If I had a euro for every time someone asked me ‘Is Monaco cheap to visit?’ I’d probably be able to buy a penthouse apartment there myself.
There’s no doubt about it that Monaco is a destination of legend – luxury everything from hotels to superyachts to fast cars is normal there.
Monaco is a place you’re more likely to see Prada than Primark, Mercedes than Mazdas and Moët & Chandon rather than Murphys Irish Stout (Not to say that you won’t find people clothed in Primark or drinking Murphy’s there, you’ll just find it not so prominent).
Monaco is definitely a destination where you can spend a lot of money in a short time – lunch at somewhere fancy, a flutter at the Casino de Monte-Carlo, a swish suite at a luxury hotel won’t get you much change back from €1000, if any at all.
But, it’s also a destination that can be visited on a low or limited budget. Yes it’s possible – Monaco on a budget.
MONACO ON A SHOESTRING
This post is for anyone who has asked me THAT question – backpackers, families on a budget, green yachties, intrepid travellers hoping to find out how to make their sightseeing money go further (you know the type – they weigh up the cost of a night out over buying food the next day and have stories of going on a bender then eating pot noodles for a week).
FREE OR CHEAP MONACO SIGHTSEEING
The first thing to mention for first-time visitors to Monaco is the topography. Monaco/Monte Carlo is spread across a lot of hills, so if you’re not expecting that, are unfit or have restricted mobility you should be aware of that.
Luckily, the Principality has a network of public lifts and walkways (78 lifts, 35 escalators and 8 travelators) so you can get around without a great deal of effort, in less than an hour. For a free map of where all the lifts and travelators are you can download it here: MonacoPublicLifts
Changing of the Guards
One of the most popular free things to do in Monaco is to watch the Changing of the Guards ceremony which takes place in the square in front of the Palais Princier at 11.55am daily. The ceremony has not changed in more than a century; the guards wear white uniforms in summer and black in winter.
The Guards are not just military men, their roles include providing escorts for religious, civil and ceremonial processions, ensuring security for sports and other public events in the Principality, providing assistance to the Monaco Red Cross, assisting transportation of the disabled, helping children from the Saint Devote daycare center, and helping with relief and evacuation plans during any national emergency. Among the Guards are trained scuba divers that are charged with underwater security, monitoring water pollution levels and overseeing nautical events held in Monaco waters.
The Palais itself is the official residence of the ruling Prince of Monaco and has a vast history. The Grimaldis, an aristocratic family from Genoa have fought to keep the Palais (and their independence) over centuries, waging wars with Italy, France, Spain, Germany, England and the Earls of Provence in order to do so.
The French Revolution significantly impacted the Palace and the Grimaldi reign when the National Convention ordered all occupied lands, including the Principality, be governed by independent administrations based on those of France.
The Palace was occupied and looted by the citizens of Monaco, Roquebrune and Menton and Monaco’s name changed to Fort d’Hercule. The Grimaldi possessions were sold at auction, the State Apartments were turned into a military hospital for the Italian army, the throne room was used as a kitchen and the rest of the Palace designated a Poorhouse.
Prince Rainier III is credited with restoring the Palais to its current state, and tourists can visit the State Apartments from March to October. Entry is €8 adults / €4 kids (8-14 years), or buy a combined ticket for the State Apartments and the Private Collection of Antique Cars for €11,50 adults / €5 kids. Note: The Apartments are not wheelchair accessible as there are stairs.
Saint Martin Gardens (Jardins Saint Martin)
Adjacent to the Monaco Oceanarium and with incredible views overlooking Port Fontvieille, these well-maintained public gardens are a pleasant place to wander with wide pathways, shaded benches under pines and olive trees and numerous sculptures including a bronze of Prince Albert I.
Japanese Garden (Jardin Japonais)
Created in 1994, the Japanese Garden is a municipal garden located on avenue Princesse Grace beside the Grimaldi Forum.
An unexpected surprise in an area of high-rise buildings, it’s a lovely place to visit and take a break among the maples, pines and shrubs. True to Japanese garden aesthetics and symbolism, you can roam the pathways past lakes with koi, cascades and Zen gardens.
