18 must-do things to do in the Alpes-Maritimes

Visiter les Alpes Maritimes

Visiting the Alpes-Maritimes: what are the best things to do and see during a stay on the Côte d’Azur? Follow the guide!

A combination of incredible landscapes, legendary seaside towns and an exceptional climate, the Alpes-Maritimes department is home to the best of the French Riviera.

On the seaside, the coastline offers charming beaches and coves, a deep-blue Mediterranean and renowned artistic cities. On the land side, a visit to the Alpes-Maritimes means discovering the hinterland through the hilltop villages and wide open spaces of the Southern Alps. The diversity of things to do is such that there’s always something to discover, even after many stays.

To help you build your program, we’ve selected 18 places you won’t want to miss!

1. Old Nice

Le Vieux-Nice

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Rostislav Glinsky

Visiting the Alpes-Maritimes means spending at least half a day in Vieux-Nice. Located in the lower part of Nice, along the Promenade des Anglais, the old town has retained its Italian charm, with its ochre and red buildings, louvered windows, churches and sunny squares.

Start by strolling through the Cours Saleya market, before sitting down on a terrace to enjoy the atmosphere, then wander through the narrow streets in search of little fountains and hidden squares. Along the way, stop to taste socca, a Niçoise specialty made from chickpea flour. Then head for the seafront and pebble beach, before climbing the steps leading up to the Château. From up there, the view of the Baie des Anges is breathtaking.

2. Cannes

Vue sur Cannes et le vieux port

Photo credit: Shutterstock – IR Stone

The Croisette, the Cannes Film Festival, the Red Carpet… Visiting the Alpes-Maritimes also means diving into the mythical places of the French Riviera, the land of luxury cars, jet-setters and cinema.

Stroll along the Croisette, look up to admire the façades of the palatial hotels, tread the famous steps and bet your pennies at the Casino… You’ve been transported to the Cannes of glitz and glamour! But while the city has linked its name to the seventh art since 1946, its more traditional aspects are not to be overlooked. Away from the paparazzi, a lively Provencal town awaits you in the Suquet district, along the quays of the Vieux Port de Cannes or at the Forville market.

3. The Lérins Islands

Abbaye de Lérins, Îles Lérins

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Lenush

Opposite the Bay of Cannes, just a short boat ride away, the Îles de Lérins are two jewels combining natural beauty and historical heritage.

The larger of the two islands, Sainte-Marguerite, owes its name to the sister of Honorat, the hermit who founded the abbey on the neighboring island. Here, you can stroll through a state-owned pine and eucalyptus forest. A royal fort houses the Musée de la Mer, which is open to the public. The island of Saint-Honorat belongs to the monks of the Abbey of Lérins.

Less wild than its neighbor, the island boasts a number of historic monuments: the monastery tower, two chapels dating back to 1886 and two Napoleonic cannonball furnaces dating back to 1908. A curiosity of the island, eight hectares of vineyards are cultivated by the twenty or so monks living at the Abbaye de Lérins. Every first Friday of the month, a guided tour of the vineyards is organized.

4. Saint-Paul-de-Vence

Village de Saint-Paul-de-Vence

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Giancarlo Liguori

Just a few kilometers from the sea, this hilltop village is one of the must-visit places in the Alpes-Maritimes.

The charm of Saint-Paul-de-Vence lies not only in its exceptional location between sea and mountains, but also in its cultural and artistic wealth. Medieval remains rub shoulders with art galleries. A stroll along the ramparts, past the square tower of l’Esperon or the castle dungeon, brings you to the Fondation Maeght. This cultural center is a hotbed of artistic activity, housing works by internationally renowned artists such as Chagall, Giacometti, Kandinsky and Miró.

Tip: come on Wednesdays to enjoy local produce at the farmers’ market on the Place du Jeu de Boules. An authentic Provencal atmosphere awaits you!

5. Gourdon

Village médiéval de Gourdon

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Laborant

Gourdon is one of the must-see villages in the Alpes-Maritimes. This eagle’s nest on the tip of a rocky spur is home to many treasures. The road to get there is well worth the detour. The Gorges du Loup are dominated by 700-metre-high cliffs. Vertiginous!

Gourdon is made up of a small maze of narrow streets and well-preserved old houses. The visit continues with the château and its gardens designed by Le Nôtre, before ending with a tour of the craft stores and a drink on the terrace to admire the splendid panorama.

6. Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild et ses jardins sur la Côte d'Azur.

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Anastasia Krutikova

Cap Ferrat is home to a unique treasure on the French Riviera: the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. This sumptuous Italian Renaissance-style palace was built between 1905 and 1912. Aesthetes and lovers of fine materials will be in heaven.

