French Riviera 10 Places to See During your Stay
Whether this is your first trip to the French Riviera or you are a regular visitor to the Côte d’Azur, the only problem is overwhelming choices. Where should you start? In alphabetical order, we have highlighted ten (10) of our favourite places to visit along (or near) the coast. However, this is just a start. There are fantastic hilltop villages, vineyards near Nice, remote hiking experiences, and fabulous gardens – and we haven’t even mentioned the tremendous food.
The Alpes-Maritimes department stretches from the beaches of the French Riviera to the ski resorts of the southern Alps and across to the Italian border. It is incredibly diverse. It has densely populated urban areas (including famous Côte d’Azur cities), environmentally protected areas, and remote wilderness. The French Riviera has everything if you enjoy the bustle and nightlife of a big city, quiet stargazing in a small village, visiting museums and galleries, or cycling and hiking.
Antibes is a relatively small centre located on the French Riviera between Nice and Cannes. It is one of the only medieval cities on the Mediterranean that has been nicely preserved. Ramparts dating from the 10th century surround the old town, so it feels like an old village within the walls. Yet, the harbour Port Vauban, the largest marina in Europe, is where many of the world’s billionaires dock their mega-yachts.
Even if you only have a few days in Antibes, there are many things to see and do. The Old Town (Vieil Antibes) is a treasure trove of pedestrian-friendly streets, plazas, and winding alleyways filled with Azaleas. You’ll also find hidden treasures like the carved doors of la Chapelle Saint Bernardin, a small chapel built in the late 1500s.
Insiders suggest visiting the Provençal Market, considered one of the world’s best markets. It’s open daily (closed Mondays from September through May) from 6 am until 1 pm. The stalls are piled high with locally grown fresh produce, flowers, handicrafts and artwork by local artisans. Place de Gaulle and Place Nationale are the places for shopping at the “brocantes” (flea markets).
Antibes has many excellent cafés, bistros, bakeries, and restaurants to please everyone, from those interested in a romantic dinner or dining out with the entire family. And speaking of the whole family, Antibes has many family-friendly activities. Enjoy a free guided walking tour of Vieil Antibes. It offers a balance of accurate historical information and age-appropriate humour.
The Picasso Museum, located in the Château Grimaldi, is free for anyone under 18. It also offers a free smartphone app for a more interactive experience. Of course, children love to take selfies with the iconic 8-metre-high, cast-iron sculpture “Le Nomade” by Catalan artist Jaume Paume. The museum is closed on Mondays.
When people think about Cannes, they imagine the lifestyles of the rich and famous movie stars on red carpets. But enjoying the French Riviera lifestyle in Cannes is not only about the glamour. In many ways, Cannes is still a tiny, vibrant fishing town. At Marché Forville, there is a fresh food market every day except on Mondays when it is an antique market. The city has many family-friendly restaurants and activities like swimming, cycling, and hiking. Cannes also makes a perfect “base camp” to explore other areas in Provence, such as the Esterel mountain range or other cities along the Côte d’Azur.
If you want to get away from the commotion of the city, visit the Isles des Lerins, Saint Honorat and Saint-Marguerite. They are only a 30-minute boat ride from Cannes, but the atmosphere makes them seem worlds away. On Île Saint Honorat, you’ll find Abbaye de Lérins, a religious refuge for monks from the Cistercian Congregation of the Immaculate Conception since around 400 CE.
While visiting the monastery, stroll around the tranquil grounds and explore the gardens and vineyards. La Tonnelle restaurant (reservations required) offers Mediterranean cuisine, and you can taste any of the seven wines the monks produce.
Swimmers and scuba divers will enjoy a visit to Île Saint-Marguerite to visit the underwater museum. At the Écomusée sous-marin de Cannes, artist Jason deCaires Taylor created six sculptures of faces using environmentally friendly materials. Each face weighs about nine tons and is two metres tall. The area south of the island is now a refuge for art enthusiasts, scuba, snorkelers, and sea life.
3) Èze Village
The village of Èze has possibly the best views over the French Riviera. It is built on the side of the hill above its sister town, Èze-sur-Mer, located between Nice and Monaco. It is a pedestrian-only town. However, it is accessible by public transit, and there is a car park on the outskirts of the village.
The Jardin Exotique d’Èze, one of France’s Jardins Remarquable, is worth visiting. The garden contains many succulents and cacti, but the panoramic views of the Côte d’Azur are the highlight.
The town will have narrow alleys filled with plants and flowers, stone houses, and the bright ochre church, the Église Notre-Dame de L’Assomption d’Eze. Italian architect Antoine Spinelli designed it in the 18th century and built it on the foundations of a 12th-century church.
Experienced hikers and fitness buffs might enjoy a walk down the narrow, steep, winding pathway from Èze down to Èze-sur-Mer. The trail, named after German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, is about 5 kilometres long with just over 300m elevation. It is not for the faint of heart – good hiking shoes and full water bottles are must-haves.
Another exciting attraction near Èze is the Parsec-Astrorama observatory. They offer an “open skies” session every evening where people can learn about the planets, stars, and the science of astronomy. As most events are outdoors, they recommend you dress appropriately. Bring a picnic basket to enjoy during the intermission, as snacks are limited.
