French Riviera Holiday Planning Guide
On the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the French Riviera-Côte d'Azur has glitz and glamor rivaled by few places on earth. This modern resort area boasts luxury shopping, seaside cafes for people-watching, and several marinas for yachts and super-yachts along the water. Although famous for celebrity hot spots like St. Tropez, Monaco, and the Cannes Film Festival, the Riviera also encompasses many other lesser-known attractions and places to visit, such as the perched villages of Gourdon and Eze, the perfumeries in Grasse, the potters of Vallauris, and the glassblowers of Biot. The Riviera has been the inspiration for many works by artists, such as Picasso and Renoir, which are on display in local museums.
Sea-front hotels and holiday resorts are the most expensive French Riviera vacation ideas, but you can find smaller, more affordable accommodations as you move away from major cities or further inland. Cafes, bars, and restaurants are diverse enough to fit a range of budgets and tastes, with the vast majority of eateries serving food local to the area--Provençal cuisine with Italian influences, accompanied by Cassis and Bandol regional wines.
Places to Visit on the French RivieraCannes
: This glamorous city is famous for its designer shopping, annual film festival, and harbor crammed with yachts of the rich and famous. Delve deeper and you will discover a city with options for all budgets, a wealth of natural beauty, and a charming old town.Antibes
: Stop at this resort town on your French Riviera vacation to enjoy an overwhelming array of 48 sandy beaches, each with its own character. Taking a break from the sun and sand, you can enjoy the exciting nightlife of Juan-les-Pins, eat delicious Provençal meal at one of the town's many restaurants, experience the Musee Picasso, or see a concert in what is often considered the cultural center of the region.Beaulieu-sur-Mer
: The "beautiful place by the sea" is well deserving of its name, with white sandy beaches, palm trees, and extravagant villas making a postcard of a town. Relax on the beach, try a new water sport such as jetskiing, experience fine dining at one of many restaurants, or visit the casino. Biot
: This hilltop town has a rich arts and crafts heritage, owing largely to its status as an important manufacturing site for pottery. Numerous museums and workshops are open to the public, displaying pottery, handmade glass, and fine art. Cagnes-sur-Mer
: The largest suburb of Nice, this town has a long history of artists and writers who have called the place home. Brush up on your art history with a visit to some relevant French Riviera attractions, such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir's estate, or take a walk on the 4 km (2.5 mi) pebble beach. Eze
: Perched on top of a steep peak with sweeping views of the sparkling blue coast below, this town has a medieval village that will take you back in time: narrow alleys filled with galleries, shops, and stone houses seemingly piled on top of one another. Golfe-Juan Vallauris
: Visit this classic Provençal seaside town for winding strolls through stone streets filled with restaurants, shops, pottery workshops, glassmakers, perfumeries, and views of the blue coastline. Grasse
: The perfume capital of the world is still surrounded by the intoxicating scent of flowers that are cultivated on nearby hills. Visit the cathedral, which has a collection of fine art, or do a tour of the few perfumeries that open their doors to the public. Frejus
: A more laid-back alternative to other seaside resort towns in the area, a stop here will give you time and space for a relaxing day at the beach or a calm stroll through the pastel buildings, markets, and medieval structures. Hyeres
: The sunny, southernmost city in Provence is the oldest beach resort in the area and remains very popular today for its palm trees, sandy beaches, rocky inlets, and first-rate boating.
