From Nice, the train to Italy takes less than an hour, so it’s well worth adding a day of Italian adventure to your trip!
You have two choices for trains to Italy, the regular French trains, or take the more expensive but faster and more comfortable Italian train, Thello.
Taking the French TER train to Italy
The trains from Nice to the Italian border town of Vintimille/Ventimiglia leave Nice roughly every half hour, cost 7.70€ one-way, 15.40€ round-trip, and will take around an hour. Here is the schedule for the route, 04: Mandelieu-Nice-Ventimiglia or you can also just plug in your timing and destination here to get train times.
This route is included in the SNCF/Zou Day Passes, Weekly and Monthly Passes.
If you are going farther in Italy, with the French trains, you need to change to an Italian train in Ventimiglia, which can be a hassle, especially if you have luggage.
You can buy your ticket from Nice to anywhere in Italy from the Nice SNCF ticket office, but you’ll save a lot of money by either buying your Italian portion online (but do this once in Europe as it is much less expensive), or just buy your continuing ticket from ticket booth at the Ventimiglia train station.
Here’s the Italian train site in English. Italian trains are always late, so download the Pronto Treno app (in English) so that you will know ahead of time if your train is delayed.
On the way back, be sure to have downloaded the SNCF app so that you can check train times and know if your return train is going to be late. All trains going in the direction of France stop at Monaco and Nice, then Antibes and Cannes.
Taking the Italian Thello train to Italy
Thello is a new private train company that has only recently set up service in France. They offer three trains a day with fast service between Cannes/Nice and Milan. The trains are bit more expensive, but have the following advantages over the French and Italian state-run trains:
- This is a biggie: If you are going farther into Italy, you don’t have to change trains at the border in Ventimiglia!
- Much faster and more direct routes
- More comfortable trains, assigned seats that recline, individual power sockets
- Cleaner bathrooms
- More professional service with all staff speaking English
- A bar car!
Just for comparison, if you are just going from Nice to Ventimiglia, the Thello train costs 10€ (as opposed to 7.70€ with TER), takes less than 40 minutes (instead of an hour with TER), but Thello only has three trains a day, a morning, afternoon and evening run (versus every half-hour with TER). Also, SNCF and Zou Day/Week/Month Passes are not accepted on the Thello trains.
But if you are going to Sanremo or anywhere beyond, and especially if you have luggage, Thello is much better because you won’t have to change trains in the sometimes chaotic Ventimiglia station, where incidentally there are lots of stairs and no escalators!
It’s easiest to buy your Thello tickets on-line (but wait to do this once you’re in France as they are much more expensive if you buy on-line in the US, not sure why), or at the Thello office at the Nice train station (in the annex just outside the west end of the station, open Mon-Fri), or even at the Thello ticket machines in the Nice train station (but these only work with chip-and-pin credit cards). The staff at the Thello office are very nice and all speak English.
A few tips for your trip
Passport: Take it as there is usually a passport check on the train, but then put it somewhere where it cannot get pick-pocketed.
Best view: Choose seats on the right side of the train for going to Italy, and on the left for the return trip. If using Thello, when you choose your seats online, look to see where the engine is and then you will know which side to choose.
Ventimiglia Train Station: As this is the Italian border, the train station is full of migrants trying to reach France, which makes for kind of a zooey atmosphere. Beware of pickpockets.
Ventimiglia town: There is a lovely daily covered food market (Tues-Sun) just down from the train station on your right, with amazing produce, wonderful fresh pastas and raviolis, and great prices.
Market Days: Friday Market Day in Ventimiglia is an all-day affair, and although the police have chased away the counterfeit designer bag men, it’s still worth going not only for the discounted delectables, but also for the rock-bottom prices on leather goods, clothes, jewelry, basic housewares, gadgets, etc. Just walk straight out of the Ventimiglia train station and in minutes you’re in the thick of the massive sprawl of stands in every direction. It’s very fun, but again, just watch out for pickpockets.
Sanremo has similar Market Days on Tuesdays and Saturdays, but they’re a bit smaller and less overwhelming, and end around 1pm, just in time to have a long Italian lunch. Bordighera’s Market Day is Thursday morning.
Another idea is to rent bicycles: Here is a great post by Nice by Dark on Bicycle rentals in Sanremo
Italian Cafe and Restaurant Quirks: All Italian restaurants add a set cover charge, or coperto, usually 1-3€ per person depending on the restaurant, so don’t be surprised when you see this on your bill.
The cappuccinos in Italy are amazing, but know that at most stand up cafes and bars (including in the train station) you first decide what you want from the display, then go pay at the cashier, then return to the counter with your receipt and they will only then make your order. Oh, and there are two prices depending on if you plan to drink your coffee standing at the counter or sitting down!
See Related Pages:
- Mountain Trains
- Cheap Train Tickets and Rail Pass Deals
- Coastal Trains along the French Riviera
- Day Trips from Nice
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