Cover an entire country in a day? That’s the basic idea behind Monaco, a nation so small it only has two Starbucks locations—although one of them does has a killer rooftop view of the Mediterranean. But you’re not here for caffeine. You’re here for wine. And the ocean. And as much Old World opulence as you can squeeze into a single square mile. Yes, that’s about the size of Monaco, the smallest country on the planet if you don’t count the Vatican. And let’s be honest, you weren’t going to the Vatican for your honeymoon anyway.
Monaco makes the most of its limited space. And even though you could conquer it in a day, that kind of hustle is best left for the cruise ship crowd. You want to stretch out, relax and act like you belong here—like a wealthy European of noble birth in need of a scenic tax shelter, which is a pretty good way to describe a lot of the residents.
The Pros & Cons of Monaco
So what makes Monaco a great honeymoon destination? First of all, it just sounds good. All your friends will be impressed from the moment you tell ’em about it. And of course, a major goal of your honeymoon should be to make your friends jealous and have them scrolling through your Instagram feed at a record pace.
It won’t be hard to do. The scenery is ridiculously photogenic. Don’t think about it too hard. Just point and click. It’s hard to take a bad shot. It’s all mountains, water and classic Mediterranean architecture. Luxury is everywhere, but there’s also a certain degree of grit to Monaco. It doesn’t sparkle. Most of the high-rises aren’t striking or modern, like what you might find in Dubai, Shanghai, or even Las Vegas. It’s a place that Robin Leach would get excited about in the ’80s —and we consider that a good thing.
Monaco’s appeal as a tourist destination is that it doesn’t feel like your typical tourist destination. Walking around, you don’t see a lot of fast food restaurants, trash, or excessive advertising. You won’t come across a movie theater, for example, unless you make a point to go looking for one. This place is all about the yachts, cars, hotels, casinos, and shopping. It’s where the adults hang out.
Wedged in the north end of the French Riviera, Monaco is about 30 minutes by car or 15 minutes by helicopter from the international airport in Nice. In the other direction, it’s about a 40-minute drive to the Italian border. When officially crossing into Monaco, there’s no “hand over your passport” routine or even any signs to announce it. At most, a police officer will wave you through from the side of the road.
The weather is fantastic and generally mild for the most part. Mid-July to mid-August is the high season when the Europeans come for holiday. Stick with May, June, September and October when it’s not too hot and not too crowded. Just schedule around the Monaco Yacht Show in September and the famous Formula One Monte Carlo Grand Prix the last weekend in May. We’re talking crazy crowds and expensive hotel rooms.
Remind Me: Why Monaco?
Monaco is a rare opportunity for a honeymoon that’s both scenic and stylish without over-the-top tourist trappings. The “disadvantage” of being small is actually an advantage. Monaco lives up to its luxurious reputation but is also tight, efficient, clean and safe with no “bad parts of town” to water things down. You’re also in a prime location to explore other nearby European regions — the Italian coast, the French Alps and wine-tasting tours in the vineyards of Nice. You may even discover under-the-radar destinations to explore like Eze, a secluded village that feels like it was preserved from the Middle Ages. It may be small, but there are no limitations in Monaco. Think of it as your new favorite principality.
What’s the Difference Between Monaco and Monte Carlo?
“Monaco” and “Monte Carlo” are often used interchangeably. Understandable, since Monaco feels more like a city than a country to begin with. And for the record, it refers to itself as a principality more often than a nation or country. Monte Carlo (which may or may not include a hyphen, depending on how French you are) is one of four quarters within Monaco and where most of the luxury hotels and casinos are. It merges effortlessly with La Condamine, which includes Port Hercules—basically a parking lot for some of the most super-boss yachts in the world. Monaco-ville is a giant hunk of elevation (often called the Rock of Monaco) that serves as the government hub and home to the Prince’s Palace. It shares a second harbor with Fontvieille, which didn’t even exist until the early ’80s. It’s built from land reclaimed from the sea and is the closest thing Monaco has to a working-class neighborhood with a “regular” shopping center and apartments that blend together with what’s often described as the world’s most high-end public housing project. Sorry, it’s strictly for Monaco citizens only.
The Best Hotels in Monaco
You’ll need a place to stay and pretty much all the hotels are going to be pricey, especially when booking something that fits the bill as a honeymoon suite.
On the high-end of the luxury scale, Hotel de Paris does an incredible job mixing Old World style with modern amenities. Hermitage is posh, elegant and almost like a palace. It’s gorgeous but may be too stuffy and low-energy for young couples looking for excitement. The Fairmont is right on the water, modern and busy with upscale shopping and familiar resort components like Nobu and Nikki Beach. This might be the best place to find an American.
Venture north along the coast for a few more contemporary choices. Monte-Carlo Bay has an expansive sandy-bottom swimming pool and is next door to Jimmy Z nightclub. Your best bet for saving a few bucks without sacrificing quality is Le Meridien Beach Plaza. Playfully modern with eclectic artwork in the lobby, it has its own private mini-beach and elevators that dim when the doors close, offering a little extra romance before you even make it to the room.
Pretty much all of these hotels provide ridiculous Mediterranean views.
