Do you need a hire car in Nice? When you hire a car in Nice, the chances are that you’ll be wanting to explore so much more than just the city of Nice itself and its immediate environs, but can you still get around this beautiful part of the world without one?
Do I need a car in Nice? Introduction
Why rent a car in Nice?
- Superlative Scenery — as soon as you hit the roads outside Nice airport, you are in stunningly scenic terrain, whether you head east or west along the Cote d’Azur (Azur blue Coast), north into Provence or even north-east into neighbouring Italy. The cliff-hugging villages in the area immediately behind Nice are a personal favourite.
- Gorges De Verdon — of all the many wonderful scenic areas you can explore from Nice, the absolute must visit is the truly spectacular Gorges De Verdon, which is France’s answer to the Grand Canyon. You really cannot get there by public transport, so for this area beyond Nice, car hire is the only option.
- Limited public transport — if you just want to visit the major resorts along the Cote d’Azur, then you should have no problem getting around by train, but your options are much more limited if you want to head inland. We think that no visit to Nice is complete without going inland, and although there is one superb railway line running to Digne-les-Bains, away from this route your mobility is seriously restricted if you don’t have a hire car.
- Great driving roads — this part of the world doesn’t just offer stunning scenery; the roads themselves are great works of civil engineering, especially the main motorway which runs along the coast, and offers drivers and alternating mix of viaducts and tunnels.
- Monaco — there are lots of great and glamorous ways of getting to Monaco, but if you really want to feel like Britain’s suavest secret agent, you will at least want to pick up a BMW 302i convertible at Nice airport. Monaco is easy to drive to and around, with its own famous network of winding roads and tunnels, although be prepared to pay heavily for the privilege of parking your car.
- No direct airport rail link — this might not look like a big deal, but we believe in starting as you mean to go on. Despite Nice airport being the busiest in France outside Paris, and despite the main Marseille to Nice / Monaco / Genoa railway line running right outside the airport perimeter, there is no direct train from either of the Nice airport terminals. As a general rule, if it is easy to get from the airport to the city centre by train, it is usually easier still to travel around the area by train, but in Nice, this is clearly not the case.
Those who do want to use the train from near Nice Airport should travel light,and allow around 15 minutes to walk to Nice St Augustin suburban train station for onward connections towards Nice or St Laurant Du Var for onward connections towards Marseilles. Once at Nice Ville station, you still have to change again to a different station (Nice CP) to use the line to Digne. Naturally, for train buffs, none of this presents much of a problem, but for anyone who is thinking about whether or not to get a hire car in Nice, this swings the pendulum a little bit more towards doing so.
Why not? Visiting Nice without a car
- Cote D’Azur — there are plenty of trains trundling along the Cote d’Azur, with a mixture of long-distance (usually TGV, but using conventional lines) trains stopping at the major towns and slower regional services which stop everywhere. Not only are services extremely frequent, but the train also hugs some sections of the coast which are much harder to get to in a car. Heading west from Nice you can easily visit Antibes, genteel Cannes (when the film festival has moved on), plush St Tropez (bus connection from Frejus) and Toulon. Heading east from Nice you can visit Monaco and the Italian border town of Ventimiglia.
- Monaco — if you want to save your car hire money for a flutter in the famous Casino De Monte Carlo, then you can do a lot worse than arriving in Monaco by train, in what is surely one of the world’s nicest underground stations. Train geeks can revel in the novelty factor that Monaco is the only territory in the world with just one (underground) station!
- Walk It — Nice is one of those few cities where the airport is right on the edge of town, or, quite literally, at the end of the main street.The walk into town from the airport heads past a few of the usual airport commercial units before the Promenade Des Anglais proper starts. To reach the city centre will take around an hour, as the 4 mile / 6 km walk is flat all the way. The city itself is a delight to walk around, with a number of pedestrianised areas, whilst many streets have wide pavements. Beyond the sea front, Nice gets quite hilly, but this landscape can also provide easy access to walking areas just beyond the city. Alternatively, you can use local buses to access nearby villages and go hiking from there.
- Bike it — this part of the world really does have some of Europe’s finest cycling territory, and this is where Lance Armstrong trained before winning his epic seven Tours De France in a row! To get the best out of these roads you will need a racing bike – Cycle Cote D’Azur in Nice will fix you up with one of these or take you on one of their tours, or you could bring your own. For more relaxed cycling in Nice itself, a public bike hire scheme is available, operating under the appropriate “Velo Blue” name, and having hire stations operating in the centre, and also along the Promenade D’Anglais. There is even a bike hire location right outside the airport, but you will need to find a location that takes card payments first – bizarely, not all terminals do this!
