Read more about my Self Care Sabbatical and the other places I’ve visited!
Since I opted to stay in Antibes while in the Cote d’Azur, I spent a day traveling to Nice and Monaco. It was a long day (made longer by a few drinks with a friend in Nice), but definitely do-able to see both in a full day.
I only spent about 5 hours in Nice and, frankly, was not that impressed. It seemed like other bigger cities in France, though it happens to be set on the beach. After traveling up and down the coast earlier that day between Antibes and Monaco, I thought Nice was one of the less attractive cities on the route. I was also there on a gray afternoon so perhaps I didn’t have the best experience. It is a big city in comparison to the other towns along the coast, however, and has plenty of shopping, restaurants, etc. The beach stretches out along the edge of the city – beware, it is a rocky beach – and you can walk along the “boardwalk” admiring the hotels on one side and the gorgeous Mediterranean views on the other.
I mostly just walked around without a specific destination in mind, trying to see as much of the city as I could in a short time but also not killing myself after a morning of walking all over Monaco. The first thing I noticed is that every street has the same kind of bright colored buildings with contrasting shutters. The colors are so much more vibrant here than in other towns I’d visited in southern France and I was reminded of my time in Cinque Terre (which is really not too far from Nice).
My favorite area was in the older part of the city, just past the Place Massena (which is quite striking and cool, definitely check this out). I stopped in a few cafes and just browsed around the old town (Vielle Ville) before meeting a friend for a drink. This part of the city definitely had more character and was a bit more interesting. Since I was there during shoulder season, some places were closed but there were still plenty of places busy with people on a Wednesday night.
The cafes I found closer to the beach/shopping area were quite expensive and I was glad to have skipped these in order to find the places in the older town.
- There’s a Matisse museum outside of town that I had wanted to visit, but didn’t have time for. Also a Marc Chagall museum not far from the train station
- In the old town – grab drinks at Bolybar (only open during the high season), eat at Cave du fromagier (this was recommended and I didn’t get to eat here, but I stopped by and it looked quite good. Very small)
If you have time, definitely spend a few hours visiting Monaco. I was there for about 4 hours and felt like I managed to see most of the main areas in this micro-country. If you are staying in Nice or elsewhere along the coast, it is pretty easy to get to Monaco.
The trains and busses here are famous for their beautiful views and it is totally true. Bus #100 goes from Nice to Monaco and only costs 1.50 euro. Grab a seat on the side along the water and you will have one of the most gorgeous bus rides of your life 🙂 Because I was there in shoulder season, the traffic was not too bad. However, during the busy season, the traffic can be terrible and taking the bus may be a less pleasant option. The train is easy, though a bit more expensive. For a day trip to Monaco and Nice, I took the train from Antibes to Monaco (1 hour), the bus from Monaco to Nice (45-60 min), and the train from Nice to Antibes (25 minutes).
I was immediately struck by how rich everything feels in Monaco. It is dripping with luxury and money, especially in Monte Carlo. That said, it is expensive here and finding cheap options for meals is tricky.
There are 3 main areas to visit and it’s quite easy to do on foot or via bus. Given the traffic, I would suggest on foot. It’s not that far between destinations.
I arrived via the train station and walked up towards Monte Carlo first. If you are coming by bus, you could get off near the Tourism Office and start here. This is where you will find the famous Monte Carlo Casino – you can’t go into the casino without paying a fee (or proper attire), but you can walk into the lobby area and look around. Do it. For a nice view of the casino building (which is stunning), walk around to the back facing the water – it’s far less busy with tourists and I think it’s a bit nicer. Walk along the water and admire the views. Lots of luxury shopping to be done here.
As you walk, you will find yourself walking down toward the harbor where you can gawk at all of the yachts and have gorgeous views of the city and the sea. At the base of this hill is La Condamine – this is a shopping/restaurant area that is nice to walk around. Some affordable options here, but I was pretty turned off by the high prices and chose to eat at the Condamine market. You can probably find a salad for 15 euro, main dish for 15-20 euro here. The market includes both an outdoor produce market (which closes around 1pm) and an indoor market featuring various stalls of food (pizza, sushi, burgers, and a very popular fresh pasta place here serving giant portions of pasta if that’s your thing).
I grabbed some fruit at the outdoor market and then grabbed a stool at one of the stalls inside (Truffle Bistrot) for a pizza and glass of wine. For an entire pizza and drink, the total was just under 15 euro. Since it’s so close to Italy, the pizza and pasta in Monaco (and Nice) looked quite authentic. In fact, the men working at this stand were speaking a mix of French, Italian, and English.
Finally, you should walk up to visit the Prince’s palace. The walk is a bit of a climb, but it is totally worth it for the views. The palace was pretty unimpressive in my opinion (skip paying to go inside). There are a bunch of touristy streets close to the palace with souvenirs, etc. Skip these and walk towards Saint Nicholas Cathedral (where Princess Grace was married) and walk down to the Saint Martin Gardens. The gardens are beautiful as are the views. There is also an Exotic garden up here as well as the Oceanography Museum. From this area, you can walk back down to Place des Armes to catch the bus back towards Nice.