How to Enjoy Monaco on a Budget ?
Monaco is, of course, renowned with luxury, fast cars, a lavish lifestyle and money. It is very easy to spend thousands in just a one night stay – if you booked in one of the best hotels, ate in one of the Michelin star restaurants, took the wife shopping in the morning before enjoying a long, enjoyed relaxing lunch on the beach, be prepared for a hefty credit card bill. Monaco is certainly not an affordable destination for most, but do not be put off since there are alternatives and here is an insight to enjoy Monaco on a budget.
Yes, it’s true, there are low-cost accommodations available in the Principality. Hotel Versailles and Hotel de France are both 2 star and while you can forget sleeping in a four-poster bed, the rooms are comfortable and all en-suite and are ideally located at the foot of the Rocher and are just a five-minute walk from the main port. A typical continental breakfast is included, meaning you’ll start the day with a croissant or pain au chocolat and fruit juice and coffee, which will set you up nicely for your morning. There are also a few hotels located in Beausoleil, which is a town just above Monaco and only 5 minutes walk into Casino Square. Another alternative is to stay in one of the villages surrounding Monaco, but there is nothing quite like staying amidst all the fun and having a casual stroll home at the end of the night, rather than worrying if you’ll miss the last train or face a hefty taxi bill.
Before you leave your hotel for the day, please set your expectations right. The only way for you to travel around Monaco on your budget trip is by walking, bus, tourist train or boat. Yes, you heard that right, boat could also be a mean to budget transport. Walking is very popular around Monaco, mainly because of the tiny side streets you can explore and the amazing views you will experience. However, despite its tiny size, Monaco is very hilly in places so you won’t feel like walking all day long. Buses are great value, for €5 you can buy a day’s pass on all buses – amazing value when you consider a single trip is €2 if you pay per journey. So first thing’s first, walk to the bus stop at the bottom of the Rock (Rocher) and buy your day’s pass. Outside the Oceanographical Museum (aquarium) you will see the tourist train, which offers you a 30 minute guided tour around Monaco – an ideal opportunity to learn about the Principality and also get your bearings and see what you fancy returning to it later.
Ok, back to the boats. As part of your bus day pass, you are entitled to hop onto the electric ferry bus, which takes you from one side of the port to another – a brilliant opportunity to cruise around the large yachts and see Monaco and the mountains from the sea and take some photos from an angle that wouldn’t be possible on terra firma.
Warning – avoid the taxis! The minimum cost per trip is €12, irrespective of how far you want to be taken. Just get on that bus!
A quick hint here – use the lifts that are spread around the Principality – they are ingenious and will remove much of the walking that would otherwise be necessary – walking around Monaco can be tiring, especially in the summer sun.
There are plenty of small boulangeries spread around Monaco that make buying “lunch on the go” easy – a filled baguette or crepe are “cheap as chips”, literally in most cases! Most restaurants will also offer a lunchtime special when you can be well fed for a fraction of the expense that it would cost in the evening. One of the best options you will ever get is the Beef Bar in the Fontvieille district – you will enjoy one of the tastiest steaks you have ever eaten, plus a starter and a glass of wine, all for just €20-25. Big lesson here – eat well at lunchtime! There are plenty of cheaper cafes that will happily feed you in the evening. There are also plenty of small pizzerias located in the cobblestone streets on the Rock.
What to do
Having a fair idea about accommodation and food, now it’s time to explore Monaco.
A walk around the Rock is a must and, of course, it is completely free! While up there, be sure to visit the Cathedral where you will see the tombs of the Monaco Royal family, including those of Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace. A five minute walk from the Cathedral is the Prince’s Palace – every morning at 11.55am you can stand outside and witness changing of the guards. There is a gorgeous walk around the perimeter of the Rock which will afford you sensational views not only of Monaco, but also of France to the west, Italy to the east and the Alpes Maritimes to the north.
The Oceanographic Museum is certainly worth a visit, despite the €14 entrance fee for adults. The museum hosts numerous different aquariums including a massive shark tank. But the most amazing site is where the smaller sharks are fed in front of your eyes and you can stroke them as they swim by – if you are brave enough!! Once you have walked the floors of the museum you will find the play area for kids on the roof, the tortoise house and, of course, a very well stocked snack bar where you can order anything from a croissant to a steak and chips and other things in between.
Fontvieille, which is a relatively new district of Monaco, offers somewhat quieter experience of Monaco, but there are a couple of hidden gems that are missed by many. The Princess Grace rose garden is an oasis of calm and serenity where the smell of some 4,000 roses floats in the air and wafts through Fontvieille Park – a charming green space with small lakes and ponds bordered by verdant palms and olive trees, where ducks, swans, geese and turtles swim in the crystal water.
Just around the corner from the park and next to the above mentioned Beef Bar is Gerhard’s Café – probably the friendliest and best value bars in Monaco, where the staff will look after you and help you enjoy a beer or glass of wine in a peaceful, fun and welcoming atmosphere while enjoying the views of the Mediterranean, Cathedral and the Oceanographic Museum.
