There’s a reason why this particular coastline of France has dazzled the likes Grace Kelly, Picasso, Brigitte Bardot, Coco Chanel, Nietzche, and F. Scott Fitzgerald - just to name an eclectic few. There’s various hilltop towns that brims with charm and romance, as well as little coves all up and down the French Riviera. It’s not all just a playground for the wealthy on the Côte d'Azur - backpackers, families and the locals are easily mingling with jet-setters and influencers alike. After all, the pristine beaches here are for everyone.
There’s nothing else quite like it in the world. There’s similar places, like the Amalfi Coast (and our ultimate itinerary that covers it) but the Côte d'Azur stands out for its international reputation of star-studded glitz, as well as that unique French essence.
Day 1-2: Nice
While the French Riviera isn’t exactly a defined border or region, Nice (pronounced ‘Neese’) is considered the capital of the Côte d'Azur. At the foot of the French alps on one side with the Mediterranean sea on the other - Nice is a city that has long charmed visitors since the Greeks founded it back around 350 BC. Since then, it has become renowned for art and culture, and a favourite amongst European royalty and elite.
But that’s the thing about Nice - anyone can experience that glamour and indulge in its old world beauty. French painter Henri Matisse took up residence in the city, which now is home to Musée Matisse, a 17th century villa. The museum holds the largest collection of Matisse in the world. You can get your tickets here.
For art lovers, these are my other favourite museums worth visiting when in Nice:
- Modern and Contemporary Art Museum (MAMAC): pieces ranging from avant-garde to modern pop art.
- Fine Arts Museum of Nice (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nice): where a former Russian princess’ mansion meets sculptures by Rodin and ceramics by Picasso. You can get your tickets here.
- Asian Arts Museum: free admission to a collection of Asian art history.
- Marc Chagall National Museum: dedicated the Marc Chagall and his paintings that draws on inspiration from religion.
- Palais Lascaris: It’s one thing to see a palace from the outside, the exploring the interiors is a whole different world.
- Massena Museum: Travel back in time to the belle époque era in a 19th century luxury villa.
What connects a lot of Nice’s sights is the Promenade des Anglais which stretches all the way through the city by the water. You can rent rollerblades or bicycles here, or a walk becomes a jaunt down to Nice beach. The upside of it being pebble beach is no sands in-between toes or things flying away so easily!
From the famous boardwalk, Jardin Albert 1er is a small city park filled with an open air theatre in the summer, a carousel, and various plants with information about what type of species they are. It’s a short walk from the gardens to the Nice Cathedral (Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate de Nice) and Église Sainte Rita, two churches that are beyond spectacular inside with the amount of details in how theatrical the Baroque style is.
Two more churches not to miss out for its architecture is the Basilique Notre-Dame de l’Assomption and Cathédrale Saint-Nicolas de Nice, which pierces through the historic centre of Nice. Both are very different in designs, with the later Russian in its bight colour spirals and domes. The Cathedral may be a bit far from the city centre (after the train station) but worth it if you have the time.
Nice’s old town is a collection of pastel colour buildings, aged like fine wine. One of the notable spots is Cours Saleyae street, with the bustling flower markets in the morning. Though to get the best views of Nice’s old town itself, one must-do is going up to Nice Castle Hill park, otherwise known as Le parc de la Colline du Château. From this old fortress, you’ll look out into the Bay of Angels and can explore the towers, stunning cemetery, and enjoy the sunset from up top.
While you’re checking out the Matisse Museum in the Cimiez neighbourhood, the nearby Garden of Arenas Cimiez makes for a lovely stroll as it’s a site that goes back to Roman times, built as an amphitheatre. Connecting to the garden is the Monastery of Cimiez, which has a church and religious museum amongst hundred of years old olive trees, making for a fabulous ending to your kick-off in the French Riviera.
Where to Stay in Nice:
Budget - Hôtel Esprit d'Azur
Mid-range - Hotel La Villa Nice Victor Hugo
Luxury - Hotel Negresco
Day 3-4: Èze, Monaco
Emblematic Èze is a hilltop Medieval village overlooking the French Riviera. No where else on the coast would have unmatched views like Èze, wherever direction you look out, there’s a panoramic view of the water. Wandering the narrow stone streets feels you’re in the Middle Ages, navigating the hilly winding alleys and passing various groves of cacti.
