The only way to avoid those ticket queues
These blue machines are generally the only way to avoid the apalling long and slow queues at Nice Ville Gare SNCF ticket windows. The queue at the ticket windows can be 15 minutes, and is the choice of people who have problems and a dozen questions to ask to plan their journey. On some of the unmanned stations along the Riviera, they are the only way to buy a ticket. So mastering these machines is your key to the universe.
Its not difficult. Firstly, as regards payment, the machine don't take notes - only coins and plastic. So all those 20 and 50 euro notes are going to be no use to you whatsoever. But the amount of coins you will need is not trivial. Billetiere machines now accept chipped Visa and Mastercard credit cards and this is the way to go. Avoid using precious debit cards as there is always a small risk of malfunction ( once declared my debit card !"muet" literally,dumb, disabled, and it no longer worked therefter.) which on holiday is one risk you don't need!
The ticket part is straight forward and logical. A wheel scrolls to highlight your choices on the screen, and the button selects them. Select your destination. You want the "Other tickets" - not various special tickets for locals - travel either today or in the future (up to 60 days), , second class, adult, one way or return, the number of passengers, no receipt required, in with the card, punch in PIN, collect printed ticket, retrieve card. Job Done.
Advice: Allow time for tourists in front of you who have not read this advice fumbling around to understand how the machines work. And don't go off to the newspaper shop to beg for change - they are not a change machine, and even the "innocent" ruse of buying a trivial item and offering a twenty euro note is likely to be snubbed. For them it happens every five minutes
As an alternative, French rail tickets can be purchased in advance, so you would be well advised to buy whatever tickets you need at a time when the station is not busy, and avoid all the hassle totally. Just turn up ticket in hand, validate (date stamp machines - most important!), and go.
Asking for it: get your sign language right
It's always helpful to support your communications with bus drivers and ticket clerks to be clear about what you are asking for. For a start, show some respect - don't launch into English assuming they will understand. Its just a job to them, you are in France and the language is French..
If you want two tickets to town, then of course its "deux billets", but if your french pronounciation is a bit ropey, people will reinforce the message by hand signalling "two".
In some cultures like English, "two" is signalled by a "V-sign" - index and second finger. Remember that the V-sign has enormous significance in old English/ Norman French history, circa 1066. Bows and arrows were a big thing, King Harold having taken one in the eye. It was reputedly a taunt by English archers aimed at their French enemies, indicating their undiminished prowess with the bow and arrow (captured bowmen would have their string-drawing fingers amputated).
Anglosaxon "one" is indicated by the index finger alone, as in "I suggest you consult your proctologist" Recipe for miscommunication.
In France, "one" is signalled by the thumb, and "two" by the thumb and index finger together. For "three" add the second finger, and so on. You'll quickly find it works a treat and you get the right number every time.
But as for the difference in pronunciation, in French, between "Cannes" and "Cagnes", you are on your own! Even the French have difficulty with that one.
You must validate your bus tickets!
A raft of warnings that spot- fines have been upped for improper use of bus tickets. They do have inspectors and I have seen people thrown off the bus for ticket infractions. A few simple rules will help avoid any unpleasant suprises.
1. Fines for travelling without a ticket. You are expected to pay for a ticket - its incredibly cheap - pay the driver on entry.
2. Fines for overstaying your destination. Not a good idea.
3. Fines for having an out of date ticket. Not a good idea.
4. Fines for failing to validate your ticket. Because you can make further connecting bus journeys free within 74 minutes, provided it does not constitute a return journey, the system depends on date and time stamping of tickets by popping them in the little machine by the bus entrance.
On-board inspections are becoming commonplace and the French are very keen on fines on the spot.
The tram has more of an honour system since you can't pay the driver, so you need to buy a ticket before boarding, and validate with the on-board machines, which makes an audible sound according to whether the ticket is valid or not. The inspection system consist of a swarm of maybe a dozen uniformed inspectors who gather at tram-stops to check people on dismounting. Crude but effective.
Don't think about riding without a ticket
The French railway system will put every single imaginable obstacle in your path to buying a ticket. But don't think that will excuse you when the inspectors move through the train.
In some countries, a kindly gent looks to see if you are holding something that looks vaguely like it might be a ticket, or lets you buy one one from him. These guys travel in threes, and are recruited from men thrown out of the French Foreign Legion for being "too hard".
They will read the smallest of small print religiously, check the date and destination, the validation stamp you must apply to the ticket before boarding. If there is the slightest infraction, or you don't hold a ticket, you're in deep doo doo. The pens come out, forms in triplicate are solemnly completed, the spot fines up to 100 euro can be demanded in addition to the correct ticket price.Resistance is useless, or its off at the next stop accompanied to the police station.
Sitting in a first class compartment with a second class ticket is heavily frowned on. Mumbling something in Swedish that sounds like an apology might, just might allow you to move without paying up for the upgrade.
