20 Unmissable Things to Do in Cannes, France

Elevated view of Cannes marina, Cote d'Azur, French Riviera, France
Elevated view of Cannes marina, Cote d'Azur, French Riviera, France | © Brian Lawrence / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Alex Ledsom
20 April 2021

With a Mediterranean climate and sleek reputation, Cannes is a great place to visit. This city, on the glittering French Riviera, has shopping on the Rue d’Antibes, churches such as Notre-Dame d’Esperance, beaches including la Plage du Midi and cruising on the Croisette — here’s our guide.

La Croisette

Building, Park
Map View
Miramar Hotel, La Croisette, Cannes, Cote d?Azur, Southern France, France, Europe, PublicGround
Miramar Hotel, La Croisette, Cannes, Cote d?Azur, Southern France, France, Europe, PublicGround | © 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 a mile. 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 Cannes residents strut around town.

Marché Forville

Market, French, Mediterranean
Map View
Think you know your cheese? Familiar with your fruits de mer? With such a large offering at the Cannes Marché Forville, even the most accomplished foodie might need to think again after a visit 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.

Cannes Yachting Festival

Building
Map View
Cannes, France - September 12, 2017: Cannes Yachting Festival with Ferretti Group, Sunseeker, Gulf Craft, Azimut Benetti and more
Cannes, France - September 12, 2017: Cannes Yachting Festival with Ferretti Group, Sunseeker, Gulf Craft, Azimut Benetti and more | © 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 regardless. This is the place for shipbuilders to show off their grands designs, so 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. Some of the yachts are available to charter after the festival, so keep your favourites in mind in case you should come into a little money – say, €500,000. Don‘t worry, that includes your crew.

La Croix-des-Gardes

Park
Map View
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, 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.

La Mairie de Cannes (Town Hall)

Building
Map View
Construction of the grand town hall, designed by Cannes architect Louis Hourlier, was completed in 1877, taking 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 the 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 plenty of time to enjoy his creations up close – he became a town councillor in 1895.

Le Vieux Port

Building, Shop
Map View
Old harbour Vieux Port, old town Le Suquet, Cannes, french riviera, South France, France, Europe
Old harbour Vieux Port, old town Le Suquet, Cannes, french riviera, South France, France, Europe | © Helmut Corneli / Alamy Stock Photo
The Old Port of Cannes is a picturesque mix of traditional charm and immense wealth, 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.

Le Suquet

Building
Map View
Le Suquet, Old Town, Cannes, Cote d Azur, French Riviera, Alpes Maritimes, Provence, France, Europe
Le Suquet, Old Town, Cannes, Cote d Azur, French Riviera, Alpes Maritimes, Provence, France, Europe | © 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.

Musée de la Castre

Building
Map View
Cannes, Musee de la Castre (Castre Museum)
Cannes, Musee de la Castre (Castre Museum) | © 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.

Notre-Dame d'Espérance

Church
Map View
Notre Dame d'Esperance church in the old town, Cannes France
Notre Dame d'Esperance church in the old town, Cannes France | © 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. The bell tower is a nice complement to its neighbour, the Musée de la Castre, which was built a couple of centuries before.

The Island of Saint-Honorat

Monastery, Natural Feature, Shop
Map View
Peaceful Lerins Abbey Cistercian monastery on the island of Saint-Honorat on the French Riviera near Cannes.  Lerins islands. Best travel locations
Peaceful Lerins Abbey Cistercian monastery on the island of Saint-Honorat on the French Riviera near Cannes. Lerins islands. Best travel locations | © Elena Kudenko / Alamy Stock Photo
The second largest of the four Lérins Islands south of Cannes has an amazing abbey where the monks in residence still make wine under a vow of silence. A hermit founded a monastery on the island around 410AD, and centuries ago these monks owned most of Cannes. Take ferry here and you can easily spend an afternoon exploring the medieval walls and cloisters of Lérins Abbey, which are surrounded and often covered by lush vegetation. The car-free island also features a pretty port and a towering fortified monastery that appears to rise straight out of the sea. It’s well worth a visit to see this quieter side of Cannes and, if you choose, you can stay overnight at the Lérins Abbey hotel, where meals are taken in the hotel refectory – in silence. There are only 30 spaces; check ahead for availability.

Sainte-Marguerite Island

Natural Feature
Map View
France, Alpes Maritimes, Cannes, Lerins island of Sainte Marguerite, Vauban fort in the foreground, Saint Honorat Island in the
France, Alpes Maritimes, Cannes, Lerins island of Sainte Marguerite, Vauban fort in the foreground, Saint Honorat Island in the | © Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo
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 has some lovely beaches and is now suited for a quiet day trip away from busy Cannes – though with it’s commanding position overlooking the Pointe Croisette peninsula and the Bay of Cannes, it was once a military stronghold, fortified in the star-shaped Vauban style in the 1600s. It later became a prison that operated until the 20th century, holding famous inmates including the French inventor of the steamboat, Marquis Jouffroy d’Abbans (he was involved in an illegal duel in his 20s), and the Man in the Iron Mask, a prisoner whom King Louis XIV wanted to remain unidentified for his 11-year stint. Take a walk around the battlements and the museum at Fort Royal to the north of the island and check out the remains of a cannon ball kiln, the Four à Boulets (ball oven), to the east. You’ll also find the Musée de la Mer housed at Fort Royal, featuring Roman and Saracen shipwrecks.

Cannes Film Festival

Cinema
Map View

Of course, Cannes is home to the coolest and most illustrious international film festival, 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.

Centre d'Art La Malmaison

Art Gallery, Museum, Building
Map View
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 facade with wrought-iron balconies and palm trees outside, it’s a brilliant modern-art museum inside and out, with fantastic temporary exhibitions. La Malmaison is a must-see.

InterContinental Carlton Hotel

Hotel
Hotel InterContinental Carlton and Da Vinci restaurant (right), Cannes, Provence, France, Europe
Hotel InterContinental Carlton and Da Vinci restaurant (right), Cannes, Provence, France, Europe | © Martin Thomas Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
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 Belle Époque architectural period (1880 to 1914), and can be recognised by its two egg-shaped domes, said to be modelled on the breasts of a famous courtesan (anatomically speaking, it seems unlikely). Anybody who is anybody stays at the InterContinental Carlton – expect chandeliers, frescoes on the ceiling, gold capitals on the Corinthian columns and the keys to a Lotus in the valet’s hand.
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Rue d'Antibes

Shop, Shopping Mall
Map View
Rue d'Antibes in Cannes with unidentified people. It is a shopping street parallel to the Croisette with many design
Rue d'Antibes in Cannes with unidentified people. It is a shopping street parallel to the Croisette with many design | © 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.

Palm Beach

Architectural Landmark, Natural Feature
Map View
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.

Plage du Midi

Natural Feature
Map View
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.

Palais des Festivals

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Frankreich, Cote d Azur, Cannes, Palais des Festivals et des Congres
Frankreich, Cote d Azur, Cannes, Palais des Festivals et des Congres | © Hackenberg-Photo-Cologne / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

Hotel Barrière Le Majestic

Hotel
4.4/5 (954 Reviews)
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Courtesy of 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.

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La Serviette Blanche

Market, Restaurant, French
Map View
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.
These recommendations were updated on April 20, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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