The Best Beaches
The one problem with having so many coastal hotspots: Choosing which one to check out first. Ideally, you’d conquer the whole lot in one wonderful, leisurely road trip, traversing the French Riviera coast, looping through the French countryside’s vineyards, and soaking it all in over the course of a summer.
But since wealthy benefactors and multiple months of vacation days are hard to come by these days, we’ve created this list so you can zone-in on the beach of your choice and check these spots off your bucket list one by one.
Timing Your Trip
Along most of the French Riviera, a day at the beach during June, July, and August means either wasting ages hunting for parking and an unclaimed spot on the public beaches or shelling out for access to a private resort. So if your schedule allows for it, we recommend planning your trip for May or September, when the weather is still perfect but kids are in school and the beaches are less crowded.
Remember that most of the private beaches shut their doors come October, packing up for the season. Thirty beaches across the Côte d’Azur, however, remain open year-round. This includes Plage Beau Rivage and Blue Beach along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, as well as L’Écrin and Plage Goëland on the Boulevard de la Croisette in Cannes.
Check out our guide to the climate, sea temperatures, and how to choose when to visit.
On public beaches, there are lifeguards on duty daily from 9am to 6.30pm from mid-June through mid-September. Three public beaches also have lifeguards on weekends from mid-May to mid-June. All private beach-restaurants have lifeguards on duty daily from mid-May to September. You can tell that lifeguards are on duty on a public beach if there are flags flying.
Let the Flags Guide You
Pay attention to the flags that fly from the beaches between May and September. All beaches with lifeguards and first-aid stations fly flags. There are five flags (bookmark this page for quick-reference):
- Blue Flag: Clean water, swimming is allowed but with caution as there may not be lifeguards.
- Yellow Flag: Bad water quality makes swimming inadvisable (because of pollution – including of biotic origin, for instance the presence of jellyfish).
- Green Flag: Sea conditions are safe, swimming is allowed, safe and watched.
- Orange Flag: Swimming is dangerous either because of an agitated sea, currents, swarms of jellyfish (more about that below) or other condition, but lifeguards are on duty, so you can go in the water, but use caution.
- Red Flag: Swimming is strictly forbidden and no lifeguards are on duty.
- Red-White Striped Flag or Black Flag: Swimming and use of floating devices hazardous because of strong winds.
You can also check this government map showing the swimming conditions at all the beaches.
Nice: The Public Beaches
The main area of Nice has beach all along the coast. There are plenty of restaurants on the beach where you can get a drink or fantastic meal, and if you get bored you can just cross the street into the main part of Nice. The public beach area is quite narrow, and all the beaches along the Promenade are pebbly. There is also a nearby watersports activities center. The public beaches have all the necessary facilities for guests, such as wash areas and showers. Keep an eye on your valuables as there are pickpocketers on the beach in Nice.
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat (or simply ‘Cap Ferrat’, as locals call it) is a very special place, and home to some of the world’s most famous & expensive villas. It has several fantastic, small beaches, and a coastal walk connecting them.
Cap Ferrat: Passable Beach
Passable Beach is on the western side of the Cap-Ferrat peninsula. It is a part-public, part-private beach. This beach is perfect for seeing the lovely French Riviera sunset. It is a pebbled beach, but the stones are small enough not to hurt your feet. The sea here is good for snorkeling. The beach is somewhat secluded and quieter than other beaches. Outdoor showers and toilets are available. There is a small space for parking near the beach.
Cap Ferrat: Paloma Beach
Paloma Beach rests deep within nature with all the greenery surrounding it. It gives a very picturesque view of Beaulieu-sur-Mer and the cliffs of Eze. Like Passable Beach, it is also semi-public. Pines of the nearby cliffs give shelter from wind and make for the gentle waves in the bay. You can try a few watersports like paddle boarding and water skiing. There are showers and toilets accessible to all visitors. Parking space is along the road over the beach.
Cap Ferrat: Cros Dei Pin Beach
Cros Dei Pin Beach is the main beach of Cap Ferrat. It is sandy and stretches for 150 meters with a view facing Beaulieu-sur-Mer. It is very family-friendly with a water-slide for children. There is also a watersports facility, along with a beach volleyball court and snack bar. Parking is paid nearby the watersports center.
