The Oceanographic Museum of Monaco (Musée Océanographique de Monaco) is one of the most visited Marine Science museums in Europe, occupying 6,500m2 of exhibition zones.
Built on the cliffside 85 metres above the sea, the museum is one of Monaco’s top attractions and home to over 350 fish species and 6000 specimens including rare or endangered marine life.
We share our Ultimate Guide below to visiting the spectacular Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, known as the Temple of the Sea.
History of the Oceanographic Museum
The Oceanographic Museum (Musée Océanographique de Monaco) was founded in 1910 by Prince Albert I of Monaco, great-grandfather of H.S.H Prince Albert II of Monaco, and intended as a ‘Palace entirely dedicated to Art and Science’.
More than half of the museum’s Natural History collections consists of specimens collected by Prince Albert I during 28 exploration campaigns he conducted in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Part of the Institute Océanographique, the museum is not a conventional aquarium as such as Prince Albert I wanted to make the study of the oceans more publicly accessible.
Today, the museum continues to preserve species and share knowledge about the climatic and ecological factors that affect ocean ecosystems. The Institute Océanographique itself is an important player in Monaco’s protection of the marine environment alongside the Government of Monaco, Monegasque Nature Protection Association, Scientific Centre of Monaco, Yacht Club de Monaco, Monaco Blue Initiative and Fondation Prince Albert II of Monaco.
Cousteau & Conservation
Famously, ocean explorer, filmmaker and researcher Jacques-Yves Cousteau served as one of the museum’s Directors for 31 years. Cousteau made underwater filming history in the 1960’s when his team obtained photos of microscopic plankton and took underwater images up to a depth of 1,000 feet in a submersible, a feat never achieved before. The resulting documentary, Le Monde Sans Soleil (The World Without Sun) won an Academy Award in 1964 for Best Documentary.
Outside the museum entrance, you can see a yellow submarine named Anorep I, which Cousteau used during some of his expeditions – interestingly, it was built in 1966, the same year that the Beatle’s chart-topping Yellow Submarine single was released.
Ocean conservation and research remains a key part of the museum. The monitoring systems for the tanks at the museum are sophisticated as many of the specimens live in fragile environments; water is continuously checked for changes in salinity, temperature, oxygen and any slight changes are alerted to staff.
An in-house nursery breeds species such as clownfish and seahorses in addition to caring for injured sea creatures before they are released back into the natural environment.
Additionally, the museum is active in safeguarding biodiversity and preservation of ocean species such as brown groupers and Posidonia seagrass in the Larvotto Marine Reserve and red coral in the Tombant des Spélugues reef.
Why you should visit the Oceanographic Museum
The Oceanographic Museum houses a selection of around 100 aquariums featuring crustaceans, sea anemones, sharks, jellyfish, rays, coral, tropical fish and seahorses as well as a large collection of Natural History exhibits. In the ‘Bassin tactile’ room to the left of the entrance, you can find a baby shark touch pool.
The main aquarium is located on the basement level from the museum entrance. Here you will find aquatic tanks for tropical and Mediterranean species – including a moray eel who has lived at the aquarium for over 30 years – as well as a 6-metre deep Shark Lagoon.
The Shark Lagoon is a highlight of the museum and replicates life on a coral reef with colourful fish, rays and a variety of shark species. The tank is a technical feat with 450,000 litres of seawater resulting in a pressure that needed viewing windows that are 35-centimetres thick. In 1989, the aquarium transported several species of hard coral from the Red Sea and became the first aquarium in the world to reproduce coral in captivity, making the living coral found at the museum unique.
Natural History Collections
The permanent exhibits of Natural History are located on the first floor. One of the special pieces of interest is the impressive Cabinet of Curiosities named Oceanomania, designed by artist Mark Zion. This large display case is filled with models, diving equipment, fossils, stuffed animals, scientific tools and vintage books.
The Salle Albert Ier is a focal point for oceanography and the scientific expeditions of Prince Albert I including photographs, nautical models and a replica of the laboratory on his research ship, L’Hirondelle.
On the same floor, the Salle de la Baleine (Whale Room) has a suspended fin whale skeleton, orca and seal skeletons, life-size models of marine specimens and jars of pickled sea life to ogle.
A Life Aquatic
Marine heritage and traditions are a foundation of the museum, however the museum is moving with the times and adapting to new ways to reach visitors. Examples include installing interactive digital screens within the museum to learn more information about exhibits, as well as virtual reality experiences.
Alongside the interesting permanent collections, the museum regularly hosts temporary exhibitions of art, photography and science connected to the marine environment. Previous exhibitions have featured Damien Hirst and Philippe Pasque.
Designed by French architect Paul Delefortrie, the building itself is magnificent with sea life-inspired mosaic tiled floors, heritage fixtures and sculptures with maritime themes on the façade.
Don’t miss heading up to the rooftop terrace on the second floor for panoramic views of Port Hercules and Monaco. There is a caféteria up there, a playground area and Turtle Island (L’Ile aux Tortues) which is home to a few turtles from Mali.
