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Monte Carlo is synonymous with three things: high rollers at casino tables, the Formula 1 Grand Prix and Princess Grace, with maybe a James Bond movie or two thrown in for good measure. Travelers and cruise passengers can make the most of a day trip to this port city in the quirky principality of Monaco — the second smallest nation in the world behind Vatican City — with the following travel guide on what to do and see in Monte Carlo.
Here are seven things to do and see in Monte Carlo — even if you're on a budget. Bring your best shoes, a coat and tie for men and a chic outfit for women to make the most of your visit and don't forget your own sense of style and glamour.
Head to the Grand Casino, the most famous sight in Monaco, to see how the top one percent play. You can take in the rich décor of the gaming rooms, adorned with sculptures, paintings and lavish marble and gold ornaments, without ever risking your money.
Feeling lucky? You can gamble alongside the well-to-do — Just know that the lowest bet accepted for blackjack is 25 euro (about $32).
Be aware: You'll need your passport to enter the casino, which opens at 2 pm, and entry fees vary depending on what you plan to do or see. The dress code is strict: Men must wear coats and ties, and casual or tennis shoes are prohibited, but even in casual clothes you can peer inside the casino.
In addition to the Grand Casino, Monte Carlo has two other casinos. They have more casual dress codes and do not charge admission fees.
Continue your exploration of the lives of the rich and famous at the exclusive Hotel de Paris, just outside the Grand Casino. During the afternoon and into the evening, tourists and locals alike can often be found there laughing, drinking and dining (be prepared for sticker shock). It's worth a visit, even if it's just for an afternoon snack, to take in the visually stunning lobby.
If you have money burning a hole in your pocket, have lunch or an early dinner in Le Grill de L'Hotel de Paris, which offers fish and meat dishes, first-rate service, panoramic views of the city — and a choice of 600,000 wines to accompany your entree (and no, that's not a typo).
Be aware: To enter the hotel, you'll need to dress smartly and say you're going to the bar or one of the restaurants.
Actress Grace Kelly starred in 11 films before abandoning Hollywood to move to Monaco and marry Rainier III, prince of Monaco, in 1956. She became a beloved figure in the country, known for her congeniality, beauty and reserve. Some choices for fans of Princess Grace:
From the casino area, walk down the winding hill to the left (or right) and head to the yacht basin to stare at the super-yachts in the harbor. It's really a jaw-dropping sight. In the winter, the basin is festooned for a Christmas market and fair that's quite fun.
Walk through the yacht basin and follow the path along the sea and up to the Oceanographic Museum, with its world-renowned collections of marine life. The aquarium contains 4,000 species of fish and more than 200 families of invertebrates found in Mediterranean and tropical marine ecosystems. A number of interesting exhibits and films are available daily. The entrance fee for adults is 15 euro, with discounts for students with valid identification. If your limo is out of service, arrive there via bus number 1 or 2 from the train station.
This exotic garden displays a collection of several thousand rare plants from around the world, many of them varieties of cacti. Guided tours (in French only) of the gardens and grottos (caves) are available for 8 euro for adults, 3.50 euro for children or students younger than 16. Take bus number 2 to reach the gardens from the train station or the Oceanographic Museum.
Chances are good that you'll spot some exotic cars parked outside by owners who like to show off, with a gaggle of tourists gathered around, snapping pictures while posing next to the vehicles. Resist the temptation to jump into the driver's seat and hotwire that sucker. As an alternative, rent one of the legions of luxury cars — say, a Ferrari, Lamborghini or Bentley — for a few hours and take it for a spin up the stunning coastal roads. Don't forget your camera.
Even a day trip in Monte Carlo can add up, so make sure you check the prices before ordering. For instance, a glass of Champagne — basically the national beverage in Monaco — can set you back as much as 40 euro ($52) at a trendy restaurant.
That said, you can still find plenty of good mid-range spots for lunch or an early dinner:
Here are some mid-range options:
Monte Carlo is pleasant year-round, with 300-plus days of sunshine per year. The famed Grand Prix, with race cars zipping right through the city's streets, occurs in mid-May each year.
Documents: No passport needed, except to enter the Grand Casino.
Tipping: While tipping is not common in Monaco, a small tip of 5% to 10%, or a rounding up of the bill, is appreciated in restaurants and bars.
Safety: Monte Carlo is considered to be safe for travelers. As always, be aware of your surroundings and stay in public areas. Monaco has the largest number of police per capital and the whole place is rife with CCTV cameras.
Have you been to Monte Carlo? What was your experience like? Have any tips for first-time visitors?
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