Things to Do on the French Riviera
Popular French Riviera Tourist AttractionsParc Phoenix
: Visit this 7 hectare (17.3 acre) botanical garden and zoo where you can see over 2,500 species of plants, hundreds of birds living around a large lake, and one of the largest greenhouses in Europe. Rue d'Antibes
: The busy main shopping street in Cannes offers everything you might want to pick up, from luxury designer clothing and perfume to local gifts. Whether you are out to purchase things to bring back home or just window shopping, walking down the street is great for people-watching and getting a feel for the upscale atmosphere of the city. Musee Picasso
: This museum inside what was once Grimaldi Castle is dedicated to the life and work of artist Pablo Picasso, who donated works including "La Joie de Vivre" and "The Goat."Le Jardin exotique d'Eze
: Pack a picnic basket and head to this botanical garden built on the ruins of a castle. The garden displays cacti and succulents native to the Mediterranean, as well as plant life from Africa and the Americas. Le Suquet
: A fantastic place to take a stroll, the historical quarter of Cannes brings you to narrow alleys, the Castre Museum with its ruins of castles and dungeons, and dramatic views of the bay. Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
: Step inside this neoclassical building to view ten galleries filled with an impressive collection of avant-garde art from the mid-20th century to the present day, including works from minimalism, New Realists, and American Pop Artists. Parfumerie Fragonard Usine Historique
: Expand your sense of smell on your trip to the French Riviera with a visit to this historical perfume factory, where you can take a free tour to see how soaps, cosmetics, and perfumes are created. Fondation Maeght
: This museum of 20th-century art is located in a building designed by Josep Lluís Sert, which incorporates artworks by Chagall, Braque, and others. Galleries rotate pieces from the expansive permanent collection with traveling exhibitions, making a dynamic museum that hardly ever shows the same piece twice. Port Grimaud
: This haven for walkers is closed to most motor traffic, giving you a relaxed way to experience French Riviera tourism as you explore shops, restaurants, cafes, beaches, and the yacht-filled marina. Plage de Pampelonne
: Set yourself up at this 4.5 km (2.8 mi) stretch of beach, popular with celebrities and tourists and surrounded by flower-filled meadows, pine forests, and accommodations ranging from luxury villas to campgrounds.
Planning a French Riviera Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit on the French Riviera with Kids
The French Riviera is an excellent choice for a vacation with kids of all ages, who will have many options including beach days, water sports, museums, easy historical walking tours, and cultural events. Start your family's French Riviera vacation in Antibes
, which offers dozens of sandy beaches to play on during the day and a rich program of cultural events to explore as well. Stay in Frejus
for a more relaxed experience of the region: less-crowded beaches, historical walking areas, and attractions focused on families, such as a zoo and water park. Cannes
is another popular French Riviera holiday destination for families and offers a plethora of things to do, from museums to water sports. Try to avoid visiting the city during the film festival in the spring--it will be very crowded, and the festival is unlikely to interest little ones.
Things to Do on the French Riviera with Kids
A few days at the beach should be at the top of your family's list of things to do in the French Riviera. The region's stunning beaches offer soft white sand and warm water the kids will love to splash around in. Some of the most child-friendly beaches are Plage de Pampelonne
and Paloma Beach
, where an attentive staff makes sure you have everything you need, from towels and umbrellas to food and drink. For a different way to cool down in the water, visit Aqualand Frejus
, a water park with many large, twisting waterslides and other features. Try to arrive early as it tends to get busy in the afternoon, and look online for their frequent promotional ticket sales. Older children will be excited to try a new water sport, such as diving with the very organized team at Aquabormes
, or paddleboarding on the blue water at Cannes Standup Paddle
. Younger visitors will also appreciate some of the more historical French Riviera attractions. Pack a picnic and take a short boat ride to the Lérins Islands
, which over the ages have housed Romans, prisoners such as the Man in the Iron Mask, and monasteries, one of which is still in operation today.
