The famous Port Hercules in Monaco
The French Riviera is a beautiful destination on France’s Southern coast. When I think of the French Riviera (often known as the Cote d’Azur), I think of glistening blue sea, luxury yachts, and high end cafes where people dressed in designer clothes sit sipping coffee or a glass of wine in the afternoon sun.
It is not necessarily a place where I had considered myself travelling to, not because I didn't want to, but because I thought it was a place where my budget wouldn’t reach. Yet, shortly after I quit my full time job and set off travelling, that’s exactly where I found myself.
My husband and I spent 10 days exploring the French Riviera as part of our 3 month European road trip and we both loved it. There are definitely some places that are just as glamorous as I had envisaged (Monaco for example!), but I never felt as though we didn't fit in and there were plenty of shops, bars and restaurants with more reasonable price points for our unemployed travelling budget! If you are on a budget, check out my simple tips on how to travel to the French Riviera on a budget.
Also read - How to visit Paris on a budget
6 Great places to visit on the French Riviera
The French Riviera was one of my favourite areas that we visited in France. It’s a great holiday destination, and well worth visiting! Here's 6 great places to add to your itinerary to visit in the French Rivera:
Nice is a lively city which boasts an impressive 7km long promenade and a pretty old town. It is one of the most visited places along the beautiful French Riviera.
On arriving in Nice, head straight to the coast to check out the Promenade des Anglais. Strolling along the 7km promenade with its beautiful sea views is one of the best things to do in Nice. If you are planning to hit the beach, be aware that Nice has a pebble beach, so although it is pretty, it is not the most comfortable for sunbathing!
Another great spot in Nice is Castle Hill Park with a man made waterfall, cafes and children’s play area. The viewpoint at Castle Hill has some of the best views in Nice. From here you can see across the sea and down to the Promenade des Anglais, as well as part of the Old Town.
La Cascade waterfall in Castle hill park (L) and the Nice sign on the Promenade des Anglais (R)
Despite being a large, modern city, Nice still has a pretty Old Town. Wander around the narrow streets here, taking in the sights of Nice Cathedral, the Musée du Palais Lascaris and Sainte Rita church. Walk through the Promenade du Paillon, a formal garden with fountains, until you reach the Place Massena and Fountaine du Soleil. Place Massena is a 19th century plaza, surrounded by beautiful architecture housing quaint cafes which spill out onto the square.
If you are wanting to do some shopping, you’ll find everything in Nice. From luxury boutiques, independent gift shops, high street brands and souvenir shops. There is also an abundance of restaurants, bars and cafes, creating a really lively atmosphere. Look out for happy hour in some of the bars towards the end of the day!
Nice's pebble beach, seen from Castle Hill viewpoint
The so-called playground of the rich! Monaco certainly has a plush feel to it, everywhere you look there are expensive cars and luxury shops displaying designer handbags, watches and clothes in the window. But that all aside, Monaco is a really pretty place and a great day out.
The state of Monaco has 9 districts, with the most famous one being Monte Carlo. A visit to Monaco isn't complete without paying a visit to the Monte Carlo casino, but there is much more to Monaco than just the casino.
Just behind the casino is the Monte Carlo Opera House and the tranquil Jardins d'acclimatation, with stunning sea views.
The famous Monte Carlo casino
For more great views over Monaco’s ports, city and surrounding mountains, head to the Prince's Palace of Monaco. Outside of the Palace you might even catch the changing of the guards. On the other side of the Palace hilltop is a viewpoint overlooking the pretty Port Fontvieille. This port is surrounded by the cliff edge and colourful waterfront houses.
The Main port of Monaco is Port Hercules. Strolling around this port, fantasising about which luxury yacht you would buy is one of the best things to do in Monaco!
If you’re looking to do some shopping whilst in Monaco, the Port Quarter is a great area for boutique shops and cafes. There’s also the glamorous Metropole shopping centre for high end designer shops.
Grand Prix fans can walk up the famous ‘hairpin bend’, which is in front of the Fairmont hotel.
