The French Riviera: Essential Travel Guide

Welcome to Iconic Riviera! You’re viewing the most popular online resource for information about the French Riviera. In the navigation menu above you’ll see a list of towns. Each contains travel guides and event listings, as well as recommendations for where to go for fun, to see nature, to a spa, shop and sleep, and more. We also have an events calendar that you can subscribe to via Google Calendar.

To start you off on your French Riviera journey here is some information about the area:

While the French Riviera has maintained a glam reputation since the ’50s (Brigitte Bardot basking on Saint-Tropez’s beaches; A-listers strutting down Cannes’ red carpet), there is more to the Côte d’Azur than just its jet-set resort towns—including idyllic bohemian islands, hilltop medieval towns housing their own Michelin-starred restaurants, and a world-class arts scene.

Whether you are looking for a day that starts (and ends) with rosé at a celeb-filled beach club or prefer a more secluded seaside or historic village escape, Iconic Riviera will fill you in on the very best places to find whatever you’re looking for.

French Riviera or Côte d’Azur?

Also sometimes referred to as the Côte d’Azur, the French Riviera benefits from up to 330 days of annual sunshine, 115 kilometers of coastline, 18 golf courses, 14 ski resorts, and 3000 restaurants. So, wherever you go along the Riviera, you can be sure that there’ll be plenty to do!

The old port in Cannes

This is arguably the most exciting place in Europe. The rich and famous have it as their playground. People from all over the world flock here for its one-of-a-kind lifestyle. One word describes it: pleasure.

The nickname Côte d’Azur (or the Blue Coast) comes from the turquoise Mediterranean Sea. The word Riviera means coast in Italian. French Riviera is a gem for visitors.

Where is the French riviera?

The French Riviera is set between the Southern Alps and the Mediterranean. It is the beating heart of Mediterranean Europe. The Alpes-Maritimes département encloses it. There is no official boundary but it usually begins at Cassis or Toulon on the west side, and the France-Italy border is on the east. Nice, a piece of jewel on the south-east coast of France, serves as the capital as the largest city of the region.

A visual overview

This video gives a great overview of the area:

The riviera Climate

The French Riviera has a perfect Mediterranean climate. Mild winters balance sunny, hot, dry summers. There are almost no days of frost.

It’s warmer by the water, and cooler as you move away from the coast. The surest thing is the presence of sunshine all year round, with 330 days of summer every year. With its Mediterranean climate and the Alps’ shelter from harsh winds, you can be sure to be comfortable at any time of year.

Check out our guide to the climate and weather on the French Riviera.

An overview of the population

The French Riviera has a total population of over two million. Most of the population is French, but there are plenty of Brits and Italians who have second homes or who have moved to the area.

Modern middle-eastern monarchs and nouveau-riche also want the taste of luster and wealth it gives. Recently, there is also a growing number of Russian, Middle-Eastern, and Chinese tourists.

The official language is French, but most people speak English. Street signs are mostly in both languages in the Old Towns.

History, Architecture, and Heritage

How did the french riviera get so popular?

So, as you may have noticed by now, the French Riviera seems to be an area of great wealth. But has it always been like this? Well as a matter of fact, yes it has. Originally, the Riviera served as a winter resort for the British aristocracy who wished to escape their own miserable weather.

Coincidentally, around the same time, the idea of climatotherapy (a change in climate) was being advertised as a cure to major diseases such as tuberculosis. With the combination of the two factors, the Riviera became littered with British nobility. Hence where the notion of the ‘Promenade des Anglais’ came from.

Further down the line, the establishment of a railway provided access to the Riviera from the rest of Europe. Soon after its completion, Tsar Alexander II of Russia, Napoleon III, and Leopold II visited the Côte d’Azur. It wasn’t long before Queen Victoria and Prince Edward VII also visited the coastline, and the two soon became frequent visitors.

The coast also attracted its fair share of world-renowned painters. Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, for example, frequented the Nice and Antibes area. While Auguste Renoir settled in Cagnes-sur-Mur. For any art enthusiasts, art galleries dedicated to these painters can be found all along the Riviera.

ancient history and how it shaped the Riviera

Power struggles between France’s Provence and Italy’s Comte de Nice shaped its architectural heritage. But its history reaches back to the Romans, Phocean Greeks, and even cave dwellers.

Some of the historical remains are still present. Castles and forts have withstood the test of time. Cathedrals and baroque churches are proof not only of religiosity of the area but also the artistic spirit as well.

The Russian orthodox church in nice

Latter visitors began Rennaisance structural changes. Palace-like hotels and lavish villas arose. Neo-Gothics Anglican Churches and exotic domed churches of the Russian Orthodoxy show the evolution of both faith and art. Then, there are the striking gardens and parks with tropical plants from the five continents.

Aside from the growing number of high-rises, there are still many modern architectural wonders to see. Examples are abundant, but don’t miss the Musee Chagall in the Promenade du Paillon in Nice and the Cocteau Museum in Menton.

The stucco-style houses give a wonderful contrast with greenery seen in many places. The blue Mediterranean water with the white backdrop of the Alpes’ snow-capped mountains is charming. Red sandstones, grey rock-splits, and verdant forests and gardens have a natural blend of hues. The southern sun gives a wondrous ray of brilliance everywhere. It stirs deep emotions to artists that made them create their masterpieces.

Mediterranean Gastronomy

A dish of petit farcis, French Riviera (travel guide)
Many regard petit farcis as the most characteristic of all Nicoise dishes

For every mood, occasion, or budget, there are plenty of places to dine. The linen-covered tables, silver cloches, and the hordes of well-trained servers make dining one of the area’s greatest pleasures. Beach restaurants have tables in the sand. DJs and the sea view accompany the delightful cuisine.

Local markets sell fresh local products like fruits, vegetables, and flowers every day. Anchovies, herbs, and spices are ever-present in the local outdoor markets. Local cheese and bread are in every pastry store for connoisseurs. Local wines add cheer to meals.

Olive oil and olives are in many dishes. Most are Mediterranean dishes. Cornucopias of tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, onion, and garlic give extra flavor to dishes. The coastline offers a bounty of locally-caught seafood. We recommend scallops, oysters, and mussels, which are sustainable choices that you can find at most beach restaurants.

Cities on the French Riviera

The French Riviera includes cities that belong to France and the glamorous independent Principality of Monaco. The following are the list of the main French Riviera cities along with their own links for each travel guides:

Nice, Cannes, and Monaco, French Riviera, (travel guide)

Monaco

The Principality is known for its luxurious and extravagant lifestyle. The plush hotels, grand casino, lovely parks, and heritage sites make this independent city-state one of the favorite destinations in the French Riviera.

See our Monaco travel guide.

Nice

A true Mediterranean jewel, Nice is rich in history, heritage, and culture. With its famous promenade along the coast, beaches, and luxurious hotels, this city is a must in everyone’s vacation list.

See our Nice travel guide.

Cannes

We all know this “timeless” city in southern France for the prestigious annual Film Festival. But, all year round there is so much to see and do in this classic yet cosmopolitan city. You will definitely love the beaches and events.

See our Cannes travel guide.

Antibes-Juan-les-Pins

With landmarks full of historicity and modern combined with the upbeat nightclubs, beaches, and casinos, this resort town is a true treasure in Côte d’Azur. It can be a good start in exploring the region.

See our Antibes & Juan-les-Pins travel guide.

Seaside Resort Towns

The coast of French Riviera glimmers with wonderful resort towns that boast tempting beaches and picturesque landscapes. Below are the resort towns of the French Riviera and their corresponding links for travel guides:

Saint-Tropez, Villefranche-sur-Mer, Menton, French Riviera (travel guide)

Beaulieu-sur-Mer

A not-so-hidden-hideaway with lovely seafront gardens and belle-epoque touch, this seaside town will give for a perfect vacation. Do not miss the greek villa!

See our Beaulieu-sur-Mer travel guide.

Èze-Sur-Mer

Locals call this wonderful town as village-musée and village d’art et de gastronomie for its medieval atmosphere and modern charms.

See our Eze travel guide.

The Lerins Islands

Away from the hustle and bustle of the partyish French Riviera towns, this pair of islands is a perfect tourist escape.

See our Lerins Islands travel guide.

Menton

Called “the Pearl of France,” this town is also the most Italian among all towns in the French Riviera.

See our Menton travel guide.

Saint-Tropez

Travel to this jet-setters’ and artists’ favorite to experience a fashionable French Riviera escapade.

See our St Tropez travel guide.

Villefranche-sur-Mer

With numerous beautiful landscapes and a delightful local atmosphere, everyone planning a trip in the region should never miss this town.

See our Villefranche-sur-Mer travel guide.

