It’s 5:00 pm here in Nice, France and I just got back from a day trip to Monaco from Nice. I read my guidebook before I went. I read some blog posts from people who had done day trips from Nice to Monaco. And still, there were things that would have made my day a lot more successful, if only I’d known. I’m going to break it down for you, chronologically, so that you can plan your own day trip to Monaco with as little stress and inconvenience as possible.
The Train From Nice to Monaco
First of all, you’ll want to catch one of the early trains from Nice to Monaco. Start your day early, because there are a few attractions that aren’t available later in the day. I took the train at 10:00 am, and this was way too late.
Most trains to Monaco stop at both Nice Ville and Nice Riquier. You have a better chance of getting a seat if you get on at Nice Ville, and if you go to the second floor of the train. I got on at Nice Riquier and it was already standing room only.
If you take a train that departs from Nice around 8:00 am, you’ll arrive in Monaco around 8:30. Exit the station via the Port Hercule exit and start by walking ten minutes down the road to Place d’Arms, where you’ll find a number of cafes and restaurants for breakfast. Along the way, you’ll pass two luxury vehicle stores where you can take a peek at some of Monaco’s famous supercars.
For breakfast in Monaco, you can grab a coffee and pastry from L’Epi d’Or, a lovely boulangerie near Place des Arms, right away. There’s also a nice health food restaurant on the square called EOLA; they open at 9:00 am so you could catch the 8:30 train and be there shortly after they open.
Using the Bus in Monaco
Across the street from Place d’Arms, near the retaining wall that supports the hill, there is a public toilet and a bus stop. Here, I recommend that you buy a one-day bus pass (€5.50) so that you can comfortably hop around the city. Monaco is hilly and it’s hot in the summer, so riding the bus will be a lot cooler than trying to walk everywhere. With a one-day pass you’ll get your money’s worth after three trips.
I found the Monaco bus system website to be quite confusing, but local residents and drivers were very helpful and always pointed me in the right direction. Don’t hesitate to ask someone for directions!
With your bus pass in hand, you have to start making some decisions about what you want to see and do in Monaco, because time is of the essence and some of the opening times are conflicting.
Things to do in Monaco
There are lots of things to do in Monaco, depending on your schedule and your budget. However, you have to plan your time carefully to arrive during opening hours, avoid surprise closures and ensure you’re dressed appropriately for the Monaco attractions you want to visit. Here are my tips for making the most of all the things to do in Monaco!
Casino of Monte Carlo
This one caught me by surprise! If you’re planning on gambling at the casino, the gaming floors open at 2:00 pm. Dress code is more relaxed in the afternoon but they crack down hard at night, so confirm on the casino’s website before you dress for your trip.
On the other hand, if you want to see the casino’s opulent interior without gambling, you need to visit early in the day. Presently, visiting hours (no gambling) are from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm only. In the morning, admission is free.
If you think, “Oh, I’ll just go and play a slot machine at 15:30 so I can see inside”, keep in mind that after 14:00, you have to pay €17 to enter the gaming area.
The square outside the casino is probably the world’s most expensive parking lot. Be on the lookout for million-dollar Lamborghinis, Bugattis, Bentleys and other luxury cars. It’s totally fine to take photos with the vehicles, but for your own sake do not touch!
The Prince’s Palace
On the opposite side of the principality, high above Plaza d’Arms, you’ll find Monaco’s Old Town (also known as “Le Rocher”) and the Prince’s Palace. It’s typically open from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm if you’d like to go inside and see the royal residences. Personally, I skipped the interior…
… but my visit did happen to coincide, coincidentally, with the daily changing of the guard ceremony. This takes place every morning at 11:55, but you need to be there by 10:45 to get a spot at the front (and earlier for a spot at the front in the shade!). Watching the ceremony from the plaza in front of the palace is free.
The Cathedral of Monaco
I arrived at the cathedral, just down the street from the palace, at 12:20. Guess what? It was “exceptionally” closed from 12:30 (?) to 1:30 pm. I don’t think the closure was particularly exceptional as the sign they posted to announce it seemed very well-worn. If you really want to see the cathedral interior, make sure you’re there earlier or later in the day, and not around noon.
