An independent city-state west of the French Côte d'Azur, the Principality of Monaco is the playground of Europe's celebrities and idle rich. Most people are drawn by the sun, glamorous lifestyle, and tax-free income.
There are more millionaires per capita in Monaco than anywhere else on the planet. But true Monacans make up only about 15% of the population in country packed with wealth, opulence, and the world's most expensive real estate.
The sweeping roads of its unofficial capital Monte Carlo serve as the course for the legendary Monaco Grand Prix. The buildings which line the streets are themselves unattractive monstrosities, huge tiered blocks that belie the fabulous lives of its residents.
However, Monaco does have a suitably glamorous history. Disguised as a Franciscan monk, Francois Grimaldi reclaimed a fortress on the Rock of Monaco from a rival Italian bloc in 1297. This gave the principality its name, deriving from the word 'monk'.
Soon becoming a major prosperous port, Lord Honore II took power in 1604 and declared himself prince. France later annexed Monaco, with the Grimaldis regaining power. In the late 1800s, Prince Charles created the Societe des Bains de Mer in order to restore wealth. It consisted of a casino, hotels, and a theatre, from which sprung the glittering Monte Carlo area.
Monaco isn't good for those who love the great outdoors, apart from a few ornate parks. Those with light wallets should also stay away, unless they want to try their luck filling it up in Monaco's famous Casino de Monte Carlo. If one wants to rub cloaks with royalty and high society, then Monaco is the place to be.
Established in the 13th century, Monaco's royal palace has been the residence of the ruling Grimaldi family ever since. The most famous resident was Grace Kelly, who was married to Prince Rainier III.
Every generation has left their mark on the place. As a result, this is not one of Europe's most elegant castles from the outside. It is worth taking a look inside though. 15 rooms, including the Throne Room, are open to the public.
In the south wing of the palace is the Musée des Souvenirs Napoléoniens, containing a collection of Napoleon's memorabilia. The changing of the guard takes place in front of the palace every day, lasting just two minutes. So take care to be on time.
Prince Albert I opened Monaco's Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium in 1910. It houses his personal collection of marine life, models of his laboratory's ships, and other crafts made from marine products.
The imposing building is perched dramatically on a cliff and faces the sea, providing lovely views. The basement houses an impressive aquarium with over 4,000 fish species and 200 invertebrates, as well as the Shark Lagoon.
The Monaco Cathedral is a beautiful structure, built in 1875 and resting on a site of a 13th-century church that dedicated to Saint Nicholas. The Cathedral houses the tomb of the much-loved Princess Grace, as well as the former royalty of Monaco.
During religious festivals and religious holidays, the sounds of the cathedral's splendid four-keyboard organ can be enjoyed, as well as the Sunday mass, which is sung by the Cathedral Choir.
Built in 1878 by Charles Garnier, the Monte Carlo Casino is another feather in the cap of the man who designed the Paris Opera House. The Salle Garnier hosts ballet, opera, and concerts, while the Gaming Rooms fill with all the glitz and glamour one would expect from a top-class casino. The rooms sport stained glass windows and sculptures. Jacket and tie are required for men.
Monte-Carlo, like Monaco, has a spectacular Mediterranean climate, boasting roughly 300 days of sunshine a year. July and August are the hottest months, while spring and autumn are the best times to visit, as temperatures are milder.
Monaco enjoys a mild, pleasant Mediterranean climate, averaging about 300 days of sunshine a year. Summer temperatures are usually in the 80-84º F (26-29ºC) range, while winter temperatures range between 48ºF and 58ºF (8-14ºC).
July and August are the hottest months, while spring and autumn are perfect times to travel to Monaco as temperatures are at their mildest. The winter months of January and February tend to be the coldest and also receive the most rainfall.
Going out for dinner in Monte-Carlo is as glamorous as it sounds. With some of the finest restaurants, offering first-class cuisine prepared by some of the world's most renowned chefs, visitors can anticipate only the best. After a day of sightseeing, yachting and sipping on cocktails, a dining experience of only the very best quality is what can be expected.
