Monaco: Monaco is the 2nd smallest country in the world after Vatican City, which lies in between the Alps and the Mediterranean Sea. The area of this country is only 1.95 square km and the population is about 34 thousands. The capital of Monaco is Monte Carlo which has been a symbol of glamour for a century.
Monaco overall is a picture perfect country, bounded by the French Riviera to the west and the Italian Riviera to the east. It is very well maintained with lots of parking structures around the city. The road signs are very clear and well directed. Get entertained by cars like Lamborghini and Rolls Royce in the streets while there. If you want to enjoy a scenic route along the Mediterranean Sea and are coming from the south (as we did), like Grasse or Cannes, then it is wiser to take A8 national highway up to Nice. Then take Promenade des Anglais in Nice and drive northeast along the coastline towards Monaco. You won’t regret this drive. It took us just 30 minutes extra but the route is absolutely gorgeous.
Time of our travel: We came to French Riviera in end of November, 2011 for 4 days and spent a day in Monaco. The weather was fantastic, mostly sunny all day. Try to avoid going there on a Sunday, because many shops and cafes are closed on Sundays, not all though.
Hotel we stayed in: We stayed in a golf resort Mas du Grand Vallon in Mougins, France, which was about an hour away from Monaco. Mougins is a very quiet and cozy village with a small old town and great mountain views.
Here are all the places we visited in Monaco:
1) Palais Princier (Prince’s Palace) – The palace is located in old Monaco-Ville and is worth a visit. It is rather a simple palace opposite of the police station. The palace is open to public only in summer from April thru October. The surrounding of the palace offers a breathtaking view overlooking the Port and Monte-Carlo. You can also watch the changing of the guard in front of the palace every day at 11:55 am.
There is a parking structure close to the palace. You still have to walk a bit; just follow the road signs for parking near to visit palace, the cathedral, Jardin St. Martin and Oceanographique Musee. There are few souvenir shops and café near the palace. If you have some time take a stroll in the small alleys beside the police station. You will find lots more shops and café there.
2) Monaco Cathedral – this is the main cathedral of Monaco which was built in 1875. It is very close to Jardin St. Martin and right beside Palais des Justice.
3) Jardin Exotique (Exotic Garden) – This is one of the many gardens of Monaco and also one of the finest tourist attractions. Several thousands of rare plants from around the world are presented in a walking tour that is quite memorable for the views. The garden is decorated mostly with many variety types of cacti and succulents plants. You can get a great look at the whole country, French Riviera and Italian Riviera from the overview point of the garden. It is open from 9-5:30pm and costs 7 euros per adult. FYI, if you are traveling with kids, you cannot take stroller inside the garden. And as far as I know, there is no place to park/store the stroller either.
4) Grand-Casino in Monte-Carlo – This is one of the famous casinos in the world where the richest and the most well-known people come to gamble. We went there at night and the nightlife surrounding of the casino is very nice. There are plenty of cafés and shops there, which are a bit on the pricey side. The casino has an extremely strict dress code and costs around 10 euros just to visit the casino without gambling. Another important thing to visit the Grand-Casino is that, you will need your passport to go inside (the citizens of Monaco are not allowed to gamble at the casino).
5) Formula 1 Grand Prix – Each year Monaco’s streets host the best known Formula 1 Grand Prix. It is a racing car event where Formula 1 cars race 77 laps around 263 km through Monaco’s narrowest and twisted streets. It is one of Europe’s premier social highlights of the year. The thrill of roaring engines and smoking tires make this one of the most exciting races in the world. Tourist maps have the racing route clearly marked if you want to walk around the circuit.