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Discover The French Riviera in 3-Nights: The Best Travel Guide

Discover The French Riviera in 3-Nights: The Best Travel Guide

Looking for a short break to France but unsure where to go? This 3-night travel guide shows you the best things to do on a weekend getaway to the French Riviera.

The French Riviera is also known as the Cote D’Azur. It 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 3-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 the millionaire’s playground of Monaco, 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 some of the best places on the French Riviera 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

Three-Day French Riviera Itinerary Guide

Visit Monaco on the first day

Explore Nice on the second day

Discover Eze, Villa Ephrussi and Villefranche on the third day

Where to Stay in Nice

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

Best Places to Visit on the French Riviera

Day One – Visit Monaco

Monaco Castle View Point

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 out of Monaco train station, we made our way up 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 in the French Riviera
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 takes place daily at 11.55 am and is a great tradition to experience.

We have witnessed 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.

Sitting on cannonballs outside the Palace of Monaco in the French Riviera

How to lunch like a local in Monaco

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 from the palace gardens in the French Riviera

Visit Monaco Cathedral

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.

Monaco Cathedral in the French Riviera. Resting place of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace

Ater 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.

monaco

We carried 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.

Visiting the 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

Strolling 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 on display. Monaco is also often labelled as a tourist destination for the rich, but it can also be enjoyed on a budget, so don’t be put off visiting.

Discover the glitz and glamour of 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 either 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 out 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!

Outside the casino, as expected, luxury supercars lined the road with Rolls Royce, Ferrari and Lamborghini vehicles, all vying for the most attention from the public. It’s pretty full-on, and we half-expected to come face-to-face with James Bond!

You might never get the chance 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 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 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 some time for sunbathing (because, let’s face it, that is one of the reasons people come to the South of France), there are several guided walking tours in Nice you could book.

Stroll along La Promenade des Anglais

Our first stop was to head to the beach and stroll along Nice’s famous promenade – Le Promenade des Anglais.

Nice has always been one of the most beautiful towns in the South of France, and 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.

view of the promenade Anglais

Discover Nice’s street markets

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

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

Stop 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

Explore 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 rooftops of Nice in the French Riviera

The Views from Castle Hill

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

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 is the epitome of 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

Nice Cemetery

Named one of the most beautiful cemeteries in France, I think 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 feature some of the finest funerary monuments in Europe and are spectacular.

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

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

Nice Old Town

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 to 1699 and is constructed in a Baroque style; it has a high altar and many side chapels dedicated to different saints.

Eating out in Nice

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

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

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

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

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

It is filled with 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.

Finish your day with dinner at one of the many restaurants in Nice, or book a Nice sunset cruise on a solar-powered boat!

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

Eze Village

When researching for my French Riviera itinerary, the enchanting village of Eze was 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. For me, the mere mention of swashbuckling vagabonds turned it into something out of a fantasy and romance novel.

Of course, the pirates are no more; 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

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, and although a relatively new structure compared to others in the village, it is a focal point for the community.

Artisan Crafts and Cafes

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 its 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.

Experience the Natural Beauty of Le Jardin Exotique

Le Jardin Exotique is at the top of the village with views over the coastline and across to Cap de Ferrat and is one of the most beautiful gardens in Europe.

A nominal entrance to the gardens rewards you with Mediterranean cacti, fruit trees, other tropical plants, and a variety of 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.

Views and 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 while and absorbed all the history around us, and 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!

Chateau Eza in the village Eze on The French Riviera
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 the uniqueness of Eze was true, and on a sunny day in March, I couldn’t have imagined being anywhere else.

Helpful Information for visiting Eze

Getting to the Village of Eze

I caught a train from Nice to the station at 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 no. 82 bus that whisked me up to the village.

Another option is to take the 82 or 112 bus from Nice to the village. Remember that while 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.

There are restaurants and a tourist information centre at the base of the village, 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 be sure to 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.

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

If you are interested in visiting Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild after Eze, then the easiest option is to call an Uber from Eze to take you there. 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 in 1904 from Baron Maurice Ephrussi. 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 resulted in her being unable to conceive 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 within the gardens containing exotic animals. 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. There is a diverse range of planting, from flowers to cacti and palm trees to grasses.

Woman standing by a pond surrounded by trees

Dancing Fountains and 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 the sound of 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. If you head to the classical temple at the top of the French garden, it makes an enchanting point 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 and 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 had 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.

view of the 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 from 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: A car park is available at the property, and road access is by the lower cliff road.

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

Villefranche Harbour

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

Unbeknown to us, there are two ports, and they are 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 edge of the sea, to the seaside town of Villefranche, with its waterside, restaurants, and colourful buildings.

We sat by the sea and ordered crepes and coffee while watching 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 that takes you back to Nice or continues to Monaco is located just above the beach.

Fishing boats in the harbour at Villafranche on the French Riviera

Guided tours of the French Riviera

If you are not confident in getting around the French Riviera alone or are just 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 and so an accessible European city to visit for a weekend.

Please Pin for Future Travel to France

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 ๐Ÿ˜Š 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 ๐Ÿ˜ƒ