The Top Unmissable Things to Do in Cannes, France

Take your time exploring Cannes, and enjoy its sights, big and small
Take your time exploring Cannes, and enjoy its sights, big and small | © robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo
Alex Ledsom

A trip to the French Riviera wouldn’t be complete without visiting Cannes. While many visit for the annual Cannes Film Festival, there’s plenty to see in this Mediterranean town beyond A-list actors. Explore the quaint old quarter of Le Suquet, admire the view from the church of Notre-Dame d’Esperance or indulge in retail therapy on the Rue d’Antibes. Check out Culture Trip’s guide to Cannes’ top spots.

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Stroll along La Croisette

Building, Park

View of the pale pink and white Miramar Hotel, on the corner of a crossroads with La Croisette, Cannes.
© imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo
Like the Promenade des Anglais in neighbouring Nice, La Croisette is one of the most iconic streets in France – it certainly dominates Cannes, running the length of the seafront for 1.6km (1mi). Dotted with designer boutiques, palm trees and casinos, it’s here that you’ll find the smartest hotels, many of which have their own private beaches. If you don’t mind paying for a sun lounger, you can enjoy waiter service on the beach as you look out over the Bay of Cannes – otherwise, pick one of the public benches lining La Croisette and turn your gaze the other way to watch the chic residents of Cannes strut around town.

Sample the finest local produce at Marché Forville

Market, French, Mediterranean

Stalls at the Marché Forville are chock-full of fresh fruit and vegetables, from lemons to leeks.
© Hackenberg-Photo-Cologne / Alamy Stock Photo
Think you know your cheese? Familiar with your fruits de mer? With such a large offering at the Marché Forville, even the most accomplished foodie will learn something here. Inside it might look like a nondescript sports hall, but the buzz is distinctly French as locals browse for their favourite food among the dozens of stalls. Come along on any morning (except Monday) to try some local olives and neck a few oysters, or pick up some paella for lunch.

Visit the Cannes Yachting Festival


A row of moored speedboats at the Cannes Yachting Festival.
© Mandoga Media / Alamy Stock Photo

In September, the Cannes Yachting Festival provides a chance to admire the latest boats and luxury yachts on sale. If you can’t afford the down payment on a vessel, don’t worry – put on your least crumpled clothes and play out your tycoon fantasies by visiting all the sleekest sailing machines. This is the place for shipbuilders to show off their grands designs, so the festival attracts an international crowd, with about 50 percent of the attendees coming from overseas. It takes place in two locations: Le Vieux Port (Old Port) and Port Pierre Canto.

Walk around La Croix-des-Gardes


When the small village of Cannes was first becoming popular with British holidaymakers in the 19th century, one man built a sizeable château to the west of the village and laid out extensive gardens. These have now become a wide public space of trails and hikes – the Parc Naturel Forestier de la Croix-des-Gardes – which culminate in a giant polished-steel cross at the highest point. The park is a great place for a walk and a picnic.

Admire La Mairie de Cannes (Town Hall)


Exterior view of multi-storey La Mairie de Cannes, which has a clock atop its central tower and multiple French flags on its facade.
© Andrey Khrobostov / Alamy Stock Photo
Construction of the grand town hall, designed by Cannes architect Louis Hourlier, was completed in 1877 – it took just three years to build. A few years later, in 1880, Hourlier’s bandstand was erected just over the street in Allée de la Liberté Charles de Gaulle – the slanted shape improves its acoustics. Looking out over Le Vieux Port (Old Port), La Mairie de Cannes is a splendid example of early French Third Republic architecture, complete with an ornate clock face housed under a mansard roof. Later in life, Hourlier had time to enjoy his creations up close – he became a town councillor in 1895.