Stone Fountain’s (Fusen-Ishi) symbolize longevity to the Principality, arched bridges denote happiness and the path (Roji) to the Tea House leads to 5 water stones (Tsukubai) that invite visitors to purify and cleanse their mind and body with a ladle of water, a necessary preparation before entering the ornamental Tea House.
I recommend a visit to this garden when you go to Monaco, it is free to visit and open 9am until sunset.
The Champions Promenade
Free seafront pathway on the Promenade du Larvotto near the Japanese Garden and Grimaldi Forum with footprints of some top footballers including Pele, Diego Maradona, Ryan Giggs and more.
Princess Grace’s Legacy
Monaco Cathedral, is located in Monaco-Ville (Old Town) and known for the Bréa altarpiece, as well as the tombs of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace. You can visit for free from 8.30am-7pm (6pm in winter) except during mass.
The Princess Grace Rose Gardens on avenue del Guelfes at Fontvieille were created in 1984 as a memorial garden to Princess Grace. The gardens are free entry and have thousands of rose bushes with 300 varieties.
Afterwards, head to the Columbus Hotel adjacent to the Rose Gardens and try their ‘Grace cocktail’ that was inspired by the Princess’ fondness of the flower and whipped up from rose petals, rose liquor and Champagne. Even better, go back at Happy Hour when drinks are 50% off.
The ‘Parcours du Princesse Grace’ is a free pedestrian trail through the Principality covering 5.5 kilometres that features 25 points of interest significant to the Princess. Each stop has a plaque with photograph and comments, there are some touching photos and interesting historical information. Pick up a free map from the Tourist Office at 2a boulevard des Moulins, 98000 Monaco.
Plage Larvotto is the main beach in Monaco and while it’s designated as public, there are also sections to hire beach chairs/loungers.
Go early on hot days as it gets busy! Families will find a kids playground and there are kiosks for ice creams, drinks etc.
Monaco has many diverse museums covering exhibits from maritime history to vintage toys to manuscripts from Napoléon.
The most visited museum is the Musée Oceanographic (Monaco Oceanarium) and I agree that it is a great place to take kids, but it always gets mentioned in travel posts about Monaco.
Some of Monaco’s lesser known museums offer cheaper sightseeing though they are somewhat special interest, so take your pick and visit a few if you are on a low budget:
- Musée Naval (Esplanade Rainier II, Terrasses de Fontvieille) is an impressive collection of 250 model ships including the US battleship Missouri, the Titanic, submarines, and Viking ships. Open every day except Christmas Day and New Years Day, entrance is €4 for adults and €2,50 for kids 8-14 years.
- Musée de la Chapelle de la Visitation has masterpieces by Rubens, Ribera and other Italian baroque masters. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10am-6pm. Adults €3 / Students €1,50 / Kids under 12 years are free
- Musée Collection of Voitures Anciennes is the private collection of over 100 vintage cars of Prince Rainier III. Open 7 days, 10am-6pm. Adults Adults €6,50 / Students & Kids 8-14 years €3. Wheelchair-accessible.
Free Sculpture Trail (Chemin des Sculptures)
Monaco is dotted with over 100 works from artists including Marseillais artist César, Colombian painter/sculptor Fernando Botero, Emma Sigaldi, and Lalanne. A free sculpture path is in the Fontvieille district to allow visitors to discover some of the sculptures.
Monaco Open-Air Cinema
One of the best open-air cinemas I’ve seen, it’s the most expensive activity I’ve included in this blog article however the superb location on the Rock overlooking the sea can’t be beaten.
Open from June to September, films are screened in English (version originale) with French subtitles and to be honest once you sit on the padded chairs with a drink in hand as the sun sets over the sea you’ll agree that the €12 ticket price (€9 for students with I.D) is worth it.
Reservations aren’t possible so plan to arrive well in advance to ensure you get a seat.
Monaco / Monte Carlo hosts free music and concerts throughout summertime – in 2015, Robbie Williams played for free for Monagasque residents and place du Casino featured free concerts from Murray Head, the stars from the Commitments and Mika.
On 21 June each year, Fête de la Musique is a public event celebrated in both France and Monaco with free music performances from amateur and professional musicians – in Monaco, head to the main port where a stage is set up.
Free summer fireworks displays
Every year, the French Riviera is alive with regular free fireworks displays that form international competitions.
