Once known as “Canua”, the pretty seafront city of Cannes on the French Riviera was originally the site of an old Ligurian fishing port. Throughout the centuries it evolved to become a Roman outpost and was home to monks who arrived from the Lérins Islands.
It wasn’t until the 19th and 20th centuries that Cannes went through a transformation to become a popular haunt for affluent travellers, thanks to the construction of railways, casinos and luxury beachfront hotels.
Today, the city is still a Côte d’Azur holiday hotspot brimming with rich history, colourful markets, designer shops and fabulous beaches.
Every year in May, the Hollywood glitterati gathers in the city for the annual Cannes Film Festival, in July there’s a huge fireworks party, and in September, the Cannes International Boat and Yacht Show takes place at the Old Port.
With snorkelling, paddleboarding, hiking, sightseeing and windsurfing on offer too, there’s no shortage of activities, attractions, and things to see in Cannes!
Getting to Cannes
First things first, what’s the best way to get to Cannes?
If you’re flying to the South of France, the closest airport to Cannes is in Nice (there is a small airport in Cannes for private aircraft), about a half-hour drive away. You can hire a car, take the bus, or taxi to Cannes from the airport. Or, book a private transfer such as Welcome Pickups.
If driving into Cannes from neighbouring towns and villages, there are ample car parks in the town, including some that are free. I like to park at the free “Grande Parking de la Plage” and walk a short distance into the town.
Where to Stay in Cannes
if you fancy taking a few days to explore the town, relax on the beaches, and perhaps take a day trip or two, Cannes makes a lovely base for your Cote d’Azur holidays. These are the best places to stay in Cannes:
The Carlton (Regent Hotel) is an icon in Cannes, with its Belle Epoque building taking centre stage on the waterfront. Featuring its own private beach, large & airy rooms, and luxurious gardens, staying here is an experience you’ll cherish.
Hotel de Provence offers an affordable stay in Cannes, without sacrificing comfort. You’ll be right in the heart of the town, and you can choose rooms that cater to single travellers, couples, or families & groups.
Maison Carla Rosa is ideal for larger groups or families with its offering of suites and apartments accommodating up to 6 guests. Situated in one of the most charming areas of Cannes, you’ll love the thoughtful design of the property and rooms.
Best Things to do in Cannes
Choosing what to do in Cannes is as easy as walking the promenade and seeing what distracts you along the way. But if you’d like to add a little more structure to your stay, and ensure you’re not missing all that Cannes has to offer, be sure to consult the following list before you go!
Explore Le Suquet – Old Town of Cannes
One of the oldest neighbourhoods in Cannes, Le Suquet sits at the edge of the Old Port close to Marché Forville, the city’s lively produce market.
Le Suquet is one of the top Cannes tourist attractions – peaceful and picturesque, conjuring images of the days when Christian monks from the Lerins Islands made the hill their home.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, it became a place that local fishermen would return to after spending days or weeks at sea, and even today, the original houses still stand, resplendent in fading pastel hues, adorned with wrought iron balconies, plants and wooden shuttered windows. It’s one of the most popular Cannes places to visit.
While here, follow the steep cobbled streets along Rue Saint-Antoine, dotted with quaint Provençal bakeries, shops and restaurants. Pop into a local fromagerie to sample unusual cheese flavours and pause to soak up the movie-scene atmosphere in this historic quarter of the city.
It’s also possible to walk to the summit to gain beautiful views over the city. If you do make it to the top, don’t forget to visit Notre-Dame d’Esperance Church and the historic medieval fortress with its fascinating art museum.
Sunbathe on a Private or Public Beach
There are two types of beaches in Cannes – public beaches, and the sections of private beach acquired by luxury hotels.
All the main hotels along La Croisette have their own private beaches, including the Carlton Hotel, JW Marriott and Hotel Martinez to name a few. These boast everything from comfortable loungers on whitewashed sun decks to bistro waterside dining, signature cocktails and DJ sets at sundown.
There are several excellent public beaches too, although it’s wise to bring a towel and umbrella as there are limited facilities on most of them.
If travelling with children, the sandy beaches of Plage du Midi, Palm Beach and Plage du Moure Rouge are great options.
Looking for fun things to do in Cannes? The latter is near the fishing port, offering access to paddle boarding, kayaking and windsurfing.
Stroll around La Croix-des-Gardes
La Croix des Gardes is one of the best places to go in Cannes to connect with nature. The botanical forest park has uninterrupted views and there are five garden paths to explore, each with fabulous photo opportunities of the bay, the Esterel Massif and nearby islands.
