Our Cannes, France itinerary offers a step-by-step 1-day touring plan for seeing the highlights of this chic city in the French Riviera. We cover its cultural and sightseeing draws, with a great walking tour that includes the must-see attractions in Cannes, including a castle, museum, the old city, beach, and plenty of window-shopping.
Cannes is arguably the most well-known place in Côte d’Azur. The Cannes Film Festival is one of the most well-known annual events in cinema, drawing some of Hollywood’s elite to the French Riviera. Speaking of which, Palais des Festivals et des Congrès is the convention center where the Cannes Film Festival is held, and you can take guided tours and see movies there.
Palais des Festivals is also a working convention center year-round, so doing there’s a good chance this won’t be possible during your visit–which is why it’s not included in our itinerary below. Plus, there are better things to do in the beautiful French Riviera than walk around a modern convention center…
We’ll cover exactly that in this one day Cannes itinerary. While this was far from our favorite place in the Côte d’Azur, we had a great visit to Cannes, and highly recommend anyone visiting the French Riviera allocate a full-day to seeing the best of the city.
One thing to note if you have more time in the French Riviera (or a second day in Cannes): the Lérins Islands of Saint-Honorat Island and Sainte-Marguerite Island are across the Bay of Cannes and accessible via an inexpensive ferry. Saint-Honorat Island is home a number of monuments, and Notre Dame Monastery of Lérins Abbey, which is inhabited by monks.
The island of Sainte-Marguerite is home to an old-growth forest with eucalyptus and pine, and is the second-most visited forest in France. Here you’ll also find Fort Sainte-Marguerite, which is now known for the Sea Museum, with collections of underwater archaeology, and the cell of the Iron Mask.
Now let’s take a tour of Cannes, France…
Château de la Napoule (optional) – Including this beautiful and unique French castle in your Cannes itinerary is a challenge. Located near the city’s airport, you either need to take a long bus ride from the Gare de Cannes or time your train schedule with a journey that’ll take you directly to the Mandelieu-la-Napoule station.
Either way, Château de la Napoule is worth the effort. The castle itself was constructed in the 14th century by the Countess of Villeneuve. It has an imposing waterfront presence, but as far as French castles go, it’s not particularly noteworthy. What makes Château de la Napoule a worthwhile draw is the art and sculptures incorporated into its renovation by American artists Henry Clews Jr. and Marie Clews, who restored and moved into the castle. There’s some truly weird stuff to see!
Villa Rothschild & Gardens (optional) – Not to be confused with the Ephrussi de Rothschild Villa in Villefranche, which is an absolutely must-visit. By contrast, this is a historic mansion on the outskirts of downtown Cannes. It was built in 1881 for Betty Rothschild, James Mayer de Rothschild’s widow.
The exterior of the building is stunning and the free gardens are a nice place to enjoy a picnic. However, this is pretty far from a must-do, and only recommended for those looking to walk. If you want to save some steps, get off at a bus stop closer to Le Suquet.
Le Suquet – One of the oldest neighborhoods in Cannes, which the original site of the town and a Roman-occupied camp for some five centuries. Today, it’s a time capsule of old Cannes, featuring winding cobblestone lanes, narrow stairways climbing ever-higher, and commanding views of the coast. In fact, at the very top you’ll find the Église Notre-Dame-d’Espérance gothic church, and a 360-degree panorama of the Bay of Cannes.
The path to get to the top is steep and filled with many steps. It can make for an exhausting experience if you treat it like a race. Instead, go slowly, stopping to appreciate the detail of the many restaurants, shops, and buildings in the old quarter. It’s the most idyllic and well-preserved area of Cannes, and you won’t even notice the tiring climb if your mind is preoccupied with all of this beauty.
This is the first non optional stop of the day in Cannes, and is a must-do for everyone. If the intensity of the hike up has you concerned, there are guided tours that will take you up there. We have no experience with any of these, but the Petit Train des Cannes (which departs from near the convention center) is the most cost-effective option.
Musée de la Castre (optional) – Once you’re at the summit of the hill in Le Suquet, you’ll find this medieval fortress housing an art collection donated by Baron Lycklama. The exterior of the castle museum is stunning; arguably a more significant work of art than anything on display inside.