Cannes, Juan les Pins, Monaco all host displays in July and August – click on the hyperlink for dates in 2016 for Monaco fireworks.
Casino Square (place du Casino)
The iconic Casino Square is a great people watching area though the immediate cafeterias and restaurants are not for the budget traveller; regardless most people put a visit to Café de Paris and/or Casino de Monte-Carlo on their ‘must do’ list. Sit in the gardens opposite the main Casino de Monte-Carlo and watch the supercars cruise past.
National Day of Monaco
As you walk around Monaco you’ll see many businesses with portraits of the Prince and Monagasque flags. For a small Principality, it is quite patriotic.
Every year on 19 November, the Sovereign Prince’s Day, also known as Fête Nationale or the National Day of Monaco is observed – if you’re in Monaco around this time, there is a free public fireworks display the evening before over Port Hercule.
The actual day involves a mass for royalty, dignatories and the Knights of Malta at the Monaco Cathedral followed by brass bands in the Palais Square and the royal family waving from the Palais.
Stade Louis II
Home to Monaco’s football team, AS Monaco, they host Ligue 1 French matches, and the occasional Europa or Champions League games e.g. against Tottenham Hotspurs last year.
Match tickets are a fraction of what you’d pay in the UK and if you buy in advance online via the AS Monaco website you get a 10% discount (you must take photo I.D when you present your ticket at the stadium).
Ticket discounts also apply if you want to go to a game with a group of 10 or more people. The stadium rarely fills up, so you can usually grab a ticket at the gate too.
Pre-match, head to Monte Carlo Bar (1 avenue Prince Pierre) on the intersection near Place d’Armes which is a meeting spot for football fans, it’s open late and good for a beer and snack during Grand Prix too.
MONACO GRAND PRIX ON A BUDGET
Monaco Grand Prix is one of my favourite events here on the French Riviera and it’s a complete myth you have to be stacked with cash to enjoy it (though that can help immensely!).
If you want to visit the Grand Prix, the main race is Sunday and there’s usually no way to get around the price of tickets, so unless you have hospitable friends with apartments or offices overlooking the circuit or plan to charter a superyacht , you’ll have to pay up.
However, you can buy tickets for the Thursday practice day at a fraction of Sunday’s prices, or head to Monaco on the Friday for the free day. FREE! Same circuit, different cars but there are always lots of people around and I find the atmosphere is great the entire 4-days anyway.
If you’re a complete cheap skate, you can still get to Monaco and head to Place d’Armes on Sunday where they have free big screens relaying the race action and driver simulators, beer kiosks and other free entertainment so you can soak up the atmosphere.
If you’re hoping to get a free glimpse of the circuit up close, you’re out of luck – the fencing goes into place well in advance and entry to the stands is via gated security HOWEVER I have a super tip for somewhere in Monaco where you can watch a snippet of the live race for free and no I’m not referring to a pub television! Stay tuned for my Grand Prix blog coming soon with more GP info….
At the end of each race day, they open up the circuit so you can walk on it. Race merchandise can be bought any day for less than €15 (caps, t-shirts etc) and well-priced food and drinks including beer is sold everywhere. The crowds in the bars are generally well behaved and I’ve never seen the local police turf anyone off the street for wandering around with a plastic beer cup in public during Grand Prix.
If you love motor racing, another option is to get a ticket for the Grand Prix de Monaco Historique which is held every 2 years in Monaco on the same circuit and always a few weeks before the F1 event.
In 2016, Grand Prix de Monaco Historique is held from 13-15 May, with the F1 Grand Prix from 26-29 May. I actually prefer the GP Historique over the F1 racing as it features classic cars including F1 Grand Prix cars from the 1960’s and 1970’s as well as sports cars from the 1950’s such as Astons and Jags.
I will be posting another blog article in the coming weeks about tips specifically for Monaco Grand Prix, so stay tuned!
Regional train tickets
If you plan to travel by train on the French Riviera, there are a number of train ticket options you can get.
You can buy a single-use ticket (oneway or return) however the most economical option if you’re travelling to a few towns on the same day is to buy a ZOU ! Pass.
The ZOU ! Pass replaced the old Carte Isabelle and costs just €15 for unlimited train travel between Ventimiglia and St Raphael (including Monaco, and the trains to Grasse or Tende) so you can hop on and off as much as you like in one day. It is available only in summer, between June and September from any ticket office or the ticket machines at the station.
