Monaco on a budget: How to cut the cost of a visit to the billionaire’s playground

Monaco on a budget: How to cut the cost of a visit to the billionaire’s playground

“Budget” and “Monaco” aren’t words that are usually seen next to each other, considering that the tiny principality on the Cote d’Azur is home to more billionaires per square metre than anywhere else in the world.

However, it is possible to enjoy a break on the cheap in this place dripping with money.

For a start, just strolling around – which is easy, as it’s only 2.02 square kilometres in size (the second-smallest sovereign state in the world, after Vatican City) – is great fun, with so much crammed into such little space.

Watching the procession of Ferraris, Porsches, Maseratis and the like glide past is certainly something to behold, as is the sight of Port Hercule with its superyachts. There are lovely gardens in which to stroll and landmark buildings to admire, as well as the Formula One track to walk along, plus some surprisingly affordable restaurants and bars.

Just don’t get tempted to try to emulate James Bond by having a flutter in the Monte Carlo Casino, otherwise your plans for a cheap break will be blown right out of the beautifully turquoise Mediterranean waters that are always in the background.

Plenty of time can be spent strolling around the Monte Carlo harbour (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

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Where to stay

The Novotel Monte Carlo has a central location, along with very comfortable rooms, a small gym, sauna, steam room and outdoor pool.

French address and is just over the border. It’s a five-minute walk from the Monte Carlo train station. Double rooms have the added advantage of a small kitchenette. A Roca, which serves Monaco specialities such as fried courgette flowers, and barbagiuan, a fritter stuffed with chard, spinach leaves or squash, plus rice, leeks and onions.

Creperie Pizzeria du Rocher (12 Rue Comte Felix Gastaldi) in the Old Town offers margherita pizza for €7.50 (£6.40) or a three-course meal for €16.50, and Pizza Mama at 7 Place d’Armes has pizzas from €10.50 upwards.

Upmarket Belgian restaurant Smakelijk at Le Meridien Beach Plaza Hotel (22 Avenue Princesse Grace) has a great offer considering the very high quality: €26 for a set lunch with a starter, main course, water and coffee.

Where to drink

Brasserie de Monaco (Rte de la Piscine) was established in 1905 and has a great location overlooking Port Hercule (although this may be obscured, depending on the time of year, by the banks of seating for events such as the Grand Prix). It offers a range of its own craft beers as well as wines, spirits and cocktails and has a good value (for Monaco) main course (salads, burgers, pizzas etc) and drink for €18, 12–2pm, Monday to Friday; happy hour is 5–8pm.

Cute little Bar Le Zinc (La Condamine Market, 15 Place d’Armes) is a lively spot, popular with locals, while La Rascasse (1 Quai Antoine 1er) is relatively inexpensive for Monaco and often has a happy hour 5–8pm, as well as acoustic live music, salsa and DJ nights. Gerhard’s (42 Quai Jean-Charles Rey) is a good value bar-restaurant with beers from €3.50 and cocktails from €7.50.

How to travel

Pretty houses along the shore reflect the Mediterranean locale (Getty Images)

Being small, Monaco is ideal for exploring on foot. It does have a number of steep hills but, fortunately, being such an affluent place (it has the highest GDP per capita in the world and the lowest poverty rate) means there are numerous lifts and escalators around for ascending the slopes. There are pedestrian underpasses on some busy streets, which are completely spotless.

Bright red electric “MonaBikes”, part of a bike-share scheme, are at 49 stations around the principality. The first 30 minutes are free, the next 30 minutes are €1, and after an hour the additional cost is €2 per 30-minute period.

There are also seven daytime bus routes, two night bus routes, and a water bus that ferries passengers across Port Hercule.

Free things to do

The Japanese Garden is a peaceful spot to visit (Getty Images)

Within the centre is a public sandy man-made beach, Plage Larvotto. It makes a lovely spot for enjoying the sun, having a picnic or that vital French Riviera pastime, people-watching, and it seldom gets crowded. The shallow waters are ideal for children and there’s anti-jellyfish netting.

Monaco has several lovely gardens that are a delight to stroll through. They include the Japanese Garden, located at 5 Avenue Princesse Grace near the Grimaldi Forum. Built in 1994, it was created utilising strict zen principles. Although small, it has a waterfall, islands and bridges, bamboo hedges, lily ponds, a koi pond, bridges and a tea house. The Princess Grace Rose Garden, which opened in 1984, two years after her death, is a tranquil spot containing more than 8,000 rose bushes of over 300 varieties. Next to it are further gardens, which contain several statues.

In fact, more than 100 sculptures are peppered across the centre, such as The Fist, a huge bronze hand by César Baldaccini, and Adam and Eve by Fernando Botero in the gardens of Monte Carlo Casino. The tourist board’s website,, has three sculpture trails to discover and each sculpture has a QR code for accessing further information on the artwork.

The Casino de Monte-Carlo, the Café de Paris and Hôtel de Paris on Casino Square are three splendid examples of Belle Époque architecture. You can enter the casino for free; it has an elegant marble-columned entrance hall, lots of gilded paint, plush carpets and numerous other signifiers of opulence.

A stroll of the twisting little streets of the pretty old town perched on top of The Rock, a 62-metre-tall monolith, is a must. As well as enjoying great views over the principality, you can watch the Changing of the Guard performed at the Prince’s Palace at 11.55am each day. Nearby is the limestone Saint Nicholas Cathedral in Roman-Byzantine style, which is the final resting place of Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace.

Travel essentials

How to get there

British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair all fly from London to Nice. Flight time is around two hours.

From Nice to Monaco, there’s a choice of two ridiculously scenic bus routes, setting you back just €2.50, or €2.10 if you buy your ticket online at The buses travel along two of the Côte d’Azur’s three famous corniche roads.

The 607 bus, taking around 45 minutes on the seafront Basse Corniche, passes the swanky resort towns of Villefranche-sur-Mer and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. The 602 bus route follows the Moyenne Corniche, passing the medieval settlement of Èze.

A train from Nice taking 25 minutes (a fast train takes 15 minutes) is another option, as are trains from other nearby cities and towns on the French Riviera such as Menton, Cannes and Antibes.

Further information

Visit Monaco ( Holiday Extras ( can book airport parking, airport hotels, airport lounge passes, car hire and more.

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