Last Updated on September 4, 2023 by April | Dreaming in French
Are you on the search for the best things to do in Villefranche-sur-Mer? I’ve got you covered!
Villefranche-sur-Mer is a cluster of vibrantly colored buildings and cobblestone alleys that open out into a broad harbor and the sort of crystal blue seas that the French Riviera is so renowned for. It seems like it was plucked out of a French storybook. Here is your guide to the best things to do in Villefranche-sur-Mer as well as important information.
Villefranche-sur-Mer appears to have sprung from a dream with pastel colors. You’ll see a beautiful array of candy-colored cottages scattered about a medieval church and an azure harbor as soon as you get out of the train at the town’s chocolate box railway station.
Set aside about a half-day to explore all that Villefranche-sur-Mer has to offer; if you want to visit the museums, unwind on the beach, and enjoy a leisurely lunch the French way, allow yourself more time.
The sheer beauty of this village of 5000 people in the French region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur really astounded me when I arrived on a beautiful sunny day in late July. As one of the deepest harbors on the French Riviera, Villefranche-sur-Mer is frequently visited by huge ships.
Villefranche-sur-Mer has an even milder temperature than other cities on the Côte d’Azur because of its advantageous location shielded by the steep cliffs around it and the narrowness of its harbor. The Côte d’Azur is already renowned for its mild climate.
As a result of its sheer beauty, the town has inspired many writers, artists, and musicians throughout history. A source of myth and inspiration for Jean Cocteau, Villefranche-sur-Mer was also where the Rolling Stones recorded their Exile on Mainstreet album.
It’s easy to understand why so many directors have opted to shoot movies here after wandering the streets. You may be familiar with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and To Catch a Thief, both directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
Best things to do in Villefranche-sur-Mer
A day excursion to Villefranche-sur-Mer is ideal. This is where the train departs from Nice towards Italy, and the trip just takes a few minutes. You can even walk here in under two hours if you have the stamina.
Wander the old town
One of the best things to do in Villefranche-sur-Mer is to wander around the maze of cobblestone streets and vibrant houses and let the town show you who it is. The majority of turns feature Instagram-worthy photos. The attractiveness is further enhanced by the fact that many structures date all the way back to the Middle Ages.
Walk to Saint Jean Cap Ferrat
It is quite feasible to walk from Villefranche-sur-Mer to the following villages, Beaulieu-sur-Mer and Saint Jean Cap Ferrat, if you don’t mind a little bit of a stroll. You may use Google Maps to get more precise walking directions or go to the visitor center to see a bigger map of the region.
Rue Obscure is probably something you’ll come upon when exploring the town. This tunnel in the center of town dates back to the 13th century and is barely illuminated. The tunnel, which is around 430 feet long and was originally built in 1260 for military purposes so that soldiers could go through the town freely, is now weakly illuminated.
Villefranche-sur-Mer market (marché)
The twice-weekly market is held on promenade de l’Octroi every Saturday morning if you chance to be in town on a Wednesday or Sunday morning. Fresh fruits, veggies, local cheeses, and even French butter are available for purchase, among other delectable treats.
Church of St Michel
A stunning example of Baroque architecture, the St. Michel church’s massive bell tower was built in the 18th century. It is open for free entry and deserves a closer look because of its delicately carved altar and exquisitely painted ceilings.
Relax at the Beach
Villefranche-sur-Mer lives up to the reputation of the French Riviera for its gorgeous beaches! Even better, it has a lot more sand than the typical pebbly beaches around this shore, making it ideal for relaxing. The Plage des Marinieres (Beach of the Sailors) is more sandier than some of the other more pebbled beaches on the French Riviera, making it more conducive to relaxation. Since there isn’t much around in the way of shade, just pack a towel and lots of sunscreen.
Even at the busiest times of the year, it’s never too difficult to find a space to rest or sunbathe because the beach is so large and extends pretty far.
