Seeing Monaco on a budget
Monaco – Oh…, the glitz and glamour! It’s quite a surreal place and the second smallest principality in the world after the Vatican. There is a sophistication and beauty like no other. With its magnificent gardens, the world-famous Casinos and charming Palace, you can just imagine Grace Kelly strolling the ‘Rock.’ I’ve become more and more enamored with Monaco, because it’s not what it seems. But with all this opulence, can you actually see Monaco on a budget?
Monaco’s Annual Major Events
There’s always something interesting going on whether it’s the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters if you’re into tennis, the Rose Ball, the Monte Carlo Sporting Summer Festival for dinner shows and concerts, the Formula 1 Grand Prix, which for me is a personal dislike as I can’t handle the sound of the cars!, the Monaco Yacht Show to see the opulent boats, the Monte Carlo Jazz Festival, which is a personal favorite for a mix of traditional and smooth jazz, or their Christmas Village and skating rink. You can fork out a lot of money on these events. Yes, it all smacks of luxury this and luxury that, and for a good reason. There’s money floating around here…and a lot of it. But don’t let that put you off coming for a visit.
Visit the Monte Carlo Casino
The first thing you think of is the Monte Carlo Casino, the backdrop to many James Bond films, and Oceans 11. And what a beauty, she is. Built in just three years in the 1800’s, here you’ll find the chic of the chic. There are several ornately-decorated ‘salons’ or gaming rooms to visit with hundreds of games. There are two private salons, and ‘super prive’ salons – Hmmm. Wonder what you need to do to get into those? Entrance is $12.50 and for an additional $12.50 you gain entrance to the private salons. Otherwise,$12.50 and you’re in – so, not unreasonable. Dress code is as you’d expect – no tennis shoes, flip-flops or shorts. A jacket is suggested after 8pm.
Visit the Cafe de Paris Casino in Monaco for free
Sure, I’ve spent a few quid in the casino, because it had to be done. But I went to a sister casino, the Cafe de Paris Casino (above), just next door. This has a more relaxed feeling but the vibe is the same. It is free to get in – great if you are visiting Monaco on a budget, so you simply go in and start playing.
I set my limit at $25 and within an hour, I won back enough to pay for my lunch at the chic Horizon Deck Restaurant and Champagne Bar at the Fairmont Hotel nearby. My friend, too, won enough for his lunch and our tasty bottle of wine. So it was well worth spending a few hours and a few bucks. Always set your limit and walk away when you are done. And be sure to take your passport with you. You can’t get in without it. The dress code is roughly the same. Open 24/7.
Monaco is quite hilly, so depending on your fitness level, it can be a schlep or great exercise while looking at all its beauty. There are various elevators that take you from the lower port area up to the higher part of Monaco, but they are not easy to find. You need to look for the ascenseur public. It will save you a lot of time and energy.
A great way to discover Monaco on a budget and the Cote d’Azur is to get a Cote d’Azur City Pass to Marseille, Nice and Monaco. I will explain this below, but you can book it here.
Visit Old Town Monaco on a budget
You can easily spend the entire day just walking around and admiring the yachts in Port Hercule, the splendid architecture of the hotels, like the Belle Epoque Hotel Hermitage, and the Old Town, which until recently I didn’t know existed. I’ve been to Monaco probably 20 times and had never visited the old part of town, nor the Prince’s Palace. And you don’t spend a dime admiring the views! We walked up the beautiful Rampe Majeur – the 16th Century staircase that leads up to the Prince’s Palace. It’s not too difficult or steep a climb and the views are breathtaking. From there, you have magnificent views over the port area and can see three countries at the same time – Monaco, France and Italy.
Dining in Monaco on a budget
Once you catch your breath at the top there are three streets leading off to the left to the Old town where you can find reasonably priced snack shops, creperies and restaurants. They are much more wallet-friendly than the restaurants near the Casino. Stop there to refuel before moving on to more sight seeing. There are also numerous souvenir shops there.
Visit the Prince’s Palace in Monaco for a budget price
You can visit the Prince’s Palace from April to mid October where you can tour the State Apartments for €8. Inside you get a good look at what opulence is supposed to look like: marble staircases, frescoes, Venetian chandeliers, period furniture, tapestries, and a royal throne! Unfortunately, the exterior of the Palace isn’t as impressive as the interior. It’s just too modern and truthfully, could be more regal in its design.
As I mentioned above, one way to see Monaco and the Cote d’Azur on a budget is by ordering the Cote d’Azur Day Pass to Marseille, Nice and Monaco. You buy the ticket online and not only will you receive a round trip train ticket from Nice to Monaco, you also get a ticket on the local Hop-On, Hop-off bus. Plus you get free parking in Nice and Marseille, and tickets for the hop-on, hop-off bus in Nice and Marseille as well!
Ride the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus in Monaco for a cheap tour
The hop-on, hop off in Monaco has 12 stops. I quite like these because it gives you a quick look at what you should see in town, especially if you are short on time. I always do one full turn, and then decide where I want to get off to explore more. The ride is chock full of information and well worth it since Monaco is a hilly town! It’s a great way to see Monaco on a budget and if you have mobility issues.
The Cote d’Azur Day Pass to Marseille, Nice and Monaco ticket is $38.15 which includes parking in Nice and Marseille, Hop-on, hop-off tickets for all 3 cities and a roundtrip train ticket from Nice to Monaco. It’s a great deal for the price as Hop-on/off tickets alone in Monaco are $27.
You can book your ticket here:
If you want to splurge in Monaco
A visit to Monaco doesn’t need to break the bank, but if you are looking for a splurge, my personal favorites are having lunch at the Brasserie du Cafe de Paris or at least enjoying an ice cream Sunday from Morelli’s there as well. Sit outside, watch all the activity and the luxurious cars driving by the Casinos. There’s always a Bentley or Lamborghini parked out front. Go take a photo with your dream car! It’s quite a treat.
Otherwise, go left from the Casino, and down the steps to the Fairmont Monte Carlo and head up to the 7th floor to Nikki’s Beach bar. I always take guests there. It’s a swanky place to have a chilled glass of Rose and watch the yachts float by. You could take in an afternoon tea at the Hemitage during Christmas. Lunch at the Fairmont Horizon is excellent and definitely worth a splurge. If you’re there for dinner, I suggest the exotic, Asian-themed Buddha Bar next to the Fairmont. Yes, it’s a chain, but the food and atmosphere are just delicious. I love Buddha Bar music and own most of the albums. When you’re done, head over to the ultimate favorite hotspot since 1971, Jimmy’z for the best of Monaco’s clubbing scene.
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