Things to do in Monaco during a Viking cruise shore excursion
Our Viking Mediterranean cruise itinerary included a day at port in Monaco. We had several choices of included and optional shore excursions in Monaco and other locations along the French Riviera, including excursions by coach to Nice and Èze for walking tours, the perfume areas of Grasse and St. Paul de Vence, visits to museums such as Musée Matisse and the Chagall Museum, a helicopter tour of the Riviera, and more.
So many choices! It was a tough decision, but we chose to stay in Monaco and visit two of its four districts — taking the included walking tour of the old town of Monaco City, and then spending time on our own in neighboring Monte Carlo.
Our day in Monaco
Monaco, the world’s second smallest country (only Vatican City is smaller), epitomizes luxury living, wealth, and glamour and characterized by views of glittering lights on the hillsides surrounding the harbor. It’s certainly no surprise why Monaco has been featured in many films including To Catch a Thief, and James Bond hits like Never Say Never Again and Goldeneye.
It is also famous for its royalty, the Grimaldi family; the fairytale-like marriage of American actress Grace Kelly to Prince Rainier III in the 1950s; and as the location of the annual Formula One Grand Prix since 1929.
Snapshots from Monaco City on an included walking tour
During our three hour morning walking tour of the charming old town of Monaco City (estimated population of 975), our delightful local guide provided historical facts, cultural commentary, insightful anecdotes about life in Monaco, and interesting tidbits about the royal family.
Monaco City is nicknamed “The Rock” for its imposing clifftop position above the Mediterranean Sea. It is the political and judicial center of Monaco and contains the Prince’s Palace, the town hall, government buildings, and a notable prison, the Remand (shown below). We passed beneath the prison on our way from our ship docked at Quai Rainier III (shown in the top photo). The views of the Mediterranean from there must be spectacular, but they are definitely not worth ending up there for any offense.
There are stairs and walkways to get to the city, but our guide showed us the easiest way through a parking lot (Parking Chemin des Pêcheurs), up an escalator, and down a corridor to an elevator leading to the Musée Oceanographique — a good place to begin the tour.
Musée Oceanographique (Oceanographic Museum)
The Musée Océanographique de Monaco was founded by Prince Albert I and opened in 1910. It is renowned for its aquarium with about 90 tanks showcasing 450 species. Entry to the museum is not part of the tour, but you may want to visit afterwards on your own time.
Les Jardins Saint-Martin (Saint Martin Gardens)
Past the Musée Océanographique, we entered this beautiful green space, Monaco’s first public park developed in 1816, and enjoyed the flora, sculptures, and statues along the paths (steep at times) while catching glimpses of the sea.
Palais du Prince (Prince’s Palace of Monaco)
The Palais du Prince, the official residence of Monaco’s royalty, originated as a fortress in 1191. Although we only saw the exterior, the palace is open to visitors to admire the geometric patterns of the royal courtyard, 16th-century frescoes, Carrara marble staircase, and other historical and decorative features.
Shopping and strolling the lanes of Monaco City
Along the narrow and winding lanes are souvenir shops, galleries, cafés, and restaurants. We enjoyed walking around soaking up the ambiance during our free time before meeting up with our guide to finish our morning walking tour.
Don’t miss view tip: Near the Palais du Prince is a vista point where you can get a panoramic view of the Fontvielle district of Monaco, developed partially on reclaimed land in the 1970s to expand Prince Rainier III’s principality.
A glimpse of Monte Carlo
Monte Carlo is the super chic district of Monaco where the rich and famous indulge in fine dining, exclusive shopping, and high-stakes gambling at the world-famous casino.
Getting to Monte Carlo from the port
From our tour of Monaco City, we walked back with our guide to the Quai Rainier III to quickly freshen up in our stateroom. From there, we had options to walk (about 25 minutes around the port and up the hill), take a bus, or get a taxi, but we chose what we think is the easiest way to get to the casino from the port — by bateau bus (boat bus service).
The bateau bus takes about five minutes to cross the harbor and costs 2 euros each way. From the dock on the city side, it’s a short walk up the street to an elevator at 6 Boulevard Louis in the Auditorium Rainier III building (just before Tunnel Larvotto) that goes to the casino level.
Place du Casino (Casino Square)
The elegant Hôtel de Paris and the Casino de Monte Carlo create a captivating sight as you enter Casino Square from the elevators.
Casino de Monte-Carlo (Monte Carlo Casino)
From our ship, we had great views of Monte Carlo and its landmark, Casino de Monte-Carlo, but a personal visit was a must for us. Even with crowds of casually-attired tourists (like us) swarming around the casino and the Opéra de Monte-Carlo (also in the exquisite Beaux-Arts building), it was easy to imagine the glamour and wealth it’s noted for.
Although visitors can enter the formal gaming rooms if they meet dress code requirements (and pay a fee), the public is welcome to admire the ornate marble, glass-sculptured ceiling, and 28 onyx columns of the lobby. Visitors can also do a little gambling in an area with slot machines next to the lobby.
Casino Square restaurant tip: There are several lovely spots to people watch while having lunch near the square, but during busy seasons (and anytime, if possible) make reservations for the best places such as the Café de Paris, a brasserie with a terrace at the Hôtel de Paris.
Evening on the Viking Sea in Monaco
We ended our day enjoying cocktails and dinner on the Aquavit Terrace of the Viking Sea and were treated to a rare sight of a double rainbow above the Mediterranean followed by a beautiful sunset.
Thanks to Viking cruises for sponsoring our Mediterranean Odyssey. The pleasure was all ours.