How To Spectate The Monaco Grand Prix

This is the Build Race Party guide to seeing the Monaco Gran Prix. If you’re rich, you can just buy your way in like everyone else. Stay at the Fairmont, or buy a Grand Prix Tours package and have at it. This is the guide for the rest of the car people that will maybe see this race once in their lifetime and on a serious budget.

This is not a guide on the best way to see the race. Those decisions are up to you, but it at least this gives you an idea of some things you won’t know until you get there for the first time. The video below is more a montage of my entire 2012 road trip, but it will give you a feel for what a road trip to the Monaco GP feels like. The club on the water with the fire girls is Life, the confetti out the bar window is La Rascasse. Let me know if you have any questions(add a comment at the end) and I’ll do my best to get you answers.

Race Schedule:

This schedule change year to year but this is the basic setup. The earlier you go, the more relaxed the environment. The Thursday practice ticket for $100 is the best deal all weekend. Tons of cars lapping all day. Friday night and Saturday are by far the most fun. Of course this assumes you dont have a ticket to the most amazing party on the GP schedule which is aboard the Indian Empress on Thursday – more below under Party.

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Transportation:

Most people fly into Nice, France but Rome, Milan, or Paris combined with a rental car or train ride works too. If you stay in Nice, you’ll want to ditch your car for the weekend and take the train into Monaco. There is an express train running all weekend between Nice and Monaco. Leave some extra time as the train station in Nice is a mess every morning with lines to get ticket. There are coffee shops across the street and another in the train station to kill the 15 minutes you’ll have if you overestimate the time needed to get a ticket.

The train ride to Monaco is roughly 20 minutes. When you unload in Monaco its only a 5 minute walk down to the circuit. It’s really close. There is a gap in the trains at night. From like 2am to 6am nothing runs so check the schedule or buy a bottle of liquor and watch the sunrise from the top of the hill until it’s time to go home.

Accommodations:

The cheap hotels are in Nice, France – a 20 minute train ride west of Monaco, 45 min by car. The train station is located in the Northern part of Nice(“Gare de Nice-Ville on the map below) so if your goal is the Grand Prix, stay near it. It’s not the greatest part of town but it’s safe. There is a place right across from the train station with a strip club in the basement that was pretty funny with simple but clean hotel rooms. We laughed as we checked in, mostly because we normally would stay in a much nicer hotel but that’s for people who planned their trip 6 months prior. Our hotel above the strip club was the last “normal” room on the wednesday before the race. Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 10.43.04 PM

But once the race weekend starts, you better have booked a room a long time ago if you want to sleep in a bed. If you’re like me and decided to go the race only a week before, there will be no rooms left anywhere near Monaco. So I stayed in the parking garage under the race circuit for 20 euros a night. My friends from Germany joined me and it was pretty good time. Sure it’s low rent. But the only room still available on Orbitz was $12,000. Here’s what the parking garage checkout looks like after 4 days in Monaco:

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The parking stalls even have power outlets to charge your laptop and camera gear. And the garage is immaculate. Epoxy floors that you can walk around barefoot on – that kind of immaculate. It’s Monaco… There is also a clean public bathroom on the top floor which made the whole deal possible. I wonder when they will catch on because I heard even more kids slept in the garage in 2013 and 2014 after I posted the original story to Jalopnik in 2012. Hopefully the people that own or work the Monaco parking garages dont read Build Race Party. Oh yeah, bring a soccer ball! Way fun late at night after you get back from the parties.

The key is to go down to the bottom floor and look for a tunnel like path into another room that holds maybe another 50 cars. It will get blocked off on Saturday preventing anyone from really crowding your underground campsite. It’s a good time actually. And the lights are on motion sensors so it will get dark when everyone stops partying. Then in the morning, you go up the elevator, grab your coffee, and you’re only a block from the track. The garage will fill up every afternoon but slightly empty again in the evening. There’s a small chance you can get in later but generally if you leave, you’re done. I bet Friday evening is the last time you can get in to the garage.

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Here is a better look at the entrance. See the square in the upper right hand corner of the lower picture? There will be live bands there and race simulators and other cool stuff all weekend. There’s a little bar in the middle selling beer thru a window and the whole setup is pretty amazing.  I spent a lot of time eating Pizza and drinking beers and listening to music in that little courtyard.

