The Côte d’Azur is a length of coastline running along the French Mediterranean which is better known as the French Riviera to English speakers. Although it has no defined borders it is generally considered to run from around Saint-Tropez in the west as far as the Italian border in the east. Its role as a holiday resort dates back to the 18th century when wealthy English families were attracted by its mild winter climate. Some of Europe’s royal families and celebrities from around the globe soon followed suit creating the region’s reputation as a destination for the rich and famous. Popular resorts such as Cannes, Fréjus and Antibes became household names as the French Riviera became one of Europe’s elite holiday destinations.
Whilst retaining a certain air of exclusivity, especially in its yacht harbours, the Côte d’Azur has long been open for business to the general public as far as tourism is concerned. Nice Côte d’Azur Airport provides the main gateway to the region handling over 13 million passengers last year alone. The volume of cruise passengers visiting the South of France continues to grow as the number of ports welcoming cruise ships increases.
Nice is the largest city on the French Riviera with a population of around 350,000. It serves as a port of call for a number of smaller vessels whilst the neighbouring tender port of Villefranche-sur-Mer caters for larger vessels. Excellent transport facilities allow passengers to easily travel between the two port destinations. The city of Nice has plenty to offer the visitor during a day in port whilst the region itself is home to a wide variety of tourist attractions.
Port of Nice
Some smaller cruise ships visiting the Port of Nice dock at the Quai du Commerce which lies within 1.5km of the city’s Old Town and is accessible on foot or by means of the free shuttle buses provided by the port authority. A far greater number of cruise ships dock in the deep-water harbour of Villefranche-sur-Mer which lies over a hill just 5km east of the Quai du Commerce. Bus and train services between the two port sites is first class.
Transport from Nice Airport
Passengers who are beginning or ending cruises in Nice will almost certainly be travelling through Nice Côte d’Azur Airport which lies just 7km south-west of the Old Town of Nice. Work is underway to extend the tramway network so that there’s a direct connection from the airport to Place Masséna in the city centre but its completion is still a few years away.
Currently the best way to get into Nice by public transport is on one of the frequent airport express services. Bus number 98 goes to the Old Town whilst number 99 drops off at the main ‘Gare de Nice-Ville’ railway station. Both services pick up outside the two airport terminals.
The reputation of taxi drivers for overcharging new arrivals at the airport became so bad that local authorities have fixed the rate at €32 for transport between the terminals and the city. To avoid such unpleasantries cruise ship passengers would be well advised to pre-book a private transfer from Nice Airport to the port with Shuttledirect. Their vehicles are also available for transport to all other destinations along the Côte d’Azur.
Getting Around in Nice
Once you arrive in the Old Town it’s easy to get around most of the main sights on foot. Hiring a bicycle for a couple of hours is a popular way to see the full length of the Promenade des Anglais. Many cruise ship passengers enjoy a short trip on Le Petit Train de Nice which departs from the Promenade des Anglais travelling through the Old Town and to the top of Castle Hill. There is an overpriced hop-on, hop-off tourist bus which isn’t recommended as it cannot access many of the main sights tucked away in the Old Town.
The city’s excellent tramway system is a cheap and efficient way for visitors to get around the city. The 10-trip ticket includes bus services and is the best value option if you’re planning on zipping around the main sights on public transport. For travels further afield the Gare de Nice-Ville train station lies 2km north-west of the Old Town on Avenue Thiers. It provides frequent services to Monaco in the east and Cannes in the west together with all stations in between.
Main Tourist Attractions
The highlight of a day in the Port of Nice is a visit to the charming Old Town which is known locally as Vieux Nice. Lying west of the port this compact area is made up of narrow, cobbled streets lined with pastel coloured houses together with lively squares and busy open-air markets. There are also plenty attractive cafés and restaurants offering a welcome respite from sightseeing. The street called Cours Saleya is worth looking out for as it hosts a colourful daily flower market (except Mondays) and is home to some of the city’s finest eateries.
Amongst the many architectural attractions of the Old Town the 17th century Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate (3 Place Rossetti) deserves a special mention together with the impressive Opéra de Nice (4-6 Rue Saint-François de Paule). A notable attraction lying west of the Old Town is the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Nicholas (Avenue Nicolas II) which is considered to be one of the finest such buildings outside Russia itself.
Inside Tip: Highly recommended for lunch is the historic Chez Acchiardo (38 Rue Droite) in Vieux Nice which has been serving local specialities since 1927. Booking ahead is usually essential.
On the western edge of the Old Town lies the Place Masséna which is the city’s beautiful main square. It is home to a fine selection of café bars and restaurants. Just south of the square marks the beginning of the Promenade des Anglais which overlooks La Baie des Anges. Its name is derived from the wealthy English families who were amongst the first tourists to the French Riviera back in the 18th century. Some of these arranged for this 7km walkway to be built by a small army of beggars who had converged on the city from the north of France during a particularly severe winter. Today it serves as a focal point for tourists and residents alike who stroll or cycle along its length.
Insider Tip: A convenient place to enjoy a break from the city sights is amongst the greenery of Colline du Château (Castle Hill). This historic park lies just west of the port overlooking Vieux Nice. This is a lovely spot for a picnic or a light lunch at one of the cafés within the park’s grounds.
In a city blessed with more than its fair share of outstanding museums the standout venues include the Musée Matisse (164 Avenue des Arènes de Cimiez), the Musée Marc Chagall (36 Avenue Dr Ménard) and the MAMAC – Contemporary Art Museum (Place Yves Klein).
Shore Excursions Beyond Nice
A leisurely stroll through the Old Town and along the Promenade des Anglais with a visit to one of the city’s world-class museums is usually enough for most first time visitors to Nice. However, returning cruise ship passengers may prefer to head out of town to discover what other attractions lie along the Côte d’Azur.
Travelling by train from Gare de Nice-Ville (Avenue Thiers) is an ideal way to explore the coastline in both directions and is an economical way to avoid expensive shore excursions offered by cruise lines. Just 20km to the east lies the Principality of Monaco which is best known as a tax haven where some of the world’s wealthiest people have made home. The Monte Carlo Casino and Palace of the Grimaldi family are amongst its most famous attractions whilst its salubrious marina filled with mega-yachts appears on our TV screens every year during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix.
In the opposite direction from Nice train station is the world famous resort of Cannes which lies 32km away. The town is best known for its annual film festival which attracts some of the entertainment world’s biggest stars every May. Outside this month it’s a fairly relaxed destination where visitors wander along the La Croisette promenade admiring the sea views and belle époque mansions, many of which have been converted into upmarket hotels. With a few hours to spare, visitors should head into the cobbled streets of the old quarter which is known as ‘Le Suquet’. Formerly the residential area for local fishermen this charming part of town is now home to many cafés and restaurants which are an ideal choice for lunch before heading back to the train station for the return journey to Nice.
Lying just over the hill to the east of Nice is the charming resort of Villefranche-sur-Mer which also serves as the main port of call for cruise ships visiting the French Riviera. It is well worth a visit and can be reached by train from Gare de Nice-Ville in just 7 minutes. There are also frequent bus services between the two port destinations. Smaller and less accessible attractions of note which are probably best reached by means of private tours or official shore excursions include the medieval towns of Eze near Monaco and St. Paul de Vence which lies inland to the west of Nice.
About Shuttle Direct
Shuttle Direct is the most established and respected airport transfer provider in Europe and northern Africa. Our friendly local drivers will ensure your safe, economical, and convenient passage to and from the cruise terminal, airport, or major train station of your choice with a minimum of fuss. Book your transfer with our easy to use online booking system and leave the rest up to us!