Oceanographic Museum Opening Hours
The Oceanographic Museum in Monaco is open every day, except the weekend of Grand Prix in May and Christmas Day (25 December). The opening hours vary by month:
January, February, March, October, November, December 10am-6pm
April, May, June, September 10am-7pm
July, August 9.30am-8pm
Oceanographic Museum Prices
You can either buy your ticket for the Monaco Oceanarium in advance online (there is no facility to ‘scan’ tickets from smartphones so you need to physically print your ticket), or purchase a ticket at the museum ticket office.
The entry price to the Oceanographic Museum is dependent on seasonality**:
Adults From €11 to €16
Teenagers (13-18 years) and Students (with I.D.) From €7 to €12
Children (4-12 years) From €5 to €8
Disabled persons €7 year-round
Kids 3 years and under are free of charge
**You can check the exact price at time you intend to visit on the museum website, however as a general guideline July and August are classed as high season (most expensive) and school holidays are shoulder season.
‘Pass Liberté’ is a yearly pass to the museum valid from the date of issue and non-transferable. It gives you unrestricted access to the museum, no queues at the ticket office and 10% discount in the boutique. The price is €39 each for Adults and €19 each for 4-18 years.
Guided tours at the museum are extra cost and available in 1 or 2-hour sessions, reservation is compulsory.
Important notes about prices:
The touch pool experience where children can pet 15 marine species is an additional cost to museum entry, it costs €6 per child (3-12 years) for 30 minutes. The touch pool sessions can’t be reserved in advance but check on the official website for session times which usually run at set intervals between midday and 4pm.
The museum offers educational workshops and a 5-day stage for kids during school holidays; all workshops are additional cost to the museum entry.
The museum has a Family Pass for 2 adults and 2 children however it is not available during summer.
Bespoke Yacht Charter’s Top Tips
Visitors to the Oceanographic Museum can get reduced ticket entrance if arriving to Monaco by train – simply show your TER train ticket on the same day of travel at the ticket office at the museum to receive a small discount.
There is a combined entry pass available if you intend to visit the Oceanographic Museum and the Prince’s Palace, Jardin Exotique or the Monaco Top Cars Collection (Prince Rainier III’s classic car collection). Prices vary from €15 to €20.50 for adults and €5 to €9 for kids 4-12 years. Ask for a ‘Billets Jumelés’ pass at the ticket office.
Don’t miss the light and sound show in the Whale Room where the skeletons are illuminated to an orchestral score, it takes place hourly.
Every day, at midday and 3pm during school holidays you can join a free presentation to see fluorescent coral in the Salle Corail Fluo on the ground floor.
If you are limited for time sightseeing in Monaco, the tourist train (petit train) leaves from outside the museum. You can buy a ticket at the stop outside the museum.
Monaco-Ville has many things to see and do before or after visiting the Monaco Oceanarium; take the time to visit the Palais Princier to watch the Changing of the Guards or explore the State Apartments, roam the Saint Martin Gardens with a great view of Fontvieille Port and the museum exterior or step inside the Monaco Cathedral to see the Grimaldi tombs.
The Institute Océanographique will take part in the 2nd edition of Monaco Ocean Week which will be hosted from 9 to 14 April 2018 in the Principality and focus on conservation of marine environments.
How to get to the Oceanographic Museum
The Monaco Oceanarium building is one of Monaco’s most beautiful landmark buildings, especially when seen from the sea with a wonderful cliffside location.
Located on avenue Saint-Martin in Monaco-Ville (Monaco-Ville is also known as Le Rocher or ‘The Rock’), the museum can be reached easily from either Port Hercules or Port Fontvieille.
From Port Hercules or Port Fontvieille
From Port Hercules, simply take the elevator and escalators up from Parking du Chemin des Pêcheurs on the southern side of the harbour. Alternatively, you can walk up Rampe Major then you follow the signs from the Palace square. If you are on the Monte-Carlo (Monaco Yacht Club) northern side of the port, you can also take the Bateau Bus for €2 across the harbour.
From Port Fontvieille, go past the Terrasses de Fontvieille to the Place du Canton roundabout and follow Boulevard Charles III along to Rampe Major which leads up to the Palace then follow the directions above.
If you arrive by train to Monaco, take the exit ‘Sortie Fontvieille/Le Rocher’ which goes to Place d’Armes. At Place d’Armes you can board either bus line 1 (Saint Roman to Monaco-Ville) or bus line 2 (Jardin Exotique to Monaco-Ville) that travel to the museum and get off at Place de la Visitation nearby to the museum.
If you arrive by car, carparking is available underneath the museum at Parking du Chemin des Pêcheurs, reached via avenue de la Quarantaine and the Tunnel Pêcheurs. There are elevators from the carpark going up to the museum entrance.
Written by Rebecca Whitlocke on behalf of Bespoke Yacht Charter.
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