12 Top-Rated Day Trips from Nice
At the heart of the French Riviera and bordering the Provence countryside, Nice is conveniently close to many popular tourist attractions. The essence of the dreamy Côte d'Azur is found in the glamorous royal city-state of Monaco and the sumptuous villas of Cap-Ferrat and Beaulieu-sur-Mer that overlook dazzling, deep-blue Mediterranean waters. An appealing Mediterranean lifestyle and artistic heritage distinguish Cagnes-sur-Mer and Saint-Paul de Vence, which boast outstanding Impressionist art museums. To discover the most charming little communities of Provence, travelers can continue on to the medieval hilltop villages of Haut-de-Cagnes and Grasse, or in the other direction to Peillon and Peille. Balmy weather and stunning coastal scenery create the perfect holiday experience in Cannes and Antibes, two of the Riviera's most famous resort towns, which are usually included (along with Monaco) on day trip tours, like the French Riviera Day Trip from Nice. From quaint country towns to posh seaside resorts, the attractions around Nice make visitors want to extend their stay.
Plan your adventures with this list of the top day trips from Nice:
In a beautiful setting by the Mediterranean Sea, the small city-state of Monaco has a special mystique. The Principality of Monaco has many unique characteristics: a royal family of the Grimaldi dynasty, its own language called Monegasque (Munegascu), distinctive culinary specialities, and even its own world-class ballet company. One of Monaco's highlights is the picture-perfect harbor filled with luxurious yachts owned by the rich and famous. Above the harbor is the most monumental sight, the royal palace. Perched atop the "Rock of Monaco," which is the oldest part of the principality, the Palais Princier (royal palace) is open to the public for visits. Must-see rooms include the Throne Room, with its grand fireplace, and the Blue Room, with its harmonious decor. The splendid 17th-century Palatine Chapel is also worth a look.
Beyond the "Rock of Monaco," the city-state extends around the coastline. The Fontvieille district has several interesting things to do, including a museum housing the HSH The Prince of Monaco's vintage car collection and a rose garden dedicated to Princess Grace. Just a few kilometers outside of Fontvieille are the ancient ruins of Roman Aqueducts located on both sides of the D33 road. These aqueducts once provided water all the way to the city of Arles.
An easy way to see Monaco is on the guided Monaco and Eze Small Group Day Trip from Nice, traveling by minivan with no more than eight passengers.
An attractive waterfront, elegant palm-fringed boulevards, and graceful Belle Epoque architecture give Cannes its special allure. Exemplifying the glamour of the French Riviera, Cannes is where the beau monde comes to indulge in the good life. Well-heeled visitors frequent the exclusive private beaches, take sailing expeditions from the yacht club, shop at designer boutiques, dine at upscale restaurants, and pamper themselves at luxury hotels. However, the celebrated resort appeals to all kinds of vacation-goers. Similar to other resorts on the Cote d'Azur, Cannes has a mild, sunny Mediterranean climate; lush vegetation; and subtropical flowers. The town's sheltered location on the Golfe de la Napoule ensures temperate weather even in winter (high season is from May until October). The most anticipated event of the year in Cannes is the Festival de Cannes, a prestigious festival of arthouse cinema that draws movie stars from around the world.
A convenient way to visit Cannes from Nice (a 45-minute drive or train ride away) is by taking a Small-Group Half-Day Tour. This guided tour gives an overview of Cannes' highlights, such as La Croisette Boulevard and the Palais des Festivals (where the film festival is held), plus it includes a scenic drive along the French Riviera coastline and a stop in Antibes with time to visit the Old Town and the Billionaire's Quay yacht marina.
- Read More:
- 14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Cannes
3 Saint-Paul de Vence
Superbly situated on a rocky precipice that overlooks the Provence countryside, Saint-Paul de Vence is a typical Provençal "village perché" (perched village). By car, the drive from Nice takes about a half hour, yet Saint-Paul de Vence feels a world away. The village's beauty attracted Post-Impressionist, Abstract, and Surrealist artists, who discovered Saint-Paul de Vence in the 1920s and created exceptional art works. Tourists can admire examples of this art at the Fondation Maeght on the Chemin des Gardettes, two kilometers outside the walls of the medieval perched village. This contemporary museum displays mosaics by Chagall; sculptures by Mirò; bronze figures of Giacometti; art installations by Calder; a chapel by Braque; as well as paintings by Bonnard, Chagall, Kandinsky, Léger, and Miró.
Saint-Paul de Vence has retained its medieval ambience within the well-preserved circle of 16th-century ramparts. The special character of Saint-Paul de Vence's historic center is best experienced by wandering the narrow cobblestone streets that wind through the village. Delightful fountains, town squares, and art galleries add to the charm. At the Place de la Mairie stands a 12th-century keep (tower), the only remaining part of the old château. A few steps away from the keep is the village's Eglise Collégiale, built in the 14th century in the Romanesque style and enhanced in later centuries. The highlight of this church is the exuberant Baroque Chapel of Saint Clément that contains relics from Rome catacombs. Another noteworthy church is the 15th-century Chapelle des Pénitents-Blancs, also known as the Folon Chapel because Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon created the artwork adorning the interior, including sculptures, paintings, and stained-glass windows. The hilltop village of Saint-Paul de Vence is often included in guided tours from Nice, such as the Provence Countryside Small Group Day Trip, which combines it with a perfumery tour in Grasse and a visit to glamorous Cannes.
