You may associate Cannes with the rich and famous due to the opulence of its film festival but the rest of the year, its an eminently affordable vacation spot. Perhaps you only have a weekend to enjoy Cannes though. You can still enjoy the highlights of this French Riviera spot in only 48 tiny hours.
You’ll need to fly into the Nice airport, then take a car or bus to Cannes. The lowest cost flight is from Luton. You’ll have two choices for bus routes from Nice Airport to Cannes, a direct route that takes about an hour or the slightly longer coastal route through Antibes. The buses deliver you to La Croisette, the main boulevard. If you prefer the scenic route, Cannes also has train service.
Hotels in Cannes
Fly or ride into Cannes during the evening or late night. Check into your hotel and get some shut-eye. Choose a hotel on the highway that runs through the center of town. The best area is the southern arc with beachfront hotels. Since 1902, The Carlton on the Croisette has housed travelers in style. Another popular choice, Les Dauphins Verts offers a family-run hotel with extremely reasonable prices. Other amazing choices include the InterContinental Carlton Hotel and the Hotel Grand Martinez. Whether you like staying in corporate hotels or in mom-and-pop hotels, Cannes provides it. In the morning, you’ll have plenty to explore in Cannes, Le Cannet to the north and the Med to the south. Beware that everything costs more at festival time which always occurs in May.
A Note about the Cannes Film Festival
Though it runs for slightly less than two weeks per year, the Cannes Film Festival provides the item that the town is now most famous for – a star studded gala of film and movie stars. If you happen to visit it mid-May to late May, you’ll have the opportunity to attend some of its events. The days at the festival are jam packed so this option fits into any time of day. The film festival begins each day in the morning and offers events in the afternoon and evening, too. You can download the official app to keep abreast of the schedule. The festival sells multi-day passes. While open-air screenings in the Cinéma de la Plage cost nothing, screenings in the Grand Théâtre Lumière and at the Debussy require an invitation which is not transferable. Accepting an invitation to one of these screenings indicates your willingness to be photographed by the press.
Good Morning Lovely Cannes
Take a deep breath and enjoy the gorgeous weather of the French Riviera. On your way to a tasty breakfast, survey the handprints of celebrities along the Walk of Fame by the Palais des Festivals. Early morning lets you avoid the crowds and easily see your favorites. You can stop and compare your hands with your favorite actor or actress.
You’re faced with many delicious choices. If you want a sit-down breakfast, eat at Bagel Café or Pat & Jo Café. You can also buy breakfast on the go at the Marché Forville, the town’s main market. Try regional delicacies like socca, a chickpea pancake or assemble your own from the fresh breads, cheeses, meats, olives and tomatoes.
Either way, take a stroll to Old Port to watch local fishermen bring in their catch. Take a moment to admire the millennium commemorative sculpture of the mermaid Atlante, protector of marine life.
From Old Port stroll uphill to the district of Le Suquet, the oldest part of Cannes. Explore the fortress that once protected the town, now the Musée de la Castre. Stop at the Église Notre-Dame-d’Espérance for a bit of adventure and a breathtaking view of Cannes from looking out over the bay. Another must-see sight, the national park La Croix-des-Gardes, provides you with more than 200 acres to explore.
Late Morning Adventuring
Turn around and head back down the hill to hop on a boat to the Îles de Lérins. Choose a ship from the Compagnie de Navigation Trans Cote d’Azur which departs from the Quai Laubeuf. The trip takes only 15 minutes. You’ll have plenty to explore on the four islands that make up the archipelago. This special set of islands does not see many tourists so you can have it to yourself – a little treasure of fig trees, history and fresh air. While most tourists shop and hit the crowded beaches on the mainland, you can step into another world.
On Île Saint-Honorat you can watch monks make wine at Lérins Abbey. They’ve been at it for centuries and if you drink, it’s worth trying it. You won’t have much chance for conversation since the monks have all taken a vow of silence.
History buffs will find another ancient fortress here to explore on the lle Ste Marguerite, famous as the location of the real-life Man in the Iron Mask. Today it’s a museum with murals commemorating the families of Moors who were imprisoned there, all painted by artist Jean Legac. You’ve probably worked up an appetite.
A Creative Lunch
You can lunch on the island of Ste. Marguerite. You’ll find salad stalls that chop and mix the ingredients in front of you, plus two restaurants for a sit-down meal.
If you’re ready to head back to Cannes though, hop a ship back to the mainland and make your own lunch. Take a cooking class offered at La Serviette Blanche to learn a bit of French culinary prowess from its chefs. You get to eat your dish when you’re done.
Hit the Beach
Throw on your swimsuit at your hotel and head to the beach. That leopard skin bikini you always wanted to wear will actually blend right in here. You might get invited to a beach party. Enjoy the imported sand and local waters. The sand thing is no joke. Cannes imports its sand and replaces it annually. Remember your sunscreen and soak up the warmth of the sun. When you’re ready to clean up, head back to your hotel to spiff up for a night on the town.