Tips for a Family Vacation on the French Riviera
A French Riviera trip with kids should be a fun opportunity for relaxation and exploration. Try to plan a mixture of outdoor activities and visits to historical sites or walking around city streets. While it is a child-friendly region, there are some cultural norms to be aware of that will make your vacation go smoothly. Dining with family is common in the area, but children are expected to behave and not cause a ruckus. Because many restaurants don't begin serving dinner until 7:30, a brasserie, which serves food all day, might be a better choice if you are traveling with little ones who have an early bedtime. Ask for a "menu enfant" (kid's menu) or order a half-portion or starter. While outdoor activities are a great addition to your French Riviera itinerary when traveling with kids, make sure to call ahead to see if there is an age minimum: for many rental or tour companies, this falls somewhere between five and seven years old. Discounts or free tickets are often available for kids at tourist sites and museums, and children four years and younger can ride trains for free, while older ones can take advantage of discounts. When traveling with babies and toddlers, be aware that most of the area is not convenient for strollers, and that changing facilities are few and far between--bring a sling and portable changing pad if you can.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday on the French Riviera
Cuisine of the French Riviera
In this region known for its cuisine, your trip to the French Riviera will be filled with opportunities to enjoy delicious local food and drink. The food is inspired by French and Italian influences, as well as the natural bounty of the Mediterranean Sea and surrounding agricultural land. Fresh flavors from the sea are on display in the famous bouillabaisse, a fish stew in a tomato-saffron broth, and salade Niçoise, a salad made of tuna, anchovies, Niçoise olives grown in the region, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, lettuce, and other fresh vegetables. Another famous dish you should sample on your French Riviera holiday is ratatouille, a combination of eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, garlic, bell peppers, and other ingredients that each chef prepares in their own unique way: some layer the ingredients in a beautiful design, while others may sautee them all together. Sweets lovers will not be disappointed: try Saint-Tropez
's famous confection, tarte tropézienne, made with sweet brioche and orange creme. To drink, try one of the region's appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) reds or rosés, or for a pre-meal aperitif try pastis, an anise-flavored liquid first created in nearby Marseille
Shopping on the French Riviera
With a rich history of craft tradition still alive and well in the region as well as a thriving luxury designer scene, shopping on your trip to the French Riviera yields many treasures you'll be excited to bring back home. Pottery and glass made in the region are renowned throughout the world. Most resort towns have dozens of craft shops; Biot
and Golfe-Juan Vallauris
are especially known for their shops and studios where you can see how the objects are made. Don't miss the gift shop at Parfumerie Galimard
, where you can buy local perfumes after seeing how they are made on a guided tour. For a more modern shopping experience, the luxurious Rue d'Antibes
is not to be missed, with many designer shops and fantastic people-watching.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to the French Riviera
History of the French Riviera
The French Riviera is thought to have been inhabited by humans since prehistoric times, with evidence in the form of over 40,000 drawings of human and animal forms at the nearby Valley of Wonders (La Vallee des Merveilles)
. In the 7th century BCE, Greek sailors started building trading posts along the coast, some of which later became major cities, such as present-day Nice
. Romans took over the region in 8 BCE and built a series of monuments and buildings, some of which stand today, including the amphitheatre and walls in Frejus
. The Roman French Riviera's power peaked during the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE, just at the same time that Christianity was becoming popular in the area. To get a rare glimpse into early Christian life on your tour of the French Riviera, visit the 5th-century Cloitre de la Cathedrale de Frejus
, one of the first cathedrals built in the region.
When the Roman Empire fell in the early 5th century, a series of invasions impacted the Riviera: first Visigoths, followed by Burgundians, Ostrogoths, Saracens, and finally Normans. A relative peace was established when the kingdom of Provence was founded in 879, ruled initially by the Bosonids, then the Catalans, and finally the Angevins. In the 1200s, the House of Grimaldi took power in key portions of the region; among the castles they built is the one housing the present-day Musee Picasso
. The city of Nice
and the surrounding area fell under the protection of the House of Savoy from 1388-1860, during which time its language and culture developed separately from the rest of Provence.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, what was once an impoverished area known for fishing, olives, and perfume transformed into the glamorous seaside resort we know today. In the late 18th century, wealthy health-seekers from Britain flocked to the area as "climato-therapy"--touting the benefits of a change in climate--gained popularity as a health trend, some even claiming it could cure tuberculosis. Health tourism in the French Riviera exploded after the completion of the first railway servicing the area in 1864, with 100,000 visitors coming through in 1865. The Riviera also began attracting European royalty, including Russian Tsar Alexander II and the British Queen Victoria. In the mid-19th century, French and British tourism entrepreneurs saw the opportunity to expand the industry along the coast. While gambling was illegal in the rest of the region, Charles III, the Prince of Monaco, began construction of the first casino in 1856. Although that particular casino failed, it inspired many other successful casinos to open nearby, establishing gambling as an important part of French Riviera tourism, which continues to the present. Try your luck at this Riviera tradition by visiting one of the major casinos active today, such as Casino of Monte-Carlo
or Le Croisette Casino Barriere de Cannes
As the 19th century came to an end, the area became increasingly popular with painters, who came for the weather and good light. The works of these artists, such as Henri Matisse, Auguste Renoir, and Pablo Picasso, are on display at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
and other museums in the region. After World War I ended, the tourism climate shifted on the Riviera, with fewer European aristocrats and more Americans, including celebrities, business moguls, and creative types, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald. Visitors started coming more often during the summer rather than the winter. The area was occupied by German forces during World War II, and Saint-Tropez
was damaged during the American liberation in 1944. In the postwar era the region nevertheless thrived again, with the founding of the Cannes
Film Festival in 1946 cementing the Riviera's status as a place of creativity and glamor.
