Cannes or Nice: Which French City to Visit?

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by Neota Langley

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Dreaming of a sun-soaked getaway to the French Riviera, but can’t decide between Cannes or Nice? Favoured by the rich and famous, there are only 20 miles between the two and yet, each city has its own unique charm.

Nice, France’s fifth-largest city, boasts a rich history with strong Italian influences, reflected in its colourful architecture and laid-back culture. Meanwhile, Cannes is a smaller, more contemporary city with a worldwide reputation for luxury and glamour.

Cannes is a great option for those looking for a luxury getaway, sandy beaches and a thriving nightlife. On the other hand, Nice is a great choice for those looking for a laid-back option that is a bit more family and budget-friendly.

Both cities offer easy access to the stunning Mediterranean coastline, celebrated local cuisine and vibrant entertainment. So, which will it be? 


Set between the mountains and the glistening Mediterranean Sea, Cannes has something in store for everyone. Famous for the annual Cannes Film Festival, held in May, this coastal city is a must-visit destination for those who appreciate the finer things in life, offering an abundance of high-end restaurants and luxury stores.

Cannes is also a hotspot for watersports, from parasailing to snorkelling there’s something for the whole family to enjoy. 

Luxury Yachts in Cannes
Luxury Yachts in Cannes


When choosing to visit either Nice or Cannes, accessibility needs to be considered. Both cities are served by the Nice Côte d’Azur international airport with regular flights around the world. From the airport, you can catch a bus, train or airport transfer into the centre. 

Both cities are also served by a reliable rail network, with a variety of destinations along the French Riviera and beyond. The Paris – Cannes line is used by 3.2 million visitors a year, taking just over 5 hours. You can view train schedules here.

Cannes is a relatively small city, so once you have arrived, it is easy enough to navigate between the main attractions and wander the cobblestone streets on foot.

The city is also home to a network of dedicated cycle lanes and an easy-to-use, bicycle-sharing program, making it easy and convenient to explore the area on two wheels. 

There are no trams in Cannes unlike Nice, instead, Cannes offers a network of affordable shuttle buses that will whisk you across the city. These shuttles are not only used for transport visitors from A to B but they also provide excellent sightseeing tours on a budget.

Take the ‘convertible shuttle’ along the Croisette or discover the historic district on the electric Suquet shuttle.

Public transportation for further afield is also readily available, with reliable bus and train services connecting Cannes to nearby attractions along the coast if you want to take trips. Taxis are available, but they can be expensive, especially during the peak tourist season. 

If you plan on taking a day or two to explore the surrounding areas, renting a car may be more convenient than taking public transport. You will not need a car to explore Cannes itself so the best option would be a single-day hire from one of the many pickup locations across the city.

Whilst more expensive than public transport, hiring a car for the day will allow you to explore the hidden coves at your own pace and of course, take a picnic, packed full of French cheese and wine! You can view options on which compares prices across different companies.

Sandy beaches in Cannes
Sandy beaches in Cannes


Affordability is another factor to consider when deciding whether to take a trip to Cannes vs Nice. Both cities exude the luxurious reputation that come with their positioning on the French Riviera but is one cheaper than the other?

Generally speaking, prices in Cannes are slightly higher than those in Nice, although the difference is not significant. Cannes is known for its high-end, grand hotels frequented by celebrities but you can find quite affordable accommodation options if you know where to look.

Head out of the city centre to discover much cheaper, hidden gems. There are plenty of hotels along the shuttle routes where you can head directly into the city centre for as little as €0.80. 

Eating out along the Cotes d’Azur is more affordable than you may think. Cannes is home to a variety of cafes, restaurants and bars, from the one or even two Michelin-starred restaurants such as La Palme d’Or to the more affordable (but very good!) Le Troquet à Soupes.

Grocery shopping is fairly regular across the Cotes d’Azur and the South of France, with several options for local produce at affordable prices.

Activities along the coast can be pricey but head away from the Croisette to track down more budget friendly options. Whether you want to jet ski among luxury yachts or kayak along the picturesque coastline, it’s hard to find a more glamorous destination to discover watersports.