If you’re planning to visit Monaco for the day (and you definitely should!), check out my One day itinerary for visiting Monaco on a budget.
Monaco's Port Fontvieille (L) and chi Port Quarter (R)
The lesser known town of Menton is full of charm. Sitting on the border of the French Riviera and Italy, it is a beautiful place. Facing the Mediterranean sea and sheltered by surrounding hills, it is known for having its own micro-climate. This means that it is one of the best places to visit on the French Riviera for great weather all year round.
The unique micro-climate in Menton is also perfect for growing lemons, something Menton is famous for. There is even an annual 15 day festival ‘Fete du Citron’ every February, where the lemon is celebrated with parades, exhibits and craft fairs!
The pace in Menton feels slower than elsewhere on the French Riviera and a day trip here is peaceful and leisurely.
Wander through the narrow, colourful streets of the Old Town, admiring the charming, traditional architecture. On your exploration of the Old Town, stop at the baroque church of St. Michael, with its ornate facade and 18th century bell tower.
Exploring the colourful streets of Menton Old Town
For the best views over Menton and the beautiful coastline, head to the Cemetery of the Old Chateau. From the Cemetery, wander back down the hill to the Port. Menton's port is small but you’ll still find several luxury yachts here. It is a short, pleasant walk around the port, with an elevated walkway on one side, giving views out to sea.
Next to the port is the pebbly Sablettes beach with calm, sheltered waters perfect for swimming. Along the promenade of the beach you will find several restaurants as well as toilets, showers and changing facilities.
There are 5 beaches in total in Menton, most of which are rocky or rough sand, so not the best for sunbathing, though the water is clean and calm.
Sablettes beach and the Port of Menton are overlooked by the colourful Old Town
Antibes is known for its Old Town, which gives it quite a different feel to the other towns along the French Riviera. Antibes is definitely worth a visit when travelling along the southern coastline of France.
The Old Town of Antibes boasts many independent shops as well as quirky restaurants and cafes, which spill out onto the narrow streets. The Old Town is enclosed by historic stone walls, which offer gorgeous sea views. Wandering along the Old Town walls and through the cobbled streets of the Old Town is one of the best things to do in Antibes.
Walking along the coast on the Old Town walls is one of the best things to do in Antibes
If you are interested in the history of Antibes, you can visit one of the town's many museums, including the Archaeological museum, showcasing various Roman artefacts, and Fort Carré, where Napoleon was imprisoned during the French Revolution. Another popular museum in Antibes is the Picasso museum. Housed in the chateau building where Picasso lived for a short period in 1946, you can see a small collection of his works.
Antibes boasts several great beaches, including the main beaches of Soleil and Salis. Close to the port is the small La Gravette beach, enclosed by the town’s ramparts.
The Port of Antibes has a good selection of luxury yachts and sailing boats to admire, perfect for a short stroll.
For great views over Antibes bay, head to La Garoupe chapel, a small, unassuming church in the beautiful headland of Cap d’Antibes.
For more great things to see and do in Antibes, read my post on How to spend a day in Antibes.
La Garoupe viewpoint on Cap d'Antibes
5. Juan les Pins
Juan les Pins is technically a suburb of Antibes. It’s a beautiful seaside resort, which boasts a long stretch of sandy beach, independent boutiques and a range of restaurants and cafes.
The town of Juan les Pins is quiet and there’s not much to see in terms of attractions in the town itself. The main draw of the town is the beach. The beach stretches several kilometres from the main shopping and dining area of Juan les Pins, up to the marina in the neighbouring resort of Golfe-Juan. You can walk on the promenade alongside the beach all the way from the centre of Juan les Pins to Golfe-Juan. In front of the town, there are several beach clubs and restaurants on the beachfront and in the evening, you’ll find plenty of restaurants and bars within the town itself.
If you want to go shopping, there’s many independent clothes shops in Juan les Pins as well as several high end boutiques.
Prices of accommodation are cheaper in Juan les Pins, making it a great place to base yourself in the French Riviera if you are on a budget. The train station in the centre of the town links to the rest of the Riviera, making it really easy to explore the coastline from here.
