Exploring the 8 Best Things to Do in Villefranche sur Mer

Last Updated on June 17, 2024 by April Nicole

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Tucked between the rolling hills and the deep blue of the Mediterranean, Villefranche-sur-Mer is a picturesque escape that captivates with its old-world charm and stunning seaside views.

During my stays here, I’ve discovered that this quaint French Riviera town offers more than just breathtaking scenery. From wandering through the cobblestone streets of the Old Town to indulging in fresh seafood at the waterfront restaurants, each moment feels like a scene from a postcard.

Whether you’re soaking up the sun on the sandy Plage des Marinières or exploring the rich history encapsulated within the 16th-century Fort Mont-Alban, Villefranche-sur-Mer promises a blend of relaxation and adventure.

Here’s your ultimate guide to Villefranche-sur-Mer, featuring top activities and essential tips to enhance your visit.

A stroll through the vibrant old streets of Villefranche-sur-Mer, where colorful laundry hangs above a quaint alleyway lined with traditional pastel-colored buildings and contrasting green shutters. This picturesque scene captures the charming daily life, an authentic slice of things to do in Villefranche-sur-Mer.
Villefranche-sur-Mer Quick Guide

Getting To Villefranche-sur-Mer

Airport – The nearest major international airport is in Nice, 27 KM away. Book your plane ticket here.

Train – Gare d’Antibes connects to the towns of Cannes, Nice & Monaco as well as areas of Provence. Book your train tickets here.

Private Driver – Hire a professional driver for your sightseeing tours along the French riviera and Monaco. Book your driver here.

Nearby French Riviera Cities
Tours From Villefranche-sur-Mer

If you are in a hurry, here’s a summary of the best things to do in Villefranche sur Mer:

Is Villefranche-sur-Mer Worth Visiting?

Just a quick, seven-minute train ride from Nice, the charming town of Villefranche-sur-Mer beckons with its picturesque lanes, inviting waterfront eateries, and crystal-clear waters. Whether you’re planning a day trip or a serene overnight escape, this gem is an essential stop on any tour of the Cote d’Azur’s top towns.

Best things to do in Villefranche-sur-Mer

Despite its quaint size, Villefranche-sur-Mer offers plenty of activities to fill an entire day. To truly appreciate this serene seaside town, it’s best to take things slowly, enjoying the peaceful atmosphere and the delightful contrast to bustling Nice.

Explore the Old Town

The heart of Villefranche-sur-Mer lies in its Old Town, a labyrinth of narrow, cobblestoned streets echoing stories of the past. Start your journey at the Rue Obscure, a fascinating covered street that dates back to the 13th century, offering a glimpse into the medieval life of the town.

Nearby, the Saint-Michel Church stands as a testament to Baroque architecture, with its richly decorated interior and impressive organ. As you wander through these quaint streets, take the time to pause at local cafes where you can sip on a café au lait and watch the world go by, or browse through the artisan shops for unique handmade crafts.

Rue Obscure in Villefranche-sur-Mer, a historic covered passageway with weathered walls and dim lighting that creates an air of mystery. Laundry hangs from a window above, adding a touch of daily life to this intriguing walkway, a hidden gem for those discovering things to do in Villefranche-sur-Mer.
Check out the Rue Obscure, a 13th-century tunnel that goes under the old town.
Breathtaking view from above Villefranche-sur-Mer, showcasing the historic Saint-Michel Church tower with its distinctive yellow façade and terracotta roof tiles, against the backdrop of the Mediterranean Sea with moored sailboats. This captivating vista is a highlight for visitors seeking picturesque things to do in Villefranche-sur-Mer.
Saint-Michel Church is a marvelous very old church right in the middle of old town
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💡PRO TIP: If strolling through the old town doesn’t appeal to you, how about renting some electric scooters to help you along the way?

Visit the Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat Peninsula

A short distance from Villefranche-sur-Mer is the luxurious Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat Peninsula. Known for its opulent villas and pristine nature, this area is a must-visit. The highlight here is the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, an exquisite mansion housing impressive collections of art and antiques, set amidst nine stunning gardens in different architectural styles.

For the adventurers, the peninsula’s coastal paths offer a rewarding hike with spectacular views of the Mediterranean Sea. These well-maintained trails provide a perfect blend of cultural and natural exploration.

Symmetrical view of the grand Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Villefranche-sur-Mer, its pink walls and classical architecture reflecting in the still water of the ornamental garden pond. Flanked by lush greenery and blooming flowers, the estate offers a luxurious visual experience, perfect for those compiling a list of elegant things to do in Villefranche-sur-Mer.
Elegant white marble statue of a child playing with a dog at the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Villefranche-sur-Mer, set within a meticulously landscaped garden with geometric hedges and floral accents. This classical piece offers an enchanting detail to visitors exploring the art and gardens, a delightful activity among things to do in Villefranche-sur-Mer.

Relax on the Beaches

Villefranche-sur-Mer is home to some of the most inviting and picturesque beaches on the French Riviera. Plage des Marinières is the town’s largest beach, stretching over a kilometer along the azure waters of the Mediterranean. This popular spot is perfect for a family day out, equipped with ample amenities and surrounded by local eateries where you can indulge in regional delicacies.

