The French Riviera (known in French as Côte d’Azur) is the Mediterranean coastline of the southeast corner of France. There is no official boundary, but it is usually considered to extend from Toulon, Saint-Tropez in the west to Menton at the France–Italy border in the east. The coast is entirely within the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of France. The Principality of Monaco is a semi-enclave within the region, surrounded on three sides by France and fronting the Mediterranean. The French Riviera contains the seaside resorts of Cap-d’Ail, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Villefranche-sur-Mer, Antibes, Juan-les-Pins, Cannes, Saint-Raphaël, Fréjus, Sainte-Maxime and Saint-Tropez.
Riviera is an Italian word that originates from the ancient Ligurian territory of Italy, wedged between the Var and Magra rivers. The Côte d’Azur (coast of azure) is a nickname given by France to the County of Nice after its annexation in 1860, because the climate was similar to that of the north of Italy, even in winter, with a sky as blue as its sea.
The French Riviera is known for its seaside resorts, yachts, the rich and famous, Romanesque and medieval architecture and wine. It is best visited in spring and summer where it is most alive but it is nice to be visited all year round as the weather autumn and winter is milder Vs the rest of France.
If you are planning to explore French Riviera for the first time, the best place to base yourself is in Nice. You can spend 2-3 days in Nice and then explore all the seaside town along the coast on a day trip or you can split your stay in 2 places along the coast.
Here’s our suggestion on easily accessible seaside town along Cote d’Azur:
Nice (pronounced “Neese”) is located right on the Mediterranean Sea, in a region of France known as the French Riviera, or the Cote d’Azur. Nice comes in at the 7th largest city in France, and while definitely not a little town, it has a much more laid back and relaxed vibe than larger cities like Paris or even Marseilles.
There are many places to visit in Nice to keep you busy for a while. Nice makes a great base for exploring more of the French Riviera on day trips because of its international airport. Read here on how to get to Nice and around.
Here’s what you can do in your 2 days in Nice
- Visit La Colline du Château (Castle Hill). Castle Hill is a rocky hill located on the Eastern side of Promenade des Anglais, overlooking Old Nice and its port. This hill is one of the best places to visit in Nice, and it offers incredible views of Nice, the Baie des Anges, and the Alps in the distance.
- Stroll along Nice Old Port. Nice’s Old Port is a colorful and busy place, with about ten quays and various markets selling local products. Built in the 18th century, this port is one of the French Riviera’s main infrastructural hubs. It accommodates both the ships operated by ferry companies and private yachts for tourists.
- Walk along Jean Medecin and watch the kids play at Promenade du Paillon. The Avenue Jean Médecin is the main shopping street in Nice where you will find all kinds of shops, from retail stores to organic shops and supermarkets. You can also find the Nice Étoile shopping mall, some restaurants, coffee shops and other leisure and entertainment venues. The Promenade du Paillon begins in Place Massena with the Miroir d’Eau (mirror of water), a 3000m² paved section dotted with water jets; sometimes they puff out a gentle cooling mist that is pure relief on a hot day, sometimes they shoot fountains of water high into the air – they can switch at a moment’s notice, so walk amongst them at your own risk! They are a huge hit with children who love running in and out of the jets and shrieking with laughter every time they change.
- Exploring Nice Old Town. From Promenade du Paillon you can continue walk to Nice Old Town and Cours Saleya. Vieux Nice (Old Town) is the city’s historic district, an ensemble of narrow streets, colorful architecture, and picturesque piazzas. In Vieux Nice, you will also find cultural venues, beautiful Baroque churches, and many shopping opportunities and restaurants. The list of beautiful places to visit in Nice’s Old Town includes the Cathedral Sainte Reparate, the notable museums of Lascaris Palace and Galleries des Pochettes, and the Opera of Nice.
- Taking stroll in Cours Saleya. Located in the historic district, Cours Saleya is the largest pedestrian area in Vieux Nice and one of the few places that still keeps its local and traditional charm. The place is great for a stroll, and it is well known for its colorful flower markets (our favorite part), but there are also stalls selling antiques and food.
- Promenade des Anglais. This seaside promenade is Nice’s main landmark, famous beyond the French borders. The name of this promenade honors the English aristocracy, who in the 19th century acquired a taste for vacationing in Nice, and had the idea of building this 7-kilometer avenue by the sea.
