At just over two square kilometres (less than one square mile), Monaco packs a punch way above its diminutive size. It’s a city that you can easily meander through, from the famous place de Casino with its Rococo architecture to its harbour-lined with super yachts. The Old Town offers numerous sights from the Prince’s Palace and Grace Kelly’s tomb to open-air films beneath the stars, while Jardin Exotique is home to contemporary art and cacti. Before you leave, grab a glimpse of the real Monaco at the daily food market in Condamine.
Spot the tomb of Hollywood actress Grace Kelly
White stones were brought from the hilltop La Turbie village to build the Notre-Dame-Immaculée Cathedral. This Roman-Byzantine landmark is a focal point of Monegasque life. Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier married here in 1956, while many of the ruling Grimaldi family are buried here too. On Sundays, the much-loved Petits Chanteurs de Monaco choir sings during mass.
Insider’s tip: Look out for the futuristic-looking organ. Built in 2011 by the celebrated Belgian manufacturer Thomas, it took almost two years of design and construction. With 7,000 pipes and four keyboards, it’s one of the most powerful organs in the world.
Contact: 00 377 99 99 14 00
Opening times: daily 9am-6pm; Petits Chanteurs de Monaco (Sundays at 10.30am from September to June)
Watch film stars beneath the stars
There’s little to beat watching a film beneath the stars on a terrace jutting out from “The Rock”. Local expats crowd here on summer evenings to watch Cinema2Monaco’s English-language films on one of Europe’s largest open-air cinema screens. You can grab a beer and a hamburger from the bar before you settle down to watch the latest blockbuster.
Insider’s tip: The most comfortable deckchair seating is at the back. These well-cushioned seats cost a little more, but it’s worth the extra. Despite 500 seats, the best seats get booked up early so you should arrive when the ticket office opens at 8pm.
Contact: 00 377 93 25 36 81; cinemas2monaco.com
Opening times: open daily July to early Sept at 8pm (ticket office) and 9pm (film)
Rock it like a Prince
Surveying the principality from its lofty position on “The Rock”, the 13th-century Prince’s Palace is one of the must-see sites for visitors to Monaco. Though this Genoese fortress is the private residence of the Grimaldi family, you can visit the state apartments where you’ll see the Throne Room and artworks from Holbein and Bruegel to Princess Grace’s state portrait.
Insider’s tip: Time your visit to see the changing of the guard that takes place daily at 11.55am. Since 1917, the Palace Guards have overseen the security of the Palace. They perform their solemn military ritual in Riviera-style immaculate white uniforms.
Contact: 00 377 93 25 18 31; palais.mc
Opening times: daily 10am-6pm Apr to mid-Oct; until 7pm July and Aug
Dive into oceanic history
From a 150-million-year-old reptile to a bouteille à renversement (used to measure seawater temperatures at different depths), the exhibits at the Oceanographic Museum are nothing if not eclectic. There are interesting collections amassed by Prince Albert I during 28 research trips he made aboard his four yachts between 1885 and 1915 around the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic.
Insider’s tip: The highlight of this museum is the basement aquarium: a darkened sub-aqua world of diaphanous moon jellies, circling sea bass and floaty seahorses. As well as a shark tank, there are more than 90 tanks to explore.
Contact: 00 377 93 15 36 00; musee.oceano.org/en/
Opening times: daily 10am-6pm; until 7pm Apr-Jun & Sept; 9.30am-8pm July & Aug
Channel Casino Royale
Place de Casino is one of the world’s most famous squares. It has starred in numerous films: both Pierce Brosnan and Sean Connery filmed Bond scenes here. At the upper end of the square are manicured gardens, while the lower end is home to the Rococo architecture of the casino, opera house and luxurious Hôtel de Paris.
Insider’s tip: Grab a coffee on the Café de Paris’ outdoor terrace for the best vantage point to survey the bewildering display of sports cars, from Lamborghinis to Ferraris, that happen to be parked outside the casino on any given day.
Set sail from the harbour
If you’ve ever wondered how billionaires spend their money, you should take a look at Port Hercules. A trading port since Greek and Roman times, nowadays it’s home to some of the world’s largest super yachts. With the outer port going to a depth of 40m, it’s also one of the only deep-water harbours along the French Riviera.
Insider’s tip: After you’ve wandered around the quayside, you can take the return journey across the port on a solar-powered boat service. It departs from the end of quai Antoine 1 and operates daily from 8am-7.50pm for just €2.
Glimpse the real Monaco
The daily La Condamine fruit, flower and food market is a staple in the lives of local Monegasques. It takes place in place d’Armes: a pretty arcaded square lined with cafés whose tables spill out onto the terracotta tiles. This indoor and outdoor market is a good place to discover local specialties such as barbagiuans, pissaladière, fougasse and socca.
Insider’s tip: The covered market is an excellent option for a well-priced lunchtime snack. Look out for San Maurizio 1619, a truffle bistro that serves excellent steaks, asparagus and pasta: all infused with truffle shavings.
Contact: 00 377 97 97 97 77; quaidesartistes.com
Opening times: Daily 7am-3pm
Contemplate art with a view
The whitewashed Villa Paloma is Monaco’s newest contemporary art museum. Along with its sister museum Villa Sauber (more on which below), they collectively form the New National Museum of Monaco (NMNM). The NMNM exhibits work by famous artists linked with the French Riviera region such as Jean Cocteau, Claude Monet and Kees Van Dongen.
Insider’s tip: Don’t miss the beautiful stained-glass window on the staircase made by Niçoise glazier, Fassi Cadet. After your visit, take a peek at the thoughtfully landscaped garden with its stone terraces filled with Mediterranean plants and its dramatic vista of Monte-Carlo.
Contact: 00 377 98 98 48 60; nmnm.mc
Opening times: daily 10am-6pm
Prices: £ (free entrance on Sundays)
Combine cacti with caves
Hewn into the side of a rock, the Jardin Exotique is known for its cacti collection and its splendid principality views. The idea for this botanical garden began when Prince Albert I’s chief gardener brought back succulents from Mexico in the 1860s, though the gardens didn’t open to the public until 1933. Nowadays there are succulents from all over the globe.
Insider’s tip: Don’t miss the limestone cave at the bottom of Jardin Exotique. The caverns, filled with exotic-sounding concretions such as draperies and spaghettis, will impress you. With 300 steps, it isn’t for the unsure of foot.
Contact: 00 377 93 15 29 80; jardin-exotique.mc/en/
Opening times: Daily 9am-5pm; until 6pm Feb-Apr and Oct; until 7pm May-Sept
Fuse historic architecture with contemporary art
Villa Sauber is one half of the New National Museum of Monaco. The other half is housed in Villa Paloma in Jardin Exotique. The modern art exhibitions here fuse art with fashion and performance. Since 2002, the museum has conserved 4,000 costumes and 400 stage-set models from the Opéra de Monte-Carlo.
Insider’s tip: Arguably as interesting as the art is the building itself – one of Monaco’s only Belle Époque villas left. Given the similarities to the Charles Garnier-designed opera house, the design has often been attributed to this famous Belle Époque architect.
Contact: 00 377 98 98 91 26; nmnm.mc
Opening times: daily 10am-6pm
Prices: £ (free entrance on Sundays)