People-watch in Le Vieux Port

Building, Shop

Le Vieux Port harbour in Cannes, which is overlooked by rows of pastel-coloured buildings and a hilltop fort.
© robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo
A picturesque mix of traditional charm and immense wealth, Le Vieux Port (Old Port) is where the stern medieval architecture of Le Suquet towers over (and perhaps looks down upon) the glamorous rows of yachts lined up in the port. Pick one of the cool bars that line the water’s edge to watch the huge ships glide in and out of town, and perhaps you’ll see the gilded few who get ferried to and from the biggest yachts. It’s an Instagram favourite at sunrise or sunset, when the magical colours of the portside buildings take on a new lease of life.

Get lost in Le Suquet


A woman walks down a cobbled street in Le Suquet, Cannes, which is lined by traditional-looking shops.
© Wendy Connett / Alamy Stock Photo
Le Suquet, a Roman settlement above the city, is the oldest area in Cannes. The neighbourhood is a delight to stroll around, and the pastel-coloured buildings give a sense of what Cannes was like in the 18th and 19th centuries (before the hordes of holidaymakers arrived). Explore the steep, cobbled streets in search of subterranean bars, family-run restaurants and great views of the Bay of Cannes.

Step back in time at Musée de la Castre


A selection of artefacts are displayed in backlit wall-mounted cabinets in a large, vaulted room at the Musée de la Castre.
© JOHN KELLERMAN / Alamy Stock Photo
The Musée de la Castre is located within a medieval castle that was once home to the monks of Lérins. Positioned high above the city, it provides amazing views of Cannes and beyond. In the 19th century, the museum was bequeathed an eclectic art collection by a local resident, which includes medieval artefacts, Asian instruments and unusual paintings. Climb all 109 steps to the top of the medieval tower for a commanding 360-degree view of Cannes.

Go sailing around the French Riviera

Natural Feature

A small sailing boat floats off the sandy coast of the French Riviera.
© Dream Yacht Charter

Cannes is the perfect jumping-off point for exploring the Cote d’Azur by boat. There are a wide array of vessels to hire for the day – from small motorboats to glamorous 12m (40ft) catamarans – many of which come with a skipper to take charge of the helm. If you’d rather spend more time at sea than on the land, you could also book a multi-day sailing holiday.

Enjoy the view from Notre-Dame d'Espérance


Exterior view of Notre Dame dEsperance church in Cannes, France, with views of the sea in the background.
© Ferruccio / Alamy Stock Photo
Built in the 14th and 15th centuries, this gothic church in Le Suquet, at the top of a hill above Cannes, offers wonderful views over the town. You just have to scale dozens of steps to get there. The bell tower is a nice complement to its neighbour, the Musée de la Castre, which was built a couple of centuries before. If you visit in July, keep an eye out for the Musical Nights of Le Suquet, a one-week festival that takes place every year.

Explore Île Saint-Honorat

Monastery, Natural Feature, Shop

Aerial view of the attractive abbey on the island of Saint-Honorat, which is surrounded by forest.
© Elena Kudenko / Alamy Stock Photo
Venture across to the second largest of the four Lérins Islands, just a short boat ride south from Cannes. It’s home to an abbey, founded by a hermit in 410CE, when monks owned most of Cannes. Today, the monks in residence still make wine under a vow of silence. Spend an afternoon exploring the abbey itself as well as the rest of the car-free island, including the pretty port and towering fortified monastery, which appears to rise straight out of the sea. It’s well worth a visit to see the quieter side of Cannes.

Make a day trip to Île Sainte-Marguerite

Natural Feature

Aerial view of the Fort Royal on the densely forested of island of Sainte Marguerite, with Saint Honorat Island in the background.
© Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo
Île Sainte-Marguerite, the largest Lérins island, just north of Saint-Honorat, is reached by a ferry service (the two smallest can only be reached by private boat). The sleepy island was famously home to a prison that housed the Man in the Iron Mask, a prisoner whom King Louis XIV wanted to remain unidentified for his 11-year confinement. Take a walk around the battlements and the museum at Fort Royal, to the north of the island. Check out the remains of a cannonball kiln (four à boulets), to the east.

