Trains vs rental car in Cote D'Azur
May 13, 2022 12:38 PM   Subscribe

We're planning a trip to Nice in June and I'm trying to decide whether to rent a car or not. Can you help?

My two 16-year old daughters and I are flying in to Marseille on June 29th and back out on July 3rd. We're planning on staying in Nice and have an Air BnB booked for those dates. I'm trying to decide whether we should take the train to Nice or rent a car.

We have no plans once we get to Nice beyond wanting to just relax, stroll around, take in the beach and a few museums and possibly hop up to Monaco on the train for a day trip. I'm deliberately not planning anything as I really need this to be a low key trip.

I'm very comfortable taking public transport in Europe, so I initially just assumed we'd take the train from Marseille to Nice and take subways/trams/taxis wherever we felt like going. However, someone suggested that we rent a car and drive around the coast / do some daily excursions, which sounds lovely too.

Except that I've never driven in France and I'm a bit nervous about it. I'm a good driver and have driven in other countries, but only where I spoke the language fluently and my French is sadly very rusty. I also only drive automatic, but I've checked and there are many automatic rentals available. It's more expensive but I'm less concerned about the money than I am about feeling stressed.

So - for those of you who have spent time in Nice and environs, what sounds best to you? Would it be much better to have a car? How stressful is the driving - are exits etc clear and easy to understand for strangers? How are the drivers - more on the laid back side or the honking stressful side? Does the freedom and additional adventure of having a car outweigh traffic, potentially more stress and fewer alcoholic beverages?

Thank you so much!
posted by widdershins to Travel & Transportation around Nice, France (14 answers total)
It's a great place to be without a car, I think. I haven't been there for a long time but think you can also take a regional train down the coast. Much more relaxing...I love trains and it's obviously better for the environment, as a bonus.
posted by pinochiette at 12:49 PM on May 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I just went the opposite way in March and took the train (TGV) between the two. I wouldn't bother with a car between the two, as most of what is between them is very easily accessible by a regular commuter train (TER). The view from the train is also way better unless you plan to take a very coastal (and much longer) route. There is so much to see that is accessible by the commuter train that we spent a month in Nice (our second time there; last time was for five days) and four days in Marseille and barely scratched the surface. The train is also quite cheap and runs either every hour or every half hour, depending on what time of day it is.

You probably also won't want to drive or enjoy it very much when jet lagged. We did Paris to Rheims, a few hour drive, after an overnight flight from eastern Canada after arriving during a French train strike and it SUCKED. We were too busy making sure we stayed awake to really take in much of our surroundings.

That said, driving is super simple in France, even without knowing French. I'd look up some key driving vocabulary and French road signs, since they're different than North American signs, but the most important ones are fundamentally the same and it's mostly the city-related ones (like no parking and no stopping zones, for instance) that are different. Drivers are also much, much, MUCH better and more patient in France than in North American cities. It's also completely unnecessary because public transit is so good.
posted by urbanlenny at 12:56 PM on May 13, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: As others have said, I don't think you'll need a car to do the things you're planning to do. There's a train line all along the coast with stops in even the smaller places. I spent a week there on holiday without a car, and visited Cannes, Antibes, Eze, Villefranche... and had a great time. You can also travel inland by train on the 'Train des Pignes'.
posted by Desertshore at 12:58 PM on May 13, 2022

Here's a list of train stops from Nice railroad station. Absolutely no need to rent a car.
posted by Elsie at 1:00 PM on May 13, 2022

Considering how short your trip is the added stress of driving and parking doesn't seem worth it. Enjoy public transportation, relax!
posted by mareli at 4:33 PM on May 13, 2022

Best answer: Agreed that no car is needed! It's a great city and you can visit all sorts of places without a car. Since you're staying in an AirBNB, you'll probably want groceries and there are lots of stores around. Even the small stores had great wine selections! One place that we particularly enjoyed was the Parc du Mont-Boron. It has lovely views and is walkable from Old Nice. We also took the TER to Monaco and it made for a nice day trip!