For a quieter and more intimate seaside experience, head to Plage de la Darse, a smaller, more secluded beach located by the historical port area. The sheltered cove here provides calm waters ideal for swimming and snorkeling away from the larger crowds.

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Insider Tip: If you plan to be in the water, wear an mineral SPF that is safe for coral reefs to ensure that any residue that may wash off won’t harm marine life.
Vibrant beach day at Plage des Marinières in Villefranche-sur-Mer, with a crowd of beachgoers enjoying the sun on colorful towels and under parasols, set against a backdrop of the azure sea and lush hillside. The lively atmosphere is perfect for soaking in the sun and sea, a popular thing to do in Villefranche-sur-Mer.
Bustling summer day at Plage des Marinières in Villefranche-sur-Mer, with people sunbathing, swimming, and enjoying the clear blue waters and sailboats in the distance. The beach scene, complete with colorful umbrellas and the hillside town backdrop, exemplifies relaxing activities and things to do in Villefranche-sur-Mer.

PRO TIP: To see the French Riviera from a better view, consider going on a shore excursion.

The best tours to book include:

Discover Local Cuisine

No visit to Villefranche-sur-Mer would be complete without indulging in the local cuisine. The town’s restaurants offer delightful dishes that reflect the flavors of Provence and the Mediterranean. Seafood naturally dominates the menu, with fresh catches featured daily.

Be sure to try the local specialty, “Socca,” a delicious chickpea pancake. For dining with a view, check out La Mère Germaine, which offers exquisite seafood dishes overlooking the harbor.

Enjoying gourmet dining at La Mère Germaine with a view of the serene Villefranche-sur-Mer bay. A plate with beautifully cooked fish and roasted vegetables is prominently displayed on a table set with wine glasses and a fresh baguette, embodying the culinary delights to be experienced while exploring things to do in Villefranche-sur-Mer.
I enjoyed a delicious dinner at La Mère Germaine
A large, freshly cooked Socca, the traditional chickpea flatbread, on a circular griddle in a Villefranche-sur-Mer eatery. The golden-brown surface and rustic kitchen setting invite food enthusiasts to taste this local delicacy, a flavorful addition to the culinary things to do in Villefranche-sur-Mer.
Socca, traditional French pancake, is a delightful taste of French Riviera cuisine

Take a Boat Tour

Exploring the town from the water offers a whole new perspective. Various boat tours are available, ranging from private charters to more affordable group excursions. These tours allow you to appreciate the stunning coastline, view the luxurious villas of the rich and famous on the Cap Ferrat, and perhaps even spot some marine life. It’s a refreshing way to see the sights while enjoying the Mediterranean breeze.

If you enjoy snorkeling, you can take a speedboat day trip from Nice back to Villefranche Bay to snorkel around the bay and discover the colorful marine life.

Participate in Seasonal Events

Throughout the year, Villefranche-sur-Mer comes alive with various cultural and festive events. One of the highlights is the Villefranche-sur-Mer Festival, held annually, which showcases local traditions, music, and dance. Participating in these events is a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture and interact with the residents, creating memorable experiences.

Visit Chapelle Saint-Pierre

Chapelle Saint-Pierre stands as a testament to the town’s rich artistic and maritime heritage. This quaint chapel, once used by local fishermen to store their gear, was transformed into a masterpiece of modern art by Jean Cocteau in 1957.

Inside, visitors are enveloped by Cocteau’s enchanting murals that depict scenes from the life of Saint Peter, the patron saint of fishermen, blending religious narrative with whimsical elements reflective of the artist’s signature style.

The distinctive Chapelle Saint-Pierre in Villefranche-sur-Mer, featuring ornate coral and cream facade, a small bell tower, and religious artwork above the entrance. A bright day accentuates the building's colorful details, a must-visit for those exploring things to do in Villefranche-sur-Mer.
Bronze statue of Jean Cocteau, poised contemplatively, set against the backdrop of a yellow building and the French flag in Villefranche-sur-Mer. The signature of Jean Cocteau is etched onto the stone pedestal, offering a cultural touchpoint for those exploring artistic things to do in Villefranche-sur-Mer.
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Tip:The chapel is small, so visits are brief but impactful. Photography inside might be restricted, so check the local guidelines before your visit to fully embrace this mesmerizing artistic journey without interruptions.

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.

Entrance to the historical Citadel of Villefranche-sur-Mer, showcasing a weathered stone archway flanked by heavy chains and an engraved stone plaque. The passage leads to an inviting courtyard, hinting at a journey into the past, a captivating exploration for visitors looking for things to do in Villefranche-sur-Mer.
the peaceful courtyard of Saint Elme Citadel in Villefranche-sur-Mer, framed by an archway, with a lush garden in the foreground. The pink-hued walls and terracotta roof blend harmoniously with the surrounding greenery, offering a serene escape for those seeking historical things to do in Villefranche-sur-Mer.