- Swimming and Sunbathing in Nice Beach. Along the Promenade des Anglais, you will find Nice’s beaches with their legendary blue lounge chairs, the Museum of Asian Arts, the Palais de la Méditerranée, and the equally iconic Hotel Négresco. The city’s seafront is bordered by pebbled beaches, public or private, and they are a great place for a lazy day sunbathing and a couple of dips. To avoid contact with the stones, the beaches are fitted with lounge chairs – Nice’s iconic blue chairs – and it is highly recommended to use special shoes to walk on the beach or take a bath.
- Take a bus to Cimiez Hill, a calm neighborhood in Nice with a serene atmosphere far from the Old Town’s hustle and bustle. Located 2km north of Vieux Nice, Cimiez is a beautiful place for a stroll. It also has some interesting attractions, like the Cimiez Arenas and Gardens, the Archaeological Museum, and the Matisse Museum. The historical monuments of Valrose Castle and Regina Palace are also located in Cimiez. Cimiez also hosts popular city events like the Gourd Festival or the Nice Jazz Festival.
A stone’s throw from Nice, Villefranche-sur-Mer is a picturesque seaside village tucked into a bay between Cap Ferrat peninsula and Cap de Nice. Its colorful old town cascades down a hill, culminating in a waterfront lined with restaurants looking out on traditional boats dotted across the water. Villefranche-sur-Mer made a great day trip from Nice. It’s fun to spend a day exploring the old town, citadel, and beaches. You can combine a trip with a visit to neighboring Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and Beaulieu-sur-Mer, too. Read here on how to get there.
Historically, Villefranche-sur-Mer was more of a sleepy fishing village than jet set destination, but it’s attracted its share of glamor over the years. Artist Jean Cocteau called it “a source of myth and inspiration” and the Rolling Stones recorded their Exile on Mainstreet album here. It’s a popular filming location, too. Villefranche-sur-Mer has featured in movies such as Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, an Affair to remember and The Bucket List.
Best thing to do in a day
- Swim on the Beach and basking under the sun. The Plage des Marinieres is the main beach in Villefranche-sur-Mer. It stretches for nearly half a mile and has great views of the old town across the bay. The beach is great for swimming and also perfect for kids as there is a gradual slope from the shore
- Explore The Old Town. The Old Town is a great place to wander, getting lost for a few minutes along the narrow streets. Perfect winding alleys lined with colorful houses and flowers everywhere, you’ll feel like you’re walking in a real-time fairytale.
- Rue Obscure – for the curious and bold. It is a passageway under the old town’s houses dates back to the 13th century. Its steep tunnel is hauntingly atmospheric.
- Saint Elme Citadel – Visit the stone fortress from the 16th century. It houses the Town Hall, conference center, 4 museums, an open-air theater and gardens and is free to enter. The gardens are a pleasure to roam, especially in the warmer months. You’ll find Le Musée Volti, Le Musée Goetz-Boumeester and La Collection Roux, all also free to enter. While the kids were a bit bored with the museums, it’s interesting to see some of the old maritime memorabilia.
- St Michel Church – Walk through the 18th century baroque-style church in the center of Old Town. The church contains a recumbent Christ, an anonymous work by a galley slave and the organs by the Grinda Brothers from 1790, which are listed as a historic monument.
- Port – You can’t miss the small port while in Villefranche. The harbor is home to many fishing and charter boats just waiting to head out to sea.
- St Pierre Chapel – Next to the port, this Roman-style Chapel is dedicated to St Peter, the Patron Saint of fishermen. The church has been entirely restored and decorated by Jean Cocteau. The wonderful frescoes of Saint Peter are worth a quick visit. The price is €3 adults and free for kids kids. The chapel is closed on Tuesdays and during lunchtime.
- Markets – From May to October, on days the cruise ships come in, you’ll find Amélie’s market. This craft market features artisan products including clothing, jewelry and crafts. The Provençal Market on Wednesday and Saturday mornings year round features fruits, vegetables, flowers, clothing and jewelry.
Èze village is a stunning medieval village on the top of the rocky hill in St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. It looks like the eagles nest in shape, located on the top on the hill and overlooking the Mediterranean sea. Èze dated back as far as 2000 BC. The land was occupied by both the Romans and the Moors over the years, and was fortified by the House of Savoy in the late 1300s.
The French Riviera (Cote d’Azur) is a beautiful part of France to visit and there’s no shortage of charming coastal towns to visit. Èze village is one of the most favourite and beautiful and can be easily done as a day trip from Nice. Read here on how to get there.
