Aerial View of Nice Promenade des Anglais, France

Villefranche Cruise Port to Nice: What to Do & How to Get There

Visiting Villefranche-sur-Mer on your Mediterranean cruise? This charming port town is the gateway to the glittering French Riviera. Discover the best things to experience in Villefranche itself and learn how to easily reach the vibrant city of Nice for a full day of DIY exploration.

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From Villefranche Cruise Port: Is a DIY Excursion Easy? 😎😎😎😎 (Straightforward)

Villefranche-sur-Mer (or just Villefranche, if you like!) is a tender port, meaning you’ll be whisked right into the heart of town. Here’s why I rated Villefranche as a straightforward 😎😎😎😎 DIY excursion:

  • Zip to Nice in a flash: Trains run super frequently between Villefranche and Nice.
  • Monaco in 15? Yes please! Fancy a touch of glitz? Monaco is practically next door by train. Read my DIY Excursion Guide to Monaco.
  • No stress in Nice: Highly walkable city. Public transport is awesome, making it a breeze to hit all the top spots.
  • Beach vibes: Craving sun and sand? Both Villefranche and Nice have gorgeous beaches waiting for you.

Important Note: Do not confuse Villefranche-sur-Mer with Villefranche-sur-Saône (it’s in the Alps), especially if you’re searching for train schedules! That’s why I mention Villefranche’s formal name here!

Villefranche (France) Cruise Port Essentials: All You Need To Know

  • Tender Drop Off: You’ll typically be dropped off at Port de la Santé, right in the heart of Villefranche. It’s about 7-10 mins walk (600 yards, 500m) to Villefranche train station, for train to Nice and Monaco.
  • Currency: Euros
  • Language: French
  • Official websites: Explore Nice Côte d’Azur (official tourism site), Ligne D’Azur (official bus & tram routes), search train timetables on SNCFConnect
  • Recommended Transport App: In Villefrance, use Google Maps to navigate. Once in Nice, my recommendation is to use Citymapper.
  • eSIM for roaming in France: For a great data connection without the huge roaming fees, use an eSim data pack from Airalo. I always recommend having a smartphone with a valid plan when you’re at port touring independently. Get US$3 off your first eSIM data pack from Airalo when you use ROXANN1666 when you sign up or apply it at checkout
  • My Villefranche Map: 👇 Click on the upper right hand corner to see a bigger version. (If your browser is not loading the map, click to view it on Google Maps instead.)

Villefranche-sur-Mer: Don’t Miss These Charms Before Heading to Nice

  • Citadelle Saint-Elme: Now operating as Villefranche’s Town Hall, this 16th century stone fortress has breathtaking panoramic views of the coastline.
    • Opening Hours: 8am to 12 noon, 1pm – 4:30pm on weekdays. Closed weekends. Free to enter.
  • Chapelle Saint-Pierre des Pêcheurs: Dedicated to Saint Peter, patron saint of fishermen, this chapel has vibrant murals by the renowned artist Jean Cocteau. It’s right at Port de la Santé, where you dropped off from the tender boat.
  • Église Saint-Michel de Villefranche-sur-Mer: Admire its stunning Baroque architecture and explore its tranquil interior of this 18th-century church.
  • Plage de la Marinière: No need to head to Nice for the French Riviera (unless you want to, of course!) Rent a sun lounger, take a refreshing dip in the crystal-clear water, or try paddleboarding!

Getting to Nice from Villefranche Cruise Port

Ready to explore the vibrant city of Nice? Getting there from Villefranche-sur-Mer is a breeze! Here are the two most popular and convenient options:

1. The Train: Scenic and Speedy

Nice-Ville Station concourse platform view
Nice Station Concourse, Image by Erich Westendarp from Pixabay
  • Faster Option (my preference): Trains are the faster way to travel between Villefranche-sur-Mer and Nice. The picturesque coastal route offers stunning Mediterranean views, too! See my map above for route to walk to train station.
  • The Details:
    • Frequency: Trains depart frequently throughout the day (roughly every 15-30 minutes).
    • Journey Time: The journey time to Nice-Ville (main train station) is a mere 10-15 minutes.
    • Tickets: €2.50 each way. Purchase tickets at the ticket machines. (There’s 3 of them! So even if there’s a queue, the queue tends to move quickly.) No need to pre-book as these regional trains never sell out.

