Easy Day trips from Nice France to Italy
When friends visit, I often ask if they want to do some day trips from Nice, France to Italy. To be honest, they look at me like I’ve just suggested getting on another long-haul flight. They have no idea where they are, and it’s easy to forget, geographically, when you are in Nice. The truth is, Nice is soooo close to Italy, that day trips from France to Italy are a no-brainer.
This post contains affiliate links. Please see our Disclosure for more info.
Nice is located in southeast France, literally 15 miles to the Italian border. Yep – how’s that for long-haul?? When you are here on holidays, you absolutely must take some day trips from Nice to Italy for a completely unique experience!
This post contains affiliate links. If you click on something and make a purchase we may make a small commission. Also, as an Amazon associate we earn from qualifying purchases. For more information, please see our Disclosure Statement about all our affiliations.
Check out all my Travel Resources here to book train travel and hotels.
The Italian Region of Liguria or Italian Riviera
The area just on the other side of the French border in Italy is called Liguria. Italy is divided into 20 regions, and most of us have heard of Tuscany. The western-most part of Italy near France is called Liguria, and its capital is Genova.
Liguria is flanked by the French border on the west, the Mediterranean Sea to the south, and the Alps and Apennine mountains to the East and North. It stretches from the town of Ventimiglia in the west to La Spezia on the east.
And, Liguria itself is divided into four provinces: Imperia, Savona, Genova and La Spezia. In this region you’ll find the famously popular, luxury town of Portofino, and the highly-talked-about area of The Cinque Terre in the east.
If you’re ambitious, and want to go as far as Genova from Nice, here’s what you can do in one day in Genova. This area is also know as the Italian Riviera.
How to get from Nice France to Italy
There are a couple of ways to travel to the coastal towns of Liguria, Italy from Nice. It all depends on what you want to do and see, how much time you have, when you want to go, and the stress you want to endure!! You either go by car or train.
Rent a car from Nice
You can easily drive to Italy from Nice by following the signs for Autoroute A8 east out of Nice. It’s similar to the ‘interstate-tollroads’ in the US. On this beautiful highway you will see the stunning terrain of the Alps and the ravines. It can be quite a distraction because it’s so beautiful.
The A8 turns into Route E80 once you reach Italy. Although the distance is short, it will take longer since you are crossing the mountains. There may also be a bit of traffic depending on the time of day.
If you drive from Nice to Italy, the best time to leave Nice is after 9:30, once the commuter traffic is out of town. Then, continue on E80 and exit toward any one of the lovely Italian seaside villages to explore more.
Take the train from Nice France to Italy
When I do a day trip from Nice to Italy, I take the train. It is always my preferred means of transport.
The ride along the Cote d’Azur into Italy is an amazing experience all by itself. The clean and efficient train hugs the Mediterranean Sea as you pass some of the most stunning seaside villages along the French Riviera.
The French railway trains on the SNCF line to Ventimiglia stop at all the smaller towns along the French Riviera. You’ll stop at Villefranche-sur mer, Beaulieu-sur-mer, Eze-sur-mer, Cap d’Ail, Monaco-Monte-Carlo, Roquebrune-Cap Martin, Carnoles, Menton, Menton Garavan, and in an hour, you are in Ventimiglia, Italy.
Local Ligurian Products
Keep in mind that Liguria is rich in local specialties, such as olive oils from Taggia, pine nuts, wine, fresh fish, focaccia and fresh herbs, such as basil and rosemary. These are some things to buy when you are visiting Italy on a day trip.
Liguria is also known for pesto production. Pesto is a sauce, which is a blend of fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts and olive oil. That’s it. Buy a jar of that from one of the local stores. It’s delicious.
Ventimiglia – Easy day trip from Nice to Ventimiglia, Italy.
Ventimiglia is the first stop in Italy on the train and a very easy day trip from France. The train drops you off right in centre of town. Simply head straight out the train station doors down Via della Repubblica to begin exploring Ventimiglia.
