The Best Things to Do on the French Riviera

With museums, beaches, mountains, and more, the French Riviera has something to offer every type of traveler. Visit the picturesque Côte d’Azur for attractions ranging from palaces and perfumeries to cycling, horseback riding, and world-renowned art museums.

9 Boulevard de la Croisette, 06400 Cannes, France
Today luxury hotels, high-end boutiques, and a fine-sand beach compete for visitors’ attention as they stroll the famous coastal walk in Cannes that follows the crescent-shaped border between water and town. Once this glamorous walkway was a marshy path called the Crouseto, traversed by pilgrims who came here to visit and pray at the Lérins Abbey out in the bay. Especially during the film festival, when celebrities arrive by yacht, limo, or helicopter and walk along the street, lounging at the café tables and shopping at the fancy stores, it is hard to picture the remote fishing village that was once here.
Chalet d'accueil du Boréon, Route Départementale 89, 06450 Saint-Martin-Vésubie, France
Named for the alpha males that are its very raison d’être, the conservation center in the southern Alps’ Mercantour National Park ensures the well-being of three separate wolf packs. Each pack is allotted 7.5 acres of the park. Wolf sightings depend on the wolves, of course, but regular feedings every two to three days guarantee a lupine visit. In addition to the wolf habitats, there is a farm/petting zoo, a restaurant, and even some lodgings on-site, making it an easy base from which to explore the surrounding forest. (On rainy days, the nearby Vesúbia Mountain Park is a popular destination for its indoor climbing wall, gym, and Olympic-size pool.)
96 Boulevard de l'Observatoire
On a pine-covered summit overlooking the sprawling city of Nice, Mont Gros, a 19th-century observatory, is a local icon. Built by Charles Garnier (famous for his Paris Opéra design) in collaboration with Gustave Eiffel (yes, that Eiffel), the monument has inspired film location scouts and is popular with local couples who come to take in the stunning view of the city together. The observatory is still an active science laboratory focusing on astronomy, astrophysics, and geoscience. The original 18-meter-long lens is responsible for finding 2,000 previously unrecorded double stars. There are two-hour guided tours on Wednesdays and Saturdays year-round, with a more frequent schedule during school holidays.
chemin des sangliers prolongé, 83700 Saint-Raphaël, France
If the horse races at Cagnes sur Mer aren’t hands-on enough for you, get up on that horse yourself. Les 3 Fers, an equestrian club in St. Raphaël, offers a trip that takes riders of all levels along the sea cliffs, as well as one on the beach. For more advanced riders, Les Ferrières follows a trail to an archaeological ruin through a forest, and longer trips lead riders through the Vars region of the Alps.
164 Avenue des Arènes de Cimiez, 06000 Nice, France
Henri Matisse was already a successful artist in 1917 when he left Paris behind to settle in the suburbs of Nice. It was here that in 1941—too infirm to hold a brush steady—Matisse developed his cut-paper artworks. The Matisse Museum, set in an expansive and sunny park of palm trees, has a collection of works spanning every period of his career and includes more than 180 items that belonged to him, including his palette. The perfect end to a day spent at the museum is an outing to Vence. The Rosary Chapel, designed by the artist, features vivid and modern stained-glass windows, tile murals, and a distinctive blue-and-white roof.
Located where the mountains meet the sea, Port-Cros National Park is only partially visible from the shore, as nearly half of its land is underwater. While this island park offers plenty of hiking, cycling, and beach activities for landlubbers, the park’s main draw is its unique set of seven underwater hikes for snorkelers. Well-marked paths lead swimmers of all ages to Roman ruins, a reconstructed shipwreck, and protected marine gardens, while signage and buoys explain the region’s flora and fauna, which include starfish, octopuses, and sea anemones. Visitors can arrange for both guided tours and snorkeling equipment rentals upon arrival.
623 Chemin des Gardettes, 06570 Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France
With its stunning architecture and vast private collection of modern art, the Maeght Foundation is no ordinary museum. The entire estate is dedicated to art, with pieces by Marc Chagall, Eduardo Chillida, Pierre Tal-Coat, and Pierre Bonnard mixing with more contemporary works by Gérard Fromanger and Marco Del Re in the innovatively designed buildings. Outside, cicada song sets the tone and the scent of pine fills the air in the sweeping space filled with sculptures by Joan Miró, Alexander Calder, and Georges Braque. It’s hard to imagine a more enchanting place to appreciate art, as perfect for connoisseurs as for those just learning about 20th-century artists. The gift shop sells souvenirs as well as valuable lithographs.