2. The Bus: Leisurely Choice

  • Backup Option: Bus route #80 will take you to Nice along the coast line – good views but it’s slow and buses run less frequently than the train. The bus stop is right at the tender port, so it’s a convenient back-up option.
  • The Details:
    • Frequency: Hourly – download timetables here
    • Journey time: Takes about 30 minutes to Nice town centre
    • Tickets: €2. Purchase tickets from the driver.

3. Getting around Nice

  • My Nice Map: 👇 Click on the upper right hand corner to see a bigger version. (If you can’t see the map, click here to see it on Google Maps directly).

From Nice Ville Station to Promenade des Anglais (Beachfront)

  • On foot: On arrival at Nice Ville station, enjoy a pleasant 20-minute walk to the Promenade des Anglais.
  • Tram: For a quick ride, take the L1 tram from the Gare Thiers stop (right outside the station) and hop off at Masséna. Both stops are marked on my Nice map above.

Buying Public Transport Tickets in Nice

  • Bus & Tram Travel Card: You’ll need a contactless travel card (€2 purchase fee), which you can load with single fares (€1.70 each), multiple single fares or a day ticket (€7). Cards can be shared, so you only need one for a couple or group. Cards can’t be loaded with multiple day tickets though.
  • Ticket machines: There’s usually a ticket machine at tram stations. So if you want to take the L1 tram down to the Promenade as above, buy your tickets before boarding the tram. Don’t forget to validate your ticket!
  • Cash fares only on Buses: If you plan on taking a bus to Musée Matisse, you can either pay the driver (€2 cash only) or you can purchase a travel card opposite Nice Ville station (see map above) before boarding the bus.

Note: Most recommended attractions below are within walking distance of the Promenade des Anglais, Old Town or Nice Ville station. The only exception is Musée Matisse.

Dive into Nice: Top Experiences Not to Miss

Nice, a vibrant coastal city nestled along the French Riviera, offers a delightful blend of history, culture, and laid-back Mediterranean spirit. Nice became UNESCO Heritage listed in 2021 for its unique architectural heritage and its role as a popular winter resort destination. Prepare to be captivated by its iconic seaside promenade, charming Old Town, panoramic vistas, and a thriving arts scene!

1. Promenade des Anglais: Stroll Along the Iconic Seafront

#ILoveNice sign on Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France
#ILoveNice sign at Promenade, Image by kmarius from Pixabay

No trip to Nice is complete without experiencing the legendary Promenade des Anglais. This iconic seafront boulevard, stretching for miles along the Mediterranean, holds a special place in the city’s history and was integral to its UNESCO World Heritage inscription.

Originally a simple footpath, the Promenade was largely developed by English aristocrats as a winter retreat in the 18th century. It quickly gained popularity, fostering Nice’s reputation as a fashionable seaside destination. Today, its wide walkway is lined with palm trees, elegant hotels, and lively cafes, perfect for strolling, people-watching, or enjoying the stunning sea views.

What to Keep an Eye Out For:

  • The Blue Chair: Iconic sculpture on the Promenade and perfect spot for a selfie! The #ILoveNice sign also makes a good selfie spot – it’s at the end of the Promenade, so perfect if you’re heading up the free elevator to Colline du Château (see below).
  • The Negresco Hotel: A dazzling white, Belle Époque landmark and a true testament to the Promenade’s historic grandeur.
  • Villa Masséna Musée: Discover the history of Nice within this elegant villa and stroll through its adjacent gardens.
  • Jardin Albert 1er: This lovely green space in the heart of the Promenade offers a welcome respite from the bustling walkway.

2. Colline du Château (Castle Hill): Conquer the Heights for Epic Views

View of Nice Promenade from Castle Hill in Nice, France
View of Nice Promenade from Castle Hill, Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay

While the original castle of Nice is long gone, Colline du Château remains a must-visit for its breathtaking panoramic views. Ascend to the top of this lush hill overlooking the city and prepare to be awed!

This was once the location of Nice’s fortified citadel, dating as far back as the Greeks, and later destroyed by Louis XIV in the 1700s. Today, it’s a peaceful park offering unbeatable vantage points.

  • How to Reach the Top:
    • Hike the Trails: Enjoy a bit of exercise as you navigate the winding paths through the park to reach the hill’s summit.
    • Convenient Elevator: Opt for the free elevator located near the Hotel Suisse, perfect for those tight on time or seeking a more leisurely ascent. See my map above 👆 to see its exact location.
  • More Than Just a View:
    • Waterfall: Cool off near the refreshing man-made cascade.
    • Park and Playground: Perfect for a picnic or letting little ones burn some energy.
    • Historical Ruins: Discover remnants of the old fortifications scattered throughout the park.

