20 best French coastal towns to visit

Martigues French coastal town

With 2,000 miles of coastline, I’m sure it’ll come as no surprise that there are such a huge number of French coastal towns worthy of our attention.

With France being just a hop, skip and a jump away from the UK, I’m lucky to have visited this country and its beautiful coastline numerous times over the years.

I’ve got my own firm favourite French coastal towns and I’m going to share these with you in this guide – along with some additional recommendations from locals and fellow travellers.

From Northern France coastal towns like Etretat, jutting up against the English Channel, to coastal cities in Southern France such as Marseilles, basking on the edge of the Med – it’s fair to say you’re spoilt for choice. 

The landscape varies from chic urban harbours to quaint fishing villages with remote beaches. With this variety, I know there’s a French coastal town for everyone.

You can find spots to surf as well as sunbathe, shop or dine on the finest seafood, as well as explore fantastic architecture.

With so much choice, I think it’s completely understandable that you may need some help pinning down the best French beach towns for your chosen objectives!

To make it easier to plan and explore, I’ve divided my list into the best beach towns in the South of France and my selection of favourite Northern France coastal towns.

The result is a complete guide to the best coastal cities and towns in France.

Author Bio: Jessie Moore

Jessie Moore is a luxury travel expert with years of experience travelling the world to find the best destinations, hotels and adventures.

Best beach towns in Northern France

1. Trouville-sur-Mer

Best for: An utterly charming seaside resort

Nearest airport: Deauville St. Gatien

Where to stay:

Trouville Sur Mer

I think Trouville-sur-Mer is somewhat underrated when compared with the better known Deauville, just along the coast.

However, I consider this to be one of the best Northern France coastal towns, with vast expanses of beach backed by rolling hills bursting with natural life.

The boardwalk, which dates from the 19th century, is an enjoyable place to hang out as you dip in and out of the flea markets and shops. 

Of course, the sea here is chillier than you’ll find in the French Riviera. But I believe it’s still such a wonderful place to be in summer.

And, of course, it’s so much more reachable if you head over the Channel from the UK by car. The beach is gloriously sandy.

Trouville-sur-Mer is also an excellent spot for visiting the D-Day landing sites and you can easily visit Le Havre if you wish.

2. Honfleur

Best for: A traditional French beach town

Nearest airport: Deauville St. Gatien

Where to stay:

Top tours and activities: 

Honfleur French coastal town

In my opinion, Honfleur in Normandy is the place to come if you want a French beach town that feels absolutely and traditionally French.

This place, where the Seine meets the sea, is a mishmash of intriguing alleys, quaint shops (nip into one selling Calvados) and restaurants, characterised by half-timbered facades. I just love it.

If you like to spend your trip exploring then Honfleur has plenty to keep you enthralled. There’s the Old Basin, the Lieutenancy, the wooden 15th century Sainte-Catherine Church and Chapel Notre Dame de Grace.

I’d also recommend a visit to the vibrant market. Without a doubt, you will want to spend some time at the 16th century harbour simply watching the comings and goings.

Nonetheless, when the sightseeing has exhausted you, I love that there are still plenty of exceptional beaches waiting for you. Here you can explore rock pools, or you could relax in the fantastic coastal Botanical Gardens. 

Think you recognise Honfleur? Monet adored this picturesque town and its environs, painting it on several occasions. 

3. Etretat 

Best for: Breathtaking chalk cliffs

Nearest airport: Deauville St. Gatien

Where to stay:

Top tours and activities: 


Etretat is a beautiful Normandy coastal town characterised by its impressive chalk cliffs that are I think are reminiscent of my home county, Kent.

There are plenty of captivating photo opportunities to be had as you amble along the small pebble beach bookended by majestic chalk faces at each end. I’d recommend takign a picnic and watching the world go by.

The cliffs provide the backdrop, but Etretat is also a wonderful place to explore for its half-timbered houses in the Anglo-Norman style.