The circuit winds its way around the hillside for around 1.2 kilometres and even boasts outdoor fitness equipment if walking or cycling doesn’t provide enough exercise!
While meandering along, inhale the fragrant scent of over 40 species of mimosa flowers in the arboretum and admire the grand 19th-century villas overlooking the bay.
Atop the main hill stands a monument, a steel cross constructed by Jean-Yves Lechvallier, and movie buffs will recognise the area as a filming location for the 1950s Alfred Hitchcock movie “To Catch a Thief” starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly.
Shop & Dine on Boulevard de la Croisette
One of the most iconic places to visit in Cannes, Boulevard de la Croisette stretches elegantly along the seafront, palm-lined and punctuated with a glittering array of five-star Belle Époque hotels, fine restaurants and designer shops.
Prior to the street becoming a magnet for wealthy travelling clientele, La Croisette was part of a major pilgrim’s route to St. Honorat Island. It wasn’t until the 1850s that the boulevard we see today was constructed, to cater to the desires of the elite.
Along La Croisette, one can browse beautifully decorated windows of Armani, Fendi, Dolce & Gabbana or Cartier, relax on a private beach or enjoy coffee and patisserie while watching locals compete at a game of pétanque.
As the sun sets, pop into Hotel Martinez for pre-dinner cocktails before dining on haute French cuisine at the famous two-Michelin star restaurant, La Palme d’Or.
Visit the Prettiest Library in the South of France
Villa Rothschild, known these days as Médiathèque Noailles, is a historic mansion that dates back to the 1880s. Built originally as a stately home for Betty de Rothschild, it was inhabited by her relatives after her passing, before being bought by the city of Cannes in 1952.
Nowadays, you’re more likely to see studious teens and bibliophiles browsing the vast array of books on display, as the mansion was turned into a city library.
Walk the stately grounds, visit the library to quietly observe the stately building, and pause for a rest in the garden, in the shade of towering palm trees.
Shop at Marché Forville
The Forville market is the largest market in Cannes for fresh produce, and it can be found on the edge of Le Suquet, a short stroll from the Old Port.
The covered market is one of my favourite free things to do in Cannes. It’s a foodie’s dream and a pleasure to walk through stalls selling everything from organic fruit and vegetables to fresh seafood, cheeses, artisan bread, pasta and olive oils.
Many vendors allow visitors to sample their wares before buying, so it’s the perfect place to try “socca” – a crispy chickpea pancake, or purchase gourmet treats before retiring to the beach with a picnic.
A large section of the market is also dedicated to seasonal flowers, infusing a delightful perfume into the air for all to enjoy. Marché Forville is open daily except for Mondays (when there’s a brocante instead) from early morning until 1pm.
Admire Luxury Yachts at Le Vieux Port
The Old Port or Le Vieux Port is one of the oldest areas and most interesting places to see in Cannes. It’s a great starting point from which to explore the city, and from here, it’s possible to jump aboard a yacht and sail along the French Riviera to Antibes, Nice, St. Tropez or Monaco.
Explore historical landmarks or enjoy stroll along the new jetty, before sipping a glass of wine while watching luxury yachts bob up and down as the sun sets.
In September each year, the port becomes the focal point of the city as international yachts and boating enthusiasts arrive for the Cannes Yachting Festival. One of the best ways to observe the spectacle is from a creperie or bar by the water’s edge or along Esplanade Pantiero.
Discover Art History at Musée des Explorations du Monde
On Le Suquet hill overlooking the Old Port of Cannes is the Museum of World Explorations (formerly Musée de la Castre), set on the site of a medieval monastery built by the Lérins monks.
The museum, one of the top Cannes attractions, mesmerises with an eclectic collection of art, antiquities, ethnography and archaeological relics from the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions.
Stroll through the exhibits, stopping to learn the stories of each piece, and don’t forget to pop outside to the courtyard where you’ll find the watchtower.
Visitors can also climb the 109 steps to gain breathtaking 360-degree views across the bay towards St. Tropez and the islands. Just watch your head on the way up, as the doorframes are very low!
Back inside, the 11th century Chapel of Sainte-Anne is the last room you’ll visit, and it is a must-see for music lovers. It’s home to over 400 musical instruments from all around the world.
Summer Evening Concert at Notre-Dame-d’Espérance Church
While visiting the Museum of World Explorations and the Chapel of Sainte-Anne, don’t forget to drop into Notre-Dame-d’Espérance Church (Our Lady of Hope Church) also on Le Suquet Hill.
