One of the easiest day trips you’ll ever take is to the beautiful bay town of Villefranche-sur-Mer from Nice. Like many of the towns along the Cote d’Azur, Villefranche drapes over the cliffs all the way down to the calm 1-kilometer beach, which is in many ways, nicer than Nice.
How to get to Villefranche-sur-Mer from Nice
The deep bay of Villefranche-sur-Mer is conveniently located just 10-20 minutes away from Nice by train or bus. You wouldn’t know it if you’re overlooking Nice Harbour from the Colline du Château park – that’s because Villefranche-sur-Mer is hidden by the peak of Mont Boron which juts out from the coast. It’s only when you arrive that you can see the colorful spread of buildings along the harbor and the long stretch of beach.
The easiest way to get to Villefranche-sur-Mer from Nice is by train. The train takes 10 to 13 minutes, depending on whether you board at Nice-Ville or Nice Riquier. It drops you off just a few steps up from the beach and less than 10 minutes from the heart of town. It costs just a few euro, making it one of the cheapest things to do in the French Riviera.
The bus, route 15, is only slightly cheaper but takes longer and can get quite crowded. Unlike the train, the tracks of which cut a direct path to the town, the bus goes up and around Mont Boron to get you to town and stops up to 20 times. There are several stops on the road far above the beach and town that you can get off at to access Villefranche-sur-Mer. If you want to see the bay from above, the bus is a good option, but it can be a bit of an uphill hike if you’re taking the bus back to Nice.
If you want to go to the beach, the closest bus stop on the 15 is Ange Gardien. However, Leopold II, Madone Noire, or Schifanoia can also get you there with a slightly longer walk. The closest stop to the heart of the town is Octroi. Once you get down to the shore, it’s all fairly walkable so it just depends on how much you want to walk along the road above the town.
I would recommend the train even though you sacrifice the overhead view, because the bus is a crowded pain in the ass.
A day in Villefranche-sur-Mer
Unlike the beaches of Nice, which are largely split up among private beach clubs, the vast majority of Villefranche-sur-Mer is open to the public. This is good and bad. On the one hand, no part of the beautiful coastline requires a hefty fee for the use of a lounger. On the other, that means you need to bring your own beach supplies like towels or umbrellas to be comfortable.
The one place where you can lounge comfortably under an umbrella on a rented deckchair is Les Bains de la Plage. The one downside is that if you don’t book in advance, you will not be able to get a lounger. And I mean waaay in advance… loungers book up to two weeks ahead of time. But you can book easily online.
If you didn’t book ahead, you can plop down your towel on any part of the coast. Most people are concentrated along Plage des Marinieres (which is labeled as Plage Villefranche-sur-Mer on Google Maps), where the shore is the widest, though some people squeeze into just a foot or two of dry beach. The majority of the coast is quite rocky, but the Plage de l’Ange Gardien at the end of the beach is sandy and flanked by a rocky barrier, so the waters are the calmest compared to the other beaches in Villefrance-sur-Mer and Nice. Here you can also rent paddleboards at SUP.
From Plage de l’Ange Gardien, it takes just 15 minutes to walk to the center of town. Though there are a couple of beach restaurants along the beach like La Voile Bleue and La Praia, you’ll have more varied and quality lunch options in town. If you don’t want to sacrifice the view of the bay by going into town, you can have lunch at Alma Goût Méditerranée.
If you do want to stroll the streets of Villefranche’s Old Town along with all the people who are on a cruise excursion, there are some notable things to do. The covered Rue Obscure, which was originally designed in the Middle Ages for military purposes, is a testament to the town’s age. The charming Old Town also houses several small churches and the Citadelle Siant-Elme, the large fortress that was constructed as port defense. Past the stone façade, the citadel houses gardens as well as La Citadelle Art Center & Museums. If you’re coming to Villefranche-sur-Mer on a weekend, you’ll also get to enjoy the city’s lovely markets.
These other stops in town can wonderfully complement an afternoon of swimming and lying in the sun. But if we’re being honest with ourselves, the main attraction in Villefranche-sur-Mer is the beach.