24 hours in… Monaco

The destination

I have long been fascinated by microstates, and Monaco is about as micro as they get. If you define countries by UN membership, it’s the world’s smallest – at 500 acres, it’s barely a quarter the size of the village I grew up in! With over 36,000 residents it’s also the most densely populated; as about a third of them are millionaires, it boasts the highest GDP per capita too.

As I was visiting the south of France for work, I couldn’t resist adding a couple of days of sightseeing. Sadly my hopes of walking the length of a country whilst enjoying the Riviera’s natural beauty were somewhat scuppered by the weather. Although Monaco typically receives only 6cm of rain in all of February, both Friday and Saturday each saw that much dumped on the city-state in a series of torrential downpours. This was all the more frustrating given the fine conditions when I was stuck in an office earlier in the week…

Uninspiring weather in Monaco

The journey

Since I had been based at Nice airport for a few days, my transfer to Monaco was straightforward. Sadly I couldn’t quite justify a €200 helicopter flight, even with the enviable 7 minute journey time. Instead, I took a short walk to Saint-Augustin station (about 10 minutes on foot from the terminal) and secured a rather more affordable €6 train ride to Monte-Carlo.

The ticket machines are easy enough to navigate once set to (mostly) English, but the timetable should be taken with a pinch of salt. Services are in theory every half hour, but on my outbound the previous two had never arrived. Fortunately I was able to board a train- officially the one from an hour ago – within ten minutes, and things seemed to be running better on my return.

The 31 minute trip should be a delight, with the tracks hugging the coastline for much of the way. Sadly both of my journeys were marred by the weather, with overcast skies and a sea that was more grey than azure. The train itself was comfortable enough for such a short ride; obviously I was unable to resist the upstairs seating in a double-deck carriage, although these aren’t great if you have luggage. I’d definitely recommend it over the buses Google suggests – unless you can splash out for that helicopter!

The accommodation

All of my stays thus-far this year have been at Accor properties, so I am starting to get a feel for how their various brands compare. Novotel Monte Carlo was a clear step up from ibis budget Nice Airport Promenade des Anglais – but so it should be, at nearly three times the price!

Novotel Monte Carlo

Given Monaco’s tiny footprint I doubt any hotel could be truly inconvenient in terms of location, but the Novotel was just a couple of minutes on foot from the station’s upper exit. Given the weather I was thankful for that – and of already being able to check in on my arrival shortly after midday. I was happy with the room I received – plenty of space, and clearly recently refurbished to a decent standard. Breakfast seemed a bit steep at €20, but again, nowhere is especially far – I opted for pistachio croissants from Art Café in the station instead.

The tourist attraction

The Musée océanographique de Monaco seems to be the top attraction whatever the weather, but proved a particularly good way to salvage a rainy day. I wasn’t sure if it was an aquarium or a museum – turns out its both, which makes the entrance fee good value.

I started with the aquarium, which immediately impresses with a giant tank containing sharks and turtles. The two wings are themed around the Mediterranean sea and a tropical coral reef respectively; I enjoyed all sorts of unusual inhabitants from a pinecone fish to axolotls, but of course was most captivated by the jellyfish.

You could fit several floors into the museum level, but the great hall was instead a single vast space packed to the ceiling with items assembled into the world’s largest marine cabinet of curiosities. An adjacent room made similarly impressive use of the scale, with interactive video projections on three enormous walls and the floor.

These – evoking natural phenomena such as the northern lights or glaciers – were part of a temporary exhibition themed around polar exploration. Albert I of Monaco, ‘the enlightened prince’, made several polar expeditions from 1898 – 1907; this unexpected connection to Svalbard, explored through artefacts and artworks, had me pining for my own time in the arctic.

I also picked up a couple of additions to my own cabinet of curiosities – a while ago I had read about souvenir zero euro notes, but this was my first time spotting them for sale (despite having no monetary value, they cost €2 each!). Unable to decide between one celebrating the museum, and another exhibition, I opted for both 🙂

My only other tourist stop was for a similarly geeky memento – at Mairie de Monaco (the town hall) it is possible to get your passport stamped. Although Monaco is not in the EU, there are no border formalities, so this is the best way to record your entry. As it’s not entirely official, I got the mark placed in my just-expired passport rather than my newly active one.

Monaco passport stamp


On Saturday the weather had got so bad that a paper map disintegrated on a five minute walk from tourist information to the post office. So after dispatching a postcard I cut my losses and returned to the station a mere 24 hours after I had arrived. For such a small country, I think that’s enough to add it to my count, but I do hope to return for a sunnier visit on a future trip.