Eze epitomizes a medieval perched village, clinging to the vertiginous edge of a steep, conical rock like an "eagle's nest." Accessible from Nice (less than 20 kilometers away) by a mountainous coastal road, the village offers a dramatic first impression, with the tower of its church belfry and the ruins of the ancient fortress visible from a great distance. Once visitors enter the village through the remains of its ancient ramparts, a maze of cobblestone streets provides a wonderful escape from the modern world. The alleyways are filled with little boutiques and small courtyards, where children play and local artists display pieces for sale.
Because the village stands more than 400 meters above the sea, an awe-inspiring backdrop of Mediterranean waters astounds visitors from almost every vantage point in the village. The best outlook is found at the Jardin Exotique (Exotic Gardens) at the highest point in Eze. From this location, there is a sweeping panorama of the coastline from Nice to Monaco, including the Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat peninsula. Other top tourist attractions include the 14th-century Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs, adorned with a unique crucifix of Christ smiling and contemporary religious paintings by Michel Marie Poulain; the Château de la Chèvre d'Or, a ritzy Relais & Châteaux property with a two-star Michelin restaurant; and the Parfumerie Fragonard, which is open to the public for free guided tours of the perfume factory.
To explore the French Riviera between Monaco and Cannes and see small towns like Eze and the multi-million-dollar yachts at Antibes, try the French Riviera Small Group Day Trip from Nice.
5 Villa Ephrussi (in Cap-Ferrat)
The Côte d'Azur is synonymous with wealth and sophistication, seen in the stately seaside villas all along the coastline. One of the most remarkable is the residence of the Baroness Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, found on the Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat peninsula. The Villa et Jardins Ephrussi de Rothschild offers a peek into the lifestyle of Béatrice, the daughter of the wealthy banker Baron Alphonse de Rothschild. After inheriting her father's vast fortune, Béatrice created a sumptuous villa in the style of an Italian palazzo. Béatrice had impeccable taste and a flair for decorating. Examples of her delicate style include her own bedroom with a pastel floral motif and the Small Salon with its marvelous tapestries. Surrounding the villa are expansive grounds that overlook serene deep-blue Mediterranean waters. The immaculately landscaped property includes French, Spanish, Florentine, Japanese, and Provençal gardens, as well as an Exotic Garden and a fragrant Rose Garden. There is even a garden filled with Roman archaeological relics.
6 Villa Grecque Kérylos (in Beaulieu-sur-Mer)
Just a five-minute drive away from the Ephrussi Villa is Beaulieu-sur-Mer, a lovely French Riviera village with a small sheltered marina. Located on the Baie des Fourmis and protected from the winds by the hills, Beaulieu-sur-Mer is an idyllic vacation resort year-round because of its mild climate. Standing at the water's edge with sensational views of the Cap-Ferrat peninsula, the Villa Grecque Kérylos is a fascinating attraction. This stately villa was the realization of archaeologist Théodore Reinach's dream, created in collaboration with architect Emmanuel Pontremoli. Modeled after luxurious noblemen's houses from the Island of Delos in Greece, the villa was constructed entirely following 2nd-century BC Greek building methods (including the type of stucco and Carrara marble used in ancient times). The villa's furnishings, mosaics, and decorations accurately replicate those found in archaeological collections. Visiting the Villa Grecque Kérylos allows tourists to step back in time a few millennia to a lavish scene of ancient Greece.
A few kilometers away from Beaulieu-sur-Mer, beyond Mont Boron, lies the village of Villefranche, with a picturesque natural harbor developed in the 14th century. The waterfront is lined with cheerful Italianate buildings, and the dock is filled with neat rows of little sailboats. Rolling hills planted with olive groves surround the village, and the microclimate is so mild here that tropical fruits such as bananas grow abundantly. The village has a quaint historic center with a citadel built in 1580 and an impressive church. The Eglise Saint-Michel was built in the town's characteristic Italian Baroque style. By the harbor is the Palais de la Marine and the Chapelle de Saint Pierre des Pecheurs. This charming fisherman's chapel has an interior decorated by Jean Cocteau, who often stayed at both Villefranche-sur-Mer and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. A scene from his film "Le Testament d'Orphée" was set on the atmospheric street, the rue Obscure of Villefranche-sur-Mer.
In an enchanting spot on the French Riviera (about 12 kilometers west of Nice), Cagnes-sur-Mer was originally a small fishing village. The town has several distinct sections, including a beautiful yacht harbor and a historic area up on a hill. The painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir lived in Cagnes-sur-Mer towards the end of his life. Renoir's home, the Maison Les Colettes, is a lovely example of Provençal architecture set among olive groves with panoramic views of the Cap d'Antibes peninsula. The property includes the Musée Renoir that displays many of Renoir's artworks.
