Monaco: Top Things to See and Do

Monaco isn’t quite part of France, but it may as well be. It’s a principality ruled over by a prince, and is located in the middle of the Cöte d’Azur, also called the French Riviera.

Nice is only nine miles west, and Italy is about five miles to the east. Monaco consists of several hills and a peninsula that juts south into the Mediterranean Its total area is less than one square mile. But in that square mile is some of the most expensive and luxurious property in the world.

With beaches, beautiful views of the sea and mountains, and renowned gambling and sports facilities, Monte Carlo, the capital of Monaco, is one of the most well-known playgrounds for the rich in the world. Its mild climate makes it a year-round holiday and vacation Mecca. Almost all of Monte Carlo’s wealth derives from tourism.

Panoramic view over Monaco and the sea.

The history of Monaco

But there’s more to Monaco than just an adult playground. We know from archaeological digs that Monaco has been inhabited since the Stone Age.

You can view artifacts in the Museum of Prehistoric Anthropology. Its history includes visits from the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, and Romans. Its modern history began when the Grimaldi family of Genoa claimed it. They still rule the principality today.

Monaco has only been ruled by France for about twenty years of its history (right after Napoleon conquered it), but their fortunes have long been tied to France, and most visits to the Cote d’Azur include at least one trip to Monaco.

Monaco refuses to tax its citizens’ incomes, and for a very long time was also a tax haven for international businesses. Revenue for the government comes instead from tourism and commercial transactions. French is the language of choice, though most Monagasques are multilingual.

Monaco’s attractions

Monaco is well-known as one of Europe’s most luxurious resort areas. It once was primarily a winter resort, but now draws visitors year round. The most popular casino and night spot is the Place du Casino, around which most of Monte Carlo’s social life revolves.

The beautiful Place du Casino in Monte Carlo on summers day. Palm trees, busy street, and the casino in the background.
Place du Casino in Monte Carlo

The principality is divided into four quartiers. The town of Monaco (also known as “the Rock”), which juts into the sea. La Condamine, the business district to the west. Monte Carlo, which includes the casino. And finally Fontvieille, primarily light industrial.

You can find the prince’s Genoese and Renaissance palace in the Monaco quartier, as well as a beautiful Roman Catholic cathedral and the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco.

In Monte Carlo, you’ll find the Place du Casino, which contains a theatre housing the Opera de Monte Carlo. The Monte Carlo National Orchestra often plays here as well. The Grand Prix de Monaco is here, as well as the Monte Carlo Rally.

Where to stay in Monaco

There are few places to stay cheaply in Monaco. So if you’re looking for inexpensive lodging, you’re probably better off outside the principality. But if you don’t mind paying a little more for a night or two, there are marvelous grand hotels here.

The Hermitage and the Hotel du Paris both have played host to many of the shining lights of Europe, America, and the Middle East. You can save a little money by staying at the Alexandra, with almost the feel of a bed and breakfast, and just a little north of the casino.

Where to eat

Le Louis XV is one of France’s, and Europe’s premier restaurants, with Alain Ducasse, one of the greatest chefs in the world, designing its cuisine. You can expect to spend a lot of money here on this, but you will find the food worth it.

You can also try the Café du Paris, where supercilious waiters fawn over you and jet-setters and titled guests lounge at the bars. Of course, if you’ve lost all your money at the casino, you might want to bring some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches instead and just watch from outside.

Other entertainment

Monaco is the playground of the rich and famous in Europe, and its spring arts festival, Printemps des Arts, hosts the world’s best operatic, ballet, symphonic, and chamber music performers. You can enjoy world-class opera, ballet, and orchestra year round.

Map of Monaco

Interesting places to visit in Côte d’Azur (the French Riviera)