Top Things to Do in the French Riviera in Your Twenties

Live life to its fullest with a trip to the French Riviera in your twenties
Live life to its fullest with a trip to the French Riviera in your twenties | © Natallia Haidutskaya / Alamy Stock Photo
Alex Ledsom

The French Riviera is notoriously expensive, but it doesn’t mean travelling here is prohibitive if you’re on a budget. Dancing ‘til dawn at one of Europe’s top festivals and kayaking through the Gorges du Verdon are among a handful of reasonably priced bucket list activities you need to tick off if you’re in your twenties in France. Read on to discover the rest.

1. Watch opera for free

Architectural Landmark

Every summer just before the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence begins, there is a spectacular night of opera on the famous Cours Mirabeau. Distinguished companies arrive to put on a performance on the street, under the plane trees. Anyone can turn up for free – it’s all organised by the local council and is one of the most popular annual events in Aix.

2. Go sailing around the Mediterranean

Historical Landmark

DYC France
Courtesy of Dream Yacht Charter
Sailing is notoriously a rich man’s sport. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get out on the water. SamBoat rent out reasonably priced vessels for all budgets – whether you want to zip around in a motorboat or splash out on a luxury 12m (40ft) catamaran. Alternatively, book a week-long sailing holiday with Dream Yacht Charter – it’s surprisingly affordable when you split the cost between friends. Plus, you don’t even need sailing experience – skippered charters come with a captain to sail the boat for you.

3. Visit the Nice Carnival

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

© anitasstudio/Shutterstock
Nice’s carnival is one of the biggest in the world. Each February, revellers take to the streets for one whole week to watch the parades; one of the most famous is the Battle of the Flowers, where hundreds of flowers are thrown by children on floats into the crowds. While most events are ticketed, the opening ceremony and fireworks display are free to attend. Dressing up is hugely encouraged.

4. Go rock jumping into the sea in Marseille

Natural Feature

France, Bouches du Rhone, Marseille, european capital of culture 2013, rocks near Les Goudes village
© GARDEL Bertrand / hemis.fr / Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo

The shoreline along the Côte d’Azur changes while moving east, but in Marseille, there are lots of great rocky patches where the locals dare each other to jump from. It can be thrilling, but be sure to know how deep the water is – a good rule of thumb is to make sure that others are jumping there safely, particularly parents with kids. Watching can be fun, too, for those who decide against taking the plunge.

5. Party in Saint-Tropez

Natural Feature

Sun beds and umbrellas on the golden sand of Pampelonne beach near St Tropez in the south of France
© Alan Moore / Alamy Stock Photo

Saint-Tropez has a reputation for being very expensive and very chic. Visiting the local restaurants and bars can drain your wallet, but the scenery is beautiful and free to admire. Buy a picnic and head to Pampelonne Beach to enjoy it; make sure you grab a slice of tarte tropézienne (a cross between a cake and a brioche) from its namesake shop on the Place de Lices where it was originally invented.

6. Catch a movie at the Cannes Film Festival

Theatre

France, Jura, Lons le Saunier, Place de la Liberte (Liberty square), theater dated from 1847 with the Grand Cafe du Theatre
© MATTES René / hemis.fr / Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo

Every May, A-list celebrities from all over the globe gather in Cannes for the star-studded annual film festival. While the main premieres are mostly reserved for the rich and famous, you can attend screenings at Grand Théâtre Lumière with a festival pass. Alternatively, there’s an open-air cinema on Macé beach with free screenings every evening for anyone to enjoy. During the day, keep your eyes peeled for the likes of Angelina Jolie and Lady Gaga wandering around the city.

7. Eat authentic socca at Nice's flower market

Market, French

Flower market in old town, Vielle Ville, part of Nice on the French riviera
© Sean Pavone / Alamy Stock Photo / Inge Johnsson / Alamy Stock Photo
Socca is a local chickpea pancake that looks like a crêpe, originating in the region between Nice and Italy. It’s a delicious snack, often doused in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt, best accompanied by a glass of local rosé. Try it at the Marché aux Fleurs Cours Saleya, Nice’s famous flower market, where vendors serve it hot from the pan.

8. Watch the sunset from a rooftop bar

Hotel Restaurant, French

La Terrasse at Le Méridien Nice
Courtesy of Le Méridien Nice / Expedia

There are few better places to watch the sky turn crimson pink than along the Mediterranean coast. If you’re in Marseille, head to La Friche Belle de Mai, an old tobacco factory with an enormous 8,000sqm (86,111sqft) roof terrace, dotted with outdoor bars. Alternatively, if you’re looking for one of the best rooftop bars in Nice, you should make a beeline for La Terrasse at Le Méridien Nice for a signature cocktail on their waterfront deck.

9. Get acquainted with the painting masters

Museum

Picasso Museum in Antibes, southeastern France
© Naum Chayer / Alamy Stock Photo
Many of the world’s best painters came to the French Riviera to paint in the amazing light. Cézanne called Aix-en-Provence home, Picasso resided in Cannes, and Matisse and Chagall lived in Nice. On the first Sunday of every month, French museums are free to enter. It’s a great way to see these famous artworks without paying a costly entry fee. Expect long queues, but it’s worth the wait.