3. Vieille Ville (Old Town): Get Lost in the Charming Labyrinth

Marché Cours Saleya at Nice, France
Marché Cours Saleya, Image by Erich Westendarp from Pixabay

The best way to explore the Old Town is simply to wander. But don’t miss:

  • Marché Cours Saleya (Market): A sensory delight! Browse the vibrant stalls overflowing with fresh produce, fragrant flowers, and local specialties including ready-to-eat goodies. Closed on Mondays.
  • Palais Lascaris: Step inside this Baroque palace-turned-museum for a glimpse into Nice’s aristocratic past and an impressive collection of ancient musical instruments
    • Opening Hours: Mondays, Wednesdays thru Sundays 10am to 6pm. Closed Tuesdays.
    • Tickets: €5. Free for kids and students.
  • Place Rossetti: This lively square with its central fountain is the perfect place to soak up the local atmosphere.
  • Sainte-Réparate Basilica-Cathedral: Admire the ornate Baroque architecture of Nice’s main cathedral. St. Réparate is the patron saint of Nice.

4. Place Masséna: Admire the Heart of Nice

Miroir d'eau at Place Masséna, with water jets on a summer day
Miroir d’eau at Place Masséna, Image by Gerhard Bögner from Pixabay

Experience the vibrant pulse of Nice at Place Masséna, the city’s grand main square. Surrounded by elegant ochre-colored buildings and graceful arches, this iconic space is a hub of activity and truly embodies the spirit of the city.

What Makes It Special

  • Striking Checkered Floor: The square’s distinctive black and white patterned floor creates a captivating visual impact.
  • Apollo Fountain: Admire the playful fountain at the square’s center, a focal point for photos.
  • People-Watching Paradise: Grab a seat at one of the many outdoor cafes, soak in the bustling energy, and experience the essence of Nice life.
  • Contemporary Art: Seven tall poles with illuminated figures representing the continents add a unique modern touch.

Beyond the Square:

Place Masséna serves as a gateway to several major attractions and districts:

  • Avenue Jean Médecin: Nice’s main shopping street branches off from the square.
  • Promenade du Paillon: Walk towards the lush greenery of this urban park.
  • Vieille Ville (Old Town): A short stroll away through charming streets of Old Town, as above.

5. Marc Chagall National Museum: Immerse Yourself in Biblical Art

Art enthusiasts won’t want to miss the Marc Chagall National Museum, a haven dedicated to the renowned artist’s biblical-inspired works. This unique museum, created during Chagall’s lifetime, houses the largest public collection of his work, offering a captivating exploration of his artistic vision. The central exhibit showcases 17 paintings illustrating stores from the Old Testament, reflective of Chagall’s deep connection to his Jewish heritage.

  • Getting There: It’s 15 minutes walk from Nice Ville train station.
  • Opening Hours: Open daily from 10am to 6pm during the summer, except Tuesdays. Shorter hours during winter. Double check opening hrs here.
  • Tickets: €8 for adults or €10 including temporary exhibitions. Tickets include an audioguide.

6. Musée Matisse: Discover the Master of Colour

Set on a hilltop with stunning views, the museum houses one of the largest collections of the famed artist’s works that spans his entire career. You can trace his artistic journey from early experiments to his iconic later cut-outs.

  • Getting There: Grab Bus #5 from “Roland Garros” stop to Musée Matisse stop (see my map above). See above for ticket details – tickets on buses are cash only.
  • Opening Hours: 10am to 6pm daily during summer, except Tuesdays. Shorter hours during winter. Double check opening hours here.
  • Tickets: €10 for adults. Free for kids & students with ID. Since this museum is a bit out of the way, I would recommend booking tickets online before travel.
  • Surrounding Areas: Don’t miss the Garden of Arenas Cimiez, next door to the museum! This garden is a vast olive grove, made up of thousands of olive trees at least a century old! The Arènes de Cimiez are ruins of a Roman amphitheatre built in the 2nd century which once held 5,000 spectators.
  • Not sure you want to visit? Visit this virtual tour first!

Featured Image by zhugher from Pixabay

I hope you have a fantastic day discovering the best of Nice. If this guide made your cruise port visit even smoother, please consider sharing it to help future visitors to Villefranche-sur-Mer get the most out of their trip!

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