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Showering is your tough part. I actually snuck a quick one on a huge Yacht that invited me to their party. Yep so classy. I would have never done something like that as a banker but as a racer at the Monaco GP, I could care less. There were so many bathrooms on the boat and one had a shower, so I was like hmmm, this is bad idea but what the hell? Who’s going to fire me when no one ever hired me! My hosts looked at me funny when I emerged with wet hair but I’ve bought enough fire suits from them in the past that I was like screw it. Any time I questioned my behavior I simply asked myself “What would Hunt do?” Well, he probably would have pulled a model in with him but I was in a relationship at the time…

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Food:

If staying in Nice you will want to find “Old Town” (bottom right corner of the above map) which is down by the water on the eastern edge of downtown. It’s like Rome with winding little streets and amazing little restaurants and bars. It’s not that large so you’ll find all the cool spots pretty fast. The The Cours Saleya or “Corso” in the local Nissart dialect (all the streets names in the Old Town are both in French and Nissart), runs parallel to the see and is loaded with restaurants and outdoor spots to drink but its pretty touristy. The cool spots are buried on the side streets.Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 10.54.17 PM

In Monaco, I like Cafe Du Mystic for a sandwhich of cheeseburger. Its just off the main street by the pits, has outdoor seating, and free wifi. I love the late night Pizza at the Tip Top bar and its a famous old Monaco haunt that drivers used to hang out and drink at a long time ago. Hunt saw a little incident there known as the Battle of Tip Top that’s almost hard to believe in today’s age. The Tip Top is open till sunrise most nights and will be the only place in town with late night food. They also serve drinks pretty late.

Tip top is just after Casino Square on the way down to the loews hairpin area. It’s been there for ever.

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It’s kind of a nice walk back to the parking garage as you head down the fast uphill that the cars will be racing on just a few hours later. If you were at the clubs later enough, you’ll be stuff your face as the sun rises and lights up the harbor.

308442_280576572048476_294734532_nAnother good trick I learned from my German friends is to stash beer for later. They hid 6 packs all over the racecourse so as we would walk along at night a 6 pack would come out of nowhere and we would keep drinking. This is Torben, one of the guys from Germany that partied with us at the 24hrs of the Nurburgring and then showed us the parking garage in Monaco.

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There’s amazing food in Monaco even though we mostly ate Pizza. I love this Italian Restaurant called Lo Sfizfio thats located over by the Irish place and the club called Life. It’s amazing. Might be one of the top 10 restaurants in Monaco in my opinion. you’ll find Lo Sfizfio at 27 bis, Rue du Portier.

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There’s another larger one in the same area called Pulcinella that’s pretty good too. Amazing steaks and stuff and a little fancier.

Party: 

The best party is on the entire Grand Prix circuit is held by Force India on the Indian Empress which is the largest boat in the harbor…

But for normal people the best party is when they open the circuit back to street traffic and you are allowed to drink on the track at La Rascasse – I know I did this on Saturday night, but I think it happens every evening all weekend. The bar is a riot and starts cranking music and shooting confetti out the window the moment the main parts of the course are open to traffic.

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The harbor section generally stays closed I guess(maybe its just Saturday evening) and everyone parties in the street. It’s awesome. It’s also why the circuit is so slippery the next morning… hundreds and hundreds of spilled drinks. Seriously, ask the drivers if you ever bump into them. It’s why the guys lay massive burn outs into Rascasse. They are not warming their tires. They’re trying to put down as much rubber as possible before the race begins. Same reason you’ll see them do it right there on the formation lap. It’s to burn all the liquor and puke off the circuit. I know it looks like they are warming tires for the start but it’s just liquor and puke removal… Take a look at the road surface in the background below.

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And just in case you don’t know where La Rascasse is…

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Brasserie De Monaco down on the harbor(between the pool and the harbor roughly) is very cool and their beer is pretty good. There will be a young hip crowd drinking there on Thursday evening and then again throughout the weekend when the circuit opens up. The food is pretty good there too and the kitchen is open till midnight I think. This is the mess from last year’s party there during the GP weekend.

