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The Perfect French Riviera 3-Night Travel Guide

The Perfect French Riviera 3-Night Travel Guide

The French Riviera, also known as the Cote D’Azur, is a glamorous location in the South of France and a favourite with the international jet set.

This iconic coastline is only a 2-hour flight from the UK, making it the perfect 3-night getaway to France.

During my three nights on the French Riviera, I was based in Nice and visited Monaco, Eze, and Villefranche on day trips.

I used public transport to travel around, as the transport system is cheap and reliable.

I travelled to Monaco, the millionaire’s playground, the beachside town of Villefranche, and the hilltop village of Eze on the train from Nice in just under 30 minutes.

In this post, I highlight the best places on the French Riviera to see during your trip and useful travel tips to help you get around easily.

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Rooftop view of Nice showing the red terracotta roofs of the houses with the sea in the background

Table of Contents

What to do on the French Riviera in Three Days

  • Visit Monaco on the first day
  • Explore Nice on the second day
  • Discover Eze, Villa Ephrussi and Villefranche on the third day

Use Nice as your base on the French Riviera

My accommodation in Nice was the Hotel Victor Hugo, which I used as my base.

Nice has many accommodations to suit all budgets, from the famous luxury Hotel Le Negresco to apartments. Check out availability and pricing for Nice properties.

An aerial view of the promenade and coastline in Nice.

Day One – Visit Monaco

First stop of the day – Monaco Castle

We took the 30-minute train journey from Nice to Monaco for our first morning’s activities on the French Riviera.

We arrived in Monaco on time to watch the royal guards changing at 11.55 am.

Once we left Monaco train station, we climbed the steep hill to the Prince’s Palace to watch the ceremony.

Our ascent up to the Palace was on foot. By walking, we could stop at the castle viewpoint to take some stunning aerial photographs of Monaco and Port Hercules.

If you can’t manage the steep walk to the Palace, you can jump aboard the Monaco-hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus. There is also a cute tourist train that takes you around Monaco.

The view from Monaco castle looking out over the harbour and to the hills beyond.
Panoramic views of Monaco from the Castle viewpoint during the walk were sensational.

Watch the Changing of the Guards

Monaco’s changing of the Royal Guard occurs daily at 11.55 am and is a great tradition to experience.

We have witnessed the changing of the guards outside Buckingham Palace in London and Prague Castle in the Czech Republic and thought it would be a good idea to see it in Monaco. After all, who doesn’t love a bit of pomp and ceremony?

The ceremony is held in Palace Square, home to Monaco’s rulers for 700 years, and is a ritual that has remained the same for several centuries. On each side of the Palace, you will see strategically placed canons dating back to the 17th century.

Tours of Monaco’s Royal Palace are available, although if you are on a day trip, it will eat into your time.

Angie sitting on cannonballs outside the Palace of Monaco in the French Riviera.

Lunch like a local in Monaco without breaking the bank!

Near the Palace, narrow alleyways are lined with pastel-coloured buildings housing restaurants and shops; however, the prices make your eyes water.

Take my tip and buy a typical French Croque Monsieur or baguette and fruit from one of the food stalls near the Palace and head to Jardin St. Martin.

The garden is laid out in a series of pathways on the southwest face of the Rock of Monaco; we found a bench overlooking the harbour and ate lunch there; it was a fabulous complimentary view of the harbour and, of course, the megayachts!

The views across Monaco Harbour with yachts and hillside buildings.

Go inside Monaco Cathedral – the burial place of the Royals

Monaco Cathedral, also known as St Nicholas Cathedral, is near the gardens. It was erected in 1875 on Monaco’s first parish church site, which dates back to 1252.

It is the final resting place of the Grimaldi Royal family, most recently Princess Grace Kelly and King Rainier III.

The Cathedral is beautiful both inside and out and is a Monaco landmark. It is one of Monaco’s must-see attractions when in town. Entry is free to all, with donations accepted.

The white bricked Monaco Cathedral in the French Riviera.

After visiting the Cathedral, we wandered through the gardens, admiring the flowers, views of the sea, and the many statues and artworks placed within the foliage.

It is a very peaceful place to take a moment for yourself, read a book, or escape from the hustle and bustle of central Monaco.

Garden area with palm trees and mature trees with terracotta steps leading between them.

We continued walking along the coastline past Monaco’s famous Oceanographic Museum and back to the town.

It’s a long walk down, so if you can’t face it, you can use Monaco’s hop-on-hop-off bus or choose one of the previously mentioned options.

