Nice (Villefranche) Cruise Port – the essential guide

Start your cruise vacation with a visit to Nice, one of our favorite cities in France – and just a short distance from the port town of Villefranche. A cruise from Nice offers the opportunity to explore this wonderful city and visit the nearby picturesque towns and villages of the French Riviera.

Nestled along the sparkling Mediterranean coast, Nice offers its blend of natural beauty, historical richness, and vibrant culture. The city has long been a haven for artists, aristocrats, royalty, and movie stars. You only need to look at the guest book of the famous Negresco Hotel on the seafront to see the who’s who of visitors to the city.

Overlooking Nice from Colline du Chateau (Castle Hill), Nice
View of Nice from Colline du Chateau (Castle Hill)

Nice’s location in southern France, nestled between the Mediterranean waves and the towering Alps, creates a microclimate of mild winters and sun-drenched summers.

We offer expert tips, planning advice, and cruise port information to help you easily book and plan your visit to Nice and the surrounding towns.

You will find detailed information about hotels, transportation, what to see and do, and how to get to the cruise port in nearby Villefranche.

Why Nice should be on your bucket list

Whether you’re strolling along the beach, enjoying the view from the Parc de la Colline du Château, or indulging in a culinary adventure, Nice offers a taste of the French Riviera dream.

From the bustling lavender-scented markets to the colorful Old Town and the iconic Promenade des Anglais, its rich history is woven into the very fabric of the streets, where Italianate facades meet Baroque churches.

As an added bonus, the city is surrounded by some of the prettiest places in Europe. We’ll tell you what they are and how to get there.

An iconic view as you land

Prepare for a fantastic aerial view of the French Riviera as your airplane approaches Nice Côte d’Azur Airport, uniquely perched on the edge of the sea. You feel as if you are touching down on the Mediterranean itself.

View of Nice approaching landing at airport
View of Nice approaching landing at the airport

How to get from Nice Airport to central Nice

Getting from the airport to the heart of Nice is a breeze. Follow our guide, and you’ll be sipping a café au lait in a charming Nice café in no time.

As you leave Nice airport, you’ll see the first of two “#I love Nice” signs during your stay. It’s straight in front of you as you exit the airport doors. On your right, you will see all the trams running back and forth on the tracks.

You can purchase a ticket at one of the many automatic ticket machines, following the simple instructions in English. A single journey costs around 1.50 euros.

Tram tickets from Nice airport to city center
Tram tickets from Nice airport to the city center

Climb aboard tram number 2 when it stops. They run regularly, so you will never wait very long. Disembark the tram at the stop closest to your hotel. Just email your hotel before you leave home and ask for the name of the closest tram stop.

We chose to stay at Hotel Aston La Scala, which is very close to the old town, almost on Place Massena, and a short walk to Promenade des Anglais; it was a perfect location. We disembarked at the tram station called Durandy, and from there, it was an easy 2-minute walk to the hotel.

Local Transportation in and Around Nice

Tram

The tram is our favorite way to get around Nice. The tram system is modern, eco-friendly, and clean. It is a critical component of the city’s public transport. It connects the city’s main areas, including the airport, train station, Old Town, and shopping districts.

Tram at Place Masséna, a historic square in Nice
Tram at Place Masséna

The tram operates on a frequent schedule from early morning until after midnight. A one-day pass for the tram, which costs €7, also allows unlimited travel on the city’s buses, providing easy and inexpensive travel during your visit​​​​.

Purchase a tram ticket at one of the machines by the tram stop; they are very straightforward to use. Simply follow the instructions and pay by card.

You must have a ticket when you board the tram and validate your ticket while on board by zapping on the electronic screen near the door of the tram.

Bus

Lignes d’Azur manages the bus network in Nice, which offers extensive coverage across the city and surrounding areas. Over 140 bus routes exist in the 51 towns and villages of the Nice Côte d’Azur Metropolitan Area.

The central bus station is Gare Vauban, outside the city center. It primarily handles regional lines, while international services operate from the airport or train station.

You can reach the bus station via Tram Line 1 to the Vauban stop, followed by a short 5-minute walk. It wasn’t clearly signposted, so we used Google Maps to find the station.

This station is good for local journeys, such as the trip to Eze village. Buses are practical and cheap, with services running from early morning to late night.