- Monaco by Helicopter — these days, there might be plenty of budget flights to Nice, but the short run from Nice airport to Monaco heliport is also one of the busiest helicopter routes in the world. You might think this is all expensively glamorous, but as with any service, book well ahead, and you can travel from €110 for a one way flight. Naturally, you will enjoy some stunningly spectacular views as you will fly over the city of Nice and the wonderful Cap Ferrat before landing in Monaco’s dramatic harbour. Seven minutes of pure indulgence! You can hire a car anywhere, but few places offer such wide availability of scheduled helicopter flights. From Monaco, you can easily continue your travels using any of the various means listed above and below.
- Ferries — Nice is a major ferry port, and an ideal starting point to continue onwards towards Corsica, or even Sardinia below it. This sort of onward journey is much better to do without a hire car, as you then have the flexibility to continue as you please, whereas you would usually have to return a hire car to the same territory from which you picked it up, i.e. mainland France, and not Corsica or Italy.
- Local boats — another option if you just want to stay local to Nice is to take one of the various boat services which operate around the Cote d’Azur.
- Marseille — in the rush to hit the beautiful beaches of the Cote d’Azur, many people overlook Marseille, France’s gritty but still fascinating third city. You can easily visit Marseille in a day trip from anywhere on the Cote d’Azur, and going by train is ideal to explore everything the city itself has to offer. Allow around two hours to travel between Nice and Marseille.
Marseille is of particular interest to architecture pundits, being the home of the groundbreaking Unite D’Habitation development by Le Corbusier — a building which shows that in the right environment and with proper upkeep, brutal concrete structures can still be remarkably appealing! See our Marseille car hire advice page for more suggestions.
- Digne — if you can work around changing between the different stations in Nice and the relatively infrequent scheduling, then the single track excursion to Digne is highly recommended. This will give you a good introduction to the stunning scenery that this area has to offer, and you may also be able to continue onwards by exploring various hiking trails, or on a bike. However, heading this way may also have you wishing you had picked up a hire car in Nice instead, so you have been warned!
- Cost — if you are holidaying in Nice for the first time and are more used to hiring cars in places like Malaga, Alicante and Faro, then you will find that hiring a car in Nice will be quite a bit more expensive, so you may want to weigh up the costs against the costs of using other forms of transport. Relative to elsewhere in France, car hire in Nice is generally good value.
- Slow and fast — there is more than enough mixture of slow-paced beach life all along the Cote d’Azur for which you really won’t need a hire car, or high adrenaline activities further inland, where you can usually expect transport to be provided.
- Cinque Terre (near Pisa, Italy) — this might initially look like a bit of a long shot from Nice, but if you are planning on travelling around a bit, then we would highly recommend continuing along the coast railway through Genoa and then on as far as Pisa. This will take you through the fantastic Cinque Terre National Park, which features five spectacular clifftop villages, which are virtually inaccessible by road. This is somewhere that is ideal to explore by train, although any journey to these villages might mean travelling to La Spezia first, and then doubling back. The most northerly village is Monterosso, with Riomaggiore being the furthest south. Allow around 6 hours to reach any of these villages, although I would suggest a few hours in historic Geno as well.
- Fly out of Pisa – You can easily combine an outward flight to Nice with return flight home from Pisa, or vice versa. This would allow you to see some of the best coastal landscapes and cities that France and Italy have to offer. See also our Florence and Pisa car guides.
Nice Car Hire – verdict
Do you need a hire car in Nice? Of course you don’t – and I did so quite happily on my first visit, but not when I went back with a friend and we wanted to visit more of the interior.
However, the opportunities to explore this area by road are too good to be ignored, whereas public transport just isn’t that good, unless you only really want ahead along the coast. I think that the scenic areas around Nice are already well enough documented, but the interior is much less celebrated – and without picking up a hire car in Nice, your options by rail are really just limited to the one inland line to Digne.
That is where you really should go to get the best out of this part of the world, and in these areas a car is almost essential. An even better option is to take advantage of the wonderful cycling opportunities the area beyond Nice presents, but if that isn’t for you, then a hire car is an acceptable second best!
Verdict – yes