Nice or Cannes: which French Riviera city to visit?

Nice or Cannes

Deciding between a visit to Nice or Cannes is like choosing between two perfect slices of the French Riviera’s sun-soaked lifestyle.

Both cities offer considerable allure with their Mediterranean charm and the promise of sunshine, beauty and relaxation.

In this article, I share insights from my own experiences in both Nice and Cannes to help you determine which city to visit or stay in. 

Often when I write these ‘either or’ guides, it’s a pretty tough choice; but I have to say that there’s a clear winner for me here – but more on my personal opinion later!

Whether you’re drawn to the vibrant streets and colourful markets of Nice or the glitz and glamour of Cannes, let’s explore what makes each city worth a spot on your South of France itinerary.

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.

A brief overview: Nice or Cannes

Nice: where charm meets grandeur

With its sprawling promenade and the azure waters of the Baie des Anges, Nice is the quintessential Mediterranean city.

I love the vibrant atmosphere of Nice, and it’s a city that blends artistic flair with a lively cosmopolitan vibe. 

Harbour in Nice

It’s also impossibly pretty, from the quaint cobbled streets and pastel-coloured buildings of the Old Town to the palatial hotels and vibrant beach clubs that line the promenade.

Nice is a city where you can get a cultural hit from the various art galleries and museums, have a relaxing day in one of the beach clubs, or explore the plentiful cafés, bars and restaurants.

It offers a little bit of everything, which is one of the great appeals of Nice, and why I think it’s such a wonderful city.

Cannes: a touch of glitz and a lot of glamour

Synonymous with the glamour of its annual film festival, Cannes is renowned for its exclusive vibe.

The city is smaller and more intimate than Nice, which has both its pros and cons.

Its main boulevard, La Croisette, is lined with high-end shops, prestigious hotels, and private beaches, making it a hotspot for celebrities and luxury seekers.

Cannes View

Beyond the glitz, Cannes also offers charming old quarters like Le Suquet. Here you can enjoy gorgeous views of the city and its bay.

Known for its beautiful sandy beaches, Cannes is the perfect destination for those looking to indulge in a more refined Riviera experience.

Getting to Nice or Cannes

Both Nice and Cannes are well-connected and relatively easy to reach from international destinations, whether from the UK, the US, or beyond.

The cities are also linked by the regional train service, which runs along the coast. This offers a convenient and picturesque way to travel between them and explore other nearby coastal towns.

Getting to Nice

Nice Côte d’Azur Airport is the gateway to the French Riviera and the third-busiest airport in France.

It offers numerous direct flights from major cities across Europe and seasonal flights from cities in North America.

From the UK, you can find frequent direct flights from London, which take about two hours.

Things to do in Nice

Once you land, the city centre of Nice is just a short drive or bus ride away, making it very convenient for travellers.

Additionally, Nice is a central hub for the French railway system, with direct trains connecting to Paris, Lyon, and other major cities.

Getting to Cannes

Cannes is also served by the Nice Côte d’Azur Airport, located about 25 km away.

From the airport, Cannes can be reached via a short taxi ride – or by bus or train, which provide more cost-effective and scenic options.

Like Nice, Cannes has good train services that connect it with other French cities and towns along the Riviera, making it easy to include Cannes in a broader South of France itinerary.

Things to do in Nice and Cannes

While both cities offer stunning seaside promenades and historic old towns, Nice leans more towards a vibrant, artsy vibe with its array of museums and cultural festivals.

On the other hand, Cannes is less about culture and more about luxury, particularly visible during the famous film festival.

Beach-wise, Cannes might edge out for those preferring sand over pebbles.

Both cities serve as excellent bases for exploring other parts of the French Riviera, such as Monaco and St. Tropez, due to their well-connected transport systems.

Top things to do in Nice

Stroll along the Promenade des Anglais: This iconic waterfront avenue is perfect for a leisurely walk or a bike ride, with beautiful views of the Mediterranean.

Explore Vieux Nice (Old Town): Wander through narrow lanes lined with colourful buildings, boutique shops, and bustling food markets.

Visit museums and galleries: Nice is home to several museums, including the Matisse Museum and the Modern and Contemporary Art Museum.

Relax on the beaches: Although the beaches in Nice are mostly pebbly, they are exceptionally beautiful and easily accessible from the city centre.