The PASS Isabelle Famille is the same concept but costs €35 for one day’s unlimited train travel for 2 adults and 2 children. It’s sold year round.
If you intend to stay in the region for longer, buy the ZOU ! Hebdo-Mensuel passes that are sold year round. ZOU ! Hebdo is valid for 7 consecutive days; ZOU ! Mensuel for one month from the 1st day. They give up to 75% fare discounts and are available to tourists or residents. You have to specify your origin point and destination point – for example, Nice to Monaco, or Antibes to Cannes. These passes are super handy if you’re in the region for longer events such as Monaco Grand Prix, Cannes Film Festival, MIPCOM, ILTM, MIPTV etc
TER SNCF, the regional train providers offer many different fare discounts including discounts if you’re under 26 years of age so ask at the train stations as they don’t willingly sell them unless you ask! The TER trains are mostly blue and silver and the TER Monaco trains are white and red but all regional tickets can be used on both trains.
Regional Buses to Monaco
From Nice to Monaco, there are a few bus options:
- You can travel on the number 100 bus (Nice to Menton via Monaco) for the princely sum of €1,50 oneway. Kids under 4 years are free. The journey takes about 30-35 minutes. Note: Local regional buses are not particularly well set up for luggage storage and sometimes they’re tricky navigating with baby strollers, so bear that in mind if you are travelling with either lots of luggage or as a family with small children.
- The 100x bus travels on the highway (autoroute) from Nice to Monaco.
- You can take the Airport Express from Nice Airport to Monaco, it is Line 110.
For timetables for buses 100, 100x and the Airport Express you can see them here: https://www.departement06.fr/vous-deplacer-en-bus/lignes-et-horaires-3029.html
Buses within Monaco
Within Monaco, the local buses with CAM cost just €1,50 per trip if you buy from a bus ticket agent, or €2 if you buy it from the driver. You can change to any other CAM bus within 30 minutes of the first validation and continue your single trip around Monaco.
A Day Pass for unlimited bus travel in Monaco costs €5,50; a Weekly Pass is €15. Kids under 5 years travel for free. As an extension of the ‘road bus’ system, Bateau Bus is a solar electric 50-seat boat that shuttles across Port Hercule between Quai des Etats-Unis and Quai Rainier 1er every day from 8am to 8pm, so you use your bus ticket for the Bateau Bus in the same way.
For people with restricted mobility or who are wheelchair-bound, Monaco is phasing in ramps on all the fleet (currently about a third of Monaco buses have ramps). Line 5 is completely wheelchair accessible.
Timetables for CAM buses are found here: http://www.cam.mc/informations-pratiques.php?lang=en
Self-drive tourists should know that you can’t drive into Monaco-Ville (Old Town) – the only cars allowed are those having Monaco license plates or French license plates with the last two digits ’06’ from the Alpes Maritimes Department. All other vehicles are strictly forbidden to drive to Monaco-Ville. You can however park in the ‘Parking des Pecheurs’ regardless of what license plate your car has…this carpark is under Monaco-Ville, then you simply take the elevator up to street level.
Another thing to note if families are driving to Monaco, it is law that children up to 10 years of age travel in the back seat of the car and wear a seat belt or are strapped into a proper child safety seat. Only children over 10 years or adults can travel in the front passenger seat. The only exception is when there are no rear seat belts.
For details of parking in Monaco, you can see the list and tariffs of the public carparks here: https://www.monaco-parkings.mc/carpark
If you’re reading this blog post, chances are you’re not booked into the Hôtel Hermitage or Hôtel de Paris.
While Monaco hotels can be super pricey, staying in the off-season and outside of Grand Prix and major events can mean great reductions on room rates.
Beausoleil is on the fringe of Monte-Carlo and has some cheap and clean – though not super modern – hotels. Nice is just 25 minutes by train from Monaco and has lots of budget-friendly places to stay. There are also accommodation options such as Homeaway or AirBNB. A few options are:
Hotel de France, 6 rue de la Turbie, is centrally located in Monaco about 5 minutes walk from the main port. The airport bus stop is nearby, they have free Wifi and rooms are air-conditioned and clean. The pay-off for a budget hotel in a good location means there is no elevator. Prices from €95 upwards.
