A stone’s throw from Nice, Villefranche-sur-Mer is a picturesque seaside village tucked into a bay between Cap Ferrat peninsula and Cap de Nice. Its colorful old town cascades down a hill, culminating in a waterfront lined with restaurants looking out on traditional boats dotted across the water.
Historically, Villefranche-sur-Mer was more of a sleepy fishing village than jet set destination, but it’s attracted its share of glamor over the years. Artist Jean Cocteau called it “a source of myth and inspiration” and the Rolling Stones recorded their Exile on Mainstreet album here.
It’s a popular filming location, too. Villefranche-sur-Mer has featured in movies such as Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, an Affair to remember and The Bucket List.
The village also made a great day trip from Nice. It’s fun to spend a day exploring the old town, citadel, and beaches. You can combine a trip with a visit to neighboring Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and Beaulieu-sur-Mer, too.
How to get there
- Take a Bus From Nice to Villefranche sur Mer. You can catch bus 100 bus from Nice to Villefranche departing every 15 minutes during the week and every 20 minutes on Sundays and French holidays. A one-way ticket cost €1.50 and you can buy your ticket from the driver as you enter the bus. The journey takes around 12 minutes. On your return from Villefranche sur Mer to Nice please note that the bus 100 stops running at 8pm, afterwards you’ll have to take the train, which runs until 11pm.
- Ride the Train From Nice to Villefranche sur Mer. It is only 2 train stations away and the journey takes 11 minutes and cost €1.90. Villefranche sur Mer train station is located conveniently right by the beach and walking to the Old Town will take only a few minutes.
- If you are driving and not coming from Nice. Park your car in the parking lot and explore the town on foot. Parking space is limited and there are only 3 options:
– Parking Wilson on 11 Place Wilson. Parking here is free for the first 30 minutes and afterwards the cost should run about €1.80/hour. There is even a space for scooter parking.
– Parking de la Barmassa, located within the old town, on 6-12 Avenue du General Gallieni, and offers underground parking. Parking is free for the first hour with prices at about €1.80/hour afterwards.
– Parking des Marinières by the beach. Parking here is free from December 1st to March 31st. Outside of these dates, the price should be the standard of €1.80/hour.
Best Things to Do
Swim on the Beach and basking under the sun
The Plage des Marinieres is the main beach in Villefranche-sur-Mer. It stretches for nearly half a mile and has great views of the old town across the bay. The beach is great for swimming and also perfect for kids as there is a gradual slope from the shore, so kids can easily play in the shallow, calm waters. Another neat feature is the composition of the beach. It’s made of tiny pebbles, not sand, so it’s more comfortable than the rockier bottom at Nice beach.
Explore the Old Town
The Old Town is a great place to wander, getting lost for a few minutes along the narrow streets. Perfect winding alleys lined with colorful houses and flowers everywhere, you’ll feel like you’re walking in a real-time fairytale.
Many of the buildings here date back to the 12th and 13th centuries, and there’s a real feeling of history among the narrow streets and stairways. As with a lot of places on the French Riviera, they’re painted in pinks, reds, oranges, and yellows, and have shutters in complimentary colors. Many of the families in the old town have lived here for generations, so it’s nice to see the neighborly interactions taking place around the streets, too.
Some of the places to see
Rue Obscure – for the curious and bold. It is a passageway under the old town’s houses dates back to the 13th century. Its steep tunnel is hauntingly atmospheric.
Saint Elme Citadel – Visit the stone fortress from the 16th century. It houses the Town Hall, conference center, 4 museums, an open-air theater and gardens and is free to enter. The gardens are a pleasure to roam, especially in the warmer months. You’ll find Le Musée Volti, Le Musée Goetz-Boumeester and La Collection Roux, all also free to enter. While the kids were a bit bored with the museums, it’s interesting to see some of the old maritime memorabilia.
St Michel Church – Walk through the 18th century baroque-style church in the center of Old Town. The church contains a recumbent Christ, an anonymous work by a galley slave and the organs by the Grinda Brothers from 1790, which are listed as a historic monument.
Port – You can’t miss the small port while in Villefranche. The harbor is home to many fishing and charter boats just waiting to head out to sea.
St Pierre Chapel – Next to the port, this Roman-style Chapel is dedicated to St Peter, the Patron Saint of fishermen. The church has been entirely restored and decorated by Jean Cocteau. The wonderful frescoes of Saint Peter are worth a quick visit. The price is €3 adults and free for kids kids. The chapel is closed on Tuesdays and during lunchtime.
Markets – From May to October, on days the cruise ships come in, you’ll find Amélie’s market. This craft market features artisan products including clothing, jewelry and crafts. The Provençal Market on Wednesday and Saturday mornings year round features fruits, vegetables, flowers, clothing and jewelry.