Avenue Saint-Martin, 98000 Monaco
With Monaco facing the Mediterranean, it is no wonder Prince Albert I was passionate about marine biology and conservation. Looking to promote marine sciences and educate others, the prince opened the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco in 1910. There are now more than 6,000 fish, as well as a shark lagoon and an important collection of live coral. Still dedicated to ocean conservation, the museum works closely with scientists and artists to inspire public interest.
1 Avenue Ephrussi de Rothschild
The exclusive town of St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is home to the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, a Renaissance-style palace with sumptuous furnishings and one of the most famous gardens in France. Beginning with a traditional French garden, the land is by turns tamed into a Japanese garden, a stone garden, and six other distinctive environments. Directly across the bay, the Villa Kerylos was built in the 20th century as a replica of an ancient Greek palace.
Quai du vieux port, 06230 Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France
Dedicated to saving threatened marine wildlife, particularly the marine mammals of the Mediterranean, SOS Grand Bleu invites visitors to St. Jean Cap Ferrat to set sail for an afternoon on the historic Santo Sospir sailboat. Catch up with endangered dolphins and whales and follow their pods as guides educate guests on the various species that populate the local ecosystem and the importance of marine conservation across the globe.
10 Rue de la Paix, 06360 Èze, France
A maze of narrow medieval streets wind up and down this village perched along the Grande Corniche. The ruins of a château are now an exotic garden, and the 18th-century neoclassical Notre Dame of the Assumption church is a national monument. Spectacular views inspire artists and artisans, and their galleries fill the village. Exceptional restaurants like the Château Eza are happy to welcome guests for a drink or a Michelin-starred meal as they relax and savor the scenery.
Place Mariejol, 06600 Antibes, France
In 1946, Picasso worked from a studio in the Château Grimaldi of Antibes, creating 23 paintings and 44 illustrations that he gifted to the town. Later, 78 pieces that he designed for the Madoura pottery studios in Vallauris were added to the collection and the château became the world’s first Picasso museum. The nearby Archaeology Museum is housed in a historic fort and explores Antibes’s origin as the ancient Greek town Antipolis.
2 Quai de Monleon, 06500 Menton, France
In the 1950s, the town of Menton invited prodigious artist, poet, author, and filmmaker Jean Cocteau to design a museum for his work. In a town known for its extraordinary gardens, the museum is an ode to the creative genius, beginning with the monumental lizard mosaic (designed by Cocteau) that guides guests to the entrance. Redesigned in 2008, the museum is now one of the Riviera’s most important destinations for contemporary art and architecture.
Les Salins
Even with the summer crush on the French Riviera in full swing, there are quiet escapes to be found. In particular, I like to take walks along the Sentier du Littoral, the coastal footpath that stretches the length of the French Mediterranean coast. My favorite segment is in St. Tropez, where I head by boat from Ste. Maxime (the Bateaux Verts leave every 10 minutes). From the ferry landing, I start walking—through the narrow streets and old port, under the imposing citadel that has guarded residents since around 1600, past the cemetery, and onto a narrow path that ribbons around the St. Tropez Peninsula. The 7-mile route takes me by inlets of crystalline water, hidden villas whose residents I always wonder about, and past dozens of little beaches that are significantly more serene and less crowded than the frenzy of those found along Pampelonne Bay, where this piece of the trail ends. You can hoof the two miles back to the village, or take the bus.
Plage de Pampelonne, 83350, France
While filming And God Created Woman here in 1956, French superstar Brigitte Bardot made Ramatuelle’s Pampelonne Beach a summer icon. Today, the beach and neighboring St. Tropez continue to draw celebrity jet-setters like Elton John and Kate Moss, who arrive in luxury cars and yachts to see and be seen on 100-euros-per-day loungers at Le Club 55. More adventurous visitors can tour the coast with a pair of wheels from Vélorama, or a kayak or stand-up paddleboard from Pep’s Spirit (which may be the smarter choice given the endless traffic along the local roads).
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