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Why go now?
This tiny principality – small enough to fit inside Hyde Park – offers a taste of the high life. With an abundance of historic belle époque architecture and exotic public sculptures it's easy to feel like an extra on a movie set or a guest of the ruling Grimaldi royal family.
March has an average temperature of 14C, making it warm enough to walk around with a short-sleeved shirt and shorts – yet it is still low season, so prices are lower than the wallet-busting highs of summer. And the cafés and restaurants around the harbour and the beach-facing Avenue Princesse Grace aren't crammed with tourists.
Nice-Côte d'Azur airport is 16km west of Monaco. You can fly from Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, Bristol, East Midlands, Liverpool and Newcastle on easyJet (0905 821 0905; easyjet.com ), from Heathrow with British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com ), from Birmingham and East Midlands with Bmibaby (0905 828 2828; bmibaby.com ), from Manchester and Leeds/Bradford with Jet2 (0871 226 1737; jet2.com ) and from Southampton and Jersey on Flybe (0871 700 2000; flybe.com ).
Bus 110 from Nice airport departs every half-hour direct to the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel (1) and the Meridien (2) in around 45 minutes for a fare of €18. A helicopter flight from Heliair Monaco (00 377 9205 0505; heliairmonaco.com ) takes just seven minutes from Nice to Monaco's heliport (3) in Fontvieille, with a one-way fare of €120.
Get your bearings
The principality is divided into four quartiers; contrary to popular belief, Monte Carlo is not a city within the state but simply one of its quartiers – albeit the one with Monaco's sandy beaches and the world-renowned Casino (4). The other three are La Condamine, which includes Monaco's main harbour; Fontvielle, where a new, smaller harbour is located; and Monaco-Ville, the ancient quarter overlooking the harbour and housing the cathedral (5) and palace (6) of Monaco's ruler, Prince Albert II. The tourist office (7) at 2a Boulevard des Moulins (00 377 9216 6116; visitmonaco.com ) opens 9am-7pm, 10am-noon Sunday.
The stars stay at the Hôtel de Paris at the Place du Casino (4) (00 377 9806 3000; hoteldeparismontecarlo.com ), a confection built in the 1860s. It is Monaco's most opulent hotel and has hosted the likes of Errol Flynn, Gregory Peck and Frank Sinatra. A double room in March costs from €340 including breakfast.
A more modern atmosphere is found at the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel (1) at 40 Avenue Princesse Grace (00 377 9806 0200; montecarlobay.com ), which wouldn't look out of place in Las Vegas. It has Europe's first sand-bottomed swimming lagoon, a fountain choreographed to classical music and room balconies big enough for sofas to be set into the side of them; double rooms from €179 including breakfast.
Petrol heads will find paradise at the Fairmont (8) at 12 Avenue des Spélugues (0845 071 0170; fairmont.com ) on the hairpin of the Grand Prix circuit that snakes through Monaco's streets. After a €41.5m renovation it is now the sleekest hotel in Monaco, with a cream and mahogany colour scheme designed to evoke an ocean liner and circular door mirrors to mimic portholes; €299 per double, room only. Fewer frills are found at the Novotel Monte Carlo (9) at 16 Boulevard Princesse Charlotte (0870 609 0962; novotel.com ), with doubles at €165, room only.
Take a hike
...through the narrow streets of the old town. Start at the Place du Palais (10), one of the few places in Europe where you can clearly see three countries in one sweep, and stroll through the passageways until you get to Place de la Visitation (11). Here you can cool off in the 17th-century Museum of the Chapel de la Visitation (00 377 9350 0700; visitmonaco.com ), which has paintings by a number of Italian masters; it opens 10am-4pm daily except Monday, admission €3.
From here take the narrow ruelle des Ecoles to the Oceanographic Museum (12) (00 377 9315 3600; www.oceano.mc/anglais/sommaireinfos_anglais.htm), whose grandiose façade rises from an 85m sheer cliff. It opens daily 9am-7pm, admission €12.50, and reflects the diversity of the area's marine heritage. Then take a small diversion into Jardins St Martin (13) before heading back along the Avenue Saint-Martin. Finish at Monaco's Cathedral (5) at 4 rue du Colonel Bellando de Castro (00 377 9330 8770; cathedrale.mc ). It opens daily 8am-6pm.
Lunch on the run
Pick one of the cafés in Place St Nicholas (14), hidden in the alleys behind the cathedral.
