This glamorous principality is gearing up for the summer season — with treats for petrol-heads, big spenders and cinema-goers
Monaco may be small — the entire principality could fit inside London's Hyde Park — but it packs a punch. The Monaco Grand Prix took place recently and a biopic of Grace Kelly brings the tiny city-state to the silver screen from 6 June.
Get your bearings
Squeezed between Mediterranean Sea and mountains, Monaco is divided into several districts. In the centre, rising high on Le Rocher ("the rock") is the old town: Monaco-Ville, where you'll find the royal-related sights. To the west is residential Fontvieille, home to Monaco's smaller port. To the east is the gargantuan Port Hercule in La Condamine district. Beyond that is ritzy Monte-Carlo and the quiet, beach-facing Larvotto.
The tourist office is at 2a Boulevard des Moulins (visitmonaco.com). It's open 9am-7pm Monday to Saturday; 11am-1pm Sunday. Make sure you get your (free) passport stamp.
Take a hike
Start on the beach: the small, coarse-sanded Plage du Larvotto, beside the eastern Monaco-French border. Head west along the seafront promenade towards Monte Carlo, past the bizarre Grimaldi Forum conference centre at 10 Avenue Princesse Grace (grimaldiforum.com) – a glass-walled hulk of modern architecture with a footballers' walk of fame outside.
The promenade winds west through the bonsai trees of the Jardin Japonais on Avenue Princesse Grace and ends at the Grand Prix tunnel. From here, follow the GP circuit up the steep Avenue des Spélugues to the "world's most famous bend", the Fairmont hairpin. Beside it is the Fairmont hotel. Consider a pit-stop at the hotel's Saphir 24 bar, cantilevered over the water. Then take the lift to the seventh floor, where the rooftop exit winds through cactus-filled grounds behind the Casino de Monte-Carlo, and emerges between the sports cars at its main entrance in the Place du Casino (casinomontecarlo.com). The spectacular 19th-century rooms are open to visitors 9am-12.30pm daily, while the casino is officially closed. Admission costs €10.
Lunch on the run
The Café de Paris Monte-Carlo (montecarlosbm.com), on the adjacent side of the Place du Casino, is a pleasant if pricey, brasserie. Its outdoor Terrasse Parisienne, facing the casino, enjoys the best people-watching in Monaco. Sandwiches: around €17.
In the heart of the pricey Carré d'Or shopping quarter, Le Métropole at 17 Avenue des Spélugues is Monaco's grandest mall. Its marble-paved and chandelier-clad corridors are filled with 80 boutiques, from designer brands to Ladurée macarons (laduree.com) and the Diététique Gourmande health store, which claims to stock around 10,000 French beauty products. For something a little different, try Boutique Formule 1 at 15 Rue Grimaldi, which sells everything Grand Prix-related, from collectable model cars to signed T-shirts. Meanwhile, the Chocolaterie de Monaco at Place de la Visitation (chocolateriedemonaco.com) has been making chocolate with a Monégasque royal warrant since 1920. Note that shops usually close on Sundays.
Dining with the locals
Still on Port Hercule, Quai des Artistes at 4 Quai Antoine 1er (quaidesartistes.com) is a Parisian-style brasserie, opened at the request of the late Prince Rainier. It specialises in seafood; dishes such as turbot in Provençal sauce cost around €37. For food with a view, try the eighth floor Le Grill at the historic Hôtel de Paris on the Place du Casino (hoteldeparismontecarlo.com); 270-degree Mediterranean views and a roof that opens in summer. Dishes from around €50.
Go to church
Home to Monaco's Italian community, tiny Sainte Dévote at 1 Rue Sainte-Dévote (sainte-devote.com) is dedicated to the principality's patron saint. Since Grace Kelly, royal brides have dedicated their wedding bouquets to the Virgin Mary here, too. It's open 8.30am-7pm and mass takes place at 10.30am and 6.30pm every Sunday.
Out to brunch
The Marché de la Condamine at 15 Place d'Armes has restaurant booths in its small covered section, in addition to the traditional market stalls outside. Try Le Comptoir for cheap Monégasque specialities such as barbajuans (deep-fried pasties) and socca (gram-flour pizzas). It's open 8am-2pm on Sunday and 8am-3pm every other day.
Take a view
From the Place du Palais, on the rock of Monaco-Ville, you can see Italy, France and Monaco to the east, and France again to the west. Go at 11.55am and you'll catch the daily changing of the guard.
The Musée Océanographique teeters on the edge of an 85m cliff at Avenue Saint-Martin (oceano.mc). The compelling marine museum and aquarium has spectacular 360-degree views from its rooftop. It's open 10am-7pm daily (9.30am-8pm in summer); entry costs €14.
Take a ride
Surprisingly for this jet-set principality, Heli Air Monaco's sightseeing rides are relatively affordable. A 10-minute flight from the heliport on Fontvieille's Avenue des Ligures (heliairmonaco.com), over to Menton, then looping back via Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, costs €60.
A walk in the park
A tangle of pathways etched into the cliffside overlooking Fontvieille, the Jardin Exotique (jardin-exotique.mc) is a stunning collection of huge cacti, yucca and desert plants – some over 100 years old. Entry is €7.20 and includes a guided tour of the Grotte de l'Observatoire, a prehistoric cave with stalagmites and stalactites at the foot of the garden.
Icing on the cake
The Princess Grace Irish Library at 9 Rue Princess Marie-de-Lorraine in Monaco-Ville (www.pgil.mc) has an extensive collection of Grace Kelly's signed books, sheet music and photos. It's open 9am-4.45pm Monday to Friday; on request at weekends.