Monaco Waterfront Port Hercule view

Villefranche Cruise Port to Monaco: DIY Guide to Top Sights

Ready to add a touch of glitz and glamour to your cruise itinerary? Change up those sea days for an unforgettable day trip to Monaco from Villefranche-sur-Mer. Explore the iconic sights of this tiny principality, all within easy reach thanks to convenient train and bus connections. Let me show you just how simple it is!

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From Villefranche Cruise Port: Is a DIY Excursion Easy? 😎😎😎😎 (Straightforward)

Villefranche-sur-Mer (or just Villefranche, if you like!) is a tender port, meaning you’ll be whisked right into the heart of town. Here’s why I rated Villefranche as a straightforward 😎😎😎😎 DIY excursion:

  • Zip to Monaco in a flash: Trains run super frequently between Villefranche and Monaco.
  • Nice in 10? Yes please! Want the French Riviera instead? Nice is practically next door by train.
  • No stress in Monaco: Monaco is tiny and well served by buses. Yes, it’s hilly but Monaco has 79 lifts and 35 escalators to help. All free!
  • Beach vibes: Craving sun and sand? Then you can stay in Villefranche or head to Nice. Both have gorgeous beaches waiting for you.

Want to combine Nice with Monaco? Yes, it’s do-able. But I think it may feel rushed as both Nice and Monaco have enough to do on its own. But the choice is yours! That’s what so great about doing a DIY excursion 😎 Here’s my DIY Excursion Guide to Nice including how to get there from Villefranche.

Important Note: Do not confuse Villefranche-sur-Mer with Villefranche-sur-Saône (it’s in the Alps), especially if you’re searching for train schedules! That’s why I mention Villefranche’s formal name here!

Villefranche (France) Cruise Port Essentials: All You Need to Know

  • Tender Drop Off: You’ll typically be dropped off at Port de la Santé, right in the heart of Villefranche. It’s about 7-10 mins walk (600 yards, 500m) to Villefranche train station, for trains to Nice and Monaco.
  • Currency: Euros
  • Language: French
  • Official websites: Explore Nice Côte d’Azur (official tourism site), Ligne D’Azur (official bus & tram routes), search train timetables on SNCFConnect
  • Recommended Transport App: In Villefrance, use Google Maps to navigate. Once in Nice, my recommendation is to use Citymapper.
  • eSIM for roaming in France: For a great data connection without the huge roaming fees, use an eSim data pack from Airalo. I always recommend having a smartphone with a valid plan when you’re at port touring independently. Get US$3 off your first eSIM data pack from Airalo when you use ROXANN1666 when you sign up or apply it at checkout
  • My Villefranche Map: 👇 Click on the upper right hand corner to see a bigger version – use this to navigate to the Villefranche train station

Monaco DIY Day Trip Essentials: What You Need to Know

  • Currency: Euros
  • Language: Official language is French but Italian also widely spoken in addition to English
  • Official websites: VisitMonaco (Tourism agency), Monaco Bus Company (CAM), search train timetables on SNCFConnect
  • Recommended Transport App: In Villefranche, use Google Maps to navigate to train station. Once in Monaco, I would recommend using Citymapper, especially if you intend to use the bus. Google Maps did not route buses well in Monaco.
  • eSIM for roaming in Monaco: For a great data connection without the huge roaming fees, use an eSim data pack from Airalo. I always recommend having a smartphone with a valid plan when you’re at port touring independently. Get US$3 off your first eSIM data pack from Airalo when you use ROXANN1666 when you sign up or apply it at checkout
  • My Monaco Map: 👇 Click on the upper right hand corner to see a bigger version. You can also download the official Visit Monaco Map here – contains a useful bus map too!

Getting from Villefranche cruise port to Monaco: Your Transport Options

Monaco Harbour View at Night, with entire principality lit up
Image by Julius Silver from Pixabay

The distance between Villefranche and Monaco is surprisingly short, and with convenient transport options, you’ll be strolling the streets of this luxurious city in no time! Let’s dive into your two main choices:

1. Train: The Fast and Scenic Choice

  • Why it’s great: Trains are the quicker way to get to Monaco. The journey takes about 15 minutes along a stunning coastal route.
  • Schedule: Trains (typically a non-stop service) depart frequently from Villefranche’s train station, usually every 15-30 minutes. Check train timetables on SNCF Connect website.
  • Tickets: €3.80 each way. All seats are second class. Buy tickets from the machines. No need to pre-book as these regional services do not sell out.
  • Arrival: You’ll arrive at Monaco Monte Carlo station (marked on map above)