Bus station Vauban, Nice
Bus station Vauban, Nice

Lignes d’Azur has introduced contactless cards, making it easy for you to purchase bus tickets. There are different types of cards; visit the tourism website to download the app:

  • “Ma Carte”: This personalized card is reloadable and can be used to buy and top up occasional tickets. It’s ideal for regular users.
  • “La Carte”: Aimed at occasional travelers and visitors. This anonymous card is also reloadable. It’s used for buying and topping up occasional tickets like Solo, Multi Voyages, and day or multi-day passes.
  • “Solo Secours”: This is an emergency card available on buses for those who haven’t downloaded the app or don’t have a physical contactless card. It is anonymous and can be shared. Immediate cost €4 (“Solo Secours” voucher €2 + reloadable card €2 = €4). This is the only ticket available on board the bus.

Train

Nice’s train service is ideal for exploring the French Riviera and traveling to other French cities. The central Nice Ville train station offers regional TER services to places like Cannes, Monaco, and Menton and high-speed TGV services to major cities like Paris.

The trains provide a mix of comfort, reliability, and scenic views. For long-distance travel, it’s advisable to book tickets in advance.

You can search, compare, and book train tickets online before you leave home.

Taxi

Taxis in Nice are a practical, though pricier, transportation choice. They are available at taxi stands, airports, and train stations and can be booked in advance or hailed on the street.

The taxis operate with a metered system, and it’s advised to ensure the meter is running to avoid surprises with the fare. Payment can be made in cash or by credit card.

Taxis are ideal for direct transfers to the airport or for late-night travel. Ride-hailing services like Uber are also operational in Nice, offering an alternative to traditional taxis.​

We recommend visiting the tourism office at 5 Promenade des Anglais, alterantively next to the Nice-Ville train station. They can help you with your questions about transportation for day visits to surrounding villages and provide you with physical maps and timetables. 
Tourism office at Nice-Ville train station
Tourism office at Nice-Ville train station

Where to stay in Nice

If you’re planning a trip to Nice and looking for the perfect place to stay, you’re in luck! The city boasts a variety of wonderful hotels catering to different tastes and budgets. Here’s a list of some of the favorites that we recommend to cruise travelers like you:

  1. Boscolo Nice Hotel: This luxurious option offers a fitness center, rooftop terrace, and exceptional service. Located in the bustling heart of Nice, the Boscolo Nice Hotel & Spa combines classic elegance with modern amenities, offering guests a sophisticated stay. Indulge in the spa, savor gourmet cuisine at the on-site restaurant, and enjoy easy access to Nice’s many attractions. With its plush rooms, exceptional service, and prime location, the Boscolo Nice Hotel & Spa is perfect for cruise travelers seeking a luxury stay.
  2. Hotel Albert 1er: Discover the 3-star Hotel Albert 1er, a historic 1930s gem in Nice’s heart. This charming Riviera-style hotel near the old town blends history with comfort. Enjoy views of the sea and the gardens, steps from Promenade des Anglais and Place Masséna. Perfect for exploring the Old Town or shopping, the Hotel Albert 1er offers a memorable Nice experience.
  3. Hotel Le Grimaldi: Known for its beautiful decor and proximity to the beach and Cours Saleya Flower Market, the 4-star Hotel Grimaldi is a charming retreat in Nice’s Golden Square. Steps from the beach and Promenade des Anglais, this boutique hotel offers stunning views and easy access to local attractions. Combining traditional elegance with modern comforts, Hotel Grimaldi is the perfect base for your French Riviera getaway.
  4. Hotel La Villa Nice Victor Hugo: Explore the 3-star Hotel La Villa Nice Victor Hugo, set in the heart of Nice with a stunning stone facade. Near Place Masséna and the Promenade des Anglais, the hotel offers 47 elegantly designed rooms in gray and white, featuring bookcase headboards and Victor Hugo quotes. The spirit of the famous playwright enhances the tranquil ambiance. Enjoy amenities like a 24-hour bar and relaxing lounges, conveniently located within walking distance from the train station and a short tram ride to the airport.
  5. Hyatt Regency Nice Palais de la Méditerranée: Experience luxury at the 5-star Hyatt Regency Nice Palais de la Méditerranée, a historic gem on the Promenade des Anglais. Close to Nice airport, this beachfront hotel offers stunning Mediterranean Sea and city views. Enjoy 187 spacious rooms, including nine exquisite suites, with a terrace and pool or sea views. The perfect blend of comfort and elegance awaits in the French Riviera.
  6. La Scala Aston Hotel: Stay at La Scala Aston Hotel in Nice, perfectly located between the Old Town and Jean Medecin’s shopping area. This hotel blends modern amenities with convenience and is close to trams and a short stroll from Promenade des Anglais. It features 149 rooms and suites with views of Promenade Paillon and Place Massena, a delightful breakfast buffet, and a rooftop Moon Bar with a pool. Discover the L’Aston Club lounge bar and bright meeting rooms. Just 5 minutes from the beaches, it offers an ideal experience in the heart of the French Riviera.
  7. Le Meridien Nice: Le Meridien Nice, a 4-star hotel, offers French Riviera charm at No 1. Promenade des Anglais, close to the Old Town. This beachfront property features 318 rooms, including 15 suites with stunning Mediterranean views, echoing the 1960s glamour. Savor local cuisine at Latitude Bar, and relish rooftop dining at La Terrasse. The hotel also boasts an outdoor heated pool, making it a perfect blend of indulgence and elegance in Nice.
Click to see search, compare, and book recommended hotels in Villefranche and Nice.

