I’ll never forget the day I got to experience motor racing firsthand in Monaco. Sure, it might not have been the prestigious Formula 1 event, but watching a Formula E race in the homeland of racing itself was an experience I wasn’t going to let pass. I had only recently found interest in the sport, which had caught my attention through the Netflix documentary ‘Drive to Survive.’
I was living and studying in Nice at the time, which happened to coincide with a few exciting events like the Cannes Film Festival and the Monaco E-Prix, which is usually held a few weeks before the Grand Prix.
Monaco is almost synonymous with motor racing, and just about any fan will be familiar with the iconic street grid that winds its way through the historic city, past the casino, under bridges, along the coastline, and through epic tunnels. The setup takes over the whole city, which is pretty small, to be fair.
Introduction to Formula E
Formula E is basically motor racing, yet with electric cars. This racing of the future is part of the FIA Formula E Championship, which features cutting-edge electric racing cars zooming their way through the streets of Monaco.
An electric energy fills the air as the cars shoot across the finish line – excuse the pun. While these cars don’t share the same satisfying engine roar of a Grand Prix event, it doesn’t take away from the impressive racing techniques set against the spectacular backdrop of Monaco.
Race Day Preparations
To be a part of this spectacle, securing tickets is a must. Unless you live in a highrise in Monaco, chances are you won’t be able to watch the race from just anywhere in the city. Now, I can’t remember exactly how we got our tickets, but a fellow student managed to secure us all seating and fan zone access for free through one of our course conveners in the Electric Vehicle industry.
You can purchase tickets online through the official Formula E website or from an authorized third-party vendor. Prices depend on ticket categories, seating options, and availability but can range from around €50 to several hundred Euros.
Access to the fan zone usually requires an upgraded ticket or additional ticket and can cost anything from €20 to €70, depending on what package you go for. The fan zone truly was a huge part of our experience, so I would absolutely recommend getting access.
The Journey from Nice to Monaco
We started our day at Nice-Ville, the central train station in Nice, which was much busier than usual. We secured train tickets on the TER SNCF train, which departs every 30 minutes in the direction of Monaco. The journey takes around 20 minutes and costs between €5 and €10. Because of the event, the train was packed, and we barely had space to stand – a classic French experience that must be experienced at least once.
Take note that a ticket on a TGV train might cost as much as €15 to €30 for the exact same route. The TER train is a regional express train that connects smaller towns and cities, while TGV trains connect major cities and neighboring countries with high-speed services. Taking the speedy train isn’t necessary for a 20-minute journey, so rather save your Euros for a coffee or two.
Pre-Race Excitement in Monaco
We arrived at one of the busiest stations I had ever hoped to experience. Thousands of people were pouring out of their respective trains and filing out of the Monaco train station, which is pretty much located in a mountain cavern above the city. We joined the crowds and made our way out of the station and down into the central city. Many main roads were cordoned off for traffic, and others were completely blocked to form part of the racing track. Safe to say, traffic was heavy, both on foot and by car.
A little hungry from the journey, we stopped off at L’ Épi d’Or Monaco for a coffee and a pastry to-go and made our way to the fan zone. In classic student style, we were a few hours behind schedule, yet still had a good two hours to enjoy the ambiance before the actual race started.
Fan Zone Frenzy
We stood in a short line for the fan zone and were greeted with warm smiles at the entrance. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits. I remember feeling confused yet appreciative of the special tickets that we had managed to get, hardly believing I was about to experience my first motor racing event without dropping even one dollar for a ticket.
On top of the tickets, the fan zone was practically spewing with free souvenirs and gimmicks. Some were handed out as part of advertising – like team flags and branded caps – and others had to be won by playing games or signing up for competitions. My favorite win from the fan zone was two model Formula E cars, which I won while playing a simulation driving game. I brought these home with me and gifted them to my two nieces.
There were merch stalls, food and beverage options, seating spaces, and gaming areas. Drivers were being interviewed, live DJs were stringing tunes, and the beers were flowing from the official bars. After making our way through all the stalls and tents, checking out the cars on display, and playing the games that grabbed our attention, we sat down on some astroturf for a small water break.
From Lights-Out to the Finishing Line
About half an hour before ‘lights out’ (which, in non-race terms, means the race start), we made our way out of the fan zone and towards our seats. Our seats were in the general seating area on the iconic floating grandstand. Literally built on the docks of the most prestigious yachting harbor in the world, we had the same view as the mega-yachts across a decent straight section of the track with the city and towering mountain as a backdrop – it was ideal.
We sat towards the top of the grandstand, where we managed to secure a bunch of seats together. It was a hot day, and the midday sun blared down on us with no shade protection. Luckily, we came prepared with hats and sunglasses to somewhat shield us from the sun. I would recommend wearing lightweight clothing, bringing plenty of drinking water, a sun hat, and sun cream to prepare for the day.
The race was as exhilarating as you can imagine, with humming electric cars zooming past the track in front of us. Although there were TV screens and loudspeakers, it was hard to follow exactly who was leading and what the race progress was without the guidance of a TV screen like I am used to.
The game was over in a flash, and we were more than ready to hit the shade after a couple of hours in the sun.
I don’t know about you, but heat suppresses my appetite. Big time. Nevertheless, it had been hours since our morning croissant, and we decided to make a quick lunch pitstop before leaving Monaco.
After passing a few restaurants and cafes along the main street, we came to the conclusion that we weren’t going to get a table without a reservation. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure how we ever thought we would!
Luckily, the event had attracted tons of food vendors and market stalls, who had set up stalls selling casual bites and snacks. We stopped at a food truck selling paninis and ordered ourselves a panini-to-go for the road.
If you visit on a less busy day, Restaurant Plage a Monaco – La Note Bleue is a relaxing and casual dining experience with an out-of-this-world location on the beachfront. Their a la carte menu includes seasonal favorites like Caprese salads, Caesar salads, and beef tartare – my personal favorite.
Boulangerie Pâtisserie Monaco is one of the best bakeries I have come across in the area, and that says a lot. They serve homemade artisanal bread, panettones, and pastries like brownies, tarts, and cookies. Do yourself a favor and add this one to your foodie bucket list.
We decided that this wasn’t going to be the day to explore Monaco, and with the crowds and road closures, we were better off calling it a day and heading back into Nice with the crowds.
We followed the street the same way we arrived – with paninis in hand – towards the train station. By this time, the sun had dipped below the mountain that towers over Monaco. The cool air was a refreshing respite from the mid-summer heat, and we were only too happy to do the uphill walk back to the train station in the shade.
We got to the station and purchased tickets home on the same train we arrived on. The station was crowded, and most visitors seemed to be traveling back to Nice just as we were. We hopped on another overflowing train and found ourselves each in a small area to stand in for the twenty-minute journey. All in all, it was an exciting adventure that showed us a glimpse of Monaco and the world-famous racing scene we had only seen on TV screens.
Aside from watching a Formula E race live, we were also able to tick a new country off our bucket lists.