These now play host to an array of excellent restaurants. Expect classical French fare with an understandable focus on seafood and fish.

Get the blood pumping by heading up to the Notre Dame de la Garde church on the headland.

Another interesting place to explore is the Gardens of Etretat with its intriguing sculptures. It’d also suggest heading out to explore some of the caves in the nearby area.

4. Saint-Malo

Best for: History & culture

Nearest airport: Dinard Pleurtuit

Where to stay:

Top tours and activities: 

Saint Malo French beach town

Northern France is excellent for delivering a heady blend of cultural heritage and stunning natural beauty. And I think Saint-Malo is an excellent example of this. 

The history of Saint-Malo is impressive, dating back to Celtic times before the Romans moved in. The town then became a monastic refuge. 

When in Saint-Malo, there are two absolute must-dos in my opinion: an exploration of the Saint-Malo walls and an excursion to the Grand Aquarium.

If you enjoy rock pooling and crabbing then you’ll also be in your element here.

5. Barfleur

Best for: Fresh mussels & a view

Nearest airport: Alderney

Where to stay:

Barfleur coastal town in France

Barfleur is a beautiful coastal town in the department of Manche in Normandy, Northern France. Jutting out into the English Channel, Barfleur is a lovely fishing port with cute granite houses.

The fortified church is an interesting place to visit with its octagonal domed chapel and bell tower.

Barfleur does many things well but I’d absolutely recommend coming here for a bowl of fresh mussels. They are naturally harvested from east of the Cotentin Peninsula.

All you need to do is sit out in the sun with a bowl of mussels in white wine and watch the world go by in the port area. Total bliss!

Barfleur is also an excellent base for coastal hikes and bike trips, and it’s popular for sea fishing and sport.

6. Cancale

Best for: World-renowned oysters

Nearest airport: Rennes

Where to stay:

Top tours and activities: 

Cancale French coastal towns

Cancale in Brittany boasts a picturesque port and is famous the world over for its oysters. Personally, I’m not a fan of oysters – but if you are then you’ll definitely want to visit!

The sandy beach is beautiful, not least because it has impressive views over Mont-Saint-Michel.

There are lots of hiking trails in the area, but you could just as easily spend your day building sandcastles on the beach.

7. Ault

Best for: Less tourists

Nearest airport: Rouen

Where to stay:

Ault beach town in France

Arrive into Calais or Dieppe and you probably dash away, but I really think it’s worth heading to Ault.

Traditionally French, off the tourist trail, and characterised by its white cliffs, it’s definitely not to be missed.

This is a place where you can enjoy French seaside food designed for locals not tourists, but you’ll be spoiled with wonderful scenery too.

Best beach towns in Western France

8. La Rochelle

Best for: Seafaring heritage

Nearest airport: La Rochelle

Where to stay:

Top tours and activities: 

La Rochelle

La Rochelle is a charming coastal town located in the Charente-Maritime department of France, not too far from charming Cognac (a place I visit every summer).

As you wander through the town, you’ll be surrounded by stunning architecture and beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean.

One of the most notable landmarks in La Rochelle is the Vieux Port, or Old Port. This bustling harbour is home to a variety of restaurants, bars, and shops, making it the perfect place to spend an afternoon or evening.

I’d also recommend taking a boat tour of the harbour to learn more about the town’s history and see the sights from a different perspective.

If you’re interested in history, be sure to visit the Musée Maritime de La Rochelle. This museum is dedicated to the town’s maritime history and features exhibits on everything from fishing to shipbuilding.

You can even climb aboard a replica of an 18th-century frigate and experience what life was like for sailors of the time.

La Rochelle is also home to several beautiful beaches; my favourites include the Plage de la Concurrence and the Plage des Minimes. These beaches are perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and relaxing with a good book.

And if you’re feeling adventurous, you can even try your hand at windsurfing or kiteboarding.