See the famous Monaco Grand Prix Circuit

At the bottom of the hill, we saw a statue marking the five-time Grand Prix champion, Juan Manuel Fangio, watched over by the Prince’s Palace.

It sits on an intersection used during the Grand Prix when Monaco’s streets become one massive racecourse. If you want to get a photograph of it, pay attention to the traffic around you.

Watching the Grand Prix on television will be even more exciting now that we’ve been to Monaco.

A Grand Prix racing car monument located on the Grand Prix circuit in Monaco, French Riviera.

Stroll along Monaco’s Promenade

Monaco’s main promenade wraps around the harbour, which showcases the luxury boats and superyachts for which Monaco is famous.

Monaco has the most millionaires per head in Europe, so you can understand why so many yachts are in the harbour. Monaco is often labelled a tourist destination for the rich, but it can also be enjoyed on a budget, so don’t be put off visiting.

Try your luck at the Monte Carlo Casino

A visit to the Monte Carlo casino is one of the best things to do in Monaco for fun.

Constructed in 1863, the casino’s decadent architecture is in the Art-Nouveau style with stained glass, sculptures, and a gold and marble atrium.  

Visitors can gamble in the slot machine area, a minimum bet of a euro, or in the more private ‘tables” area, which demands a higher stake. We bet on the slots for fun and came away only a few euros out of pocket.

Casual attire is accepted, so don’t be put off if you have been sightseeing all day and think you aren’t dressed up enough for entry. On our afternoon visit, the door attendants didn’t seem to care that we wore trainers and shorts. I guess the more spenders they have through their doors, the better!

As expected, luxury supercars lined the road outside the casino, including Rolls Royce, Ferrari, and Lamborghini vehicles, all vying for the most attention from the public. It’s a hectic area, and we half-expected to come face-to-face with James Bond!

You might never get to own a supercar, but if you fancy a spin in a Ferrari, book a supercar driving experience and fulfil your dreams while on the French Riviera.

The marbled art deco interior of the Monte Carlo Casino, Monaco on the French Riviera.

Monaco is a beautiful country, full of wealth and charm. It was small enough to get around in one day without feeling rushed, and we saw everything we wanted.

If you would prefer to join a guided tour from Nice to Monaco, there are some great ones available:

Day Two – Explore Nice

Waking up at the Hotel Victor Hugo to see the blue skies and sunshine was the perfect way to start our three days on the French Riviera.

We decided that today was all about exploring Nice, and as it is a compact, walkable town, it is easy to see the most popular sights in one day.

However, if you are short on time and want to spend some time sunbathing (because let’s face it, that is one of the reasons people come to the South of France), you could book several guided walking tours in Nice.

First things first – stroll along La Promenade des Anglais

Our first stop was the beach, where we strolled along Nice’s famous promenade, Le Promenade des Anglais.

Nice has always been one of the most beautiful towns in the South of France. In the 18th century, the English aristocracy spent their winters in this seaside location.

Over time, the English proposed that any beggars arriving in town should be made to work on constructing a seafront walkway.

On completion, it was named “Le Promenade des Anglais” translated as “English Walk”, and stretches as far as the eye can see, with the ocean on one side and hotels and restaurants lining the other.

Angie in a pink jacket and white scarf standing on a balcony with the view of the Le Promenade des Anglais behind her.

Have a stroll around the local street markets

If you enjoy markets, one runs daily selling flowers and local produce in Cours Selaya.

On Mondays, it becomes an antique market; in summer evenings, there is also an arts and crafts market.

It might be tacky, but get a photo by the iconic I Love Nice sign

Stop by the “I LOVE NICE” sign before heading to Castle Hill. Take a photo and enjoy the view out to sea.

The I Love Nice sign on La Promenade des Anglais in Nice, French Riviera.

Next – make your way up the steep stairs to Castle Hill

We felt slightly deflated as we looked up at the number of stairs we had to climb. It was a hot day, and we could see people stopping for breath on the way up.

We spotted a door shutter in the rock’s corner near the Hotel Suisse. On inspection, we found it was a free elevator that took you to the top and with spirits raised, we boarded and were soon on Castle Hill admiring the views over the town.

Looking down from Castle Hill across the terracotta rooftops of Nice.

Enjoy stunning views from the top of Castle Hill

Colline du Chateau (Castle Hill) was the city’s original site, but the castle is no longer at the top. In 1706, the soldiers of French King Louis XIV entirely dismantled the citadel.

Even without it, the hill offers unparalleled views across the city to the sea and is a quiet place to spend a few hours. Enjoy wandering along the pathways and stop for a snack at the café during high season.