The collection includes porcelain by Meissein, 18th-century tapestries and paintings by Fragonard. Outside, flower-lined avenues lead to nine magnificent gardens. The seven-hectare grounds feature waterfalls, ponds and romantic gazebos. All ideally situated by the sea.

7. Matisse Museum

Musée Matisse, Nice

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Kiev.Victor

Are you wondering what to do in the Alpes-Maritimes? The département has attracted many renowned painters: Picasso, Léger, Chagall… and Matisse. Matisse’s famous paper cut-outs are the subject of a major collection retracing his artistic career.

The Musée Matisse is located in the gardens of Nice’s Cimiez hill. This is where Matisse spent the last years of his life. It features his first painting, Nature morte aux livres (1890), as well as his last compositions, such as Fleurs et fruits (1953). Also on display are sculptures, drawings and objects that once belonged to him.

8. Grasse

Grasse

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Filip Fuxa

Situated on a hilltop, the world-famous perfume town enjoys a magnificent view over the plain and the sea in the distance. Flower fields once covered the surrounding hills. Today, it’s in the museums and perfume shops that the tradition of the famous perfumers can be found. But that’s not its only asset.

This « Ville d’art et d’histoire » (town of art and history) is well worth a stroll through its narrow streets, looking up at the colorful, historic facades. A market is held three times a week (Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday) on the Place aux Aires and its arcades. An excellent opportunity to enjoy the district’s popular atmosphere, before continuing on to the Fragonard shops – factories, perfumeries and textile boutiques.

9. Biot

Village de Biot

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Schnapps2012

Biot’s historic heart, rebuilt in the 15th century, is a charming place to visit. Its vaulted ceilings, fortified gates, engraved stones and pebble mosaics bear witness to the village’s rich past, once held by the Knights Templar and then the Knights of Malta. But Biot is first and foremost a city of arts and crafts, led by master glassmakers. Blown glass is the specialty here. Workshops, galleries and stores are open to the public. Ceramists, metalworkers, jewelers, leatherworkers and painters also exhibit their creations. There’s no doubt that Biot has not stolen its « Ville et métiers d’art » label, awarded in 1997.

Numerous museums complete the visit, including one dedicated to the artist Fernand Léger, the Glass Ecomuseum, the International Glass Gallery and the Bonsai Arboretum.

10. Roquebrune-Cap-Martin beach

Plage de Roquebrune-Cap-Martin

Photo credit: Flickr – thierry llansades

Want to visit the Alpes-Maritimes off the beaten track? Then skip the busy beaches of Cannes and Juan-les-Pins and head for Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. By car or train, the journey to the seaside is already magical.

Once you’ve arrived at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin’s little train station (where you can also park your car), walk 200 metres towards the sea… and you’re at the Golfe Bleu beach. Unless you prefer the neighboring Buse beach. Both are nestled in small coves away from mass tourism. The sea is a Caribbean turquoise. From your towel, you can admire the hills overlooking this little paradise. There’s also an easy trail from the station around Cap Martin. Over the steep rocky outcrops, it skirts hidden villas and offers stunning vistas.

11. Auron station

Station d'Auron

Photo credit: Shutterstock – FadiBarghouthy

Do you love winter sports and wonder where to put on your skis? Less than 1 h 30 from Nice, the resort of Auron is a true village resort. At an altitude of 1,600 meters and at the gateway to the Mercantour National Park, you can enjoy the area in summer and winter alike.

Outdoor activities are plentiful in all seasons. No fewer than 46 slopes, including 10 black, 16 red, 17 blue and 3 green, make up the ski resort. In summer, there’s mountain biking, golf, hiking, horseback riding and rock climbing… Auron is the ideal place to take a breath of fresh air with your family in the Southern Alps. Ideal for visiting the Alpes-Maritimes!

12. Èze

Village d'Eze

Photo credit: Shutterstock – travelpeter

Are you still looking for the most beautiful villages to visit in the Alpes-Maritimes? Èze is definitely one of them!

On the program: cobbled streets, ancient houses, gardens of cacti and colorful flowers, and above all, one of the most beautiful views on the Côte d’Azur! From the Jardin Exotique on the ruins of the medieval castle, the Mediterranean opens up before you, the sun shimmering its azure blue… Blue everywhere, the sun glinting on the water… photo enthusiasts and contemplative types will delight in the light on the horizon and on the old stone at the end of the day.

13. Old Antibes

Dans le village d'Antibes

Photo credit: Shutterstock – RossHelen

Since it was founded by the Greeks, the town of Antibes has had a rich history, which can be felt in the old walls and alleyways of Vieil Antibes. Along the ramparts facing the Mediterranean, at the Provencal market, at the Vauban port: this medieval town is a must-see on foot! Every square in the old town is worth taking a break at a terrace, before heading back to the art museums and galleries.