Since Èze is small and a short drive (26 minutes, 12.4 kilometres) from Nice, it’s worth doing a quick day trip to see another side of the Côte d'Azur here. While it’s mostly tranquil to just roam around the village, there’s also a hiking path, the Nietzsche trail, that is great for a 2 hour trek.
Èze may be small to explore, but it's a much beloved underrated spot on the French Riviera. This stretch of coast can seem so crowded at times (especially during the summer) but Èze is a relief of an escape from all of it - while still being a part of the Côte d'Azur. Quaint and easily looked-over, it's my favourite off-the-beaten path village that will delight any traveller.
I would spend the morning exploring Èze before driving down the hills for 28 minutes (8.5 kilometres) to Monaco. Another option is to make an evening and a stay out of Èze, but since everything on the coast is so close-by - the flexibility is up to you!
Now, Monaco may be its own country but the location on the coast makes it undoubtedly a legendary part of the French Riviera. I’ve always been fascinated by Monaco - what makes it so unique and intriguing is how Monaco is a microstate that’s home to about 39,000 people... Yet 32% of them are made up of millionaires.
Its capital - the famous Monte Carlo which everyone will be in and explore once you arrive to the country.
Between the grand casinos, opulent villas, and glitzy international events like the Formula One Grand Prix and Monaco Yacht Show - no wonder the country is known as the Billionaires’ Playground.
Now you don’t need to have a net worth in the 6 digits to enjoy this sovereign state. As a 007 buff, it’s just cool to explore the Monte Carlo Casino - the setting for James Bond’s Casino Royale. Then right outside on Casino Square are other highlights of Monaco, including the Opéra de Monte-Carlo and the Casino Café de Paris, which makes for a prime-people watching spot.
For a zen locale within the bustling high-rises of Monaco, escape to the waterfall and quieter stretches of Jardin Japonais. A Japanese garden in the middle of the city that combines the minimalism calmness of Japanese design with lush plants brought over from the island-nation itself.
Now, you can’t go to Monaco and separate its love for fast cars and the royal house. But you can experience a place that combines them both at the Collection Privée des Voitures de S.A.S. le Prince de Monaco, which is the Private Collection of Cars of H.S.H. the Prince of Monaco museum. The name says it all - but even if you don’t have a passion for cars, just to see the massive gallery of vintage and modern sleek cars is to appreciate a certain crafted design.
Speaking of royalty, a must-see cultural landmark is the Prince's Palace of Monaco, where the current prince still resides. From there, you can stroll by the Old Monaco Museum which is through the historic streets of the old town, as well as Musée océanographique de Monaco - an immersive museum dedicate to the ocean that includes an aquarium.
But what’s truly for free in Monaco, are the viewpoints of this tax haven country itself. At the Port of Fontvieille viewpoint you’ll get the iconic image of yachts docked in the harbour with craggy mountains rising from the back. And nearby, Vue Panoramique sur Monaco is another spot to lookout at the glistening waters and skyscrapers built upon the hills of Monaco.
Where to Stay in Monaco:
Budget - Studio NEUF
Mid-range - Hôtel Columbus Monte Carlo
Luxury - Hôtel Hermitage Monte-Carlo
Day 5: Menton
Driving from Monaco back into France, to our next destination - Menton, only takes 23 minutes (9.6 kilometres). That’s how close everything is on the Côte d'Azur! If you’re an Italian food lover, we’re talking generous amounts of pasta, risotto, all of the hand-made delights, Menton is like a best of both worlds in gastronomy being so close to the Italian border.
From the Old Town, sights of orange terracotta roofs and the bright shutter windows along palm tree-lined boulevards make Menton a dreamy slice of the French Riviera. From the ancient Roman roads to the medieval pastel-Mediterranean streets, Cemetery of the Old Château and Basilica de Michael Archangel are two must-see sights. Both places are ordained with little figures of angels, but the cemetery will give you a gorgeous view of the riviera from up top on its hill.
Museum Jean Cocteau The Bastion and Jean Cocteau Museum - Severin Wunderman Collection are two places that celebrates the surrealism of French playwright, novelist, artist and poet Jean Cocteau.
For a visual feast of Menton, in the middle of the main road from the train station to the casino is Les Jardins Biovès. This is where you can see art pieces, public installations, especially grand pieces when the Menton Lemon Festival is happening. My other favourite spot in Menton? Go to Vue Panoramique de Menton for a whole view of the city and beach with the turquoise water in front of it.
