Just one square mile in size, the principality of Monaco packs a whole lot of punch. In addition to the natural beauty of the French Riviera, the tiny microstate is filled with gastronomic delights, luxe hotel rooms, incredible arts and culture, and of course, that world-famous casino—mostly responsible for Monaco's wealth today.
Divided into four sections (including Monte Carlo, perhaps the best-known), Monaco is pricy to visit, but even if you're not arriving in a Rolls Royce or a yacht, you'll still find plenty to do. After all, the beaches and the accompanying 300 days of sunshine are entirely free.
Check In at Hotel Metropole
Monaco has no shortage of luxury hotel rooms, but the serene Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo is among the best. Steps away from the casino, Metropole is set at the back of a secluded driveway—a contrast to some of the other big players in town who have the hustle and bustle from a flurry of Bentleys all day and night long.
Inside, the classic decor is punctuated by astoundingly beautiful, modern floral arrangements, while rooms are sunlit with French balconies overlooking the casino and the sea. If you're feeling flush (or have a particularly good night at the tables), reserve the Jacques Garcia-designed Carré d'Or Suite, a chic private apartment with velvet sofas and sumptuous decor. (Parisian designer Garcia will be giving the rest of the property's rooms an overhaul in 2020.)
Also on hotel grounds: a combined three Michelin stars, a Karl Lagerfeld-inspired pool club, and an ultra-sleek Givenchy spa, designed by Didier Gomez.
Have a Drink at Le Bar Américain
A legendary bar set off the lobby of Monaco's famed Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo, Le Bar Américain is a scene, day or night. With excellent live music and an interior straight out of "The Great Gatsby," the bar is an ideal place to unwind after a day in the sun.
Despite Monaco's ritzy reputation, bartenders and servers are warm and pleasant and happy to offer recommendations. While the bar is adept at all the classic, signature drinks like the Pulcinella, made with fresh mandarin orange juice, have large followings for a good reason.
Explore the Prince's Palace
Originally built as a Genoese fortress in 1191, the Prince’s Palace of Monaco sits high on a rocky hilltop overlooking the sea. In the 13th century, Francois Grimaldi, a member of an aristocratic family, disguised himself as a monk and requested shelter there. Once admitted, he and his men killed the guard and captured the fortress. Despite incursions and attacks from the French, Italians, Germans, and English, the Grimaldis stood their ground.
Since then, the palace has been expanded and restored. Visitors can see the posh living quarters of Serene Highness Prince Rainier III and Grace Kelly, which includes rooms inlaid with marble, Florentine furniture, and silk-draped walls. The palace is still home to the current-day Prince of Monaco, Albert II.
The palace is open to visitors from April through mid-October. The changing of the guards takes place at 11:55 a.m. daily.
Stop and Smell the Roses
In one of the greatest love stories of the modern-era, Grace Kelly was swept off her feet by Prince Rainier III. The couple married in 1956 and had three children: Caroline, Princess of Hanover; Stephanie; and Albert II, Prince of Monaco, who still reigns today.
Sadly, Princess Grace died in a car accident in 1982, and her husband created the Princess Grace Rose Garden in her honor two years later.
One of the most romantic spots in Monaco, the garden is set within the nine-acre Fontvieille Park. It showcases more than 300 different varieties of roses, including Princess Grace's namesake, the Princess Grace de Monaco Rose.
For a relaxed seafood experience that still has plenty of Monegasque class, visit Les Perles de Monte-Carlo. Situated at the very tip of the pier in Port de Fontvieille, Les Perles de Monte-Carlo is more than just an oyster bar—in fact, the owners prefer to consider themselves cultivars of seafood that just happen to offer tastings.
Brice and Frederic Rouxeville, two marine biologists, started cultivating their own oysters, the first in the Mediterranean, in 2011. In 2014, Les Perles de Monte-Carlo was born. Order a tray of (genuinely local) oysters, a bottle of natural wine, and enjoy an afternoon in the sun! Reservations are required but can be made via email.
Get Your Passport Stamped
It's a novelty, for sure, but hey, how many people in the world can brag about their Monaco passport stamp? Since you'll likely fly into France, your passport will typically be stamped there—but the Monaco Tourism Office, just opposite the casino, will gladly stamp your passport for you as a souvenir. The unique red stamp boasts the principality's dramatic crest.
It's easy to feel inadequate in this land of private jets and luxury yachts, but you too can have a taste of luxury upon your arrival or departure in Monaco.
The closest major airport to Monaco is Nice, which is serviced by a handful of direct flights from the U.S. The best option? La Compagnie, an all-business-class airline that first gained attention for its jaunts from Newark International Airport to Paris. La Compagnie launched seasonal Nice service in 2019, treating passengers to lie-flat beds, Caudalie amenity kits, and seasonally-curated meals by Michelin-starred chefs. It's recently upgraded its aircraft, flying the brand-new Airbus A321neo on the route.
The airline has also partnered with Monacair for helicopter transfers directly from the Nice airport to Monaco, avoiding the notoriously bad traffic. The seven-minute journey is both breathtaking and efficient.
Hit the Casino
The Belle Epoque Casino de Monte-Carlo is one of the microstate's landmarks, mainly made famous by its appearance in the 1995 James Bond movie "GoldenEye." Still, its history goes back much further, to 1863, when Charles Garnier, who also designed Paris's famed opera house, built the casino on a former citrus grove.
Even if you don't want to win (or lose) money playing baccarat, blackjack, or punto banco, the casino is open for tours daily from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
At night, you can access the casino for 10 euros, with an additional 10 euros charged if you wish to play in private rooms. You must be over 18 years old to enter and nicely attired—although you don't need a long gown or tux, contrary to popular myth.
Monaco does have a few lovely beaches to its name, but for true seclusion, hop a train just a few minutes into France, to Cap d'Ail.
Here, you'll find Plage de la Mala, a public beach that is also home to two excellent restaurants and beach clubs, if you wish to dine or rent a sun lounger. However, the best way to visit is to pick up an affordable bottle of Champagne or two and ask your hotel to pack a picnic.
The beach is a bit of a walk from the train station, including a rocky 100-step landing to the sand, but you'll be rewarded with starkly refreshing azure Mediterranean water and nary a tourist in sight.
Stroll Through the Exotic Garden of Monaco
Spanning more than 150,000 square feet, Monaco's Exotic Garden is a diverse assortment of thousands of succulent species, all expertly planted on a cliffside overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Plant moms will feel right at home here, admiring the thousands of flowering plants and cacti from the earth's semi-arid regions. If you want to see the best blooms, time your visit to spring or summer for cacti and January or February for the garden's South African succulents.
Admission to the garden also includes a visit to the Observation Cave at the bottom of the cliff. Here, visitors can descend 300 steps into a limestone cavern, adorned with magnificent stalagmites and stalactites.
Dine on Michelin-Starred Cuisine
Monaco is home to abundant haute-cuisine, including a combined nine Michelin stars—quite a bragging right for just one square mile!
For an elegant taste of classic French cuisine from one of the world's most revered chefs, dine at the two-starred Joël Robuchon Monte-Carlo. The late chef's kitchen is helmed by faithful apprentice Christophe Cussac, who serves a nine-course tasting menu with dishes like cannelloni filled with scallops, Arnad bacon, and black truffle, and milk-fed lamb cutlets with thyme and eggplant. There's also an extraordinary dessert trolley. On nice days, lunch can be served on the covered terrace, overlooking the water.