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A day wandering the streets and visiting the sights of the world’s second smallest country.

I have always loved the French Riviera, especially the part of the coastline from Cannes to the Italian border. Traveling along this coast, just before hitting Italy, is the tiny independent city-state of Monaco. It is really, really small – measuring a mighty 2 km² (or 0.78 sq mi), making it the world’s second smallest country after Vatican City. It’s population, who are mainly extremely wealthy, numbers around 38,400 making Monaco the most densely populated country in the world.

This bite-sized country is known for its upscale casinos, yacht filled harbour and Grand Prix motor race. Monte-Carlo is the major district, hosting the casino and grand opera house. Up above Monte-Carlo, on an imposing headland overlooking the harbour, is the old town of Monaco, where the royal palace is located. Monaco is a principality governed under a form of constitutional monarchy, with Prince Albert II as it’s head of state.

We were lucky enough to spend a day exploring Monaco and we were fortunate enough to have spectacular weather.

Monte-Carlo – or bust!

Monte-Carlo is the main district and home to many of the apartment buildings that are home to the rich and famous. Wandering the streets is a pleasant experience and you can spend many hours perusing the windows of the numerous over-priced stores that line the streets of Monte-Carlo. We had neither have the patience or frankly the interest to do this to long, so we settled for a coffee in a cafe and a few minutes of fascinating people watching.

One of the most recognized features of Monte-Carlo, for anyone who has watched the Monaco Grand Prix, is the marina which is stacked with an armada of very expensive yachts. You can stand on the waters edge and look at the moored floating palaces . More interesting is to find a spot above the marina and stare down across the berths.

Whlist most of the buildings in Monte-Carlo are modern there are a couple of very ornate buildings that are iconic to this part of Monaco; the Casino Monte-Carlo and the Opéra de Monte-Carlo. The casino is world famous and as spectacular as the baroque façade was, I was equally impressed by the array of very, very expensive cars that were parked outside the front of the casino.

Monte-Carlo Street
Opéra de Monte-Carlo
Monte-Carlo Casino

Monaco old town

Up above Monte-Carlo, set on a headland protected by steep cliffs is the old town of Monaco. This part of town is typifed by narrow, winding streets full of bars, restaurants and gaudy gift shops. We loved walking around this part of the town, which despite its obvious sacrifice to tourism was still a place full of character and charm.

As you reach the edge of the old town there are some great places to get panoramic views out across the marina and the meditteranean sea.

Among the narrow streets of the town are two outstanding buildings; the cathedral and royal palace.

The Cathedral of Our Lady Immaculate, sometimes called Saint Nicholas Cathedral, is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Monaco in Monaco-Ville, Monaco, where many of the Grimaldis are buried, including Grace Kelly and—more recently—Rainier III.

The construction of this cathedral started in 1875 and took 25 years to complete, finally being consecrated in 1911. Today, this much visited Roman-Byzantine influenced landmark is a center of Monegasque life. The land on which the cathedral stands was originally the location of chapel which dated back to the 13th century. The 16th century alterpiece of the catherdral is a survivor of the original chapel.

The white stones used in the construction of the cathedral come from La Turbie, a hilltop village northwest of Monaco that overlooks the principality. The white stones have the unusual feature that results in them becoming naturally whiter when it rains.

Monaco Cathedral

The Prince’s Palace of Monaco is the official residence of the Sovereign Prince of Monaco. Built in 1191 as a Genoese fortress, during its long and often dramatic history it has been bombarded and besieged by many foreign powers.

Today, things at the Palace are much more peaceful. During the summer month’s the Prince’s Palace is open for visits to the State Apartments – unfortunately during our time in Monaco we didn’t really have time to join these tours. Instead we settled for watching the changing of the guard ceremony outside the palace gates which take place at 11:55 am daily.

Palace Tours: Part of the year only
Hours: 10 am to 6 pm (closed some days so check website before visitiing.
Fees: Adults €8; Children (6 to 16) & Student €4

The museums of Monaco

There are a number of museums to visit in Monaco, but we really only had time to go to the Musée océanographique de Monaco located in an attractive building which is set splendidly on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Mediterranaen.

Opening Hours:

January | February | March 10 am to 6 pm
April | May | June 10 am to 7 pm
July | August 9:30 am to 8 pm
September 10 am to 7 pm
October | November | December 10 am to 6 pm

The entry fees vary depending on the time of year, from €11 in the low season to €16 in the high season for adults with children and students being €4 less.

We love visiting aquariums and the Musée océanographique de Monaco was one of the better we have had the pleasure of been to. There are four different aquariums, two dedicated to the marine life of the Mediterranean and the tropical seas, a shark lagoon (always a favorite with the children) and lastly, an aquarium dedicated to sea turtles. The sea turtle exhibit is operated by the Monegasque Rescue Center for Marine Species (CMSEM), who recover injured or trapped creatures (not only turtles) and help their return to good health, with the eventual aim of releasing back them back to the sea.

Beyond the aquariums there are several exhibition halls with a fascinating array of exhibits and some less than alive marine creatures, including the skeletons of whales.

We had a great time exploring the aquariums and exhibits, and would recommend this museum to anyone who is visiting Monaco.

Exhibit halls
Outdoor tank – Odyssey of the Sea Turtles
Shark Lagoon
Outside the museum
Cliffs below the Musée océanographique de Monaco

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