Best Things to do in Èze
- Stroll the Streets of Èze Medieval Village. One of France’s most beautiful medieval towns, Èze Village is like a step back in time. Get lost in this labyrinth of cobblestone streets, and enjoy its particular atmosphere. The village is very tiny, but every corner is worth a stop to take a picture or two. In Èze Village, traditional houses had the ground floor for keeping the goats and the donkey while the owners slept on the first floor. Today, most ground floors are used as workshops or gift shops.
- Visit the Parfumerie. There are 2 Parfumerie in Èze, Galimard and Fragonard.
If you are interested with the art of parfumerie, both provide 45 minutes free tour. In the tour you can discover each step in the process from the extraction from a Flower to production of the Perfume. You can also see traditional soap works and learn about the different stages of the soap production.
- See Notre Dame de l’Assomption. The church, built in Neo-Classical style in the 18th century, is listed as French Historic Monument. You cannot miss it: Notre Dame de l’Assomption outstands from the rest of the houses thanks to its ochre color, size, and location on the hilltop. The current bell tower dates from the 19th century. It has been struck by lightning several times, destroying the dome that originally covered it. You can hear the bell ringing when are in the village.
- Visit Jardin Du Exotique. The Exotic Garden is one of the best things to see in Èze Village, both for its magnificent plant collection and panoramic views. The garden’s most interesting part is the collection of succulent plants and xerophytes from all the continents. The pathways are dotted with information panels about Èze’s artistic and historical heritage and curious facts. What makes the garden very interesting is that it was built on the site of a medieval fortress, perched 429 meters above the sea. After admiring the plants, walk up to the top of the garden and from there you will see the best views of Èze and even the French Riviera’s best views, from the Esterel Mountains to the Gulf of Saint-Tropez.
- Lunch with a View. Enjoy lunch with the best view in one of Èze’s Michelin-starred restaurants: Chèvre d’Or and Château Eza. You will need to book ahead. La Chèvre d’Or‘s main restaurant has 2 Michelin stars. Its menus go from 90-260€ per person. Chateau Eza has 1 Michelin star. Its à la carte costs about 100/150€ per person, and there’s a Tasting Menu of 125€ per person. There are other restaurants in the village, make sure you make reservation first for lunch when you come because they are easily booked up.
- Hike down thru Nietzsche Path After lunch in Èze, if you are fit and still have energy you can chose to walk the Nietzsche path to take you to Èze-sur-Mer. Nietzsche path is a walking train that connects Èze Village to Èze-sur-Mer. It seems that Nietzsche (the famous philosopher) used to walk this path during his stays in Nice. His walks through this path inspired him to write the third part of this famous work, ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ (1883-1885).
Saint Paul de Vence
St Paul de Vence is probably the loveliest of the perched villages you’ll find in the south of France. This little village became a magnet for artists and art lovers in the 1920’s, when a group of impressionist painters rediscovered this worn down town. Nowadays St Paul de Vence is filled with art galleries, boutiques and sidewalk cafe. A walk through its winding streets reveals elegant fountains, vine-covered stone walls and statues tucked into nooks in the walls. There are breathtaking views of mountains and sea. Even the ground below is attractive, as the cobblestones are laid into the shapes of flowers. Read here on how to get there.
What to do in a day
- Walk the Ramparts. The ramparts of St Paul de Vence were finished in 1547 and they still hold St Paul de Vence together today. These ramparts remind us that St Paul was once a military stronghold and they are very cool to see. Walk along the top of the ramparts for the best vantage point over the villages below. You can walk on top of the walls when the gates are open, and this is a brilliant way to see the countryside.
- Walk to the Cemetary and see Mac Chagall’s grave. While you are in the neighborhood, you might as well stop in the cemetery to have a look around. It’s a unique setting and I love seeing the frequent names of families who clearly had a big influence in the history of St Paul de Vence. One of its most famous residents is Marc Chagall, an all around artist and painter. He’s probably most well known for his paintings of religious themes, and ones where you’ll frequently see a bride, a bouquet, a horse or a chicken, or a combination of all of them. But he also did tapestries, stained glass, ceramics and mosaics.
- Take a stroll past the quasi flat iron Jacque Prevert home. Jacque Prevert was a poet, screenwriter and artist who lived in St Paul de Vence for some 15 years. He was drawn away from Paris in 1941 when the Victorine Film Studios in Nice were in their hey-day. And he was also instrumental in the set up of Fondation Maeght. You also find collages he created that adorn the walls of the famous Colombe d’Or hotel.
- Fondation Maeght. It is one of the largest and most important private collections of modern and contemporary art in France. It’s located just 1/2 mile before St Paul de Vence village. If you are on the bus from Nice, it’s the stop just before St Paul, and is sign posted. You can then walk up the steep road onto the grounds.
