Cannes Travel Guide
Everyone knows its links to celebrities and billionaires. Cannes is full of luxurious hotels and restaurants, and the annual Cannes Film Festival is an unmissable event. But there’s more to Cannes than the red carpets and celebrities that attract many to this cosmopolitan place in France. Cannes mixes tradition and modernity to mesmerize many, from sheiks to the nouveau-riche, to come and see its beauty.
Basking in the sun, this is a city that the rich and famous have been coming to for over 150 years. It simply sparkles with glamour, whilst the grandeur of the coastal promenade of La Croisette and the Belle Epoque buildings reflect its aristocratic history.
Today, Cannes is still home to the internationally wealthy who provide a ready and willing clientèle to the city’s numerous designer boutiques, swanky bars and lavish hotels. Plenty of gourmet restaurants with terraces spilling onto the pavements line the streets of Cannes, while its waterfront promenade is dotted with private beaches and swanky beach clubs serving delicious cocktails under the sun. No wonder Cannes has become the playground of the rich and famous.
It is remarkably a “global village.” Its long-preserved culture rooted in tradition pairs well the delightful scenery of the Mediterranean. The trademark of this chic city is its glamorous festivities and events. The city has an insatiable obsession with evening gowns and red carpets because of the famous Cannes International Film Festival.
Weather & Location
Cannes enjoys eleven hours of sunshine every day during summer. Cannes’ mild Mediterranean climate brings lush palm-tree-lined boulevards and long balmy nights in the summer, along with perfect cycling, running and sailing conditions over the winter months.
Expect mild (light jacket) weather in winter. Check out our guide to the weather and sea temperatures in Cannes.
The first thing you’ll want to do when visiting Cannes is to take in La Croisette, the promenade by the sea. Belle Époque façades shine bright white in the summer light. Ladies of a certain age dangle leashes attached to miniature poodles. Men in mirrored sunglasses cling to much younger and blonder women in white sundresses. Cannes has an aura that melds Beverly Hills and Paris with a fairy tale limestone village and a sun-splashed beach town. With more than a little bit of excess thrown in.
That aura still is the allure of La Croisette. If you begin on the far eastern end-of the city by the Old Port, you see men (and the occasional woman) playing petanque, spinning and tossing silver balls in the air on a dirt course separated into six or so playing fields. On the weekend, you may wander into a brocante (a street flea market) for vintage Chanel mules, a small oil painting, or Art Deco cocktail shakers.
The Palais des Festivals, where the Cannes Film Festival swirls every May, looms like an ocean liner. Take a second to imagine you are Juliette Binoche and pause at the bottom of the fabled stairway while a million cameras snap away at you.
Cross the Croisette to begin window-shopping in earnest. The designer swag is not within reach of most mortals, but walking is free and the people-watching and luxury-lust is unmatched. The strip is glamorous and unabashedly so, but it is also relaxed enough to stroll in airy linen beach clothes. Out of respect for the €1000 bejeweled sandals on display, as well as a certain French sense of decorum, leave the sweats and Dos Equis t-shirt at the bottom of your canvas tote for this walk.
These days, you will hear a lot of people speaking Russian along the Croisette, and though many now come here on their private jets, this is nothing new for Cannes. Frozen Muscovites have long sought refuge in the balmy air of the Riviera. In 1894, Saint Michael (the Archangel Orthodox Church) opened its doors in Cannes to a growing community of Russians so they would no longer have to traipse to Nice to attend service.
Right across from the palais is Prada, where the boutique’s floor is laid with a soft, inviting carpet. There are Chanel, Moncler, real estate agencies with listings posted in both Russian and French. There is Louis Vuitton, then Gucci whose vitrine is stacked with a collection of delicious handbags in earthy hues. Marvel at the luscious prints at Dolce & Gabbana.
If you were thinking ahead or otherwise can get in, you can have a spectacular lunch in the yummy, modern Park 45 restaurant in the Grand Hotel. Or just skip to dessert: how does chestnut cream on brioche French toast sound? If you’re not up for a big to-do, there is a quieter option set back beyond a cluster of palm trees and rosebushes, where you’ll find the gleaming white temples to Celine and Giorgio Armani, complete with a casual cafe out front.
