If you ask me, a week is not enough to explore this beautiful coastal strip in the Southeast part of France also known as French Riviera. There are numerous underrated but gorgeous places apart from the popular ones that you can see with more time. But I understand, to squeeze your travels in just 22 annual leaves can sometimes be a difficult task. And if you are someone like me who loves experiencing the local life by exploring its hidden gems, you need time. After all, that is what makes you a real traveler.
But even with a limited time, a week is sufficient to get tanned under the French sun, to get drunk on wine or espresso (whatever floats your boat) while covering the not-to-miss spots around French Riviera, if you plan it right. So here is my practical itinerary for you to follow with things to do if you just have a week in hand! P.S I wouldn’t mind spending another week just to relive those memories.
We decided to make Nice as our base for 3 days and cover surrounding areas from here. The public transport is good and quite cheap. Intercity is well connected by trams and there are AC buses to take you anywhere outside of Nice like Cannes or Antibes etc. But if you are traveling with family, I would suggest hiring a taxi as it is more convenient.
We landed in Cote D’Azur airport at night time and took the airport bus to Cathédrale-Vieille Ville tram stop in the center of Nice. From there we took a tram closest to our Airbnb and I was surprised at how easy it all was for the first timers in France. Make sure you download Google translate as ticket machines and tram stops have everything written in French. This app was our best friend during the trip! And always keep change with you for metro journeys.
Spend time in Nice
I couldn’t write enough about how beautiful this city is. There is so much to do in Nice from wandering aimlessly for hours in its charming old town to lounging on the beach or romantic walks along the Promenade. We started our day by checking out the Nice old town or Vieille Ville and walked all the way to Castle hill making our way through old town and Cours Saleya. It was at Lou pilha leva where we had the best Socca, a local dish made from chickpea flour with coffee. You can sit down here to have lunch and/or for people watching.
There are many cute fashion shops in this part of the town, selling vintage clothes and bags, but I found them a little overpriced.
Head to the Cours Saleya, local flower and vegetable market which is open until 2 pm, so you can cover this first thing in the morning. Cours Saleya is also lined with some of the famous cafes and restaurants in Nice where you can head to after a tiring shopping session. Or there are some nice ones overlooking the sea by Promenade, I can’t forget the gorgeous sunset we witnessed from Savoia Caffe that evening.
Castle Hill, which is at walking distance from Cours Saleya is a must-do for a splendid bird eye view of Promenade des Anglais and Nice city. Spend the evening strolling at the Promenade des Anglais, and enjoy the cool sea breeze.
When in Nice you must experience eating on the outdoor benches at any restaurant really. We found Restaurant du Gesu next to cathedral in old town while walking past it and decided to stop there for lunch. Pizza Pili, a local pizzeria famous for its huge variety of pizza was our go-to stop for dinner every night. They only do take-away but their single pizza was enough for the two of us at just 8-9 euros depending on the toppings. I think it was our cheapest meal on this trip and oh so tasty!
The beaches here in Nice are not sand but pebble so we decided not to go into the water here.
Travel to Cannes and Antibes
Cannes and Antibes are on the same route from Nice and not very far away, so you can cover them together in a day. Hop on the local Bus no. 200 to Cannes which takes about an hour and is a bargain at 1.50 euros. It is the cheapest but not the fastest way to travel so keep that in mind. We really wanted to rent a self-drive car but for that, our Indian driving license had to be french translated which we did not know before. (bummer!)
Cannes as we all know is famous for the international film festival but you will find this small town flocked by the rich and wealthy all year round. The perfectly lined yachts and its high end boutiques are a proof to that.
The La Croisette boulevard is a top tourist attraction here lined with luxury designer stores as well as tastefully done restaurants and hotels. If you love fashion like me and enjoy a little window shopping then this is a must do for you. Don’t feel bad if this place makes you feel insignificant as it happens to the most of us!
The walk along the boulevard leads to the promenade where you can sit down to relax or take some pictures while cooling down with much-needed ice cream.
Next, hop onto a bus from Cannes and pay 1.50 euros for about 20 minutes ride to Gare d’Antibes. This quaint little town has a totally opposite vibe than Cannes. It is laid back with people singing and dancing in its narrow cobbled stone streets and a perfect break from all the glitz and glam of Cannes.