The Iconic Negresco Hotel

For a truly iconic experience, consider the Negresco Hotel on the waterfront. This historic hotel is not just a place to stay; it’s a journey into the heart of French elegance and luxury.

The iconic Le Negresco hotel in Nice at night
The iconic Le Negresco Hotel in Nice at night

Over the years, the Negresco has hosted many celebrities, movie stars, and Royal visitors. If staying here stretches your budget (and it will!), you can still soak up its unique atmosphere by visiting for afternoon tea. It’s a great way to experience the grandeur of this legendary establishment without booking a room.

How to spend 3 days in Nice before your cruise

Day 1: Exploring the Heart of Nice

Ready for a fantastic day exploring the gems of Nice? Let’s embark on a leisurely stroll through this vibrant city, uncovering its treasures one step at a time.

Our journey begins in the bustling Place Masséna, where the city’s heart beats with vibrant energy. This colorful square is where Nice’s spirit truly shines. Feel the rhythm of the city as we soak in the lively atmosphere.

As we leave the square behind, walk on Avenue Jean Médecin. This shopping haven has something for everyone, with stores stretching along the avenue and tucked into charming side streets. Be sure to explore these little offshoots – they’re often where the best surprises are hidden!

Next up is Vieux Nice (Old Nice), a labyrinth of history and charm. Wander through these narrow streets, where every turn reveals a slice of Nice’s rich past and vibrant present.

In the heart of Old Nice stands the Cathedral Saint-Réparate de Nice, but in the 1600s. It is free to enter and has a stunning Baroque interior.

Then, it’s time for a scenic climb up Castle Hill. The views from here are absolutely worth the effort, offering breathtaking panoramas of the city and the sea. As we descend the other side, overlooking the picturesque Port Lympia, we’re in for a visual treat with a different perspective of Nice.

View of the Old Port of Nice, Port Lympia
View of the Old Port of Nice, Port Lympia

When walking around the port, don’t miss the opportunity to explore L’entrepôt, a great place for design enthusiasts. It offers designer goods at outlet prices, making it a must-visit for anyone looking to bring home a piece of Nice’s style.

Our path then leads us to the solemn War Memorial and the fun #ILoveNICE selfie spot – a perfect place to capture the memories of your day in Nice.

Walk back toward the center of the city to Place Garibaldi. This historic square is an ideal spot to relax and people-watch, blending old-world charm with a contemporary vibe.

If you have time, visit the Nice Theater and the Museum of Contemporary Arts, especially if you are an art enthusiast.

Finish the day with a walk along the iconic Promenade des Anglais. Feel the gentle sea breeze and enjoy the golden hues of the sunset. It’s the perfect, relaxing end to an exciting day exploring Nice.

The hop-on, hop-off buses are among the best ways to see any city if you would rather not walk and find your own way around. Buy a 24-hour ticket before you leave home.

Day 2: Eze Adventure

Embark on a journey to Eze, a medieval village perched high above the sea. Explore its glorious exotic gardens and enjoy breathtaking views that stretch to the horizon. This tucked-away mountain village is stunning. It is reachable by bus from Nice or train, followed by a one-hour hike on the famed Nietzsche Trail (Chemin de Nietzsche).

Arriving at Eze-sur-Mer at the bottom of the Nietzsche Path
Arriving at Eze-sur-Mer at the bottom of the Nietzsche Trail

Click here to learn about how we visited Eze and see the fantastic photos of our unforgettable day.

