Monaco travel guide and things to do: 20 reasons to visit

The Principality of Monaco measures just two square kilometres, but it sure puts on a show.

1 SEE THE PRINCE'S PALACE

A fairy-tale principality wouldn't be complete without a palace, a resident prince and princess, and a bit of historical argy-bargy. Built in 1191, the palace has been home to the Grimaldi family since 1297, when Francois Grimaldi disguised himself as a monk, seized the fortress and saved the day. Today, the State Apartments of Prince Albert II's lavish abode are open for daily tours (April to October), while during summer concerts are held in the courtyard. See palais.mc.

2 DO THE OCEANOGRAPHIC MUSEUM

Built in 1910 into the side of the mythical Rock of Monaco, the Oceanographic Museum is a temple to art and science. Apart from its world-class aquariums, there's a touch pool, shark lagoon, turtle island, fish nursery and exhibition hall. The quirky stuff is in the Oceanomania room, a warehouse-sized space dedicated to marine world curiosities. Don't miss the copper balls used to discover ocean currents and the world's first submarine. To lend even more cred, Jacques Cousteau was a former director. See oceano.mc.

3 SWIM LARVOTTO BEACH

Monaco is all about the ocean, and the best place to check it out is Larvotto Beach, perhaps the most glamorous waterfront in the world. Don your designer sunglasses, stretch out on a pile of pebbles – better still hand over $30 for a lounge chair – and breath in the ambience. Just don't expect to see any celebs, they'll be sculling champagne at one of the beach clubs or kicking back on their private yacht. See visitmonaco.com.

4 SEE THE CASINO DE MONTE-CARLO

Unless you have the cash to splash, "see" is all you'll be able to do at this lavish Monte-Carlo institution, and even then you'll need to frock up (and hand over $15) to enter the gaming rooms. You can't help feeling a bit posh under the sparkling chandeliers and gold ceilings. Even James Bond is a big fan, having visited in Never Say Never Again, Golden Eye and Casino Royale. See casinomontecarlo.com.

5 CATCH CHOPPER TRANSFER

There's no better way to feel like a movie star than a helicopter transfer from Nice Airport to Monaco. Not only will it cut the 45-minute road transfer down to seven minutes (precisely), you'll get a bonus joy flight over the Cote d'Azur. Keeping hold of your cool chips and resisting the souvenir selfie is the hard bit. Costs $210 one-way, or $360 return. See heliairmonaco.com.

6 WALK THE GRACE KELLY TRAIL

Hitchcock himself couldn't have written a better script – beautiful American actress marries Prince Charming and they live happily ever after. Except the fairy tale ended prematurely with Princess Grace's death after she plunged her car over the mountainside. Walk in her footsteps by following 25 signposts across the principality, including the palace where she lived for 26 years, the cathedral where she was married (and eventually laid to rest) and the rose garden constructed in her honour. See visitmonaco.com.

7 SEE LE JARDIN EXOTIQUE

If you like weird plants, head to the Jardin Exotique, a hillside garden of cactuses and Dr Seuss plants with some of the best views in Monaco. Opened to the public since 1933, the odd-bod plants represent dry zones from Mexico, Central and South America and the Arabian Peninsula. The entrance ticket ($11 adults) also entitles you to visit the Cave of the Observatory, a hillside grotto where the bones of prehistoric animals have been found and the Museum of Prehistoric Anthropology. See jardin-exotique.mc.

8 EAT LA CHAUMIERE

After the Jardin Exotique, pop next door to La Chaumiere, a cliff-top restaurant with postcard-perfect views of the city and harbour. The menu features specialities of the Riviera, particularly Monegasque cuisine. Match a Riviera tasting plate ($12) including barbajuans (Monaco's national dish of pastry parcels stuffed with cheese and spinach), pissaladiere (onion, olive and anchovy pizza) and fried zucchini flowers with a glass of Chateau Sainte Beatrice rose ($7) for a light lunch. See la-chaumiere.mc.

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9 DRINK THE BUDDHA-BAR

For a serious drink you'll need to see the guy with the big belly, a slice of the Orient with a drop of whimsy and a dash of fairy tale, just off the Place du Casino. Located in a former concert hall, the Lounge Bar is an elegant (if slightly pricey) place for a cocktail. Good vibe and music, stunning decor and excellent people watching. See buddhabar.com.

10 SHOP MONTE-CARLO PAVILIONS

Shopping in Monaco will never be the same after the opening in late 2014 of the Pavilions, a series of five futuristic blobs that meander through a pedestrian zone in the Boulingrins Gardens. Looking like a fleet of airships, the pavilions are home to 20 luxury stores such as Yves Saint Laurent, Piaget, Sonia Rykiel, Miu Miu and Akris the Pavilions will only be in place until 2018 when renovation work to the Hotel de Paris Monte-Carlo is completed.

