Getting Around the French Riviera: Guide to Transportation

Crowd of people exiting Monaco Train station, France

katatonia82 / iStock Editorial / Getty Images

The French Riviera is one of France's most popular coastal areas, attracting millions of visitors every year. Luckily, public transportation links between cities and resort towns such as Nice, Cannes, St-Tropez, Monte Carlo, and Marseille are excellent, with a robust and inexpensive network of trains and buses eliminating the need to drive for those who don't wish to. For travelers who prefer to get around by car, renting one is easy and will allow you to see more of the region's smaller inland towns and areas of outstanding natural beauty.

How to Get Around the Riviera by Train

As elsewhere in France, the vast, mostly coastal region known as Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur boasts an efficient, extensive network of trains, serving dozens of destinations on a daily basis. These are all operated by the national rail company SNCF.

Regional routes on the TER (Express Regional Trains) network are generally the least expensive but are slower than counterparts operating on the TGV (High Speed-Train) network. TGV trains generally offer quick connections between major cities and towns on the Riviera, but sometimes transfers are necessary.

Popular Train Routes in the French Riviera

  • Nice to Marseille: This TGV train line is usually the fastest and most efficient way of getting from the far eastern end of the Riviera to the western side. The trip generally takes around 2 hours and 45 minutes, and there are stops in Toulon, Cannes, and Antibes.
  • Monte-Carlo, Monaco to Nice: This direct TER train takes a little over 20 minutes to shuttle between two of the most popular destinations on the Eastern Riviera.
  • Nice to Cannes, via Antibes: This TER train route is a useful one if you want to visit or stay in several towns along the coast.
  • Marseille to Cassis: With over 15 trains operating a day, this route between the large port city and one of the Riviera's prettiest fishing villages (and portals to the Calanques National Park) takes under 20 minutes.

Other Practical Tips

  • Accessibility: Most trains and stations on the SNCF network are equipped with ramps and staff assistance for travelers with limited mobility. In addition, stations and trains are generally equipped with special information stations and other services for visually and hearing-impaired travelers. See Visit the SNCF website for more information on accessible services and features aboard trains and in SNCF stations.
  • Validating your tickets before travel: You should always make sure you validate your tickets before boarding regional or national trains in France. Generally, this is done by inserting your ticket into yellow machines reading "Compostez votre billet" (Validate your ticket) and located either at the head of the train platforms or inside the station. If you fail to validate your tickets (including during transfers between stations), you may be subject to fines.

How and Where to Buy Train Tickets

Most cities and towns in the French Riviera have SNCF train stations that sell tickets for travel throughout the region and elsewhere in France. You can reserve tickets, browse schedules, and make reservations in English at the official SNCF website. Simply type in your desired place of departure and destination for fares and times. You'll also be able to find schedules and routes for a given station.

  • You can buy train tickets and passes online in advance. In addition, when traveling around the Riviera and the rest of France, we recommend installing the Oui SNCF smartphone app, which allows you to easily purchase tickets and passes directly from your phone. The app is available for Androids and iPhones.
  • Most stations offer both traditional ticket counters and automatic machines, but some smaller stations are not staffed by agents. If you have complex transfers, refunds to process, or questions about getting around, stations in larger cities such as Nice-Ville, Cannes, and St-Tropez tend to have more customer service desks and agents ready to assist with traveler inquiries and issues.

Bus Lines Around the French Riviera

Buses and coaches offer another inexpensive and convenient way to get around the Riviera, and may be especially useful for connecting between cities and smaller towns or coastal areas not served by trains. However, they tend to be slower than trains since they often stop more frequently, and during high season, it's common to get stuck in heavy traffic.

Some lines don't operate to full capacity during low season or on Sundays. Always make sure you check schedules and routes ahead of time.

For travel between Riviera destinations including Nice, Menton, Monaco, Cannes, Cagnes-sur-Mer, and numerous other coastal and inland towns, the Lignes d'Azur bus company is reliable and efficient. You can consult their online trip planner.

You can also buy bus tickets and passes in advance from sales offices and automatic machines in Nice and elsewhere, but you may prefer to simply purchase them onboard, either with cash or card (American Express is not generally accepted).

Car Rentals & Driving in the French Riviera

For many, renting a car and getting around on four independent wheels is more ideal than having to navigate train and bus schedules. If you plan to visit more than two or three destinations in the French Riviera and envisage spending a lot of time exploring small inland towns and/or national parks, this may be the best way to go.

Roads on the French Riviera are relatively easy to navigate, but be aware that they can be very busy during peak months (especially during July and August, when travelers migrate from elsewhere in France to enjoy the beaches of the Cote d'Azur). Try to avoid traveling by car during the busiest months of the year, and if you do, early mornings and evenings might be best.

It's easy to rent a car from the main French Riviera Airports or in city centers including Nice, Cannes, Marseille, and Monte Carlo. Europcar, Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise are trusted car rental companies operating in the region.

If you do opt to rent a car, make sure you have a reliable navigation system available at all times, and make sure to study French driving laws in advance.

How to Get Around From French Riviera Airports

From the French Riviera's two major international airports, Nice-Cote d'Azur (NCE) and Marseille-Provence Airport (MRS), it's easy to connect by train or bus to nearby city centers and surrounding destinations.

If you fly into Nice-Cote d'Azur airport you can take a train or tram to Nice's city center and from there, transfer to Canne, Monaco, or St-Tropez. For travelers arriving at Marseille-Provence Airport, you can quickly and inexpensively reach Marseille, Cassis, Nice, Toulon, and other destinations on the Riviera via train and bus. See our full guide to MRS Airport for more details.

Tips for Getting Around the French Riviera

  • Taking taxis is generally only recommended for certain airport transfers late at night or very early in the morning since train and bus coverage from major airports is generally excellent.
  • In the warmer and drier months (spring to early fall), cycling between certain destinations can be a wonderful way to see more of the region. Major cities and towns such as Nice, Cannes, and Marseille lie in close reach of destinations worth seeing in their own right, and in some cases, you may be able to bike from one destination to another. Popular cycle routes include Cannes to Antibes (about 7.4 miles) and from Nice to Monte Carlo, Monaco (around 19 miles).
  • Make sure you have a good print map of the region or a fully charged phone equipped with Google Maps (or another reliable app for navigation). This is especially important if you choose to drive or get around part of the region by bike.
  • Consider purchasing an Interrail train pass from the national rail company SNCF. Students, seniors citizens, young people under the age of 25, pay less than adults do, and all travelers benefit from discounted fares when purchasing a pass for unlimited travel on three, four, six, or eight days within a given month. This is probably the best and most efficient way to get around the Riviera on a tighter budget.
  • Budget travelers can also consider buying the French Riviera Pass, which offers 24, 48, or 72-hours of unlimited transportation on local bus, and tram lines in and between Nice and select cities. You'll also be entitled to discounts on popular attractions and tours.
Was this page helpful?