Make sure you get some socca while you're there -- it's so tasty and delicious.
posted by Brassica oleracea at 10:41 PM on May 13, 2022

Another vote for no car. I like all trains, but the ones along the Côte d'Azur are specially charming. Maybe take a trip to Ventimiglia, it is surprising how you can feel the cultural differences between France and Italy, just on the other side of the border.
posted by mumimor at 1:43 AM on May 14, 2022

The bus system is also extensive and cheap (1.50 euros). Another vote for no car.
posted by Ian Scuffling at 11:26 AM on May 14, 2022

Best answer: Some individual points as someone who has driven a rental in the area:

Driving in France is a joy. Things tend to be either well-designed, or smoothed out by centuries of traffic. Signage is very clear. Drivers are proper and moderately courteous. Only issues for me were that mountain roads could sometimes be narrow, and guardrails aren't as common as I would have liked.

Parking can sometimes be a bother (Cassis was inconvenient for this reason), but not impossible.

Gasoline is at European prices, much higher than the U.S. When I was there, automated, standalone devices tended not to take my U.S. credit cards, notably gas pumps and tollbooths, so I had to make sure I went to staffed tollbooths or gas stations with indoor cashiers.

When I reserved an automatic at Marseille airport, they "It's that one over there." It was a nice VW Passat, but there weren't other options if there had been a problem of some kind.

There are some things that you can only get to by car. Example: there's a beautiful 2000-year-old Roman bridge at Saint-Chamas that I drove to. If you have a definite list of smaller, out of the way things that you'd like to see, you'll want a car.

Your point about drinking is a good one. If you're driving everywhere, that can put a damper on trying local wines, apéros, what have you.

And, trains in France are also awesome.

When it comes down to it, if I were in your shoes, I'd just look at your list of places to visit. Get a car if you're seeing a lot of things in the countryside. Otherwise, if you're staying in places that are relatively well-served by train, and many places are, there's no need for a car.

(Note that driving in Italy is a **dramatically** different driving culture from France. Consider that, too, if crossing the border into Italy is on your itinerary.)
posted by gimonca at 12:46 PM on May 14, 2022

Have you considered flying into Nice? My wife and I bought bus passes at the airport and used them for a week-long vacation. Except for a train ride to Ventimiglia we took the bus everywhere along the coast.
posted by leaper at 1:20 PM on May 14, 2022

Best answer: If you don't plan to visit l'arrière pays niçois, which means small towns nearby that are inland, then I wouldn't bother with a car. To park could be extremely difficult and drivers are absolutely mental in that part of France. Trust me. I'm French, and I've never seen such a thing. You can even plan a trip from Nice to Antibes or Cannes using bikes, that's a great way to see the coast. And even if you want to take a trip to, say, Grasse, or other places of interest, you can rent a car for a day. It's not worth it to keep the car several days, I think. Enjoy your trip !
posted by nicolin at 2:25 PM on May 14, 2022

Best answer: The bus service at least in the smaller coastal towns sucks, like hourly buses that stop at 7 or 8 p.m. Maybe Nice is better. And I don't find driving in France easy compared with the US, the intersections have more streets converging, the signage is slightly different with the priority roads, etc. I drive a stick car every day, so this is taking into account that you have your preferred transmission. But I would definitely not get a car.
posted by wnissen at 10:13 PM on May 14, 2022

Data point - we did something similar last October, and we rented a car. We flew to Marseilles, picked up a car and drove to Antibes. We spent the night, saw the Picasso museum, had some drinks, and the next day took the train to Nice to see the Chagall museum (glorious!) and did not see the Matisse museum (closed!). We ate horrible "french tacos" - would not advise. We trained back to Antibes, then drove to Avignon, spent two nights, then drove to Marseilles and spent two nights. One of the days we were in Marseilles we drove to Aix for the morning to buy tablecloths and drink coffee. Driving was simple and super fun, and lots of cool things are very close together in that area. If we'd had another day, we would have driven to Grasse to sniff perfume.

We loved having the flexibility to pivot plans and duck off the highway when something seemed interesting, and we just parked where our hotels had parking.
posted by ersatzkat at 12:40 PM on May 15, 2022

Response by poster: Thank you all so much! They were all great answers; I marked as 'best' the ones that gave me additional insight into the decision. For this trip, no car it is. Really appreciate you all taking the time to give me your thoughts.
posted by widdershins at 9:26 AM on May 16, 2022

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