The French Riviera has a good number of fascinating towns including Nice, Menton and Antibes. However, there's an argument to be made about Cannes being the most prestigious destination in this Mediterranean coastal region of France.
Home of the renowned film festival, Cannes has no trouble attracting people seeking a luxurious getaway to its shores. The city offers high-end boutiques, stunning architecture, world-class storied 5-star hotels, and unfettered access to the Mediterranean Sea. During our French Riviera tour, we had a chance to explore Cannes and have no problem recommending the city as a wonderful place for a relaxing vacation.
So why does this city get such high marks? There's a long list of awe-inspiring landmarks to visit and exhilarating activities to indulge in. Here are the things you're likely to enjoy the most when you visit Cannes.
Things to do on a Cote d'Azur Vacation
1. A drive down La Croisette in a convertible exotic car
La Croisette is likely the most famous street in Cannes. Similar to Promenade des Anglais in Nice, the street is bordered by beaches on one side and numerous fascinating buildings on the other. Landmark buildings you'll come across include the Carlton Cannes Hotel (which is practically synonymous with the city), the uniquely designed JW Marriot Cannes, Hotel Barrière Le Majestic, and Palais des Festivals et des Congrès de Cannes (home of the Cannes Film Festival). You'll also find a concentration of designer stores here.
Image: La Croisette. Credit: Mike Workman
Driving down La Croisette in an exotic convertible car and stopping at various stores along the way may end up being the highlight of your trip. Here, you can fill your bags with Hermes, Valentino, and Cartier clothes, accessories, and jewelry in between basking in the bright summer sun and enjoying the deep melody of the car's exhaust pipes.
We recommend staying at one of the mentioned hotels to get the best Cannes experience. If you want to stick with what Cannes is best known for, you should select the Carlton Hotel with its luxury suites and glorious water views. The hotel, often associated with the Cannes Film Festival has a long list of famous patrons, including royalty and numerous A-list celebrities.
2. La Mairie de Cannes
La Mairie de Cannes is the city's town hall, offering architectural magnificence and insights into the city's unique history. Sitting next to the old port, you can find stunning photo opportunities here.
Image: La Mairie de Cannes. Credit: Michael Mulkens
The French built La Mairie de Cannes in 1876 in a neoclassic style to reflect the aspirations of the burgeoning town. Visitors can enjoy its unique décor across four levels, relishing in its sculptures, Doric columns, depictions of the city's coat of arms, and the sixteen caryatids.
3. Private Yacht Cruise
The main draw of the French Riviera is the Mediterranean Sea. What better way to enjoy that than a cruise on a private yacht? The city's picturesque setting makes it ideal for serene excursions along the coast, with azure water, plenty of rocky inlets for stop-offs, private beach tours, and glamorous soirées.
Image: Raquel Romans on Sunseeker Predator Yacht. Credit: FORTLOC/Khalid Bari
Many private yacht charter companies run from Cannes, allowing you to explore the French Riviera in style. Sailing cruises suit any taste, with diverse vessels available, from small single-engine boats to superyachts.
Glorious rock formations await you on the shores of the nearby resort city, Theoule-sur-Mer, with its famous pebble beaches like Pointe de l'Aiguille. An added benefit of a private yacht cruise is the freedom to decide where to visit. While you're out on the water, you can take advantage of a tender to visit one or more of the Theoule-sur-Mer beaches. You can also hand-pick the cuisine to be served during your cruise.
If you can't get enough of the Mediterranean Sea, you can choose an extended cruise that lasts weeks with visits to islands off the coast and other French Riviera destinations like Nice and Monaco.
4. La Croix-des-Gardes
La Croix-des-Gardes is a famous residential area in Cannes housing a large park, Parcours de santé de la Croix des Gardes, overlooking the city and the bay area. People visit this part of Cannes for hiking and cycling experiences while enjoying views of the Mediterranean Sea, Esterel Massif, and Îles des Lérins. Interesting landmarks in the park include the Robert W. Hornbaker Monument and Fontaine d'eau Potable.
