garnier.
A Japanese garden is probably the last thing you would expect to see in Monaco, but alas it does exist and it is well worth a stroll through, particularly on a sunny Mediterranean day. Located on Avenue Princesse Grace, the garden has water features, bridges, plants and a Zen garden for meditation. You can enjoy an interesting mix of Japanese tradition and Mediterranean flora here, as the various structures are from across the globe while all of the plants are native to the Mediterranean! It sounds weird, but indeed it works, and it offers a little bit of tranquillity in the bustling heart of Monaco. The best thing is it is free to enter!
Vintage Car Museum
Car lovers simply can’t miss the vintage car collection amassed by Prince Rainier III, formerly housed in the Palace Garages and now covering 5,000 m2 of the Terrasses de Fontvieille. This truly unique display brings together around 100 stunning streamline and sporty cars. Visitors can admire everything from a 1903 De Dion Bouton to the 2013 Lotus F1, and everything imaginable in-between. There are, of course, plenty of classic racing cars from various Monaco Grand Prix.
The museum is open 7 days a week from 10 am to 6 pm, admission is 6.50€ for adults and 3€ for children.
Elegantly straddling the sheer cliff face of Monaco is the incredible Oceanographic Museum, which simply must be viewed from the sea if given the chance. It’s an impressive example of Baroque Revival architecture and is home to various exhibitions and collections of sea fauna.
The museum takes visitors on a journey through time. Hence, the first floor dedicated to the work of Prince Albert I, founder of the museum and fondly remembered as Prince of the Seas. Because of his deep love of the ocean. Among the artefacts on display in the laboratory from L’Hirondelle, the first of Prince Albert’s research yachts.
Other exhibits include sea animal skeletons, ritual objects and model ships. The aquarium is home to a number of species of sea fauna including turtles, sharks, rays and fish. In fact, visitors will discover more than 6,000 specimens, as well as hundreds of species of coral. The Cabinet of Curiosities is a nice touch. It features a collection of fossils, vintage diving equipment and precious books.
Above all, this marine sciences museum is a testament to the environmental commitment that Monaco makes to the oceans. Additionally, the sharing of its knowledge. It’s a big hit with the kids!