Tourists have been flocking to the French Riviera for about a hundred years now and it was never because of the low prices. Au contraire! The Cote d'Azur was a luxury destination for moneyed European aristocrats long before mass tourism gained a foothold in the mid-20th century. Even though it is not a cheap destination, you can get good value for money if you're cagey. See my budget tips for the French Riviera.
As in any resort destination, there are three seasons on the Cote d'Azur: high season from June to September, mid-season from March to May and October; low season from November through February. Naturally, prices are at the highest in high season as well as certain festivals such as the Cannes Film Festival, Monaco Grand Prix and Nice Carnival.
The cheapest destination on the French Riviera is Nice which has a very competitive accommodation scene covering everything from youth hostels to five-star hotels. In high season you can pay around €55 for a double in a one-star hotel and about €300 for a standard double in a five-star hotel. For hostels expect to pay about €23 per person for a bed in a dorm.
Although you can get a light lunch at a Michelin-starred restaurant for only €25 (without wine), you can triple that price at dinner. Beach restaurants are pricey at all hours; salads start at €15. One solution is to grab a sandwich at a boulangerie. A pan bagnat is a filling sandwich of tuna, egg, radish, tomato and lettuce that costs €4.50.
Renting a car on the French Riviera is the most expensive way to get around but it's also the most convenient. Rates start at about €42/day for a sub-compact with a stick shift. Public transport on the French Riviera is much cheaper. The price of a local bus ride is one euro; buses between cities also cost one euro but they're not fast! Trains are much more efficient. The price of a ticket from Nice to Cannes starts at aoubt €6.
Beaches are free! Well, unless they're not. By law, no municipality has the right to block beach access but they can afford concessions to plagistes, that is, beach restaurants that charge for the use of lounge chairs, parasols and bar service. Expect to pay anywhere from €14 on up to lounge around in the shade. There are plenty of free, public beaches though. See more about French Riviera beaches.
Museums are a cheap thrill. In Nice, all museums except the Chagall Museum are free. Elsewhere on the Cote d'Azur, prices range from €4 to €15 with discounts for children and seniors.
Some of the Cote d'Azur's most exciting activities are free. Hiking and canyoning are free; cross-country skiing is free some places but carries a small charge in others; skiing, kayaking and rafting can be enoyed for about €30/day.
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