Discover more of the best things to do in Nice.

Top things to do in Cannes

Walk La Croisette Boulevard: Famous for its luxury shops, palatial hotels, and private sandy beaches, this promenade is a must-visit for a taste of Cannes’ glamorous lifestyle.

Enjoy sandy beaches: Unlike Nice, Cannes features several sandy beaches which are perfect for a classic beach day out.

Cannes Sandy Beach

Tour Le Suquet (Old Town): The historic heart of Cannes offers charming streets, quaint eateries, and panoramic views of the bay and city.

Attend film festival events: If your visit coincides with the Cannes Film Festival, it’s a great opportunity to catch film screenings and celebrity sightings.

Food and drink scenes: Nice or Cannes?

As you’d expect from any destination in France, the cuisine on the French Riviera is, for the most part, really fantastic. 

Both cities showcase the richness of Mediterranean and French dishes with a strong emphasis on fresh, local ingredients – especially seafood.

Must-try dishes in Nice include a classic salade Niçoise, socca (chickpea flour pancakes), and ratatouille. 

I’d say that Nice offers a more rustic and traditional culinary experience, while Cannes presents a more polished and international dining scene.

That’s not to say that Cannes does fine dining better than Nice – in fact, Nice boasts a seriously impressive number of Michelin star restaurants.

Wine lovers will be in their element in both cities, with local rosés from nearby Provence providing the perfect tipple for the warmer weather. 

Nice or Cannes: other considerations

Budget considerations

Firstly I should say that neither Nice or Cannes are particularly cheap cities – the majority of towns and cities along the French Riviera come with a hefty price tag.

That said, Nice generally offers a wider range of accommodation and dining options, so it’s easier to visit on a budget here than in Cannes. 

Jessie at Negresco Beach Club

Due to its exclusive reputation, Cannes tends to be more expensive, especially in terms of accommodation and dining.

Budget travellers might find Cannes challenging but not impossible to enjoy.

Events and festivals

Cannes is of course particularly popular during the Film Festival in May.

It’s a time when the city buzzes with excitement and famous faces, but this also means a spike in prices and crowds.

Nice hosts several cultural and musical festivals throughout the year. These include the Nice Jazz Festival in July and the Nice Carnival in February.

Unless you’re interested in attending these festivals, I’d advise avoiding a visit while they’re running. 

Transportation and accessibility

Nice has a more extensive public transportation network, making it easier to explore the city and its surroundings without a car. This includes buses and trains to nearby towns and attractions.

That said, Cannes is arguably easier to get around because it’s smaller. In Nice I had to get a taxi a few times, whereas in Cannes this didn’t feel necessary. 

Beach preferences

If a sandy beach is important to you then you might prefer Cannes, as you’ll only find pebbles in Nice. 

Both Cannes and Nice offer a number of different beach clubs; although as I’m sure you can imagine, they do come with a high price tag.

Day trips and surrounding areas

Both cities serve as excellent bases for exploring the French Riviera, but I’d say that Nice offers a more convenient base due to its central location. 

Nearby towns to consider visiting include Antibes, Villefranche-sur-Mer, Monaco, Eze and Saint Paul de Vence.

Discover more of my favourite day trips from Nice.

Final words

If you’re looking for a more relaxed, authentic local experience with lots of cultural activities, then I’d definitely recommend Nice. It’s larger, more cosmopolitan, and culturally rich.

For those interested in luxury, shopping, and a bit of celebrity glamour, Cannes undoubtedly offers a more exclusive atmosphere.

My personal opinion? Nice wins hands down for me here. To be honest, I didn’t love Cannes when I visited.

It lacked charm and while I love a touch of luxury (this is a luxury travel blog after all!), I didn’t feel that luxury necessarily meant quality in Cannes.

Nice still offers luxury in abundance if that’s what you’re looking for – but it also comes with beauty, culture and charm. So it’s the best of all worlds!

Have you visited either Nice or Cannes? Let me know which was your favourite in the comments below!

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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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Want up to 25% off hotels?

Subscribe to my newsletter and get immediate access to my guide on how to save money on flights and hotels. Our weekly emails are filled with adventure inspiration, insider travel tips and exclusive discounts.