2. Bus: The Slower Backup Option

  • Route: (New from April 2024) Line #600 bus offers a scenic journey between Villefranche-sur-Mer and Monaco. I would recommend this as a back-up option.
    • Don’t confuse with old #607 or #608: #607 and #608 bus routes merged as of 6 April 2024 to become the new #600. At one point, this route was known as #100.
  • Where to Catch It: Buses depart regularly from the “La Barmassa” stop in Villefranche. 👆 See my Villefranche Map above – I’ve marked it there.
  • Timetable: Usually every 15 minutes; see timetable here.
  • Scenic journey: Sit back, relax, and enjoy the views of the Mediterranean coastline along the route.
  • Ticket: €2 – buy from the driver.

Getting around Monaco: Navigating Monaco’s Hills

While Monaco might be small, don’t underestimate those hills! Though very walkable, exploring its various districts can be quite a workout. Here’s what you need to know:

  • On Foot: Monaco’s central areas, including the harbour, Monte Carlo Casino, and the Prince’s Palace, are easily explored on foot. Be prepared for inclines and steps as you navigate its streets.
  • Monaco’s Public Lifts: Monaco has a network of free public lifts and escalators that cleverly help you conquer those hills. There’s a total of 79 lifts and 35 escalators, so I didn’t mark them all in my map above. But be on the outlook for signs if you see a big hill ahead of you! There’s probably an easier way up 😁
  • The Bus: Monaco’s bus system offers a convenient way to reach destinations further afield, like the Exotic Garden or the Fontvieille district. Tap your contactless card to pay – Single ticket is €2 and a day-ticket is €5.50. Tap with the same card multiple times and you’ll only be charged maximum €5.50 daily.
  • Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus: Very touristy popular choice. 1-day tickets are €24 for adults and €8 for kids.

Monaco’s Must-See Landmarks: From Palaces to Casinos

1. Palace of Monaco (Prince’s Palace)

Changing of the Guard ceremony outside Prince's Palace at Monaco
Changing of the Guard, Photo by Helena Kováčová

This stately palace, perched high on the Rock of Monaco with commanding views, is steeped in centuries of fascinating history. In 1297, François Grimaldi, disguised as a monk, led a daring takeover of this 13th-century Genoese fortress, establishing the Grimaldi dynasty’s rule over Monaco.

During the Renaissance, the palace was transformed into a more luxurious residence, with elegant courtyards and ornate additions. The palace has endured numerous conflicts and occupations since, reflecting Monaco’s complex position within European politics. You can witness the daily Changing of the Guard ceremony at 11:55am at the Palace Square. (No ticket required).

There are three separate parts open to the public. Unfortunately they all require a separate ticket:

  • State Apartments: Take a tour through the opulent State Apartments for a peek into this palace from the Middle Ages.
  • Prince Rainier III’s car collection: There’s over 100 cars from Formula 1 cars to a vintage Rolls-Royce Phantom 1. (Note this requires a separate ticket to the State Apartments.)
  • Prince’s Zoo (“Jardin Animalier de Monaco”): This is a tiny zoo a few minutes’ walk from the Palace. If you’d like a kids-friendly activity, then take them to the aquarium (“Oceanographic Museum of Monaco”) instead.

Planning Ahead: All You Need to Know

  • How to Get There: From Monte-Carlo station, catch Bus #4 along Boulevard Rainier III. The closest stop to the Palace is Place d’Armes. From there, it’s a few minutes’ walk to the Palace. Pay the €2 fare with a contactless card. If you prefer to walk, it’s about a 20 minute walk from the station.
  • Opening Times: In 2024, the State Apartments are only open from March 26th to October 13th. Double-check opening hours here.
  • Tickets: Pre-booking recommended but not required, as the tickets are not dated or timed. State Apartment tickets are €10 for adults and €5 for kids (6-17) and students. Includes a free audio guide (download to phone). Book tickets through official website here. There’s a combined State Apartments and the Prince’s car collection for €17 adults and €8 for kids.

Tip: From the Palace Square, follow the pedestrian only path (terracotta colour floor tiles) to walk to one of the most scenic spots in Monaco. 👆 It’s marked on my map above.