TGV seats are all only by reservation, and that is what you have to have to board a TGV, even if the train is self evidently empty, having completed the bulk of its journey from Lille or Paris. There are fines for ocupying a seat without reservation, though you can book a reservation if you have 20 minutes to spare at the station. Boarding a TGV without a reservation is common, I've done it myself, but the smart thing to do is stand in the corridor or around the boarding entrance - so you are not actually seated.
They hire very clever people to run the railways. Unfortunately they never had a Margaret Thatcher to sort out the unions. Any whiff of reform and its out on strike, to which the government's response is to cave in immediately. Welcome to France.
ATS Minibus Service from Nice Airport
An excellent taxi transfer service which we've used from the airport to the centre of Nice. You can book in advance on the internet, and have the choice of a private or shared transfer to your door. When we used it we had booked shared, although on our return trip we were the only ones on the minibus. They also go to many other destinations on the Cote D'Azur.
**Update** ATS have recently put their prices up and it now costs approx 8 euros per person each way. However this is still cheaper than a taxi which can often cost 35 euros to Nice centre
- Road Trip
- Budget Travel
- Business Travel
Travel by train across the Cote d'Azur
Train is the easiest and fastest way of travelling around the coast line of Cote d'Azur.
In half an hour and only for a few euros, you are in the center of Cannes or Monaco.
The charming small towns of Villefranche, Antibes and Beaulieu are just 10-15 minutes away by train, with some fabulous beaches.
In summer there are trains almost every half an hour to each direction. You can go even to Italy this way, Ventimiglia is just 50 minutes away and even though it's sp close to Nice and other coastal towns, it has a different athmosphere and mentality.
Info in English:
- Budget Travel
- Family Travel
Payment Ettiquette on Public Transport
Payment ettiquette on French public transport works like this (say, its the airport bus and its a four euro flat fare) :
If you tender four one Euro coins or two two's, he will love you, and give a cheery "merci!" or "parfait!!". You understand his needs and have been considerate.
If you offer a five euro bill or a ten euro bill: dishing change is easy - one euro or a five bill and a one coin, so no bother. Smile.
If you tender the exact amount in a large number of small coins (l'argent") the driver (thats what he is basically) has to count through it all to make sure its right. Paper cups of small change is what beggars collect. "Thats, one plus five is six, and ten is sixteen, twenty six, twenty eight, thirty three........"This guy didnt do well in math, thats why he's driving a bus. Scowl.
Offering a twenty note: beginning to get irritating. All that careful balance of change he has to manage is going awry - you flash a twenty in his face (as they come out the cash machines) , he has to scrabble around with fives, tens and ones.
Offer a fifty note: what are you, a drug dealer? (At this denomination, the driver may well refused to accept your fare)
Offer a one hundred or two hundred note: call the cops! - only people carrying these are gangsters, money launderers or forgers.
Offer an international credit card - what do you think - does this look like Galeries Lafayette? Get off the bus, go to a cash machine, and get some money out, damn tourist!
Somewhere is a new novel struggling to be written in all this. The cash transaction is the crossroads between French Social Model (you shouldn't have to pay, everything should be free, from the State") and the hated Anglo-saxon economic model - efficiency, consumer-power, choice and hence job insecurity .
Most bus drivers belong to the communist CGT union. Think about it.
Public Transportation: Bus etiquette
- When your bus is coming and no one else seems to be taking this bus, please make a sign to the driver, otherwise he won't stop. If you made a sign and he didn't stop, maybe you are at the wrong stop (check the bus lines of your stop). To save time, have your bus money or ticket ready.
- Buses are boarded from the front. Don't forget to validate your bus ticket every time you get on a bus.
- When you want to get off, go to the back of the bus and press on the red button "Arrêt demandé" (stop requested). Buses are exited from the rear or central doors.
- Budget Travel
The Airport Bus to Nice
For sensible normal travellers:
Heading for Nice, and want a balance of cost and convenience, from either Terminal One or Two, take the Airport Express bus to town. Half-hourly 98 will take you as far as Place Blanqui by Nice Riquier train station via the Promenade, with stops along the way for all the main hotels. Service 99 as an alternative also runs every half hour and will take you part-way along the Prom and then up to the Railway station Nice Gare SNCF. Between the two routes, there is around fifteen minutes gap for one or the other. Both get you basically to Nice centre, 6 euro (from May 2, 2013) for a ticket also valid all day on Lignes d'Azur other local buses. Note the 98 Gare Routiere airport express runs up until just short of midnight whilst the last 99 bus for the railway station finishes as early as 9pm. After midnight, its....