No matter what your budget, there is something for everyone. You can hire a boat or join a day cruise from €100 per day all the way up to €20k + per day, depending on your preferences.

Take a paddleboard or a kayak as a cheaper way to explore the Mediterranean sea at a relaxed pace for a much lower average price.

Notre-Dame de l'Esperance Church in Cannes
Notre-Dame de l’Esperance Church in Cannes

Things to do in Cannes

Nice boasts a deeper cultural vibe, with an abundance of museums, historical buildings and galleries. Cannes on the other hand is a more contemporary city, built around the glitz and glamour of the French Riviera.

Both cities are perched on the Mediterranean coast, with scenic boulevards that stretch along the seafront. In Cannes, you will find the Boulevard de la Croisette, famously home to the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, where the Cannes Film Festival is held.

This world-renowned boulevard is full of life, from morning into the night. The crystal clear waters and majestic golden sands make the perfect place to enjoy a spot of sunbathing or swimming, especially when compared to Nice’s pebbly seafront.

You can find a myriad of watersports available within this small area near the beach in Cannes so take your pick – the high-adrenaline options are very popular in Cannes so if you are into parasailing, jet skiing or water skiing then Cannes is the place for you.

Whilst Cannes is not home to as many cultural hotspots as Nice, you can still discover a selection of smaller galleries and museums, dotted across the city.

Located on the Croisette, La Malmaison Art Center is a modest but popular art gallery. Welcoming 3 exhibitions each year, this gallery houses an impressive collection of modern art. You can delve into the history of Cannes by exploring the old town, known as Le Suquet.

Dating back to Roman times, the old town is home to winding streets, local produce markets and historic buildings.

With a reputation for glitz and glamour, you can expect to find plenty of high-end shops and boutiques in Cannes. Nestled between palaces along the Croisette, many designer stores have taken up residence.

Boulevard de la Croisette in Cannes
Boulevard de la Croisette in Cannes

From Chanel to Hermès, via Cartier and Christian Dior, some of the most iconic brands await. It’s not all designer handbags and yachts on offer however, parallel to the Croisette, the Rue d’Antibes is the busiest shopping street in Cannes.

With more than 800 shops lining the street, from to popular high-street stores to local designers. Head down to the old town to discover local markets where you can find beautifully handmade crafts and souvenirs, don’t forget to stop in at one of the oldest shops in Cannes, the Tesi hat shop.

Make sure to include a trip to the Lérins Islands, a cluster of four small islands located off the coast. A budget-friendly 15-minute ferry crossing will whisk you away from the hustle and bustle to Sainte Marguerite, one of the two accessible islands in the archipelago. You can pre-book tickets here.

A natural haven, Sainte Marguerite is a mere 3km long but with a rich history and diverse landscape, you will have plenty to explore. The quiet pine forests and rocky coves feel far separated from the glitzy boutiques and hotels of Cannes.

Wander around the island on one of the many trails, find a hidden cove and take a dip in the azure sea or head straight to Fort Royal, home to the Royal Musee de la Mer.

This 17th-century fort is famous for housing the ‘Man in the Iron Mask’ – a prisoner during the time of Louis XIV. You may already know the story from the 1998 film, ‘The man in the iron mask’ starring Leonardo Dicaprio. There are two restaurants available but with incredible picnic spots with views back across the French Riviera, packing a picnic is highly recommended.

When it comes to eating out, Cannes is popular for its fresh seafood restaurants and chic beachside cafes. There is a more modern feel to dining out when compared to Nice’s regional cuisine and rustic, homely restaurants.

Cannes certainly has a keener focus on nightlife, with several stylish bars and nightclubs that come alive at night. You can find a selection of rooftop bars and clubs along the bustling Croisette with panoramic views across the coast.

