Best places in French Riviera with a perfume city, Mediterranean islands, red cliffs and picturesque villages
The main activities during a vacation on the French Riviera are mainly associated with magnificent beaches, water sports and an active nightlife. However, this delightful region in southeastern France can also open up other sides depending on the season and the wishes of travellers. The Côte d'Azur also offers exciting festivals, scenic hikes in the Alps, colorful traditional markets, pretty landscapes under the shade of tall pine trees and many other attractive things.
Get some inspiration from our guide and look through the top 10 things to do on the French Riviera to plan a colorful trip filled with unforgettable memories.
Take a stroll in a typical southern market
Mediterranean markets are a stunning spectacle of rich tastes, aromas and colors as there are bright displays of fruits, vegetables, herbs and aromatic spices from all over the world. One of the most interesting places to visit in the French Riviera, filled with hustle and bustle, is the Cours Saleya market. The space around this street is filled with tents with colorful awnings selling fruits, vegetables and flowers from Tuesday to Saturday. It is the flower stands that the market is particularly famous for. Since the surrounding neighborhood was full of flower fields in the early 20th century, this bazaar is considered to be the oldest of its kind. The selection of fruits and vegetables is not as varied as the flower displays, but every product here represents the well-established ingredients of the local cuisine.
Take a calm stroll through the stores to sample a variety of seasonal produce and local street food, such as socca, a dish resembling oil-fried chickpea pancakes, or stop by around 12:30 p.m. for bargains.
Climb to the top of Colline du Chateau hill
A beautiful chateau once stood here, destroyed in the early 18th century by Louis XIV's army. Today, only the name of this highest hill in the center of Nice reminds you of it. Its height is 90 meters, so you must overcome many steps on the elegant Lesage staircase to get to the top. This effort is justified as the whole top offers a magnificent view of the city and the coastal areas of the Côte d'Azur. If you don't want to expend the effort to climb, you can take the elevator from the Old Town.
The beautiful hilltop city park with its impressive artificial waterfall, lush green vegetation, cafes and children's play areas is one of the best places to visit along the French Riviera. Take a seat on one of the comfortable benches in the park's shady alleys and enjoy the magical view of the Bay of Angels. The waterfall shuts off in the afternoon, so don't put off this walk until later in the day. Other iconic French Riviera attractions on Chateau Hill include the Bellanda Tower and the ruins of Sainte-Marie Cathedral.
Take a trip on a magical train ride
One of the top things to do in the French Riviera that few tourists know about is the aptly named The Train des Merveilles. The TER train from Nice takes you on a beautiful rail journey across Europe through the Paillon, Royat and Bévéra valleys with several impressive engineering structures along the way, including dozens of tunnels through the mountains, bridges and viaducts over canyons. The train runs daily from June through September. The route, created more than 100 years ago, takes travellers through the most beautiful places in the French Riviera and ends in the Southern Alps in the town of Tende near the Italian border. This place is called the Valley of Wonders because the engravings found there date back to the Bronze Age. It turns into the Snow Train and runs during school vacations in France from the end of January to the end of March. A slower but also interesting atmospheric journey awaits passengers on the Train des Pignes steam train from Nice to Upper Provence.
Visit the oceanographic museum in Monaco
A cool idea for things to do in the French Riviera on a family trip is the Oceanographic Museum, located on a mountainside above the Mediterranean Sea. It is notable not only for its collection but also for its architecture. The museum is housed in a chic palace created especially for this purpose by order of Prince Albert I. He was fond of travelling and science and led almost three dozen scientific sea expeditions.
The collection of the museum has more than 6 thousand exhibits. There are several aquariums dedicated to different natural areas and themed halls. This is a good idea for things to do while travelling to the French Riviera with kids. By visiting this museum, you can observe the life of tropical coral reefs and its inhabitants, including sharks, piranhas, seahorses and other fish of all shapes and colors. The aquarium dedicated to diving in the Mediterranean features over 200 varieties of invertebrates in the region, such as octopuses, moray eels and jellyfish.
Spend a day in the Lerins Islands
When boarding the ferry in Cannes, you can find yourself on one of two islands, St. Marguerite and St. Honorat, in 10 minutes. There is no shuttle between the two forming the Lérins Islands group so you can visit one of them at a time.
