Everyone should visit the French Riviera at least once in their lives, and the lucky ones will come back more than once! I consider myself very lucky because I spent an entire summer here, and it didn’t lose one bit of charm. From the perfect sunny weather to the crystal blue Côte d’Azur waters to the old towns and villages to the French cuisine and the beaches, it has an indelible draw. In the mornings I would wake and head over to the boulangerie for a pain au chocolate and espresso. Then it’s off to another town along the coast for exploring, laying on the beach, admiring the homes and architecture, buying way too much art and jewelry and clothing from local artisans, dining at cafes overlooking the sea, and getting lost in a maze of old cobblestoned streets. Each day could be different from the last or just the same but it was lovely no matter what. And then to end the day, I enjoy a glass of locally sourced rosé, the perfect summer wine on a hot evening in the French Riviera. Sounds pretty perfect right? I’m telling you, everyone needs to experience this! To help you out with daydreaming and planning your own trip, here’s Your Complete Guide to the French Riviera.
Guide to the French Riviera
When To Go
Naturally, the French Riviera is most popular in the summer because everyone wants great weather for going to the beach! Having lived here during the summer I can confirm that this an excellent time to visit, but it’s also a bit crowded for some peoples’ taste (especially July and August). So the shoulder seasons of late spring and early fall are also great choices for a less-crowded visit while the weather is still nice. The winters here are pretty mild, they rarely see snow, so if you just want to take in the views and have a quiet retreat you might consider a break here during winter. I may caution you though that not all the shops and businesses will stay open for tourists outside of the busy season.
Where To Go
The French Riviera as it’s pictured and described normally includes the area from Saint Tropez to Menton (next to the Italian border). Along this stretch of coast you’ll be treated to great beaches, great views, and lovely towns to explore. Some towns are more quiet and historically charming, like Beaulieu, Villefranche, and Antibes, while others are more glitzy and fabulous, like Saint Tropez, Cannes, and Monaco. (Yes Monaco is its own principality, but its surrounded by France and serviced by the French national train service so it’s generally just lumped in there with the French Riviera.)
This guide to the French Riviera can’t be comprehensive of every town and village but I have made some visitor’s guides for you for a number of towns along the coast. For some of the world’s most expensive real estate and a chance to spot celebrities, go to Saint Jean Cap Ferrat. For the yachting capital of Europe and a charming old town, go to Antibes (which is where I lived this summer!). For old Riviera money meets modern acclaim (and a good movie scene!), go to Cannes. For the most colorful town that’s also small and quaint, go to Villefranche-Sur-Mer. For the absolute best views and a good hike, go to Èze. For a truly small town and authentic French Riviera experience, go to Beaulieu-Sur-Mer. For a major dose of culture and luxury, go to Monaco. For the world capital of perfume and a chance to find your new scent, go to Grasse. There’s a lot to explore on the French Riviera, definitely something for everyone, so take your time and see as much of it as you can!
How To Get There
The Nice Côte d’Azur airport is the major hub for the French Riviera. Once you land, getting to the town where you’re staying will depend on how far away it is. For somewhere quite close, like Antibes, it’s feasible to take a taxi all the way to your hotel from the airport since it’s only a 20 minute drive. For other destinations, like Monaco, you’ll be far better served taking the train since the drive is at least an hour. From the airport, just take a taxi to the Nice St Augustin train station (it’s the closest stop on the SNCF line), and get a train to your town. All the towns listed here are serviced by these trains, which are cheap, frequent, and popular. Once you’re here on the Riviera, you can use these trains to travel around and explore more of the coast too!
What To Do
Of course in each town you’ll have the chance to lay at the beach to get a tan and swim in the rich blue waters, and you wouldn’t want to miss out on this! Then each town offers different aspects of the French Riviera culture to explore and enjoy, along with some beautiful scenery to enjoy. While you’re here, be sure to enjoy all the regional French cuisine, and these are the dishes you don’t want to miss!
What To Bring
Packing for the French Riviera should definitely include swimsuits, big sun hats, summer dresses, and a good book for the beach (check out my favorite wanderlust books here). To be sure you don’t miss anything when you’re packing, check out my summer packing list. And don’t forget the sunscreen!
Need To Know
The French Riviera is very friendly to visitors, so you can expect to be safe and comfortable while you’re here. Most people speak English, though if you want to prepare a few French phrases, check out my guide here. The currency is Euros, most shops and restaurants accept credit cards, and ATMs are widely available. Due to recent security threats around Europe, you’ll find increased security in place along the whole Riviera, which sometimes causes disruptions to train and airplane services. But on the whole, the area is very safe and incidents are isolated. You won’t really see any petty theft either (in the whole summer I only heard one account of someone being approached by a thief, and it ended without incident).
And that’s everything you need to know for visiting the Côte d’Azur, I hope you find this guide to the French Riviera helpful. I know you’ll enjoy your time here and hopefully you’ll also walk away relaxed and with a better feel for the French joie de vivre. This is a truly lovely place, and I can’t wait to return someday!
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