With its wonderful climate and chic reputation, Cannes is a great place to visit. This city, on France’s sparkling Riviera, has many fascinating cultural attractions as well as some great places where you can relax, indulge and watch how the other half live. Here’s our guide to the top 20 things to do in Cannes.
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 a mile. This is where you’ll find all the smartest hotels, many of which have their own private beaches. If you don’t mind paying for a sun lounger, you can even choose to enjoy waiter service on the beach. Watch Cannes’ chicest residents walking their dogs, jogging, or just sitting down and having a chat on one of the chairs lining the route.
The French are renowned for their daily markets, which are replete with local, seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables. Head to Cannes’ Marché Forville any morning (except Mondays) to try the local produce (olives, meats, seafood and more) and have a bite to eat.
The Cannes Yachting Festival runs every September and is 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 – simply play out your tycoon fantasies by visiting all the sleekest sailing machines. The festival attracts an international crowd, with about 50% of the attendees coming from overseas. It takes place in two locations: the Vieux Port (the Old Port) and the Port Pierre Canto.
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 200-acre wide public space of trails and hikes, which culminate in a giant cross at the highest point. The park is a great place for picnics.
Louis Hourlier built the Town Hall in just three years and construction was completed in 1877. Looking out to the port, the building is a wonderful example of 19th-century architecture. This is the place where people come to register everything in local life and, like most French towns, it forms the beating heart of the city.
The Old Port of Cannes is an interesting mix of traditional charm and immense wealth. It’s a great place to watch huge yachts arrive into town while having a drink in one of the cool bars that line the water’s edge. It’s an Instagram favourite at sunrise or sunset when the magical colours of the portside buildings seem to come alive.
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). You’ll also find family-run restaurants on these winding streets.
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.
Built in the 14th and 15th centuries, this wonderful church sits at the top of the hill above Cannes and offers wonderful views over the town. It’s a nice complement to its neighbour, the Musée de la Castre, which was built a couple of centuries before. Together, they make up Cannes’ historical architecture.
The second-largest island off the coast of Cannes has an amazing abbey, where the monks in residence still make wine under a vow of silence – centuries ago, these monks owned most of Cannes. It also has a wonderful fortress and a pretty port. It’s well worth a visit to see the quieter side of Cannes and, if you choose, you can stay over night, as they also have rooms.
You’ll find the island of Sainte-Marguerite next to Saint-Honorat. There are four islands just off of the coast of Cannes and this is the largest (the two smallest can only be reached by private boat). Sainte-Marguerite has some lovely beaches and old buildings and is a great place to take some time out from busy Cannes.
The Cannes Film Festival is one of the most famous international festivals in the world, celebrating 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 its most famous street, La Croisette.
The Centre d’Art La Malmaison is housed in what used to be the Grand Hotel on La Croisette. The hotel was demolished and all that remains is the Games Room, where you can now find lots of artwork from the 20th and 21st centuries. It’s a brilliant modern-art museum with fantastic temporary exhibitions. La Malmaison is a must-see.
The InterContinental Carlton Hotel in Cannes is one of the most prestigious of the town’s addresses. It was built in the early 20th century during the architectural period known as the Belle Époque, and the domes are said to be modelled on the breasts of a famous courtesan. Anybody who is anybody stays at the InterContinental Carlton.
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.
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.
On the other side of town, away from La Croisette, is another unmissable and popular beach, Plage du Midi. There are no sun loungers 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.
When you see pictures of stars on the red carpet in Cannes during the film festival, they’re almost always standing in front of the Lumière Theatre at the Palais. This is the Cannes Film Festival’s true home and has no less than 18 cinema screens when the festival is in full swing in May.
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.
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.