April 19, 2024
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Monaco on a Budget

The Principality of Monaco has a reputation for being a millionaire’s playground. For decades, the rich and famous have flocked to Monaco, to spend their summers haunting the legendary nightspots, casinos, and luxury hotels. Many celebrities have made Monaco their home, thanks to its very favourable tax status. These include Bono from U2, F1 stars Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, and singer Elton John.

Given the luxurious nature of some Monaco hotels and nightspots, you’d be forgiven for thinking a trip to Monaco can’t be done without an Amex Black Card and a superyacht, but surprisingly, Monaco on a budget is more than possible.

More About Monaco

Monaco is small – the second smallest country after the Vatican – but it packs a lot into its 200 hectares. It lies just down the coast from buzzing Nice and has a lovely seaside location. Port Hercule and Fontvielle Port are usually full of million-pound superyachts owned by oligarchs and celebs, especially in the summer. There are grand casinos and lots of cafes and restaurants.

Monte Carlo is the most famous district of Monaco, but it’s not the prettiest place on the coast. The street layout is rather confusing and high-rise apartment blocks for the backdrop to the bay. The Old Town to the south, which is where you’ll see the Royal Palace, is much prettier.

The Old Town is where most of the main attractions lie, so explore this area first. Aside from Monte Carlo, the other two districts are LA Condamine and Fontvieille.

When to Travel

Visiting Monaco on a budget is best done in the off-season, between November and March. Prices will be higher in the peak summer months or around the key holidays like Christmas and Easter. Do not make the mistake of visiting Monaco around the Grand Prix, as there won’t be many accommodation options left, and what is available will be horrifically expensive.

Getting There

Catch a cheap flight from the UK to Nice on the Cote d’Azur. From there, it’s only a short drive or bus ride. Lots of people visit Monaco on a budget as a day trip while they are in the South of France. You can also catch a train from the UK to Monaco. A train from London to Monaco takes around 10-14 hours, depending on the service you pick. Alternatively, you can drive there – it takes approximately 12 hours to motor down through France from the Eurotunnel to Monaco.

Hotels and Accommodation

The more expensive hotels in Monaco, such as the Hotel Hermitage Monte Carlo and the Hotel De Paris, cost hundreds of Euros a night. For that you get luxurious amenities, a Michelin-starred restaurant, and stunning views. However, if you’re travelling to Monaco on a budget, five-star hotels are likely not on your radar.

Luckily, there are cheaper hotels available, costing less than £100 a night. Still not cheap, but more affordable than the Hotel De Paris! Another inexpensive option is to find an Airbnb. A private room will cost you around £60 a night, and a private apartment around £125 a night.

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The cheapest option is to stay in Nice and travel the 12km to Monaco on public transport. A bus ride takes 45 mins and costs around 2 Euros and the train is 20 mins and 5 Euros. Airbnbs are available for less than £50 a night and hotels not much more.

Exploring Monaco

Monaco is so small that it’s best to explore on foot. Wander around the streets, duck through alleyways, and have fun. Just remember that you’ll need formal footwear if you want to enter any of the casinos, as they have a strict dress code and sneakers are not allowed.

If your feet get tired, hop on the Bateau Bus. This water taxi runs between the Old Town and Monte Carlo. Local buses cost a couple of Euros or around 5 Euros for an unlimited pass which is ideal for those visiting Monaco on a budget.

Free Attractions

It costs nothing to explore the Old Town. Go and take a look at where Monaco’s Royal Family live; the palace and gardens are beautiful. The State Apartments are open to visitors, tickets cost 10 Euros for adults, but if you stay outside, it costs nothing.

Monaco Cathedral in the Monaco-Ville district is an important landmark, as well as the resting place of Grace Kelly and other members of the Royal Family. There is no fee to enter this lovely church built in the Roman-Byzantine style, but there is a dress code, so you can’t enter wearing shorts and a strappy t-shirt.

The Saint Martin Gardens, which is also known as Les Jardins Saint Martin et Sainte Barbe, has wonderful sea views and some lovely exotic plants from around the world. It’s a great place to spend a couple of relaxing hours.

The Japanese Garden is another attractive oasis in the middle of Monaco. As you might expect, there are lots of water features and tree installations.

The Princess Grace Rose Garden, which was opened in 1984, contains more than 8,000 rose bushes from 300+ varieties. In the centre, is a fountain and a statue of the princess.

The public beach, Larvotto Beach, is a popular spot in the summer. You’re not going to bump into the likes of Leonardo Di Caprio here, but it’s a lovely place to spend a sunny day. Take a swim, soak up some sun, and pretend you’re an A-Lister between red-carpet engagements.

When in Monaco, it would be rude not to visit the iconic Monte Carlo Casino. To enter the casino costs 17 Euros, but there is much to admire from the outside. The architecture and atrium are magnificent, and the casino is said to have inspired Casino Royale, the very first James Bond novel.

If you feel like exerting yourself, walk up to the Tête de Chien viewpoint overlooking the bay. The views are amazing and on a clear day, you can see for miles up the French Riviera coastline.

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The Fort Antoine Theatre is another spot with some fabulous panoramic views over the city. The fort is used as an amphitheatre for outdoor shows in the warmer months.

Football fans will enjoy a stroll down the Champion’s Promenade. This is the Monaco equivalent of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, with a trail featuring footprints from Golden Foot Award winners since 2003, including Ronaldo and Ronaldinho.

Yacht-watching is a legitimate activity if you are in Monaco. Pick a spot around Port Hercule or Fontvielle Port and see how many impressive superyachts you can see, and whether there are any famous people on board. It’s prob best not to bring any high-powered binoculars or a camera with a telephoto lens, but it’s a fun way to kill some time. You won’t be the only one gawking at expensive boats. The best view of Fontvielle Port is from the city walls.

There is a public swimming pool next to the harbour, which in winter is transformed into an ice rink.

Finally, it costs nothing to do some window shopping in Monaco. There are dozens of high-end designer stores selling famous brands like Chanel and Gucci. A new designer bag might not be on your shopping list, but it doesn’t hurt to admire the goods!

Food and Drink

Various places sell affordable snacks, meals, and beverages. Just like anywhere else, Monaco has supermarkets, so if you are self-catering, cook meals in your accommodation and make sandwiches to eat while out sightseeing. Supermarket prices are not much different to other towns and cities in France and are probably cheaper than in many other countries, including the UK.

The Place d’Armes market is a good place to buy cheap food, as it is where the locals eat. Simple meals like pastries and rice dishes cost around 5 Euros. For a sit-down meal in the evening, visit the Old Town. Several affordable restaurants serve a three-course meal for less than 25 Euros per person. During the day, these places are busy with tourists, but they tend to be quieter in the evenings. As a bonus, the nighttime views of twinkling lights over the ports are lovely.

If you want to enjoy a few drinks after a hard day’s sightseeing, look for bars with a Happy Hour and make the most of the discounted prices.

Monaco on a budget is doable if you are careful. Plan your trip to coincide with the low season and consider visiting on a day trip during a holiday in the South of France.

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