2. Monte Carlo Casino

Monte Carlo Casino in Monaco
Photo by Polina Kovaleva

Thanks to James Bond, the Monte Carlo Casino is synonymous with Monaco’s glamour and has become a legendary symbol of luxury and high-stakes gambling. The casino was featured in the movie GoldenEye (1995) and referenced in the book Moonraker (1955). (Daniel Craig’s James Bond visited Casino Royale in Montenegro.) If you’d like to go in, some pre-planning is needed:

  • How to Get There: All 7 of Monaco’s bus routes stop at the Casino! If you’re coming straight from the station, then all buses outside the station will get you there – Buses #2, 4 and 5. Pay the €2 fare with a contactless card. If you prefer to walk, it’s about a 10 minute walk.
  • Smart attire needed for gaming rooms: This means no beachwear, sleeveless shirts, shorts and sport shoes!
  • No dress code for cafe or slots: There’s designated “no dress code” areas which includes the cafe and the slot machine rooms.
  • Bring your passport! If you’d like a flutter, then you’ll need to bring your passport. For EU citizens, your national ID cards will suffice as well but not your drivers licence, regardless of your nationality.
  • Opening Hours: From 10am daily until late. Gaming tables and slot machines open from 2pm.
  • Tourist Tickets: €19 will get you in to have a look. If you enter after 2pm when the casino is in full swing, then your €19 includes a €10 voucher for the slots. Kids are permitted before 2pm.

3. Oceanographic Museum of Monaco

Perched dramatically on a cliffside and within walking distance of the Palace, the Oceanographic Museum is both an impressive architectural marvel and a world-renowned centre for marine science.

Founded by Prince Albert I, a passionate oceanographer, the museum houses two aquarium floors, plus a museum and a roof-terrace. There’s shark lagoon, sea turtles and an “Oceanmania” display filled with rare objects relating to ocean exploration. There’s definitely enough to keep the kids entertained for a few hours.

  • How to get there: It’s a few minutes’ walk from the Palace, making this an ideal attraction to pair with the Palace.
  • Opening Hours: 10am to 7pm during summer months. Shorter hours during winter. Double check opening hours here.
  • Tickets: €19 for adults and €12 for kids (4-17). You can book online but not required. Online tickets are not dated nor timed. There’s also combined tickets with entry to the Palace for €25 for adults and €14.50 for kids. Just ask at the box office.

4. Japanese Garden (Jardin Japonais)

Japanese Gardens (Jardin Japonais) in Monaco
Image by kmarius from Pixabay

The Japanese Gardens is conveniently situated a short walk from the Casino Square. As the name suggests, there’s raked gravel, miniature trees, koi ponds and water features, packed into a small tranquil space, perfect for taking a break from sightseeing. It’s free entry too!

  • How to get there: Walking distance from the casino.
  • Opening Hours: 9am to 6pm daily. Free entry.

Note: There’s also the Exotic Garden of Monaco (Jardin Exotique) which has a fascinating network of caves beneath the garden. However, the garden seems closed for renovations at the time of writing. I’ll update if it looks it will re-open by summer 2024.

5. Monaco Grand Prix Circuit: Iconic Spots

Monaco Grand Prix Hairpin Turn
Image by Magdica Makedonka from Pixabay

Monaco’s street circuit is legendary for its narrow track, unforgiving corners, and proximity to luxury yachts. 78 laps on a 3.34 km (2.1 miles) circuit. Even if you’re visiting outside of race weekend, you can experience the thrill of these legendary landmarks – all marked on my map above 👆:

  • Casino Square: Stroll through this glamorous square, imagining the roar of engines echoing past the grand casino facade.
  • Tunnel & Chicane Exit: Yes, you can walk through the famous tunnel section of the Grand Prix circuit!
  • Mirabeau and Grand Hotel Hairpin: Walk those series of hair-raising corners yourself – it’s the tightest turn in Formula 1. The Grand Hotel Hairpin is also known as the Fairmont or Loews Hairpin.
  • Portier is most well known as the spot where Ayrton Senna crashed in the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix late in the race.
  • Swimming Pool Complex: Catch a glimpse of the iconic swimming pool the track snakes around, an unusual and luxurious trackside feature.

Featured Image by JÉSHOOTS

A day trip to Monaco from Villefranche-sur-Mer is a thrilling adventure! Explore the iconic sights, marvel at the luxury, and experience the unique energy of this glamorous principality. And if you found this guide handy, please share it with other cruise passengers and travelers seeking inspiration!

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