One of the best places to visit in all of France is the amazing French Riviera. Known for its good climate, beaches, luxury, and picturesque towns it’s not a surprise as to why it’s one of the top vacation spots in the world.
There are so many things to do in the French Riviera, you’ll need a whole summer here. However, our guess is that you don’t have an entire summer to spend soaking up the Mediterranean sun and eating croissants. For those like us, who don’t have an entire summer, but still want to enjoy each and every day in this area, we’ve created the ultimate travel guide to the Cote d Azur – let’s dig in!
What is the Cote d Azur known for?
The Côte d’Azur, also known as the French Riviera, is a region located along the southeastern coast of France, bordering the Mediterranean Sea. It is renowned for its stunning natural beauty, glamorous resorts, and vibrant cultural scene.
People travel here from all around the world to experience the many towns, beautiful crystal-clear waters, art and culture, lavish shopping and lifestyle, and glamorous resorts. The Cannes Film Festival and Monaco Grand Prix take place here every summer, and these two events alone put the French Rivieria front and center.
What is the difference between Cote d Azur and French Riviera?
The terms “Côte d’Azur” and “French Riviera” are often used interchangeably to refer to the same region along the southeastern coast of France. However, there is a slight difference in their origins and usage.
Côte d’Azur: “Côte d’Azur” translates to “Azure Coast” or “Blue Coast” in English. It was coined by the writer Stéphen Liégeard in his book “La Côte d’Azur” in 1887. He used the term to describe the beautiful blue color of the Mediterranean Sea in this region. The Côte d’Azur technically refers to the coastline from Cassis, near Marseille, to the Italian border.
French Riviera: The term “French Riviera” is an English translation of “Côte d’Azur.” It gained popularity among English-speaking travelers during the 19th and early 20th centuries and it refers to the same region as the Côte d’Azur, encompassing the coastal area of southeastern France.
Best Places to Visit in the French Riviera
The site of Eze is perched on a rocky bluff high above the French Riviera, and is one of the most popular stops around the entire coast. This medieval town has thousands of years of history and has enthralled both history buffs and photographers for generations.
One of the best ways to spend time here is with a walk along winding streets lined with quaint eateries and boutique shops. Visit the Chapelle de la Sainte-Croix which dates back to the 1300s and admire the spectacular views from the Nietzsche Path. Every visitor to Eze has to visit Le Jardin Exotique, and if you can score a night at La Chevre d’Or, you won’t regret it. It’s one of the most famous places to stay in all of France!
When traveling to Eze, we highly recommend arriving before 10 am. Number one, there is limited parking in town and it fills up fast. Secondly, the crowds get very bad after 10 am! The only reason we were able to grab any photos without others in them is because we showed up around 9am, by 11 am the streets were uncomfortably crowded.
Cannes is glamorous, and you can thank the famous film festival that takes place there for that! However, Cannes is also timeless and remnants of what it used to be are combined with its modern amenities including luxury hotels, boutique shops, gourmet restaurants and its iconic boardwalk.
Check out the Musee des Explorations du Monde, catch one of those incredible sunsets, dine on fresh seafood and hit the beaches to enjoy calm waters and a variety of water sports.
It’s pristine, beautiful and incredibly quiet due to a lack of vehicular traffic. It’s also an island and situated in the middle of a national park.
I’m talking about Port-Cros which is one of the Hyeres Islands just off the coast of the French Riviera. Hike along many amazing trails while taking in the natural surroundings and watching for wildlife.
Italy and France come together in the pretty coastal town of Menton. It’s known for its colorful gardens, beaches, La Citronneraie lemon grove, and Old Town district with its 13th-century architecture, vibrant colors, and breathtaking scenery.
The Palais Carnoles, which is now an art museum, is a top attraction and the Basilique Saint-Michel is something to see! One of the best things to do in Menton is walk up or down the bright yellow Escaliers, make sure to take plenty of photos! We also had one of the best crepes of our life in Menton at La Crêpe à l’Envers and highly recommend lunch there!
