The glitzy, glamorous French Riviera might not be the first destination that springs to mind when you plan a kid-friendly vacation, but repeat after us: Trips with children don’t have to be restricted to resorts, campsites and Disney theme parks. Go ahead. Say it again for good measure.
Sure, Cannes (less than 30 kilometers from the Nice airport) may be most famous for the annual international film festival that begins on May 8 this year — and, you know, for the palatial hotels that house the stars that walk the event’s red carpet. But it also has plenty to keep the little ones entertained. In fact, I take my kids to Cannes every year — and while they couldn’t care less if Blake Lively walks past them on La Croisette (although my daughter’s head might be turned by Gal Gadot, because Wonder Woman), they absolutely love this bustling coastal town. Here are some of our favorite things to do in Cannes.
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Walk La Croisette
Ah, La Croisette. If you don’t do anything else in Cannes, make sure you walk the length of it (or as much of the 2-kilometer stretch your little one’s legs can manage). Also, make sure you get family pics posing on the red carpet outside the Palais du Festival, take a break to enjoy the permanent mini-carnival (the double-decker carousel is beautiful) and replenish your energy stocks at the snack bars along the route. Hire Segways and make your walk more of a cruise if your kids are 8 or over.
Have adventures at Le Bois des Lutins
Only around 20 kilometers from Cannes is one of the most magical amusement parks you’re likely to ever see — one the whole family can really enjoy. Le Bois des Lutins (“the wood of the elves”) has an incredible treetop course of nets spanning 1.5 hectares of land, with zip lines, enormous plastic balls to roll around, bouncy houses, tree houses, rope swings and loads more. For €5 (about $6 USD), you can buy a bag of dirt for your kids to mine for treasure in a waterway. To get the most out of your adventure in Le Bois des Lutins, wear long pants and sleeves and take bug repellent. You can bring your own picnic lunch if you like, but the on-site snack stands are also superb.
Visit Iles des Lérins
Board the ferry at Cannes’ old port, and within 15 minutes, you’ve reached Iles des Lérins — two peaceful, well-preserved islands. You can’t go to both without going back to Cannes en route between, but if you’re in Cannes for a few days, they’re definitely both worth a visit. St. Marguerite is bigger, with marked trails to lead you along botanical and historical tours of the site. St. Honorat has an active monastery that’s strictly off-limits, but its fortified monastery is free to visit — and perfect for kids who need to run around and let off some steam. Take a picnic, find a secluded spot, and eat your lunch with your feet dangling in the Med. Bliss.
Go wild in the water at Aquasplash
You only need to travel 10 kilometers from the hustle and bustle of Cannes and you’re at Aquasplash, one of the biggest water parks on the French Riviera, with over 2,000 meters of slides. It’s open every day of the week from June to September (the 2018 opening date is June 16) and has something for kids of all ages. If a few hours of watery entertainment is enough, split the day between Aquasplash and its neighbor, Marineland, which is home to dolphins, killer whales, penguins and even two polar bears chilling out in their air-conditioned digs, complete with natural seawater and ice caves. Both Aquasplash and Marineland have plenty of picnic areas, too, if you want to take your own lunch.
Explore the old town
Before Cannes was taken over as a playground for the rich and famous (as well as those of us wannabes), it was actually a small fishing village set atop Le Suquet, a hill rising back from the port. See how many of the 109 steps your kids can cope with (more than you, possibly) with the promise of unforgettable views and ice cream at the top. The old fortress at the top of the hill, now Musée de la Castre, is great fun to explore and is home to some fascinating eclectic collections older kids with an interest in history will enjoy (entry is free for under-18s).
Hop aboard Le Petit Train
Like lots of towns and village across France, Cannes has its own Petit Train. This is a brilliant, inexpensive way to see the sights — without having to worry about air-conditioning. It departs regularly (between 10 a.m. and 11 p.m.) from the Palais des Festivals and gives you an hour-long guided tour of the town. At €7 (about $8.50 USD) per adult and €3 (about $3.60 USD) per child age 3 to 10 (it’s free for kids under 3), it’ll be the cheapest hour you ever spend in Cannes.
Chill out on a catamaran cruise
Lots of companies offer half-day catamaran cruises around the Bay of Cannes, which are perfect if you want to escape the crowded beaches — and have older kids who can be trusted not to leap off the side of the boat. Masks and snorkels are provided when it’s time to stop and cool off in the beautiful Great Blue.
Eat (lots of) Nivà ice cream
No trip to Cannes is complete without ice cream, and locals swear by Nivà (its permanent home is on Rue Félix-Faure next to Les Arcades cinema, but keep your eyes peeled for the cream and purple Nivà cart popping up at various temporary spots around the town). This stuff is smooth, creamy and well worth waiting in line for. If your kids like Nutella, they’ll go crazy for gianduia. The salted caramel is amazing, the dark chocolate sorbet is amazing… actually, it’s all amazing.
Cannes might not be at top of your bring-the-kids list, but if you plan ahead, it can be an amazing experience for the whole family. And you never know. You might just bump into Wonder Woman while you’re in line at Nivà.