Thanks to the endless combinations of charming towns that you can visit in just a few days and its extensive public transportation network, the French Riviera has become one of the best places to visit without a car.
The public transportation in the South of France is so great that you can enjoy the same road trip itineraries for your French Riviera trip without renting a car. From trains to trams, there are several options to enjoy the different villages without driving, and in this post, I will unlock the secrets for a car-free adventure.
Let’s start covering the basics, shall we?
Do you need a car in the French Riviera?
You don’t need a car to explore the French Riviera. The region offers an extensive public transportation network, including trains, buses, and ferries, allowing you to effortlessly travel between its charming towns. Moreover, in most cases, if you are traveling during high season opting for public transportation will not only save you money but also time.
If you want to explore more about the costs of moving around with public transport I recommend you to read this article where I break down the French Riviera vacation cost from my last holidays there.
Is it worth renting a car in the South of France?
Renting a car in the South of France is only worth it if you are traveling for several days and want to reach off-the-beaten-path towns and beaches that are not well connected by train. It is also a good choice if you are traveling in a large group because the high costs of renting a car can be divided by the whole group.
Advantages of renting a car
- Flexibility: Having a car grants you the freedom to explore remote areas, off-the-beaten-path villages, and secluded beaches while enjoying scenic drives at your own pace.
- Convenience: with a car, you can easily transport your luggage and shopping bags, and you don’t have to move around to find your bus stop or the nearest train station.
- Multiple-day trips per day: combining different towns and beaches in one single day is much easier when having a car and will take you less time than using public transport.
Disadvantages of renting a car
- Traffic and Parking: During the peak tourist season, the Riviera can experience heavy traffic congestion, especially in popular cities like Nice, Cannes, and Monaco. Finding parking spaces, particularly in city centers, can also be a challenge.
- Cost: Unless traveling in a large group, renting a car, along with fuel expenses, tolls, and parking fees, can add up to your travel budget. Additionally, car rental companies may have strict policies regarding insurance coverage and additional charges.
- Limited Access in Old Towns: Some historic towns and villages in the French Riviera have narrow, winding streets that may not be accessible by car. In these areas, it is often more convenient to explore on foot.
When to consider renting a car in the French Riviera
There are sometimes when renting a car in the South of France simply makes sense, you can see some scenarios below to check whether it fits your travel plans:
- If you are traveling during winter, renting a car is a great choice because, since you won’t be going to the beach, you will be able to fit more towns and day trips in a single day, and having a car will be more convenient. Moreover, the crowds that make the traffic insane during spring and summer will be gone.
- Combining a rental car with public transportation will save you money and let you enjoy the best of both worlds. For example, if you are only staying in Nice for 3 days you could visit bigger cities that will take you an entire day such as Cannes and Monaco by train and rent a car for a day to explore smaller villages such as St Paul de Vence, Cagnes Sur Mer, and Antibes.
- If you are traveling with kids your car will serve as your own home with wheels. Depending on the season it might take you more time to reach your destination but commuting will be easier without having to move the kids around train stations and bus stops.
How do you get around the South of France without a car?
The extensive train network of the South of France connects major cities like Nice, Marseille, and Cannes, as well as smaller towns and villages along the coast and inland.
When it comes to exploring the South of France by train, the process is straightforward and traveler-friendly. The train system in the region is well-developed and efficient, offering seamless connections between various destinations.
To begin your train adventure, you can purchase tickets at train stations, either from manned ticket counters or automated machines. To skip lines at the station, It’s also possible to book tickets online through the official website of the French national rail service, SNCF, although in my experience there is no need to book trains days in advance.
In the South of France, the TER (Transport Express Régional) trains play a vital role in connecting different towns and villages within the region. TER trains provide a reliable and affordable way to navigate through the picturesque landscapes of Provence and the French Riviera. These trains are well-maintained and offer comfortable seating, making your journey a pleasant experience.
Major cities like Nice, Marseille, and Cannes serve as key transportation hubs, offering numerous connections to other destinations. For longer journeys or trips beyond the South of France, you can also find high-speed TGV trains available at select stations.
When planning your itinerary, it’s essential to check the train schedules, as frequencies may vary depending on the route and time of year. In general, you can expect every train to run every 30 minutes, but it might slow down during the winter months.
Below you can see some examples of train fares that you can expect:
- Nice – Villefranche Sur Mer: €2.10
- Nice – Monte Carlo: €4.40
- Cannes – Eze: €9.70
Something that is worth considering is that in French trains you pay for reaching a destination which means that if you buy a ticket from Nice to Cannes ahead of time but end up deciding to take the bus to Antibes first and explore the town, you can still board your original train from Antibes to Cannes using the same ticket. Essentially, you can hop on your train at a different location as long as you don’t board at a station located before your original departure point.
Getting around the South of France by bus is the cheapest way to explore the region’s diverse attractions. The bus network is well-developed, connecting major cities, towns, and even remote areas.
