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The French Riviera may not be the first destination that comes to mind for December vacations. And yet, this region is worthy of consideration. It combines in itself the fun of the European Christmas markets, as well as a fair share of the winter sun, and lots of activities in a small yet very diverse region of the country.
Having visited the French Riviera in winter not once but twice, we can suggest fun and relaxed vacation travel itinerary for 5 to 7 days, depending on how much spare time you have. In case you stay in the area for longer, we also have quite a few suggestions about a road trip to Provence.
How to move around the French Riviera in winter?
Now, a few useful tips here about how to move around the region. We found it super-convenient to drive in a car. There are toll roads as well as free roads to choose from, and we found it relatively easy to park in the cities and towns. Renting a car in advance may result in saving up to 70% on the booking and you can check available vehicles.
Another way to move around the French Riviera in winter is buses. We tried the services of Flixbus and found this bus company to be very convenient. They have busy schedules, a variety of destinations, and affordable services.
Finally, consider exploring the French Riviera by train. The railroad of the region connects major cities and towns and offers comfortable commutes.
Why choose the French Riviera in winter?
The South of France is very friendly in winter. It has mild weather with the temperature rarely dropping below 3º C (37º F), and often hovering around 14º to 15º C (57º to 59º F). It may rain in December, while January and February are usually known for their dry and sunny weather.
For us, active explorers usually discouraged by the heat, it felt very comfortable to explore the towns and villages of the French Riviera by feet or by bicycles in winter. Long and enjoyable walks are a huge plus. In this weather, we even managed to soak our feet in the waters of the Mediterranean, while we also saw some locals go for a swim!
In addition to enjoyable weather, the French Riviera in winter is very budget-friendly. You can catch discount deals on hotels and tours, enjoy lunches on the terraces with the view, and avoid the crowds.
All of this is, of course, less true for French Riviera in December – the holiday season. There will be crowds, and cars/hotels/buses should be booked in advance. But the region gets very festive and jolly, with all those markets, fairs, and lovey decorations that you can simply never get enough of.
Côte D’azur in December: Top Destinations for 5-7 Days Itinerary
When putting together our itinerary for a week for the French Riviera, we focused on the most popular destinations, while also trying to jot down some smaller villages and towns. We also picked 5 things to do for each of the major locations that would add up to an active day or two on-site.
Save a Couple of Days for Nice in Winter
We’ve been to Nice in winter, and we’ve explored it in summer and realized that the city differs greatly depending on the season. We found the gem of the Côte d’Azur to be so much more fun during the winter months!
For this French Riviera travel guide, we recommend saving a couple of days for Nice. For starters, there is nothing like renting a hotel room or an AirBnB at Promenade des Anglais and waking up to the views of the sea! Plus, the city is quite big and perfect for long walks, especially in December, with all the Christmas markets in the old town.
There is a detailed post on our blog on things to do in Nice in winter, and here are some of the highlights and ideas for the Nice itinerary if you choose to visit it in December:
- Check out the Christmas fairs. One of the most popular is the Christmas Village on Massena Square. Plus, there is the Midnight Mass in the Cathedral Saint Reparate.
- Walk or bicycle through the Promenade des Anglais. Or, better yet, rent an apartment in the area, grab your jogging shoes, and join the locals on their morning jog by the sea. If you are adventurous/prepared enough, this one can be followed by a dip into the Mediterranean.
- Head up the Castle Hill to enjoy the panoramas of the Old Town, the port, and the sea, and indulge in the stroll in the gardens of the hill.
- Try the famous Niçoise salad in one of many cafes near Cours Sales at noon, and head to Negresco for oysters in the evening.
- Descend the Castle Hill and head towards the lesser-known Coco Beach that not many tourists find time to explore. This is an enjoyable and meditative 2.5 km walk by the sea.
Winter tours to take in Nice
If in Nice only for a day, there is a way to still get the most of the city by taking a 2-hour tour by Segway around the old town and exploring its culture and architecture.
On the contrary, if you decide to stay in the area longer, why not spend a day on a wine tour exploring Provence? This is a day trip with three award-winning wineries of the Côte d’Azur included in the itinerary.
Where to stay in Nice?
The main areas that we recommend considering when looking for hotels or AirBnBs in Nice are the Vieux Nice, Le Port, and Promenade des Anglais – the three quarters with the sea views, as well as Jean-Médecin or Gambetta, calmer areas in the heart of the town and still close to all the sightseeing spots. Check the latest listings in these areas.
Take a winter day trip to Cannes and Antibes
Both of these towns definitely deserve a full day or even an overnight stay but if you are trying to see as much of the French Riviera in December as possible, Cannes and Antibes can be easily combined into a day trip.
Cannes in the winter months, December through February, is a lazy and relaxed town with its streets free from the floods of tourists, and its locals enjoying the sun in numerous parks and by the sea. Here are some of the town’s great activities:
- Cannes is known for its murals, many of those centered in the Old Town area. If you have time, we recommend opting-in for a quest to finding les Murs Peints decorating the city walls.
- Take as many pictures as you can near the Palais des Festivals, the famous venue where the Annual Cannes Film Festival takes place. In December, there are hardly any crowds in the area.
- Join the locals in the game of petanque, a fun activity that this region is famous for.
- Take a ferry and go island-hopping and exploring the Iles des Lérins.
- Indulge in the local food and candied fruits in the Marché Forville, the Cannes market.