- Dungeon of Saint-Paul-de-Vence or the tour de la Mairie. This dungeon or Donjon, as it’s referred to in French, is actually the first structure that was the start of St Paul de Vence. The base formed part of the original Chateau. It dates from the 1100s, and the bell tower was installed in the 1440s. It is now the town hall of St Paul de Vence and you can get married there. They also refer to it as, The Keep.
- L’Eglise Collégiale. The church was built in the 1300s and finished in the 1700s. It’s the main church of St Paul de Vence, but is not considered a cathedral. The lighting makes it quite sombre inside, but it’s very unique, architecturally, built in Romanesque style. There are 4 chapels inside, one in Baroque style, and others have paintings, antiquities, parchment from the 1500s, and jewellery. The bell tower is from the 1700s. Pop on in and take a look. It’s nice and cool on a hot summer’s day.
- Walk thru the cobblestone path and pop into various arts shops. St Paul de Vence is a place where you just have to wander around instead of ticking the must see attraction. Go inside the cute shops, explore all the quaint alleys, buy yourself a painting or two and chose a restaurant to have lunch and coffee afterward.
Once a small fishing village, Cannes is now a glamorous and expensive seaside town considered to be one of the social hubs of Europe. Its moment to shine arrives in May where the Cannes Film Festival takes place, entertaining the rich and famous. During the festival, fans can see actors, celebrities, and directors up close and in person on the famous steps of the Palais des Festivals at the end of La Croisette.
What to Do
- Walk up Boulevard de la Croisette. Next to Monte Carlo in Monaco, La Croisette has the highest concentration of designer boutiques on the French Riviera. Along with haute boutiques like Chanel and Dior, you’ll find colourful sculptures, grand hotels and a parade of pricy sports cars. Unlike Promenade des anglais in Nice, Boulevard de la Croisette equals glitz.
- Check the Other Side of the Promenade de la Croisette. If you cross the street to the Mediterranean side, the boulevard is transformed into a lively beachside promenade complete with palm trees, beaches, food stands, playgrounds and bright blue chairs – pull one up, sit back and watch the scene. You’ll even find the cheery sight of a carousel, so it’s a great place to hang out in Cannes with family.
- Take a picture at the red carpet. You can find the red carpet on the steps of the film festival building, the Cannes Palais des Festivals et des Congrès at the west end of La Croisette. The blocky Modernist-style building seems awfully utilitarian for hosting such a glittery event, but it’s celebrity central anyway. Inside Cannes Palais des Festivals et des Congrès are 15 auditoriums where you can watch the films.
- Check out the yachts at Vieux Port. Just past the Palais des Festivals building to the west is the old port, the Vieux Port. Here you can get so close to the sleek-looking yachts it seems only fitting the global elite invite you onboard. I find the marina, one of the prettiest places to visit in Cannes; full of gleaming sailboats, fishing boats and floating palaces that add to the exclusive French Riviera mystique.
- Explore Le Suquet, The Old Town. From the Vieux Port you’ll spot the the Old Town rising up in a peak of red tiled roofs, weathered stone and walls of faded ochre and pink. This old quarter of Cannes has been around a lot longer than the film festival or the flashy shops on La Croisette. In fact, the Romans were here for five centuries, and the Ligurians before that. In the 12th century, the land became the property of Cistercian monks who built a castle fortress at the top of the hill, the Château de la Castre. Nowadays Rue Saint-Antoine, once the domain of fishermen, is now a pedestrianized street lined with bistros and souvenir shops, with restaurants like Table 22 upping the culinary game from touristy to gourmet. The castle fortress is now a museum called the Musée de la Castre, and houses a mixed bag of artifacts ranging from 19th century landscapes to Tibetan masks.
- Hit the Beach. You can go deluxe and pay for a lounge bed and wait service at a private beach club like Mademoiselle Gray Plage Barrière, or grab your favourite beach essentials and plunk your towel down for free in 5-star territory at the public Palais Festivals Beach. If you have one full day in Cannes and the weather is nice and sunny, you can take boat excursion to the Calanques of the Esterel or take the half day catamaran cruise with lunch.
- Shop at Rue d’Antibes. While most tourists window shop on La Croisette’s high end designer shops, they do the actual shopping on Rue d’Antibes. This busy shopping street that runs behind La Croisette is full of shoe stores, perfumeries and clothing boutiques that range from international chains like Zara and Mango to French fashion brands such as Morgan and Maison 123.