Monte-Carlo being the expensive city that it is means that most restaurants will cost substantially more than the average meal, but that is not to say you won't find something a little more budget-friendly if you look for it. There are an assortment of cuisines offered in and around the city, each offering an experience. Early booking is essential, as is a jacket and tie, at most restaurants in the city.
For something typically French and sophisticated, Le Louis XV promises a classy and elegant evening with top notch food using only the best local produce. Restaurant Joel Robuchon Monte-Carlo offers similar taste and flare, giving patrons a chance to experience modern French cuisine, influenced by the Mediterranean. For those wanting something a little more fusion in style, the Pacific is the place to go. Here you will likely find the rich and famous occupying tables. For something a little more down to earth, Il Terrazzino is a great restaurant for typical Italian fare; great quality for a little less Euro.
With lots on offer, Monte-Carlo is an exciting place to explore in terms of its cuisine and is unlikely to leave visitors disappointed.
Le Louis XV is classy, elegant, and stylish, steered by Chef Alain Ducasse and a commitment to pure delicacy. Clean lines combine perfectly with the fresh décor, while crystal chandeliers light up the establishment's expertly prepared and executed fine French cuisine. The dishes reflect local tastes, using only the freshest produce. Open Thursday to Sunday for lunch and dinner. Jacket required and tie recommended, and booking is essential.
Located in Monte Carlo's famous Épingle de la Rascasse, Pacific sees many of the city's rich and famous walk through its doors. It's a favourite place for socialites and gourmet enthusiasts alike. Pacific has a distinctive design ethos, with both the bar and restaurant stylishly and elegantly laid out, incorporating clean lines and intricate lighting. The atmosphere is perfect for when the bar converts into a nightclub later on. Specialising in fusion cuisine, diners will not be disappointed. Try the signature Pacific black cod with miso sauce. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations recommended.
The views and cuisine at L'Horizon are simply stunning, leaving diners returning time and time again. There's nothing more clientele could ask for when dining out in Monte Carlo, boasting 360 degree views over the Opera House and the Prince's Palace. Enjoy the tastes of the region, like Mediterranean fish soup, croutons and saffron sauce, and pan-fried sea bass and vegetables. Open March to November daily, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Bookings essential.
Specialising in the culinary delights of Naples and southern Italian fare, Il Terrazzino is a must for anyone who loves Italian food. Reminiscent of a country deli, the home-cooked food and cosy dining room will make you feel right at home. Try the Linguine Marinara with capers, olives, marjoram, tomato sauce, and anchovy, or the veal with mozzarella, tomato sauce, and basil. Open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Bookings recommended.
A friendly and unpretentious restaurant, Mozza consistently serves excellent Italian food consistently rated among the best in Monte Carlo. The separate lunch and dinner menus are short, yet memorable and very reasonably priced. Mozza takes full advantage of its terrace on the Larvotto end of Monte Carlo to enjoy spectacular view of the Thursday and Friday fireworks displays held in June and July.
Restaurant Joël Robuchon Monte Carlo is an elegant restaurant housed in the Hotel Metropole. Serving modern French cuisine influenced by the Mediterranean setting, the menu changes seasonally. For a cheaper option, the restaurant offers a fixed price lunch. Restaurant Joël Robuchon Monte Carlo is small and seats only 60 people at a time, so reservations are essential.
The unit of currency is the Euro (EUR), divided into 100 cents. Money can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change or hotels. Bank hours are usually 9am to 12pm and 2pm to 4pm Monday to Friday and are closed on weekends. The is open daily. Travellers cheques (US$ are the preferred currency) are not widely accepted and should be exchanged at banks or a bureaux de change. All major credit cards are widely accepted.
The official language of Monaco is French, but English and Italian, as well as Mongasque and Occitan (local languages) are also spoken.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50 Hz. European round 2-pin plugs are used.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay in Monaco. No visa is required for stays of up to three months.
