Getting To -and Around- the French Riviera
Our French Riviera travel guides and itineraries include transportation guides for each town, giving you the best routes to take and guides to the different transportation modes.
Arriving By Plane
The Aéroport Nice Côte d’Azur is the main hub for the French Riviera and the second busiest international airport in the country after Paris. Delta and boutique all-first-class airline La Compagnie are the only airlines to offer direct flights from the US to Nice, with daily service from New York City. A number of other airlines, such as British Airways and Air France, offer daily connecting flights into Nice with stops in cities like London, Geneva and Paris. Check out our guide to the Nice airport and transportation options from there.
The French Riviera By Car
If you plan on staying in just one spot, like Nice or Cannes, don’t worry about renting a car. These towns are pedestrian-friendly, so you can walk almost anywhere or easily hop a train or bus to a nearby village. Plus, traffic in and out of Cannes and Monaco is notoriously bad and parking spaces are tough to find in the summer.
Uber operates throughout most of the Côte d’Azur and into Monaco (but not vice-versa — annoyingly, you can’t catch an Uber from Monaco) and is a much easier option than calling a taxi or waiting for one at a designated taxi stand.
That said, French road trips just don’t get more glamorous than this: cinematic views, searing sunshine, art history aplenty and the Mediterranean around every turn. Cruising the Côte d’Azur is the French road trip everyone has to do at least once in their lifetime.
This trio of corniches (coastal roads) hugs the cliffs between Nice and Monaco, each higher than the last, with dazzling views of the Med. From fashionable residential capes, Belle Époque resorts, medieval villages, and picturesque hills, the Corniches do not lack anything when it comes to breathtaking views.
Filmmakers, writers, celebs and artists have all had their hearts stolen by this glittering stretch of coastline: by the end of this trip, you’ll understand why. From film town Cannes to down-to-earth Nice, via the corkscrew turns of the Corniches and into millionaires’ Monaco, it’s a drive you’ll remember forever.
The windy Corniche Drives were named after ‘cornices’, the decorative friezes that run along the top of elegant buildings. Try to avoid the dreadful summer traffic in July and August, but any other time is a dream.
Here’s a guide to the Corniche roads and some of the sights along the way:
And you can take a tour via Google Maps:
Above: the Corniche Inférieure
The Corniche Inférieure (D6098) skirts the glittering shores, and villa-lined waterfront between Nice and Monaco, with numerous swimming opportunities. Built in the 1860s, it passes through the towns of Villefranche-sur-Mer, St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Èze-sur-Mer and Cap d’Ail.
Up in the hills, the jewel in the crown of the Moyenne Corniche (D6007) is the medieval village of Èze, spectacularly perched on a rocky promontory offering awe-inspiring views of the coastline. Cut through rock in the 1920s, it takes drivers from Nice past the Col de Villefranche (149m), Èze and Beausoleil (the French town bordering Monaco).
And then there is the dangerous Grande Corniche (D2564), snaking along the 500m-high cliffs. This underdeveloped road is often engulfed in fog and at times too narrow for cars to pass each other without coming to a near stop. On a clear day, views from the spectacular cliff-hanging Grande Corniche are mesmerising, and you’ll probably want to stop at every bend to admire the unfolding vistas. There are no villages of note along it until you reach hilltop La Turbie, best known for its imposing Roman triumphal monument.
Hitchcock was sufficiently impressed by Napoléon’s Grande Corniche to use it as a backdrop for his film To Catch a Thief (1956), starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. Ironically, Kelly died in 1982 after crashing her car on this very same road. Nevertheless, this stunning trio of coastal roads offers the most outstanding overview (literally!) of the Riviera.
The (less scenic) A8 motorway / highway, or “La Provençale,” connects Nice to the Esterel and then on to Aix-en-Provence in the west and Menton and the Italian border in the east. The 950 kilometer (or 590 mile) drive from Paris to Nice takes about eight hours.
Break-downs and Accidents
If you break down on a motorway in France, even if you have European breakdown recovery in place, your first call shouldn’t be to the RAC (roadside assistance service). French motorways are privately managed so instead of calling the RAC, first use the emergency telephones – these are orange and positioned every 2km along the motorway. If you can’t get to one of these orange phones, call emergency services by dialing 112.
The Famous French Riviera Train Routes
The rail system links the French Riviera to other destinations throughout France, as well as major European cities. From Paris, it’s about a five-and-a-half-hour ride to Nice on the high-speed TGV train. The train tracks both east and west rattle with long-distance carriages running direct from Moscow (a luxurious 47-hour journey) and London (just nine hours with a quick platform change in Marseille).
The Regional Express Train, or TER, connects major coastal cities throughout the Riviera, from Fréjus to Ventimiglia, the first town over the Italian border. Trains run about every 30 minutes and most of the stations sit within walking distance of the town center, or offer a bus service from the station. You can purchase tickets from machines at each station, just be sure to stamp your ticket in one of the validation machines before hopping on board.
From Nice, TER trains to Ventimiglia in Italy (€8, one-hour, 5am to 11pm) stop at Villefranche-sur-Mer (€1.90, seven minutes), Beaulieu-sur-Mer (€2.30, 10 minutes) and Cap d’Ail (€3.50, 20 minutes).
From May to November, the guided voyage on the Trains des Merveilles (€15 round-trip, leaving Nice at 9:17am) runs from Nice to Tende in the Valley of the Marvels, with stops in perched villages like Peille . The train climbs nearly 3,280 feet high on the two-hour trip through the lush Mercantour National Park . Throughout the journey, you will benefit from the comments of a tour guide who will explain the sights and the rich artistic heritage and culture of the Nice hinterland.
Taking the Bus
Buses snake throughout the Côte d’Azur, connecting coastal towns to perched medieval villages. With the Ticket Azur (€1.50), you can hop on buses that link Nice to nearby towns like Grasse, Saint-Paul de Vence, Eze Village and Monaco.
- #100 Bus (€1.50, every 15 minutes from 6am to 8pm) runs the length of the Corniche Inférieure between Nice (where it departs from the port) and Menton, stopping at all the villages along the way, including Villefranche-sur-Mer, Beaulieu-sur-Mer and Cap d’Ail and Monaco.
- #81 Bus serves Villefranche (20 minutes) and St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat (30 minutes).
- #82 Bus serves the Moyenne Corniche from Nice all the way to Èze (20 minutes); bus 112 carries on to Beausoleil (40 minutes, Monday to Saturday).
- #116 Bus links the town of La Turbie with Nice (€1.50, 35 minutes, five daily), and bus 114 goes to Monaco (€1.50, 30 minutes, six daily).