Where to Stay in Menton:
Budget - Hôtel De Londres
Mid-range - Hotel Napoléon
Luxury - Villa Genesis
Day 6-7: Antibes, Cannes
Antibes is associated with a certain bygone era of talents, great minds and artists who have enjoyed the chic villas and defining shore lines of the French Riviera. Places like Musée Picasso, which is in a castle that was on a former ancient Greek town, treasures this heritage as well as the artist himself.
The eight metres high sculpture of Le Nomade in Port Vauban of a person sitting and looking out into the open sea has become a famed spot, especially to visit in the evenings with it’s all lit up. Also close by is the Old Town that’s filled with cobblestone alleys and wraps along the seaside. There the Marché Provençal is where you can get the top local produces like French cheeses, home-made honey, to the various charcuterie.
The star-shaped Fort Carré has watched over this enclosed town since the 16-century. This, along with the Antibes Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de l'Immaculée Conception), gives you a sense of how historical Antibes is. In more recent times, the lavish Hotel Belles Rives was where F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, took residence while he wrote his notorious novel, “Tender is the Night”.
Where to Stay in Antibes:
Budget - Hôtel de l'Étoile
Mid-range - Hôtel La Villa Port d'Antibes & Spa
Luxury - Villa Fabulite
From Antibes, drive half an hour down the coastal road to reach Cannes. Perhaps there’s no where else on the French Riviera that’s more exclusive, glitzy and internationally renowned than the town of Cannes due to the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. It’s where the A-Listers and Hollywood magnets walk the red carpet annually at the Palace of Festivals and Congresses of Cannes. But it’s not just once a year that the town glows, as Cannes is a place that’s coated in glamour year-round, whether that be boating amongst yachts in the Bay of Cannes or sunbathing on beaches like Plage Zamenhof and Plage Macé, just off the buzzing La Croisette promenade.
Away from the flashing camera bulbs and bright lights, there’s still plenty of dreamy spots in this once sleepy fishing town. Remains of its earlier humble days remains from the stone Gothic Church of Our Lady of Hope (Eglise Notre-Dame de l'Espérance) to the Museum of World Explorations (Musée des Explorations du Monde) which is in a medieval castle. Now you can climb the 12-th century tower and see anthropological items in the permanent exhibition there.
Up on this hill, you’ll have clear views of the Vieux Port de Cannes, a yacht-filled port which is the shiny heart of this affluent seaside town. To escape the large crowds, jump on a ferry road (only 15 minutes!) to the two Lérins islands that you can see from anywhere along the coast. On Île Saint-Honorat, the smaller of the two islands, Abbaye de Lérins is a 11th century monastery where vivid purple wisteria grows. This is where monks have been practicing since the 5th century. A walk around Île Saint-Honorat takes about 1 hour and a half to see the whole island. On the bigger island, Île Sainte-Marguerite, the Fort Royal is a well-preserved Roman spot to explore, where you can still clear views of Cannes and Antibes.
A quaint beach to escape the summer heat can actually be found on this island, at Little Beach Sainte Marguerite. It may be a pebbled beach, but there’s rarely any crowds even though the cove is a calm spot for Caribbean-like clear waters for a swim.
Where to Stay in Cannes:
Budget - Bed & Breakfast Chambres d'hôtes COTTAGE BELLEVUE
Mid-range - Villa Prétorina
Luxury - Appartement Residence Athena
Day 8: Saint-Tropez
Oh Saint-Tropez, it’s a forever favourite amongst jet-setters and fashionistas, from Audrey Hepburn to Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel. Even saying the name of the town conjures up mythical imagery of a tucked away paradise gulf, where delicious sea food is in abundance and the wine continues to pour as the restaurant tables make way for a dance floor.
Now for the uninitiated, Saint-Tropez may seem like one exclusive club only within reach for a certain set. Though in reality, underneath its sheen and splendour, Saint-Tropez is still a sun-drenched coastal beauty that everyone - and anyone, can explore and love.
Whether you’re pulling up to the Port de Saint-Tropez by boat or walking there, this marina with adjoining cafes and food trucks is the true start to the city. You can sit by the big rocks and watch the sunset, or have a stroll through the harbour up to the hill to the 15th century defensive tower. There, the Tour Portalet gives you a glimpse into what the port was like before the arrivals of the glamorous in the late 1960s.