Chapel of Saint Pierre
The biggest surprise in Villefranche-sur-Mer is St Pierre Chapel! The local fisherman formerly utilized the 16th-century church as a storage space in the 19th century. Later, the renowned artist and filmmaker Jean Cocteau had a special affection for the chapel. Because of this, he painted murals of the neighborhood fishermen, illustrating their life in Villefranche, when it was rebuilt in the 1950s. It’s a lovely location to visit while on your journey.
Opening times: Open Wednesday-Sunday (closed on Tuesdays and at lunchtime)
Entry fee: 3 Euros for adults
Le Port Royal de la Darse (Royal Port)
The charming Port Royal, which sits located below the castle and was previously used to dock Royal ships, is now a tranquil area of town where few tourists go and where boats bob in the water. A little red and white lighthouse is located at the port’s terminus.
Citadel of Villefranche-sur-Mer (Saint Elme citadel)
The trapezoid-shaped citadel, which dates all the way back to the 16th century and originally used to defend the town against marauders and would-be invaders, is one of the most spectacular sites to visit.
The citadel has had a variety of purposes over the years, including being used as a barracks by the Russians in the 1850s and a US Naval Base between 1945 and 1962. The city now owns the citadel, which is home to an art and sculpture museum.
Where to Eat
In Villefranche-sur-Mer, in addition to the regional specialties available at the twice-weekly market, there are a ton of fantastic dining options. Given how close Italy is, you can taste its impact in the cuisine and culture. On your journey, check out these fantastic restaurants:
- La Cuisine (French)
- Les Amoureux (Italian)
- Le Mekong (Vietnamese)
Where to stay in Villefranche-sur-Mer
Villefranche-sur-Mer is the only place one needs to search if they want to escape from it all. The settlement’s vibrant colors are reminiscent of a vivid dream, and the scattered cafés that pour out onto the streets surrounding town make for a distinctly French retreat. Some of the top places to stay in Villefranche-sur-Mer are listed below:
Mid-range: The Provencal Hotel is a three-star hotel overlooking the Bay of Villefranche sur Mer and offers classic rooms with free Wi-Fi. There is air conditioning and a restaurant onsite.
Luxury: Welcome Hotel is situated right in the heart of town, this four-star hotel offers free Wi-Fi, a restaurant onsite, and bicycle hire for an extra fee. The hotel is enviably located close to a number of bars and cafés.
Best Time to Visit
Villefranche-sur-Mer, which is located on the French Riviera, enjoys some of the greatest weather in all of France, with more than 300 days of sunlight annually. This makes it ideal to visit any time of year, however summer is when you can go swimming in the water! Villefranche is also much less busy than Monaco or Nice due to Villefranche’s lesser popularity along this stretch of beach.
Getting to Villefranche-sur-Mer
The most straightforward method to travel to Villefranche-sur-Mer is by taking a direct train from Nice-Ville if you are staying in Nice (making it one of the greatest day excursions from Nice) or by catching the train from Menton if your accommodations are there.
Taking the #100 bus from the Old Port of Nice, which is another alternative from Nice. Tickets are inexpensive and may be bought from the driver directly. Just be careful to confirm your ticket in the machine as you board the bus to avoid a fee because it won’t be recognized as valid.
Less than 10 minutes’ walk separates the railway station from the town’s center. The station’s rich crimson color, which appears like it belongs in a movie, beautifully contrasts with the azure ocean. The major beach of the town is located just across from the station.
You’ll already be exposed to the candy-colored hues that make up the most colorful town on the French Riviera as you make your way from the train station to the town. It takes less than 10 minutes to complete the delightful walk by the sea.
The idea is that there is just one train line that travels the whole length of the French Riviera, stopping at a variety of charming cities and villages along the way. You may even arrange to stay at Villefranche-sur-Mer for a few days if a little beach village with all the charm of a Wes Anderson movie sounds exactly up your alley.