There are two prominent regional bus services that cater to different sides of the French Riviera: Lignes D’ Azur, which operates in the Alpes Maritimes Department (Cannes, Grasse, Antibes, Menton, Eze, etc), and Varlib Buses which operate on the Var region of the French Riviera (Saint Tropez, Saint Raphael, Hyeres, etc).
Lignes d’Azur buses
If you are staying in Nice, Cannes, or any other Alpes Maritimes Department you will be relying on the Lignes Azur bus system to move around.
A single-ride ticket costs as little as €1.50 and allows you to transfer between different buses for 74 minutes. However, if you are in a group you can buy multi 10 trip packs for €10.
Another option is to buy a 1-day pass that gives you unlimited rides for 24hs at a cost of €5, or a 7-day pass for €15. Honestly, I don’t recommend you to do this because most of the time buses take longer than trains so if you are on a budget but still want to save some time my advice is to commute to your destination by train and get back once you explored it by bus.
You can download the Nice Ticket app on IOs and the Lignes d’Azur app on Android to buy your tickets directly from the app and avoid having to use cash, it doesn’t matter if you are not traveling from/to Nice, the app will sell you a valid ticket for the Lignes Azur bus system. If you can’t download it don’t worry, there is always the option to buy the directly on the bus but it will be cash only.
TIP: If you buy your tickets through the app make sure to hit the VALIDATE button once you hop into the bus. There are a lot of officers randomly getting in and out of buses to check this and I have seen people who purchased their tickets but didn’t validate it getting a fine. Yes, it is really that strict!
The Varlib buses serve the Var region and neighboring towns with over 80 different lines.
Each journey costs €3 and you can buy the tickets by paying directly to the bus driver or at one of the town’s main stations, for example, the Saint Tropez bus station. With your ticket you also get the chance to make any changes that you need during 90 minutes.
Joining a tour
Joining a paid tour is an excellent option to explore the South of France without a car although it is the most expensive one (expect to pay between $70 and $150 US dollars per person).
However, the bright side of joining a tour is that a guide will walk you through the different towns of the French Riviera so you will have more chances to really get to know each place and even discover some off-the-beaten-path gems.
This is also a great choice for families with little kids or senior citizens since most of the tours will pick you up from your hotel.
I will leave you below some tour options that I think can help you with your itinerary:
- French Riviera in one day from Nice: in this 9-hour tour you will hop on a van and head to Eze, Monaco, Antibes, Saint Paul de Vence, and Cannes.
- Gorges of Verdon and Fields of Lavender Tour from Nice: this tour will take you up to Provence to enjoy the beautiful lavender fields and discover the he gorges of the Verdon, also known as the great canyons of Europe.
While Uber is known to be expensive on the French Riviera, a round trip from Nice to Cannes can cost you up to €140, it is a great option to complement public transportation and reach secluded spots.
For example, one of my favorite beaches in France, the Bay of Antibes Billionaires, is impossible to reach by public transport but if you could take a cheap train ride to Antibes and use Uber to get there from the station for as low as €15.
South of France itinerary without a car (7 days)
Cannes and Nice are the biggest and best-connected cities in the region so for this French Riviera itinerary by train, I have picked both towns as a base to explore the South of France.
While both Cannes and Nice offer a wide range of accommodation options, if you are on a budget I recommend you also check our article covering the cheapest places on the French Riviera.
Where to stay in Nice without a car
The best place to stay in Nice without a car is anywhere around Jean Medecine Avenue, especially if you are relying on public transport to move around the French Riviera.
This avenue is home to several local and international shops like Lafayette Galleries, HM, Zara, and more, and the Nice Ville train station is located less than 10 minutes away from it. Another good thing about staying here is that you walk to the Old Town of Nice and the Promenade Des Anglais beachfront in 15 minutes.
Where to stay in Cannes without a car
If you are traveling to Cannes without a car and want to stay in a central location the best place to book your accommodation is near the Old Town of Cannes, which is only a couple of blocks away from Canne’s main train station.
If you are looking for budget beach resorts, another great area is Cannes La Boca since you can find several beachfront apartment rentals with amenities that are blocks away from the Le Bosquet train station.
South of France 7-day itinerary by train
- Day 01: Arrive in Nice and explore the Old Town, Promenade des Anglais and soak the views of the city from the Castle Hill viewpoint.
- Day 02: Take a train ride to Monaco from Nice.
- Day 03: Hop on a bus early in the morning to Eze Village and explore Le Jardin Exotique. End your day on the beach at Plage D’Eze and get back to Nice by train.
- Day 04: Take a train ride to Villefranche Sur Mer for a morning at the beach. Have lunch in the town and take a bus to Saint Jean Cap Ferrat to visit Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
- Day 05: It is time to change your hotel! Move to Cannes for the second half of your trip. If you have time, make sure to take a ferry from the Port to the Sainte Marguerite Island.
- Day 06: Take a train to Antibes and have lunch with a view from one of its many waterfront restaurants.
- Day 07: Take a 30-minute train ride to Saint Raphael and explore the stunning medieval town. You can relax on one of its many beaches or take a €20 ferry ride to Saint Tropez to wander around the most glamorous town of the French Riviera.