Catch a movie at the Cannes Film Festival


Aerial view of the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival, which is surrounded by large crowds of people in black-tie outfits.
© / Alamy Stock Photo

Of course, Cannes is home to the world’s most illustrious international film festival – the Cannes Film Festival – which celebrates both art-house and mainstream cinema. Cannes comes alive every May when the most celebrated names in the film world descend on the city. Although the festival takes place all over town, in every theatre, cinema and hotel, the main concentration is on the city’s most swanky street, La Croisette. Look out for world-famous actors, ultra-rich yacht-owners and some excellent films.

Peruse artwork at the Centre d'Art La Malmaison

Art Gallery, Museum, Building

The Centre d’Art La Malmaison is housed in what was once part of the 19th-century Grand Hotel on La Croisette. The hotel was demolished in 1958 – except for the games room, which now houses lots of artwork from the 20th and 21st centuries. With its grand, balconied facade and palm trees outside, it’s a brilliant modern art museum inside and out, with fantastic temporary exhibitions. La Malmaison is a must-see.

Shop along the Rue d'Antibes

Shop, Shopping Mall

Shoppers stroll along the Rue dAntibes in Cannes, which is lined with traditional multi-storey buildings that have wrought-iron balconies.
© Christian Müller / Alamy Stock Photo
Cannes is well known for its shopping and, along with some of the other towns on the French Riviera, or in the South of France (Aix-en-Provence springs to mind), it has some of the chicest shops and boutiques in the country. Rue d’Antibes is a particularly wonderful place to window-shop and watch the super rich in action. Even if shopping isn’t your jam, the architecture is well worth admiring – many of the buildings are decorated with sculptures by Pellegrini.

Spend a morning on Palm Beach

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark

View of sandy Palm Beach, which is covered with sun bathers and palm trees, and sits in front of a promenade of tall buildings.
© Greg Balfour Evans / Alamy Stock Photo
There are lots of charming public beaches in Cannes, where it doesn’t cost a thing to spend the day on one of the world’s most admired coastlines. If you’re looking for a quiet beach, you could do much worse than Palm Beach, which is at the tip of the headland and slightly away from the madness of La Croisette. It’s ideal for families and windsurfers because it’s quite shallow near the shoreline.

Sunbathe on Plage du Midi

Natural Feature

On the other side of town, away from La Croisette, is another unmissable and popular beach, Plage du Midi. There are no sunloungers for rent, though, so join the locals and pop down a towel wherever you can find a spot (as with all public beaches on the French Riviera, just watch your valuables). There are plenty of restaurants and ice-cream stalls around for refreshments.

Stay at the Hotel Barrière Le Majestic


Plush lounge area in a suite at the Hotel Barrière Le Majestic, with cream sofas and armchairs, a large, black coffee table and an amazing sea view.
© Hôtel Barrière Le Majestic Cannes / Expedia

While the Carlton Hotel might be the most well-known place to stay in Cannes among out-of-towners, the Hotel Barrière Le Majestic is just as iconic among the locals. The hotel is right on La Croisette and has its own private beach. It also hosts lots of events (particularly in the summer months), like funky club nights, and is a good place to watch the Bastille Day fireworks in July. Fans of Robert De Niro may recognise the hotel entrance from the 1998 thriller Ronin.

Learn about French cooking at La Serviette Blanche

Market, Restaurant, French

A row of amuse-bouches in black spoons sit on a white tablecloth next to a row of small white plates containing seared scallops.
© Zavalnyuk Sergey / Alamy Stock Photo
The French Riviera attracts visitors for its culinary scene as much as its beautiful scenery and temperate climate. While the majority of cooking classes in the region are held in nearby Nice or Aix-en-Provence, La Serviette Blanche in Cannes offers market tours, cooking classes and chef’s table evenings, where you can eat in the company of a top local chef as they cook up a delightful dinner.
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