9. Saint-Nazaire

Best for: History lovers

Nearest airport: Nantes

Where to stay:

Saint Nazaire

If you’re looking for a French coastal town with a rich history, I’d definitely recommend a visit to Saint Nazaire.

Located on the Atlantic coast, I think this town has a lot to offer, from its beautiful beaches to its fascinating museums.

One of the main attractions in Saint Nazaire is the Escal Atlantic museum, which is dedicated to the history of ocean liners.

Here, you can explore the interiors of several famous ships, including the Normandie and the France. You can also learn about the history of transatlantic travel and the role that Saint Nazaire played in this industry.

Another must-visit attraction in Saint Nazaire is the Submarine Base. This massive concrete structure was built by the Germans during World War II and was used as a base for their U-boat fleet.

Today, it’s a fascinating museum that offers visitors a glimpse into the history of the war and the role that Saint Nazaire played in it.

If you’re looking for some relaxation, don’t worry, I’ve got you! Saint Nazaire has plenty of beautiful beaches to choose from too.

The Plage de Monsieur Hulot is a popular spot for sunbathing and swimming, while the Plage de la Courance is a great place for surfing.

10. Saint Jean De Luz

Best for: Historical sites & local markets

Where to stay:

Top tours and activities: 

St Jean de Luz South France

Wander along one of the three seawalls at Saint Jean de Luz, gazing out at the Atlantic, and I have no doubt that you’ll be full of holiday vibes. This is a fascinating town, with a history that will immerse you in tales of intrigue.

Saint Jean De Luz in south western France is definitely one of the best coastal towns in Southern France if you’re looking for historical sites in a picture-postcard location.

If you’re a foodie like me, you’ll be in heaven when visiting Saint Jean De Luz. Discover fresh food and fine wines, as well as local markets that will entice you to move here forever!

You can also easily nip up the coast to Biarritz.

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11. Biarritz

Best for: Surfing spots

Nearest airport: Biarritz

Where to stay:

Top tours and activities: 


I think it would be impossible for me to put together a list of the best French coastal towns without due mention of Biarritz.

Jostling up towards the border with Spain, Biarritz has a fascinating history dating from 1854 with tales of royalty and rulers.

Due to its proximity to Spain, I love that there’s a gentle blend of French and Spanish characteristics here. This is evidenced in many ways, but not least the food.

Biarritz is famous for its sweeping sandy shores. However, this is truly a surfer’s paradise on the Atlantic coast. Indeed, every year there is a surfing festival in July which draws the crowds.

Biarritz is all about sophistication and it seems to be as fashionable now as it was when Napoleon III first alerted tourists to the town.

I’d suggest spending some time walking the promenade that runs between the two main beaches and making sure you stay in one of the fabulous boutique hotels.

For a pampering treat with a difference, I’d recommend visiting the thalassotherapy centre and feel your aches and pains soothed away through the use of seawater, algae and mud!

Best beach towns in the South of France

12. Sete

Best for: Boat trips and watersports

Nearest airport: Beziers

Where to stay:

Sete coastal town in South of France

For a quaint and quintessential Mediterranean town perfect for dining on seafood and heading out on boat trips, I know you’ll love Sete.

It’s a busy port at its heart, but it boasts 13 kilometres of quiet and undisturbed coastline to the west of the town. This area separates the sea from the Étang de Thau, a saltwater lake.

It is definitely one of the most beautiful French coastal towns and calls out for a post-dinner stroll as you watch the day quieten down in the harbour. The seafood available here is, of course, superbly fresh.

Bizarrely, Sete has a tradition of water jousting! It’s also a wonderful place for beach life and watersports.

13. Marseille

Best for: Large sandy beaches & a lively atmosphere

Nearest airport: Marseille

Where to stay:

Top tours and activities: 


Marseille is, of course, one of the best coastal cities in France, sitting splendidly on the Mediterranean.

It gets its name as one of the best beach cities in France quite fairly, even though it’s a considerably more affordable area compared with wealthy Cannes or Saint-Tropez.