After, more window-shopping is in order. Admire a gold Hervé Léger bandeau dress at the boutique 55 Croisette. Gaze lovingly upon the window displays at Cartier. Admire through the window the unusual parquet floor at Yves St. Laurent and the black and white fixtures at Balenciaga. Picture yourself in a leather coat on display at Burberry, and trace the snake handles on the doors at Roberto Cavalli.
Don’t forget to look up at the detailed façade of hotel lnterContinental Carlton Cannes, the undisputed heart of the Cannes Film Festival, and one of the first places Grace Kelly appeared publicly with her future husband, Prince Rainier of Monaco. It was also a key location for Hitchcock’s classic To Catch a Thief, featuring Kelly and Cary Grant. If a potentate has not rented out the entire hotel for his daughter’s wedding, detour to the Carlton Bar for a Lady Carlton cocktail-champagne and coulis of fresh strawberries. By now, if you still require sustenance, stop just past the Carlton patio’s yellow and white awnings at the always-packed Brasserie Le Voilier for a Café Crème.
Now, turn around and take in La Croisette. The Carlton’s dome sits sentry on the right, and a row of palm trees does duty on the left. The sun flickers through the fronds. Across the street are the mysterious shapes of islands beyond the shoreline.
If you have not bought anything by now –or if you have– end the walk at the Grand Hyatt Cannes Hotel Martinez . Stroll past the Lamborghinis and Bentleys into the Bar l’Amiral, where you will be greeted by a U -shaped wooden bar and seemingly hundreds of orchids. Order a Martinez Cocktail, concocted from champagne, grenadine, and Passion liqueur. The glass will arrive adorned with pineapple, a sprig of red currants or something else tart and exotic. It may put you in the mood to splurge on something as you make your way back up. Act like you belong there. Diamond solitaire, anyone?
You may notice that locals favor walking or cycling rather than driving. To experience Cannes like a local, you can rent a bike and start peddling around.
Want to know more about the locals and how their world goes by? The markets are a sure spot, with local produce available every day. The Vieux (Old) Port is a place where local fishermen have sold their catch for centuries. The classical ambiance still makes Cannes a remarkable travel destination in France.
Things to See in Cannes, France
Cannes is a small city, but there is a lot to see and do. Budget at least 5 hours to walk through the best areas, and at least two to three days if you want to get a good feel for life in Cannes. Here is a list of the highlights:
The Beach Boardwalk: Promenade de la Croisette
The two-kilometer stretch of golden sand and boardwalk known as the Promenade de la Croisette is lined with palms and follows the whole curve of its picturesque beach. It’s the glamorous spot to see and be seen. The beach has cafés with striped beach chairs and broad sun umbrellas. Behind is the main promenade with various boutiques and designer shops. Elegant hotels are sprinkled down the street.
Le Suquet: The Old Town Area
Behind the glitz, there is a softer side to Cannes – the district of Le Suquet is the heart of the old town and is filled with cobbled lanes, ancient buildings and an old harbour that is home to both traditional fishing boats and luxury yachts. It is the oldest neighborhood of the city, most famous for rue St-Antoine’s bars, restaurants, stores, and shops. It’s a maze of winding streets and steep stairways.
Here, charming little streets lead on to picturesque squares. At the top of the hill lies a ruined 12th-century castle now host to the Museum of La Castre , affording panoramic views over La Croisette, the beach and the sparkling sea.
Le Suquet was a Roman outpost in ancient times. Some remains are still evident along this section of the coast. The Old Town overlooks the Vieux Port with tight roads that go up to the Tour de Mt-Chevalier and the Notre Dame de l’Espérence (built in 1684), which has wood panels and a large 19th-century painting collection. You can see the town, the port, and the bay from the old rampart wall in front of the church. This is a very Instagrammable spot.
Vieux Port: Cannes’ Old Town Harbor
Take a walk through the Old Port of Cannes , where you can see sailboats and yachts. You can hire them privately to tour the surrounding islands and other towns nearby. Colorful houses surround the port, and there are bars and restaurants serving fresh seafood. Follow Rue St-Antoine until you reach the hills of The Old Town, the oldest neighborhood of the city, which gives a wonderful view of the bay.
The Nearby Lerins Islands
Lerins Islands are two small islands just 5km off the shore of Cannes. If you’re in Cannes for more than a couple of days, take a ferry and visit some the nearby islands.
