Do NOT arrive by cruise ship
Monaco may be teeny-tiny, but it’s the densest country in the world with more history and sites of interest than most cruise ports and you simply don't want to have to share it with an influx of thousands of daytrippers for a few hours. Average docking times only give you around 7 hours to experience this magnificent place, and if you want to see the Casino, the Palais Princier, the yachts in Port Hercule, get your passport stamped at the Office de Tourisme and still grab lunch, you’ll have to keep on the move, cut out shopping or leisurely strolling, and save relaxation for when you’re back onboard the ship.
Big ships won’t even dock in Monaco, meaning the limited time you have in the principality is also being chipped away by time needed to tender in from your ship’s position off the nearby French port of Villefranche-sur-Mer, then drive or train into Monaco. We’ve overheard rushed cruisers in Monaco before, and the conversation is “what we didn’t get to do” and “we should return for a proper visit,” before they’ve even left!
Instead, plan for a good two or three days’ stay in Monaco to experience it at all hours, including the sweetness of sunset and the sparkling nights.
There’s one exception to our “no cruise ships” rule, and that is if you’ve already been to Monaco. A short day would be nice, but altogether inadequate for a first timer.
Do NOT take a taxi to Monaco from Nice
…when you can fly in a helicopter. HeliAir Monaco operates a regular heli-taxi service between Nice Airport and Monaco, which costs from 120 Euro each way, compared to the same (or more!) in a private car.
The cheapest option is taking a taxi to Gare de Nice Ville, the main train station in Nice, and from there pay 3.80 Euros for a one-way train to Monaco’s own train station. Of course this is best done if you’re traveling light and don’t mind a little inconvenience; the train can get crowded during rush hours.
Do NOT confuse Monte-Carlo with the rest of Monaco
Monaco actually has several districts, and only one of them is Monte-Carlo. If you’re arriving by train, you’ll first set foot in La Condamine. If arriving by helicopter transfer, then you’ll land at the helipad at the second port in Fontvieille. The Palace is actually in Monaco-Ville.
Monte-Carlo only concerns the area along the north side of Port Hercule, including the Casino and Hotel de Paris. This is important if you’re interested in places and things other than the Casino, if you take the public bus routes or give directions to a taxi, and if you happen to strike up a conversation with a Monaco resident, which brings us to a whole other point! “Monocan" is the term for a foreigner who has moved to Monaco, whereas “Monegasque” refers to the local dialect and to the rare people actually born and bred here.
Do NOT pass up a passport stamp
We've already explained how to get one and the fact that it's free to receive, so what are you waiting for? Head to the train station or the main Office du Tourisme at 2 Boulevard de Moulins to get the mark that proves you've been to Monaco.
Do NOT assume it's completely out of your budget
Monaco may have 0% unemployment, no income taxes (with some exceptions), and the world's highest GDP, but it's not a country coated in caviar and diamonds. Okay, so you can totally find top-tier luxury dining, shopping, hotels and more if that's what you want, but Monaco is also full of average income people who commute in to work or visit, and they have to eat, shop and stay as well. Since the entire country is walkable, a short stroll will usually present several dining options of varying price points, but a good supper will average 70 Euros per person for three courses. If you're really running on empty, there's a McDonalds at Fontvieille harbor and the country's first Starbucks just opened in December 2013. When in doubt, head to Fontvieille, where the yacht crews and year-round locals shop, or to the "Casino" supermarket right at the base of Port Hercule harbor, where Monaco's home-brewed beer retails for under 3 Euros a bottle.
Have any tips for Monaco of your own to share? Pop ‘em in the comments!
[Photos: rsepulveda, Jaunted]