You know how you see somewhere that just looks so adorable in pictures, and when you go it somehow really is that adorable in real life?
That was our day trip to Menton.
We took a day trip to Menton from Nice and it absolutely lived up to our fairly high expectations. Menton is a really beautiful city with a quaint old town. It also felt fairly off the beaten track – there were some tourists, but not as many as other, more popular villages on the French Riviera.
This post contains affiliate links. When you buy through these links, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you for your support!
A Day Trip to Menton
One of my favorite methods of travel is to establish a “base city” and then do small day trips to points of interest nearby. Not only do you have mornings and evenings to continue to explore your home away from home, but you can get a better feel for the region through these extra excursions.
Nice as a Home Base
We really took advantage of this method on a trip to Nice, France. If you are traveling on the Cote d’Azur, Nice is THE base city to stay in. It’s one of the bigger cities on the French Riviera, it has lots to do, and is absolutely gorgeous. Importantly, it is well-connected to other places via the train station and bus routes, making it easy to visit the many, many villages, hikes, and points of interest – perfect for day trips.
On this trip we stayed in this cute, perfectly located hotel. It was just a stone’s throw away from the Promenade des Anglais, the Jardin Albert 1, and old town. Plus it had a boulangerie AND fromagerie (cheese store) just around the corner. Since I am obsessed with French cheese, I also appreciated the mini-fridge in the room (you don’t always get those in France), so I could stash all my loot from the fromagerie!
Getting to Menton
We’ve done just about every mode of transportation in southern France – train, bus, and rental car – and there are pros and cons to each! On our trip, we took the regional train to Menton from Nice. On the way back, we took the bus and made a stop in Monaco. We’ve also rented a car and driven to day trip destinations. Here’s our breakdown on the different modes of transportation:
Renting a car gives you the most flexibility, but it is also the most hands-on option (need to navigate, find parking, etc). Thankfully, driving in France is fairly straightforward, road conditions are good, and traffic on the freeways isn’t bad at all.
Driving in downtown Nice was not my favorite, but worth it to get the flexibility. We chose this option on our second trip to southern France because some places we wanted to hit weren’t easily accessible to train and much less convenient by bus.
If you stay at our favorite hotel near the Old Town, there are several car rental spots right around the corner on Avenue Gustave V (called Nice Downtown on the website). This was perfect – we waited until we needed the car to pick it up instead of renting it from the airport and then having it sit in a street parking while we explored Nice, and it was super convenient to pick up.
Most cars in France are manual transmission, so if that’s going to be a problem you’ll want to make your car reservation for automatic as early as possible (limited number of automatic cars) and be prepared to spend a little more.
The cost for a train ride is a little more than the cost of taking the bus. However, as we found out on a different day trip, the bus takes quite a bit longer than the train. If you are choosing between bus and train, unless prices are exorbitantly higher on the day you want to travel, I would 100% prioritize having more time and take the train.
At the train station, make sure to validate your ticket in the orange machines before you board (very important). Then, relax and enjoy the 40 minute ride. The train track hugs the coast for most of the journey, so you will enjoy great views of the sea and coast on the way out – a really beautiful start to a day trip to Menton.
You can buy tickets ahead of time here for the train – you will be leaving from the Gare de Nice Ville.
Generally speaking, if the places you want to visit are easily accessible by train this is an excellent option for getting around southern France. You don’t have to mess with parking, tolls, driving in narrow old towns, or navigating. However, sometimes the train routes do not connect directly to the places you want to visit. Plus, there is always less flexibility when you aren’t driving yourself.
Tip: In French, a “gare” is a train station, whereas a “gare routière” is a bus station.
This is the cheapest option, but honestly, this is my least favorite option because it’s the slowest. Buses can take a long time! It’s a good option in general, though, if you don’t need to go far. For example, if I was staying in Nice and wanted to visit Villefranche-sur-Mer, the village riiiiiight next to Nice, I wouldn’t take the train. It’s close enough to just take the bus.
So, which one to choose?
I would choose a car if…
- You want to get places really early or stay late
- If you are planning on going a new place everyday or almost every day
- If the places you want to visit aren’t easily accessible by train (no direct route or the direct route is much slower than the driving time)
I would choose the train if…
- You don’t want to deal with the hassle of parking and navigating
- You are only doing a couple of day trips
- You want the experience of taking the train in France
- The places you want to go are easily accessible by train from where you’re staying
I would choose the bus if…
- You are on an incredibly tight budget
- The places you want to visit are super close to where you are staying
If You’re Short on Time or Don’t Like Public Transit
If you don’t have a lot of time but want to hit several Cote d’Azur highlights, or don’t want to navigate public transportation or deal with the hassle of driving, navigating, and parking, this small group tour is an excellent option to see the highlights of the region.