British passports endorsed 'British Citizen', 'British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom), 'British Overseas Territories Citizen' issued by Gibraltar, or an identity card issued by Gibraltar, must be valid on arrival. British passports with any other endorsement must be valid for at least three months beyond their arrival in Monaco.
A visa is not required for passports endorsed 'British Citizen', 'British Overseas Territories Citizen' issued by Gibraltar, and 'British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom), and those with identity cards issued by Gibraltar. Those holding British passports with any other endorsement do not need a visa for stays of up to 90 days.
Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond their arrival in Monaco. No visa is required for stays of up to three months.
Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond their arrival in Monaco. No visa is required for stays of up to three months.
South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond their arrival in Monaco. A visa is required.
Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Monaco. No visa is required.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay in Monaco. No visa is required for stays of up to three months.
New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond their arrival in Monaco. No visa is required for stays of up to three months.
The borderless region known as the Schengen Area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option, and which allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all the aforementioned countries. Additionally, non-EEA passengers to Monaco must hold proof of repatriation - such as return/onward tickets, the necessary travel documentation for their next destination, and sufficient funds to cover their expenses while in the country. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
In general, no immunizations are necessary for travel to Monaco and there are no major health risks. The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) does not provide health cover in Monaco. It's advisable to carry enough personal medication with accompanying doctor's letter. Medical insurance is recommended.
Most hotels and restaurants add a service charge in Monaco, but tipping extra for excellent service is appreciated. Porters and valets usually expect a tip. It is not necessary to tip taxi drivers, as they are self-employed.
Trips to Monaco are usually trouble-free, but the usual, sensible precautions such as being vigilant after dark and taking care of valuables apply.
Swimsuits, bare chests, and bare feet are restricted to beaches and swimming areas only in Monaco. Appropriate dress is required for visits to religious buildings, with Monaco being largely Roman Catholic. Jacket and tie are required at the Casino.
Business in Monaco is usually conducted formally and suits and ties are the norm. Greetings include a handshake and business cards are exchanged. French is the official language of Monaco, although some English is spoken. It's best to ascertain beforehand which language will be used. Business hours are usually 9am to 12pm and 2pm to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
The international access code for Monaco is +377. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). Mobile phone coverage is excellent and roaming agreements exist with most international mobile companies (it is best to check with phone providers). Internet cafes are common.
Currency must be declared on arrival and passengers are allowed 400 cigarettes, one litre of liquor and a reasonable amount of perfume for personal use.
Monaco Tourism Office, Monaco: +377 9216 6116 or www.visitmonaco.com
French Embassy, Washington DC, United States (also responsible for Monaco): +1 202 944 6000.
French Embassy, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Monaco): +44 (0)20 7073 1000.
Monaco Consulate, Montreal, Canada: +1 514 878 5878.
Honorary Consul of Monaco, Cape Town, South Africa: +27 (0)21 702 0991.
French Embassy, Canberra, Australia (also responsible for Monaco): +61 (0)2 6216 0100.
French Embassy, Dublin, Ireland (also responsible for Monaco): +353 (0)1 277 5000.
Consulate of Monaco, Auckland, New Zealand: +64 (0)9 523 3313.
United States Embassy, Paris, France (also responsible for Monaco): +33 (0)1 4312 2222.
British Embassy, Paris, France (also responsible for Monaco): +33 (0)1 4451 3100.
Canadian Embassy, Paris, France (also responsible for Monaco): +33 (0)1 4443 2900.
South African Embassy, Paris, France (also responsible for Monaco): +33 (0)1 5359 2323.
Australian Embassy, Paris, France (also responsible for Monaco): +33 (0)1 4059 3300.
Irish Honorary Consulate, Monaco: +377 93 157 045.
New Zealand Embassy, Paris, France (also responsible for Monaco): +33 (0)1 4501 4343.
