Planning Your Trip
Things to Do
What to Eat & Drink
The French Riviera is one of the most alluring regions in Europe: studded with sandy coastlines overlooking azure waters that are perfect for swimming, it's home to attractive cities and towns that have it all, from postcard-pretty architecture to world-class cuisine. Located in is the southeast corner of France and bordering Italy to the west, the Riviera—also known as the Côte d'Azur—offers so much to see and do. Use this guide to help plan your next adventure on the Riviera, with tips on getting there, what to see, where to stay, eating out, budgeting your trip, and more.
Planning Your Trip
- Best Time to Visit: The sunny, warm months of spring and summer months are generally the best times to go, especially if you want to take full advantage of regional beaches, enjoy watersports, or plan long hikes.
- Language: French is the region's official language. Most people speak some degree of English, with younger generations learning the language in increasing numbers in recent years. We highly recommend that you spend some time learning some basic travel vocabulary and polite expressions in French before you go.
- Currency: The Euro is the official currency of France.
- Getting Around: The main cities and towns of the French Riviera are connected through an efficient rail system that includes both high-speed (TGV) trains and slower, though regular and reliable, regional rail services. Especially if you want to explore some of the Riviera's harder-to-access inland villages and areas of outstanding natural beauty, renting a car may be the best option, but make sure you study local driving rules and regulations. Be aware that using taxis to get around can be quite expensive.
- Travel Tip: Before heading to the Riviera, decide how many cities and towns you can comfortably visit during the time you have. If you have only three or four days, trying to see Nice, Cannes, St-Tropez, and Marseille won't likely allow for a relaxing or authentic stay. It's best to focus on one major city and a day trip or two when your time is limited.
Things to Do
The French Riviera may be celebrated for its beaches, palace hotels, and glamorous nightlife, but in reality it offers much more, from architecture and history to natural parks and museums. The star-studded beaches and boardwalks of Cannes and St-Tropez give way to walled medieval cities perched high in the hills, cities with bustling market squares and winding, cobbled lanes, pristine islands offshore where you can hike, swim, snorkel, or cycle.
It can be hard to know what to focus on during your trip, so here are three top attractions we recommend during a first stay in the Riviera:
- Spend at least 48 hours exploring Nice, then use it as a base to explore nearby Riviera attractions such as sun-kissed Menton (on the Italian border), Grasse (famous for its roses and perfumes), Saint-Jean-Cap Ferrat, and romantic medieval villages like Èze. Monaco is also a day trip away and worth visiting.
- Visit Cannes and take a long walk along La Croisette, the beach boardwalk that becomes the center of world attention every early summer during the Cannes Film Festival. Enjoy a meal or cocktail overlooking the port and, in the summer, attend an open-air film screening.
- If breathtaking natural landscapes drive your desire to travel, build your trip around stunning sites such as the Calanques National Park and Port Cros National Park.
What to Eat and Drink
The region is renowned for its cuisine and high-quality products, and almost every city and town in the French Riviera boasts colorful, bustling markets, Michelin-starred restaurants, superb bakeries, and numerous local specialties worth tasting.
Throughout the region, traditional Mediterranean and Provençal products such as olives and olive oil, thyme, lavender, dried fruits and nuts, fresh fish, lemons, garlic, and tomatoes form the base of local cuisine. These simple yet essential products are showcased in both simple family-owned restaurants and the most experimental, creative tables.
Nice is well-known for its vibrant local food culture, and is arguably the Riviera's gastronomic center. The Franco-Italian city is home to popular dishes such as ratatouille, pistou (basil and vegetable soup), tuna-based salad niçoise, fougasse flatbreads, and many others. Its Cours Saleya market is an essential destination, both for tasting local produce and taking in local culture.
Meanwhile, places like Cannes, St-Tropez, Monaco, and Antibes boast some of the Riviera's finest gastronomic tables, many with Michelin stars and featuring stunning ocean views. And in Marseille, experience local specialties such as bouillabaisse (a hearty yet delicately herbed fish stew) pastis (anise liqueur) and chichis frégi, donuts similar to churros.
Where to Stay
The Riviera has some of the most impressive hotels and resorts in France, with numerous properties offering waterfront views or private beaches, pools, spas, Michelin-starred restaurants, and other luxurious features. These lodgings aren't affordable for many or most travelers; luckily there are plenty of other options for a comfortable stay from vacation rentals to bed-and-breakfasts and campsites. Choosing the right accommodations is an essential part of planning your trip. You should consider several factors, including your budget, willingness to shop and cook, and preferred setting (beachside? city center? quiet island?).
We recommend staying in traditional hotels or self-catered accommodations when based in major cities, especially if you don't plan to rent a car. You'll want to have quick and easy access to transportation links, restaurants, shops, and services.
If you do opt to rent a car and don't mind frequent drives, you can often find good deals (and more space) if you stay outside of the city centers. Renting a beach house or cottage with stunning views over the water, or a rustic Provence-style stone house in a walled medieval village above Nice, are good possibilities.
If you're flying from overseas or elsewhere in Europe numerous national and low-cost carriers serve Nice Côte d'Azur Airport on the eastern side of the Riviera, and Marseille-Provence Airport to the west. Both airports offer easy access (by train, coach, or car) to surrounding coastal destinations such as Cannes, Monaco, St-Tropez, and Toulon.
Air France, Lufthansa, Delta, Air Canada, British Airways, Easyjet, Vueling, and Ryanair are among the international airlines serving one or both major airports on the Riviera. If you're traveling from another destination in Europe, consider flying with a low-cost carrier to save money on transportation.
From Paris or elsewhere in France, taking the train can be a relaxing way to get there, even if it often takes longer than flying. High-speed TGV trains shuttle passengers from Paris to Nice in six hours, traveling from one city center to the next. From London, Amsterdam, Brussels or Lille, you can take the Eurostar to Paris, then change trains to continue onward to the south of France.
Culture and Customs
Before you go, we always recommend that you spend some time learning about local cultural norms and customs. Find out how to tip in France and the French Riviera, and read our general advice on how to avoid behaving like an tourist in France, and read our amusing but insightful look at why stereotypes about French people are not useful guides to understanding the culture. Finally, read up on key facts and figures about France.
- Going to the Riviera during low season (roughly October through March) can save you a considerable amount of money on flights, trains, hotels, and tours. Just be sure that the attractions you're most interested in remain open during your planned dates, as many close outside of peak season.
- If you're staying in big Riviera cities such as Nice or Marseille for more than a couple of days, it may make sense to buy a transportation or attractions pass. Nice Ticket passes can be purchased for 24 hours, 7 days, or for up to 10 rides. Marseille, meanwhile, offers a City Pass that covers some transportation and entry to several popular attractions.
- If you plan to get around mostly by train, buy a rail pass. You're likely to save a significant amount on travel between cities and regions in the Riviera if you do, and passes are available for all kinds of travelers- from seniors to students.
- If you rent a car and don't mind driving to city centers, consider making your base in the Riviera a smaller town or area away from the main tourist centers. Hotel and vacation home rates are often lower in these areas.
- Before your trip, check in with your bank and verify how much it'll cost you to perform basic transactions while abroad in France, including withdrawals and credit card payments. If you have more than one credit card, compare their international rates.