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50 Best things to see & do in French Riviera

  • Cote d'Azur, France

Last updated: 15 June, 2024
Expert travel writer: Dana Facaros
  • Monaco, Cote d'Azur, France

Formula one car driving around corner in city street infront of Casino Monte Carlo

Bucket List Experience

Monaco Grand Prix

First run by the local automobile club in 1929, the Monaco Grand Prix is like no other race on the Formula 1 circuit: a heady cocktail of money, bling and VIPs, combined with the adrenaline-packed insanity of cars racing past mega yachts, around tight bends, through a tunnel and the steep streets of a densely packed city.

Because it is so dangerous, it’s shorter and slower than other F1 races, and often yields unexpected results. Some call it a drivers’ race (many drivers live in tax-haven Monaco) as it’s actually the least viewer-friendly of all F1 races – although for many diehard fans, that’s the attraction. Ideally, you’ll want access to a television to see what’s happening on the rest of the track.

Adult price: £50

Min age 6

Good for age: 13+

Duration: 4 days

When: Last weekend May

Freq: annually

  • Monaco, Cote d'Azur, France

Entrance to famous Casino Monte Carlo, Monaco on a sunny day

Bucket List Experience

Monte Carlo Casino

Monaco, a playground of the rich and famous, is world-renowned for its casinos; they’re integral to life and culture here. Although we wouldn’t ever recommend gambling per se, a visit to Monaco would feel incomplete without at least stopping by to experience and people watch at the Casino de Monte Carlo.

Opened in 1863, the world’s most famous and prestigious casino oozes glamour, history, and surprisingly for a casino, class. The setting is ornate and grand, the (uber-wealthy) clientele wear tuxedos and cocktail dresses, gentle applause replaces whooping and hollering. James Bond visited twice – once in Never Say Never Again and again in GoldenEye.

Between 10am and 12.15pm you can buy a ticket to visit the legendary gaming rooms with an audio guide. After 2pm, anyone in proper attire with photo ID aged 18 and over can enter the three main gaming rooms for a fee;  or play the slot machines for free in the Salle Renaissance. VIP big spenders and their guests are welcome to lose their shirts in the exclusive Salles Prives.

Good for age: 18+

  • Nice, Cote d'Azur, France

Brightly-illuminated carnival float surrounded by crowds

Bucket List Experience

Nice Carnival

The biggest winter event on the Riviera calendar, Nice’s carnival is considered by the cognoscenti as second only to Rio’s.

Every year, enormous, animated satirical floats cover a different theme, cruising through the city in daytime (Corso Carnavalesque) and night parades (Corso Illumine) – along with a ‘Battle of Flowers’ parade, where floral floats skim along the iconic Promenade des Anglais waterfront and blooms are hurled all over.

Too tame? Then get egged and floured at the anarchic Carnaval Populaire in Place Garibaldi. On the final night – always a Wednesday – the Carnival ends with a big firework display and a bonfire of floats on the beach, both of which are free to watch.

Good for age: 8+

Duration: 2 weeks

When: February to March

Freq: annually

  • Nice, Cote d'Azur, France

Abstract painting inside a gallery

Bucket List Experience

World-class art in Nice

Nice can rightly claim France’s best hoard of modern art after Paris’s – and much of it was created here, in the early 20th century, when the Riviera’s light, colour and warmth attracted artists such as Renoir, Matisse and Chagall.

Wealthy collectors later founded museums, often in charming and historic buildings, and many artists donated works to their adopted towns. Just outside of Nice’s borders you’ll find museums dedicated to other world-renowned artists such as Picasso, Bonnard and Cocteau.

Being far less busy than Paris’s art museums, they’re a pleasure to wander – often set in pretty sculpture gardens, with lovely cafes or wine bars attached so you can sit and ruminate on your art fix.

Good for age: 18+

  • Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Cote d'Azur, France

Stunning pink villa with lavish gardens including an ornamental pond in front

Bucket List Experience

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

This delightful pink pastiche of an Italianate villa was built in 1912 by the flamboyant art collector Baroness Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, to house her fabulous collection of 18th-century art and furniture. Set on the highest point of high-net-worth playground Cap Ferrat, it’s a gilded, fondant fantasy for fans of kitsch design and architecture, and a fun stop on a tour of the Cote d’Azur.