A good place to get into the swing of things is Le Bar Américain where the upper-crust mingle and socialise with their Champagne and cocktails in hand, while a jazz trio belts out some upbeat tunes to get you in the mood. But on a perfect warm summer's evening there's no better place to watch the sun go down that at the hip and trendy Sea Lounge where party people meet over a cocktail or two by the water's edge in Monte Carlo Beach. The Living Room and the Black Legend are popular nightclubs where anyone wanting to get their groove on can dance the night away, while lively bars like the Ship and Castle or Black Diamond are more upmarket and many come here to pose and be seen. Jimmy'z on avenue Princesse Grace is place to go where you can don your favourite party outfit, slip into those killer heels and dance the night away with Monte-Carlo's beautiful people.
If live music is what you're after, visit Moods on place du Casino, which has already attracted some big international acts while Sass Café is another hot spot for live music, lots of dancing and a rip roaring good time. Or if jazz is more your thing, head to the Blue Note to get your groove on! For a quieter and more sophisticated night out, the Grand Théâtre de Monte Carlo is the place to go to see international ballets and other productions as well as the Ballets de Monte Carlo. Mention the resident opera company, and the symphony, while the Monte Carlo Opera also draws hundreds of visitors to its world-class performances.
One of the most glamorous cities in the world, it's not surprising the shopping in Monte Carlo is both exclusive and expensive. Be sure to bring your 'flexible friend' along because its sure get have a good workout on a shopping trip in Monte Carlo. With some of the most exclusive designer brands in the world and top notch boutiques selling haute couture, the streets of Monte Carlo are a dream come true for shopaholics and, although many of the shops can be found in most other major cities across the globe, there's something special about shopping here. For big names like Gucci, Armani and Versace, head to Avenue des Beaux-Arts, under the Hotel Metropole. The Cercle d'Or (Golden Square) comprises Avenue Monte-Carlo, Avenue des Beaux Arts and Les Allées Lumières and even though most travellers will only be able to afford to window shop, it's still worth a visit. Head to the Place du Casino for the best selection of jewellery stores, while the pedestrianised Rue Princess Caroline is one of the city's more popular shopping areas and attracts tourists and avid shoppers by the dozen. The Fontvieille Shopping Centre boasts 36 shops, while malls such as Les Allées Lumières, the Metropole and the Principality are also good for a day of shopping, with restaurants and cafés for weary shoppers to rest their legs and refuel. And for those who are on a very tight budget, head to Monte Carlo's Condamine Market in the Place d'Armes where shoppers can stop to view the luxurious yachts in the docks and pick up some cheaper souvenirs such as F1 memorabilia and souvenir number plates.
Monte-Carlo has an efficient public transport system, with five bus lines. An excellent way to save money is to buy the Daily Tourist Pass, which at a flat rate, allows unlimited travel all day. A series of elevators also operate to transport visitors and residents up and down the steep streets of the city. Perhaps the best way to explore the city, however, is on foot.
Monte-Carlo offers a lot more than just striking natural beauty, it also features some historical and modern attractions sure to keep visitors of all persuasions happy. With a Mediterranean climate, Monte-Carlo is pleasant all year round, though winters can sometimes be a little chilly, and summers very crowded. The city is fairly easy to navigate your way around, once you know the short cuts.
There is plenty to see and do here. Head to the Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium to see Prince Albert's personal collection of marine life or just visit the 4,000 fish in the aquarium, as well as the Shark Lagoon. Visit the Prince's Palace, which was established in the 13th century and has been the residence of the Grimaldi family ever since, where 15 rooms are open to the public, including the throne room, or check out the magnificent Monaco Cathedral which houses the tombs of the late Princess Grace and former princes of Monaco.
Big spenders should spend some time making or blowing their fortune at the Monte-Carlo casino, or if that's too much for you, enjoy relaxing in the Jardin Exotique where the thousands of plants will amaze green-fingered travellers, or spend an afternoon marvelling at the fabulous yachts in La Condamine, one of Monaco's oldest districts, where you can even spend some time browsing through the Condamine Market.