Last updated on March 9th, 2022
The French Riviera – locally known as the Cote d’Azur – is a perfect year-round holiday destination, with plenty of sun and fun. Its beautiful coastline is dotted with glamorous towns, while watching all the action from high above, are charming perched villages on the foothills of the Alps. Though the Riviera is indeed the playground for some of the world’s most rich and famous, there is plenty to be enjoyed by ordinary independent travelers. Here’s a list of the very best, the top things to do in the French Riviera!
The city-state of Monaco is an easy badge to add to your list of visited countries. The tiny principality is a peculiar resident on the Riviera’s coast, tightly squeezed between Italy, France and the Mediterranean Sea. Among all the high-rise apartment buildings that dominate the skyline, a visit to the Monte Carlo Casino offers a small taste of life in the jet-setting lane. Who hasn’t walked through the casino’s doors over the years? Princes, sheiks, movie stars and even 007 himself!
When in Rome, one must sample the pasta, lasagna, pizza and… you get the point. But when in the French Riviera, one must indulge in authentic Nicoise cuisine. The very best place to sample the local food is at the very heart of the old city of Nice (Vieux Nice). Once you’ve successfully navigated the maze of ancient medieval lanes, try your luck at finding an empty seat on a wooden bench outside Lou Pilha Leva. What’s on the simple menu? The quintessential socca ( chickpea flour pancake), pissaladiere (onion tart), farcis (stuffed baked vegetables) and of course – Nicoise salad. It’s all very authentic, delicious and super cheap.
Only 40 km’s separate glamorous Cannes from family-friendly Saint-Raphael, but expect this stretch of road to be very slow-going. Why? The Corniche de l’Esterel is the most scenic coastal drive in the French Riviera. Think of it as the South of France’s version of the Pacific Coast Highway in California. Massive rusty-red cliffs come crashing into the blue sea, only interrupted by a winding road and a few sleepy villages here and there. Plan for lots of stops in panoramic lookout points and lots of fantasies about one day owning some property on one of the cliffs.
On a hill separating the old city of Nice from the port, the Parc de la Colline du Château is the site of the original Greek settlement of Nikea. These days, the park offers unobstructed views high above the signature red-tiled rooftops and narrow alleys of Vieux Nice. Before the red of the rooftops meets the blue of the Mediterranean, the famous Promenade des Anglais proudly cuts through town. The most famous resident of this wide palm-fringed boulevard is the art deco Negresco Hotel – one of the few remainders of the city’s glory days as a resort town for the elite.
The hills of this beautiful peninsula have been mostly overtaken by gated mansions, whose enormous proportions can only be appreciated from a Google Maps satellite image. However, the beaches of the Cap d’Antibes can be freely explored by anyone seeking an escape for a few hours. The highlight is completing the Tour de Cap d’Antibes – a rewarding hike along the southern shore of the peninsula. The coastal trail leads hikers to hidden beaches and secluded coves with the clearest of waters – so be sure to pack your swimmers!
The strategically situated village of Eze feels more like an ancient fortress, though the horse stables have given way to art galleries and souvenir shops. To escape the selfie-snapping crowds, head to the Jardin Exotique and spend an hour or two digesting the breathtaking views of the French Riviera from its open-air terrace. On a sunny day, it really doesn’t any better than this, and if you’re truly tempted – hike down to the sea via the Friedrich-Nietzsche trail.
The brightly-colored buildings, the overpriced restaurants, and the luxury yachts you’ll probably never own – are all that make St-Tropez so glamorous. That said, this once nappy fishing-village-turned-luxury-playground does have immense charm. Walk along the ramparts to appreciate the beauty of the old port, hike up to the La Citadelle for some tranquility and views, watch the locals play petanque in Place des Lices and don’t forget to taste a tarte tropezienne! Two slices of sweet brioche separated by vanilla custard are all that it takes to put a huge smile on your face.
The ancient city of Antibes is one of the most charming stops along the Cote d’Azur. Its beating heart is the daily Marché Provençal, where fresh produce from around the area is beautifully laid out on display in what is considered to be the best market in the French Riviera. You’ll find here everything from spices to fragrances, from fresh tomatoes to fresh oysters, from cured meats to Nicoise socca bread and so much more. When the food stalls have packed up, a crafts market takes over the covered street, with beautiful ceramics, paintings and woodwork on sale.
Hanging on to the foothills of the Alps, the village-hopping road trip to the Cote d’Azure’s perched villages is a day you’ll never forget. Leave the summer madness of the Rivera’s coastline behind, as breathtaking views en route lead to villages with cobblestone lanes lined with art galleries and soaked in history. Highlights include the tiny hilltop village of Gourdon – reached via a winding road inside a gorge which follows the contours the River Loup, the artist’s village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence – an absolute inspiration for those who can draw more than just a circle, and Tourrettes-sur-Loup – a quiet stop with awesome views and five centuries of history.
So there you have it – the top things to do in the French Riviera! I hope you choose to visit this magical area of Southern France and get to explore some of the sites mentioned in this guide.
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