To be honest, Musée de la Castre is unimpressive. It contains a random assortment of art and artifacts, but even compared to other museums in the French Riviera (which itself isn’t particularly strong on museums), it’s lacking. However, Cannes is lacking in alternatives, so it makes the itinerary as an optional stop. We’d recommend sticking to the exterior.
Rue Meynadier – As you descend the winding streets down Le Suquet, you’ll have a number of options for entering the main downtown district of Cannes. We’d suggest Rue Meynadier, which is a back street lined with charming 18th-century townhomes that have been repurposed as boutiques. These sell everything from trendy fashion to trendy baked goods–but usually of a more affordable nature than their designer counterparts a few blocks away.
Between Le Suquet and here, you’ll find a high concentration of Michelin Bib Gourmand and starred restaurants that are more approachable and affordable. Most are open only for dinner, but you’ll find some lunch options, including some serving Provençal cuisine.
Cannes Marche Forville – A must-see diversion from Rue Meynadier is the Forville Market just one block over, which is one of the highlights of Cannes. Marche Forville is a pedestrian market that has everything: fresh fish, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and local (prepared) specialties that make for a perfect picnic in the nearby park.
The Marche Forville is open daily from 7 a.m. until 1 p.m., and does get busy (we prefer the Marché aux Fleurs in Nice, but both are good). On Mondays, the food market is replaced by an antiques market in the same location. Another potential diversion directly across from Marche Forville on the opposite side of Rue Meynadier is Cannes Town Hall. It’s a lovely building and worth a quick stop.
Rue d’Antibes – Continue down Rue Meynadier until it intersects with Rue du Maréchal Joffre, at which point you’ll take that down to Rue d’Antibes. The coast is only a stone’s throw away at this point, and you’ll probably have the strong temptation to just head down to Promenade de la Croisette. That’s one option, but we’d recommend resisting.
Instead, walk the inland high-end shopping promenade of Rue d’Antibes, where you can window shop (or real shop) at a variety of stores selling designer clothing, perfume, jewelry, and pastries. Speaking of that last one, there are two bakeries we recommend in this area: the high end Ladurée Cannes and Boulangerie Pâtisserie Belliard. The latter is more of a locals’ spot, and the portions are huge and decadent. (Skip Bridget Bakery, unless you want something you could get in the US.)
Sunset Stroll Along La Croisette – Once you’ve had your fill of bakeries and window shopping, head towards the coast. The idea here is that you’ll be pretty far down–perhaps in line with the iconic (InterContinental) Carlton Hotel.
We’d recommend continuing this same direction, along the even higher-end shopping along Boulevard de la Croisette. Once you’re all the way down to Cap de la Croisette, turn around and do the famed Promenade de la Croissette stroll.
Promenade de la Croisette is one of the best walks in the entire French Riviera, and right up there with le Suquet as two best things to do in Cannes. From the cape, you’ll have a 3 km walk to the Palais des Festivales. Between the golden hour light illuminating the Riviera and the smorgasbord of pedestrians (locals and tourists alike), you’ll have the perfect conditions for strolling along this perfect promenade.
At the end, you’ll arrive at Le Vieux Port, which is adjacent to the convention center. This the perfect spot to enjoy dusk in Cannes (see the top photo in this post), as the super yachts start to come alive for evening festivities and the hill of Le Suquet towers above. It’s a great spot for getting off your feet and savoring some of Cannes’ terrific atmosphere. After this, have dinner at one of the city’s many nice restaurants, and then head to Gare de Cannes to return back to your home base in the French Riviera!
If you’re planning, we recommend starting by consulting our Ultimate French Riviera Vacation Guide to prepare for all aspects of your trip. You should also check out our other posts about France for ideas on other places to visit!
Have you visited Cannes, France? If so, what did you do? What do you think of the recommendations in this itinerary? Anything else you’d suggest in terms of walks, things to do, or places to see? Restaurants you thought offered a great view, good drinks, or exceptional cuisine? Any additional tips to add that we didn’t cover? Any questions about planning a visit to the Côte d’Azur? Hearing from readers is half the fun, so please share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!