The Principality of Monaco is among the more curious countries. It is a constitutional monarchy whose ruler, while not being styled “the King”, has probably the most powers over his domain than any other remaining monarch in all of Europe. It is the second tiniest sovereign entity in the world. It is a largely independent country that is nonetheless in many aspects closely integrated with its big neighbor. It hosts more commuters and visitors on any given day than its entire population of under 40,000 – of which less than a quarter are native citizens.
The curiosity factor would probably make Monaco a must-visit destination for most, even though its many attractions are probably not universal “musts” on their own merits. We first visited the city-state over two decades ago (I even recounted a travel anecdote from that visit once). Back then, we walked around a lot, checked off the “gamble at the Monte-Carlo casino” travel-targets item, visited a couple of paid attractions, and generally got a pretty good feel of the place. This time around, we walked significantly less, stopped for refreshments significantly more, and targeted a couple of museums that the youngest member of our party had penciled in to visit.
Here are the perspectives of Monaco and its port from the elevated viewpoints on Rampe de la Major.
The most eagle-eyed will find the Casino slightly off-center to the right in the above shot. While undoubtedly one of the highlights of the tiny country, it is outwardly not much different from any number of Beaux-Arts masterpieces found elsewhere. For a price – and sporting no worse than smart-casual attire – you can check out the splendid interior, but not with children as part of the group. We did not go near it on this visit.
At the bend of the ramp, the old castle walls offer a good contrast with the rest of Monaco, very modern in its appearance.
The Prince’s Palace has been the sole place of residence of the ruling Grimaldi family for over 700 years. The absence of additional real estate to build something different meant that any desire for new construction had to be channeled into re-building of the existing palace. Which is probably why it looks more confectionary than grand.
The palace is at one edge of the compact Old Town (sometimes called “Monaco-Ville”), which is pleasant if not truly enchanting.
That was the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in the last perspective, colloquially called Saint-Nicholas by the name of the church that was demolished in the second half of the 19th century to pave way for the cathedral construction. Here is the frontal view.
Next to the cathedral is another visual highlight of the area, the Palace of Justice.
Glimpses of the tranquil garden of Saint-Martin.
There are quite a few such pleasant oases throughout Monaco, a bit surprising in a sense, given the scarcity of available space.
The Oceanographic Museum, which abuts Jardins de Saint-Martin, is without doubt one of the best institutions of its kind, with several expositions dedicated to marine exploration, an interactive rotating focus on specific ecosystems (it was the Arctic during our visit), and, of course, a superb aquarium. Here are a few of its residents.
Another fairly unique point of interest in Monaco, found on the waterfront, is the collection of automobiles of Prince Rainier III, the late father of the current monarch. Nearly a hundred classic cars are on display in this rather fascinating museum.
Nice hobby to have if you are a prince.
A couple of perspectives of Monaco-Ville and the Prince’s Palace from the port.
There are several other reputedly excellent museums and a number of green public spaces worth checking out in Monaco. Those of Monegasque persuasion will forgive me for maintaining that it is still more of a curiosity place than a must-visit. But then, I did come to visit more than once now. And will probably visit again.