- I recently spent five days in Monaco, an outrageously wealthy city-state on the French Riviera.
- It’s been called a playground for millionaires — and indeed, an estimated one-third of the population are millionaires.
- I attended the Monaco Yacht Show, toured luxury hotels, got on board a 365-foot superyacht, and spent hours traipsing around the city.
- While I found much of the city to be surprisingly ugly and the glitz and glamour of Monte Carlo a bit overwhelming, my favorite part of Monaco was the unassuming historical quarter.
- Monaco’s old town, perched on a hill overlooking the port, was laid-back, charming, and seemed to be full of regular people instead of just millionaires.
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At the end of September, I spent five days in Monaco, a tiny yet lavishly wealthy city-state on the French Riviera, for Business Insider.
Monaco is smaller than New York City’s Central Park, yet an estimated one-third of its roughly 38,000 residents are millionaires. In most of the city-state, particularly the glitzy Monte Carlo district, the wealth was evident. Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Range Rovers, BMWs, and other high-end cars were everywhere I looked. Seemingly every woman I saw was carrying a designer handbag, whether it was Chanel, Louis Vuitton, or the elusive but even more esteemed Goyard.
During my time in Monaco, I felt out of place, keenly aware that I was neither a millionaire nor a VIP guest of the yacht show. I found much of the city to be ugly and unappealing. But there was one neighborhood I found to be laid-back, charming, and beautiful: Monaco’s unassuming historical quarter.
Monaco’s old town was quiet, charming, and laid-back
Perched on a hill overlooking a port full of superyachts, Monaco’s old town is home to the 18th-century Prince’s Palace of Monaco, the official residence of the royal family.
The glossy towers and drab, densely packed high-rises that I found to be so ugly elsewhere in the city were nowhere in sight. Instead, the French and Italian architecture and medieval elements in old town made me feel like I was stepping back in time. The colorful, narrow streets, ice cream shops, museums, and casual restaurants had a charming and relaxed vibe.
The crowd in old town was also noticeably different than elsewhere in Monaco.
There were tourists, of course —mainly clustered around the Prince’s Palace —but most of the locals seemed to be regular people rather than millionaires decked out in designer duds.
All in all, I found Monaco’s old town to be much more down to earth and charming than the rest of the city. It reminded me of nearby Nice, France, a city that’s a 20-minute train ride away and much prettier than Monaco, in my opinion.
While I wouldn’t necessarily be the first person to recommend a visit to Monaco, for those who make the trip, the old town is a must-see.