Sights on the islands include a fortress-prison for the infamous Man in the Iron Mask, whose identity remains a debate among historians. It now has a museum, Musée de la Mer, which houses discoveries from shipwrecks around the sea of the islands. You can also see an ancient abbey. Monks that are sworn to secrecy on their recipe for making Chartreuse-like liqueur called Lerina have lived here for centuries. These monks owned Cannes at the peak of their power.
Cannes’ White-Sand Beaches
Unlike the pebbled beaches of other neighboring places, Cannes boasts white sandy beaches. At the public beaches in Cannes, you will still have the choice to rent a chair and umbrellas, but you’ll pay much less compared to private beaches. There is also an open area where you can lounge on the sand for free.
West of the old port is where you can find some of the best least-crowded beaches. Activities like canoe rides, snorkeling, stand-up paddle-boats, diving, and boat trips are available.
On the west part is a public beach, Plage du Midi , offers chairs and umbrellas, great mountain views, with other amenities and dining. It is near the Old Town and most people enjoy the friendly vibe of the area.
Where to Get Starstruck
Cannes loves movie-stars, and you can see evidence of that fact all around the city. Here are the best places to get starstruck:
Cannes Film Festival
The Cannes Film Festival celebrates mainstream and indie cinema. It happens every May, with celebrities, entertainments’ and media’s biggest names, and journalists walking their way up or down the red carpet.
Walk down the famous La Croisette boardwalk during the festival and you will definitely spot celebrities. The festival’s home is the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, where the red carpet glamour happens in front of its Lumière Theatre.
Check out our guide to the Cannes Film Festival.
Cannes Yachting Festival
The Yachting Festival gives everyone a chance to admire luxurious yachts and other super-crafts and boats on sale. Happens in two locations the Old Port and Port Pierre Canto , the festival attracts tourists on which half coming from overseas.
During the yachting festival, don’t miss the people watching, celebrity spotting, and sight-seeing in La Croisette, Le Suquet, Le Marie (the Town Hall), and the Vieux (Old) Port.
Check out our guide to the Cannes Yachting Festival.
Feel the Glamour
Path of the Stars: Cannes has the handprints of famous movie stars on this sidewalk, similar to Hollywood. Find it right outside the Palais des Festivals.
More: Check out our guide to the top spots in Cannes for film lovers.
Where to Shop and Eat
Cannes is the best place to shop and one of the best places to dine on the French Riviera. From high-end boutiques to indie designers, and from Michelin-star gastronomic restaurants to trendy cafes — this city has it all. Here’s where to shop and eat in Cannes:
Chic Shopping in Cannes
All the chicest and most opulent shops and boutiques have a presence in Cannes, making shopping (and window shopping) a favorite activity. Go to Rue d’Antibes or Rue Hoche and enjoy watching the super-rich buy their favorite branded trinkets. La Croisette also hosts some of the prominent French brands like Chanel, Dior, and Yves-Saint-Laurent.
Check out our complete guide to shopping in Cannes.
Marché Forville , Cannes’ best market, is open from around 8am to 12:30pm this market is open daily. It is where to buy delicious fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese, meat, seafood, flowers, olive oil, and more. This French open-air market is definitely the place to go shopping for your food while staying in Cannes, France.
Rue Meynadier in Le Suquet (the old area) is lined with restaurants. Many of these very local-style restaurants serve dishes based on fresh Mediterranean seafood like oysters, shrimp, lobsters, or crabs. There is a lot to choose from. Local bakeries have a large variety of buns and pastries. Cannes is also a haven for cheese and wine lovers.
More Places to See in Cannes
Musée de la Castre: On the top of Le Suquet is this art and history museum. It has exhibits from archeological digs in the Mediterranean basin to ethnological finds and primitive art on all five continents.
La Malmaison: It is an art museum in the Croisette and holds three significant exhibits every year. In addition to internationally recognized artists of the 20th- and 21st-century, it frequently honors well-known artists such as Matisse, Ozenfant, and Picasso, who have been inspired by the beauty of French Riviera.
Of course, there are many more things to see and do in this chic Southern France city of Cannes. Other things to consider and places worth visiting are the numerous museums, casinos, parks, and gardens that always provide enjoyable and exciting activities. You will never have a dull day in this wondrous, timeless place of Cannes.