The Best Restaurants in Monaco
Monaco is big on fresh seafood, authentic Italian-style pizzas, and wine. Even the house wines are far more interesting than what you’ll typically come across in the United States.
If you want to spend a mortgage payment on dinner, direct your attention to Alain Ducasse’s King Louis XV inside Hotel de Paris and Joel Robuchon’s eponymous restaurant at Metropole. Both are all about the experience (French fine dining with indulgent multi-course tasting menus) and widely considered to be among the very best restaurants in the world. You get what you pay for.
For spectacular scenery, it’s hard to beat the Yacht Club at Port Hercules, which itself kind of looks like a giant multi-level yacht. It’s so ultra-exclusive, members need approval by Prince Albert himself to join. However, the same building shares space with a couple wine bars that are open to the public and have surprisingly reasonable prices considering the location. The Wine Palace matches the style and elegance of the club and comes stocked with thousands of bottles. Société Nautique is far more casual, but mainly a lunch spot that’s only open for dinner during the busy summer months. (Blame it on that European work ethic.)
Another place to save a few euros is Tip Top, a small local favorite for burgers and pizza on the streets of Monte Carlo. However, the best bang for your buck is Elsa, a one-star Michelin restaurant at the Monte-Carlo Beach Hotel. It’s actually just a few steps across the border into France (although you’d never know it if someone didn’t tell you) and serves inventive organic tasting menus prepared with fresh local garden ingredients. The price tag is well below what you’d see at higher-end Monte Carlo restaurants.
As for bars, check out the covered outdoor patio at Bagatelle, the cocktails and lounge atmosphere of Buddha Bar and La Rascasse, a party spot that offers great views of the Formula One straightaway during the Grand Prix.
One thing Americans will quickly notice is the no-tipping culture of Europe, which does help take the sting out of those high prices. However, there is a notable lack of urgency among the waitstaff compared to what you’d find in the United States. For example, servers might not fetch drink refills with the same zeal they use to close down the hotel breakfast buffet a few minutes early. That being said, everyone is friendly. But as a general rule — the more expensive the bar or restaurant, the better the service.
The Best Tour Packages in Monaco
One of the most popular ways to get around is spending a day on Monaco Le Grand Tour, an open-air double-decker bus tour with 12 stops around Monaco. Hop on and off at your own pace —all for one price that typically runs less than $30 per ticket. Warning: lines for buses get long when a cruise ship is in port, so plan carefully.
Liven Up specializes in tours by land or sea at all price levels—and probably knows how to get more fun out of Monaco than pretty much anyone else. The company is best known for its Driving Experiences, where you can take a ride in an exotic car to explore the sights around town.
Want to cruise around the harbor without paying millions for your own yacht? Bateau Bus is a small solar-powered ferry that takes passengers from one side of Port Hercules to the other. It’s an excuse to save a few steps while checking out the scenery from a different angle.
The Best Free Attractions and Activities in Monaco
If you splurge on the hotel and food while trying to save money elsewhere, you’ve picked a pretty good strategy for your honeymoon. Monaco is full of pedestrian walkways and promenades, making it very easy to get around. If you break up your sightseeing into a series of 10 to 15-minute walks, it’s not a bad way to explore the city — uh, principality.
The changing of the guard at the palace is often described as a “must-see” and yes, it’s fine, but it’s really an excuse to wander around the old town village of Monaco-ville. There’s no charge to walk through Saint Nicholas Cathedral (and pay respect to several royal tombs, including one for Grace Kelly) and the St. Martin Gardens, where pathways, trees, and ponds lead to ridiculous cliffside views that overlook the Mediterranean.
Some of the sights come with a romantic touch—without spending a cent. Walk alongside the yachts docked at Port Hercules or wander through the Princess Grace Rose Garden in Fontvieille while watching helicopters take off and land near the water. You can even hang out in the lobby of the Monte Carlo Casino for free. It’s an incredible example of mid-19th century Belle Epoque architecture that you’ve probably seen in a James Bond movie somewhere.
The Best Casinos in Monaco
The gaming culture in Monaco is a lot different than what you saw in Las Vegas during your bachelor party. While the casinos of Monte Carlo are synonymous with its image, they’re considerably more upscale and relaxed than what you’d find in the United States. They’re not open round-the-clock and you may have to pay an entrance fee to get in—at least to where the table games are. Although dress codes have loosened over the years, you should clean up to play it safe. Especially at the Monte Carlo Casino, where Monaco citizens are forbidden to play and sports jackets are required for private rooms. The atmosphere is a little looser at the heavy-on-slot-machines Casino Cafe de Paris, the Monte-Carlo Bay Casino and the Sun Casino inside the Fairmont
Sporting Monte-Carlo, near the Monte-Carlo Bay resort, is dedicated exclusively to card games and doubles as a major event space. It also has an awesome retractable roof to let in some of that Mediterranean sea air. The venue has hosted the PokerStars and Monte-Carlo Casino EPT for 15 years, drawing top players from around the world, competing for a prize pool worth millions. The tournament brings in a different kind of energy with a youthful yet sophisticated crowd every spring.
By Rob Kachelriess