Whether you like to refer to it as the French Riviera, Côte d’Azur, or the Azure Coast, this region of Southeast France along the Mediterranean coastline has long been one of the finest travel destinations in the world.
While there is no official boundary to the French Riviera, it roughly runs from just east of Marseille around Cassis eastward until you reach Menton.
The French Riviera was once reserved for royalty and other elite and although it’s still a playground for the rich and famous, there are still countless ways for budget travelers to experience this world famous region as well.
Côte d’Azur: Top Things to do in the French Riviera
About the Region
Sporting an idyllic Mediterranean climate where the sun shines nearly every day of the year, the French Riviera makes for a lovely holiday any season.
It abounds with first-class cities, charming cliffside villages, and relaxing seaside towns. Whether you’re into beaches, sports, art, history, gardens, or the food scene, the Côte d’Azur offers something for any traveler.
The region has long provided inspiration to famous artists and writers and offers up a wide range of extravagant events throughout the year such as the Cannes Film Festival which is regarded as the world’s oldest and most prominent film festivals.
There is so much to see and do along the Côte d’Azur that it would be difficult to plan an itinerary that solely focused on a single city or town. There is gorgeous scenery to be experienced around every corner and plenty of hidden gems to uncover.
Yes there is an abundance of luxurious yachts, expensive cars, and epic helicopter rides on offer in the French Riviera, but there is also a great deal of culture and intrigue if you don’t happen to be into the glitz and glam.
And many destinations along the coast make a great base for exploring captivating inland communities via exciting day trips.
Whenever you decide to plan your next Azure Coast holiday, be sure to include some of my top things to do in the French Riviera in your itinerary. There will be plenty of delicious restaurants to fuel your many adventures throughout your stay.
Stroll Along Nice’s Promenade des Anglais
One of France’s most iconic seafronts can be found in Nice, the largest city in the French Riviera. The roughly 7-kilometer-long Promenade des Anglais or simply The Prom as it is referred to by locals is the highlight of the city.
Lined with palm trees, the paved path provides uninterrupted views of the sea and can either be walked or biked via a dedicated bike lane. Bike rentals are readily available along the promenade.
Along the promenade, you’ll find many bars and restaurants as well as plenty of access points to the pebbly beaches that run along it. Once known as the Camin deis Anglés or English Way, Queen Victoria would spend her winter holidays just off the promenade at the once former hotel Palais Regina.
While Palais Regina has since been converted into apartments, you’ll still find many exceptional hotels along the promenade like the palatial 5-star Hotel Negresco.
Many of Nice’s top attractions can be found not too far off the Promenade including the botanic gardens of Phoenix Park with its enormous greenhouse, the Opéra de Nice which offers up ballets and classical concerts, and the Villa Masséna which now acts as a public museum exhibiting Napoleon artifacts and the history of Nice. Part of the annual Nice Carnival also takes place along the Promenade des Anglais.
Soak Up Some Sun on a Beach in Cannes
You’ll find nearly eight kilometers of glorious beaches in Cannes of which there are private and public varieties. Many are located right off La Croisette Boulevard which is one of the main streets in Cannes.
Both public and private beaches can be accessed, but you will need to pay to use the private beaches that are owned by many of the major hotels that line the beaches.
Municipal beaches like Macé and Zamenhof offer up lockers, toilets, changing rooms and showers as well as the ability to rent lounge chairs and umbrellas for a full day or half day.
Free to use public beaches are also numerous and offer up fine golden sand along with great swimming and snorkeling. Public beaches include Gazagnaire, Mouré Rouge, Roubine, Rochers, and Nadine to name a few.
There are two non-smoking beaches including Bijou Plage and Plage des Rochers de la Bocca, while Plage Macé displays a giant movie screen during the Cannes Film Festival. The beaches are great for volleyball and catching the Bastille Day fireworks and many offer lifeguards and snack bars during the high season.
French Desserts and Modern Art in Saint-Tropez
Regarded as France’s first modern art museum, the nearly 100-year-old Musée de l’Annonciade offers up masterpieces by famous French artists like Matisse, Signac, Derain, and Marquet.
This modern art museum features artwork from impressionism to pointillism dating from between the late 19th century to the mid-20th century. It’s housed in a 16th-century chapel and many of the paintings depict scenes from early Saint-Tropez.
It was the French Neo-Impressionist painter Paul Signac who settled in Saint Tropez and encouraged other great painters to come to the town to paint, many of those artists’ paintings proudly displayed in the museum.
Just a five-minute-walk from the museum is La Tarte Tropézienne, one of many delicious bakeries in Saint Tropez. La Tarte Tropézienne is named after the famous dessert created in the town by a baker named Alexandre Micka in the 1950s.