The villa’s gardens, terraced out of the rock, are equally remarkable, divided into little worlds of their own: exotic, English, Florentine Spanish, Provencal, Japanese, and French, with a musical fountain that plays every 20 minutes.

Adult price: £13

Good for age: 18+

  • Eze, Cote d'Azur, France

White convertible driving on a cliff-side highway looking down over Monaco

Bucket List Experience

Drive the Grande Corniche

Feel the wind blow through your hair along the spectacular Grande Corniche, the clifftop Cote d’Azur road where Hitchcock filmed Grace Kelly driving her roadster in To Catch a Thief.

Built 500m above sea level by Napoleon and following the old Roman road Via Julia Augusta, it has incredible views of this sought-after stretch of French coast, with mountains on one side and sea shimmering on the other.

You can drive the length of it in under an hour, but half the fun is stopping at the coast’s highlights along the way: picturesque towns such as La Turbie and Eze. From La Turbie, take the road to Monaco, but turn off at Les Hautes de Monte Carlo for the incredible views from the promontory by the France Telecom dome.

Part of the Grande Corniche is a park, with a network of footpaths: get there on the Route de la Revere, west of the Col de Eze.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: 2-4 hours

  • Grasse, Cote d'Azur, France

Exterior of the Fragonard factory, a traditional French house with white shutters

Bucket List Experience

Perfume in Grasse

Grasse, in the hills north of Cannes, is the capital of French perfume – with some 30 parfumeries distilling the globally-sourced essences that go into those pricey little bottles.

Fragonard, named after Grasse’s famous 18th-century painter, is one of the oldest and most traditional fragrance houses, and you can take a free tour of its history factory to see how their scents are made. There’s also a museum dedicated to the 3,000-year-old history of perfumes, and a ‘flower factory’ on the edge of town, surrounded by pretty gardens.

If you want to understand the process first-hand, sign up for a perfume-creating workshop, where you get to create your own 100ml bottle under the watchful gaze of a professional.

Although Fragonard is the most charming, Grasse’s other parfumeries, such as Galimard and Molinard are also worth a stop. Molinard’s perfume-making workshops help you to create your own scent, guided by a professional ‘nose’. Options range from 30 mins to 2 hours. There’s also a fun 20-minute workshop for kids aged 4-8.

Good for age: 13+

  • Cote d'Azur, France

The Cote d’Azur is famous for its rugged Mediterranean beauty, though beaches are pebblier and more shingly than pristine sand. There are some exceptions, though (see Pampelonne and Juan Les Pins) and even the craggiest bays have sparkling shallows in that turquoise Mediterranean hue.

The most scenic stretches are dominated by lavish, luxury beach clubs, charging visitors anywhere from £15 and £40 to rent a sun lounger, towel and parasol – but the people-watching and sense of glamour are priceless.

The best beach clubs, around Saint-Tropez, Antibes, Cannes and Cap Ferrat, offer slick food and drink service, brought directly to your lounger – and often turn into late-night party venues. Hedonistic Saint-Tropez, with its golden beaches, is the most famous place to soak up this scene.

  • Nice, Cote d'Azur, France

Fresh ingredients of italian food, mediterranean diet, background

Bucket List Experience

Nice’s best food & drink

The region’s cuisine is a mix of Provencal and Italian food, using plenty of olive oil, sun-ripened fresh fruit and vegetables, seafood and lamb from the mountains.

Pasta often features – flavoured with pistou (similar to pesto) – and salad is ever-popular; truffles, caviar, lobster, and foie gras commonly feature in fine dining restaurants.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: Any

  • Cannes, Cote d'Azur, France

Red carpet at film festival leading up steps

Bucket List Experience

Cannes Film Festival

Dating back to 1946, the prestigious, star-studded Cannes Film Festival not only awards the Palme d’Or – one of the most sought-after prizes in cinema – it also serves as the world’s biggest film market, attracting 10,000 agents, distributors, directors and producers, eager to show their wares.

For the general public, it’s a thrill just to be in Cannes during festival season – soaking up the excitement of glitzy red carpets and screenings all over town, movie-star spotting, and even the chance to see some films in competition.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: 11 days

When: Mid-May

Freq: annually