After Vatican City, Monaco is the smallest country in the world. The tiny principality set into the French coast has been ruled over by the Grimaldi family since the 13th Century. Today, Monaco is famous as the location of the Grand Prix and playground for its rich and famous residents and their rich and famous guests.
Foreigners make up over 80% of the principality's 'permanent' population due to laws which exempt citizens from taxes. As a result, international, super-rich individuals set up their primary 'residence' - and their primary bank account - in Monaco. The country's nightclubs, casinos and its royal family, into which Grace Kelly married in 1956, are the greatest draws for travellers seeking a bit of sparkle.
Monaco enjoys a typically Mediterranean climate, with long hot summers and mild winters, though a coastal breeze keeps the heat temperate during the hottest months.
Perhaps the best time to visit is during the spring, when the weather will be warm but before the heat of the summer – and before the hordes of tourists arrive. Winter can bring heavy downpours and electric storms occur at any time of the year.
The BBC website has a comprehensive and often accurate five-day forecast for Monaco.
Things to do and see
Perhaps Monaco's most famous destination is the Monte Carlo Casino. Frequented by film stars and politicians, royalty and spies, the glamorous gambling den is definitely worth a peek, even if you've only a few dollars – and especially if you've got money to burn. Pay $10USD for entry into one of the 'exclusive' rooms, where stakes will be higher and punters better-dressed. Make sure you bring age ID and are well-presented, as doormen can be ruthless.
Near the casino is the Palais Princier, the official residence of Monaco's glitzy royal family, parts of which are open to the public. The official website can be found here.
Monte Carlo's Cathedral draws almost as many Kelly fans as genuine pilgrims. Princess Grace's lavish wedding to Prince Rainier took place here, and the couple are buried behind the altar.
Monte Carlo also hosts the Formula 1 Grand Prix every year during May. Even if you're not a racing enthusiast, it's a good time to see the town with every bar buzzing, although the crowds will be bad and prices will be high. Saying that, if you don't like crowds and you don't have expensive tastes, Monaco's probably not for you at any time of year!
As you might expect, Monaco's classier attractions are of a very high standard. The national opera, national ballet and the philharmonic orchestra are very good, and during the summer months international companies often perform at the theatre and other destinations within the principality.
Sports are also well catered for, with yachting and golf naturally popular at the Monte Carlo Country Club. However, it is also possible to arrange diving and fishing trips, or book squash and tennis courts on the Visit Monaco website. And if all that is a bit pedestrian, you can always contact Heli Air Monaco, who will arrange a helicopter to pick you up and whisk you away to the Alps for a day's skiing during the season.
If your budget can't stretch to that lifestyle, you can get a taste of five-star luxury by booking a treatment at one of the health spas in town. Spas such as the Monte-Carlo Spa offer treatments and day passes that won't break the bank.
There are a few other sights in Monte Carlo: a museum of maritime history, Prince Rainier's collection of antique cars, and a pleasant Jardin des Plantes, but most visitors do not really want to be distracted from the principality's most serious industry: pleasure. People come to Monaco on yachts and in helicopters to hit the shops, night-clubs and casinos. For those without a spare helicopter at their disposal, it is possible to pass a pleasant time in Monaco enjoying the beautiful, well-manicured city and watching its beautiful, well-manicured residents and visitors. Walk along the palm-lined Avenue Princesse Grace on the sea-front at sunset and look at the fabulous yachts, and try to match them to the celebrities and super-rich visitors you can see being escorted to five-star restaurants.
Luckily for the budget traveller, Monaco also has a typically Mediterranean café culture and a number of beautiful parks, so you can afford to eat, drink and watch people go by without retreating to France…
And the free beach is the other blessing for the traveller on a budget. Don't laugh at the term 'free beach': in Monaco, beaches aren't necessarily free, with visitors paying hundreds of dollars for being seen in the right bikini with the right cocktail on the right beach. The free beach is at the end of av. Princesse Grace.
You can find tourist information at the following address and, during the summer tourist season, from temporary information booths set up around the city centre.
Monaco has no airport of its own. Buses run to France from around the country. You can find timetabling and price details on either side of the border. In Monaco, information on trains can be found at the tourist information centre.
There is also a train station in Monte Carlo, from which trains travel up the beautiful coastal line towards Nice.
The other option – other than the aforementioned helicopter – is to arrive in Monaco by boat. During the summer season it should be possible to find day-trip pleasure boats departing from Nice and other towns along the coast. Ask around locally for details of times and prices.
As Monaco is less than 2 kilometres across, it is not really necessary to take transport within the principality. Taxis zip along the well-maintained modern roads but are not really worth the high prices.
A particularly pleasant fruit of Monaco's wealth is the public lift system, which enables tourists to travel up and down the picturesque hillside, whether to get to the top of the steep incline or just to admire the view.
Hiring a car is another travel possibility on Monaco. Although you won't really need it once you're in the principality, it might be a convenient way to travel down the coast, with stop-offs in Monaco. Check out car-hire-centre.co.uk for great deals on car hire.
If it's five-star luxury you want, you can take your pick from a number of exclusive and attractive options. Book ahead for the most famous central hotels, especially during the Grand Prix.
For the budget traveller, finding accommodation will be a little trickier. It's not that the cheaper accommodation is of a very poor standard, it's simply that there isn't much of it.
One option might be to stay over the border in the nearby French town of Beausoleil, 10 minutes' travel from the Monte Carlo Casino. To all intents and purposes, you remain in Monaco, but you'll be paying a bit less for the privilege. Compare prices online – international hostelling websites such as Hostel Bookers and online magazine Monaco Revue will offer price comparisons and advice, and list hostels both within Monaco and in nearby French towns.
If these are still too expensive, it's worth considering making your visit to Monaco a day-trip.
UK residents can apply for a comprehensive, up-to-date report on health issues for travellers in Monaco. The personal report, which includes recommended vaccinations, foreign office travel health advice, advice on seasonal diseases and up-to-date health news, is available from the Medical Advisory Services for Travel Abroad (MASTA). Their website also has details of locations of travel clinics to visit before you leave.
Healthcare in Monaco is private and of an internationally high standard, though you may have to pay a bit more than usual, especially if you are from a country with a national healthcare system.
Because of this, despite the fact that Monaco is a relatively safe destination for travellers, it is important that you take out comprehensive medical insurance before you travel. STA Travel offers deals for travellers under 26, which will ensure you are covered for high costs in cases of accident, emergency and illness.
Monaco has two main health-centres. There is an exceptionally good clinic for cardio-thoracic problems, which deals with emergencies and non-emergency treatment - the website can be reached here. The general hospital is the Princess Grace Hospital:
Av Pasteur BP 49
MC 98012 Monaco
Tel: +377 93 25 99 00