Also known as the Côte d’Azur, France’s south coast is one of the country’s finest regions. Although there are no official borders, the French Riviera is thought to stretch from the Cassis commune in the west to the town of Menton on the French-Italian border. Its glittering azure waters, wide golden beaches, breathtaking nature and vibrant cities have made it a prominent destination loved by everyone from artists to A-listers. The travel experts at Plum Guide (bonjour, that’s us) know the French Riviera well and have all the inside info on where to go and what to do. Our travel guide to the French Riviera is the only one you’ll need.
General info about French Riviera
Beach beneath the colourful old town Menton, French Riviera, France
It’s hard to imagine, but the French Riviera hasn’t always been a glamorous holiday destination. In fact, it has a long history which involved the Greeks, Romans, Germanic tribes, Normans, the House of Grimaldi (which currently rules Monaco) and the British. During the 18th century, the English aristocracy started to spend winters on the Riviera, and other European royalty quickly followed suit. The popularity only grew, turning into a prime vacation spot as we know it today.
Best time to visit French Riviera
Protected by hills in the west and the Mercantour Alps in the northwest, the French Riviera benefits from a mild Mediterranean climate year-round. With almost 300 days of sunshine a year, there’s never a bad time to visit. The shoulder months of May, June and September are some of the best times to visit, especially if you want to go hiking or walking. July and August bring peak beach weather—keep in mind it may be more difficult to get space on the beach or book dinner reservations.
How to get to French Riviera
If arriving by plane, the Nice Côte d’Azur Airport is the main hub for the French Riviera and the second busiest international airport after Paris. The region is well-connected by rail as well, with the main cities and towns connected by high-speed (TGV) trains and slower (but still reliable) regional rail services.
Top activities and attractions
Beach in Cannes, French Riviera, France
With over 100 kilometres of coastline, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to beaches on the Côte d'Azur. Rub shoulders with A-listers on Plage de Pampelonne, enjoy snorkelling on Garoupe beach, or go kite surfing on Almanarre beach. Despite its popularity, you can still find quiet beaches like Plage de l’Escalet in Saint Tropez and Plage Petite Afrique at the eastern end of the village of Beaulieu-sur-Mer.
Art galleries and museums
A narrow street with galleries and ateliers in Mougins village close to Cannes, Cote d'Azur
With such inspiring landscapes, it’s no surprise that the French Riviera has long attracted artists like Picasso, Matisse, Chagall and Van Gogh. Head to Antibes, where Picasso lived in 1946, and visit the Musée Picasso, which is housed in his former workshop in the Château Grimaldi. In Nice, you can visit the Musée Matisse for one of the world’s largest collections of his work. For something a little different, the magnificent Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild was built in 1905 for the socialite Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild and her growing art collection, and the extravagant rooms are still filled with artwork today.
Make the most of the Mediterranean weather and explore the remarkable natural landscapes. If you fancy switching things up, swap your flip-flops for trainers and set out on the many hiking trails the region offers. Mercantour National Park, the Préalpes d’Azur Regional Natural Park, the Var Valley or the Vésubie Valley all offer countless opportunities for getting active outdoors. You can even go horse riding and mountain biking if you don’t feel like hiking.
Vineyards & wineries
It may not be as famous as the Bordeaux region, but the wine produced on the French Riviera is not to be sniffed at (at least, not in a condescending way). Away from the sea, you’ll find verdant vineyards tucked away in the hills, producing exquisite reds, whites and rosés from grapes ripened by the Mediterranean sun. Some of our favourite wineries to visit are Château de Brégançon, Château Paquette and the Clos des Roses Vineyard.
The French Riviera coast is dotted with various islands. Leave the crowds behind and sail to the Iles de Lerins, four islands just a 15-minute ride from Cannes. This is a lovely, peaceful spot to relax on the islands' tranquil beaches and bays. The Îles d’Hyères islands are also worth a visit. Here you can cycle or walk through vineyards and pine forests or swim on empty beaches.
