Cannes, France, is the jewel of the French Riviera. Credit: Mairie de Cannes

Things to do in Cannes

Explore the jewel of the French Riviera and discover all the things to see and do in the city
Published 04/15/2022 by the-window-seat

Gone are the days in star-studded Cannes when the rich and famous gravitate exclusively to La Croisette. Exciting urban development projects in the historic French Riviera town are ushering in sensational new hotspots to drink, dine and dance until dawn.

Cannes has been the epicentre of Riviera high life ever since the exuberant 1830s when English aristocracy flocked to the azure-blue Med to lap up its extraordinary light, beauty and gentle warmth. With the arrival of the world-famous Cannes Film Festival and its entourage of Hollywood stars in 1946, the destiny of the starlet seaside town was sealed. Today its luxury hotels and star-spangled gastronomic temples, trendy bars, beaches and marinas buzz with socialites and bon vivants seeking a slice of the celebrity action.

Treading in the footsteps of film stars along the red carpet on La Croisette is a Cannes rite of passage. But backstage the once-tiny fishing village seduces with a bijou old town and seashore beaded with intriguing offshore islands. Modern Port Pierre Canto had a facelift in 2021 to become a chic palm-tree shaded marina, and in 2023 the mythical 1920s pool-casino complex of Palm Beach will complete its sensational rise from the ashes as a glittering social hub for the contemporary cool crowd. Here are our top things to do in Cannes!

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Eat

Dining embraces a spectrum of budget and style, from gilded glitz to comfortingly gritty. Covered food market Marché Forville is a melting pot of salt-of-the-earth fishermen, farmers and Michelin-starred chefs shopping local—make it your first port of call.

Each district has its own culinary style. The day’s catch, sold from boats each morning on quays around the Vieux Port, fuel traditional eateries in Le Suquet. Aux Bons Enfants, run by the Giorsetti family since 1935, is typical of the village-like restaurants cooking up traditional Provencal cuisine in Cannes’ oldest neighbourhood.

West of Le Suquet, overlooking a sweep of the beach (Plage du Midi) most Cannes first-timers overlook, Israeli chef Eyal Shani at Hôtel Belle Plage is making waves with his aromatic Israeli, Lebanese and Mediterranean fusion cuisine. Charcoal-roasted asparagus, octopus carpaccio and yellowtail sashimi are highlights to savour in the Bella restaurant, rooftop bar or villa garden.

A-listers gravitate to the cosmopolitan bistros, coffee shops and brunch joints in the fashionable Carré d’Or district around rue du Commandant André. Nearby, Rosana is the most recent opening to woo an international jet set – with all-day-dining, shared plates spiced with Californian vibes. Or hit Palm Beach where La Petite Maison of Nice fame is the current hobnobbing HQ.

Blissing out over a pricey lunch on the sands of La Croisette must be done at least once. The recent extension works to the legendary strip mean beach dining is now year-round. For superlative sand- and sea-views from up high, reserve a table at La Palme d’Or in Hôtel Martinez. Both gastronomy and ceramics by double Michelin-starred chef Christian Sinicropi in his first-floor restaurant are masterpieces.

Play

What can you do in Cannes? Admiring fast cars razzing along the palm-studded seafront, celeb-spotting or drooling over haute-couture fashion in boutique windows epitomises playtime on Cannes’ polished waterfront strip, La Croisette. The rather ugly Palais des Festivals et des Congrès—incongruous host to cinema’s most glamorous film festival each May—squats by the sea at the boulevard’s western end. Private sandy beaches bejewel much of its hedonistic, 3km length.

The historic old-world quartier of Le Suquet is a soothing antidote to high-octane La Croisette—book a guided tour online with a Cannes Greeter to explore with a local. Narrow lanes wind up to the 17th-century church and beyond to the Musée de la Castre, a thoughtful modern art and archaeology museum in a medieval castle. City and bay vistas from the ramparts and turrets are worth the climb. 

Later, sail from the Vieux Port to the Île des Lérins. Monks on Île St-Honorat have worked the isle’s vineyards and Mediterranean scrubland to craft wine and liqueurs since the 5th century. Big sister Île Ste-Marguerite packs a punch with wild beaches, a fortress prison and museum dedicated to the enigmatic ‘Man in the Iron Mask’,  jailed here in the 17th century. On the island’s southern shore, art curios don a snorkel and mask to swim to the brilliant new Écomusée Sous-Marin de Cannes – an underwater ecology museum showcasing sculptures by renowned British artist Jason deCaires Taylor.

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In summer, as the sun dips and sizzling summer temperatures drop for another day, alfresco cocktails on a rooftop at Port Pierre Canto beckon. Mingle with stars beneath the stars at tropical-styled Cloud Nine by Bâoli or the modish Harry’s New York Bar (of Paris fame).

Stay 

Okko Cannes

It’s not easy to keep your feet on the ground in Cannes. Enter this lifestyle hotel where functionality and design make a magnificent marriage. ‘Four stars, no cloud’ is the grounding promise of French hotelier Okko and its Cannes address—inside the train station—ticks all the boxes.

Its 125 doubles are compact and bright white, with a desk and white-slat wall dividing the sleeping area from the bathroom. Organic Huygens amenities are made in France and guests can mingle 24/7 in Le Club, an open-plan lounge with bespoke furniture by Paris-based designer Patrick Norguet. Okko’s pièce de résistance? The complimentary aperitif with copious nibbles is served each evening in the lounge or on the roof terrace with Cannes’ infamous skyline view.

Hôtel de Provence

Cannes doesn’t do ‘cheap’ particularly well, but it can deliver excellent value for visitors with local intel. Secreted away in a residential part of town, a step back from the giddiness of La Croisette, is this family-run hotel. Wooden shutters painted lavender-blue and a pastel apricot façade strung with wrought-iron balconies lend the three-star villa instant Provencal charm—as does its walled garden with summertime lounging beneath palm trees. Inside, doubles cocoon in soft palettes and furnishings. A rooftop penthouse spoils with a private terrace and bird’s eye panorama. Hôtel de Provence also has self-catering studios and apartments in its brilliant-value property portfolio.

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