Marseille is actually France’s second largest city in population terms. As you’d expect, there’s plenty to see and do.

I’d recommend quenching your cultural thirst at attractions such as the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations, or simply by wandering the different historic neighbourhoods.

Instead, you can enjoy one of the large sandy beaches popular with families. There are excellent diving spots to discover too.

That said, if you’re looking for some partying, then I am confident that Marseille will provide this too. 

14. Martigues

Best for: Rich cultural heritage

Nearest airport: Marseille

Where to stay:

Martigues French coastal town

I think Martigues is a fascinating place to see geography in action as the various tributaries merge together to enter the sea.

The town’s canals direct the water through the streets before ending at the Etang de Berre Lake, a beautiful coastal spot. Perfect for relaxing or a game of volleyball. 

Martigues is renowned for its fishing and this is reflected in the town’s character but also the delicious food you’ll find, seemingly around every corner.

Martigues history has also ensured that it is dotted with a sizeable number of churches and chapels. Enough to keep even the most enthusiastic busy and immersed. Mix it up with a visit to the fine art museum Musee Ziem.

I’d advise having access to a car if you visit Martigues because some of the best beaches, such as La Couronne, are within easy reach. It means you’ll be able to find a different spot to suit your mood every day. 

15. Cassis

Best for: Coastal walks and vineyards

Where to stay:

Top tours and activities: 

Cassis beach town in France

With its colourful harbourfront buildings and awnings, Cassis is a stylish town on the Côte d’Azur. It is easily within reach of Marseille.

I think that Cassis is a really picturesque town and undoubtedly one of the best coastal towns in southern France.

What’s truly fabulous about Cassis is the variety of different things to do on offer here, making it an ideal destination for so many different people.

There are some of the most stunning coastal walks, as well as plenty to keep history-buffs intrigued, such as the Château de Cassis. While wine lovers like myself will enjoy exploring the area’s vineyards.

Lots of places offer watersports or, if you fancy taking a more leisurely approach (and I don’t blame you!), then the beach is calling you for a spot of sunbathing.

16. Villefranche-sur-Mer

Best for: Sophisticated lifestyle and colourful buildings

Where to stay:

Top tours and activities: 


Nice is of course one of the best beach towns in the French Riviera, but head just a little out and you’ll find another of my personal favourites, Villefranche-sur-Mer.

This wonderful coastal town makes its way onto my list because it sits within easy reach of the hustle and bustle of Nice and also the wild escape of Cap Ferrat, but it’s worthy of attention in its own right.

What I really love about Villefranche-sur-Mer are the colourful houses and buildings. I’m not alone because this is a sought-after spot amongst millionaires.

This is certainly a town characterised by wealth and sophistication. The port adds to the rainbow of colour with colourful boats bobbing up and down on the turquoise Med. 

The Old Town beckons you for a wander, with tiny stairways and narrow streets. The 16th century Citadel and the Chapelle Saint-Pierre are both worth a visit.

Cap Ferrat is within easy reach of Villefranche-sur-Mer and here you can explore wild beaches and acres of forest. The scenery and laid back vibe are worth your time.

Discover more of my favourite day trips from Nice or read my guides to the best things to do in Villefranche-sur-Mer and the top hotels in Villefranche-sur-Mer.

17. Pigna

Best for: A relaxing Mediterranean beach town

Nearest airport: Nice

Where to stay:

Top tours and activities in Corsica:

Pigna in Corsica

A list of the best French coastal towns isn’t complete without a mention of Corsica. Close to Italy, Corsica is French and offers some of the most wonderful coastal towns capable of competing with the mainland.

Pigna is one such town, nestled up to the azure waters of the Med, making it one of the best French Mediterranean beach towns – and a firm favourite of mine.

I love that the mountains roll down to meet the beaches at Pigna, and it’s a relaxed place to be.