Day 3: Monaco Excursion

Experience the glamour of Monte Carlo, savor the local flavors in the Condamine Market District, and wander through the historic streets of Monaco’s old town, where every corner tells a story.

Casino in Monte Carlo
Casino in Monte Carlo

Read our article about visiting Monaco for the day here. Find out how to get there and where to start your day sightseeing so you don’t miss seeing the best of this magical principality.

How to get to Villefranche Cruise Port from Nice

To reach the port of Villefranche, you have the following options: 

Train

  1. Station: Use Gare de Nice-Ville for frequent services to Villefranche-sur-Mer.
  2. Route: Board a train towards Menton or Monaco.
  3. Stop: Get off at Villefranche-sur-Mer, a journey of about 10 minutes.
  4. To the Port: The station is a short walk to the port, manageable even with luggage.
Villefranche-sur-Mer train station sign
Villefranche-sur-Mer train station
Click to see search, compare, and book train tickets in Nice.

Taxi

  1. Booking: Ask your hotel concierge to book a taxi for you.
  2. Journey Time: Approximately 15-20 minutes, depending on traffic.
  3. Cost: A taxi journey typically costs around 45 euros.

Bus

  1. Bus Lines: Local buses run between Nice and Villefranche-sur-Mer.
  2. Bus Stop: Buses can be boarded at various stops in Nice.
  3. Journey Time: Expect a 20-30 minute bus ride, costing about 4 euros.
  4. Considerations: Buses may be crowded; consider luggage space.

Private Transfer

  1. Booking: Book a private transfer online before you leave home.
  2. Convenience: Personalized service, including luggage handling.
  3. Cost: More expensive than public transport but offers comfort and convenience. Expect to pay around 60 euros.
  4. Journey Time: Similar to a taxi, about 15-20 minutes.
Check Timetables: Verify train and bus schedules beforehand.
Traffic: Traffic in Nice can affect travel times, especially during peak season.
Walking to the Port: The walk from the train station to the port is straightforward.

Each mode of transport offers different benefits depending on your preferences, budget, and the amount of luggage.

Cruise Port Villefranche

All the large cruise ships use the cruise port in Villefranche. It is located 10 km east of Nice and is an easy train journey from the main train station, Nice Ville.

Cruise port Villefranche-sur-Mer
Cruise port Villefranche-sur-Mer

Nestled in a natural bay, the Villefranche Cruise Port is a tender port, and major cruise lines anchor their ships in the bay and use tender boats to get you on board. The cruise port is very close to the small town center, and everything is walkable.

If you are arriving at Villefranche train station from Nice, follow the stone steps down to the seafront towards the small port and take the walking path along the medieval sea wall for views across the bay.

Villefranche-sur-Mer train station
Villefranche-sur-Mer train station

At the end of the walk past the Welcome Hotel, follow the winding road up to and around the St. Elmo Citadel. Heading west, the town’s main street is just a short walk away.

Ideally, book a hotel for a night in Villefranche before you board your cruise ship. This way, you’ll have time to explore the town properly. The 4-star Welcome Hotel is an ideal location on the harbourfront. Every room has a balcony and sea view.

If you choose to arrive the same day as your cruise departs, and you have a few hours early before your boarding time, you’ll find plenty of cafes and restaurants to pass the time near the port where you can sit with your cruise luggage and enjoy the view.

Tipping etiquette

The culture of tipping in Nice is relaxed and discretionary. While service charges are typically included in restaurant and cafe bills, it is customary to leave a small extra amount as a token of appreciation for good service. This is usually around 5-10% of the total bill.

However, it’s important to note that tipping in Nice is not obligatory, and the level of gratuity you choose to leave is largely based on your satisfaction with the service.

For other services like taxis, rounding up the fare to the nearest euro is common among locals and tourists. In hotels, a small tip for housekeeping or the porter can be a nice gesture, but it’s not expected.

The culture in Nice embraces a more relaxed approach to tipping, reflecting the laid-back and friendly nature of the Mediterranean lifestyle.

Highlights of Nice

If you are lucky enough to have a cruise to look forward to, we recommend you enjoy traditional events such as the Nice Carnival in February or the Jazz Festival in July. You can sign up to be notified of upcoming events on the official Nice tourism website.

Meet the author: Sarah has created and booked hundreds of travel itineraries for thousands of customers during a career in the travel industry that spans 20 years. Having worked hand in hand with cruise lines, hotels, airlines and tour operators worldwide, she offers inspiring & detailed insights in the world of travel and tourism.

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