Views of Ventimiglia
Don’t let Ventimiglia put you off. It’s a bit grungy, and some compare it to the attitude of, “I’ve seen Mexico because I’ve been to Tijuana.” It’s not true! And that’s not true here, either. I’ve been to Tijuana and Ventimiglia and it’s nothing like one another, but I understand the analogy. You could decide that the rest of Liguria is not for you if you base it on Ventimiglia. But don’t do that.
Ventimiglia is a border town with about 55,000 people and a bit rough around the edges, but that’s also its charm. It’s not glitzy and glamorous like its neighbours, and it’s certainly not dangerous. It’s a real, live, Italian town that proudly displays its old along with its new.
This below is the more modern part of Ventimiglia, where you’ll find a lovely seaside promenade, several comfortable hotels, a variety of restaurants, and local boutiques, patisseries and cafes.
What to do in Ventimiglia – Visit the Weekly Ventimiglia Market
Every Friday, at the end of Via Repubblica, along the Lungomare (‘along the sea’), you’ll find the weekly outdoor Ventimiglia Outdoor Market.
Here you will find 400 stalls with a mish-mash of everything. You need a beach towel? You will find them. Unique items for the home and kitchen? There will be plenty. I mean, who doesn’t want an authentic espresso maker from Italy?
Forgot your swimming suit? They have hundreds. Selfie stick? It’s there… And make room to take back some fresh fruits and vegetables, for which Ventimiglia is known.
The outdoor Ventimiglia market is a super place to find local goods. The Ventimiglia Outdoor Market is open on Fridays only from 8a – 4:30/5:00p.
Visit the Ventimiglia Covered Market
The fruits and vegetables in Italy, by far, surpass anything you will find in France. You often see the French popping over for produce, cheese, pasta, liquor and cigarettes – all of which are cheaper in Italy.
I often take my ‘market trolley’ and stop by the famous Covered Market in Ventimiglia (again on Via della Repubblica) to pick up fresh produce before heading back to Nice. That is where I found mounds of fresh Mediterranean artichokes for a special dinner. And the tomatoes are out of this world with several varieties coming from southern Italy. Ventimiglia’s Covered Market is open from 7a-1p Monday to Saturday and reopens at 3p on Friday and Saturday.
Stroll Ventimiglia’s Old Town
If you want to explore the older part of Ventimiglia, cross over the bridge, near the top of Via della Repubblica, and venture up into Ventimiglia’s Old Town. The Old Town is best discovered on foot as the streets are too narrow for most cars. Walk up to the old cathedral, baptistry and crypt, and meander around the original, old walls of Ventimiglia. It’s really something special and ‘old world.’
You can also take in the city’s Roman remains – the theatre, and tombs. Time permitting, stop by Italy’s largest Botanical Gardens, Hanbury Gardens, which are managed by the University of Genova. And for history buffs, you might like the Balzi Rossi Prehistoric Caves with Cro-Magnon fossils, tools and artefacts.
For lovely seaside restaurants, just continue along the Lungomare and you’ll find lots of reasonably-priced options.
Stop for a traditional Italian Apero (happy hour) in Ventimiglia
Later in the afternoon, stop for a traditional Apero in Ventimiglia before getting back on the train back to Nice. One place that does a super Italian apero is Ristorante Pizzeria Barbecue on Via Giuseppe Mazzini 13. It’s literally a 3-minute walk back to the station and a great place to enjoy some local specialities and an Aperol Spritz, which the Italians adore. They serve up some mean, tasty bites every time you order a drink! It’s a great way to close out the day before heading back to Nice on the train.
Bordighera, Italy – Day trip to Bordighera, Italy from Nice
Bordighera, Italy is the next town along the Ligurian Rivera. It’s a town of around 11,000, and is the southernmost town on the Ligurian Riviera.
Due to it’s location at the base of the Alps on Capo Sant’Ampelio, it has it’s own micro-climate and benefits from warmer winters. It’s also a place where the famous painter Claude Monet spent several months in the 1800’s.
