Say what you will about the French Riviera in the summer. Sure, there are traffic jams, crowded public transport, longer queues at attractions, sweatier tourists, and pricier airfares, but there’s also ice-cream on the seafront, dining al fresco in village squares, open-air concerts and firework displays in the warm evenings, and most important, no school for eight weeks.
If you are visiting the French Riviera with children, it’s a great time to bond as a family and experience first-hand history, art, traditional festivals and nature; and develop a real appreciation for French culture.
However, travelling with children is a whole different ballgame to travelling solo or as a couple and it’s vital to plan ahead so your Riviera trip is more incroyable than catastrophe.
How to survive summer on the French Riviera with kids
Here are Access Riviera’s tips for how to survive summer on the French Riviera with kids:
Make the journey fun
For flights, I print out a map of the world and put stickers on from the origin to destination and little ones can follow the flight path and circle each ‘stopover’ when you arrive – it builds anticipation and if they have their own ‘map’ they feel involved in the process.
Keep any train or bus tickets for their ‘travel bag’ so you can invent games later on.
iSpy sheets are good for killing time – here are few free downloads I made for my eldest son when he was aged around 2 years and they helped keep him occupied when we had to travel, visit busy supermarkets etc. They are customised for things you are likely to see while travelling in France and FREE! You can download them here: iSpy iSpysupermarket iSpynature
A great family-friendly destination
The French Riviera is an excellent family-friendly destination, and while it’s easy to blow your budget at theme parks and attractions, it is also a viable destination on a small budget.
Plan outings at the beach, evening strolls around hilltop villages when many of the historical buildings are lit up and look spectacular, and mix up the transport you use if you can – trains, buses, ferries, petit train (the little tourist trains) may seem boring to you but kids love transport!.
Le petit train can be great for kids (image: trainstouristiquedenice)
There are some excellent national parks in the region that are perfect for biking and hiking, and you can find an overview of many of the Riviera’s playgrounds here Playgrounds on the French Riviera.
Bear in mind the length of guided tours especially in summer as little ones can get hot and bored quickly.
Visit websites such as http://www.cotedazur-en-fetes.com/ for information and dates of local events.
Don’t cram too much into one day
Consider your child/children’s normal routine and try to stick to similar times for meals, naps, bedtime.
It can be hard with many summer events on the French Riviera starting late in the evening so choose one or two events where you can stretch to a late night, but don’t try to cram too much into one day or you’ll find you’re left with overtired and grumpy kids which will quickly make your holiday stressful.
Research family discounts
Tourist offices are a wealth of knowledge and can advise about entry discounts for groups or families.
Search on the internet and social media for family passes, ‘2-for-1’ deals or last-minute specials.
Here are 5 useful links for French Riviera family discounts:
- Family discounts for TER trains: http://www.sncf.com/en/discounts/family-children and http://www.ter.sncf.com/paca/loisirs/promos-bons-plans
- Regional discounts with Lignes D’Azur buses where you can use your bus ticket to get discounts across the French Riviera http://www.lignesdazur.com/presentation/?rub_code=1010
- Cote d’Azur Card – includes sightseeing, activities, shopping discounts. Available in 3 or 6-day validities. Generally, you will get value out of this card if you use it at least once a day. https://www.cotedazur-card.com/
4. Groupon – web-based discount site for accommodation and activities. Site is in French; you will need to search ‘France’ then ‘Sud-Est & Corse’ to find discounts applicable for the French Riviera. www.groupon.fr
5. La Fourchette – Dining discounts; site is in French. Search by town/city, e.g. Nice, Cannes, Antibes. They often have specials such as ‘20% off your total bill’, ‘Buy 1 main meal, get one free’ or ‘Kids dine free’ so it pays to have a quick look before you eat out on the French Riviera. www.lafourchette.com
Teach your kids basic French
Kids learn languages much easier than adults. Teach your child a few basic French phrases – it’s amazing how responsive wait staff or shop assistants are to a small child saying ‘Merci’.
We love the free French lessons at Monde des Titounis in our house as they are short duration and fun (it’s aimed at preschool kids with animated vocabulary lessons).
Make use of Google Translate and apps such as Duolingo.
Be flexible about meal choices
France is not particularly well known for specific children’s menus – you will see A LOT of frites (French fries), basic pasta and chicken nuggets on kids menus here.