Travellers "on expenses" (or after midnight):
The lazy/ convenient solution for those whose employer or conference sponsor hasn't booked a waiting driver with your name on a board is the notoriously expensive taxi to town, typically 35 euro (typical fares)
Total cheapskates can cut the airport-Nice travel bill to a miserly 1.50 euro (new ticket price from May 2nd, 2013) by catching the regular 23 route public bus service which runs between Terminal 1 and St Maurice (northern suburb, via Gare SNCF) finishes for the evening around 9pm, or by walking a short distance from T1 to the Promenade and catching the 52 or 59 local bus into Nice. Note: all the other routes passing this stop Airport/Promenade are allowed to drop off but not pick up passengers, only the 52 and 59 pick up. Those arriving at T2 (Easyjet) can use the free Navette to toggle between T2 and T1.
Should you decide to walk to town, bear in mind the area around the airport at night is the red light district and the first kilometre is just a cycleway, but it is otherwise a safe and uneventful 5km walk - expect a little over an hour.
Returning to the airport, the Voie Rapide expressway serves the railway-station to airport bus, which is the line of choice. Allow 20 -25 minutes and you will almost certainly be fine, but I have experienced "snarl-ups" when an accident occurs on the expressway and traffic is re-routed through the airport causing major jams. A recent trip took closer to an hour, so leave a good margin for the unknown. Better that than missing a flight.
For all the bus timetables consult the airport bus connections
Around the Riviera, take the bus!
UPDATE April 2014!
The Nice Gare Routiere (Bus station) closed in 2011, as part of urban renewal plans for the "Promenade du Paillon", an urban park which stretchs from the Promenade des Artes to the Promenade des Anglais. This is a major change affecting information for visitors, travel tips and the like, written prior to that date. Buses now commence their journey from a variety of points scattered around the central area of the town.
The most important new start points are:
Promenade des Artes, opposite the Theatre of Nice, and close to Place Garribaldi
Bus 100 for Villefranche/ Monaco / Menton -
Bus 81 for St Jean Cap Ferrat, including Villa Ephrussi
Bus 82 for Eze Village
From Albert 1er/Verdun, close to the Meridien Hotel opposite Albert 1st Gardens (see photo)
Bus 200 for Antibes & Cannes
Bus 400 for St Paul/Vence
Bus 500 Grasse
Back of Galleries Lafayette/ Giofreddo
Various routes (15, 17) for Cimiez
The easiest way to get between Nice and the main towns along the Riviera is the bus. TAM inter-urban buses go from Nice to Villefranche, Monaco and Menton (Route 100), to Antibes and Cannes (Route 200), Vence/ St Paul de Vence (Route 400/ 410), St Jean Cap Ferat (route 81) and 82 or 112 for Eze Village.
The visitors key Route 100 (Nice - Menton in1h:15mins) leaves from Promenade des Artes, every fifteen minutes on weekdays, every twenty minutes on Sundays and holidays, and costs just one euro fifty flat fare. It is hugely popular due to being the main route for Monaco, and a quarter of the equivalent trainfare or less. It will often be full to the brim before it even leaves Nice, and once full, drivers will sometimes ignore people waiting at bus stops down the line, and stop only to let people off. (Cruise "Boat people" looking to undercut the cost of organised excursions to Monaco, and Eze Village, beware!)
Buy the ticket on the bus from the driver, stating your destination and the number of passengers, offering as close to the correct fare as you can. Offering a twenty or fifty Euro note for a one euro fare doesn't always go down very well, and I have seen drivers refuse them.
Don't expect the driver to converse in English and answer questions, and don't expect a helpful tour guide. (Sample conversation: American lady to driver: "Is this the bus for Villa Ephrussi?" Blank look. "Can you tell us which stop to get off?" Blank. "Is it far to walk?" Blank. Lady turns to friend. "He doesn't know". Friend: "No, Myrtle. He doesn't care")
The downside? Buses finish for the day suprisingly early, most stopping at nightfall, after which there are a few infrequent night buses ("Noctambus") or you need to travel by train. Often very full, bus travellers are an easy target for pickpockets. Take extreme precautions to secure valuables when travelling. It is common to have to stand the whole journey, and compared to the train they are very slow. Cannes is over two hours by bus compared to twenty five minutes on the train.
The bus is still the cheapest way to get around from Nice, and its fun, and you get to travel with the locals. If on the other hand you prefer your own company, being surrounded by metal you control, and happy to waste large amounts of money, there is always the fall back of car rental. Good luck finding a parking spot.
Be warned bus travel still has an element of chance, like buses not stopping at minor bus stops despite being hailed, and raising the "complet" (full) sign to justify sailing past bus stops. The only way to be sure of boarding and possibly a seat is if you board at the very start of the route, or one of the main stops where many people will get off the bus.
