Update: April, 2013
I get lots of questions about hotels in South France.
For the best website on hotels in the region use these links:
The Top 10 Things To Do With Kids On The French Riviera
The author: Karin Dodson Gignoux blogs at Mom in France.
The French Riviera (also known as the Côte d’Azur) is a great place to tour as a family! Despite the glamorous image associated with the Riviera due to the Cannes film festival and the yachting industry that attracts the famous and wealthy, the Riviera is incredibly family-friendly. The renowned Mediterranean weather lends itself to all sorts of outdoor activities, sightseeing and adventures.
It was difficult to narrow the list to just 10 suggestions. With kids you can visit many of the popular destinations as well as do some attractions that you might not visit otherwise.
When to Go
My favorite times of year are the early spring and summer and fall. As of April 1st all the hotels and restaurants are open, and many museums and attractions move to high-season hours. The weather is generally nice with occasional rain but not too hot. And, best of all, it’s not too crowded to manage outings with a family.
The 2nd half of May is very busy with the Cannes Film Festival and the Monaco Grand Prix and I would advise against a visit then unless you are attending one of these events. August is the height of the vacation season in France and everything is very busy with tourism. The upside is that everything is open; there are lots of special events and things to do and see. The weather is almost always great with little rain and hot days and balmy evenings with late sunsets around 9.00pm. The downside is the traffic, crowded restaurants and beaches, and grumpy service staff from long hours and demanding customers.
Top 10 Things to do on the Cote d’Azur
In the heart of Nice lies one of the most beautiful neighborhoods that also features an amazing park with Roman ruins the city’s, the Matisse museum, and the Archaeological Museum. The Matisse museum was renovated in 2006 and features some of his art and artifacts from his nearby studio. Visiting Cimiez is a perfect half-day visit. It’s accessible via foot, car and bus from the Promenade des Anglais.
Nice Beach and Old Town
This was one of our recent early spring outings. The beaches from Nice to Antibes are stone beaches and are great for a beach day while keeping relatively clean. In the summer the beaches are lifeguarded and many are public access. My son loves to throw rocks in the water, and I love to people watch and swim. Since you’re just there, right in the middle of town, a walk through the ancient old town is obligatory and a post-beach gelato in order. Visit Crema di Gelati on the Place du Palais in front of the Courthouse. On Saturday the booksellers set up their stalls with some amazing antique books and prints (just keep sticky fingers away!).
Cap d’Antibes, Antibes/Juan-les-Pins
You might notice Cap d’Antibes when you fly into Nice airport – lots of huge mansions and a lighthouse in the middle of the promontory. By law, the shoreline must be accessible, and the city of Antibes has placed a walk around the rocky edge of the cape. Going full circle takes approximately 1-1 1/5 hours. More if you have young walkers. It’s an easy walk though with plenty of places to stop to take in the view, have a swim or a snack. Access starts/ends at the Plage Garoupe that has free parking and a small public-access beach. Or pay ½ price at the end of the afternoon and let your kids play in the water while you enjoy a rest on one of the chaise lounges.
La Croisette, Cannes
There is no better place for Riviera life than the famed Croissette. You can spend a couple of hours walking the length of it starting at the Palais du Festival (taking pictures on the red carpet, naturally). For younger kids there is permanent mini-carnival with small playground, beautiful double-decker carousel, small carnival rides and games and snack bar. At the other end of the Croisette is a playground proper. In the middle all the hotel beaches for people watching. There are snack bars for sandwiches, ice cream and cold drinks all along the route. Occasionally in winter we stop in for a hot chocolate at the Carlton to breathe in the atmosphere and to make me feel like I’m Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief.
Iles des Lérins, Cannes
We love the peacefulness of the car free, nicely preserved islands in the bay of Cannes. Take the 10-minute ferry from Cannes port to one of the two islands. St. Marguerite is the larger, and closer of the two, while St. Honorat has an active monastery and old fort for kids to run around. The two have unpaved trails that criss-cross the island. Pack a picnic and find a little rocky place to put your feet in the Med while you eat. Swimming is fun for advanced swimmers. My older one like to play among the small pools in the rocks and to run along the beach pines.
Fondation Maeght, St.Paul de Vence
Just next to the beautiful village of St. Paul de Vence, the Fondation Maeght is a contemporary art museum set in a modern building on landscaped gardens – great to explore. The museum has a wonderful, peaceful atmosphere and is not too big that kids get bored. Kids under 10 get in free.
Perfect for a rainy day. Parents on the Riviera struggle for rainy-day activities and this one is the top of everybody’s list.
Whether you hike up the steps or take the elevator for your stroller a visit to the Nice chateau, situated between the Old Town and the Port is a great outing. The chateau was originally the site of the fort that guarded the city when it fell in 1706. The views from the top are spectacular and there are ruins to visit as well as a snack bar and playground for both young and old kids.
Dining in Valbonne
This may be a bit of a booster for my hometown, but I find it’s a terrific place to eat with kids. The restaurants all ring an enclosed square where in the summer kids can run free and the food is kid-friendly. In the evenings there is always some kind of entertainment with musicians and magicians doing tricks.
The Riviera is the host of festivals year round, most of which cater to families. Here is an abbreviated list.
January: Monaco Circus
February: Nice Carnaval
June: Fete de la Musique, 21st of June. A national festival celebrated in each city and town highlighting different styles of music with live performances.
July: Fete Nationale on the 14th (Bastille Day), Jazz in Juan-les-Pins, Nice Jazz Festival in Cimiez August: Cirque Gruss in Valbonne and Nice.
September & October: Local food and harvest festivals across the region
December: Christmas markets in towns throughout the Riviera and Provence.
About the Author: Karin Dodson Gignoux moved to the French Riviera in 2002 and chronicles her life parenting two bi-cultural, bi-lingual boys. She blogs at Mom in France.