15 Free Things to Do in the French Riviera

By Briana Seftel

The French Riviera is synonymous with yachts, designer shops and villas overlooking the ocean, which means visiting on a budget can be somewhat of a challenge. But have no fear! Here are 15 totally free things you can do in several cities along the French Riviera.

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1. Promenade des Anglais

Hugging the Baie des Anges, the Promenade des Anglais is the most famous stretch of seafront in France. Getting its name for the English aristocrats who spent winters in Nice, “La Prom” is a popular place for locals and tourists to shop, eat, bike ride or stroll.

2. Vieux Nice

Vieux Nice, or Old Nice, is the city's historic center and an absolute dream to wander through. The area has barely changed since the 1700s and has a distinctly Italian flair. As you're walking through, make sure to stop at architectural gems like Cathédrale Ste-Réparate, Chapelle de la Miséricorde and Palais Lascaris.

3. Cours Saleya

At the center of Vieux Nice lies Cours Saleya, an outdoor market that's the perfect place to observe everyday life. Under the shade of pretty striped awnings, peruse the colorful abundance of fresh produce, flowers and local handicrafts. If you're lucky, you may even get to try samples of local specialties like socca, a thin chickpea crepe.

4. Place Massena

You'll likely end up at Nice's main square several times during your stay. Located between Vieux Nice and the newer parts of the city, Place Massena is a popular meeting place day and night. Take in the view by dining at one of the many restaurants nestled under its arcades or shopping at the boutiques.


5. Promenade de la Croisette

Much like Nice's Promenade des Anglais, Promenade de la Croisette in Cannes is a fashionable thoroughfare lined with 5-star hotels, designer shopping and outdoor dining. The Croisette is known for the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, where the Cannes Film Festival is held every May.

6. Le Suquet

High above the glitz and glamour of the promenade is Le Suquet, Cannes' charming old quarter. Dating back to Roman times, Le Suquet is an enchanting mix of cobbled lanes, bougainvillea-draped balconies and locals-only cafes. One of the must-see sites is Chateau de la Castre, built in the 12th century by monks and now home to a small museum displaying ancient artifacts and artwork.

7. Marché Forville

At the foot of Le Suquet is Marché Forville, a large covered market that's a local institution. Open from Tuesday to Sunday, the market sells everything from just-picked tomatoes to Italian cold cuts.


8. Saint Nicholas Cathedral

Visit the resting place of several members of the Grimaldi family, including Princess Grace and Prince Rainier. From the outside, admire the cathedral's Roman-Byzantine architecture. Inside, marvel at the Episcopal throne made of Carrara white marble. From September to June every Sunday at 10 am, mass is sung by The Monaco Boys Choir and the Choir of Monaco Cathedral.

9. Monte Carlo Casino

Sure, you'll need money to play at the casino, but admiring the gorgeous facade and gardens is completely free! Designed in a Belle Époque style, the casino has hosted everyone from royalty to James Bond. In the summer, play freely at the tables at the Salle Blanche & Terrasse and enjoy the breathtaking view across the Riviera.

10. Changing of the Guard

Join the spectators to watch the daily Changing of the Guard (known as the Carabiniers du Prince) in front of the Prince's Palace. Held at precisely 11:55 am, the procession hasn't been changed for more than 100 years.


11. Pampelonne Beach

Imagine Brigitte Bardot frolicking in the water at Pampelonne Beach, one of the most iconic beaches on the Riviera. While crowded with tourists in the summer, the 3-mile beach is a see-and-be-seen place that happens to be 100% free.

12. La Ponche

Meander through the historic fishing village of La Ponche, which used to be the heart of Saint-Tropez before it became a destination for the jet set.

13. Citadel of Saint-Tropez

Okay, so this one's not totally free (general admission is 3 euros while kids under 12 get in free), it's totally worth the small admission. Built in the 17th century to defend the coast against Spain, the citadel dominates the hillside overlooking Saint-Tropez.


14. Picasso Museum

Housed in a former castle built by the Grimaldi family, who ruled Antibes from 1385 to 1608, the Picasso Museum holds 300 of the artist's paintings. Picasso used one of its rooms as a workshop, where he made paintings and drawings, many of which he gifted to the town of Antibes. From the castle, enjoy spellbinding views over the surrounding coast and to the mountains in the distance.

Note: The museum is free on certain days.

15. Absinthe Museum

Learn about the infamous green liquor known as the "Green Fairy" at this tiny museum that's really more of a bar with a gallery. Associated with artists like Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, the drink was banned in 1915 due to its mind-altering effects. You can find the museum hidden in the basement of a shop called Balade en Provence in Antibes' old town.

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