Views over the harbour are impressive. The French Riviera epitomises wealth and glamour, and you can spot luxury yachts all around.

We imagined what it must be like to own one and vowed to buy a lottery ticket once we got home.

The view from Castle Hill of Nice Marina with a super yacht anchored in the middle of it, The French Riviera.

Stroll around Nice Cemetery

Named one of the most beautiful cemeteries in France, Cimetière du Château is a serene place to wander around and pay your respects to those who have passed.

While it’s not everyone’s choice of somewhere to visit while on the French Riviera, I love the solace of a cemetery and find reading epitaphs and seeing how far back they date so interesting.

The oldest tombs are spectacular and feature some of the finest funerary monuments in Europe.

In 1783, a Christian cemetery was created in place of Nice’s old citadel after new laws prohibited burials inside churches.

A Jewish cemetery was erected next to the Christian one, replacing the one used since the Middle Ages in central Nice.

There is also an area for non-Catholics, created in 1845.

The Cimetière du Château in Nice on the French Riviera

Don’t miss the historic part of Nice

Leave the cemetery and follow the pathway down to the old town, where you will find colourful houses lining cobbled streets, restaurants and, for some unknown reason, many ice cream shops!

Place Rosetti, the central square, is overlooked by Nice Cathedral, known as Cathedrale Sainte-Reparate. It dates back to 1699 and was constructed in the Baroque style; it has a high altar and many side chapels dedicated to different saints.

Narrow street lined with yellow and green buildings with a church at the end.

Stop for a break and something to eat in Nice

A host of pizza and pasta restaurants lined the streets, but we wanted something more traditional. Even with Google’s assistance, it was a struggle to find anything not aimed at mass tourism!

We finally found a tapas bar in one of the converted fishermen’s buildings that line the area by Cours Saleya. The tapas were great, and we followed them with a giant macaroon filled with ice cream for dessert.

See the pastel-coloured facade of the 19th-century Opera de Nice

At the end of our day in Nice, we passed by to admire the Opera House. It is a magnificent building dating back to 1885 and hosts operas, ballets and classical concerts.

In 1776 a privately owned wooden theatre occupied this site, but in 1826 the city of Nice bought it and set about rebuilding a brand new theatre. A fire raised it to the ground in 1881, claiming 200 lives, after which the present Opera House took its place.

A monument to those that were lost is in the Cimetière du Château, which we had visited earlier in the day.

The Opera Hall in Nice on the French Riviera.

See a modern part of Nice at Place Massena

We discovered Place Massena, the city’s focal point in the newer part of Nice. Its centrepiece is a beautiful fountain, Fontaine du Soleil (Fountain of the Sun).

Close by is the largest green urban space in the city, Promenade du Paillon.

It has fountains, a children’s play area, sculptures, and informal garden spaces for Nice’s residents and visitors to enjoy. It’s a nice place to grab a drink and people-watch.

Orange painted buildings beside a pond with palm trees.

Finish your day with dinner at one of the many restaurants in Nice, or book a Nice sunset cruise.

You may also be interested in some other day tours from Nice that you could add to your travel itinerary.

Day Three – Discover Eze, Villa Ephrussi and Villefranche

First stop – explore the fairytale village of Eze

When researching my French Riviera itinerary, I found the enchanting village of Eze to be the place that excited me the most. Sounding almost ethereal, this 12th-century medieval village perched on top of a rocky outcrop looked like something from a fairytale.

The Romans and Moors had built it in this strategic location to detect pirates who raided the country. The mere mention of swashbuckling vagabonds turned it into something out of a fantasy and romance novel.

Of course, the pirates are no longer there, and over the centuries, it has become a quaint and attractive place to live and work. But could it live up to my grand expectations?

a narrow cobbled street in Eze leading to a green door.

My plan to arrive early in the morning had worked as I had the place to myself rather than having to share it with other visitors. Arriving at 10.30 am, I wandered up the steep ramparts and entered the labyrinth of cobbled alleyways, only accessible by foot.

Wrought-iron street lamps, pastel shutters, and flowering trees made everywhere feel magical, and I could imagine what living here must have been like all those centuries ago.

The church of Eze, built in the 18th century, stands proudly amongst the narrow pathways. Although it’s a relatively new structure compared to others in the village, it is a focal point for the community.

Angie leaning against a stone wall underneath an orange tree.

Admire the artisan craft shops

It has a calm feeling and lots of nooks and crannies to explore.

Turn a corner and find one of the many small galleries displaying original artworks. Enter through an archway and find an artisan shop selling unique creations.

