For two days of fun, Monaco is the place to go. It’s easy to reach, the weather is beautiful, and you can cycle to both Italy and France and be back in time for lunch. Here’s your guide for the tiny city-state.
Start your first day in Monaco just across the border in Nice, France. From here, you can take the train to Monte Carlo in 20 minutes, drive in 30 minutes or cycle the 12 miles in around an hour. For stunning views of the Mediterranean coastline, the water shimmering below you in the bright sunlight, embark on a seven-minute helicopter ride run by Monacair.
After touching down, check into your room at the regal Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Hotel Metropole, Monte-Carlo. Smack-bang in the middle of Monaco, 15 minutes’ walk from the train station and just around the corner from the Casino de Monte-Carlo, this grand Belle Époque building dating to 1886 is opulent without being ostentatious. Walk down its small driveway, shaded by handsome Italian Cypress trees and into the sumptuous glass-domed lobby, a cool and quiet respite.
Kick off your trip with an insider’s tour of the famed Casino de Monte-Carlo in the company of guide extraordinaire Fatoumata Froissart Diallo of Fair & Fairy, a private tour company. The iconic 154-year-old casino is the grande dame of Monaco, a stately Belle Époque structure with a marble-paved atrium and room after room of beautiful frescoes, stained-glass windows and allegorical paintings. Diallo has been giving tours for more than five years, guiding visitors through the casino’s plush rooms and making the juicy history come alive with her razor-sharp wit.
After making your way through the casino, it’s off to lunch a few minutes away at Italian restaurant Valentin. The menu changes daily, so one day you’ll find fresh tagliolini with white truffle cream and cèpes and the next a warming squash and ricotta soup. The excellent value and intimate atmosphere make this restaurant a local favorite.
Next up: a two-wheeled tour of Monaco. While the city-state is compact enough to be traversed on foot, zipping around on a sturdy German-built e-bike is far more fun. Monaco Bike Tours’ three-hour spins combine cycling and a history lesson, so when you roll to a stop in front of the Princess Grace Rose Garden, you’ll learn all about how American actress Grace Kelly came to be a beloved princess of Monaco.
After your bike ride, you’d be remiss not to make good use of your hotel’s enticing heated seawater pool, designed by Karl Lagerfeld. In case of inclement weather, take refuge in the brand-new Spa Metropole by Givenchy. Take your time splashing about, because to reach dinner tonight you’ll need only to walk across the way.
Monaco has no shortage of glitzy restaurants, but Hotel Metropole, Monte-Carlo is a culinary powerhouse, with three restaurants from lauded French chef Joël Robuchon and chef Christophe Cussac.
For dinner, take a seat at Yoshi, Robuchon’s contemporary Japanese restaurant, helmed by Takeo Yamazaki. The melt-in-your-mouth grilled marinated black cod is a must-order. Sake is the drink of choice here, but there’s an extensive wine list, too, naturally highlighting French vineyards.
Note that while Yoshi is refined modern Japanese fare with prices to match, the lunchtime bento option is a steal and just as tasty as what’s served by night.
Continue the Japanese theme of the evening with a nightcap at Buddha-Bar just next door. This is one of Monaco’s “it” clubs and is particularly busy during events like the Yacht Show and the Grand Prix. Snag an outside table if you can — heat lamps ensure you’ll be comfortable year-round — and sip an Asian Spritz (Aperol, Campari, elderflower syrup and sparkling sake) as you people-watch.
Grab your sunglasses and swimsuit before heading down to breakfast at Joël Robuchon’s Odyssey, the alfresco restaurant, also designed by Karl Lagerfeld, adjacent to the pool. Munch on pan au chocolat and sip frothy café au lait before settling into a chaise lounge beneath an umbrella.
After a dip, stroll 15 minutes to the Francis Bacon Foundation, open Monday to Friday by appointment only, with free, guided tours on Tuesday and Thursday. An Irish-born British painter, Bacon lived and worked in Monaco from 1946 through the early 1950s and visited up until his death in 1992.
This foundation’s 2,500-piece collection encompasses not only Bacon’s own work — including paintings produced during his time in Monaco — but also letters, exhibition catalogues and photographs of Bacon taken by his friends and by photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson.
By now, the siren calls of lunch and sunshine can’t be ignored. Walk just another 15 minutes to Larvotto Beach and Mediterranean restaurant La Rose des Vents. You could eat house-made pasta here, or a classic salade niçoise, but it’s the ultra-fresh local seafood that pairs best with an earthy glass of rosé and view of the azure waters of the Ligurian Sea.
For a sublime beachfront lunch, order the grilled octopus, served with Provençal snack fried panisse (chickpea fries) and a spicy, garlicky mayonnaise.
Just a five-minute walk from lunch is the tiny, tranquil Japanese Garden. From the shade of the pavilions, take in the lush surroundings, the immaculately manicured trees, tidy rock gardens and koi pond.
If the weather takes a turn, duck into the New National Museum of Monaco, which in the past has exhibited vibrant costumes by Léon Bakst and pieces from Grace Kelly’s elegant wardrobe.
From here, you can either swing by your hotel for a break or walk 20 minutes to Monaco-Ville, the city’s Old Town. Come for expansive views of Monaco’s radiant harbor and stay to see the prince’s collection of vintage cars, visit the Prince’s Palace and the Romanesque Revival St. Nicholas Cathedral, where many of the royal family are buried, including Kelly.
If you have kids in tow, make a beeline for the wonderfully family friendly Oceanographic Museum. Tucked in the narrow, winding streets of Monaco-Ville are myriad souvenir shops, as well as places to sit for coffee or ice cream.
Wind down your last day in Monaco with happy hour at waterfront brewpub Brasserie de Monaco, which brews three versions of its signature “luxury” beer: a pilsner, red fruit beer and wheat beer. Order a pint and settle in at an outdoor table overlooking the yacht-filled harbor.
For dinner, walk 15 minutes to La Maison du Caviar, a French-Mediterranean restaurant near the casino. The restaurant is homey and unpretentious; the service is warm and friendly and the menu is mostly composed of classic French fare and lighter Mediterranean dishes, like crispy duck confit, a salad of warm artichokes and its namesake caviar.
A toothsome meal here is a nice counterpoint to the glitz and glamour of Monaco.