Fort Royal on Sainte-Marguerite Island
Fort Royal on Sainte-Marguerite Island

Where to Stay in Cannes

Villa Claudia Hotel Cannes – This quaint, 3-star hotel is perfect for those visiting Cannes on a mid-range budget. There are several cosy rooms available, a hearty breakfast available in the mornings and a lovely garden for guests to enjoy.

Hotel Splendid – As the name may suggest, this splendid hotel is an excellent option for those who are looking for something a bit luxurious while in Cannes. There are lovely rooms to choose from along with lots of other amenities to ensure guests have a great stay.

La Bastide de l’Oliveraie – This is another great option if you’re looking for something a bit more high-end in Cannes or if you’d like to have a suite over a simple room. There are lots of room choices available (all with spa access) and there are countless other great amenities, as well.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Cannes hotels!


Nice, like Cannes, is positioned on the stunning Mediterranean coast. With the Alps silhouetted behind the city, Nice is 20km closer to Italy than Cannes but this small distance makes all the difference.

The larger of the two cities, Nice is full to the brim with culture, with museums and galleries around every corner. There is certainly a more laid-back, welcoming feel to this city, perhaps due to its proximity to Italy.  

Gardens on the hill of Cimiez
Gardens on the hill of Cimiez in Nice


While both cities have excellent transport links, being the larger city of the two, Nice offers a more direct service. If you are deciding on Nice vs Cannes based on onward travel you may wish to take this into account.

The Nice Côte d’Azur international airport serves both Cannes and Nice but is much closer to Nice itself. The tram into the city centre is free and takes just 30 minutes, compared to the train into Cannes which takes 60 mins.

The train service on offer from Nice provides a much wider range of options for onward travel. Gare de Nice-Ville is the city’s main train station, located in the heart of the city with regular services to cities such as Paris and Marseille.

The trains are affordable, comfortable and reliable so if you are heading on to another city, you are more likely to find a direct route from Nice. You can view train schedules here.

Nice is home to an extensive bus and tram network which is easy to use and covers a wide range of attractions across the city. The trams are affordable and they run regularly from 4.30am until 1.30am. 

Although not as small as Cannes, Nice is still a walkable city. Wandering through the streets you will discover vibrant historical buildings not featured on any maps, authentic street food stalls and markets. Like Cannes, there is also a bike-share programme available with several pick-up/drop-off points across the city. 

Hiring a car is unnecessary during your trip to Nice. The city centre is inaccessible to vehicles as it is now dedicated to the tram network and due to the excellent trains and buses, any day trips can be made using public transport.

If you have arrived into Nice with a car, you can park it at the free park-and-ride car park for the duration of your stay. 

Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Nice
Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Nice


When deciding whether to travel to Cannes or Nice, affordability is an important factor. Both cities exude luxury but generally speaking, Nice is the more affordable option of the Riviera rivals.

The difference, however, is not significant. A much larger city, there are more options for budget-conscious travellers if you choose to visit Nice. If you are hoping to walk in the footsteps of celebrities and royalty then head down to the Promenade des Anglais for high-end hotels.

Budget-friendly options can be found scattered across the city such as hostels and affordable guesthouses and budget hotels. Focus your search along the tram line for easy access to the city centre.

Nice has a much wider range of cafes and restaurants to suit all budgets. With Italian influences and regional Niçoise cuisine, there are hundreds of eateries to chose from. Whether you want to celebrate a special occasion at one of the Michelin-starred establishments or simply discover the local dishes in a homely restaurant.

L’Alchimie is the perfect blend of quality and affordability, but make sure to book in advance, this little restaurant is extremely popular.

Activities along the Cotes d’Azur can suit all budgets. Museums and galleries range between €5 – €20 for entry, but there are plenty of chapels you can wander around free of charge.

Watersports are also available along the coast, from diving to jet skiing. You can hire a kayak or paddleboard by the hour or splash out on a scuba diving experience.

Promenade des Anglais
Promenade des Anglais

Things to do in Nice

Whilst both cities sit on the Mediterranean coast, there are some key differences between the activities on offer.

The seafront in Nice is dominated by the Promenade des Anglais, an iconic, 7km-long boulevard that stretches along the azure sea.