Bordighera has a modern section of town, close to the sea, and an older, hill town. Again, the train drops you off in the centre of the modern town, and you walk straight out Via al Mercato to begin exploring left and right.
It’s a beautiful, green town with lots of lovely palms and well-manicured gardens. You can feel this town had a grandiose history with its numerous villas and palazzos. But ‘had’ is the key word. While I enjoy this part of Liguria, you can’t help but feel it’s all somewhat stuck in time.
Travel with your passport!
Important reminder: When you travel across the border into another country, you must carry your passport with you. Actually, you should always have your passport, or a copy of it, with you at all times. It’s a requirement to have identification on you, so don’t forget that. Here are some lovely, quality, RFID blocking passport holders I highly recommend.
Hit Bordighera’s Seaside Promenade Argentina
When you exit the station, turn to your right and you’ll find an underpass that leads to seaside promenade. This lovely walk, called Promenade Argentina, was named in memory of famous guest, Eva Peron – “Don’t cry for me, Argentina.” Here you can enjoy one of the many seaside restaurants and bars, and even take in a swim. Eventually, you’ll pass a few quality hotels in Bordighera and end up at the main road, the SS1 Via Aurelia.
Bordighera’s Alt (Old) Town
Cross the road and you’ll find a little path that leads up into a park-like area. Continue walking up, and up and you’ll come to a parking lot. Walk to the end of the parking lot near the massive, old ficus tree, and you arrive at Bordighera Old Town.
Bordighera Old Town is a quaint village to wander. It’s quite quiet, historic and small. There are reasonably-priced restaurants with good seafood options. One of my favourites is Ristorante Pizzeria Saraceno. I’ve been going there for years and it’s the same family-owned restaurant with excellent prices. Spaghetti with clams will cost around $11 and $8 for a 1/2 litre of wine.
Bordighera’s Weekly Market on Thursdays
Bordighera’s abundant weekly outdoor market is on Thursdays from 8-2pm. The market is along the ‘lungomare’ (seaside) and you simply exit the train, go right, cross underneath the train tracks and you’ll find more than 200 stalls to enjoy. You can’t miss the market.
A day trip to Dolceacqua, Italy from Nice
Dolceaqua, Italy, is one of the most beautiful villages in Liguria with around 2000 people. It’s between Ventimiglia and Vallecrosia, just north on highway SP64. By car it will take about 15-20 minutes depending on traffic. You can also take the local bus there from Ventimiglia. Just follow the information for Linea 7 from the Riviera Transport website. The bus will drop you off in front of the main square on the ‘new side’ of Dolceacqua.
What to see in Dolceacqua – Visit the Castello di Dolceacqua
The first thing you see when you come upon the village is the impressive Castello di Dolceacqua, a fortress dating back to the 1100’s. It’s also known as the Doria Castle, after the famous Ligurian family who once made it home.
From it’s perch, the occupiers could monitor what was going on in other villages. Sneeky… The Castle has undergone major renovations and you can now visit for a fee and there are art exhibits through the year.
The impressionist artist, Monet, also visited Dolceacqua a few times with Renoir in 1884. He was so impressed, that he painted the bridge over the Nervia Creek.
You can reach the castle entrance by meandering up through Dolceacqua’s old town streets. There are several quaint shops and a surprising amount of bed & breakfasts in Dolceacqua.
From the Castello, head under the little metal bridge and keep walking up into the countryside. There are a few paths that continue leading up until you come across some more ruins. The views from above are impressive and well worth the extra hour to work up your appetite.
Admire the Vecchio Ponte of Dolceacqua
The next impressive landmark in Dolceacqua is the Ponte Vecchio or old bridge. It’s also referred to as the humpback bridge and was built in the 1300s. It connects the Old Town Dolceacqua to the newer area bridging the Nervia Creek and is consider the symbol of the city.
There are plenty of restaurants in the main square of Dolceacqua and in the Old Town area. The ones in Old Town feel a bit more authentic than the ones smack dab in the central square.