Where to Eat

Located along the waterfront on Quai de l’Amiral Courbet, some of Villefranche-sur-Mer’s best real estate is taken up by a few restaurants and bars. Staying true to its affluent beginnings, the price of a drink or dinner here does correspond with the surroundings and the kind of people who usually visit the town.

I’d suggest stopping by one of these restaurants for lunch or dinner if you’re not going to be in town when the village market is happening or if you’d just rather leave the cooking to someone else.

  • La Caravelle
  • Cave Nature
  • Spalato
Cave Nature, tapas style restaurant with tons of variety that all pairs so well.
Alfresco dining on Quai de l'Amiral Courbet in Villefranche-sur-Mer, where elegantly set tables under umbrellas line the vibrant waterfront, with colorful facades and hillside views in the background. This charming setting offers a perfect culinary experience for visitors searching for things to do in Villefranche-sur-Mer.
My view of the marina, while enjoying my lunch at Spalato

How to Get to Villefranche-sur-Mer

Villefranche-sur-Mer is a picturesque escape easily accessible from nearby cities like Nice. Here’s how you can reach this charming coastal town:

  • By Plane:
    • Nearest Airport: Nice Côte d’Azur Airport is the closest major airport, located about 16 kilometers away.
    • Airport Transfers: The journey by private transfer takes around 30 minutes depending on traffic – book a transfer with GetTransfer.
  • By Car:
    • From Nice: Drive east on the Basse Corniche (N98), which offers stunning views along the coast. The drive typically takes about 20 minutes – rent a car with DiscoverCars.
  • By Train:
    • From Nice: Take the TER (regional train) from Nice Ville station. The journey is approximately 10 minutes, with trains running frequently throughout the day – book train tickets with Trainline.
  • By Bus:
    • From Nice: Board the Lignes d’Azur bus line 100. It’s a scenic route along the coast that drops you in the heart of Villefranche within 20-30 minutes, depending on traffic – book bus tickets with Omio.
  • By Bike:
  • Walking:
    • From Nice: A vigorous walk from Nice to Villefranche-Sur-Mer can be both rewarding and picturesque, taking about 1.5 to 2 hours. Follow the coastline for stunning views of the Mediterranean.

Where to stay in Villefranche-sur-Mer

Villefranche-sur-Mer offers a range of charming accommodations. Whether you seek luxury or cozy simplicity, here are three excellent hotels to consider for your stay:

  • Welcome Hotel: Located directly on the waterfront, this hotel is perfect for those who want to wake up to the sound of waves and enjoy easy access to local dining and shopping.

  • Le Versailles Hotel Villefranche: Boasting a stunning pool and panoramic views of the Mediterranean, this hotel combines comfort with elegance for a memorable stay.

🏨 Here are all your hotel options in Villefranche-sur-Mer.

Overlooking the bustling quayside, the iconic 'Welcome Hotel' stands out with its terracotta façade among the vibrant buildings of Villefranche-sur-Mer. With the harbor, boats, and the hillside in view, this locale is a prime spot for visitors seeking the coastal charm and activities that are central to things to do in Villefranche sur Mer.
At Welcome Hotel, you will have the most beautiful view overlooking the harbor
Le Versailles Hotel Villefranche is a lovely hotel, clean room, with a balcony overlooking the Bay
Discover More of the French Riviera With These Guides

France Travel Planning 🇫🇷

Accommodation 🛌

  • Booking.com – Find diverse accommodations, enjoy easy booking with great deals, and rely on real reviews and 24/7 support.
  • Expedia.com – With its user-friendly interface, it simplifies the process of booking hotels and holiday packages to France.
  • VRBO.com – Your go-to platform for unique and comfortable vacation rentals in France.

Transportation 🚘

  • DiscoverCars.com – Offers a seamless booking experience, ensuring you find the ideal car for your adventures in France.
  • GetTransfer.com – Is the ultimate solution for your travel transfer needs, offering an efficient, flexible service and comfortable transportation.
  • Trainline.com stands as a quintessential tool for savvy travelers seeking to navigate France’s extensive rail network with ease and confidence.
  • Skyscanner.com – Simplifies your travel planning with its user-friendly interface, offering a comprehensive comparison of flights.

Attractions, Activities and Tours 🇫🇷

  • Viator.com – Stands out as a trusted resource for travelers seeking unparalleled experiences across the globe.
  • GetYourGuide.com – Offers an extensive collection of tours, activities, and attractions in France.
  • ParisCityVision.com – This tour company specializes in crafting exceptional experiences across Paris and France.

Communication 📱

  • Orange Sim Card – Discover seamless connectivity on your French travels with an Orange Holiday Europe Sim Card, a top choice for tourists.
  • Airalo.com – The world’s first eSIM store that solves the pain of high roaming bills by giving travelers access to eSIMs (digital SIM cards).

Travel Insurance ✈️

  • SafetyWing.com – Travel with peace of mind knowing you’re protected in almost every corner of the world.
  • Travel Insurance Master – Visit their website to discover the ideal insurance plan that aligns with your travel dreams.

These are only a few of my favorites; for more, see my comprehensive guide to the top travel booking websites for France.

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