Landscape of the French Riviera
The French name for the region, Cote d'Azur, translates as "blue coast," hinting at the rich blue color of the water and sky. The coastal area is backed by the Alps mountain range, where skiing and hiking are popular. The coastline is the main landscape attraction in the French Riviera, which you can experience on the beach, by hiking along the coastline, or by boat. There are many hikes in the area that are not too challenging and are usually accessible for children and older people. Pack a picnic for a trek at Calanques
, where spectacular limestone formations and cliffs will bring you breathtaking views of the water and opportunities to cool off with a swim. Be sure to get there early and check in before you go, as the area is sometimes closed due to fire risk. Alternatively, take a boat tour around the inlet for a more relaxed experience. Another great way to experience the landscape is by walking Saint Jean-Cap-Ferrat
, which has numerous easy walking trails that take you past statues, villas, beaches, and views of the turquoise water.
Holidays & Festivals on the French Riviera
The French Riviera observes all French national holidays, including Bastille Day on July 14 and Assumption Day on August 15. There are also many festivals that you might be interested in adding to your French Riviera itinerary. The most well-known festival to come to the region is, of course, the Cannes Film Festival. Held every spring in Cannes
, this star-studded event premiers new films from around the globe in all genres, and is considered the most prestigious film festival in the world. While most of the events are reserved for those working in the film industry, there are public screenings on the beach, and it is an unbeatable opportunity for celebrity spottings. For a scent-filled addition to your French Riviera holiday, visit Grasse
during its annual Fête du Jasmin in August. The celebration of the flower used in the city's perfume-making includes a parade with decorated floats and an event called the "flower battle," in which young women throw jasmine flowers into the crowd, filling the air (and spectators' clothing) with the intoxicating scent. The region also hosts many music festivals during the summer months, including an internationally renowned jazz festival in Nice
French Riviera Travel Tips
Climate of the French Riviera
One of the reasons why a holiday in the French Riviera is so popular is its pleasant Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and cool, mild winters. It hardly ever frosts here, with January's average daily low temperature still well above freezing at around 6 C (42 F). In winter, be aware of the Mistral, a cold, dry wind that blows briskly from the north or east. In the peak of summer, August, high temperatures average around 29 C (84.2 F), with lots of sunny days. The most popular time to make a trip to the French Riviera is in summertime, although early autumn and late spring can be very pleasant and much less crowded. Many hotels and attractions close or have limited hours during the winter.
Transportation on the French Riviera
Relying on buses and trains is a solid plan for your French Riviera vacation, thanks to a reliable and extensive system of public transportation throughout the region. Cannes, Antibes, Monaco, Villefranche, and Menton all have extensive transport systems, with service to some smaller towns. Nice is a major transport hub for the region, with connections to almost all major French cities and an airport. Local trains usually offer deals for daily or weekly passes with unlimited rides in the period you purchase the pass for, plus discounted rates for families. While car rentals are available, it can be stressful dealing with traffic-choked roads in the summer and minimal parking along the narrow streets of many cities and villages. A taxi or tourist bus is a better alternative for visiting more remote French Riviera attractions, so you can enjoy the sites without the stress.