Did I mention that the weather in Menton is often fabulous too? With more warm, sunny days than not, you’ll be hitting up those beaches every day!
Peillon is one of many towns situated on the French Riviera, but it’s also situated in the foothills of the Alps.
Its romantic ambiance complete with courtyards, ancient architecture and streets leading to stairways that take you to yet another part of this charming town is surprisingly quiet and that’s because there are no cars.
6. Saint-Jean-Cap Ferrat
It used to be a quiet fishing village but today, Saint-Jean-Cap Ferrat is anything but! Well, it does maintain some of its old-world charm but with a nickname like “Peninsula of the Billionaires”, you can bet it’s quite lavish too.
There are five beaches in the town, including famous Paloma Beach, and the calm waters are perfect for swimming. We visited many beaches in the Côte d’Azur and found Paloma Beach to be one of the most beautiful. It will take some work to walk here and reach this place if you don’t score parking nearby (a real difficulty in the summer), but it’s well worth it. We also recommend making lunch reservations at Paloma Beach Restaurant, be forwarded it’s not cheap, but the setting is more than worth it!
When not in the water, admire the coastal views from the path that runs five miles along the coast.
Explore the Old Port district, check out the 11th-century Saint Hospice Chapel and admire the extravagant villas of the rich and famous. Strolling around Ephrussi de Rothschild Garden is one of the best things to do in the French Riviera. The best part is there are fewer crowds here, likely because of the complete lack of parking. Arrive early here or you could be circling the area looking for a space for awhile.
7. Port Grimaud
They call the seaside town of Grimaud the Venice of Provence for an obvious reason; there’s a series of man-made canals snaking around the town. One of the best ways to enjoy the views of the town is to take a boat ride through the canals to admire the beautiful balconies and unique buildings.
Head to the main square on nice evenings and grab a coffee at one of the sidewalk cafes and just sit and watch the world go by.
8. Monte Carlo
Monaco is a very small country but its famous port city of Monte Carlo is known for its flashy lifestyle and wealth. Although not in France, the city is still considered part of the French Riviera and is just a short drive from France. We visited for a half day and felt great that we were able to see a new country for a bit!
Walk around here to feel a bit poor as you marvel at the superyachts, Ferraris, and well dressed people. Don’t worry – there’s plenty of fun in it. One of the main things to do here is venture into the Casino de Monte-Carlo! Anyone can venture in here and see some of the interiors, however to gamble costs €17, and gets you admission into some of the main rooms, card games and roulette are open to tourists. If you want to gamble a bit make sure to bring your passport – you’ll need it!
Besides the opulence, stunning beaches and incredible mountain scenery collide with exciting nightlife, legendary watering holes and luxurious hotels.
Villefranche has one of the most scenic waterfronts on the French Riviera and the pretty sailboats and luxurious yachts just add to the ambiance. Beyond that waterfront are the Old Town district and the green hills that border it.
The water here is clear and deep so you have perfect conditions for many activities including diving, sailing, swimming and other water sports.
If you plan to visit the beach in the summer make sure to stake out your spot in the sand early, it’s not a huge beach and there are plenty of beach goers!
If you’re seeking a beautiful place with fewer crowds to spend a relaxing vacation on the French Riviera, Gassin just might be the perfect place for you. Although it’s not located right on the sea, it’s high enough that you can enjoy spectacular views and the nearby mountains. Gassin is a great place to get lost.
Take a stroll along the winding streets and admire historic architecture dating as far back as the 11th century. Relax in a beautiful botanical garden and check out the Promenade tei Barri where you’ll find some great restaurants.
11. Porquerolles Island
Hyeres Islands, also known as the Golden Islands, are situated about ten minutes by boat from Hyeres on the west coast of the French Riviera. One of those islands is Porquerolles Island which is also a national park and a top place to visit in the region.