Perched Historic Villages

Medieval towers, ramparts, and castles are the main attraction of the perched village in Cote d’Azur. But that’s not all there is. Below is a list of the perched villages in the French Riviera, and the links to their respective travel guides for you to discover:

Cagnes-sur-Mer, Mougins, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, French Riviera (travel guide)

Cagnes-sur-Mer

Despite being called “sur-mer”, the oldest part of town (and the only part worth visiting) is on the hilltop, a 10-minute drive from the sea. “The Town of Arts and Crafts,” the lemon city, and one of the favorite scenes of artists and painters, this pleasant ancient hilltop town invites you to a leisurely visit.

See our Cagnes-sur-Mer travel guide.

Mougins

Mougins has become the favorite culinary and culture getaway for Brits and has a large English-speaking population. Rich in art and culinary history, this perched-town is one-of-a-kind.

See our Mougins travel guide.

Roquebrune

The old town of Roquebrune and the seaside area of Cap Martin are basically the suburbs of Monaco. The town is charming and the cap has a lovely nature walk along the seaside.

See our Roquebrune & Cap Martin travel guide.

St-Paul de Vence

Its reputation as a famous artist haven is as lofty as its walls. The cobbled stones, ancient ramparts, numerous art galleries, and brick houses are merely facades for the surprises the town harbors within.

See our St Paul de Vence travel guide.

What to do while visiting the French Riviera?

Tourists in a public beach in Cannes
Tourists enjoying the sun and the sea in a public beach in Cannes

There are many things to do in the French Riviera as you can see in our travel guides, and we will give you a preview below:

There are boutiques, souvenir-shops, arts-and-crafts galleries in many town centers where you can go shopping.

Enjoy Cannes for its white sandy beaches and head to Nice, Monaco or Menton for their rock beaches if you don’t want to get sand in your shoes.

Take some time to visit the ports and look at the superyachts. The French Riviera is home to over 50% of the world’s superyacht fleet. While 90% of all superyachts have visited the region’s coast at least once in their lifetime.

There are numerous museums for history fans. Art enthusiasts will be delighted by the unparalleled history, the many art galleries, and the exhibits in every city and town.

Incredible local food and wine are always part of the experience in the French Riviera.

Try your hand at the casinos, the go dancing in the many night clubs. See an opera or ballet (especially in the stunning Monte Carlo opera house). And watch a film at the open-air cinema (especially Monaco).

Super yachts in Cannes
Superyachts in Cannes

You should savor a glass of rosé on Cours Saleya in Nice. Or have a glass of champagne in one of the classy cafés in Monte-Carlo.

Sight-seeing in the Old Towns and gardens must be always on your list of activities.

Strolling down La Croisette in Cannes and Promenade des Anglais in Nice offers a simple pleasure. Spend an afternoon and see the sunset from a private beach.

The Corniche Drives

One of the most exciting experiences when visiting the French Riviera is the scenic view in the Corniche (kor-neesh) Drives. From fashionable residential capes, belle époque resorts, medieval villages, and picturesque hills, the Corniches do not lack anything when it comes to breathtaking views.

The term came from the word ‘cornice,’ or the decorative frieze that runs along the top of a building. They are rightly called so for they line the mountainous part of French Riviera along the Alps.

There are three Corniches: The Low (Corniche Inférieure or the Basse Corniche), the Middle (Moyenne Corniche), and the High Corniche (Grande Corniche). These three roads traverse the lower hills of the Alps. They go down to the sea and link Nice, Villefranche-sur-Mer, and Monaco.

The Grande Corniche goes up to Menton and accessible through Roquebrune. It has distant vistas of the sea and the land inwards.

The shortest of the three, Moyenne Corniche, has intense contrast to the cliffs and the sea. It traverses Èze, Monaco, and Roquebrune, and Villefranche-sur-Mer, with an exhilarating view of Nice.

Corniche Inferior, or the Basse Corniche, snakes through harbors and villas. It starts at Villefranche-sur-Mer, then going to Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Èze, and Monaco.

How to Travel to and around the french riviera

Monaco Train Station

Our French Riviera travel guides and itineraries include transportation guides for each town, giving you the best routes to take and guides to the different transportation modes.

Check out our guides for how to get around Nice or Cannes, or learn about Monaco’s many transportation options.

Final Takeaway

There is a lot to experience in the French Riviera / Cote d’Azur. All you have to do is dig around a bit more here in Iconic Riviera. Have a grand vacation in this wonderful spot on the Mediterranean!