Monaco. The name is synonymous with luxury, American princesses and Alfred Hitchcock films. To many, it’s just a dream–one in three residents is a millionaire after all—but the reality is Monaco can be affordable if you know where to look. And with the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix set to kick off on May 29, now is the perfect time to visit one of the smallest city-states and principalities in the world.
Monaco has a rich history steeped in tradition where family is central. Most Americans hadn’t heard of the city-state until Hollywood icon Grace Kelly shed one glamorous life for another when she married Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1956. Suddenly, the principality was on the map, albeit figuratively. Since that time, the Grimaldis—who have reigned as Monaco’s monarchs since the 14th century—have only cemented their hold on the city-state. Prince Albert II, and his sisters, Caroline and Stephanie, have all stepped into the limelight in one way or another to keep Monaco in the news. New hotels have sprung up out of seemingly nowhere and museums and galleries, many devoted to the late Princess Grace, have opened in former mansions of wealthy residents..
While only encompassing less than one square mile, most of which weaves through tight, cliffside lanes, making it an ideal location for Formula One’s biggest race, Monaco and its capital Monte-Carlo boast a number of unique sights and great restaurants. Here are our top things to see and do in Monaco this spring.
While having strong ties to France thanks to proximity and a shared language, Monaco walks to the beat of its own drum. Monegasque cuisine is based on Monaco’s Ligurian roots as well as its ties to France and Italy and geographical closeness to North Africa. Traditional dishes include barbajuan, a savory pastry filled with ricotta, Swiss chard and other herbs and spices; fougasse, an citrus-flavored sweet bread (not sweetbread) eaten at breakfast or as a snack, and socca, a chickpea pancake that’s a popular post-clubbing, late-night snack. Local seafood is cherished as well and most restaurants boast fish in some form or another.
As one would expect, Monaco boasts myriad Michelin-starred eateries, from the fabled Le Louis XV-Alain Ducasse à l’Hôtel de Paris to the innovative Pavyllon, un restaurant de Yannick Alléno, Monte-Carlo. And most are pricey to boot. Still, if you want to splurge, Le Blue Bay is your best bet.
This two-starred eatery, helmed by chef Marcel Ravin, crafts Mediterranean fare with a Caribbean twist. Menus rotate weekly and feature freshly caught seafood and locally sourced meats and vegetables served in handmade dishes. Think chantilly fish eggs, veal cheek with sour tamarind, and starters seasoned with Colombo curry powder from the West Indies.
For more affordable bites, head to Puzzle, a cozy eatery boasting authentic Mediterranean fare in a chic, modern setting. Puzzle is especially loved for its fresh poke bowls, crudo and tartare. For a taste of Mexico in Europe, Sexy Tacos serves authentic dishes such as nopales tostada (cactus salad with beans) and savory and smoky mole poblano (stewed chicken with a rich chocolate sauce)—and it won’t break the bank.
As a playground for the rich and famous, Monaco has no shortage of sites and activities that cater to the in crowd. The Casino de Monte Carlo, housed in a Belle Epoque mansion, is arguably the chicest spot in town. Try your hand at blackjack or baccarat or spin the roulette wheel in the Salle Europe. Locals are not permitted inside so you can go all out pretending to be James Bond, just make sure to suit up. No tees and kicks allowed.
Grand Prix enthusiasts will delight in the The Cars Collection of H.S.H. the Prince of Monaco, a 16,400-square-foot museum that features nearly 100 vintage American and European (Hispano Suiza, Rolls Royce, Napier, Delage, etc.) cars as well as horse-drawn carriages and former Formula One entries, all of which were the personal collection of Prince Rainier III.
For anyone in town for the Monaco Grand Prix, visitors can drive or walk the circuit after the race. Since 1950, Formula One drivers have been traversing the winding roads around Monaco, from the Sainte Dévote curve to the Casino de Monte Carlo to the Hotel de Paris to the Mirabeau curve until the finish line near Anthony Noghes. The route is thrilling when going at normal speeds but at top speeds, it can prove fatal for inexperienced drivers.
After all that excitement, it’s time to relax. Set on the banks of the Mediterranean, Larvotto beach boasts a shaded promenade, coarse white sand and a “handiplage” area for people with disabilities and reduced mobility. Two other beaches are within walking distance—Crique de Pêcheurs and Solarium—but the first is ideal only for views and the latter is for experienced swimmers only.
Any stay in Monaco is not complete without heading to Le Bar Americain. The tony nightlife spot sits in the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo. Expect celebrities and influencers aplenty in its wooden interior, complete with supple leather armchairs and moody lighting. Savor an orange-infused condamine cocktail on the terrace and close your eyes as live jazz and classic French songs waft on the breeze. It’s the perfect way to end any trip to Monaco or Monte-Carlo.
Originally erected in 1886, the original Hotel Metropole seduced the wealthy tourists who made Monaco their summer playground. More than 100 years later, the hotel underwent a major renovation, which retained its Belle Epoque exterior but modernized its interior.
Rooms boast traditional furniture with some contemporary flourishes. Expect printed coverlets and pops of color with neutral tones as the base on beds and armchairs and marble counters and jetted tubs in the baths. Many rooms afford views of the Mediterranean or cypress trees.
The 50-room Port Palace is a boutique jewel that sits on Monte-Carlo harbor, perfect for anyone in town for the Monaco Grand Prix or the annual Monaco Yacht Show. Color is the theme here with turquoise and orange being the hues of choice. Rooms have modern furniture and amenities as well as hardwood floors and luxurious marble baths in suites. Relax after a day of shopping at the hammam at the Beauty Angels spa on the ground floor.