As beautiful as it is, the beach in Nice is largely pebbles which can make sunbathing and swimming uncomfortable. If you are on the hunt for golden sandy beaches, Cannes is the place to go.

Along the promenade, you will find a range of activities, largely watersports, on offer: from parasailing for the adventure junkies to the more relaxed paddleboarding. 

Nice is home to a wide range of museums and galleries to suit all sorts of interests. From the Musee Matisse to the Franciscan Monk Museum, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art to The Musée Archéologique de Nice. Nice is known for its culture so if you are a history buff or an art connoisseur then Nice is the destination for you.

With better transport links on offer, Nice is the perfect base for day trips. You can easily reach Antibes, Monaco or Saint-Paul-de-Vence on the bus or train.

A trip out to Antibes is highly recommended, a charming town just 20 minutes along the coast by train. Home to the Musée Picasso, a museum housed in a breathtaking chateau overlooking the sea. You can also organise a guided tour here.

Evening entertainment is perhaps not as vibrant as Cannes. There are plenty of restaurants, street food stalls and bars dotted around the city, offering a blend of Italian and Niçoise cuisine.

Often you will find street performers lighting up the old town late into the evening however, there are no nightclubs in Nice. If you are deciding on Nice or Cannes for families this may not be an important factor.

Cap d'Antibes
Cap d’Antibes

Where to Stay in Nice

Nice Garden Hotel – This 3-star hotel located close to the Promenade des Anglais is an excellent place to stay in Nice for those looking for a mid-range hotel. They have several rooms available along with a fantastic location for exploring all this city has to offer.

Palais Saleya Boutique hôtel – Higher-end travellers will love this sleek and modern boutique hotel located in the centre of Nice. Situated within easy reach of the city’s top attractions, they also have several bright and clean rooms available along with other amenities.

Aparthotel AMMI Vieux Nice – Those looking for their own flat while visiting Nice will love this aparthotel. There are different apartments on offer, all ranging in size, and there is also breakfast available daily and an airport shuttle on offer.

Hostel Meyerbeer Beach – If you’re travelling on a tight budget or solo, this hostel is an excellent option. Voted as one of the top hostels in all of France, they have a both dorm beds and private rooms available, a great location and excellent common areas and self-catering facilities.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Nice hotels!

View of Nice at dusk
View of Nice at dusk

Cannes vs Nice: The Verdict

So, which of the Riviera rivals will you choose? No matter which city you decide on, you are guaranteed to have an amazing time soaking up the Mediterranean sun on the glistening Cotes d’Azur. 

If you are looking to submerge yourself in culture and are looking for a more laid-back feel then Nice is the city for you. Spend 2-3 days in Nice to absorb the city’s rich history and delicious cuisine. 

However, if you want to visit a vibrant, contemporary city with great nightlife then Cannes is the city for you. While Nice is home to an abundance of historic beauty, Cannes has an electric buzz to it, day and night. A city that never sleeps.

It is of course, possible to visit both cities during your stay on the French Riviera but take into account your main priorities before deciding on whether to base yourself in Cannes or Nice.

Are you trying to choose between Nice and Cannes? Have any questions about either city? Let us know in the comments!

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Neota Langley

Neota is a writer for The World Was Here First. Born and bred in Cornwall, she can usually be found with hiking boots on, ready to embark on an adventure. For the last 6 years, she has travelled throughout Europe in her self-built campervan with her trusty canine companion, Ivy. She loves exploring France, the Nordics and spending time in Alpine destinations.


  1. Hi Neota,
    Heading out for a US family reunion in Uzis of which I have yet to meet any of those relatives, and heading into Nice first with about 5 days to spend on the French Riviera. Your article has helped me navigate to what I hope will be my best opportunity to explore in what little time I have. Traveling Europe in your own self built campervan, not bad. I have thought, since recently retired, early, that finding a nice location such as Southern Provence for 6 months to a year, and using it as a home base to explore Europe, would be perfect. Thanks for your input. Peter


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