Many restaurants will however split menu costs from the a la carte menu for a smaller portion size so don’t hesitate to ask, and it pays to take along a few snacks to restaurants in case your child completely turns their nose up at what is on offer.
Also, a trip to the French Riviera is an opportunity to try new foods that they may not be familiar with – I know 3-year olds who love escargot cooked in butter and garlic, marinated artichokes and steak tartare so try to be flexible about what is on offer and what they are used to at home.
For vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free travellers and people with food allergies or intolerances you may find dining in France is a bit trickier but do some research online first and you’ll find plenty of other travellers who have ‘been done and done that’ so are more than happy to recommend restaurants.
Consider your accommodation carefully
Holiday rentals are ideal for families travelling with small children, because you can cook some of your own meals and unpack and spread out. Most holiday rentals on the French Riviera have excellent proximity to beaches or towns so you are never far away from supermarkets and essential shops.
French campsites are generally in scenic locations and have good facilities such as swimming pools, games rooms, restaurants though try to book ahead especially in peak season.
French campsites usually have good facilities (image: Camping Green Park, Cagnes sur Mer)
Also, explore the idea of staying in themed accommodation that will intrigue little ones – you can stay in a yurt (Mongolian tent), treehouse, tepee, castle, restored chapel or old mill so think outside the box if your budget and patience for research allows it.
Sometimes travel can make you complacent about basic safety. Ensure your holiday accommodation is safe for your family (e.g. cleaning chemicals locked away, electrical cables out of reach of little fingers, smoke alarms installed etc) and don’t hesitate to ask the landlord in advance what safety precautions they have in place for families.
It can be extremely tempting to leave doors and windows open all night at your hotel/B&B/apartment/villa but exercise caution as burglars do prey on the fact there is warm weather and they are experts and can be in and out before you blink (and sometimes even striking when you are on site!).
The French Riviera climate can be scorching in summer, so drink plenty of water and always wear sun cream and a hat. Occasionally, jellyfish are present on the beaches here and it takes 2-minutes to check local jellyfish reports, more details can be found here Jellyfish on the French Riviera
I morally ummed and ahhed about including this next piece of advice, and while I think every tourist office along the Riviera coast (and certainly every town mayor) would state otherwise, I believe it’s important to honestly inform tourists of potential hazards or dangers.
As with every destination, there are some undesirable people you’ll come across on your travels and the French Riviera is no exception. Don’t be surprised to see homeless people, tramps and gypsies especially at areas of high pedestrian traffic and where money is transacted frequently (they sit outside supermarkets, beside ATM machines, outside banks, at bus terminals etc).
I’ll put it out there and state that 9 out of 10 times homeless people and drunks here on the Riviera are harmless – unlike experiences in other countries, here in France they usually do not verbally abuse you if you don’t give them money or follow you down the street. However, exercise caution in all circumstances.
Families should be cautious around gypsies as they are renown for pickpocketing people with baby strollers and/or lots of luggage – be extra alert if you travel on the train or bus as families often stand in the doorways (as it’s convenient for getting your stroller on/off) and this is when many pickpocketing incidents happen at the stops when the change of people getting on and off the train/bus creates a diversion.
Encourage your child to collect souvenirs
Finding inexpensive souvenirs can be fun when you’re travelling – encourage your child to find souvenirs when you’re visiting towns and cities. Some popular souvenirs for the French Riviera are postcards, pretty soaps, keyrings, santons.
Visiting a vide grenier (car boot sale/flea market) or local antiques market can unearth some fantastic retro toys such as tin cars, comic books or vintage airplanes.
French markets are great for finding vintage toys
Diaries and photographs
Older children may enjoy keeping a travel diary and writing about highlights of their day, and you can always buy them a disposable camera or two so they can take their own pictures of the trip.
Allow your kids to enjoy the simple pleasures
It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of having a full itinerary and seeing everything in a tourist hotspot, but you’ll find some of the best experiences will be when you slow down and go with the flow.
Stop for an ice cream or gelato. Grab some take-out pizza and sit on the beach watching the sunset. Let your kids play at the park, interacting with local children. Stroll along the harbourside quays and chat to the fishermen. Pause for a while to watch locals play petanque.
Stop to watch the locals play petanque (boules)
Most of all, enjoy your summer holiday on the French Riviera and spending time together.
Do you have other family travel tips to share? I’d love your feedback. Please share this post on Facebook or Twitter.