Remote sandy beaches with sparkling waters, hiking trails, towering cliffs and diverse plant and animal life are just some of the things the island is known for. It’s a great place to do some biking and snorkeling too!
As far as seaside resorts go, Juan-les-Pins is just as fabulous as the more well-known gems along the French Riviera. With several sandy beaches perfect for swimming and other water sports, an encompassing pine forest and a lively seafront promenade, there’s plenty of outdoor fun to be had.
When you’re in the mood for some luxury, the resorts, spas, seafood eateries and boutiques are second to none. Come nightfall, the interior of the town is where you’ll find a number of chic cocktail bars and lively nightclubs.
Cassis is a fishing port on the western end of the French Riviera and its gorgeous scenery, uncrowded beaches with clear waters, harborside eateries and vineyards make it a must-stop in the region.
We found Cassis to be one of our favorite towns on the French Riviera. We were only able to spend an afternoon here, but had wished we had planned for 2-3 days.
Many people head here to spend some time exploring nearby Calanques National Park and hiking the trails along the Cap Canaille. This is where you see stunning views of the sea and experience unique landscapes!
14. L’Esterel and the Corniche d’Or
Corniche d’Or is a scenic road and L’Esterel is a picturesque mountain range. These two amazing places make for the perfect day trip on the French Riviera. In the mountains, you can spend some time biking or hiking on beautiful trails such as Pic de l’Ours, Balcons du Cap Roux and Rocher de Saint-Barthelemy.
Along that scenic road, you’ll see some of the most beautiful scenery on the French Riviera.
Gourdon is amazing before you even get there! The drive to the town is through the lush hills high above the Cote d’Azur. Gourdon is the final destination but make sure to check out the lovely Saut du Loup Waterfall along the way as it can’t be missed.
When you reach Gourdon, you’ll instantly know that you found a place where you can relax and forget about all your troubles. There are fewer crowds in this rural village so you can enjoy the views without anyone blocking the way!
Walk around and take in the sites which include colorful gardens, medieval buildings and even a grand castle.
Antibes is for artists. After all, it was once the home of Pablo Picasso. It’s also for people who love history and beautiful scenery but this old walled side city is one that’s also pleasing to the eye with its amazing architecture and art museums.
Walk down cobblestone streets, stroll along Port Vauban and its marina to check out the giant yachts, visit Fort Carre and admire an impressive art collection at the Picasso Museum.
Constructed in the hills above the Bay of Pampelone, Ramatuelle is known for its stunning scenery, relaxing environment and beaches including Pampelonne Beach and Plage de l’Escalet.
Treat yourself to a night in the luxurious La Reserve Ramatuelle Resort and tour Volterra Castle where you can also sample some exquisite wines.
Of all the towns situated along the French Riviera, Sainte-Maxime is probably the one most beloved by families. The weather is great and there’s just so much to do! Several beaches are located in the town and while swimming is a favorite activity among all ages, there’s also jet skiing, parasailing and scuba diving at dozens of dive spots.
Be sure to check out the Pelagos Sanctuary where you’ll learn about various sea mammals that frequent the region’s waters such as pilot whales and dolphins.
Long, sandy beaches, year-round sun, seafood galore, a lively nightclub scene and a historic waterfront dotted with luxury yachts…these are just some of the things St. Tropez is renowned for. It’s where one heads to see and be seen, where you walk the marina peeping at yachts, and where you have a €8 cappuccino at the Dior Cafe.
If you want to shop for designer brands, Saint Tropez is the place to do it. Our suggestion is to walk the entire Old Town and not just the harbor area, as the streets are simply beautiful.
When not swimming in the warm waters here and dining on exquisite French cuisine, learn about some local history at The Citadel Maritime Museum. Have an evening to spare? St. Tropez is known for its vibrant nightlife. Experience the lively bars, nightclubs, and beach clubs that come alive after dark. Club 55, Nikki Beach, and Les Caves du Roy are some famous venues where you can dance the night away.