The Métropole shopping complex (15) at 17 Avenue des Spélugues (metropoleshoppingcenter.com) opens 10am-7.30pm daily except Sunday. It is one of the most majestic places to shop in any country with its huge chandeliers and chic boutiques – plus epicurean treats such as truffles at Comtesse du Barry (00 337 9212 9140; comtessedubarry.com ).
Monaco's Grand Prix takes place in May, but at any time of year you can pick up some souvenirs from the official shop of the Automobile Club de Monaco (16) at 46 rue Grimaldi (00 377 9770 4535; laboutique-automobileclubmonaco.com ). The best place to pick up memorabilia from all the Formula One teams is Boutique Formule 1 (00 377 9315 9244), along the street at number 15; it even sells genuine parts from the cars themselves. For something a little more subtle there's Monalisa Motorsport (17) on the Quai Jean-Charles Rey, Port de Fontvieille (00 377 9205 7005; monalisamotorsport.com ), which sells stunning F1 artwork.
The best way to immerse yourself in Monaco's sporting heritage is at Stars and Bars (18), by the harbour at 6 Quai Antoine 1er (00 377 9797 9595; starsnbars.com ; closed on Mondays). Past customers include Roger Federer, Rod Stewart and Kevin Costner. David Beckham's LA Galaxy shirt hangs from the rafters. Racing overalls are displayed under glass table-tops, and signed football shirts are used to separate tables, with alcoves themed to memorabilia from different sports. A beer costs €3.
Dining with the locals
Being located close to Italy is a bonus for Monaco as it has some excellent Italian restaurants. The best is Pulcinella (19) at 17 rue du Portier (00 377 9330 7361; pulcinella.mc ), where you can pick up three courses for €30; wine ranges from €12 to €450 a bottle.
For a truly world-class dinner visit Alain Ducasse's three Michelin-starred Louis XV (00 377 9806 8864; alain-ducasse.com ) restaurant in the Hôtel de Paris (4). The white walls are punctuated with gilded pilasters, cartouches and cornices and the ceiling is adorned with a fresco featuring gambolling cherubs. It seats a maximum of 50 diners, who are treated to gilded cutlery and footstools for ladies' handbags next to the tables. The price for the evening menu comes to €210 per head without wine.
Sunday morning: go to church
Built more than 1,000 years ago, l'Eglise Sainte Devote (20) (00 377 9350 5260; sainte-devote.com ) at Place Sainte Devote is probably the most beautiful of Monaco's churches. It is dedicated to the patron saint of the principality and to the prince and his family. Mass is held at 10.30am every Sunday.
Take a ride
If the steep roads take their toll on your feet, let a scooter take the strain. Monte Carlo Rent (21) on Quai des Etats-Unis (00 377 9999 9779; firstname.lastname@example.org) hires by the hour or day. Prices start from €20 per hour. You can cycle, scoot or even walk the most famous racing circuit in the world; the starting grid is in front of the Automobile Club de Monaco (22).
Out to brunch
Take a café au lait and pain au chocolat on the sprawling Terrasse Parisienne at Le Café de Paris at Place du Casino (4) (00 37 79216 2020), where locals and tourists enjoy watching lines of Bentleys and Lamborghinis being valet-parked while their owners browse the shop windows. Cultural afternoon
Head for Prince Rainier's Palace (6) (00 377 9325 1831; palais.mc ), to watch the Carabiniers performing their daily changing of the guard at 11.55am sharp. Then pay a visit to the Exhibition of His Serene Highness, the Prince of Monaco's Private Collection of Classic Cars (23) on Terrasses de Fontvielle (00 377 9205 2856; palais.mc ). It houses around 100 classic cars telling the story of 20th century motoring. Open 10am-6pm daily, admission €6.
A walk in the park
Monaco's gardens are as grand as their surroundings. Looking down on the principality is the Jardin Exotique (24) (00 377 9315 2980; jardin-exotique.mc ), which has one of the world's largest collections of cacti and a cave with stunning stalactites. It opens 9am-6pm daily, admission €7.
Monaco's other gardens are free and even more ornately themed. The Japanese Garden (25) on Avenue Princesse Grace, open 9am to sunset, sits next to the beach but takes guests to the Orient with its pagodas, koi carp ponds and bonsai trees. A sculpture trail leads to perhaps the most peaceful garden in Monaco – Fontveille's Princess Grace Rose Garden (26), open from sunrise to sunset. Sitting in the middle of 5,000 rose bushes is a statue of the late American starlet Princess Grace Kelly, Prince Albert's mother.