Cannes Travel Guide: What To See
In this travel guide, you will learn why the city of Cannes in France is one of French Riviera‘s most famous towns, and a favorite for billionaires and celebrities. Cannes is known worldwide as one of the best places to go shopping, 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.
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. 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.
The Palais des Festivals , where the star-studded Cannes Film Festival swirls every May, looms like an ocean liner. Take a second to imagine you are your favorite A-list actor while having your photos taken on the fabled red-carpet stairway. 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 in a mesmerizing way that entices many, from sheiks to the nouveau-riche, to come and see its beauty.
These days, you will hear a lot of people speaking Russian along the Croisette (although, far less since the war against the Ukraine), and though many come here on their private jets, this is nothing new for Cannes. Frozen Moscovites have long sought refuge in the balmy air of the French 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.
Cannes is 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. Its waterfront promenade, dotted with private beaches and swanky beach clubs, serve up delicious cocktails under the sun. No wonder Cannes has become the playground of the rich and famous.
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 city of Cannes located in the south-east part of France on the Mediterranean Sea, about a 45-minute drive west of Nice (about 20 minutes past Antibes).
Just inland from Cannes are the charming villages of Mougins (15 minute drive) and Valbonne (25 minute drive). It’s definitely worth a day trip to visit both villages.
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:
La Croisette: Beach Restaurants & Designer Shopping
The first thing you’ll want to do when visiting Cannes is to take in the famous La Croisette, the seaside walking promenade and street lined with designer boutiques and 5-star hotels. Belle Époque façades shine bright white in the summer light, as ladies of a certain age dangle designer leashes attached to miniature poodles.
Peek into the Gucci and Chanel boutiques, then head to the beach for lunch. Have a meal and one of the many beach restaurants or a drink in a lounges with sofas on the sand. Chill on the striped beach chairs, shaded by broad sun umbrellas.
Elegant hotels are sprinkled down the street, across from their respective beach clubs.
Once you’ve had your fill, turn around and take in the street side of La Croisette. Across from the beach, is the main shopping stretch, with its glamorous haute-couture boutiques. Cross the Croisette to begin window-shopping in earnest.
The strip is glamorous and unabashedly so, but it is also relaxed enough to stroll in airy linen beach clothes. The designer swag is not within reach of most mortals, but walking is free and the people-watching and luxury-lust is unmatched. All the chicest and most opulent shops and boutiques have a presence in Cannes, making shopping (and window shopping) a favorite activity.
Now would be a good time to study our complete guide to shopping in Cannes.
La Croisette is where you can enjoy watching the super-rich buy their favorite branded trinkets. This famous seaside street hosts many of the prominent French brands like Chanel, Dior, and Yves-Saint-Laurent. Out of respect for the €1000 bejeweled sandals on display, as well as a certain French sense of decorum, leave the athleisure outfit in your suitcase and dress up for this walk.
The Carlton Hotel, with its yellow and white awnings, sits sentry on the right, and a row of palm trees does duty on the left. The sun flickers through the fronds. Behind you lies the sea and the rows of beach restaurants. Beyond still, are the mysterious shapes of the Esterel mountains and the islands beyond the shoreline.
Vieux Port: Cannes’ Old Town Harbor
In the Old Port, you’ll 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.
West of the Palais des Festivals (which serves as the center of the Cannes Film Festival), the Old Port of Cannes is the place to see sailboats and yachts. From here you can hire a boat privately to tour the surrounding islands and other towns nearby.
Colorful buildings surround the port, as do plenty of bars and restaurants with year-round outdoor seating, serving fresh-caught seafood. There are also several markets that are held in the old port, including an art and antiques market on weekends.
Tip: Avoid Rue Meynadier which invites you in with large signs, but is a run-down tourist trap lined with no-chef cafes and shops selling cheap junk from China.
Le Suquet: The Old Town Area
Behind the glitz, there is a softer side to Cannes – the district of Le Suquet (the old town, which was a Roman outpost in ancient times) is the heart of the old town and is filled with maze of winding cobbled lanes, ancient buildings and an old harbor that is home to both traditional fishing boats and luxury yachts.
Your walk up the winding cobbled lanes to the top of Le Suquet is rewarded by:
- A ruined 12th-century castle, now host to the Museum of La Castre . It has exhibits from archeological digs in the Mediterranean basin to ethnological finds and primitive art on all five continents.
- The Notre Dame de l’Espérence (built in 1684) church , which has wood panels and a large 19th-century painting collection. Built on the site of an old church during the 17th century near the dunes, it is where the Cannes sailors came to ask the Virgin’s protection for a “good trip”.
- The medieval Tour du Suquet with its eye-popping panoramic views of Cannes, the glimmering coastline, and the Îles Lerins beyond. 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.
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.
Here is our complete guide to the Lerins Islands.
Cannes’ White-Sand Beaches
Unlike the pebbled beaches of other neighboring places, Cannes boasts white sandy beaches. Much of the area is filled up with private beaches, but 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.
Plage de la Croisette is a long public stretch of sand running alongside the famous La Croisette. It’s where you can find the high-end beach clubs, which are open (and crowded) year-round.
On the west part, far away from the glamorous designer boutiques, is a public beach called Plage du Midi . Midi offers chairs and umbrellas, great mountain views, with other amenities and dining (but don’t expect anything gastronomic). Working locals enjoy the family-friendly vibe of the area, which offers swimming, sunbathing, and volleyball.
Feeling hedonistic? Plage des Pierre Hautes is a public beach on Île Sainte-Marguerite where nudity is permitted, but you’ll have to hire a boat to take you there and back.
Want more details? Check out our guide to the best beaches and make sure to read the important things to know about French Riviera beaches.
The Indoor Farmer’s Market
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. At the foot of Le Suquet, you can find the Marché Forville , which is one of the Riviera’s best local markets.
This market is where local fishermen have sold their catch for centuries. It’s open from around 8am to 12:30pm every day. Inside these old walls, you’ll find a tempting array of gourmet Mediterranean specialties, along with homemade socca (chickpea flour cakes) hot off the griddle and the cream-laden tarte Tropézienne. It is where to buy delicious fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese, meat, seafood, flowers, olive oil, and more. Many locals love to pick up some food here and have a picnic on the beach.
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.
The Palais des Festivals et des Congrès is the main home to the annual Cannes Film Festival. This striking building also hosts exhibitions and other events throughout the year.
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.
Cannes Film Murals: Throughout Cannes, tourists can see 15 movie-themed painted walls portraying movies. One is close to the bus station that depicts the cinema’s 100 years.
More: Check out our guide to the top spots in Cannes for film lovers.
Have a Cocktail at a 5-star Hotel
The detailed façade of hotel lnterContinental Carlton Cannes , the undisputed heart of the Cannes Film Festival, is breathtaking. It’s one of the first places Grace Kelly appeared publicly with her future husband, Prince Rainier of Monaco, and was 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. It may put you in the mood to splurge on something to act like you belong there. Diamond-encrusted Rolex, anyone?
Of course, there are many more things to see and do in this chic city. Other things to consider, and places worth visiting, are the numerous museums, casinos, parks, and gardens that always provide enjoyable and exciting activities. Check out our one-day itinerary for more ideas.
Wondering how to get there? Check out our guide to Cannes’ transportation options.