It is easy to travel by train to Nice. The capital of the Côte d’Azur (or French Riviera) isn't as glitzy as it once was. But it’s still a great base for exploring the Riviera coast and the mountainous country inland. Nice and its hinterland only became part of France in 1860. Four years later the first trains arrived, bringing crowds keen to explore this glorious stretch of coast. The appeal of the Riviera is as strong as ever, but these days the local scene is less dominated by dowager duchesses and Russian royals.
Climb up to Le Château on a clear morning for brilliant views of the coast, wander through the Old Town and rub shoulders with the chic set on the Promenade des Anglais. Nice has world-class galleries and a feast of fine restaurants. But it’s a busy place and many visitors eventually retreat to one of the quieter Riviera resorts.
The main station is Nice Ville, where on Saturday mornings you’ll hear the buzz of Russian voices as the weekly train from Moscow arrives. Not every visitor to Nice comes from so far afield. Three times a day there are direct trains from Milan and Genoa and five high-speed TGVs from Paris each day (with additional trains at weekends and holidays). Nice also has direct daytime trains from Bordeaux, Brussels, Geneva and Lille. Overnight trains include the Train Bleu to Paris which leaves Nice Ville every evening. There are other less frequent overnight services, some running only weekly, to Luxembourg, Innsbruck, Vienna and Moscow.
Passengers from London to Nice travelling by day use a combination of Eurostar and TGV services, routing via Lille and / or Marseille. An alternative is to take Eurostar to Paris and then join the Train Bleu overnight train to the Riviera.
Nice Ville station is the jumping-off point for local excursions in the region. Half-hourly services run east to Ventimiglia in Italy serving Monaco along the way; services west to Antibes and Cannes are even more frequent. From Nice Ville, trains run inland to Grasse, Sospel and Tende.
To the north of Nice Ville is the Gare de Provence, a station served by private rail operator Chemins de Fer de Provence (CP). CP operates trains from the Gare de Provence on a beautiful narrow-gauge route through the mountains to Digne. CP trains cannot be booked online but you can easily buy tickets at the station; there's no need to pre-book.
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Image credits: Glen Scarborough