Sunset strolls along Juan les Pins beach
Cannes is famous for the world-renowned glitzy Cannes Film Festival, which takes place every May. Unless you are visiting the festival, it is best to avoid this period as prices will skyrocket and everywhere will be incredibly crowded.
Aside from the film festival, Cannes is a really pretty town, making it a great place to visit for the day when travelling in the French Riviera.
Cannes is a very glamorous town and you will find many high end designer shops and luxury boutiques, particularly along La Croisette, which is the main shopping street in Cannes.
Looking across the picturesque shoreline of Cannes
Cannes main beach is Croisette beach, a long, soft sandy beach which is backed by many bars and restaurants. The restaurants here might be slightly on the higher price point, so if you are on a budget and planning to spend a day at the beach, pick up a takeaway from one of the bakeries in town first.
Walking along the promenade behind Croisette beach, you will find a small garden at the west side of the beach, and to the east side is Cannes Port.
It will be no surprise to find luxury yachts and sailing boats in Cannes Port - a common theme for all the towns along the French Riviera. For a great view over the port, walk up to Notre-Dame d'Espérance, a gothic church dating back to the 1600’s.
Cannes is a great place to visit on a day trip if you are looking for a more relaxed day out. Here you can spend time at the beach or enjoy a leisurely drink in a cafe and watch the world go by.
A small sailing boat glides into Cannes Port
How to get to the French Riviera?
By plane - The main international airport for the French Riviera is the Aéroport Nice Côte d'Azur. From the airport, you can take a bus, taxi or tram into the city of Nice
By train - There is a rail network which runs along the French Riviera and some of the larger stations, such as Nice connect to elsewhere in France. You can take a train from Paris to Nice in 6 hours or Lyon to Nice in 4 hours.
By car - Although you won’t need a car to get around the French Riviera, you can drive to any of the towns and cities easily. Just make sure that your accommodation has free parking included as parking charges are very high.
What’s the best way to get around the French Riviera?
The best way to get around the French Riviera is by train. The TER rail network runs all along the southern coastline, connecting many of the major towns and cities in the French Riviera. Buy a Zou weekly train pass. This will give you unlimited travel along your chosen route. You simply choose which area you would like to travel in and it will calculate the cost of your ticket depending on this.
As we were driving around Europe, we had our own car. However the parking charges in the French Riviera are very high and the roads are extremely busy, so we left our car in the underground car park at our accommodation (making sure we had free parking first!) and used the trains for the duration of our stay. It worked out much cheaper this way.
When is the best time of year to visit the French Riviera?
The French Riviera is a great year-round destination in terms of the weather. The temperature never really gets too cold. Whilst the summer months are great for sunbathing and making the most of the beaches, you will find it just as pleasant to walk around the towns and villages during the autumn and winter.
During certain times of the year accommodation prices sky rocket and everywhere is just very busy. Some months to avoid / be aware of are:
February - both Menton and Nice have large festivals taking place during this month
May - Cannes film festival and the Monaco grand prix
July & August - the Summer holiday season gets very crowded
Late September - Monaco Yacht Show
June and September - October are great times to visit as the weather is pleasant enough to still enjoy the beach (although the sea will be cold in October!). The prices are much cheaper during these times and it is less crowded, especially later into the year.
Can you really visit the French Riviera on a budget?
Absolutely! It really depends on the choices you make. We based ourselves in Juan les Pins, mostly because it was in the centre of the area we wanted to explore in the French Riviera, but also because the accommodation was cheaper than staying in Nice, Cannes, Monaco or Antibes. We also chose to stay in an apartment, so that we could cook our own food on some nights and also packed a picnic to take with us for lunch on most days. On the nights where we ate out, there are plenty of restaurants which are more suited to a lower budget. The Zou train pass also helped us as all of our travel costs were taken care of and buying the week long ticket gave us great savings. For more money-saving advice, check out my Top Tips for travelling in the French Riviera on a budget.