Beaulieu-sur-Mer is a small but densely populated seaside community between Nice and Éze-sur-Mer. Being on the outskirts of Nice means the town doesn’t have the intense pop-culture commercialization that cities often have. However, Beaulieu-sur-Mer has plenty of markets and shops where residents can get everything they need.
In the late 1800s, a period known as La Belle Époque, many of the continent’s royalty and wealthy industrialists built large villa holiday homes such as the Villa Ephrussi. Many villas have been converted into hotels, galleries, or museums; some are open for public tours. You could also relax on one of the beautiful beaches or tour the marinas admiring the yachts.
5) Monaco/ Monte Carlo
Monaco is a sovereign city-state on the French Riviera between Nice and the Italian border. With an area of only two square kilometres along the Mediterranean, it is the second smallest country in the world. And with a population of almost 40,000, it is one of the most densely populated.
Monaco may be best known for being a holiday destination for the rich and famous. If you’re in Monaco for the day, Port Hercules, one of the few deep-water ports on the French Riviera, is worth visiting. It has beautiful views of the city and surrounding hills – and you can also admire the superyachts of the world’s wealthiest citizens.
Another popular destination is Larvotto Beach. Like many French Riviera beaches, this free-public beach has pebbles instead of sand, so wear sturdy shoes. It’s ideal for swimming because the water is shallow and calm. Larvotto Beach is very popular and crowded quickly, so go early in the day for the best sunbathing spots.
Of course, glitz and glamour and a mild climate make Monaco an attractive filming location for movie producers. Perhaps the most famous movie filmed in Monaco was Alfred Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief” because the star, Grace Kelly, fell in love with and married Monaco’s Prince Rainier. The city-state was also the backdrop of the three-time Academy Award-winning movie Grand Prix. Often cited as one of the best movies about auto-racing, the film has actual footage of the Monaco Grand Prix.
The Monaco Grand Prix is one of the most significant events in Monte Carlo. The race includes 78 laps of the almost 3.4-kilometre Circuit de Monaco. It is a challenging track that tests the skills of the drivers. And it is the place to be for car lovers. Luxury sportscars, Ferraris, Aston Martins, and Lamborghinis line the streets. You’ll also see models, socialites, and influencers in designer haute-couture fashions join drivers and racing teams to wine and dine in select establishments like The Amber Lounge.
But you don’t have to own or drive a Formula One automobile to enjoy an exciting and beautiful tour in an expensive car. You can rent a luxury vehicle in Monaco and, within minutes, take a scenic drive through some of the most aesthetically pleasing areas in the world. For example, you could take the three cliff roads (Les Trois Corniches) and wind through the mountains from Nice to Menton. It’s a challenging drive due to the hairpin turns and the cliff drop-offs, but the scenery is magnificent. Fans of the Monte-Carlo Rally might prefer driving on one of the more popular race segments, the Col de Turini. Again, a challenging drive but beautiful landscapes.
Nice is the largest city on the French Riviera and the capital of the Alpes-Maritimes department. It’s also home to the second largest airport in France, so it’s often the first stop for tourists to the area. There are many reasons to love Nice, from the food and wine to the museums and gardens. Because it is such a large city, there is much to see and do all year round.
For example, the biggest, most exciting winter event is the Nice Carnival. Two weeks of festivities in February bring light and life to the city. The Parade of Lights and the Flower Parades each occur twice weekly. Decorated floats, dance troupes, and musical groups create a festive, fun, family atmosphere.
If you want to spend a perfect day in Nice, start in Vieux Nice, the old town. Meander around the markets, historical buildings, and churches, and linger in the beautiful town squares. Fortunately, Nice is pedestrian-friendly, so a walking tour of the city is a great way to explore. Of course, the Promenade des Anglais is a must-see. Walking along this seven-kilometre path along the waterfront will give you a feeling of freedom and space you won’t find elsewhere in the city. You’ll also be rewarded with superb views of the Bay of Nice. Remember to take a selfie while sitting in one of the iconic blue chairs (les chaises bleue).
Nice has many iconic buildings showcasing Belle-Époque architecture, like the Hotel Negresco on the Promenade des Anglais. As much a museum as a hotel, the Negresco houses a spectacular stained-glass dome designed by Gustave Eiffel and a splendid chandelier commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II. Interestingly, there is a solid Russian connection with Nice, as it was a favourite holiday destination for the Russian nobility. Saint Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral was built in 1912 in memory of an heir to the Russian throne who died in Nice from meningitis. The cathedral is one of the most visited sites of the French Riviera and a National Monument of France.
If you like shopping, Nice has some fantastic markets. The Cours Saleya Market (closed Mondays) generally targets tourists. However, with the many stalls of Provencal products such as soaps, linens, and handicrafts, tourists will find something for everyone on their gift list. The Gare du Sud Marketplace is in a restored and rebuilt train station and houses a large food court with gourmet restaurants. The redevelopment project was based around the Belle Époque-style entrance and took two years to complete. In 2002 it was named a French historical monument.