Also queuing is not orderly in France - politeness does not extend to fellow passengers - they are rivals. No matter how long you have waited first in the queue, others will immediately slip in front of you, using elbows and bare-faced cheek. People who hesitate, dither, or give way to others, ladies, the elderly, children, are considered weak and fair game. If it's crowded and you want to get on, you must be determined to fight to get on. It is war, take no prisoners.
Once on the bus, don't be put off by "edge-hogs" - people who occupy the aisle-seat and place their bag on the empty window seat - for their own comfort and convenience. Glare at them and politely mutter "Pardon!" and insist on taking the empty seat. It beats standing.
- Budget Travel
Open Top Bus tour
Nice - Le Grand Tour is the name of the open top double deck bus tour that we took to see the sites of Nice. The bus does a general tour of the area including stops on Mount Biron, Cimiez, Place Garibaldi and a variety of other places. Your ticket allows you to hop on and hop off at the various sites so you're not just doing a drive by.
Commentary is provided in six or seven languages, providing a description of some of the locations and monuments as you pass by. It was a great way to get around to the various sites.
A one day pass was $18 EU.
- Castles and Palaces
- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
Car Rental from Home
Booking a rental car from your home town for use in Nice, France, is a must. Reason being that the price is locked and you are assured the vehicle you desire. Insurance is expensive but worth the price to keep you worry free while sightseeing. Remember that if you travel to Italy by car from France, the car must be returned to France and the location of your rental. That's why Nice is where to rent. You get a lower price to travel the Cote d'Azur and Italy as well.
Make sure you have proper driving credentials and credit cards. A reminder that some luggage does not fit in the smaller type cars, check out before saying yes to a vehicle size. Many cars are also stick shift only. If you are an automatic drive only driver, make sure you request automatic ONLY. Having a vehicle to use in France and Italy, gives you the freedom of time and destination decisions. Have a great time!
- Road Trip
- Family Travel
- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
Forget the glamorous 180mph prestige TGV high speed trains from Paris. The basic French Railways are dreadful, run for the convenience of their employees , who when not out on strike, are out to lunch. Be wary of the long break in their schedules at lunch times that can leave you cooling your heels at a station for an hour or two.
If a train arrives packed with people don't assume that anyone will make room to let you get on. You can be confronted at the carriage doors by a wall of passengers who have absolutely no intention of being inconvenienced by moving up to let you on. Appeals to "move up" will fall on deaf ears. The only recourse is to physically elbow your way in. They won't like it, but so what?
The late night schedule can stop early so check the times of the last trains very carefully. Better still, if you can avoid it don't travel on late evening trains on the Cannes La Bocca / Marseilles direction - the service does not have a good record on personal safety.
Buying tickets has a whole lot of issues of its own. See my warnings/ dangers tips on how the avoid the worst of it.
Don't think about freeloading. Though they are run inefficiently, the French railways are quite ruthless about on the spot fines. Oh and the toilets - Nice Railway station's are just awful - just don't go there! On board the trains, they are a mixed blessing.
I hope I am not giving you the wrong impression of French railways - in normal daytime services, provided you are savvy about the things too avoid, the service is fairly acceptable. Its just once you stray out of that window, be prepared for things to go downhill, fast.
- Budget Travel
Airpot transfers, Buses, Trains & Parking
Nice airport is very close to the resort, making it a good choice for a short break. We caught the airport bus (3.50 euros or thereabouts) easily into the center.
The bus drives along the coast and you just hop off at the nearest street to your hotel.
A short trip and all very easy.
The trip back to the airport was just as easy, We grabbed an airport bus on the main promenade (Promenade des Anglais), which got us back there in plenty of time.
You can buy some local bus tickets from Tabacs, Tourist offices, Bus Stations but we paid for ours on the bus.
Terminal 1 at Nice airport (as used by BA) is pretty drab, the shops weren't open (what shops there were) - there was no restaurant, and the flight was somewhat delayed.Grab what you need before you get into that particular terminal.
Parking in Nice is apparently very tricky and costs around 10 euros per night. The town is easy to walk around (take sensible shoes as the cobbles in the old town can give you blisters!) - there isn't really much point in hiring a car unless you intend to drive to different areas of the Cote D'Azure.
Even then, the trains are fantastic (can personally vouch for this) and buses good - and they are all reasonably priced.
Trains leave for other coastal destinations and cities from the main Nice railway station.
There are different styles of trains and various pricing systems (which can be a little confusing). You can book a train journey in a travel agents.
We booked a couple of cabs during our visit, (via the hotel reception) they were reliable and reasonably priced.
(See Nice transport Link Below in English).
- Road Trip
- Family Travel
Nice Tourist Train
There is a tourist train that takes people around the city to see various sights. Many people laugh at the train, but it is a good way for people to get acquainted with the city before venturing out on their own.
The train departs on the "Promenade des Anglais". (on the sea front), across from the "Jardin Albert 1er". Cost for an adult ticket is $6.5 EU.