St. Marguerite is the larger island of the pair. Allocate at least three hours for a visit to see the best places here. If you want to take breaks for photography, lunch or swimming, a full day will be required. Visit the 17th-century fort, famous for its unusual prisoner, the man in the iron mask, the underwater museum, explore the wetlands or picnic on the secluded beaches. The island of St. Honorat is known for its active abbey, home to Cistercian monks. The abbey can be visited on a tour. Be sure to taste some wine. You can also get to Lerins Islands by sea shuttle from Nice. Kayak and catamaran cruises around the islands are also popular.
Take a flavorful trip to Grasse
A place known as the perfume capital of the world is not far from Saint-Paul-de-Vence. Grasse is listed as a UNESCO heritage site due to its perfume industry. It is home to many attractions related to the art of fragrance, such as the International Perfume Museum.
The must-visit places in French Riviera are the historic perfume factories. Fragonard, Molinard and Galimard are world famous. Tours of the factories are free. Visit one or more of them to discover all the secrets and subtleties of perfumery art from flower picking to composition, distillation and bottling. Not only will you learn the difference between perfume, eau de toilette and perfume but also be able to attend one of the best activities, master class on creating a fragrance. You can bring home a bottle of handmade perfume as a souvenir of your trip to the French Riviera. Master classes are paid. You can also purchase a fragrance made in Grasse at a discounted rate from the local tourist office.
Find inspiration on the art trail
The medieval village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence is located between Nice and Antibes. It was a quiet, sleepy place until writers and artists began flocking here in the early 20th century, eventually turning it into an art center. Saint-Paul-de-Vence and other villages nearby are a dramatic and lush spectacle, complete with a significant number of French Riviera tourist attractions. There are art galleries, small original boutiques and one of the world's leading cultural institutions, the Maeght Foundation. The latter houses over 100 works by some of the most important artists of the last century: Chagall's mosaic murals, Miro's labyrinth of sculptures and ceramics, Tal Coat's mosaics and others.
Walk up the hill to the neighboring villages of Cagnes-sur-Mer and Haut de Cagnes. They are less luxurious but also picturesque and boast interesting art institutions like the Renoir Museum and the Grimaldi Museum.
Take a walk along the red cliffs of Esterel
One of the most beautiful places to see in the French Riviera is the volcanic massif of Esterel, which is the symbol of the region. It was formed around 250 million years ago, creating a picturesque landscape of red rocks and streams of turquoise water. The area can be explored in a variety of ways. There are many trails for hiking and mountain biking. For example, the hike to the Pic de l'Ours takes about an hour and a half. The more challenging Les Balcons du Cap Roux route will take over 4 hours but will reward your efforts with magnificent scenery. You can also view the cliffs from the sea by kayaking, boating or snorkeling.
The best time to hike the Esterel Massif is in spring when the slopes are covered with fields of flowers. During the summer months, the heat will make walking more grueling, so many trails are closed altogether due to the risk of forest fires.
Explore the Roman heritage in Fréjus
The town of Fréjus is close to the well-known St. Raphael and has a rich heritage dating back to Roman times. A trip to this small town is a wonderful opportunity for cultural discovery and one of the most interesting things to do in the French Riviera for history buffs. It was one of the most important ports in the Mediterranean in ancient times. The central part of the ancient sights includes a restored amphitheater, which once welcomed almost 12,000 people. It retains its original vocation even now as performances are held here all year round. You should also see the remains of the aqueduct, the ruins of the citadel, the thermal baths and the lighthouse.
After your historical walk, you can spend time on the local beaches or explore the lively, atmospheric town center with its many stores, restaurants and cafes.
Visit the medieval canton
Another picturesque attraction and one of the best places to visit in the French Riviera, the Pays de Fayence group of villages, is not far from San Rafael. People come here to escape the crowds of the Côte d'Azur and enjoy the nature, atmosphere and food of Provence. The hilltop villages have their own charm, and it's hard to pick the most stunning one. However, Fayence is on the list of the best places in French Riviera for sure. With its narrow cobbled streets that rise up and offer magnificent views of the valley from the terraces, small squares and quaint restaurants by the fortress walls, it is considered one of the most beautiful villages in France. The village of Fayence is charming in its authenticity. Visit the farmers' markets, historical sites or the Bread Festival in July, where locals dress in old-fashioned clothes and bake bread in a 1500s oven.