Azur Hotel, 12 boulevard de la Republique, Beausoleil is within walking distance to Casino Square. Their website says they are a 5-minute walk to the Monaco train station which is a bit misleading; it’s uphill from the station and takes at least 15-minutes’ walk so take a taxi if you have lots of luggage. The upsides are the rooms are clean with air-conditioning, the location is near to restaurants and they have free Wifi. Prices from €79 excluding events.
Nice Garden Hotel, 11 rue du Congrès, 06600 Nice, is situated 2 blocks from the seafront and easy walking distance to Vieux Nice (Old Town) and the train station. If you can see past the unappealing hotel entrance you’ll be pleased you made the effort. It’s run by 3 generations of a warm and hospitable family and the 9 rooms all overlook a lovely garden with orange trees where you can eat breakfast if the weather’s nice. Low season prices start at €59 per room per night (Simple Double); high season start at €75; Grand Prix from €150 p/nt.
Monaco doesn’t have a central hostel and although there is a Relais Jeunesse Villa Thalassa at nearby Cap d’Ail I recommend you read reviews first and decide if the property versus budget suits your needs.
GOOD VALUE PLACES TO EAT & DRINK IN MONACO
Cheap can sometimes equate to nasty in culinary terms and I’ve had my fair share of grease-laden, overcooked/undercooked meals in different destinations.
If your budget can’t extend to the Gourmet Menu (€310) at Le Louis XV at Hôtel de Paris, or Joël Robuchon’s €199 Menu Decouverte at Hôtel Metropole Monte-Carlo, then there are still other value-priced places to eat and drink in Monaco.
If you do want to experience a meal at the luxury restaurants, dine at lunch where the set menus are better value and still offer a few choices for starters, mains and desserts. If you want to drink in style, head to the Fairmont Monte Carlo where Nobu restaurant has 50% off cocktails at daily Happy Hour from 6pm-8pm and L’Horizon Deck has a champagne Happy Hour daily from 6pm-8pm.
For the ultimate do-it-yourself food option, grab a sandwich from the supermarkets – try the Casino supermarket on boulevard Albert 1er near Port Hercule or the Carrefour Monaco at Centre Commercial Fontvieille.
Boulangeries (bakeries) also have good value snacks such as slices of pizza, focaccia, pissaladière (pizza-type tart with caramelised onions, olives and anchovies), or barbajuan which is a Monagasque specialty and best described as a fried pastry package filled with chard, cheese and egg. The best barbajuans are from Costa’s; you’ll find 8 Costa Boulangerie’s throughout Monaco but you can easily head to the Marche de la Condamine to find them there and a bargain price at €1,30 each.
Le Petit Bar is situated on Le Rocher at 35 rue Basse (a good dining choice if you’re visiting the Palais Princier or Monaco Oceanarium) and it gets a mention from me because Fafa (Fabrice) and Lolo (Laurent) the owners serve a tasty menu with good prices. The tapas plates are excellent, the mains are all priced under €15 and most desserts are €5. Make a reservation for dinner as the place is small and gets busy quickly, especially in summer.
Constantine, located at Fontvieille port is awesome for people who have both carnivores and vegetarians in their group (not always easy to satisfy both sides when dining). Their menus are good value and include a glass of wine or soft drink, water and coffee. Open Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner; Saturday and Sunday for dinner only.
Gerhard’s Café is a German-themed pub open 7 days for lunch and dinner (their lunch menus are the better value with most food options costing €8 or less). If you like spirits and cocktails, their large Long Island iced tea is a third of the price cheaper than what you’ll pay over the other side of Monaco near Larvotto. They have free Wifi and are a fun place to go for drinks during Grand Prix or during their annual Oktoberfest complete with sauerkraut and Paulaner beer.
Thanks for reading my blog post about Monaco on a shoestring! You can now take all these best bits of Monaco in your pocket with my GPSmyCity Monaco on a Shoestring app found here.
If you appreciate my research and found it informative or have any comments, I’d love to hear from you. Please share this post on social media including Facebook or Twitter. thanks!
Sources: Palais.mc, Visit Monaco, Gouvernement Princier, Monte-Carlo.mc