Head up steep stone steps and arrive at a cafe covered with rambling bougainvillaea. There is no end to Eze’s beauty, and the charm and tiny wooden doors leave you wondering who lives inside.

Courtyards offer the serenity to sit, gather your thoughts and absorb your surroundings.

White blossom tree growing in an area surrounded by stone buildings.
Chirs and a table in a shaded courtyard area.

Experience the natural beauty of Le Jardin Exotique

Le Jardin Exotique is at the top of the village, with coastline views of Cap de Ferrat. It is one of the most beautiful gardens in Europe.

The garden has a small entrance fee to see Mediterranean cacti, fruit trees, other tropical plants, and various local species.

Sculptures around the pathways take your eye away from the glorious views for long enough to appreciate them before returning your gaze to the mesmerising panorama.

Cacti plants in a rocky area overlooking the sea.

Stop for refreshments at the Chateau Eza Hotel

Before I left Eze, I stopped for a drink at the five* hotel Chateau Eza; I had been told that the French Riviera’s view from the balcony was spectacular and how right that advice had been.

I relaxed with a glass of chilled wine and absorbed all the history around us. If the walls could talk, they would have a story to tell.

Of course, enjoying a setting like that does not come cheaply, but guess what? I didn’t care because it was an experience worth the expense.

I would love to stay at the Chateau Eza Hotel one day, with its unbeatable view of the French Riviera from its balconies and magnificent restaurant and have it on my bucket list. One can dream!

Entrance to Chateau Eza Hotel.
Balconies in the Eza Hotel.

When it was time for me to leave Eze, I was genuinely sad, and I could have happily wandered around the village again as I am sure I would have seen something I had missed the first time.

Everything I had read about Eze’s uniqueness was true, and on a sunny day in March, I couldn’t have imagined being anywhere else.

Getting to the village of Eze

I caught a train from Nice to Eze-sur-Mer station, which is a 15-minute journey. When I came out of the station, the bus stop was steps away, and I hopped on the bus no. 82, which whisked me up to the village.

Another option is to take the 82 or 112 bus from Nice to the village. Remember that although the views will be breathtaking, the bus will take longer than the train. The 82 bus runs on a reduced schedule on public holidays and weekends.

At the village’s base, there are restaurants and a tourist information centre, and a visit to the Fragonard Perfume Shop was delightful. I returned home with a bottle of “Pivoine” peony scent as a memory of my visit to Eze.

The sloped walk from the car park is uneven and slippery, as is much of Eze, so wear flat shoes with a grip to prevent accidents.

Combined tickets from either property are available for the Jardin Exotique and Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild.

A joint visit to Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

If you are interested in visiting Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild after Eze, the easiest option is to call an Uber from Eze. Otherwise, it can be tricky to get to, and you must use several buses.

This beautiful villa was constructed between 1905 and 1912 for Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild following her divorce from Baron Maurice Ephrussi in 1904. It took seven years to complete due to Beatrice’s ever-changing demands on how she wanted it to look.

Maurice Ephrussi, 15 years her senior, gambled away his wealth and passed an illness on to the Baroness.

This illness prevented her from conceiving a child, and in 1904, a year before the villa’s construction, they divorced. When her father, of the Rothschild banking dynasty, died in 1905, he left her his fortune, which enabled her to start constructing the villa.

Beatrice created a private zoo with exotic animals in the gardens. She used the villa until the 1930s, after which she bequeathed it to the Institute of France as a fine art museum.

Today, the villa emits a happy and carefree vibe with its pink and white facade, ponds, fountains and well-kept gardens. Pathways meander around the property, allowing 360-degree views of the coastline.

Inspired by Beatrice’s travels, nine different gardens give the garden colour and interest. The plantings range from flowers to cacti and palm trees to grasses.

Angie standing by a pond surrounded by trees.
Green roofed building with view of the sea in the background.

See the dancing fountains and manicured gardens 

A highlight of the visit is to see the magical water fountains in the French garden come alive.

Every twenty minutes, they dance to classical music, and the backdrop of the pastel-pink villa almost makes you want to twirl your way around the gardens.

It is such a pretty and photogenic place to visit that you won’t want to leave. The classical temple at the top of the French garden makes an enchanting point from which to view the Villa Ephrussi.

Dancing water fountains.

Before you look around the villa, you can enjoy lunch and refreshments in Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild’s dining room.

The delicious food and the unrestricted view of the Bay of Villefranche are fabulous. If you are lucky enough to get an inside window seat, you will be the envy of all. In the summer months, enjoy refreshments on the terrace underneath the orange trees.

