The Monaco Grand Prix is probably the biggest and most prestigious regular event on the French Riviera calendar, ahead of the Cannes Film Festival and the Carnival of Nice.
Each year, it brings a magical atmosphere to the Principality, kick-starting the summer season with plenty of private parties on the yachts in the harbour; a very cosmopolitan atmosphere and huge numbers of visitors. Of course, the Grand Prix completely changes the face of the Principality for three months, as the roads are fully of temporary grandstands, crash barriers, tyres and blockades which are prepared two months in advance and take a month to dismantle afterwards.
Since the turn of the millennium, there has also been an Historic Grand Prix, which runs every even numbered year two weeks before the main race, rather interesting to remind spectators of the race’s heritage as the first Monaco Grand Prix was run in 1929, though the first official race in the Formula 1 calendar was in 1950. And in 2015, the first electic Grand Prix, run by the FIA under the name “EPrix” took place two weeks before the F1 event and now also runs every two years.
The popularity of this event, along side the Film Festival in Cannes running at the same time, means there is a huge number of visitors and if you are intending to be part of the 120,000 spectators, you will need to plan ahead.
There is no way around it, the Monaco Grand Prix is a special experience and tickets are very expensive. But there are options. Either booking a grandstand seat (tribune) through the official ticketing agency or renting out a private balcony or boat (rather more expensive!). Aviod tickets through touts as this is illegal and police keep a strict eye out for this, mainly penalising the purchaser.
The place to buy tickets if you are abroad is via the Automobile Club of Monaco website, or at their headquarters in Monaco on Boulevard Albert 1er. You can find a full programme for the four days on the website. As well as F1, there are plenty of other races such as GP2, the Porsche Supercup and Formula Renault.
Thursday (lowest price) is the first practice session where you can see the F1 cars and stars, one session in the morning and another in the afternoon.
Friday has some minor races in the morning and the track reopens at 2.30pm and access to all the grandstands are free.
Saturday (medium price) is the F1 practice session in the morning and final qualifying session in the afternoon. The determines pole position, and is followed by the GP2 race.
Sunday (highest price) commences with F1 warm up in the morning and the big race in the afternoon.
There are two or three day packages if you want to experience the whole weekend, though only the three day package offers real value for money.
No matter where you are, the grandstand is not covered, therefore plan for the weather (rain or bright sunshine) and take food and snacks. The website includes prices and an interactive location map, however a rough overview of locations follows.
Rocher is located on the hillside just beneath the Old Town with great views over the whole circuit and is very popular as it is by far the cheapest. There is no seat allocation as no seats! Simply find a flat piece of land and stay put. Plenty people camp overnight so if comfort and personal hygiene are your thing, give it a miss! You will need a good pair of binoculars to see the cars or the big screen on the opposite side of the harbour.
Tribune P is located on the harbour on the southern side of the swimming pool facing the hillside. You can see a slow bend and not much else, but you’re close to the departure grid and can hear all the noise.
Tribune T is the newest stand at the harbour facing the pits to watch the tyre changing/refuelling etc. The downside is your back is to the sea so you don’t get the overall atmosphere of the race.
Tribune K is the most popular location on the port at the northern end with a panoramic view from the exit tunnel and the slow part of the course around the swimming pool, with also a good view of the biggest screen located on the avenue d’Ostende slope.
Casino is the most expensive grandstand located on the Casino square and facing the famous building. It has the fast curve coming out of the uphill section but the drawback is that you are cut off from the rest of the race and only see the action on the harbour on the big screen.
Cap Sud is only a minute from the bus stop to Antibes, and fifteen minutes walk from the train station. If going by bus, you would need to get the bus first to Nice, then get the line 100 from Nice to Monaco. It runs every 15 minutes at 1.50Euro for a single trip. Allow an hour from Nice, a total trip of around 1.30hr. The buses can be very crowded and the last bus leaves Monaco at around 8pm. Alternatively you can get a direct train from the station at Juan les Pins for around 12 Euro and the last train leaves around midnight. Watch out for any strike action on the trains as this tends to mean the last train will leave around 8pm. If you miss the last train/bus then your final alternative is a taxi but would be over 100 Euro to get back to Cap Sud.
Most restaurants will increase prices during the Grand Prix so here are some tips to avoid being ripped off.
If you are on a grandstand, grab a quick sandwich and drink at the numerous snack bars or at the Casino supermarket on the Boulevard Albert 1er, just by the departure grid. You can also get a more authentic lunch at the Place d’Armes market behind the harbour at the foot of the Old Town hill, where there are plenty of nice stalls with good quality fresh food.
A favourite part of town is Monaco-Ville (the Old Town on top of the Rocher). Especially beautiful at dusk after a busy and noisy day. It is more peaceful than other areas of Monaco, and is magical to walk around the floodlit monuments and medieval alleyways. It is safe to walk around Monaco, and there are plenty restaurants with outdoor seating areas which are reasonably priced. It is advisable to try to book in advance. After dinner, head over to the Palace Square and enjoy the overall view of the parties taking place on the harbour below before heading down there via the steps.
The liveliest place to sample the atmosphere is on the bar street on route de la Piscine, just below Tribune T. The circuit is closed during the day but reopens from around 7pm. Drinks are expensive but it is worth doing at least once, whilst admiring the private parties taking place on the yachts or on the Red Bull barge.
Allow 15 minutes with the crowds to get from the bar street to the train station (normally a 10 minute walk).