If you’re seeking a combination of history, sandy beaches and beautiful architecture, Frejus is the place for you! Incredible Roman ruins with forts and an amphitheater from the first century are situated in the town and make for a fascinating day out.
Check out the ancient Cloître de la Cathedrale de Frejus, visit the Saint-Leonce Cathedral and admire its Gothic features and kick back by the sea at Frejus Beach. If you want to add a little bit of excitement to the mix, head to Aqualand and Luna Amusement Park.
21. Le Levant
Le Levant (Île du Levant) is another one of the Hyeres Islands. This island embraces a unique way of living that is perfect for anyone looking to immerse in the world of naturism.
Le Levant is famous for its beautiful beaches and crystal-clear waters. Plage du Galion and Plage des Grottes are two popular spots where you can relax, sunbathe, and swim in the pristine waters. It’s relaxing and it’s beautiful but be aware that clothing is optional in most places!
22. St-Paul-de Vence
The medieval walled town of St-Paul-de-Vence is located in a unique location on a giant rock high above the French Riviera. The town has over a thousand years of history and is known for its old-world charm and art galleries.
Take a walk down the narrow cobblestone streets, ducking into galleries and shops as you go. Be sure to check out the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art where you’ll see beautiful exhibits featuring paintings, ceramics and sculptures.
Imagine a place overlooking the sea with stunning Belle Epoque architecture, beautiful gardens, sandy beaches with crystal clear water and a waterfront promenade where you can relax and let time slip away.
There is such a place on the French Riviera known as Beaulieu-sur-Mer and it’s just as elegant and charming as it sounds!
Nice is one of the more recognizable places on the French Riviera, and is likely where you will start or end your journey to the Côte d’Azur if flying in. The Aéroport de Nice services flights from around the world!
Besides being a transport hub, this beautiful and historic gem on the Mediterranean Coast is a vibrant mix of French and Italian culture. You’ll find Nice on the eastern end of the Riviera and while there, you’ll see stunning architecture, dine on exquisite food and relax in pretty gardens.
Wander the streets of Vieux Nice, stroll along the Promenade des Anglais as the sun goes down, visit the Marc Chagall National Museum and kick back in the sun on one of those amazing beaches the area is known for.
While Grasse is mostly known for being the perfume-making center of France, the picturesque village in the foothills is known for so much more. Visit in the spring and you’ll see and smell the jasmine and rose fields.
Visit any time of year to check out the Fragonard Museum and the International Perfume Museum and admire the artwork in the Grasse Cathedral.
One of our favorite days in the French Riviera was the day we rented a boat and cruised around the coast. Nothing beat anchoring the boat just near Ile Sainte Marguerite and ordering a wood-fired Margherita pizza right to our boat from Catamaran Pizza – La Voile Gourmande, followed by cliff jumping at the Bay of Billionaires!
If you have a spare day and know how to drive a boat, we highly recommend renting one with your group. We rented on Click and Boat and had a great experience!
Traffic Around the French Riviera
Something that we didn’t know before spending time in the French Riviera is just how terrible the traffic is. The roads are coastal narrow, and just two lanes throughout much of the coast, and there is very limited parking everywhere.
If there’s an accident on the roads, you can guarantee some standstill traffic. During summer periods and festivals like the Cannes Film Festival, the traffic is horrendous.
While I usually advocate renting a car in most destinations in the French Riviera I had wished we stuck to the train. While it is a bit more limiting, we felt like we spent hours every single day stuck in traffic.
When considering where to stay during your time, consider travel times and distances to the main destinations you want to go as well.
We found the worst traffic to be around Major cities along the French Riviera, such as Nice, Cannes, and Saint-Tropez. After 10 am and around 5 pm were always very busy driving periods.
Toll Roads: The French Riviera (and France in general) has plenty of toll roads. You can pay for most tolls with Apple Pay or tap, but it never hurts to have some euros in the car.