Menton is one of the most beautiful corners of the country. Here, the sleepiness of the French Riviera remains, with its shuttered villas, terracotta roofs, dreamy beaches, palm trees, and lemon gardens. Because of its close proximity to Italy, Menton can sometimes feel more Italian than French, from the culture and buildings to the delicious food. You can easily do Menton in just one day as a day trip from Nice. Read here on how to get there.
The narrow winding streets of Menton is filled with charm and history. Menton felt authentic to the classic time of the French Riviera. Despite being a close neighbour to the glamorous Monaco, Menton is still affordable and much less crowded.
Best things to do in Menton
- Stroll around old town. The old town has a real ‘Dolce Vita’ feel to it. It is easy to get lost amid the narrow streets, stairways and leafy plazas. The narrow street, lined with colourful facades, in all kinds of yellows and oranges. A few steps further, you come across a number of old-fashioned stalls, with softly lit lanterns. Shutters are opened at the first cool of the day, and laundry hangs out of the windows to dry. Time seems to stand still in these alleys. Artists’ studios appear to pop up all around. There is an atmosphere of nostalgia along this ancient Roman thoroughfare, running through the old town. Within the ancient fortified walls, the medieval crossings and Baroque buildings around Saint-Michel Square reveal the importance of this rich history. And everywhere, absolutely everywhere, the brilliant blue of the Mediterranean makes its presence felt. A wonder for the eyes and for the soul!
- Swim at the beach. Plage des Sablettes beach is the busiest and the prettiest beach in Menton. However, there’s no shortage of other good beaches to explore on Menton. Generally, the beaches are rockier on the western side of Menton and sandier on the east towards Italy. Some good options are Plage du Fossan and Plage Rondelli. Fossan is pebbly and good for families. Rondelli is sandier and attracts a younger crowd, with some fun beach bars.
- Explore Plage des Sablettes promenade. Plage des Sablettes is a stunning promenade at the edge of the old town that hugs the white sand beach. It is located between the two ports (the Old Port and Garavan), along the Quai Bonaparte and the old town. The promenade was completely renovated in 2019. It is now a pedestrian and there are shops, scenic restaurants and bars with a buzzing atmosphere.
- Basilique Saint-Michel-Archange. At the top of the old town, discover the beauty of the Basilique Saint-Michel-Archange. This jewel of Baroque art was built in 1639 and overlooks the old town from its 53m high bell tower, the symbol of Menton. Step inside and feast your eyes on trompe-l’œil paintings by Cerrutti-Maori in the main vault and an amaranthine Genoa damask that captures the building’s Baroque heritage.
- Salle des Mariages. Everything was left to his discretion, from the faux-leopard rugs to the carved wooden doors, chairs and bronze candelabra. But it’s the brightly colored murals that will grab you, and these are suffused with rich symbolism inspired by ancient mythology. Some are accompanied with information plaques, but the way to get a full explanation is to show up for the guided tour on Thursdays or to get yourself an audio guide from the Town Hall’s reception.
- Take a picture of Jean Cocteau Museum. Jean Cocteau was a famous artist and film director who loved Menton. In fact, it was one of his favorite places! Because of this, a museum was dedicated to him within the town, chosen by Jean himself, to display his work. Uniquely, the museum is built within the bastion, a 17th-century fort, that’s been decorated with beautiful mosaics by Jean Cocteau. However the museum has been closed after it was affected by the flood after a storm in 2018. To date the museum is still closed with no reopening planned.
Monaco, the second-smallest country in the world after Vatican, is known for being glamorous and extreme wealthy country with 30% of the population being millionaires. Monaco is its own country, separated from France, despite technically being in a location surrounded by French Riviera. It’s filled with fantastic scenery, tropical vibes, and luxury everywhere you look.
It also has a pretty small population. In total, the whole country has around 40,000 people living in it. For reference, think of New York City’s Central Park. Monaco could fit inside it, and there would still be some part completely untouched! Monaco is also one of the safest places to visit in the world. There is really tight security, most likely because of all the millionaires that live in the area. There are also surveillance cameras pretty much everywhere. Click here to read more.
Best thing to do
- Explore Port Hercules
- Walk to the old town of Monaco
- Visit Prince’s Palance
- Old Monaco Museum
- St Nicholas Cathedral
- Explore Oceanographic Museum
- Take a picture at Port de Fontvieille Viewpoint
- Go inside Monte Carlo Casino
- Sunset at Tête de Chien (Only if you have a car)