(Last Updated On: April 21, 2023)

The best towns to visit on the French Riviera are some of the most picturesque seaside villages of anywhere in the world. Centred around the fifth most populated city in all of France, Nice, the towns of the French Riviera are renowned for being luxurious holiday destinations frequented by the rich and famous.

Still, these beautiful villages maintain their quaint, homely charm and welcome visitors with open arms. Dotted along the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea, these nine towns (in no particular order) are the ultimate destinations to visit in the Cote d’Azur.

Base yourself in Nice near the old town (Vieux Ville) and take as many day trips as possible to the best towns on the French Riviera. Here are my top nine towns to visit, in no particular order. 

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1. Nice

Basing yourself in Nice for a trip to the French Riviera is a great idea as this central city has lots to offer. Nice is one of France’s most populated cities, but still manages to retain its old-village charm. Staying in Nice provides easy access to the rest of the towns on this list which can be visited on day trips, rather than lug baggage around from place to place.

Home to the spectacular stretch of seaside pathway dubbed the Promenade des Anglais, Nice’s grey pebbly beaches are famous for experiencing a whopping 300 days of sun each year. It is truly no wonder that tourists flock to the city year-round. The best view of the Promenade and the incredible colours of the Mediterranean Sea can be taken in from the Colline du Chateau – a free lookout and park accessible at the port end of the waterfront.

Nice’s Old Town is one of the largest in the French Riviera, full of narrow alleyways that seem to form a maze of restaurants, bars and hidden gems ready for wanderers to stumble upon. There is always life here, and whilst some of the other villages on the Riviera quiet down at night-time, Nice seems to always be heaving with activity which is why it is one of the best towns on the French Riviera.

2. Antibes

Antibes or Antipolis as it was originally named by the Greeks has traces of history from all the way back in around 1200 BC. Antibes lies in between Cannes and Nice and is easily accessible from Nice via the train or bus lines.

The waterfront walk around the walled city of Antibes is one of the absolute highlights of a visit here with the Chateau Grimaldi (now home to the Picasso museum) and the 11th century Church of the Immaculate Conception standing out against the nearly-always blue sky.

Antibes old town is quieter than that of Nice, but it offers a nice variation in colour from the rest of the Riviera, boasting lighter, more pastel shades. The gorgeous square, Place Nationale, is the perfect spot to sit and take it all in. My suggestion? Grab a baguette or a fruit tart from a local boulangerie on the square, sit on the steps of the bandstand and people watch to your heart’s content. It’s a quieter option, but still one of the best towns on the French Riviera.

3. Grasse

The home of French perfume, Grasse, is located inland from the Riviera about 30 minutes train ride from Cannes or just over an hour from Nice. Be warned, though, the train station of Grasse is quite a hike from the splendid old town and isn’t all that easy to find. The bus lines, however, stop atop the hill just a few minutes’ walk from the old town and only cost 1.50 euros so are a great option to explore on the cheap.

The town is home to three iconic perfumeries, namely Fragonard, Molinard and Galimard all of which run tours daily explaining the perfume making process. There’s also a Perfume museum for those interested in how perfumes are made and how techniques have evolved over the years. Both Fragonard and Molinard are pretty easy to access from the town, but Galinard is a little further out.

Grasse, like all of the towns in this list, has a gorgeously quaint old town with winding streets and coloured buildings. Because Grasse is inland and in a hilly area, there are also great views to be seen back down the mountains. The best views can be spotted a short walk from the 12th century cathedral Notre Dame de Puy de Grasse which is also definitely worth a visit.

4. Èze Village

Èze Village is a walled medieval town located atop a steep cliff with breathtaking views of the sparkling Mediterranean Sea below. These amazing views are best seen from the exquisite Jardin d’Exotique which costs between 4-6 euros to enter. Don’t be put off, though, by the charge to enter as this garden of cacti and succulents offers the most spectacular views in the whole French Riviera.

The joy of Èze Village, like any French Riviera town, is to wander the curving laneways and enjoy the quintessential French notes in the surroundings such as colourful shuttered windows, vines covering the frontage of buildings and cobblestoned streets. Èze is also full of quirky, quaint shops and art galleries to explore around every corner.

To get to Èze Village, I recommend either the 82 or 112 buses which both stop right at the entrance into the walled town on high. Buses from Nice are ridiculously cheap with all rides costing 1.50 euro, so this is a trip that won’t break the bank. If you’re up for a challenging uphill walk, the train is also available from Nice to Èze-sur-mer, but the walk up the hill will take around 50 minutes. If you’re keen on seeing Èze-sur-mer as well as Èze Village, then I’d suggest the bus to the village first and then tackling a slightly easier downhill walk to get the train back.

5. Villefranche-sur-mer

This little seaside town truly took me by surprise with its vibrant colours and relaxed downtown vibes. Villefranche-sur-mer is very close to Nice and can be accessed by train, bus or even by a long seaside walk of around an hour and a half if you are so inclined. Train is probably easiest and quickest for a day trip to this little town as it is a mere two stops from Gare de Nice Ville.

Like most of these gorgeous towns, Villefranche-sur-mer has been home to human beings since pre-historic times and actually has one of the deepest harbours of anywhere in the Mediterranean which makes it perfect for cruise ships. In fact, Villefranche-sur-mer is the busiest cruise terminal in the French Riviera by passenger traffic.