With Antibes, it is a hit or miss in December because you can either be lucky enough to catch warm and sunny weather or get stuck with rain. If it is good outside, definitely stop for coffee or even lunch in one of the beach cafes with a view and then enjoy a walk by the sea. If it rains, head for cozy cafes like La Cour des Thés for a cup of tea and French pastries. Don’t miss out on the Musée Picasso and pay a visit to Musée Napoléonien.
More winter tours in Cannes and Antibes
Get even more from this day trip by combining Cannes, Antibes, and Saint-Paul-de-Vence. The logistics of hopping from one location to another on one’s own may be a bit stressful so it might be a better idea to opt-in for an organized tour instead of a self-guided one.
Where to stay in Cannes?
If interested in this area, it is definitely better to stay in Cannes. especially if you are coming sometime after December when smaller towns of the French Riviera get closed for the low season.
In Cannes, some of the best areas for vacation rentals are La Croisette and Le Suquet. Rooms in these areas will either have a sea view or will be as close to the sea as possible. Check the best accommodations in Cannes.
Plan a 2-day stay in Monaco
Like with Nice, Monaco in winter and Monaco in summer are two absolutely different destinations. December through February, Monaco is very laid-back and even a bit sleepy, while still maintaining the mild Mediterranean climate perfect for walking.
In fact, if you are not planning on visiting museums, you can cover most of the city’s attractions, from the palace and the gardens to Monte-Carlo by foot in a day. However, Monaco is one of those destinations in the world that is better when it is savored, not rushed through.
When in Monaco in December, here are some of the great things to do:
- Start in the Palais du Prince. This is an initiation activity for every Monaco’s first-timer. Enjoy panoramas of the city, explore the square, and then descend down to the lush gardens.
- Stop by Port Hercule for the Christmas village. Monaco is all dressed up for Christmas in December, with lots of fairs and even the rink available to its visitors and residents.
- Head to Monte-Carlo and enjoy Christmas decorations near one of the world’s oldest casinos. This location is very fancy during the festive season, with stylish and lush decorations and lots of lights.
- Stop for lunch in the Monte Carlo harbor. December is the low season in Monaco, but it is also the Christmas season. This keeps most of the cafes and restaurants open through the festive days and closing in January.
- Diversify your Monaco journey with a visit to one of the closest ski resorts.
More winter tours in Cannes and Antibes
Don’t miss out on Monaco’s signature luxurious lifestyle and enjoy the Ferrari driving experience. You may also get the most out of the little time you have in the French Riviera and explore Monaco and the nearest village of Ez all in a half-day trip.
Where to stay in Monaco?
Look for AirBnB’s and hotels in Monte-Carlo or La Condamine if you are into walking, or look for accommodations in Monaco Ville if you prefer the window views. Here are available rentals in Monaco.
Make the most out of 5 to 7 days on the French Riviera in December
The French Riviera is not only about major destinations like Nice or Monaco. Unfortunately, when the time is limited, smaller villages and towns usually end up edited out of the 5 to the 7-day travel itinerary. However, if you do decide to try and squeeze in additional sightseeing activities, here are some French Riviera honorary mentions.
- Saint-Tropez in December turns into a lovely and cozy local community, and this is fair even for the Christmas season. Plus, there are much fewer people in the town’s popular wineries, so you can plan some wine-tasting followed by a visit to the Christmas market on the main square. If you are staying in Nice, you can also enjoy a day tour of Saint-Tropez and Port Grimaud.
- Menton is a great pick for a visit in winter. Of course, rather than in December, a trip to this town should better be scheduled in February, during the legendary Lemon Festival. In December, this is a cute cozy town with a fair share of Italian charm sprinkled into it. Wander the cute streets and enjoy olive and lemon groves. From Nice, a full-day Menton tour is available.
- Take a road trip from Cannes to Saint-Raphael through Massif de l’Esterel and enjoy some of the most beautiful views on the way.
- Head towards Calanques de Marseilles. A bit of a stretch but totally worth it in winter. The national park is challenging during the summer months with its roads closed due to the high risks of fires. In winter, however, you can drive down to the small cafes and restaurants and enjoy food with a stunning view, not to mention lots of hiking or even an e-bike riding 3-hour adventure.
- Visit a small village Biot, which is famous for its glassmaking. The hilltop village is all about maintaining its bubble glass and glass blowing traditions, and exploring Verrerie de Biot is a type of experience very different from the rest of the French Riviera.
- Explore the village of Eze, a medieval hilltop village 430 meters above sea level. It is all about the narrow streets, clay decorative pots on the sidewalks, and seaside views. Taking a 1-hour walk down to the sea – the one that Friedrich Nietzsche took when he stayed in Eze – is the ultimate recommendation.
Written by Inessa Rezanova
I am a Kyiv-based screenwriter with 10+ years of experience in producing scripts. I love my job, and no, I did not quit it to travel the world. I see different countries in my spare time. As a storyteller, I believe that it is the emotional journey that matters the most. This is why together with my sister I started this blog to encourage everyone to travel and to do so with a heart and mind opened to adventures.
Images by Natalie Rezanova
I am a photographer based in Kyiv, Ukraine. I am lucky to be able to do what I love the most for a living. Photography is an endless source of inspiration for me. My mission on this blog is to inspire by sharing some of the favorite captions from my journeys. I also provide professional photography tips to help the readers bring home some beautiful photo memories.