What is the best time of year to visit Cote d Azur?
The most popular times of the year are May through October. We visited the last week of May, right around the Monaco Grand Prix (planned unknowingly) and found the area to be extremely busy and prices were even higher than usual. It stays busy throughout most of the summer and is one of the most popular places to visit in Europe in the summer.
Next time we’ll visit the area in September when the weather is still amazing, but summer crowds are dying down.
French Riviera Travel Tips
- The best airport to fly in and out of is the Nice Côte d’Azur Airport.
- The best place to stay is where you want to explore the MOST. We booked an Airbnb away from everything, and while the seclusion and views were nice it took us 30 minutes just to drive to the grocery store, and an hour plus to drive just about anywhere else. Spend time looking at a map and doing your research do you pick the perfect place to stay for you.
- How many days is enough? We spent just over a week in the French Riviera and wished we had so much longer. We could have easily spent a month here and never got bored, so we would recommend spending as much time in the region as you can spare!
- Public transport: To avoid traffic and parking issues, public transportation can be convenient. The French Riviera has an extensive public transportation network, including trains, buses, and trams. Lignes d’Azur is the public bus line that connects the 24 towns and cities along the Côte d’Azur. SNCF, the French National Railways, operates trains along the Riviera and elsewhere in France (and Monaco!)
- Parking Challenges: Parking is very limited throughout all of the coast. In some towns it fills up very fast in the peak summer. It is also almost never free. We recommend an early start to your day to allow ample time for parking.
French Riviera FAQ
What is the French Riviera dress code?
There is no French Riviera “dress code,” though you will notice that people tend to dress a bit nicer here. Just because there are plenty of designer stores around doesn’t mean that everyone dresses like they are on the cover of Vogue.
In reality you can wear whatever you want, and although you will find some model-esque looking people, you’ll find plenty of regular looking travelers too. We recommend linen – it’s a classic Mediterranean look and what we often wear in Greece and Southern Italy.
Is the French Riviera Expensive?
Yes. The French Riviera is a very expensive and posh destination, especially if you stay in areas like Saint Tropez and Monaco. To save money we recommend traveling as a group and renting our a vacation rental, book well in advance, travel in the off season, and get a place with a kitchen so you can cook most of your meals in instead of eating out. Dining out can get very expensive in this area.
What town on the French Riviera is noted for perfume?
The town on the French Riviera that is noted for perfume is Grasse, which has a long-standing history as a center for perfume production. Fun French fact – Grasse is often referred to as the perfume capital of the world. The town’s favorable climate and proximity to fields of flowers, particularly jasmine, rose, and lavender, have made it an ideal location for the perfume industry.
Grasse is home to numerous perfume houses, factories, and laboratories and visitors can explore perfume museums, such as the Musée International de la Parfumerie, which showcases the history and art of perfume making. The town also offers perfume workshops and tours where you can learn about the process of creating fragrances and even create your own signature scent.
Which is better to visit, Nice or Cannes?
Deciding whether to visit Nice or Cannes depends on your preferences and what you’re looking for in a destination. In general we found that Nice had a more laid back city atmosphere and a central hub for exploring the area.
Cannes on the other hand is synonymous with luxury and glamour, particularly during the famous Cannes Film Festival. It has a famous promenade with beautiful beaches and maritime charm.
What is the most luxurious town of the French Riviera?
We visited countless towns on the French Riviera and found the most luxurious towns to be Cannes, St. Tropez, and Saint-Jean-Cap Ferrat. And then, of course, all of Monaco may make even a millionaire feel poor.
Which fashionable city is on the Cote d Azur?
The fashionable city that is often associated with style and glamour on the Côte d’Azur is Cannes.
Plan For Your Trip
- Protect Your Trip: We don’t travel without travel insurance, nor should you. You never know what can happen while traveling, so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans.
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- Our Favorite Travel Shoes: Our answer to this question is always ALLBIRDS! Check them out on their site!
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