Carved into the rocky cliffs of the French Riviera, Monaco is like stumbling upon a modern Cair Paraval. It’s the land of the important, the rich, and the beautiful.
I wouldn’t have been surprised if High King Peter and his other royal siblings had walked out of the Palace. C.S. Lewis, I’m onto you.
We arrived in Monaco around 9 am from Nice for less than 10 euros (score!!). The station is underground, in the side of the mountain in fact, and we ended up taking an obscure exit that popped us out near the marina, but also near nothing distinguishable. The train from Nice drops you off right across from the back entrance and, in our excitement to see the outside world, we ran out without thinking about how we were going to get anywhere. So make sure to take a right after getting off instead of a left. The main entrance is at the far end of the station and it’s about a 10 minute walk through tunnels before it drops you off in the middle of Monaco-Ville across from a Starbucks.
Monte-Carlo and Monaco-Ville are two very different ‘cities’ on two very different ends of the tiny city-state. Like so tiny you can see one from the other. I could have stood on one end and my friend on the other and we would have found each other without binoculars if we waved hard enough.
We ended up walking up the hilly roads towards Monte-Carlo first.
There wasn’t much going on in Monte-Carlo at 9 in the morning. Most of the shops seemed to be closed and there weren’t many people out or cars on the street. Around the casino there were many shops and cafes and a little green park with a fountain. The Opéra de Monte-Carlo is also on this end, designed by architect Charles Garnier, who also built the Palais Garnier in Paris. Not to be confused with the Garnier beauty products.
We found the Office of Tourism behind another oddly placed but rather beautiful Japanese garden and asked for a map, discovering that the castle and old town were in the opposite direction. We snapped a few more photos, pointed out all of the glittering earrings and red-soled shoes behind glass windows that we would buy if we were millionaires, and hopped on a bus to the other side of town.
Monaco-Ville, or Monaco City, was what I imagined Monaco to be like. We ended up spending most of our time around the palace and old town, with its quaint, colorful buildings and winding narrow streets.
Some of the main attractions in Monaco City include; the Palais du Prince, the Oceanography Museum (one of the oldest in the world – commissioned by Prince Albert and opened in 1910), the Exotic Gardens with plants from all over the world that overlooks the glistening blue waters of the sea, Monaco Harbor, and Saint Nicholas Cathedral (or Monaco Cathedral, or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, whatever you want to call it). Saint Nicholas Cathedral is where the Grimaldi (like The Princess Diaries) family vault is, including the tomb of American actress and Princess Grace Kelly.
The Palais du Prince is, like Buckingham Palace, still fully functioning. The Royal family were in town, so tours weren’t offered, of course. But I believe they do offer them consistently in the summer.
Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to go back.
Surprisingly, Monaco was pretty affordable. Granted, I didn’t buy any Prada shoes, a new Gucci handbag, or dine at the casino. Even though Monaco has the reputation of being expensive, I found myself buying reasonably priced souvenirs that weren’t much different than the ones I found in Nice.
On our first day, we made sure to eat breakfast before getting on the train. And then we had a late lunch in Cannes, cutting out eating in Monaco entirely. But Monaco was too beautiful to leave behind so the next day we headed back and ate a 6 euro panini on a bench in the palace courtyard under the warm sun.
If you do want to splurge a bit, there are plenty of places to do so. Oysters seemed to be a very popular choice, served on a lazy-Susan looking platter of ice. There are a few courtyards at the bottom of the hill that have many restaurants with different carte du jours. One dish I saw was lapin à la moutarde. Rabbit with mustard. Sounds yummy.
* I just looked up a picture and I was initially being a bit sarcastic but now I’m like, yeah, okay, that does look pretty good. It’s the pizza with corn all over again.
At 11:55, we watched the Changing of the Guard. Unlike in London, where I’ve read and heard from first-hand experience that you have to show up hours before to get even a relatively decent place, we showed up at 11:40 expecting the courtyard to be packed, only no one was there. It got a bit crowded five or so minutes before but by that time we already had front row seats. Though, if you are visiting over the summer, I would suggest arriving earlier.
We were told by the lady in the tourist office that the Changing of the Guard and the palace were ‘alright’ and ‘not that interesting, to be honest.’
Tourism lady, do you know what you’re talking about?
The palace is on top of the hill, overlooking the harbor and the Mediterranean sea. The waters are crystal blue and practically clear along the shoreline. The Changing of the Guard has been done every day at the same time for the past 700 years and I thought it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.
With spectacular views, charming architecture, and a Royal family, I swear Monaco is Narnia in disguise. Or maybe I was really in Genovia and it was Princess Mia in the Palais du Prince instead. It seemed like someone just ripped a page out of a fairytale book and said – here, build this city in this cliff overlooking these blue waters and we’ll call it Monaco.
I wouldn’t need a crown to live there, but a crown would be nice.