11 SEE NOUVEAU MUSEE NATIONAL DE MONACO

With the principality's renewed focus on modern works of art and contemporary design, the National Museum is now spread across two locations: Villa Paloma (Art and Performance) and Villa Sauber (Art and Territory). Presenting the work of today's artists the exhibitions are temporary, with two per year at each venue. The Fausto Melotti exhibition is on until January 17, 2016 at Villa Paloma. See nmnm.mc.

12 RELAX THERMES MARINS

On the waterfront, this wellness centre is the complete package – day spa, beauty salon, fitness centre, detox facility. But if that sounds a bit tame you can always try a cryotherapy session where $85 buys you three minutes inside a chamber set at minus 110 degrees. Seriously cool. See thermesmarinsmontecarlo.com.

13 DINE LE LOUIS XV

Monaco is flush with Michelin-starred restaurants, with none finer than Alain Ducasse's Le Louis XV restaurant in the Hotel de Paris. The restaurant holds three stars and the menu is a ballet of perfectly executed dishes inspired by the French Riviera; garden vegetables cooked with black truffle, French beef cooked in the fireplace, grilled pigeon, duck foie gras and potatoes. After 25 years the restaurant has been given an elegant yet understated makeover. Gourmet menu from $475, excluding drinks. See montecarlosbm.com.

14 DINE ELSA RESTAURANT

If you prefer an organic-tasting Michelin star, try Elsa at the Monte-Carlo Beach Hotel. Here executive chef Paolo Sari serves up creative, contemporary cuisine inspired by the Riviera's culinary history, all of which have been certified as 100 per cent organic. With commanding views over the turquoise water it is the perfect place for lunch. Try the Farmer's market menu for $75, excluding drinks. See montecarlosbm.com.

15 WATCH THE GRAND PRIX

Once a year (usually May) the narrow streets become a racing track, with Formula 1 cars powering from Casino Square to the world's most famous hairpin, through the tunnel and past the luxury yachts. This is Monaco at its best – glitz and glamour, fame and fortune, but if you can't be there for the event itself, you can walk the circuit at any time. May 26 to 29, 2016. See monaco-grand-prix.com.

16 DO VINTAGE CAR COLLECTION

If your taste in cars is of a more gentile nature, don't miss the exhibition of the Prince of Monaco's private vintage car collection. The cache of almost 100 classic cars includes prestigious models from Maserati, Jaguar, Mercedes and Rolls-Royce, as well as a De Dion-Bouton 1903, Ford A 1930, Delage 1934 and a Lincoln 1928. Petrol-heads should also head to Casino Square to get an eye full of the luxury cars parked outside. See palais.mc.

17 DO GRIMALDI FORUM

An engineering marvel built on land reclaimed from the sea, the Grimaldi Forum is Monaco's premier space for shows and exhibitions. See a performance by Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, catch a concert by the Philharmonic Orchestra, watch a Broadway musical or see a photographic exhibition. It is one of Europe's "greenest" buildings, holding ISO 14001 environmental certification. See grimaldiforum.com.

18 EAT CHOCOLATERIE DE MONACO

From the Oceanographic Museum it's a hop, step and Willy Wonka jump to this chocolate treasure chest and tea room. Specialities include everything from pralines and truffles to collections commemorating Grace Kelly and the Grand Prix F1. Established in 1920, the shop is e the official supplier to the Palace of Monaco. See chocolateriedemonaco.com.

19 GET BATEAU BUS

You don't need to spend a king's ransom to set sail on Monaco harbour. The little red and white solar-electric boat takes passengers from one side of Port Hercule to the other for the princely sum of $3. Operating from 8am to 8pm, it is a sneaky shortcut from the casino/shopping side to the palace/oceanographic side. See cam.mc.

20 STAY HOTEL METROPOLE MONTE-CARLO

The Hotel Metropole, which was built in 1886, stands within the prestigious Monte Carlo neighbourhood, yet its entrance is via a discreet driveway. And that's how the Metropole's upmarket guests like it – elegant yet welcoming, low-key yet luxurious. Along with the blue-ribbon location and stunning interiors (designed by Karl Lagerfeld) the big drawcard is the food, all overseen by French superstar chef Joel Robuchon. There's his two-starred restaurant specialising in Mediterranean, his Japanese eatery Yoshi, and Odyssey, a spa-style dining option by the pool. Rooms from $544. See metropole.com.

The writer travelled with the assistance of Visit Monaco.

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