I’ve dined at Ristorante Zafferano a few times and the food it excellent. It’s hidden off one of the side streets and they offer traditional Ligurian dishes such as gnocchi, tasty bore with polenta, rabbit prepared Ligurian style. There are many great restaurants to choose from so see where the locals are going.
A day trip to San Remo, Italy from Nice
Sanremo is Italy’s version of Monte Carlo – at least it used to be… It’s is a lovely town of around 60,000 people with older, over-the-top Belle Epoque villas, a casino and a Riveria-style attitude. In the past, many of Europe’s aristocrats used to come here for the health benefits of the Riviera’s warm winters. Like other towns along this part of the Ligurian coast, Sanremo’s regal importance has diminished, but what remains is well worth a visit.
Sanremo is the home of the famous, annual San Remo Music Festival, and is said to be the inspiration behind the Eurovision Song Contests. I first paid attention to the town and festival when it appeared in The Talented Mr. Ripley film, only to discover that segment was actually filmed south of Rome.
Head for the Pista Ciclabile in Liguria
It’s also part of the Milan-Sanremo bike race held annually at the end of March. This 290 km race is one of the most important cycling races in Italy. There is also the Pista Ciclabile del Parco Costiero Riviera dei Fiori along the seafront.
This Pista Ciclabile, or cycle path, is a wonderful, paved, walk/bike path that stretches 24 km along the seafront over what used to be the old railway line.
The Piste was finished in 2014, and both pedestrians and cyclists use the line. Rent a bike along this route to enjoy a bit of seaside cycling. You can rent regular or electric bikes and you can pick up in one area and drop off in another. It’s a lot of fun!
Pista Ciclabile Map in Liguria
Stop by the Sanremo Casino and admire the Luxury Villas
The Sanremo Casino is still in operation and you can admire many of the luxury villas on the eastern end of town.
Just past Nobel Gardens, you’ll find Villa Nobel named after Alfred Nobel of the Nobel Peace Prize. This villa, now a museum, has undergone many updates and is open to the public most mornings from 10-12:30 and a few afternoons. It is located at Corso Felice Cavallotti 116.
You can enjoy many other villas from the outside along this same area. Then you can head south to reach the seafront and bike trail.
Visit the Weekly Markets Sanremo
A visit to the weekly Sanremo open-air market is a must-do on a day trip from Nice. The twice-a-week market is on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 8:00a-1:00pm in Piazza Eroi Sanremesi.
It’s located up in Sanremo old town, and you can’t really miss it if you follow the crowds. You’ll find more than 200 stalls with food and non-food items. It’s a great, busy place to wander around and you’ll find some great bargains.
Local specialties at the Sanremo Covered Food and Fish Markets
In the same area, you’ll find the Sanremo Covered Food and Fish Markets. The San Remo Food and Fish Markets are open from 6:00a to 1:30p Monday to Saturday and 4-7:30p on Saturday afternoons. It’s a great place to stock up on fresh fruits, cheeses, salamis and meats, honeys, spices, liquors, wines – you name it.
Day trip from Nice, France to Imperia, Italy
For a bit of history, Mussolini created Imperia in 1923 by combining Porto Maurizio with the town of Orneglia and various villages nearby. It’s a sizeable town of about 45,000 people with a lovely port and a great place to spend a day. It’s only 30 minutes from Ventimiglia on the train, and I’ve visited Imperia a number of times.
Imperia now has a new train station, and is a 15-20 minute walk from town. Previously, the station was smack-dab in the centre of town, which was really convenient. Now, the new train station of Imperia is about a mile out of town and it can be a bit of a schlep. Generally, it is an easy and safe walk, even at night.
Go to the Olive Festival in Imperia – Olioliva Festival
Imperia is a lovely town to discover, particularly when they host their annual Olioliva Festival in November celebrating that famous green fruit – the Olive. Not only will you find loads of olive products here, but also local specialties such as foccacia, honey, salami, prochetta and other tasty items to sample. We basically eat our way through Imperia! In 2019, they moved much of the festival to the seafront/port area. The festival should be over the weekend of November 13-15, 2020. If not, it will be a week earlier.
