Monaco's Monte Carlo Casino and Place du Casino mysteriously laid out as a vineyard in 2013. The Mirror art thing is by famous - and expensive - sculptor Anish Kapoor. Look lower down for a more traditional Casino exterior experience!
'Alcatraz for the rich' Jack Nicholson
Known for its monarchy, the longest ruling autocracy in Europe, the Monte Carlo casino and zero income-tax, Monaco has narrow streets, CCTV cameras in excess, 1 policeman for every 62 residents and a hugely expensive marina and shops, though it is possible to eat and drink for a reasonable price in most places - around the port, Condamine, Larvotto and even up in Monaco-Ville you can pay an acceptable amount for modest foods and drinks (€3 for a beer, €12 for a pizza).
Monaco is the second smallest country in the world after the Vatican in Rome, and officially has the highest population density in the world (depending on how you calculate it) with about 35,000 people in about 3/4 of a square mile (1.2 sq kms), except that as most of the residents are exceptionally wealthy and have a base in Monaco for tax reasons they are more likely to be found actually working in Paris, London, New York or Beijing, or taking lengthy vacations just about anywhere more beautiful and less crowded than Monaco!
Most of Monaco's tourist attractions are in the wards (districts) of Monaco-Ville, Monte Carlo, Port Hercule (Port de Monaco), and a couple in Fontvieille, by far the biggest sight being Le Jardin Exotique.
• Old Monaco-Ville
Also known as The Rock/La Rocher to see the Palace, panoramic views, Monaco Cathedral and several museums, especially the Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium. It's also a good place from which to watch the annual F1 Grand Prix.
Monaco's old town, Monaco-Ville (aka The Rock), adjacent to the palace.
An exotic garden in Fontvieille for under €8, with awesome cliff-hanging collection of cacti from differing environments scattered along zig-zag walkways.
A group visiting the cave system under Monaco.
• Casino Square and Monte Carlo Casino
Great place to see luxury cars. Enter the Casino if you are permitted or wander round the rear of the block to see the large and ornate Opera House, then walk along the sea front on top of the Fairmont Hotel and enjoy the statues as well as the panoramas.
Three Rolls-Royces and a Lamborghini is a typical selection of motors in front of the Casino that the tourists just love to snap.
Checking out the expensive cars in Monte-Carlo square is a popular thing to do in Monaco. On my day there the white Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupé (German registration) on the right was the most unusual motor in Monaco that day as someone had installed massively oversize wheels and tyres on the beast. Isn't that a criminal offence for the attention of the style police?!
Tourists who wish to enter the Grand Casino to gamble or just wander around will have to bring a passport as Monaco residents are not allowed to gamble, must wear formal clothing such as jackets and ties and have to pay for the pleasure of entry. The price depends on the activity chosen, but for just looking it's just a few euros and worthwhile as the rooms inside are superbly ornate and decorated with stunning art.
Stroll around the port area to window shop for luxury yachts, see different views of Monte-Carlo and Monaco-Ville and check out the lovely little Sainte-Dévote chapel and a couple of excellent, solid bronze F1 racing cars (you can sit in the one race-car replica near the Monaco-Ville end of the port).
The view from Monte-Carlo across Port Hercule to the original rocky and easily defended settlement of Monaco-Ville.
Walk along to the shore path from Casino Square to the beach, taking in the gorgeous little traditional Japanese Garden on the way. It's free to enter.
One of Larvotto's beaches.
• The public walkway on top of the Fairmont Monte Carlo (hotel)
Beside the sea it's officially known as Chemin des Sculptures and does host some odd and interesting - and undoubtedly expensive sculptures.
The Fat Lady on top of the Fairmont Monte Carlo (hotel) on a pedestrian path. She's clearly waiting to sing at the Opera House, centre background. The circular building to the left is the Hôtel de Paris. Actually the sculpture is 'Reina Mariana' by the sculptor Manolo Valdes.
The Fairmont walkway is not like any hotel roof we've ever seen before. And it's kind of traditional to rub the diminuitive gentleman's sausage over on the right as you pass by!
Built before 1070 but much restored and 'improved' since, tourists can enter Sainte Dévote and enjoy the elaborate décor and stained glass windows.
Beside the port is the Roman Catholic chapel of Sainte-Dévote, the patron saint of Monaco.
Similar to the Côte d'Azur in general but even more moderate due to its immediate proximity to the sea and the vast rocky backdrop so frost is very rare as is extreme heat, though humidity can be oppressive in the summer.
The best months to visit are May - September for high sun and low humidity, with average high temperatures of 23C (73F) and lows of 19C (66F), but even in July and August temperatures are not too bad with highs under 30C (86F) and lows around 21C (70F).
The Japanese Garden, a free-to-enter oasis, small but perfectly formed.
A Day in Monaco
These photos show the fairly limited range of sightseeing in this tiny principality embedded in France as they were all taken one September day between 11am and 7pm, though admittedly I didn't visit any museums and there are plenty of interest such as the Oceanographic Museum and the Museum of Napoleonic Souvenirs in Monaco-Ville, the National Museum of Automatons and Dolls of Yesteryear in Monte-Carlo, the Museum of Antique Automobiles in Fontvieille (Prince Albert's personal collection).
I also didn't spend any time gambling, lying around on Larvotto beaches, visiting the zoo, watching an outdoor movie, riding the hop-on, hop-off bus or lazing in a mega-yacht's jacuzzi smoking dope with a crew of spectacular ladies (mainly because no one invited me). I did however spend longer in Jardin Exotique than I should have, traveled on the superb buses a fair bit for little cost and stopped for a short lunch and drinks later in the afternoon.
So...bottom line is a tourist on France's Côte d'Azur could visit Monaco for a day and have a fun time, though budgeting two or three days would cover some museum time and a lot more relaxation. See Getting There.
An example of the bizarre mish-mash of building styles visible here. Most are large but simple apartment blocks though coastal edifices do try harder.
And don't even think about staying here during the Grand Prix time in May unless you have a big budget, though you could find good value accommodation in a nearby city such as Ventemiglia (Italy), Menton or even Nice and travel in by train along the coast.
The famous Monaco tunnel runs just to the left of the trees in the photo above. I thought about taking a photo of the tunnel but it was both dark and dull, though livened up by foreigners hammering their hyper-sports cars through it. Great sound effects. The car that I would love to have photographed (I was too stunned to react in time) was a chopped and slammed, matt black, race-tuned Bentley Continental with German plates and straight-thru silencers who really put his foot to the metal and went past shreiking and smoking! Donner und Blitzen!
And if you wish to sit in an old race car, try this bronze Mercedes, a replica Grand Prix winner, in the southeast corner of the port below The Rock, Monaco-Ville.
For easy sightseeing take the little Azur Express tourist train if your ego can handle the embarrassing vehicle for a 30 minute ride around the main sights, with multi-lingual commentary. Alternatively go for very efficient €2 public buses or use the Hop-On, Hop-Off, Open-Air Monaco-Tour bus service. And that's quite enough hyphens for one sentence.
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