Villefranche-sur-mer has a super pretty old town that winds along the coastline in saffron and ochre shades. The colouring in this little village is slightly deeper and more varied than that of Nice’s old town, and it is definitely quieter to stroll around in. There are a couple of beautiful churches in the town centre to check out, namely the Église Saint-Michel and the Chappelle Saint-Pierre, the latter which features local hero Jean Cocteau murals of Saint Pierre and fisherman inside.

6. Cannes

There are few places on the Riviera that conjure up the lifestyles of the rich and famous quite like Cannes. Home to the famous film festival and a harbour full of super yachts, Cannes still manages to maintain a certain old-town charm despite the posturing. This little town has come a long way from the sleepy fisherman’s village that it started out as.

Cannes is also famous for being a town on the Riviera with sandy beaches – a welcome change for anyone who has ever tried to walk down to the water on Nice’s pebbly beach and struggled.

The old town, Le Suquet, at Cannes offers beautiful views and colours as one would expect from any town in the Cote d’Azur, but again the colour palette here is slightly varied which sets it apart. The views from the top of Le Suquet back over the Old Port and the Lérin Islands are second to none. For those interested, Cannes is also home to the mysteries of the Man in the Iron Mask and visitors can take a tour out to the prison on Île Sainte-Marguerite where he was kept.

Cannes is accessible via the number 200 bus from Nice or via train. By train, the trip will take around 40 minutes in the direction away from the Italian border and costs around 7 euros. The bus ride is quite lengthy at 1.5 hours, though it is significantly cheaper at 1.50 euros.

7. Saint Paul de Vence

Another hillside medieval walled town, the stoned streets of Saint Paul de Vence are decorated with pebbles from the beach at Cagnes-sur-mer in a sun-like formation. It is possible to catch the bus all the way from Nice to Saint Paul de Vence, but it is slightly quicker to catch the train to Cagnes-sur-mer and then hop on the bus for a 15-minute trip up the mountain to the village.

As soon as Saint Paul de Vence comes into sight, it is clear that this town is special. It is easily spotted perched on the hilltop throughout the bus ride and its stony walls hold many treasures in the form of art galleries, vineyards and flowing water.

A walk atop the ramparts of the city is a must to take in the scenic panorama of the Provence countryside. Then make your way into the centre of the village to the famous Place de la Grande Fontaine, the former marketplace, which features a central fountain to admire.

Saint Paul de Vence is famous for being a haven of sorts for artists including Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall, the latter of which is buried here in the cemetery with his family. Visitors are able to see his burial site, marked with pebbles on which admirers have scrawled notes of thanks and admiration for his work. Perhaps this is why Saint Paul de Vence has such a high concentration of art stores and galleries.

8. Menton

Menton is the final town on the French Riviera before the Italian border and it is, in my opinion, the prettiest town on the whole Cote d’Azur. The old town here is very hilly, but the effect of the colourful seaside buildings and church bell towers looking down from up high makes this village a picture-postcard dream.

A stroll along the seaside will relax and inspire you as families play in the water. Cafes and restaurants will be setting up for the day along the pebbly waterfront and boats big and small lie in wait in the harbour to be taken out for a day at sea. The ultimate photo opportunity is definitely from the water’s edge, looking back over the old town, where mustard and rose-coloured towers stand out against the trademark blue French Riviera sky.

Turn inland now to explore the old town of Menton. Be prepared to walk and walk as the maze of uphill laneways guides visitors towards the hilltop where a cemetery is nestled, overlooking the revellers playing in the ocean below.

Another notable stop on the walk through the old town is the gorgeous baroque-era Basilique St-Michel Archange which was built in the 1600s and feels like the spiritual centre of this historic town.

Menton is also famous for its thriving citrus industry and lemons, in particular, are extremely revered here with stores at the base of the old town peddling local limoncellos, soaps, jams and perfumes.

Getting to Menton from Nice is easy – the train from Gare de Nice-Ville stops at Menton after about 40 minutes on its way to the Italian side of the border in Ventimille (or Ventimiglia as the Italians call it). A one-way trip will cost just under 5 euros.

9. Monte Carlo

How could I forget Monte Carlo, the most extravagant city of the tiny principality of Monaco which is nestled in between Menton and Èze on the Cote d’Azur? This teeny tiny country packs a punch when it comes to glamour and style, with opulence and grandeur its trademarks.

Getting to Monte Carlo from Nice is easy, with the train from Nice Ville stopping in the heart of the town. For my money, though, the winding bus route from Nice to Monte-Carlo is worth the extra time taken as it travels on high through the famous corniches of the Riviera with spectacular views of the coast below.

Of course, no trip to Monaco would be complete without a peek inside the famous Casino Monte-Carlo the entrance hall of which is open to the public. Avid gambling enthusiasts can also pay 17 euros to enter the casino itself and try their luck.

Monte-Carlo’s old town on the Rock of Monaco is marked by the Palais Princier where the Royal Family reside. The ruling family of Monaco has fluctuated over the years, but the Grimaldi family have been installed in some way shape or form since 1297. The old town here where the palace lies offers beautiful views down over the Monaco harbour as well as great walks through the narrow streets.

I’ve spent time in the iconic French Riviera two years in a row now in the October shoulder season and both times have been utterly charmed by the seaside towns and the mountain-top villages. There’s definitely still more to explore, but these nine towns on the French Riviera will give you an excellent taste test of just how magical this southern region of France really is.



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