Villa Grock, the Clown Museum in Imperia for a laugh
One point of interest in Imperia is Villa Grock, which was originally called Villa Bianca. Grock was the stage name used by an internationally-famous Swiss clown, Charles Adrien Wettach.
Wettach originally ran off with a traveling circus and became one of the highest paid entertainers in the early to mid-1900’s.
He built this lavish 50-room villa in Imperia for living and entertaining. Villa Grock is now a clown museum in his honour. You can easily see the iconic rooftop of the Villa from the Imperia train station as you exit, and there are several street signs providing directions. The museum is open only on Tuesdays from 2:30-5:30p and is located at Viale Matteotti, 147.
Visit Imperia’s Porto Oneglia Area
The town of Imperia is lovely to walk around, and you will inevitably find yourself walking down the main drag; the infamous Route SS1. Yes, this is the same road that goes through Ventimiglia, Bordighera and Sanremo….
The SS1 in Imperia is a lovely shopping street with covered porticoes on both sides, which is really refreshing when it’s scorching hot. There are lots of specialty shops and boutiques. My friends Deima and Craig can’t help but stop for shoes every time we go. The shoes are made in Italy and the prices and quality are great.
Continuing along then crossing over SS1 heading south, you’ll wind through an older part of Imperia passing the Basilica di San Giovanni Battista and eventually to the paved stretch in front of Porto Oneglia.
Restaurants in Imperia
Here you’ll find several restaurants that front the port offering some of the best seafood around. One suggestion is to try the restaurant that is on a fishing boat in the harbour. You can’t miss it. It’s the only one there.
For another treat, head to Damare Ristorante close to the port wall. It’s a family restaurant and they have reasonably priced menus of the day. The staff are super friendly and professional. We enjoyed lobster with tagliatelle for $20! Oh, and wine!
Stroll Imperia’s Promenade
Once you are have finished lunch on the port, head left (east) down the promenade on Via Angiolo Silvio Novaro. The promenade was named after the famous writer and poet born in Diano Marina, the next town after Imperia going east.
This promenade is again part of the defunct rail tracks that forms part of the 24km bike trail mentioned above. You’ll go past Koko Beach, where you can rent a lounge chair for the day and enjoy a chi-chi lunch seaside. There’s a park, a playground, a little snack shop, then it’s just seaside promenade. If you continue on this path you’ll eventually end up in Diano Marina in about an hour.
Outdoor Market in Imperia, Italy
Imperia has a sufficient outdoor market with more than 100 stalls three days a week – Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Wednesday and Saturday are at Rione di Oneglia in the main town, and Thursdays’ is near the Port at Porto Maurizio. Best bet is to get there in the morning like the other markets.
Nice Apero Stop in Imperia
A great place to stop in Imperia for an afternoon Italian Apero is at Bacan on Via Vieusseux. It’s just off the SS1 (covered portico street) as you head back toward the train station. They, too, will serve up a hefty plate of nibbles while you enjoy a $5 glass of wine or an Aperol Spritz. It’s a great way to take the edge off before you head off to dinner or back to Nice.
Imperia is actually a good place to base yourself if you want to further discover the neighboring areas of Liguria. I’ve stayed in the Porto Maurizio area and it has a really nice resort feel. The hotels in Imperia are very reasonable, there are some lovely restaurants, and the beach area is clean and organized with beach chairs. Give it a go.
The next time you are in the South of France on holiday, do not hesitate to take some day trips to Italy. They really are very easy to do and you’ll have a super time discovering this wonderful part of Liguria. There is so much to see in a day trip to Italy, but if you have more time spend several days and see more than one town. Have you done a day trip from Nice or Monaco to Italy? Drop me a line and let me know how it went!
Affiliate Notice: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates.
Pin it for later!