A word of advice: take the time to discover the Commune libre du Safranier. Created in the heart of Old Antibes in 1966, its aim is to perpetuate the traditions of its inhabitants through local festivals and events. Here, more than anywhere else, the facades are colorful and full of flowers, and the squares are full of charm.

14. Gorges du Cians

Gorges du Cians

Photo credit: Shutterstock – RudiErnst

The Cians is a small Alpine torrent that flows into the Var, after carving an acrobatic 25-kilometer course through the red shale of the Mercantour. The erosion caused by the Cians has created a magnificent landscape of steep gorges, descending to 1,600 meters. You can discover these astonishing natural sculptures on foot at various levels, by parking downstream of the tunnels.

15. Mercantour Park

Lac au Parc national du Mercantour

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Alessandro Cristiano

How else can you visit the Alpes-Maritimes? By discovering its hinterland! Far from the tourist coast, the Parc du Mercantour is a vast playground for hikers and lovers of the great outdoors. The site offers remarkable trails, punctuated by hilltop villages.

In this vast protected area, you can admire endemic plant species and numerous animals, such as chamois and marmots. The six Mercantour valleys offer a wide range of outdoor activities: canyoning, rafting, climbing, hiking… In summer, it’s the ideal place to get away from the crowds on the beaches and rediscover the peace and quiet.

16. Coaraze

Coaraze

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Fishman64

At an altitude of 650 m, not far from the Mercantour National Park, Coaraze is one of France’s most beautiful villages. Just a thirty-minute drive from Nice, you can take advantage of its exceptional sunshine and pretty, steep streets.

The village is medieval, which explains its labyrinth of cobbled streets, vaulted passageways and stone houses. Artists have also left their mark, such as Jean Cocteau and Ponce de Léon, who signed Coaraze’s sundials. From the Place de l’Église, the panoramic view of the mountains is well worth a contemplative pause. A number of buildings are also worth a visit, including the Chapelle Bleue, decorated with frescoes by Ponce de Léon, and the Chapelle Saint-Sébastien, located on the old mule track that once linked the village to Nice.

17. Chin

Vieille ville de Menton, vue mer

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Rostislav Glinsky

Back to the coastline, close to the border with Italy. Menton, city of sun and lemons, is an invitation to vacation. With its long promenade, cafés and restaurant terraces facing the sea, its pebble beaches, its lemon festival, its Mediterranean gardens, its old town… Menton is Italian Dolce Vita all year round!

18. A boat trip

Location de bateau

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Visiting the Alpes-Maritimes also means taking advantage of its coastline. In fact, there are many lovely excursions to be made by boat. This can be the perfect opportunity to visit the must-see towns mentioned above, most of which are located on the coast.

It would be a shame to miss out on the azure waters of the eponymous coastline by hiring a boat.

How do I get to the Alpes-Maritimes?

By train

Every major town in the département has a train station with connections to many cities in France. So it’s easy to get to Nice, Cannes or Antibes by train.

Regional express trains (TER) then provide connections to smaller towns on the coast and inland, such as Grasse and Biot. The railroad line overhanging the coast from Saint-Raphaël in the Var to Ventimiglia in Italy is absolutely magnificent. It also allows you to visit the many places of interest in the Alpes-Maritimes.

By plane

Nice-Côte d’Azur airport is France’s third busiest, with over 14 million passengers a year. This means you’ll find numerous airlines serving the destination from France and abroad, including low-cost carriers.

If you’re looking for the best price, don’t hesitate to visit an online comparator such as Ulysse. You’ll see different options depending on your dates of stay. From the airport, several bus routes take you to major towns such as Antibes and Cannes.

To reach the city, you can take the streetcar to the center of Nice. Car rental is available from both arrival terminals.

By car

Last but not least, you can also opt for car sharing.

Where to stay in the Alpes-Maritimes?

The Côte d’Azur’s flagship department welcomes several million tourists every year. And there’s a plethora of accommodation on offer! Dream palaces, furnished holiday homes, seaside hotels, family-run gîtes, campsites, Airbnb… Although prices are relatively high, the choice is so vast that you’re bound to find the accommodation that suits you.

At certain times of year (Cannes Film Festival, Monaco Grand Prix, Nice Carnival), however, you’ll need to book in advance and expect higher rates. Here’s a tip: online hotel comparisons let you see what’s on offer at a glance. How convenient!

So what are you waiting for to visit the Alpes-Maritimes?

Map of hotels and accommodation – Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur