This post's overview:
- 1 French Riviera in 3 days: is that enough?
- 2 Our French Riviera 3-day itinerary
- 3 Day 1. Exploring Nice, the Southern gem of France
- 4 Day 2. Nice and St. Tropez. Cannes at night
- 5 Day 3: Visiting Monaco and St. Paul de Vence in from Nice
- 6 Back in Nice. Rental car accident
- 7 Summary: 3 days in French Riviera
- 8 Some other posts you might like:
Visiting French Riviera was definitely one of the best experiences one could imagine. Even in 3 days in French Riviera, we managed to hire a car and do a road trip visiting Nice, Cannes, St. Tropez, Monaco and even St. Paul de Vence! This itinerary would work for you if you have 3 to 4 days in French Riviera (Cote D’Azur).
French Riviera in 3 days: is that enough?
Well, at first, I was very sceptical about our upcoming trip to French Riviera, since I wasn’t convinced, that we could see enough in just 3 days in French Riviera. Cote D’Azur is marvellous and people are usually coming there for at least 2 weeks (or the whole summer if they are lucky enough).
But well, now I can say that I’m very satisfied with our trip and wouldn’t change pretty much anything in it. So French Riviera in 3 days was just enough for us and I would love to share with you our itinerary. In our other trips to France, we also visited Marseille, which I would also recommend. If you have more time to spend in French Riviera, you can drive to Marseille as well and try some amazing seafood there. Read my post about exploring Marseille and amazing Calanques nearby.
Where to stay during a trip to French Riviera?
Since our Cote D’Azur trip was relatively short, we decided to make Nice our base and spend all our nights there. If you’re looking for great affordable hotels in Nice, consider Hotel 66 Nice or NH Nice. If you have a bigger budget, Boscolo Exedra Nice (Authograph Collection) or Hotel Negresco are both amazing options!
What to pack for a trip to French Riviera?
If you’re coming to French Riviera from a different continent, you most likely are wondering, what to pack for a trip to French Riviera. Well, even though it’s a very warm destination, South of France also has seasons and you will need different clothes for different seasons.
Summer: In summer, it’s likely to be very hot in French Riviera, so I recommend bringing a large straw hat, light dresses/ jumpsuits and a pair of comfortable sandals for walking.
Autumn: early autumn is very similar to summer, however, later, you will definitely need to bring a couple of cardigans, long trousers and a light jacket. For colder nights, I recommend bringing a warm scarf.
Winter: even though I featured French Riviera as one of the top 7 warm winter destinations in Europe, it’s nowhere as warm as Miami, for example. Expect 12C or 53 F or so and try to dress accordingly. I would recommend a warm waterproof parka, a couple of sweaters and a good pair of warm shoes.
Spring: in Spring, French Riviera is wonderful. Starting in April, there are plenty of warm and sunny days, not warm enough for swimming, but warm enough for wearing T-shirts. However, don’t forget to bring a windbreaker for colder days.
How about travel insurance?
If you’re looking for good travel insurance for your trip to France, consider getting Visitors Coverage!
Do you need a car to explore French Riviera?
This itinerary is based on renting a car for a trip to French Riviera, however, it’s possible to see most of these places without hiring a car! Transport in France is really good, so you can get around by trains and buses. However, some places like St. Paul de Vence require a bit of extra planning, as it’s a bit harder to get there using just public transport.
If you’re not planning to rent a car for your 3-day trip to French Riviera, I recommend using Omio to look for trains and buses in France!
Our French Riviera 3-day itinerary
Day 1. Exploring Nice, the Southern gem of France
Once we arrived at the airport in Nice, we hired a car from Avis. Nowadays, we almost always book with Avis through rentalcars.com due to their cheap full insurance. After our incident in France, we always book rental cars with full insurance, when it’s available.
Driving in Nice isn’t complicated as long as you have a phone with Google maps and 4G. We arrived at our lovely apartment (since we booked last moment, pretty much all the nice and affordable hotels were gone). As it was my birthday, went to the city centre to walk and wait for amazing dinner. However, if you have a bigger budget, I recommend you to stay in a hotel with parking included.
I must admit, that at first, I was a bit disappointed by Nice. We went to Gare (Railway Station) in order to find the nearest money exchange office and this part of the city looked quite dirty. Moreover, it wasn’t possible to eat anywhere. It was around 4:40 pm and the service in the restaurants stopped.
Tip: In case you want to eat around 4-6 pm, look for a restaurant in advance! Some spots in the city centre don’t stop their service, but most of the places do. Alternatively, you can eat fast food or sandwich (those places are always open).
We took a tram to the city centre in order to walk around & try to find something to eat. Finding a place in the city centre was much easier, so we grabbed a piece of a «french pizza» and continued walking.
Best tours to take in Nice
If you’re interested in learning more about history of Nice or simply would like a guide to tell you a bit more about Nice and the South of France in general, consider taking one of these tours:
Cultural Nice walking tour – check prices and availability here >
Nice tour by Segway in case you don’t like walking too much
1-hour sightseeing tour by boat – absolutely amazing in summer
Where to have seafood for dinner in Nice
Later at night, we arrived at the Cafe de Turin (it’s one of the best places for Seafood in Nice AND it doesn’t accept reservations) for my birthday dinner. I would definitely recommend Cafe de Turin to everybody. We ordered a set of oysters & seafood for 50 euros and it was huge and delicious. Just look at this magical set:
Day 2. Nice and St. Tropez. Cannes at night
On the next day, we decided to see more of Nice: we went to the Promenade des Anglais and enjoyed the sunny weather while walking on the beach.
Finding where to park near the beach wasn’t hard at all: there are plenty of underground parking lots and they even allow you to leave your car for free for 1 hour.
Is Nice worth visiting? Yes, totally! The city is beautiful and the weather there is amazing, so it’s an amazing starting point of the 3-day itinerary around French Riviera. It’s very convenient to stay in Nice, if you’re planning to do a road trip around the French Riviera, because of the convenient location of Nice!
Nice to St. Tropez – how to get there
The highway to St. Tropez has some pay tolls, so the total cost of going to St. Tropez from Nice is around 6 euros (maybe a bit more if you stay on the highway a bit longer). Because of some heavy traffic in different parts of the route, getting from Nice to St. Tropez took us longer than expected: around 2 hours. But it was totally worth it.
In case you would like to visit St. Tropez by public transport, I’ve heard that there is a boat that goes there and costs around 70 EUR per person. Alternatively, you can book a day tour that brings you to St. Tropez and other areas nearby. You can check prices and availability here >>
Wondering what St. Tropez is like?
St. Tropez is a very cosy small Mediterranean town with plenty of seaside restaurants, expensive yachts in front of them and souvenir shops selling posh white clothes.
Even though a lunch in St. Tropez is probably going to be quite expensive (around 60 euros for 2 people), you can always stay on a budget in Cote D’Azur (yes, that’s possible) by ordering a buckwheat crêpe, stopping by an ice-cream cafe or some cake shop.
The most enjoyable activity in St. Tropez is walking around the town and enjoying it. Unfortunately, we haven’t been there in the evening to check out the nightlife, so I cannot tell you anything about famous posh lounges and bars in one of the most luxurious places in French Riviera. If you ask whether St. Tropez is worth visiting, I’d say YES right away. But if I had to choose between St. Tropez or Nice, I would probably choose to stay in Nice, as it’s closer to the airport and it’s definitely way easier to discover French Riviera in 3 days from Nice vs St. Tropez.
Is St. Tropez expensive? Yes, it is. In order to have a nice lunch, you will probably need to spend at least 50-70 euros and that’s quite a lot. Hotels in St. Tropez are also quite expensive, so staying in St. Tropez during a road trip around the Cote D’Azur is probably not the best idea.
How to get to Cannes?
Getting to Cannes from St. Tropez without a car might be a bit problematic, however, it’s easy to get there from Nice. Cannes is very close to Nice, so you can just grab a public bus number 200 and you’ll be there in about 40 minutes. It costs less than 3 euros as well, which is a bargain
What is Cannes like?
When we arrived at Cannes, it was already getting dark. The situation with the parking lots in Cannes is the same as in Nice: there are plenty of them just near the coast. So we left the car and went for the evening stroll along the promenade. Cannes impressed me even more than Nice because the city is somehow …posher. That can be seen pretty much in everything: gorgeous buildings on the seafront, fancy restaurant and rich guests (or maybe residents) of the city.
When it was already very dark and started raining, we hid in one of the seafood restaurants, offering dinner menus for 25 euros per person. The dinner wasn’t bad, though incomparable with Cafe de Turin in Nice.
I spotted an interesting thing in Cote D’Azur: people have the dinner a bit late! Most of the restaurants only open around 7-7:30 but start getting full only around 9 pm. At 11:00 pm, you still can find many restaurants serving food (unlike smaller cities in the UK, for example, where food is rarely served after 9pm).
Is Cannes worth visiting? Totally! Make sure to add Cannes to your French Riviera road trip! I wouldn’t take it out of our French Riviera itinerary. I loved the place and would like to return there for a couple of days in summer.
Day 3: Visiting Monaco and St. Paul de Vence in from Nice
Getting to Monaco from Nice
If you’re planning to visit Monaco, you can easily get there by public transport (train). You can check the prices on Omio. Alternatively, you can also buy a tour that brings you to Eze and Monaco for a day.
In our case, since we already hired a car, we decided to drive.We took the famous scenic route of the road trip around the French Riviera (not the A8 highway, even though it’s way faster) and couldn’t miss the opportunity to stop and take plenty pictures of Nice from the top of the hill.
We passed Eze, a nice French village with a church on top of the hill and many religious shops and drove directly to Monaco, where we were looking for a parking for a while (trying to find the closest one to the city centre). We wanted to visit Eze, but when visiting French Riviera in 3 days, there’s no time to see everything. Since Monaco is full of underground tunnels, understanding where exactly the city centre was, was quite challenging. In the end, we just left the car at the only parking lot we could find (and it turned out to be quite centric – the exit of it led directly to the Japanese Garden with Koi fishes.
A few hours in Monaco
After seeing the Japanese Garden in Monaco, we went to the Casino in Monte Carlo. It is possible to get inside if you’re dressed properly but it’s strictly prohibited to take any photos. It is also possible to gamble if you want (also, if you follow the dress code). Just in front of the Casino Monte Carlo there is this famous Cafe de Paris (in case you want to dine, you get seated in the fancy part but if you only want to enjoy a coffee and a cake, you need to sit in a separate part of the cafe (where the waiters aren’t really too friendly at all) and 99% of the seats were taken. It was difficult to get a spot, so we decided not to go to the Cafe de Paris in Monte Carlo.
There is not much to do in Monaco besides fancy restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. There is a promenade leading to the beach. Monaco is tiny and it’s pretty densely populated. However, since there no uniform style in which buildings in the “city centre” are built, it doesn’t look very harmonic, so the city panorama isn’t very impressive.
Overall, as you might have sensed from the way I described Monaco, it wasn’t our favourite location of the trip and we even felt a bit disappointed. I guess, we had very high expectations and thought Monaco would look completely different.
When we left Monaco, it was already around 4 pm and our initial plan of going to Genova had to be replaced with some closer town in France. We’ve seen enough of coastal towns within the last two days, so we wanted something different for a change. So after a crazy town-search on Pepe’s iPhone, we found something worth visiting: Saint Paul de Vence. Honestly, I’ve never heard of this town before, but it looked absolutely charming in the photos and was only 40 minutes away from our tiny parking place on the way from Monaco to Nice.
Is Monaco worth visiting? Well, to be completely honest with you, I wasn’t that impressed. In order to enjoy all what Monaco has to offer, you need to have A LOT of money, and that’s not a case for us at the moment. However, it was nice to finally see Monaco. If I had to choose between Cannes vs Nice vs Monaco, I would probably choose Cannes, but it’s my personal opinion. Getting from Nice to Monaco was super easy, so if you’re planning a French Riviera road trip, you can definitely include Monaco in your itinerary.
St. Paul de Vence
In real life, Saint Paul de Vence happened to be as charming as it was in the photos. We were really happy that we included it in our itinerary of French Riviera. The most similar town to it which I could remember was Obidos in Portugal. But even if they share some similarities, they aren’t identical. Update (since then, we had travelled around France quite a bit and found some stunning villages near Toulouse which looked similar to St. Paul-de-Vence). We were a bit concerned that maybe everything will be closed already since we got there around 5:20 pm, but it seemed like the life in St Paul de Vence has only started.
We were actually starving but all the restaurants were only (AGAIN!) opening at 7 pm. And moreover, they were fully booked. So finding a place to eat really was a challenge. Of course, there were fast food places serving sandwiches all day long but that wasn’t precisely something we wanted to eat in such a romantic town as Saint Paul de Vence. So we walked around, took many photos and finally found someplace with 1(!) free table a bit outside the city.
In case you’re planning to go to Saint Paul de Vence, better call beforehand and book a table otherwise you mind up being frustrated that there is no restaurant that could accommodate you.
We left the town around 8:30 pm and got to Nice very fast, in less than 20 minutes. So getting from Nice to St. Paul de Vence is super easy and fast!
Back in Nice. Rental car accident
But in Nice we encountered a new challenge: there was literally no place to park. Nothing. We drove around 50 streets near the apartment, where we stayed and there was nothing! It was more frustrating than anything (I can’t imagine how people live in Nice if that’s the challenge they encounter EVERY day). Finally, we found a spot and parked our car, but just as we left the car, another car arrived and scratched ours while trying to park. Then there was a huge discussion in French with the car owner, who gave us his name and insurance and assured us that everything is gonna be alright but nonetheless, on the next day, Avis (the car rental service) blocked 800 euros on the account. However, they returned them later, when they cleared all the disputes with the person’s insurance company. What to do when you crash a rental car in France? Read it in this post.
Summary: 3 days in French Riviera
To summarise: our 3 days in French Riviera were amazing. The weather in French Riviera was warm but still a bit unpredictable (it could be sunny but it could be also raining a lot, you never know). But anyway, it’s a wonderful place worth visiting. And when you’re already going to Nice, even if it’s just a few days, try to visit the towns nearby as they all are unique and not similar to one another. Discovering French Riviera in 3 days is also perfectly possible, so if you don’t have many vacation days, you can try to see French Riviera in 3 days just like we did. Well, it was actually 4 days, if you count the last day, but since our flight was early in the morning, I didn’t really count it at all – as nothing valuable was added to the itinerary.
Some other posts you might like:
Ireland in 2 days: our road trip itinerary
Scotland in 7 days