Old Town

Address: Monaco-Ville, Monaco, 98000, Monaco

- Free


Rock 'n' royal - the origins of Monaco.

A trip up to the Rock is vital. This is the headland upon which the principality started. It’s known as Monaco-Ville. It’s also the base to both the Monaco goverment - and the Monégasque royal family who, if slightly comic-opera from afar, look convincing enough up close.

As such, the old town is buffed-up and better kept than any old Mediterranean centre you’ve ever seen. (The royals live at the end of the street, you see.) But its past is real enough, and gives a certain depth and substance to a little state which might otherwise be just a lot of money.

François the false monk

Streets are barely wide enough for two princesses to pass comfortably. Naturally, beyond the government buildings, they now throb with snack bars, affordable restaurants and shops selling souvenirs which are, in the main, best forgotten. But there’s a fine Mediterranean bustle about the warren, and a sense that Monaco may not be all about tax evasion.

To get up here from the port, take either  the “Rampe Major” walkway up the hill (it's not very taxing) or a bus (see ‘Getting Around’). The ramp brings you out in front of the Princely Palace, by way of a statue of François Grimaldi. Disguised as a monk, old François infiltrated this stronghold in 1297 and bagged it for his Italian Grimaldi family. They’ve been ruling almost ever since. Albert is the latest. ‘Monaco’, incidentally, means ‘monk’ in Italian.

From here, there are four things to do:

* Visit the Princely Palace (see separate entry). Fontvieille and the sea the other. They surely help explain why the Grimaldis have clung to this Rock with such tenacity.

* Now nip round the corner, down the western edge of the Rock, to the Cathedral. Pop in to see how late 19th-century French church builders went bonkers on Byzantine gaudiness. The graves of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace are to the left of the choir. They are movingly sober compared to their surroundings. 

* Then pop out again to the entirely lovely St Martin gardens which cling tenaciously to the cliff-edge. The garden paths wriggle up and down, through excellent horticulture. This is a lovely spot in which to eat your lunchtime sandwiches. 

* The fifth thing is the Oceanographic Museum (see separate entry).

Value for money

Expert tips

Let me repeat: do get to the Princely Palace for 11.55am, and the Changing of the Guard.

Recommended for

  • Couples
  • Escaping the crowds