The area is also home to some of France's finest mansions and villas. The famous 19th-century Florentine-style Chȃteau de la Croix-des-Gardes villa is located here. The villa, which features an alluring Belle Époque architecture, was featured as the Standford Villa in Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief (1955).
Today, the villa is a popular venue for events, including weddings and design shows. It also hosts some of the most exclusive parties during the Cannes Film Festival. If you really want to spoil yourself, you can choose to stay at the villa during your visit as it is available to rent. You'll enjoy days of a hard-to-match luxurious and memorable experience and incredible views.
Another notable villa here is Médiathèque Noailles. Also known as Villa Rothschild, it was built in 1881 for the widow of James Mayer de Rothschild, a wealthy German-French banker who loved horse racing. The building is now a public library owned by the city of Cannes.
5. Le Vieux Port
Le Vieux Port is a world-renowned harbor with space for vessels up to 140 meters long. The area stands at the foot of Le Suquet, the oldest and most historical area of Cannes, close to the Museum of Explorations of the World and Notre-Dame d'Espérance Church. It is a popular destination for tourists to relax while enjoying unobstructed views of the Mediterranean Sea.
Image: Le Vieux Port. Credit: Sergii Figurnyi
Le Vieux Port offers more than maritime facilities. This area of Cannes is also a popular destination for dining. Travelers visit the port to have lunch at one of its many fine dining establishments and climb the nearby hills for spectacular port and city views.
6. Le Suquet
Le Suquet is another of Cannes's most popular destinations. Similar to Nice's Vieille Ville, this historic part of town offers picturesque winding streets, multi-colored houses, and rustic squares studded with numerous historical attractions. With its labyrinthine streets, boutique shopping, cafés, and restaurants offering local cuisine, Le Suquet is a favorite among visitors to Cannes.
Image: Le Suquet. Credit: Gala_K
Popular places to visit in Le Suquet include Marché Forville, a local market, and the clock tower and church, where you can take advantage of wonderful views of the Bay of Cannes.
7. Helicopter tour of Cannes
A great way to see the best Cannes has to offer is via a private helicopter tour. Local outlets offer rides ranging from 12 to 60 minutes, with incredible views of the city and other parts of Cote d'Azur. You'll be treated to breathtaking panoramas of La Croisette, the stunning blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, Monaco, and Saint-Tropez. Some tours also take you as far as the Gorges du Verdon, an area of outstanding natural beauty featuring lakes, gigantic canyons, and historical towns where locals enjoy a slower pace of life.
Image: Raquel Romans in Heli Air Monaco Helicopter. Credit: Khalid Bari
Access to the helipad at the airport is highly restricted, so be sure to book your tour in advance, and don't forget to bring your passport. While you won't be leaving France, tour operators usually request that you have it with you.
8. Musée de la Castre
La Musée de la Castre is an iconic museum in a medieval castle that used to be home to the monks of Lerins. At over 1,000 years old, the building is perhaps the standout attraction. Known for housing an extensive collection of Mediterranean art and archaeological artifacts, it is a must-visit destination for history buffs, art lovers, and anyone who enjoys ethnography. Guided tours are available if you want a deeper explanation of exhibits, and you can walk to the building from the city center in less than fifteen minutes.
Image: Castre Museum. Credit: Kiev.Victor
If you're fit enough to pull it off, the climb to the top of the medieval tower offers a fantastic panoramic view of the city.
Cannes offers various snorkeling opportunities, but the most exhilarating is likely a visit to Écomusee Sous-Marin (Underwater Eco-Museum). The museum features six large sculptures, each over two meters tall, close to Sainte-Marguerite Island's southern coast.
Image: Raquel Romans Snorkeling. Credit: FORTLOC
The artwork is the brainchild of English artist Jason deCaires Taylor, who spent over four years developing the site, turning a once-neglected marine zone into a destination that pulls keen snorkelers from across the globe. The sculptures are between three and four meters deep, allowing you to explore them up close in the crystal-clear waters with basic equipment.
During your snorkeling adventure, you should be mindful of the rules, as water police often keep an eye on visitors.