Antibes also has some of the best sandy beaches in French Riviera besides its chill vibe. The 15 minutes walk down to the old town beach was tiring but we plopped ourselves right next to water as soon as we reached and jumped straight into it moments later. We had picked up some sandwiches and drinks from a local boulangerie on the way and had our best picnic ever by the sea!
After watching the sun set down in water, we packed our stuff and headed back to Nice thinking about this tiring but eventful day.
Tip – Leave early if you are coming from Nice and check out Cannes for its tourist spots. Then spend a quality time lounging at Antibes beach and you can also enjoy the fun night life here before leaving back for Nice.
Eze Village and Monaco city
The direct bus to Eze Village from Nice takes about half an hour and drops you right at the foot of the hill from where you walk up to the old town. Sit at the right side of bus if you must, to enjoy the sea views on this uphill journey.
Be prepared to walk and don’t forget to carry the guide map available at tourist centre as it saves you from getting lost in this little town. It feels like a treasure trove of historical places and cute shops that show up out of nowhere. Some shops have the tiniest door possible but are beautifully decorated.
Have lunch with a view at any of the hilltop restaurants or wind down with a glass of chilled Rosé and fresh Pizza in the restaurant below before leaving for Monaco.
You can explore Eze village in about 4 hours and head to Monaco from there. Now the thing about Monaco is, it is vast. All the famous spots are spread across the city that you cannot cover by foot, so plan accordingly.
Monte Carlo casino is a typical tourist spot but a must visit if you love architecture and grandeur. In case you fancy rubbing shoulders with regulars at the casino, you can buy a ticket and try your luck by all means.
Head to Monaco Ville by local bus and check out the famous Prince’s palace and the huge Saint Nicholas Cathedral which has free entry. Enjoy a beautiful view of city from the gardens or a cafe overlooking the palace.
Don’t forget to get your passport stamped at the tourist center in Monaco as a souvenir from this city.
Day Four and Five
Since we had booked our flight back to London from Grenoble, we got to see this beautiful town in the French Alps. Only negative about it, travel time from Nice! It took us about 8 hours from Nice by bus.
But in the end it was all worth it to see this old town located at the foot of French Alps, surrounded by mountains. Our Airbnb in Grenoble was the cheapest but tastefully decorated single girl pad with fairy lights, wooden centre pieces, perfect snuggly bed and the nicest host! Plus it was a stone’s throw away from nearest metro.
Food wise, we had the best Indian vegetarian food here and found many multi-cuisine restaurants in the city. The only touristy thing that we did in Grenoble apart from checking local boutiques and French pharmacies was Bastille cable car tour and totally loved it. I insist you to try it if you ever are in Grenoble. Don’t be surprised to see people trekking to the top of hill while you take a cable car, French people do take their workout seriously!
Grenoble is perfect if you are looking for a pretty location for your next winter vacation and you can add Lake Annecy tour to your itinerary as well.
Tips to save the moolah
- Book your trip in the off-season, somewhere around the beginning of Fall. The weather is still warm and it is not crazy crowded. French Riviera is expensive, yes, but planning ahead and booking well in advance is going to save you a lot of money. Look for free cancellation options on Trip Advisor and reserve the destination but keep looking for good deals.
- We visited in August which is the peak season for travelers from around Europe (holiday season), but planning in advance helped us save some money on flight tickets and we found a good place to stay in our budget.
- Stay in well-connected cities like Nice, it is large but less expensive than Cannes or St. Tropez for example, and has good public transport service.
- Book Airbnb if you enjoy living like a local and you also get to cook your own meals or at least fix some breakfast which can save you cash too. Plus shopping groceries in France is a must to experience.
- A single tram ticket can cost you around 1.50 to 1.80 euros and is valid for about an hour which you can use again for a different journey but within that hour.
- Buy a beach mat and/or umbrella from a local store if you are going to lounge on a public beach with free entry.
- For Private beach experience, be ready to shell out anything from 10 to 20 euros per person per sun bed or find restaurants that give you this option for free if you dine with them.
- Shop in small towns for souvenirs as the prices are not too high and you will definitely find better deals. I found Antibes perfect for shopping.
- Last but not the least, make a daily budget for food and travel and try and stick to that. Tracking your cash will prevent you from spending extra which you can use to buy something nice later.
I hope this article will help you plan your next trip to South of France and do drop me an email if you have any further queries!