Being on the coast and because of its proximity to Italy, typical Niçoise cuisine has more fish, seafood, olive oil, olives, and salads than traditional French menus. There are many smaller local cafés, bistros, and restaurants where you can get delicious meals for reasonable prices. Of course, you’ll have to try Socca while in Nice. It is the quintessential street food. Socca is made with chickpea flour, traditionally baked in a stone oven, and eaten warm – preferably with good friends and some good wine.
Speaking of wine, head to the hills behind the city, and you’ll find the small wine-growing region of Bellet. It is France’s only Appellation d’Origine Protégées (AOP) within a city’s urban limits. The area is the perfect microclimate for grape growing, and several vineyards in Bellet offer wine-tasting tours.
Just to the west of Nice, you’ll find the beautiful medieval town of Saint-Paul-de-Vence. As you arrive, you’ll notice the town’s fortified gateway and tower from the 14th century when the town was a key border stronghold. However, today, the narrow cobblestone streets, ramparts, terraces, and breathtaking views of the surrounding area make Saint-Paul-de-Vence a photographer’s dream.
If you like shopping, you’ll find many fascinating creative artisanal jewellery shops and handcrafted home décor items. However, art lovers will enjoy a visit (or two) to Fondation Maeght. It has one of Europe’s largest collections of contemporary art, including paintings, sculptures, and graphic designs by famous artists such as Braque, Calder, Chagall, Giacometti, Leger and Miró. Saint-Paul-de-Vence also has plenty of galleries and studios where you can watch artists in their workshops create new pieces right before your eyes.
Famous for its deliciously simple yet gourmet menu, La Colombe d’Or is a restaurant that feels like it was built in an art gallery. You can have lunch on the terrace under the fig trees, overlooking the valley, in the summer, or sit by the fireplace during the cooler seasons.
The town’s main square, located just outside of the city walls, has a place where people play pétanque. The pétanque “terrain” is surrounded by trees, so sit in the shade and watch some games. Just remember that while it is considered a casual pastime by many, in Provence, pétanque can be pretty competitive and being asked to join a team is an honour.
Saint-Tropez is one of the more famous towns on the French Riviera. But before it became a favourite holiday destination of the world’s rich and famous, it was a quiet fishing village. It was also one of the landing sites for the Allied invasion of Provence in World War II. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that it became a favourite holiday for the world’s rich and famous.
Glitz and glamour abound in the city. However, there is plenty to do in and around Saint-Tropez, even if you are not a millionaire. The markets have plenty of reasonably priced fresh, local produce and everything you’d need to pack a picnic basket for a relaxing day at the beach. In addition to the seaside, there are many family-friendly activities in the area, such as Azur (amusement) Park or the Tortoise Reserve at Plaine des Maures Natural Park.
Adults might prefer touring some of the vineyards around Saint-Tropez to taste (and buy) some of the best-tasting wines in France. Although the region is known for its rosé wines, the white and red wines are exceptional too. Speaking of delicious, Tarte Tropezienne is a dessert created in Saint-Tropez and popularized by actress Brigitte Bardot in the 1950s. Check out our recipe for Tarte Tropezienne to enjoy a taste of French heaven at home.
Even though Vence is only a short distance from the glitz and glamour of the big Côte d’Azur cities of Nice, Antibes, and Cannes, the atmosphere and pace of living are quite different. The town’s population is just under 20,000, so Vence has a small-town quality. However, everything you may need is just a short walk from your home.
Vence is located only a short drive from some of Côte d’Azur’s finest beaches and some of the most impressive mountains in the Alpes. Outdoor enthusiasts will be impressed with the area’s hiking, biking, and skiing options and the proximity to water sports on the Mediterranean.
For those that enjoy art and culture, the Vence Museum has a permanent display of works by Henri Matisse and hosts rotating exhibitions by other artists. Visitors can spend a day walking around the old town and visiting the various chapels. The Matisse Chapel (Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence) is likely the most visited landmark in the city, with good reason. Henri Matisse designed and decorated the entire chapel. He considered it the crown jewel of his life’s work as an artist.
There have been settlements on the site of what is now Villefranche-sur-Mer since pre-historic times. Because the Bay of Villefranche has such a naturally deep harbour, the Greeks and Romans used the site as a stopover on voyages to their settlements further west. In the mid-1500s, the Duke of Savoy recognized the strategic importance of Villefranche-sur-Mer and constructed a fortress, Citadelle Saint-Elme, which still stands today. However, now the fort is home to several museums, a conference centre, and a town hall.
Although technically a suburb of Nice, life in Villefranche-sur-Mer is much more relaxed, where you can feel at ease while enjoying the many restaurants and beaches. The town is a paradise for walkers because everything you need is only steps away from home. It has three main zones. The Octroi (modern zone) is in the town centre, where you’ll find the markets, parks, and tourist information. In the second main area is the citadel, which overlooks the harbour. Finally, the old town is located on the Quai Corbet’s waterfront, where you can find picturesque houses and unique shops.
Villefranche-sur-Mer has one of the most beautiful ports in the world. And because it has a naturally deep harbour, it is a prominent port of call for many cruise lines and a popular winter holiday destination for travellers.