The oldest part of the village, called Haut-de-Cagnes because of its hilltop location, has steep pedestrian streets and ancient houses built close together, surrounded by medieval walls. Presiding over the town center is the imposing 14th-century Château Grimaldi that was rebuilt as an Italian Baroque palace in 1620. Today, the château houses the Musée d'Art Moderne Méditerranéen, with a collection of paintings by Cocteau, Dufy, Picasso, and other modern artists, and hosts the International Art Festival during the summer. Visitors can ascend the castle's tower to take in sweeping views of Haut-de-Cagnes and the Baie des Anges. Another highlight of Haut-de-Cagnes is the Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-la-Protection, an exquisite chapel adorned with fine 16th-century frescoes.
9 Gorges des Alpes-Maritimes Driving Tour
Traveling by car along the Gorges des Alpes-Maritimes route offers a chance to take in the gorgeous scenery of the Mediterranean coast. One interesting driving itinerary begins where the D2565 branches off near Plan-du-Var into the impressive ravines of the Gorges de la Vésubie. The drive goes through the valley for ten kilometers before reaching the village of St-Jean-la-Rivière. From here, a narrow, winding road continues to the village of Utelle to the Pilgrimage Church of Notre-Dame-des Miracles, which was founded in the ninth century. From the church, visitors can enjoy an exceptional view that extends over the mountains to the Mediterranean Sea.
Another suggested scenic drive begins where the River Tinée flows through the Gorges de la Mescla. These gorges are a scenic highlight of this magnificent stretch. The valley is quite wide as far as Bancairon, and then the road dramatically hugs the side of the cliffs. The villages of Clans and Marie, built high up on outcrops, are worth making the detour along the very narrow, winding streets.
Those who want to commune with nature should take a drive to the Grottes des Audides in Saint-Vallier de Thiey. This series of caves follows the course of a subterranean stream. Running water has produced chandelier-like stalactites, stalagmites, and even a coral reef. There is evidence that prehistoric man inhabited the caves, and they are part of the Prehistoric Park, an open-air museum, which includes reconstructed scenes from prehistoric life as well as numerous geological displays.
10 Antibes Beaches
Antibes' beaches are appreciated by sun-worshipping French vacationers because of the pristine natural setting, pillowy white-sand shores, and crystal-clear waters. Excellent beaches are found on the Cap d'Antibes peninsula and along the Juan-les-Pins coastline. This extensive two-part seaside area includes public and private beaches ranging in size and facilities. Many beaches have showers, toilet facilities, and parasol rentals; some also have snack bars, cafés, or restaurants with outdoor terraces by the sea. To the travelers who are disappointed by Nice's pebbly beaches and consider sandy beaches a summer holiday requirement, it is worth taking a day trip to Antibes a 30-minute drive away.
11 Perfume Factories and Gorgeous Gardens in Grasse
Connoisseurs of beauty and fragrances should include Grasse as an obligatory stop while they are exploring the tourist attractions of the French Riviera and Provence. This picture-perfect medieval village is tucked away in the foothills of the Maritime Alps near the Loup Valley, surrounded by fields of lavender, mimosa, rose, and jasmine flowers that are used to make perfume. Grasse has several renowned perfume factories, such as Fragonard and Galimard, which are open to the public for tours. For those who enjoy the slow-paced Provençal way of life, the Old Town delights with its romantic cobblestone streets; quiet, shaded courtyards; and outdoor cafés. On sunny days, the town's spectacular gardens inspire leisurely strolls. Some of the parks feature amazing views of the surrounding countryside.
12 Peillon and Peille: Picturesque Hilltop Villages
The breathtaking perched village of Peillon is less than 20 kilometers away from Nice, nestled like an eagle's nest ("nid d'aigle") on a hillside above a sheer cliff. Arriving here requires a steep drive up a mountainous road and then exploring the village by foot. With its medieval cobblestone lanes, pedestrian staircases and closely built cluster of historic buildings, Peillon is full of Old World ambience. Visitors should be sure to see the parish church, the Eglise Saint-Sauveur, at the highest point in the village, the Chapelle des Pénitents-Blancs adorned with delicate 15th-century fresco paintings by Jean Canavesio, and the Chapelle Saint-Roch in a location that affords magnificent views above the village. If spending the night in Peillon or looking for a good meal, a great option is the Auberge de la Madone that offers luxurious accommodations and authentic regional cuisine.
Another delightful hilltop village, Peille is actually walking distance (7 kilometers away) from Peillon via a scenic two-hour hike along the Route Napoléon. The drive from Peillon to Peille takes about 30 minutes. Although Peille is more remote than Peillon, the tiny village has a couple of noteworthy tourist attractions: the Eglise Sainte-Marie-de-l'Assomption, a 12th-century Romanesque church, and the Musée du Terroir, a museum devoted to sharing information about the village's history and customs.