18. Nice

Best for: A bit of everything

Nearest airport: Nice

Where to stay:

Top tours and activities: 

If you’re looking for a French coastal town that combines history, culture, and glamour, Nice is the place to be.

Located on the French Riviera, Nice is known for its beautiful beaches, stunning architecture, and vibrant nightlife.

As you stroll along the Promenade des Anglais, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the Mediterranean Sea.

The many beach clubs are the perfect place for sunbathing, swimming, or simply relaxing on a sun lounger with a cocktail in hand. My personal favourite is the beach club at Le Negresco hotel, which is where I stayed.

Nice is also home to several museums and galleries, including the Musée Matisse and the Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain.

These museums showcase the works of some of the most famous artists in the world, including Matisse, Chagall, and Warhol.

When it comes to food, Nice is a hotspot for delicious cuisine. You can sample traditional dishes like socca, a type of flatbread made from chickpea flour. Or try pissaladière, a type of pizza made with caramelised onions and anchovies. 

And of course, you can’t leave Nice without trying the local specialty, salade niçoise – a salad made with tomatoes, olives, tuna, and hard-boiled eggs.

I adore Nice, primarily because I think it makes such a wonderful base for exploring the nearby areas, including Saint Paul de Vence, Antibes and Villefranche-sur-Mer.

19. Saint-Tropez

Best for: Glitz and glamour

Nearest airport: Toulon

Where to stay:

Top tours and activities: 

Saint Tropez

If you’re looking for a luxurious and glamorous coastal town, I don’t think it gets better than Saint Tropez.

Located on the French Riviera, this town is known for its stunning beaches, high-end shops, and celebrity sightings.

One of the most popular beaches in Saint Tropez is Pampelonne Beach, which stretches for 5 km and is lined with beach clubs and restaurants.

If you’re looking for a quieter beach, I’d recommend Plage de la Ponche as a bit of a hidden gem with crystal-clear water and a relaxed atmosphere.

For those interested in history and culture, Saint Tropez has several museums worth visiting. For example, the Musée de l’Annonciade showcases works by artists who were inspired by the town’s beauty.

If you’re a foodie, Saint Tropez has plenty of options to satisfy your taste buds. Don’t miss out on trying the local specialty, Tarte Tropézienne, a delicious cream-filled pastry.

In the evening, the town comes alive with a vibrant nightlife scene. From chic bars to exclusive nightclubs, trust me when I say that there’s no shortage of places to party in Saint Tropez.

20. Antibes

Best for: Beautiful beaches

Nearest airport: Nice

Where to stay:

Top tours and activities: 

Antibes is a charming coastal town located in the French Riviera. Situated between Nice and Cannes, it makes the perfect day trip from either city.

The town is known for its beautiful beaches, such as the Plage de la Gravette, a small but stunning sandy beach. I completely fell in love with this town, especially all of its quaint hidden corners and charming atmosphere.

Antibes is also home to the famous Picasso Museum, which houses an impressive collection of works by the famous artist. The museum is located in the Château Grimaldi, a 14th-century castle that offers stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea.

If you are a food lover, you’ll find plenty of fresh seafood in the town’s delightful restaurants.

Finally, if you are looking for some nightlife, Antibes has a vibrant scene with many bars and clubs that stay open until the early hours of the morning.

The famous Absinthe Bar near the covered market is a particularly popular spot for an encounter with the green fairy.

Discover more of the best things to do in Antibes or read my guide to the best hotels in Antibes.

If you’re looking for a sandy spot to wile away the hours in the sunshine, have a read of my guide to the best beaches in the South of France, or discover my pick of the best day trips from Nice on the French Riviera.

For more fairytale villages, read my guide to the most charming medieval towns in France.

If you have any questions or recommendations for exploring the best French coastal towns, do let me know in the comments!

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Jessie Moore
Jessie Moore

Jessie is a luxury travel expert with years of experience travelling the world to find the best destinations, hotels and adventures.

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