Monaco is most famous for Formula 1 Grand Prix and hiring a Ferrari for a day to drive around may make you feel like a superstar. So what better than to walk the track. The speciality of Monaco circuit is that it is a genuine street race and outside of the race, the streets are used for regular traffic. It is therefore possible to take a gentle stroll around the track and understand the undulations, the severity of the bends and chicanes, fun of the tunnel and excitement of casinos.
Ah the casinos – you want to come to Monaco but have a small budget. Don’t lose heart as there is still some hope. The main casino is certainly for the big players but, for €10, you can still go in and view the high-rollers playing roulette and blackjack and see the ornate ceilings. It’s certainly worth a walk around, although be warned it will cost you €10 for the visual pleasure. You can still have a flutter in the slot machine section of the main casino or indeed the Sun Casino in the Fairmont Hotel and the Café de Paris.
The Café de Paris is the place for you to sit and watch all expensive cars parade around Casino Square whilst enjoying a coffee or something stronger – you will find many others doing the same as they too dream of owning a Bugatti Veyron, Lamborghini or Ferrari.
A walk through Casino Gardens will give you a relaxing stroll and also the famous view of the casino. Magnificent flowerbeds and tended lawns, waterfalls and duck-filled ponds give you a sense of calm just metres away from the manic action of the square itself. At the bottom of the gardens is a beautiful ice-cream parlour which is definitely worth a sit down for half an hour or so and let the world go by while you decide which of the thirty or so flavours you want to enjoy!
Just a ten minute walk from Casino Square is Larvotto Beach, several sections of the beach are private and you will have to shell out €30 just for the pleasure of laying on a lounger. There are, however, plenty of public areas where you can rest your weary feet and catch some sunrays – after all, what’s the point of a Mediterranean holiday without going home with a tan? Listen to waves roll in, go for a swim in the warm seawater and take a well-earned break from the sight-seeing. One can easily grab cheap food from the snack bars down the beach – with baguettes, hot dogs, pastries, ice creams and drinks readily on offer.
If you are looking for more privacy, there is a rather rocky but lovely secluded beach on the side of the Rock between the cruise terminal and the Oceanographic Museum.
The Japanese Garden, located just above Larvotto is another free attraction which passes by many of the tourists. The garden incorporates water, stone and plant features – don’t miss the teahouse, which was constructed in Japan and later reassembled in Monte Carlo, and some seasonal attractions such as the springtime cherry, azalea and camellia flowers, and fall colours of the maples in autumn.
If you have children in tow, then there are plenty of parks providing excellent play areas – the best of which is Parc Princess Antoinette, just a short walk from the Jardin Exotique and an easy ride on the no.2 bus. The park caters for all ages, even young and old. For the kids there are the swings, slides, rides and a sandpit, while there are bigger but similar activities for the older children. There are table tennis tables, a small football pitch and a basketball court for kids who still have energy to burn, while mini golf awaits parents. A small but pleasant petting area hosts some sheep, goats and rabbits while the café down the bottom of the park serves a whole range of snacks, sandwiches, baguettes, crepes as well as alcoholic and soft drinks. Set amongst lush bougainvillea and with beautiful views over Monaco, this is a lovely place to unwind.
Don’t miss a morning trip to the Condamine open-air market on the Place d’Armes for a rainbow of fresh produce, from vine peaches to courgettes with yellow blossoms. Most of the neighborhood bakeries here sell inexpensive local finger food, barbajuan – a fried dumpling stuffed with Swiss chard and Parmesan cheese, tian, mixed vegetables and rice, or pissaladière, a flat onion tart. Try Maison Mullot, first stand on the right inside the covered market, for savoury and sweet goodies, including the traditional sweet pastry, fougasse Monégasque.
No trip to Monaco is complete without a stroll around its harbor, where million-dollar yachts rest in the docks. This is the ideal place to people-watch at one of the cafés, from where you can admire these sleek vessels, catch a glimpse of their wealthy occupants, and perhaps even a holidaying celebrity or two.
Also in the harbor you will find the world famous swimming pool – you’ve seen it before, the cars drive around it as part of the Grand Prix circuit. But the best part is that it is not as exclusive as you would think, entrance is open to all for just €3 or for €5 you can hire a sun lounger and stay for the day, relax, put your feet up and read your book or just enjoy some downtime while others around you are frantically trying to pack everything into one day.
Now if you have timed your trip to perfection then, by night, you will witness some of the best firework displays you will ever see – and all for the cost of a few beers or a bottle of wine. The Brasserie de Monaco down on the main port is a new bar which brew their own organic beer according to Bavarian traditions and you can also buy some cheap snacks to accompany the refreshment. Both, the Brasserie and somewhat livelier Rascasse bar, have a daily elongated “happy hour” from 5pm-8pm – now if that’s not an incentive I don’t know what is! The fireworks are held over four summer evenings and generally start around 9.30pm due to the light – but, trust me, they are well worth waiting for as is the musical accompaniment.
The famous Rascasse bar is the place to end the evening, let your hair down and dance and listen to the live bands who often play at the venue – drinks are not expensive, even after Happy Hour has ended.