We arrived in Nice on Monday afternoon and spent Monday and Tuesday in the city before taking a train to Monaco for the day on Wednesday morning. A number of sites recommend taking the #82 bus for the beautiful views but the train only takes 20 minutes and the Nice train station was close and convenient. We caught the 0821 train and were in Monaco before 0900. Leaving the train station, it took us a few minutes to get oriented. I had printed some information on transportation to and from Monaco and the various bus stops, but hadn’t included the train station information so we weren’t sure where we were in relation to the rest of the city.
After crossing the main road we headed south to the port. There were huge yachts all along the waterfront. We stared for a while and pointed out some especially extravagant ones, wondering what it would be like to sail on them. I’d be happy to just be crew on them for a cruise or two!
We continued up the coast and visited an open air market before hiking up the hill to the Palais Princier de Monaco. The walk up is beautiful as are the views from the hill. We wandered the site and down some of the beautiful side streets before purchasing tickets. We actually thought there would be no tours, as the Prince’s flag was flying over the Palace indicating he was in residence. But you can visit the State Apartments even when the family is in residence.
They have several options: single ticket to the palace, a combination ticket to the palace and aquarium, or a combination ticket to the palace and car collection. We were interested in all 3 sites but seemed to get the best deal with the combination ticket to visit the car collection. We also picked up a very useful country map that helped us the rest of our day.
Audio guides are included in the admission so we followed the signs and stops, however, there was a special exhibit marking the meeting of Grace Kelly with Prince Rainer, “Monaco, the 6th May 1955, story of a meeting”, on the anniversary of her 90th birthday. The exhibit, including many photographs and the story of the meeting, was on display until October 15th, so we were lucky to view this during its last few days. However, the exhibit did block some areas of the rooms and the regular displays, making following the audio guide slightly more difficult. The rooms are beautiful, with wonderful furnishings, and we were able to visit the throne room as well. There was a video of Princess Grace giving a guided tour of the state apartments playing in the throne room.
We went to the Car Collection of HSH Prince of Monaco next, it is down the hill from the palace to the north. The collection includes almost 100 cars collected by Prince Rainer III; some amazing old cars from 1903 like Rolls Royces and Packards to Formula 1 race cars to Porsches and Lamborghinis. I would take any of them! It also included a special 2011 Lexus from the wedding of Prince Albert II.
After leaving the car museum, we walked to the Musée Océanographique de Monaco. The website, like the museum, is all in French, so makes it hard for stupid monolingual Americans to appreciate. You can certainly enjoy the aquarium, though, and there are signs in English for each display, but the museum is French only. They do have interesting exhibits from Prince Albert I, the current prince’s great-great-grandfather. Prince Albert founded the Oceanographic Institute Foundation in Monaco, and one of the foundation buildings eventually became the Musee Oceanographic of Monaco. He traveled the Mediterranean and made multiple trips to the polar regions. You can view early diving suits, tools, ships, and see an actor playing the prince talk about his exploration. This was in English, fortunately, and very interesting. The prince also focused on environmental and sustainability issues of our oceans.
After thoroughly enjoying the museum, we went to Monte Carlo to visit Casino square. We just walked around the building and the plaza, people watching, staring at the expensive cars, the people going into the casino and the hordes of other tourists doing exactly what we were doing. There was some event, we believe, happening in the casino, as a number of photographers with professional cameras on tripods were setting up at the entrance.
We were going to have a drink at one of the several cafes on the square but one look at the prices and we kept walking. I did go up to the Boulevard des Moulins to visit the tourist center for a passport stamp.
I would have liked to stay for dinner, but we had purchased round trip tickets with a specific time. We went back to the train station. We had already missed our time by about an hour, but we asked at the ticket counter if our ticket was still valid. Yes, it was fine. We spent a lot of time at the station however, as the 1515 train was delayed 50 minutes. It was a packed train to return to Nice.
We saw what we had really wanted to see in Monaco, the palace, gardens and the casino, but I would have loved several more hours. It’s only 2 square kilometers, so obviously very easy to walk everywhere in this country, but there is more to see. I would have liked to visit the Princess Grace Rose Garden, dedicated by Prince Rainier III in her honor, and just spend more time wandering the streets and port, as well as having time for a nice dinner in one of their many restaurants. You can do Monaco in a day, but if so, make it a longer day. Start early and catch the latest train you can back to Nice.