10. Visit the island fortress that inspired 'The Count of Monte Cristo'

Building

© Florian Augustin / Shutterstock
The Château d’If, just off the coast of Marseille, is an old island fortress that was briefly used as a prison in the 19th century. The tides were so fierce that they acted as a deterrent to potential escapees. Alexandre Dumas wrote The Count of Monte Cristo, an instant hit, when he heard about a story involving someone falsely imprisoned on the island. The best way to reach it is via ferry from Vieux-Port de Marseille.

11. Party in the sunshine at an outdoor festival

Building

Summer festivals are great, but they’re even better when they’re held in the Provençale sunshine – and the French Riviera boasts a number of top events. For contemporary tunes, book tickets to Festival Yeah!, held in the grounds of Château de Lourmarin, a 12th-century fortress. If electronic is more your scene, Marsatac in Marseille headlines all the big names, or head to Delta, which takes place on the beach.

12. Watch ballet on the cheap

Building

Ballet Preljocaj perform Snow White at Sadlers Wells Theatre, London, in costumes designed by Jean Paul Gaulier
© theatrepix / Alamy Stock Photo

Aix-en-Provence is home to its own world-renowned ballet company, Ballet Preljocaj. Founded by Angelin Preljocaj in 1984, it’s known for its dramatic, modern choreography, pioneered by Preljocaj himself. The company offers shows year-round – from Swan Lake to Romeo and Juliet – with cheap tickets available, making the performances widely accessible. It’s a great way to see some ballet for the first time without breaking the bank.

13. Experience the Nice Jazz Festival

Architectural Landmark

Avenue Jean Medecin is a pedestrian shopping street with a tramway - Nice, France
© lkonya / Alamy Stock Photo

The French Riviera has a strong association with jazz. American soldiers brought it over when they were stationed in France during World War I – and during the 1920s, Americans in France fuelled their hedonistic parties with jazz music. Famous figures like author F Scott Fitzgerald tried to forget the horrors of war, camped out near Nice, and invited lots of jazz greats to play. The first international jazz festival was held in Nice in 1948 when Louis Armstrong played, and it’s still going strong today.

14. Party in the streets

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

Every year in June, major cities across France participate in the Fête de la Musique, one night of street parties and music from across the globe. Head to one of the larger French Riviera cities, like Marseille or Nice, for a wild night out. Stick to the smaller towns, like Aix-en-Provence, for a more family vibe.

15. Kayak through Europe's answer to the Grand Canyon

Natural Feature

© milosk50/Shutterstock

The Gorges du Verdon is Europe’s largest canyon, and a must-see for anyone who likes the outdoors. Kayak down it and stop to camp along the way. If that sounds too energetic, hire a pedalo where the river meets the Lake of Sainte-Croix. Potter up through the canyon and admire the views – plus take a few photos along the way, just don’t drop your phone in.

16. Unleash your inner exhibitionist by sunbathing nude

Natural Feature

France, Finistere, Carantec along the GR 34 hiking trail or customs trail, Tahiti beach and Louet Island in Morlaix Bay
© LECLERCQ Olivier / hemis.fr / Alamy Stock Photo

Topless sunbathing is commonplace along beaches across France. However, you can go the full hog by visiting one of their nudist beaches. Saint-Tropez has quite a few – head to Tahiti Beach, which is the most well known, or follow the trail along the coast to Pampelonne Beach, which is busier but still offers crystal clear waters for swimming.

17. Eat traditional African food – for almost nothing

Restaurant, North African

Marseille is a vibrant, multicultural city that blends French and African cultures. There are Moroccan, Tunisian and Algerian restaurants all over, but the cheapest are near the St Charles train station. Head to Black Friday Restaurant for top West African dishes, while Chez Yassine is the place to try Tunisian dishes like ojja stew, served with merguez sausage.

18. Improve your wine knowledge

Natural Feature

Provence is a huge exporter of rosé wine because the climate and soil make for ideal growing conditions. Local table wine is better than expensive wine sourced from overseas, and a glass is normally cheaper than a soft drink. It’s a good time to discover wines and how they’re grown without having to fork out a ton of cash.

19. Go wild swimming

Natural Feature

The lac de Sainte-Croix, a man-made reservoir linked to the gorges du Verdon in Provence, southern France.
© Idealink Photography / Alamy Stock Photo

France has some amazing spots to go wild swimming. The enormous Lake of Sainte-Croix is very popular – it’s so large, you can easily find a spot to yourself away from the crowds. Alternatively, north of Cannes is Clue de Haute, a series of gorges. One of the most popular swimming spots is Clue d’Aiglun, filled with crystal clear water that flows down from the mountains.

20. Go hiking in France's natural wonder, Les Calanques

Natural Feature

view of Calanques National park near Cassis fishing village, France
© JOHN KELLERMAN / Alamy Stock Photo
Either side of Marseille, you’ll find the rugged Massif des Calanques. Over time, the sea has eroded the cliffs to create these beautiful natural inlets. They are best viewed by boat or by hiking along the clifftop. Take lots of water and a picnic, ready to enjoy one of the best places on the planet – for free.

Explore the French Riviera from water by hiring a yacht for the day through SamBoat – no experience necessary. Alternatively, book a week-long sailing adventure with Dream Yacht Charter.

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