Parish Church of Our Lady of the Assumption (Église Paroissiale Notre Dame de l'Assomption) marks your path into the old town of Saint-Tropez, with the Musee de l’Annonciade worth a visit if you like Impressionist art that includes Matisse.
Amongst everyone’s must go to spot is undoubtedly the Citadel of Saint-Tropez. It’s now a history museum, but the fortress is fully intact from its heydays. In the citadel, there’s a lot of maritime and ship-building artifacts, while taking you through the story of the region. Since it’s perched on-top of a hill, you’ll get unmatched views of Saint-Tropez and the silvery sparkle of the Mediterranean sea.
Where to Stay in Saint-Tropez:
Budget - Residence Les Sellettes
Mid-range - Hôtel Playa
Luxury - Le Mouillage
Day 9: Grasse
Most of the destinations we’ve explored up til now has been along the coastline. But what’s still part of the French Riviera though secluded in the hills - is the town of Grasse. The French adores the finer things in life, so it’s no surprise that there’s a perfume capital of the world in France, and that title goes to Grasse. This harks back from the perfume factories of the 1700s in the old town to present day fragrance makers creating scents from the local materials here.
To learn more about Grasse’s special history that tickles the noses, check out these museums:
- Musée International de la Parfumerie (MIP): where you can learn about the world of perfume and see its antiquity.
- Parfumerie Fragonard - The Historic Factory in Grasse: the best place to see the manufacturing process of perfume, with a free guided tour.
- Galimard Studio des Fragrances: where you can test and create your own scent.
- Jean-Honoré Fragonard Museum: Dedicated to the artist who originates from Grasse and was the son of a perfumer
- Provençal Museum of Costume and Jewellery: in a stunning mansion, learn the history of Grasse and its people through the visual lens of fashion.
The other notable spots of Grasse to explore is the Grasse Cathedral, that unexpectedly has three paintings from the famed Rubens as well as Palais des Congrès de Grasse for its grand architecture.
Where to Stay in Grasse:
Budget - Lou Candelou
Mid-range - La Bellaudiere
Luxury - Skylark Bed & Breakfast
Know before you go:
Nice Côte d'Azur Airport (NCE) is a hub for the region, but also the second busiest airport after Paris-Orly. From the airport, you can rent a car to start your journey or take a bus to Nice.
- By driving, it’s only 7 kilometres to Nice city centre.
- By bus there is the airport bus 99 and 98.
- Bus 99 takes you to Nice Ville de Gare SNCF Train Station.
- Bus 98 goes along the seafront Promenade des Anglais to Nice’s city centre.
In addition, if you’re not flying in, you can take the train throughout France and arrive at Nice’s main train station, Nice-Ville.
I may have main-character syndrom for wanting nothing less but driving top-down, cruising along the French coastline with wind in my hair. But aside from my fantasy of what a road-trip on the French Riviera is like, a vehicle whether it’s my own or by renting a car is just easier - especially for day trips.
Best Season and Weather:
In need of Vitamin D? The French Riviera gets on average a whopping 300 days of sunshine per year, so bring your sunscreen!
Summer is the best time to go to the French Riviera - especially if you want to swim. July and August the Mediterranean sea is perfectly warmed up for a cool down dip. During the months from June to late September, you’ll get the utmost sun with an average of high 25°.
The shoulder season is my preferred time for the French Riviera, since the temperature are still balmy in Autumn and Spring with an average around 20°. You get the sun, the breeze, but during this time from mid-March to May and September to the first week of November, half of the crowds (and traffic with them) dissipate.
While during the winter months from November to end of February you’ll still get sunshine on the Côte d'Azur, unfortunately many places like bars and restaurants along the coast are closed for the season. The average temperature for winter here is around 13°. Also, unless you’re going for a polar bear dip, the Mediterranean is definitely too cold for any beach-related activities.
The French Riviera is a long stretch of the coast from Toulon all the way to the Italian border. This is a highlighted itinerary to the Côte d'Azur, though and each destination is completely flexible for you to adjust based on what you want to experience. Want to lay out under the golden sun on the beaches in the French Riviera for a little longer? Extend your days. Rather explore art museums and historical fishing ports? You can do a day trip or two. Want to do the best of the best? This itinerary is specially crafted for you.
Map of the French Riviera itinerary on the Côte d'Azur
For all of the places in this in-depth French Riviera itinerary plotted out for your own travel planning, check out our map below: