I have been wanting to visit Monaco for a long time, but the high summer airfares put me off. By chance I found lastminute sameday return flights for only £80 – and went for it!
After an early start to catch the 7.50 am London-Nice flight and an uneventful journey, I arrived at Nice airport at 11 am. With only a light backpack, I whistled through customs and was soon on the 110 express bus direct to Monaco. This costs €33 return ($20 single) at the time of writing, leaves every 30 mins and takes 45 mins (May ’16).
The bus dropped me off at 12.15 at the top of the Monte Carlo casino garden.
For these trips, I would usually rent a car or arrange a tour guide or driver from Tour Driver Finder. However, due the tiny size of Monaco, I decided to explore on foot.
I walked through the beautiful gardens to the Casino Monte Carlo. The casino was closed at this time (opens 2 pm on a Sunday), so I walked around the square and admired the parked supercars. The compact square is surrounded by the Cafe du Paris, Casino and Hotel du Paris. The cafe didn’t impress me too much, so I deduced to explore the hotel. I confidently walked into the Hotel du Paris and was immediately met by a friendly, but firm concierge who asked how he could help me (they don’t like visitors!). I asked where the return bus to the airport left from, and he was helpful in explaining.
Tip: don’t try to visit the hotel unless you are a guest!
Next I walked down through the casino grounds to the Fairmont Hotel Monte Carlo. The roof of the hotel is a spectacular garden overlooking the marina. I took a few photos before walking further to the hotel entrance. This is situated on the “Fairmont Bend” – one of the classic circuit F1 features. There was a queue of supercars waiting to park at the hotel. Quite a buzz, and a great spot to take photos of passing cars.
From the Fairmont Monte Carlo, I walked to the Japanese Garden. A beautiful space, free to enter, next to large tower blocks. Quite an unusual setting – but worth the detour.
Due to the preparations for the Grand Prix races, many roads had barriers setup. I therefore walked through the tunnel under the Fairmont hotel to the Monte Carlo marina. It was interesting to see the activity around the Monaco Yacht club. The Bateau Bus leaves from here across to Quai Rainer on the other side of the marina. The boat is a wonderful way to gain a different perspective of Monaco, and only cost €2!
Tip: take the bateau (boat) bus from Monte Carlo to Monaco Ville / aquarium.
On the other side, it was fascinating to witness the larger super yachts moored-up. A walk down the marina breakwater offers a great view over Monaco.
From here, it is a short walk along a stunning cliff-side promenade, and a steep ascent to the top of the Monaco Rock to the Monaco Aquarium. I must admit that I wa sceptical about the aquarium, following other disappointing visits. However, it’s spectacular setting and excellently set-out exhibits really impressed me. In particular, the spectacular jellyfish tank with fluorescent jellyfish was astonishing.in another exhibit, you can even stroke a shark!
After the aquarium, I headed to the Saint-Martin gardens, which were a peaceful place to relax after the hectic aquarium. They offer a wonderful viewpoint over the cliffs and aquarium. The cathedral is close-by too, which is a fairly interesting place to stop at for a few minutes (free entry).
From the cathedral, I walked the short distance to the palace. Channel 4 (UK) was filming a piece presented by David Coulthard, which was interesting to see. The view over the marina and the rest of Monaco from the palace is absolutely spectacular – the best single view of Monaco I saw all day.
There is a steep path down from the Monaco Rock to the marina, which I followed. The Marina was in full-setup-mode for the Grand Prix races the following weekend. I found it fascinating to walk around the track, hospitality suites and the pit-stops, and to witness their setup.
This lead me back to the Bateau Bus terminal, so I took this back over to Monte Carlo. From here, I took the elevator up to the square.
By this time, the Casino was open! I walked inside, and was met by a spectacular Atrium. Tickets into the Casino hall cost €10, so I decided to skip.
Exhilarated after a fascinating day, mildly sunburnt, and having walked 25 km in total – I decided it was time to head home. I headed back through the Casino park to the bus stop for the bus back to Nice airport.