Any good travel guide to the French Riviera should include off-the-beaten-track destinations. It may be hard to believe, but you can still find hidden gems on the French Riviera. If you’re seeking a quintessentially French town, the gorgeous market town of Vence sees much fewer tourists than its famous neighbour Saint Paul de Vence. Wander the cobbled alleyways and enjoy al fresco dining with a view. If nature is tempting you in, head to the Massif de l’Esterel mountain range, which rises steeply from the coast. You’ll find plenty of walking trails and small, hidden coves to swim in. Last but not least, take a drive to the beautiful village of Gordes. This is where you’ll find Senanque Abbey, a scenic monastery seemingly rising from fields of lavender—be sure to take your camera.
Best areas to visit and stay in
The Alpes Maritimes is one of France’s most diverse departments, boasting seaside resorts, hilltop villages, lush valleys and rugged mountains. Its coastline is part of the French Riviera, home to famous cities like Cannes, Nice and Antibes. These cities aren’t just about money and wealth—you’ll also find cultural heritage in the form of museums, galleries and historical town centres. The Alpes Maritimes is a fantastic place to base yourself if you’re looking for a little bit of everything.
Beach in Cannes, French Riviera, France
Famous for its renowned film festival, Cannes is the best place to go if you’re in search of Riviera glamour. If you’re not one of the lucky ones with an invitation to the festival, you can still enjoy nightly screenings at Cinéma de la Plage. Stroll down La Croisette, one of France’s most established streets. Looking out to sea, this is the place to eat, shop, play and enjoy a cocktail at sunset. This is a prime celebrity hangout area, so keep your eyes peeled.
View of the beach in the city of Nice, French Riviera
Thought to be the birthplace of tourism on the French Riviera, Nice is indeed quite nice (sorry). Its idyllic coastline draws holidaymakers from around the world, with the best views to be found on the seven-kilometre-long Promenade des Anglais. As you stroll along the promenade, look out for the Musée Masséna, a grand seaside mansion and a centre for Riviera art and artefacts. Wander off the promenade into Nice’s old town, full of sunny squares and colourful buildings and the famous Marché aux Fleurs, or flower market.
The Bouches-du-Rhone department is also another must-visit area of the French Riviera. The historic city of Marseille lies at its heart, surrounded by the breathtaking landscape of the Alpilles with its broad valleys, rocky outcrops and charming villages. The Bouches-du-Rhone coastline is equally magical, with pine-strewn promontories and calanques, which are narrow limestone coves backed by sheer cliffs. The sheltered coves, such as Calanque d’En Vau beach, are perfect for swimming.
The historic centre of Antibes, French Riviera
The popular seaside resort of Antibes is situated between Cannes and Nice. It’s a city of contrasts, where you can find mega yachts in the elegant marina as well as historic buildings in the 16th-century old town. Discover the city's most famous past resident, Picasso, or browse the stalls in the Provencal food market of Marché Provençal. Pick up seasonal fresh produce, bread and meats and take your picnic down to Plage de la Gravette, a little horseshoe-shaped beach just a short walk from the harbour.
Eating out on the French Riviera
What would a travel guide to the French Riviera be without a mention of its food? If you think its cities and beaches are the highlights, wait until you try the food. The cuisine of the region is heavily influenced by the Mediterranean, Provençal and Italian culinary traditions. Being right next to the sea, seafood is a staple, and you’ll find all kinds of fish and shellfish according to the season, as well as fresh, locally-sourced seafood (and plenty of wine).
Try local delicacies like ratatouille (a famous vegetable dish made from aubergine, courgette and red peppers in a tomato stew—Nice is especially known for its version), fougasse (an olive oil-rich flatbread), bouillabaisse (fish stew originating in Marseille), pissaladière (thin tart topped with olives, caramelised onions and fresh anchovies) and socca (a hearty pancake made with chickpea flour and eaten with sweet or savoury toppings).
Where to find food
It’s safe to say you won’t have any difficulty finding a place to eat on the French Riviera. There is a wide range of eateries available, from casual dining spots to fine dining and Michelin-starred restaurants.
We highly recommend visiting the markets which are the beating hearts of the cities’ old towns. Always lively and friendly, this is where locals come to get their daily produce. As well as arts, crafts, textiles and antiques, many of them focus on food—find everything from cheese and flavoured sea salts to briny olives and baked treats. Some of our favourite markets to visit include the Cours Saleya market in Nice, the Provencal market in Antibes, Place del Lices in Saint-Tropez and Forville market in Cannes.