Enjoy the Nightlife
Start your evening by catching a gorgeous sunset on one of the many rooftop bars in Cannes. You might like Le Roof or Zoa Bar by the Palais Bar Lalu on Rue du Commandant André or Brown Sugar or Le Vin sur Vin. Other options include Plage du Goéland and La Chunga.
Make your dining experience a can’t miss one. Dine in Le Suquet at the 2 Michelin-star Palme d’Or, tucked on a cobble stone lane. It serves French Provencal meals in a cozy atmosphere.
Walk off the calories by exploring Croisette. During summer, the markets remain open at night. Evening provides a great time to visit the InterContinental Carlton Hotel which you’ll probably recognize if you’ve ever watched the Alfred Hitchcock film, To Catch a Thief (1955). Window shop the boutiques and chocolateries on Rue d’Antibes, so you know precisely what you want to pick up tomorrow.
End your evening exploring Cannes by heading to one of its three casinos. You’ll find blackjack a popular game. Though it isn’t Monaco, you can play roulette.
Close out your night at Baoli, a nightclub frequented by the A-list. If you prefer the quirky, check out the bar that used to be a winter sheep corral. It’s now Charly’s, an underground cellar bar. Do not stay out too late because you’ve got another day in Cannes to enjoy.
Another Lovely Morning
On the way to another delicious breakfast, admire the fruits and flowers at the Porte de la Misericorde, a market. You could pick up seasonal fruit for breakfast. If you need a little something more substantial, head to Le Cannet. Cross the Voie Rapide and you’ll find numerous snack bars along the Boulevard de la Republique serving traditional dishes like a rabbit with polenta.
A Mid-morning Hike
Work off your breakfast, with a mid-morning urban hike. Shop the haute couture boutiques on Rue d’Antibes. Wander down to the yacht harbor to watch the ships come and go. For a bit of exercise and a lovely view, take a walk on the beach.
Eat the Local’s Lunch
Let your feet carry you to Rue Forville for lunch. The Taverne Lucullus serves a tasty seafood meal of oysters, crayfish and aioli.
After your delicious meal, shop a bit more, this time at the stores on the Croisette and the Rue Meynadier markets. The former offers designer shops while the latter provides the spots the local shop. The designer shops offer things you can wow them in Paris or Milan wearing. The Rue Meynadier markets provide the spots for picking up little treasures that you’d find in most local’s homes, less pricey but genuinely French.
Absorb the Cannes Culture
While its best known for hosting the Cannes Film Festival each May, the culture of Cannes goes much further. During the rest of the year, enjoy its art and its sport.
Visit the handful of museums in the area. The Musee de Castres in the town exhibits orientalist paintings. Hop a bus or train to Antibes to visit the Picasso Museum in the Chateau Grimaldi. At Villefranche, you can view the artwork of Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon, who died in Auschwitz. She painted in hiding until the Nazi’s arrested her.
If sport is your choice, catch a football (soccer) match. The local paper, Nice-Matin, prints the schedule. Root for the Cannes team or the regional favorite, the Bleus of Nice.
A Long, Luxurious Night Out
Close your last night in Cannes by beginning with an aperitif at Carlton’s cocktail bar. Alternately, you can partake in another sunset at a rooftop bar. The infinity pool at the Five Seas Hotel also offers an amazing view. Other locations to start your night off include the Radisson Blu’s bar or the beach terrace at Hotel Grand Martinez.
Explore either the dining district of Mougins on the north side of Cannes or head to Rue d’Antibes and poke down its side streets. Either way, try the fish. Pair the creamy texture of hake with mesclun, a Provencal salad featuring nine different greens with a slightly bitter flavor. The local wine, Domaine la Bouderry complements the meal.
Should you visit during summer, stroll outside in time to catch one the evening firework displays that light the night. Also, even if you visited the Croisette during the day for shopping, return at night to see its lights. This is also the ideal time to watch the yachts slip into the bay for the night.
Before leaving the Croisette, enjoy a nightcap. If you drink alcohol, try one of the region’s congnacs. If you do not, sip a delicious hot chocolate. People watch. There’s always a bevy of beauties and dandies to see in Cannes. The climate in this area of France provides warm nights. While light from the hotels interferes with gazing at stars in the sky, at the right times of the year, you’ll probably see a few of Europe’s or America’s A-list wander by.
Since it’s your last night in Cannes if you just are not ready to turn in yet, head to one of the hotel piano bars. Check out the one favored by both Frank Sinatra and Madonna – the Bar l’Amiral at Hotel Grand Martinez. You can wile away a few hours listening to the pianist tickle the ivories. There’s no drinking required. Simply sip Perrier and sing along if you so desire.
As tempting as it may seem, do not try to stay out all night. You’ll need a good night’s sleep before checking out of your hotel and continuing your travels through Europe.
Time to Journey Elsewhere
You’ll need to rise decently early to grab breakfast before your checkout time. Either dine in your hotel or choose a café close by. If you did not rent a car, you’ll need to have made reservations for either a train out of town or to purchase a bus ticket. You can travel back to Nice or onto another location to further explore Europe.