Saint-Tropez: Pampelonne Beach
If you’re looking for a party — a beach for you to see and be seen — this is the place to go. The fine sand of Pampelonne Beach stretches for almost five kilometers along the coast and has a remarkable natural setting with a rural back-drop that gives for a very scenic view all around. No highrises to ruin the view, only the mesmerizing sight of the sand rising and the super-yachts in the bay.
A portion of the beach is private where beach clubs have private pools, restaurants, and rent out sun lounges and parasols, but the remaining larger part is free for the public. Water sports are available at kiosks scattered in the beach line.
There’s a lot to say about St. Tropez’s beach clubs, so here’s a complete guide to St. Tropez’s Beach Clubs. Note that they’re only open from April/May to September/October, and St-Tropez is a ghost town in the winter.
Despite being a small town, Beaulieu-sur-Mer is where in-the-know locals go.
Beaulieu-sur-Mer: Fourmis Beach
Fourmis Beach can be found in the west of the port and has fine gravel sand. Children can play safely in the shallow part of the water and there are diving platforms for adults. It is near a beautiful boulevard lined with pine and palm trees, though the beach offers no shade. Showers and toilets are available but parking can be very difficult and we recommend to look in the town.
Beaulieu-sur-Mer: Petite Afrique Beach
The pebbles on this beach are fine it is almost like sand. Petite Afrique Beach is a favorite among Beaulieu-sur-Mer residents. This sheltered cove has incredible scenery around and with lots of facilities. Showers and toilets are available including lifeguard services and paid parking with enough space. There is an area for kids to play in the shade of pine trees, as well as a beach volleyball court, a small snack bar, and a beach club. Watersports like skis, paddleboards, and banana boats are available from a private company.
Villefranche-sur-Mer: Marinieres Beach
Marinieres Beach in Villefranche-sur-Mer is a thin but long beach stretching for about a kilometer. A stunning view surrounds the beach that curves along the coast. It is near the train stop and easily accessible, and along the road going to the beach, there are several snack bars. Showers and toilets are available. There is paid parking that can accommodate about 400 vehicles located between the beach and the train station.
In spite of free access, plenty of parking, and Nice being just a three-minute train ride away, this beach doesn’t see the elbow-to-elbow crowding of neighboring spots. The gently sloping shallows are perfect for kids just getting the hang of the water, and more confident swimmers will love snorkeling the fish-filled rock hollows further offshore.
Cap d’Ail: Mala Beach
Mala Beach is a white sand and pebble beach that is accessible through two winding staircases among the fragrant trees. A large portion is for the public complete with enough showers and toilets. If you want to rent sun loungers and deckchairs, you can rent them from two nearby restaurants. There is no parking space, but the beach is very walkable from Cap d’Ail town, and you can get there from Monaco via a beautiful seaside walking trail. Due to the path leading to the beach, the beach has no wheelchair or disabled access. Also, use judgment when deciding to take kids.
Between Monaco and Cap d’Ail: Marquet Beach
Marquet Beach is very accessible from Monaco (it borders Fontvieille and is where the Cap d’Ail seaside walking trail starts) and is great for families. The beach has a mixture of small pebbles, gravel, and sand with a shallow dropoff and calm water. The offshore boulders give for a great place for snorkeling. In-season, there is a lifeguard where you can rent some beach equipment. There are showers in the area where the park with shades is. There is a parking lot on the west side of the beach. Snacks and drinks are available at the beach restaurants.
Cannes‘ Public Beaches
The largest of the section of public beaches in the area along Boulevard du Midi. It is west of the Old Port, with rocks protecting the bay, making for a great picnic site and calmer water. During summer, there are pontoons from the beach clubs where you can soak in the sun away from the crowd. There are shower areas and many shops and kiosks nearby. The beach is complete with facilities, and you can park in the streets or at the Old Port.
Not feeling the love at the public beaches? Many hotels have private beaches you can pay to use.
Monaco: Larvotto Beach
One of the best spots in Monaco, Larvotto Beach is a sandy stretch of man-made beach. It’s very suitable for swimming and sunbathing — but only in a designer swinsuit, of course! If you don’t want to look at the backdrop of high-rises, resting in the water are plenty of fancy yachts. There is a children’s garden shaded with pine trees and also the beach volley court. There are plenty of restaurants nearby, and facilities are ample and accessible to all. (NOTE: The beach is under renovation and will be open to the public on June 2021).
