Monte Carlo operates a bus service, the Compagnie des Autobus Monaco, through the city’s five bus routes (somewhat confusingly labeled 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6) which serves 143 stops. The service usually starts at around 6 in the morning and runs right through until about 9 o’clock at night. Tickets can be purchased on board the buses themselves or at many news vendors and shops throughout the city – often it will be advertised as to where you can do this.
There are also seven public escalators and elevators (all free) that help negotiate the steep slopes of the city.
Taxis can be hailed on the streets and there are two main taxi stands open around the clock at the Avenue de Monte Carlo and the railway station, although it is always best to agree a fee beforehand or make sure the meter is running.
International car hire companies do have offices at the airport in Nice and also in Monte Carlo city. These include Avis, Gare Monte Carlo, Europcar and Hertz – drivers must have held a national driving license for at least one year and it is usually requested that the cost is paid for with the driver’s credit card. Driving in the city center can be intimidating in Monte Carlo with heavy traffic – however, it is often worth this to drive alongside the more expensive vehicles in the city! It is also possible to hire a bicyle from the Auto-Moto-Garage on the Rue de Millo.
It is relatively easy to navigate Monte Carlo and Monaco if you take the time to learn where the various “short cuts” are. City maps are generally available at most news vendor stands and shops for a small fee.
An absolute ‘must-do’ for new or old visitors alike is a walk along the coastal Avenue Saint-Martin, feauturing some beautiful cliff-side gardens. On this road is the Monaco Cathedral, which was built in the late 19th century, and was where Princess Grace and Prince Ranier married. It is also where Grace and many of the other Grimaldis are buried.
The Palais du Prince (Prince’s Palace) is located in old Monaco-Ville and is also a must see. The changing of the guard takes place daily at 11:55 am, so you might want to time your visit for then. There are guided tours of the palace each day and usually run around the clock. While you are there, be sure to take time to walk over and look at the harbors on either side of the palace – the view is marvelous!
While in the harbour, it is very easy to simply stop and marvel at the many super-yachts and cruise ships which usually adorn the docks in the marina. Sometimes, while having a drink at the shores, it is possible to glimpse one of the rich and famous simply relaxing aboard their own vessel.
If you leave the harbour and walk to the east, you’ll soon encounter the Casino de Paris (The Grand Casino) in Place du Casino, easily the most beautiful part of Monte Carlo. Here, it is well worth a visit inside the casino itself, even if you plan not to gamble – the architecture, lavish marble and golden ornaments inside are simply stunning. The casino opens daily to guests from 2 o’clock and entry to the antechamber outside the casino itself is free, although you still must be 18 to enter. It is even possible to, amazingly, just simply stop outside and ‘people-watch’ the guests coming to and fro the very exclusive Hotel d’Paris, just a few yards from the door of the casino. If not, the car enthusiasts in the family might enjoy the huge range of very expensive and powerful cars parked outside!
If your wallet permits it, try your luck in the Grand Casino and gamble alongside the world’s richest and often most famous. You’ll need your passport to enter, and the fees for entry range enormously depending on what room you are going to – often from 30€ right up into the hundreds The dress code inside is extremely strict – men are required to wear coats and ties, and casual or ‘tennis’ shoes are forbidden. The gaming rooms themselves are spectacular, with stained glass, paintings, and sculptures everywhere. There are two other more Americanized casinos in Monte Carlo. Neither of these has an admission fee, and the dress code is more casual.
Another activity you might want to try is a visit to the Grand Prix course – it is often possible to find an exclusive company at the marina-side that will let you take a trip round the famous steep climbs and hairpin corners of the Monaco course in a performance vehicle – often a Ferrari or a a Lamborghini, however, this is costly.
However, if you tire of the lavish lifestyle and show-off supercars (which won’t happen quickly!) there are plenty of other ways to spend your time in Monte Carlo. The Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium on Avenue Saint-Martin is a world-reknowned attraction, There are more than 4,000 different fish and over 200 families of invertebrates, featuring everything from strange sea growths to deadly pirhanas and even the skeleton of a 66 foot whale, and is well worth a visit. To relax after seeing it all, the top floor of the museum is home to La Terrasse, a restaurant which features beautiful views over the Riviera. Admission charges are 12.50€ for an adult and 6€ for concessions (children under 6 go free).
The opera house also known as the “Salle Garnier” was built by the famous architect Charles Garnier. The auditorium of the opera house is decorated in red and gold and has frescoes and sculptures all around the auditorium. Looking up to the ceiling of the auditorium, the visitor will be blown away by the superb paintings. The opera house is flamboyant but at the same time very beautiful. There have been some of the most superior international performances of ballet, opera and concerts held in the opera house for more than a century – consult http://www.opera.mc/ if you consider taking in a show during your visit – however, expect to pay top dollar!
Shopping in Monte Carlo is usually quite exclusive and is certainly no place for a budget holiday. There are plenty of places to melt the credit card alongside Europe’s high rollers. The chic clothes shops are in the ‘Golden Circle’, framed by Avenue Monte Carlo, Avenue des Beaux-Arts and Allees Lumieres, where Hermes, Christian Dior, Gucci and Prada all have a presence. The area on and around Place du Casino is home to high-end jewellers such as Bulgari, Cartier and Chopard. You will find, however. that most tourists will simply enjoy wandering the area and window shopping, even if you don’t buy anything. The normal shopping hours are from 9:00 to noon and 3:00 to 7:00 pm.
For a more cultured take on shopping in Monte Carlo, try the Condamine Market. The market, which can be found in the Place d’Armes, has been in existence since 1880 and is lively and attractive – many hours can be spent simply wandering around, bargaining for souvenirs from the many tiny shops, boutiques and friendly locals. If, however, you’re shopping tastes are more modern, just a short walk along the esplanade is the rue Princess Caroline pedestrian mall.
The Fontvieille Shopping Centre is also a more ‘normal’ shopping experience with 36 shops selling electronic goods, CDs, furniture, and clothes as well as a Carrefour supermarket. The tourist office also issue a useful free shopping guide to the city.
Dining in Monte Carlo can be a very sobering experience to whomever is paying the bill. Perhaps the most exclusive and famous restaurants in the city are the ‘Louis XV Restaurant’ and the ‘Le Grill de L’Hotel de Paris’, both centered around the very exclusive Hotel de Paris. You are more than likely to be seated next to a member of the rich and famous, and the gourmet food is simply out-of-this-world – however, these experiences come with a rather hefty price tag!
For those of us looking for a more relaxed and informal lunch or dinner, there are a huge variety of other restaurants and cafés in the city with a lesser price tag and excellent food. There are a few simple cafés along the marina-side, more like beach bars than anything else, that serve simple meals such as pizza, salads and hotdogs throughout the day. These can be excellent for simply sitting back during the hot midday with a cold beer or glass of wine, a snack to recharge your batteries from exploring the city, and the gentle lapping of the Mediterranean (and often the roar of supercars) in your ears. Most of these restaurants also come equipped with water-misters in the ceilings that gently cool and refresh the clientelle.
Somewhere in between these two dining experiences comes the world-famous Café de Paris, just outside the Casino. Tourists and locals alike can often be found during the afternoon and all through the night laughing, drinking, and eating some fabulous (but verging on expensive) meals. It is definitely a must-go during your stay in Monte Carlo, even if it is just for a snack in the afternoon – it is well worth it.