Inside the villa, you can admire the artwork, including furniture, tapestries, and porcelain, that the Baroness collected over her lifetime.

Wander through her private quarters and imagine what it would have been like to live there.

Head to the upstairs balcony, look out over the gardens and water features and take away memories of your visit to the beautiful Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild.

manicured gardens at Villa Ephrussi.
View of the garden at Villa Ephrussi

Helpful Information for visiting Villa Ephrussi

Opening hours of Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

Gardens are open 365 days a year.

The daily opening times are from 10 am. Closing time is 6 pm, apart from the long summer months of July and August when they shut at 7 pm.

In the winter months of November through to January, it opens for the shorter hours of 2 pm until 6 pm.

The tea rooms are open from 2 pm to 6 pm Monday to Friday and from 11 am to 5.30 pm on weekends and bank holidays.

The last admission is 30 minutes before closing time.

Getting to Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

It is located 10 kilometres from Nice and Monaco.

By Train: The nearest station is Beaulieu-Sur-Mer, after which a taxi would be the easiest option.

By Car: The property has a car park, and road access is via the lower cliff road.

If arriving from the hillside village of Eze, a taxi would be advisable, as public transport makes the route complicated.

Next stop – Villefranche Harbour

From Villa Ephrussi, we called an Uber, which dropped us at the working port in Villefranche.

We didn’t realise there were two ports, and they were near to each other.

Being dropped off at the wrong port didn’t cause a problem as it is only a short walk around the sea’s edge to the seaside town of Villefranche, with its waterside, restaurants, and colourful buildings.

We sat by the water, ordered crepes and coffee, and watched the small fishing boats bobbing up and down on the water.

Villefranche has a beach, but as we travelled in March, the weather wasn’t warm enough for us to use it.

The summer months are very different, with locals and tourists spilling onto the beaches of the French Riviera.

The train station at Villefranche, which takes you back to Nice or continues to Monaco, is located just above the beach.

Blue and white fishing boats in the harbour.

Guided tours of the French Riviera

If you are not confident in getting around the French Riviera alone or are short on time, plenty of French Riviera guided tours will take you to most of the places mentioned in this travel guide.

My honest opinion of The French Riviera

What month did I travel? March

How was the weather? It was sunny and pleasantly warm.

Would I recommend the hotel? Yes. La Villa Victor Hugo was a perfect base in Nice for everywhere we wanted to visit.  

It is a boutique hotel with a quirky interior. The hotel staff were friendly, and our room was a decent size with an all-important comfortable bed. The breakfast was good.

Would I recommend three nights on the French Riviera?  

Most definitely. I loved the architecture, colours of the buildings, coastline, views and the ease of using the train to get around.  

The flight is under 2 hours from the UK, so it is an accessible European city you can visit for a weekend.

Please Pin for Future Travel to France

Do you need to arrange travel insurance, car hire or accommodation? Please check out my resources page to help you plan your trip.

Are you looking for further French travel inspiration? Please check out the following posts:

Annalisa Fran

Saturday 25th of January 2020

Great itinerary for the French Riviera! It's a bit out of my budget for now, but I hope to be able to take this road trip from Italy next year!

WhereAngieWanders

Saturday 25th of January 2020

We got great deals on flights and hotels but the pound against the euro is so weak that eating out proved very expensive.

Fae Celine Ong

Saturday 25th of January 2020

Monaco is on my bucketlist. Your photos are really beautiful, I love all the colorful vibes. Your photos makes me want to visit there

WhereAngieWanders

Saturday 25th of January 2020

I hope you get there one day.

Yukti

Friday 24th of January 2020

French Rivera is on my wishlist as there are so many colorful and quaint towns. I loved the stunning view from Monaco castle viewpoint. You have taken stunning photos.

WhereAngieWanders

Friday 24th of January 2020

Thank you Yukti, the view of the harbour from up there was stunning.

Jenn | By land and sea

Friday 24th of January 2020

It's been years since I first visited Monaco and the French Riviera. This is one of the most luxurious places - I love how well you've captured the area!

WhereAngieWanders

Friday 24th of January 2020

Thank you 😊 I loved it there. Going back in March to Cannes and St Tropez to compare the two areas.

Becki

Friday 24th of January 2020

So I'm reading through your article in a bit of a mesmerised daze. The stunning castle in Monaco, the harbour, the pretty lanes in Nice. This is all quintessentially all the best bits of the French riviera. I could quite happily visualise myself sat in all these places sipping a glass of vino.

WhereAngieWanders

Friday 24th of January 2020

It is such a beautiful coastline and yes a cold crisp glass of wine by the harbour is a must 😃