Cap Martin: Carnolès Beach
Carnolès Beach is a lovable urban beach that is very accessible — only a few strides from the train station. It is near a beautiful promenade with a very good view of the nearby town of Menton and distant hills. You may find the beach kid-friendly for its calm water. There are plenty of places to get snacks while parasols and chairs are available for rent in some of the nearby “managed” beaches. You can park in the nearby parking spaces about 10 meters away from the beach.
Menton: Sablettes Beach
East of the port is where the sandy Sablettes Beach , with its combination of sand, and pebbles. The beach is quiet and sheltered but has a lovely view of the town of Menton and its beautifully painted houses. The shallow waters are perfect for youngsters, and the beach is large with packed-down sand. Take a break at one of the coastal road snack booths or the restaurants to the east.
Antibes & Juan-les-Pins’ Beaches
Antibes is surrounded by beautiful beaches, and unlike a lot of the pebbly French Riviera, there’s plenty of golden sand with its clear turquoise waters. Both Antibes and Juan-les-Pins see a flood of Parisian tourists come summertime, so skip the beach blanket and fork over a few euros at one of the seaside restaurants or hotels to enjoy the classic Côte d’Azur vibe —and champagne service— on a sunbed sans crowding. Even the swimming-averse will love strolling and shopping the promenade, and if you’re up for an adventure, the town has a variety of scuba, snorkel, and parasailing outfitters to get your adrenaline pumping.
Antibes: Gravette Beach
Gravette Beach is a horseshoe-shaped beach below Antibes next to medieval ramparts that has a lot going for it. It’s wide, it’s sandy, it’s completely public, and it’s right in the middle of the old town, making it perfect for a quick swim while exploring Antibes, or to spread out with a picnic for the day.
It’s the closest beach to town, accessed though an archway from Port Vauban, which offers a great retreat for tourists wanting to take a dip after a stroll in the area. The sheltered cove is perfect for swimming, or join the locals for aperitifs on the beach at sunset. The beach is complete with facilities like shower areas and snack kiosks, and parking is not a problem in the nearby Old Port.
Water Sports & Beach Clubs in Antibes
Just south of town are a couple more sandy stretches – Ponteil Beach , next to the Antibes Yacht Club (where you can hire boats or kayaks), and Salis Beach . Both have shallow water and lifeguards on duty in the summer. These narrow beaches are a perfect home base for travelers hoping for sun, sand, and a host of activities to choose from.
Further south again is Garoupe Beach, home to luxury private beach clubs in summer, where you can hire a lounger with drinks service – just don’t go boasting about it on social media, as the beach has enforced a selfie ban! Lounge chairs are also available for rent in the nearby private restaurants, and there are beach showers in the area as well.
Watch Out For Jellyfish!
While there are no sharks to worry about, the downside of the French Riviera beaches is the jellyfish (meduses). By far the most common variety is the pelagia noctiluca which arrive unpredictably, often in swarms (you can track the daily location of jellyfish swarms on this map). Many private beaches have nets to block them out, but it’s rare for a public beach to have such protection.
They drift close to the surface and their violet color makes them easy to spot if you wear a mask while swimming. Although not fatal except for rare allergic reactions, a jellyfish sting can be quite painful and the scars can last for months.
Stop at the pharmacy to pick up a small, inexpensive vial of antidote before heading to the beach. Keep it with you for peace of mind and you’ll be prepared in the unhappy event of a jellyfish infestation. If you’re really concerned, local pharmacies sell a product called Medusyl which has been found to prevent jellyfish stings by preventing the tentacle from binding. It also works as a sunscreen.
If you’re stung, it’s best to head to the nearest lifeguard/first-aid station as the lifeguards are equipped with an antidote. Even lifeguards on private beaches will give you a healing cream whether or not you are a client of the beach. Do NOT try to wash off the sting in freshwater which will only worsen it. A more effective on-the-spot treatment is to soak the area in saltwater and then rub with gravel to remove the stingers. Immersing the area in water as hot as you can stand is also effective. If you happen to have tweezers you can try removing the stingers with them. Contrary to myth, urinating on the sting is useless.
If you want to learn more about jellyfish, the Monaco Oceanographic Museum has a lot of interesting information about jellyfish on their website.