The French Riviera With Kids

Updated: February, 2014

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The Top 10 Things To Do With Kids On The French Riviera

The port of Cannes, France.

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 Visit South France

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

Cimiez, Nice

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.

Monaco Aquarium

Perfect for a rainy day. Parents on the Riviera struggle for rainy-day activities and this one is the top of everybody’s list.

Nice Chateau

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 Festivals

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.

Family Hotels in France

18 questions and comments

  1. Karin Dodson Gignoux

    My mountaineering husband was VERY disappointed that I didn’t mention any of the mountain activities. If you’re into that – hiking, canyoning, paragliding, skiing in winter, mountain biking, road cycling, etc., then the Alpes-Maritimes is a perfect place. Just 45 minutes inland you can find any number of places/activities that are kid friendly. Our favorite is hiking in Greolieres which is easy with a kid in a backpack and for those that can already walk a bit. Also nice is the Gorges du Loup for hot summer days. You can get free travel guides with walking/hiking routes geared towards families at local tourist offices.

    Reply
  2. Lou in Manchester

    What are the best beaches along the french riviera? With kids or without. We’ll be there a week with a baby and toddler and then 3 or 4 days without the little ones who’ll be going to Paris with the Grandparents.

    Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Karin Dodson

      Hi,

      East of Antibes is all stone beaches which I like a lot for the fun of looking at the stones and the ease of cleanup with little ones. Also – the kids like to throw the stones in the water.

      West of Antibes, it’s all sand, and it really depends on what you like. You can join the crowds and get yourself a lounge chair & sun parasol at one of the private beaches along the Croisette in Cannes or go a bit further out and enjoy a bit more solitude in Theole-Sur-Mer or Frejus.

      Hope that helps!

      Reply
  3. Hes

    We took the kids to the coast in September and October and got great weather. Not so busy and hotels were much easier to get, and better prices. We thought it was a perfect destination for kids and parents. Lots of things to do that seem to work for both age groups. Renting a car was a must as most things we planned on were a little ways from where we were staying.

    Reply
  4. Fab

    We went last October mostly around Nice. It was great. My kids (5 and 3) really got a blast at MarinaLand in Antibes. Also the little farm was good. As far as beaches, we went to the one in St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat called “Plage de passable” : I really recommend it, small but unique!

    Reply
  5. Suzie Hull

    We’re just back from hols in cannes and monaco, (july 2013). As a family of five, two teenagers and a 10 yr old we would recommend using the little tourist trains in Nice and Monaco. We found the heat a drain on us, since we’re not used to those temps, but the little trains meant you got to see everything without having to walk everywhere. Then we could focus on what we really wanted to go back and do. The Fireworks in Monaco were the best we’ve ever seen. Very happy with the free sandy beaches in cannes, but would recommend the ones next to the Croisette as they were less shelving. Good toilet across from them too. Plus little fairground rides.

    Reply
  6. Craig Wheelock

    Thank you for the tips! We are heading to Nice with a very energetic 2.5 year old and a 3 month old – and the forecast is 5 days of rain. Do you have any suggestions for indoor activities beyond the Monaco aquarium (which we will surely do one day)? Thank you!

    Reply
  7. lauren

    Thanks for all the great ideas! My family of 5 will be in Cannes and surrounding area for 3 days in mid-June. Still haven’t booked a hotel. Do you have any favorites? We would love a pool and close to beach but don’t want a totally “American” feeling hotel. Any with suite big enough to accommodate all 5 of us would be best. Please let me know if you have any ideas!

    Reply
  8. Byron Etchegary

    Wow, very helpful. My family and I are traveling to Cannes this summer for three weeks. The information you provided is helpful as we attempt to plan out the three weeks. Knowing that it is kid friendly is great. We have a four year-old and a 5 month-old. We can’t wait to get there and explore the many towns and attractions on the French Riveria!

    Reply
  9. Allyson

    We are headed to ville franche sur mer this week and will stay for five nights. Are there any resorts or hotels that allow day use access to their pools. We will also go to the beaches but thought a nice pool day would be fun. Thank you

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      A few hotels have swimming pools (Le Versailles, La Fiancée du Pirate, Pierre et Vacances Residence) but not sure about day use. Wish I could be more help. Good luck.

      Reply
  10. Jessica

    We are planning a trip to France in early June. I have booked 3 nights in Paris in an apartment in St. Germain already and then have 6 nights before we fly out of Nice back to the US. I would love advice on how to make the most of this time…splitting between two cities, maybe something inland first. We like the beach, to stroll, eat well, and prefer quaint and lovely places. While I want to stay somewhere that offers the ability to make easy trips, I don’t want to give up the chance to go somewhere really lovely for a few days either.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      A stop in Lyon (or Lake Geneva) as you go south would be great. Monaco is super kid-friendly and would be worth a night or two as well. The trains between the towns of France along the south coast run often and make the area easy to explore.

      Reply
    2. Amye

      Hello Jessia – we are doing a very similar trip at the end of June – July 2014! I would love to hear what your experience is like (you may be there right now!) and any recommendations you have upon your return. Sounds like our travel styles might be similar. Merci!

      Reply
  11. Drew

    Hello,

    My family and I are going to be in France late June, early July 2014. The girls are 11 & 13. They travel well. My current plan is to stay a couple of nights in Paris and then train at night from Paris to Cannes. ( I think we have to transfer in Nice). We were thinking that by traveling at night, with someone else driving, that this would be a good use of time and economical (sleeper birth).

    Questions:

    * Do you find this mode of travel from Paris to Cannes economical and efficient? Have you done it before?
    * If you recommend the train at night, do you recommend buying the tickets now? I ask because it is rumored that buying tickets locally is much less expensive. I’m assuming purchasing train tickets online is geared towards tourists and thus more expensive.
    * If I by first class seats instead of the sleeper birth, is it reasonable to think we will get good sleep in such seats?

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Yes, this is a great way to travel and the kids will love it. We’ve done many overnight trains and I’ve done them myself in France (but never in France as a family).

      Here is good information on traveling by train in France and how to buy tickets:
      seat61.com

      Reply

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