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The best club in Monaco is called Life. It’s under the street below the Fairmont. It’s on the water and is the club from the video above with the fire girls. You enter at the Apex of Turn 8 – Portier and go down the stairs. The view across the harbor is amazing. The afternoon and evening after the race will feature a prominent Dj and is worth checking out. There are other clubs like The Billionaire Club(I’ve never been), and Jimmy’z – which used to be seriously old school cool but I remember every drink that crossed the bar at Jimmy’z was 25 euro. Doesnt matter if its a soda or champagne. It’s 25 euros. So four beers was 100 euro… I honestly dont remember what Life cost, Monster Energy and I think the Club’s owner(serisously cool guy) picked up the tab. All I know is I had one of the best nights ever at nightclub and it was totally free! THANK YOU L.O. IMG_3466

There is an Irish bar called McCarthy’s which is just east of turn 8 up the road parallel to the water. Its pretty mellow, but really nice if you want a pint of Guinness. On race weekend they set up a tent in the middle of the walkway/street and while it doesn’t feel like Monaco it’s a lot of fun!

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The Race:

If you want to actually see the race you should stay home and watch on tv. But you know this already. If you’re really into the weekend you should grab the multi day pass. Mostly because you won’t see anything on raceday without a ticket. Sure you can go up to the top of the hill where the prince’s palace is located and look down for free but you’ll be so far away its like watching from an airplane. The best deal is on Thursday where you can buy a ticket for roughly $100 and see the three free practices sessions.

The grandstands up by Casino square and down thru Portier seem to be the coolest, but there are far more seats over by the swimming pool area. Take your pick and grab the ones you think will be the most fun.

You do need to be close to your spectator area because the whole town goes on lock down like an hour or so before the start. I was over by the pits and needed to get to Nouvelle Chicane if I wanted to watch from a team’s boat and there was no way I could get there. I tried to hire a water taxi to get me across but they were all booked. You would have to go all the way up the hill, back down around the Fairmont and thru the tunnel. By the time you got there the race would be over.

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No matter where you stay or where you watch from, Monaco is a special place. This is shot from the the old entrance into town on the eastern end. It’s beautiful at night.

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Extras:

The prince’s car collection is amazing and worth seeing. Tons of racecars and some really old ones as well. I think the first ever car to win the Monaco GP was in there, a Ferrari 308 rally car, F1 cars. Just about everything.

Wifi is going to be a problem. There are some restaurants that have free wifi, but no starbucks network like we have here in the US. The Mcdonald’s above the princes museum has free wifi but its pretty slow for sure. I would go Brasserie Du Mystic and eat an amazing cheeseburger, drink good coffee and use their free wifi. Its a mellow little place as you can see here, but I like it.

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Look for these cool placards all over the city with black and white photographs showing Monaco’s history. Most of them are pretty interesting.

And the famous Col di Turini stage from the Monte Carlo Rally is only 45 minutes or so north of Monaco by car if you have a morning to burn. The road is pretty amazing.

The casinos are fun and you should check out the main one from the James Bond movies if you get a chance. The attire gets very formal at like 5pm but I think you can wear shorts and a collared shirt in during the day if you simply want to check it out which is worth doing. There is nothing like it in the world.

There is also a cool elevator deal from the tunnel below the Fairmont into the Fairmont and another that goes to the cool gardens/ patio out behind the casino that gets you down the to the harbor in a hurry. There are tons of little passageways all over monaco that lead to places you aren’t supposed to be. It’s how my friends crashed every major party in Monaco in 2013. That and you have to look and act the part. And be really nice when you get caught and leave without putting up a fuss.

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Also you are not allowed to film while driving in Monaco and we were pulled over for doing a lap of the circuit with a GoPro. I know. But you have been warned.

If you leave by car headed back north thru Italy stop into Turin and check out the greatest Museum in Europe. It’s all cars.

And if you can, find a way into pit lane! A team put me on their pit cart as a mechanic and I rolled in with the other teams. It was amazing. This is what it looks like to be a mechanic on an F1 team at Monaco.

I hope this is helpful. Please comment if you have any questions or anything on your trip that I can help with.

Bill Caswell is a self-taught racing driver, mechanic, and fabricator, and rose to internet fame taking a $500 Craigslist BMW to a World Rally Championship event in Mexico in March of 2010. His exploits have featured in places like ESPN Magazine, Grassroots Motorsports, NPR Radio, Wired.com and Jalopnik.com. A lifelong fan of rally and motorsport, Caswell famously believes nothing to be impossible.