Timing Your Day Trip to Monaco
As you can see, it could be difficult to fit in the three Monaco attractions that I noted above into your day trip from Nice. If I were going to do my day trip again, I would get a very early start, have a quick breakfast at L’Epi d’Or, take the bus over to the casino for the 10:00 opening, bus back and up the hill to the Old Town, pop into the cathedral and then hustle over for the changing of the guards. After the ceremony was over, I’d then go into the palace (if it interested me). It’s a lot to squeeze into two hours, but distances are short and buses are frequent. If you had breakfast on the train on the way over, you could take a bus directly from the train station to the casino (bypassing Place d’Arms entirely).
Old Town Monaco
With those three attractions out of the way, you can now be more flexible with the rest of your day trip to Monaco. The Old Town area has beautiful, colorful streets, secret passageways, spectacular viewpoints and the most accessible (and cheap!) souvenir shops in town.
There’s a post office up here, along with lots of places to buy postcards, so send your friends and family a postcard from Monaco!
You will also find a better selection of affordable, family-friendly restaurants in Old Town than you will in the new city. Consider staying up here for lunch after you watch the changing of the guard and/or tour the palace.
Before you go, make sure you’ve grabbed photos from all of panoramic viewpoints on “the rock”.
The Oceanographic Museum of Monaco
The Oceanographic Museum of Monaco is world-famous, partly because for many years its work was directed by none other than Jacques Cousteau. That being said, I don’t recommend it for adults. I did pay the full admission price (€18 for adults) and was very underwhelmed by the exhibits, which were a step below those in the Vancouver Aquarium in Canada or the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, USA. The lower level of the museum features the aquarium tanks, including an outdoor turtle rehabilitation tank (shown above), while the upper floor is set up like a “cabinet of nautical curiosities” with many artifacts and images representing the history of marine exploration and marine science.
If you have kids and they haven’t been to a world-class aquarium before, they will probably enjoy their time here. It’s also an escape from the afternoon heat and sun if your little ones are getting worn out.
As one of the few deep-water ports along the French Riviera, Port Hercule has space for more than 700 boats and is the perfect place to do a little yacht-watching in Monaco. This is where the Yacht Club of Monaco is headquartered, in a new, waterfront building designed by Norman Foster.
Parks and Gardens in Monaco
Monaco has quite a few pretty parks and gardens that you can enter for free. These offer shaded paths for strolling, benches for relaxing, and often interesting contemporary art dotted around the park. Some of Monaco’s most important parks and gardens include:
- The Japanese Garden – Monaco worked with a Japanese landscape architect to design these authentic gardens. Many of the plants were imported from Japan, while the local flora was cared for by Japanese gardeners to ensure they fit the aesthetic.
- Jardins de Saint Martin – On Le Rocher, these shady gardens have a number of terraces with beautiful views of the city and the sea.
- Casino Garden – Opposite the casino, these gardens were established in the late 1800s (back when people believed it was too hot to live in Monaco year-round!).
Beaches in Monaco
Personally, because I was just on a day trip from Nice to Monaco, I didn’t want to carry my swimming gear around with me all day. So, I didn’t hit up any of Monaco’s beaches. However, if you’re arriving by car and can keep your swimming stuff in the trunk, you might want to cool off at Larvotto Beach, a man-made beach just past the casino. As a public beach, you can bring your own towel and umbrella and set up on the sand for free, or you can pay to rent a beach chair and umbrella from one of the beach clubs.
Shopping in Monaco
You might have heard that Monaco is a tax haven, but that is primarily for income tax, not for sales tax. The things you buy here will have the same value-added tax (“VAT”) built into the price as the products sold in France. Thus, there are no savings to be had by purchasing your luxury goods here versus in Nice or Paris.
As I mentioned above, you’ll want to take care of your souvenir and postcard shopping while you’re in Le Rocher, or the Old Town, because that’s where the affordable souvenir stores are located. Down the hill, around the casino, you’ll find the luxury goods stores like Dior and Chanel.
One thing that Monaco does have is a thriving second-hand luxury goods market. Stores like Le Dressing and Chiner Chic sell used designer clothes, shoes and handbags at a fraction of the cost of buying new.
Is a Day Trip to Monaco Worth It?
Overall, I’m glad that I visited Monaco for one day, even if everything didn’t go super-smoothly for me. That being said, when I got home and was telling my friends about it, I did have to admit that it seemed like there really only two main things to do in Monaco: be super-rich or gawk at the super-rich. I would love to go again, but this time I’d get a much earlier start so that I could explore the casino of Monte Carlo and the Cathedral while they were both open.
Have you been to Monaco? Did you go as a day trip to Monaco from Nice, stay overnight, or have a different kind of visit? Let me know in the comments!
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