10. Lérins island
The Lérins Islands are a group of four islands south of Pointe Croisette. The largest is Île Sainte-Marguerite, followed by the Île Saint-Honorat, with the others uninhabited. Île Sainte-Marguerite and Île Saint-Honorat are worthy of exploration, offering a tranquil haven for those wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
Image: Lérins island
Île Sainte-Marguerite exudes an air of mystery with the presence of Fort Royal, which once functioned as a prison famous for housing the man in the iron mask. Today, the island plays host to Musée du Masque de Fer et du Fort Royal, an archaeology museum. If you want to visit the Fort, note that you'll need to hike about 500 meters uphill to get there.
By contrast, the Île Saint-Honorat is a more spiritual location. It offers stunning natural beauty and is home to the Abbaye de Lérins, a 5th-century Benedictine monastery with cloistered halls and quiet gardens. Numerous vineyards and gently rolling hillsides blend into the Mediterranean Sea.
11. Centre d'Art La Malmaison
Centre d'Art La Malmaison is an art gallery housed in a former hotel on Boulevard de la Croisette. It closed in 2023 for extensive renovations, with plans to reopen in December 2024. Previous contemporary art exhibitions at the destination include Picasso's La Suite Vollard, Max Ernst's L'imagination en jeu, and Pierre and Gilles's Le Goȗt du Cinéma.
Image: Centre d'Art La Malmaison. Credit: Kiev.Victor
Renders of the new design reveal a great-looking upgrade, so if you're able to delay your trip until the reopening date, you'll be one of the first to enjoy the gallery's new look.
12. Shopping at Rue d'Antibes
Rue d'Antibes is Cannes' main shopping street, offering delightful stores and independent outlets. Don't let the narrow street fool you; there's an abundance of high-profile local and international stores here. Popular brands with a presence here include Rolex, Mont Blanc, and Tommy Hilfiger.
Image: Rue d'Antibes. Credit: Travel-Fr
With an abundance of cafes and restaurants in the area, you can take as many breaks as you need while shopping for the items on your list. You can also take advantage of the local stores to purchase great souvenirs to help you keep your visit fresh in memory.
Of course, Cannes is home to some of France's most prestigious and attractive beaches. If you choose to stay at the Carlton or Barrière Le Majestic, you'll be happy to know that both offer private beaches where hosts will spoil you while you enjoy the Mediterranean weather. But if you're curious to see what the other beaches in the city have to offer, you can select from one of the following popular options:
Image: Beach in Cannes. Credit: Oleg_P
Plage du Midi is one of four public beaches along Boulevard du Midi Louise Moreau, west of the Old Port. This beach is popular among families looking for shallow waters and gentle surfing.
Further out west, you'll find Plage de la Bocca, close to La Bocca District and Cannes International Airport. Popular activities here include pedal boat rides and kayaking.
Finally, there’s Palm Beach, a small, family-friendly beach famous for watching kitesurfers performing at sea. But don't let the name fool you. Palm trees, while present, are not in abundance at this location.
14. Palais des Festivals et des Congrès
Palais des Festivals et des Congrès is perhaps the city's most famous destination. This location hosts more than 150 professional and cultural events annually, the most popular being the annual Cannes Film Festival, which usually runs in May.
Image: Palais des Festivals et des Congrès. Credit: Stephane Legrand
Even if you can't visit during the festival, you can always take advantage of one or more other events hosted here. Keep an eye on the calendar to see what interests you the most.
15. Cannes Yachting Festival
If you're willing to plan your trip close to the time of the Cannes Yachting Festival, you're in for a treat. As one of the few yacht shows held in the French Riviera, the exceptional trade show hosts more than 700 boats each year ranging from 5 to 50 meters in length. You'll find exhibits at both of the city's main ports, Vieux Port and Port Pierre Canto.
Image: Yachts in Port Canto. Credit: Mike Workman
Many of the big names in yacht building are usually well represented at the show, so if you're looking to purchase your next luxury yacht, the show may not be a bad place to shop for the best option.