Young at heart: Monte-Carlo for kids

Last updated 9th June 2017

Swap the high life for family life

Monte-Carlo on the French Riviera is the land of supercars and Michelin stars, of Bond, Botox and casinos. None of which will interest you in the slightest if you happen to be six-years-old.

That being said, parents of little ones needn’t be put off. By making a few simple tweaks to the typical Monte-Carlo experience, you’ll discover that this famously glam city can be just as much a playground for families as it is for billionaires.

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Swap super yachts for a yellow submarine

Who’d want to stare at boring yachts doing nothing in the harbour, when you could be looking for Nemo and watching sharks and jellyfish dark about? In Monoco-Ville is the historic Oceanographic Museum built in 1910. Here you’ll stroke sharks, marvel at huge pearl shells and sit inside the world’s first submarine – made of wood and no bigger than a phone box. It’s even smaller than the two-seater Anorep from 1966 (shown above), which sits outside the Oceanographic Museum. Kids will love the whale skeleton in the main gallery and especially the climbing frame version on the rooftop. Inside, the aquarium is air-conditioned, making it a perfect retreat from the midday sun. During high season tickets cost from £6.90 for children and £13.80 for adults.

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Swap the casino for cacti

While Monte-Carlo’s high rollers are busy putting it all on red in the world-famous casino, families will have much more fun ambling among exotic succulents. Kids might roll their eyes at the mere mention of botanicals, but Monte-Carlo’s Exotic Gardens are not your average bor-ring gardens. They were ambitiously planted on a rocky mountainside in 1933 and thousands of surreal cacti have thrived there ever since. For daring little explorers, there’s a prehistoric cave, 60m below ground, where you’ll find stalactites and stalagmites formed over many millennia – something you definitely won’t find in the casino. Tickets include entry to the Exotic Gardens, the Observatory Cave and the Prehistoric Anthropology Museum and cost £3.30 for children and £6.20 for adults.

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Swap a helicopter for the little red train

OK, so most kids would give their right arm to ride in a helicopter, but if your budget doesn’t stretch to that, the little red Monaco Tours tourist train is a fun way to get around. A 30-minute tour, with English audio, will introduce you to Monte-Carlo’s main tourist sites, including the Place d’Armes at the top of the hill, the Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit, the famous casino and the old town. Rattling along Monte-Carlo’s hilly and winding roads gives you a new-found appreciation for the skills of Jenson Button and co. It’s a good idea to ride the train to the Royal Palace on top of the hill and then walk back down. Buy tickets from the Monaco Tours ticket office, opposite the Oceanographic Museum. Tickets cost £4.30 for children and £7.75 for adults.

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Swap boutiques for sandcastles

To Brits, the very idea of taking a holiday to the coast without spending a considerable part of it with your toes in the sand, is unthinkable. Yet many of the people who flock to Monaco do so for the hotels, restaurants, casino and shops. This means that, even in the busy summer months, the Larvotto public beach is relatively quiet, so there’ll always be space for sandcastle. Set in front of Avenue Princess Grace, the beach not only has calm waters, perfect for snorkelling, but there’s also a playground and, during July and August, a lifeguard.

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Swap Caviar for pizza

It would be unfair to suggest that fine dining is out of bounds for families in Monte-Carlo. Lots of hotels and restaurants welcome children, and go out of their way to make sure fussy kids are catered for. For instance, at the Michelin starred restaurant Joël Robuchon Monte-Carlo (dining room shown above), six-ten year-olds are even invited through the kitchen doors to get messy with Head Pastry Chef, Patrick Mesiano. Meanwhile, Saphir 24 Bistro at the Fairmont has a supervised play area, so mums and dads can enjoy a meal together while the little ones race around in toy Ferraris (what else?). But beyond the immaculate white table cloths of Monte-Carlo’s world class eateries are plenty of places to tuck into delicious, affordable and kid-friendly meals. Behind the cathedral is a pretty little square, perfect for a scenic ice-cream pit stop, and Lo Sfizio on Rue du Portier is a mecca for those who love their pizzas big, crispy, cheesy and not too expensive.

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Swap limousines for outdoor escalators

You know that feeling on Christmas day, when the brand new toys remain untouched while the kids have the time of their lives playing with the empty boxes and wrapping paper? Get ready for the same reaction when they discover the outside escalators in Monte-Carlo. You could be taking them to the fascinating historic Old Town, but chances are they’ll be more excited about the quirky lifts and escalators (free to ride) that are built into the cliffs to help people navigate Monte-Carlo’s hilly terrain. Look out for signs saying ‘ascenseur public’ – there’s one from the harbour to the casino and some that take you from the beach area to the main road, Boulevard de Moulins.

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Swap turning heads for people watching

You only have to search #MonteCarlo in Instagram (go on, try it) to discover that here, showing off isn’t just accepted, it’s expected. Whether it’s parking your Maserati outside the famous casino, aware that it will soon be surrounded by selfie-stick wielding tourists, or strutting your stuff along the harbour in your tallest Louboutin’s, Monte-Carlo is the place to turn heads. The good news for ordinary folk is that there’s always plenty to look at. Indeed, the glorious thing about Monte-Carlo, is that you can be entertained without stepping foot in a museum or attraction. Simply strolling up and down the hilly streets, or pitching up at a table outside the famous Cafe de Paris (shown above) for a spot of people-watching is an activity in itself. Mums and dad might enjoy ogling at supercars, parked outside the casino for exactly that purpose, or taking sideways glances at some quite fantastic facelifts – while kids will be just as content looking out for tiny dogs poking out of handbags or tottering dutifully along in Louis Vuitton coats and sunglasses.

Monte-Carlo: the lowdown

Where to stay

Hotel Metropole is that rare combination of luxury and family-friendly; a five-star hotel with a sense of fun. There’s a dreamy Givenchy spa for tired parents (opening late February 2017) and plenty to keep kids happy too. Superior rooms start at £505 per night.

How to get there

BA, EasyJet and Air France offer direct flights to Nice (from £80) from where most hotel will arrange your transfer to Monte-Carlo