Its construction dates to the early 16th century, and upon opening, it became instantly popular as the original church in Cannes was becoming too busy due to the city’s increasing population.
The church interior is characterful with Gothic and Renaissance architecture, statues, and two chapels at the sides are dedicated to the brotherhoods of craftsmen who curated the interior design.
The church is a prominent Cannes tourist attraction, but also during the month of July, the square in the courtyard transforms into a charming outdoor performance venue for evening classical concerts and music festivals known locally as Nuits Musicales du Suquet.
Stroll along Jetée Josephine Baker
This newly built pier cuts into the Mediterranean Sea and creates a protective barrier for the Cannes Vieux Port. Coincidentally, it’s also a lovely place for a stroll and to see the seaside town from another angle.
Accessed via the Marina parking lot, and right next to the public beach of the Vieux Port, you can wander along right the way to the small lighthouse at the end. En route, you’ll find places to rest and take in the views.
The jetée is right next to where you board the ferries out to the Lerins Islands, which brings us to our next suggestion…
Take a Day Trip from Cannes
Looking for places to visit near Cannes for a day trip? It’s possible to set sail from Cannes and explore all along the French Riviera, taking in the glitz and glamour of St Tropez, the fortifications of Antibes or the bustling promenades of Nice.
However, some of the most interesting places to explore are the Lérins Islands. They encompass an archipelago of four French islands, out of which only Sainte Marguerite and Saint Honorat remain inhabited.
Île Saint-Marguerite is the largest, with a nature reserve that attracts migratory birds throughout the year. Wander to Fort Royal, where the Man in the Iron Mask was said to be imprisoned or stroll through eucalyptus trees before stopping for a picnic by the shore.
History enthusiasts will also adore visiting neighbouring Île Saint-Honorat. The saint (of the same name) founded a huge Cistercian abbey here in the 5th century, and today the monastery is well-known for its wine, honey and olive oils which can be purchased in the gift shop.
Visitors preferring to remain on terra firma can venture inland to the beautiful hillside town of Grasse to create their own bespoke perfumes or get lost in the charming art-filled streets of Mougins.
Visit During Cannes Film Festival
Culturally, the annual international film festival held in May is one of Cannes’ top attractions with over 30,000 writers, actors, directors and media moguls visiting the city during this time.
Most major movie screenings take place at The Palais des Festivals where it’s possible to rub shoulders with movie stars on any given day. Unused tickets for the screenings are occasionally offered to the public too, so be sure to pack your finest attire to increase your chance of admission!
If arriving at other times of the year, book a tour of the Grand Auditorium, and if there are no paparazzi around, create your own photo opportunities on the red carpet at the entrance!
If you’re not visiting Cannes in May, be sure to still add this stop to your walking tour, as you can view the star-studded floor and try to spot your favourite celebrity’s handprint among the many on display.
Another place to immerse oneself in the festival atmosphere is inside the legendary Carlton Hotel on La Croisette. Hollywood producers and artists often stay here and it’s the perfect place to sip cocktails in the lobby or secure a table in the hotel restaurant.
Swim to Cannes Underwater Museum
If you’re seeking unusual Cannes things to do, this is the first underwater eco-museum of its kind in France. It consists of six stone sculptures located a few metres below the water’s surface off the coast of Île Sainte-Marguerite.
The two-metre high, 10-ton sculpted faces are embedded into the seabed and split into two halves. They are said to depict the legendary people of Cannes and its neighbouring islands. In addition, each piece is constructed from an eco-neutral PH marine material, to help encourage and attract underwater flora and fauna to the area.
Anyone who can swim can visit the subterranean museum, and as these sculptures are submerged close to the shore, only a mask and snorkel are required.
Take a French Cooking Class
Spend a day cooking traditional French cuisine at La Serviette Blanche. The award-winning culinary school in Cannes offers a local market tour followed by a hands-on cooking class held in a luxury centrally located apartment.
During the class, participants are introduced to local gastronomy and will begin to understand the Mediterranean influences, herbs and spices that make this cuisine unique.
The participants will learn to create everything from tapas-style dishes to French appetizers, fondue and typical Bistro cuisine, then sit down to feast on the fruits of their labour accompanied by friends old and new and a glass or two of wine!
Cannes is family-friendly and a couples’ favourite, encompassing a blend of historic and modern, with beautiful beaches, amazing shopping, dining and unique art and architecture which can be enjoyed at any time of the year – be sure to add Cannes sightseeing to your bucket list!