The tour takes you right across the border of Italy to an Italian market, then stops to enjoy Menton’s old town, and then to Monaco to see the views over the city. Get more details here!
Exploring the City of Menton
From the train station in Menton, start wandering toward the city center, admiring the beautiful buildings and the relaxed way of life in the village. You’ll see some clay tennis courts – to me, clay tennis courts just scream relaxing, laid back living!
Then, head down Avenue de Verdon and toward the coast. Avenue de Verdon is a wide street that straddles a green space that was lined with – wait for it – lemon trees and orange trees! Just right there, in the middle of the city. So fun!
Before reaching the coast, I recommend you turn east and wander through the city. There are a lot of fun stores to browse, including clothing stores and specialty food shops. Don’t miss the French chocolateries with detailed candy shapes — there were so many lemon themed food items.
Hot tip: These lemon-themed products make great souvenirs or gifts to bring home with you!
Eventually, you will end up at the coast. Menton has several really beautiful beaches. The beaches that are farther west are pebbled beaches, which is very typical for many southern France beaches. However, the farther east you head, the sandier the beaches become. Plage des Sablettes is one of the nicest beaches and is nestled right under the colorful old town!
Since we were there in March, it wasn’t exactly beach weather, but it still was beautiful walking along the Promenade du Soleil next to the beach. The promenade has some gorgeous viewpoints that capture the beach, water, and city all together. Any section of the promenade is pretty, but the section in front of the old town colorful buildings is particularly picturesque.
Exploring Menton’s Old Town – The Best Part of Our Day Trip to Menton
You are now near Menton’s old town. As you started into this section of the city, spend plenty of time exploring the narrow, curving streets and seeing the colorful painted homes. Make a stop at the Saint-Michel Basilica. This ornate church is built right on the edge of the hill, so to get to it from the coast, you have to climb!
The tower of the basilica is visible above the roofs of the other buildings from many vantage points. There’s an impressive staircase to reach the basilica, but once you’re there, you get a beautiful view back over the sea.
This was our favorite part of the day trip to Menton; continuing to wander around old town and exploring all the nooks and crannies. It is built into the hillside so there were some good elevation gains. The buildings are classically Mediterranean, in various shades of pinks, reds, yellows, peach, and tans. There were stone walls and arches, cobblestone streets, and potted plants sitting out just because. It was far and away the most charming old town I’ve visited.
Cimetière du Vieux Chateau
At the top of old town there’s a cool, old cemetery to explore – Cimetière du Vieux Chateau. It’s actually a really nice place to walk around for a while, as there are lots of statues and interesting little details. Here (or really at any good eastern-facing vantage point), you can see Italy – the Italian border is actually just five miles from Menton.
Menton also has several lovely gardens that you can visit, some free, some for a small fee — they add even more beauty and charm to this city! The Jardin Botanique Exotique de Menton is easily the most beautiful one, so I would head here first. Serre de la Madone, and Les Colombières are also great options if you have more time and can’t get enough of the beautiful gardens.
Should You Take a Day Trip to Menton?
Our day in Menton was a top highlight of the entire trip. It wasn’t a city that you go to to see a whole bunch of sights, but rather, to experience the charm and make heart eyes at all the adorable spots. I’d recommend it in a heartbeat!
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Securing some travel insurance is an important part of prepping for any international trip – you never know when something might happen, and your regular insurance generally won’t cover you overseas. Costs for a medical emergency on vacation can add up extremely fast, so it’s just better to be safe than sorry. (If covid has taught me anything, it’s that you never know what could happen!)
I like booking insurance at Insure My Trip, as they offer a variety of plans with different coverages to choose from, so you can find the right option for you. Plus, they have great customer support if you need help before, during, or after your trip.
Check Out These Other Southern France Articles!
- 15 Best Things to Do in Nice
- What to Eat for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner in Nice
- Aix-en-Provence: The City of Fountains
- The Best Things to Eat in Aix-en-Provence
- Hiking the Calanques of Cassis
- Visiting Pont du Gard: An Old Roman Aqueduct
- Exploring the Sentier du Littoral of Antibes