The secret pastry recipe involves a blend of two creams which fill a brioche that is then dusted with granulated sugar. The pastry was actually named by French actress Brigitte Bardot while she was filming a movie in Saint Tropez. You’re sure to find some delicious macarons in the area as well.
Image credit: Fortetclair (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Wikimedia Commons
Stroll Through Menton’s Botanic Garden Paradise
If you’re into plants, you’ll be in your element at Menton’s botanic gardens. Because Menton is a bit warmer than other areas of the French Riviera, it offers a more mild and humid microclimate that is more conducive to growing tropical and subtropical plants.
The 19th century Val Rahmeh-Menton Botanical Garden offers up around 1.5 hectares of lush and well manicured gardens. Take advantage of the audio tour to get a better understanding of the many plants found here.
The gardens are owned by the French Museum of Natural History and boast something like 700 different plant species including exotic fruit trees, Canary date palms, Moreton Bay chestnut trees from Australia, and toromiro trees all the way from Easter Island.
Other major stars of the gardens are the giant water lilies found in the ponds. About 5 kilometers to the southwest of Val Rahmeh-Menton Botanical Garden is another beautiful garden called Serre de la Madonne which sits high in the hills above Menton.
This larger terraced garden was created by an American who was born in Paris and specializes in many Asian plants such as Japanese umbrella pines, Chinese roses, and bamboo.
The gardens also feature a Mediterranean forest among the ponds and pergolas. You’ll also be rewarded with exceptional views of Menton and the sea below.
Image credit: Gossipguy (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Wikimedia Commons
Walk Picasso’s Trail in Antibes
The famous Spanish painter Picasso came to live in Antibes for around 6 months shortly after WWII. He resided in the former Château Grimaldi which was built upon the ancient Greek acropolis of Antipolis.
The château has since been converted into a museum called the Musée Picasso which proudly displays most of the works the artist created while in Antibes. The museum also features works by Germaine Richier, Joan Miró, and Patrick Poirier.
Picasso’s works which are displayed in the museum depict many scenes from around Antibes which inspired him. There is a walk called the Picasso Trail where you can witness the very same scenes depicted in Picasso’s artwork.
These sights provide laminated copies of Picasso’s paintings so you can compare his creative interpretations with the real life scenes.
Be Intoxicated by Perfume in Grasse
Regarded as the world’s perfume capital, Grasse is situated inland from Cannes and its shelter from the sea air has allowed all kinds of aromatic flowers to be grown which end up producing over two-thirds of France’s natural aromas.
Grasse has had a prospering perfume industry for centuries now, and visitors can tour the fascinating parfumeries found here. Enter the world of perfumes by heading to parfumeries like Fragonard, Molinard, or Galimard to learn just what goes into making various fragrances.
You’ll discover the raw materials such as the various cultivated flowers as well as the tools that go into creating perfumes. Learn how to differentiate the various types of fragrances, shop for fragrant soaps, and even create your very own perfume.
One of the premier flowers to dominate the local perfume production is Jasmine and every August Grasse hosts a Jasmine Festival. It is said that over 25 tons of jasmine is harvested in Grasse annually.
Once you’ve finished visiting the parfumeries, there is also the International Perfume Museum where you can dive even deeper into centuries of perfume history.
Go Sea Kayaking in Cassis
Get out on the water by taking a kayak tour out of Cassis. Tours depart from La Grande Mer Beach and can be tailored in length to suit your fitness level.
Some sea kayaking tours will take you all the way to Grotte de l’Oule in Marseille, taking in all the incredible natural sights of Calanques National Park along the way. From the sea, you’ll witness sea caves, blow holes, fjords, towering white cliffs, and wildlife if you’re lucky.
Animals that inhabit the park include Bonelli’s eagles, sea turtles, and dolphins. If you aren’t up for the exercise, there are also more relaxing boat tours that can be enjoyed from Cassis.
You can also hike through the park if you are prone to sea sickness, however, be aware that the park is usually closed to hikers during the summer months due to the risk of wildfires.
Summit Mont Faron in Toulon
Be rewarded with incredible views over Toulon by heading to the summit of Mont Faron. While the summit, at roughly 590 meters, can be accessed by car via a one lane road, you can reach the top in style by taking the Téléphérique du Mont Faron cable car.
The cable car takes you on a roughly 7-minute journey and is definitely the most scenic way to the top. It’s usually closed from mid-November to February and during high winds.
If you’d rather get some really challenging exercise, try hiking or biking up the mountain. The journey to the summit is actually one of the challenging stages in several notable bike races. There are also downhill mountain bike trails on the mountain as well as restaurants at the summit.
Oh, and did I mention there’s a unique zoo at the summit which features big cats like tigers, lions, jaguars, and panthers, just to keep things even more interesting!