The Côte d’Azur (French Riviera) is a wonderful playground for old and young alike. Perhaps more well-known for its glamorous hedonistic lifestyle than for child-friendly vacations, this list should help dispel that myth. Here are 10 top ideas for great days out and activities for kids, perfect for holiday-makers and residents alike.
This list is based on my experiences with my boys, it’s in no particular order and doesn’t include the obvious and many attractions of all the nearby beaches on the Riviera.
1. Le Bois des Lutins, an adventure playground so original you can’t help but be charmed. The main attractions are the netted walks high in the trees, linking tree-houses and platforms from where you can search for hidden fairies, elves and pixies. To get down you have to brave the enormous slides and tunnels. You’ll also find giant inflatables, including the “hamster wheel”, toboggans in the woods, zip wires, an underground troll cave, traditional wooden games and unusual swings. Because most of the park is in the woods it makes a great day out even on the hottest days. You can take your own picnic or buy food on site at the snack bar. Billed as being suitable for 2-102 years old, I wouldn’t disagree! Everyone finds something they love at this wonderfully low-tech park. Click here for more details
2. Musée Océanographique de Monaco. This world-class oceanography museum sits spectacularly placed on the cliff face looking out to sea on the rock of Monaco. This in itself is worth the journey but perhaps not for the younger members of the family. For them there’s an excellent aquarium – not big but perfectly sized for young children – with a touch pool and times to observe the fish being fed. The museum is stuffed full of marine world curiosities. Again, it’s not so big that kids lose interest, but just full enough of oddities to capture their imagination. You’ll find a whale skeleton and an enormous polar bear alongside 200 year old diving gear and all sorts of pickled sea monsters! The roof terrace has a restaurant and excellent play area next to a turtle enclosure all with 360° panoramic views of Monaco and the Mediterranean.
3. Rollerblading/cycling along the seafront at Cagnes sur Mer. Click here to see the post dedicated to this activity. Of course this can also be done on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice too. In both places bikes can be hired.
4. Le Village des Fous is a unique theme park consisting of a “crazy village” and a labyrinth that you have to get through in order to access the village. In the labyrinth not only do you have to find your way through but there are also physical challenges at each stage. Once you’ve made it through the maze the “crazy village” awaits! (It is possible to by-pass the maze and go direct to the crazy village if that appeals more). This is a fun park with original rides such as pedal karts, a flying bath tub, water catapults, crazy mirrors, water slides, rope walks in the trees, toboggans in giant tires, water jets and much more. You can take a picnic or eat at the café. The maze gets very hot in high season but there are plenty of drinking fountains and areas where you can cool off in water spray making it perfectly bearable even on the hottest day. In summer be sure to pack the kids’ swim stuff & towels (and plenty of sunscreen).
5. Parc Phoenix, 7 hectares of exotic gardens with 2500 plant species and one of the biggest glass-houses in Europe located on the western edge of Nice. The pyramid-shaped glass-house has 6 different climatic zones offering the visitor a rich, colourful, steamy, tropical experience. Kids love the enormous exotic plants that look like they’re out of a cartoon they’re so bright and wacky, and they just adore the iguanas wandering around freely! You’ll find a number of animals such as otters, wallabies, crocodiles, marmoset monkeys, lemurs, flamingoes, kookaburras and other birds living in sympathetically designed enclosures and several excellent play areas. The whole place is beautifully landscaped and designed for a fun and fascinating day out. Picnics are allowed and there is a small café too.
6. Take the Mini Train (tourist train on wheels) around Nice and then wander along the Promenade du Paillon through the water jets to the excellent children’s playground. This will appeal to younger children as it’s a relaxing way to see some of the old town of Nice and its famous seafront boulevard the “Promenade des Anglais”, followed by a fun play. In summer kids strip off to their underwear (or put on swimsuits) to play in the fountains (so be prepared and bring a towel). The playground is great at any time of year.
7. Aquasplash, don’t all kids (big and small) love a water park? A vast choice of waterslides, some not for the faint-hearted, and a pirate playzone for the littlies make this a fun day out. It can get very crowded in high season so my advice is to get there as it opens. You’re not supposed to take picnics but you can get away with it if you’re discreet (I always do).
8. Pitchoun Forest, zip-line adventure course in the trees (in the style of “Go Ape” in the UK). There are 4 different courses for different levels of difficulty consisting of rope ladders, zip wires, rope bridges, wooden tunnels, trapezes and swings but none of them are very high up making them suitable for as young as 3 years old (or 1m high) and up to about 9. Adults can walk around the course alongside the children to assist if necessary. Unlike in places designed for older users, the children are permanently attached to the wires; another reason why it’s suitable for such young kids. You can take your own picnic or eat in the café at the Village des Fous next door. For older kids there’s a more challenging course a couple of kilometres away at Canyon Forest (find out more here).
9. Ferry ride to Ile Sainte Marguerite from Cannes followed by a walk along la Croisette to find the stars’ handprints. Everybody loves a boat ride, right? The ferry across to the island of Sainte Marguerite takes 15 minutes, just long enough to get salt spray on your face but not feel sick! The island itself is home to a 17th century fort where the man in the iron mask was imprisoned, a bird reserve, beautiful rocky coves and majestic umbrella pines all linked by shady walking paths suitable for pushchairs. There is a restaurant and a snack bar (not always open, depends on the season) but this is the perfect place to take a picnic and spend a day on your own little beach, paddling, rock pooling or swimming away from the crowded beaches along the coast. Once back in Cannes, if you have the energy stroll along the famous Croisette seafront boulevard, eating ice-creams and search for the hand-print of the pink panther (I think that should be paw print!) Film stars have had their handprints immortalised around the Palais des Festivals where the Cannes Film Festival takes place every year and amongst them, if you look carefully, you’ll find the famous feline.
10. Marineland, the biggest marine life theme park in Europe with dolphin, orca & seal shows, sharks, rays, penguins and polar bears. I hesitated whether to include this as it’s not really my kind of thing but I was reasonably impressed after my first visit, having discovered that a lot of research is also carried out here, however I personally don’t like seeing large marine animals in captivity.*** It can get very crowded so once again my tip is to arrive as it opens in the morning and prepare your visit ahead, checking the times of the various shows so as not to miss out. It is possible to take your own picnic or eat at one of the many cafés and restaurants.
All of these are within 30 mins of Lou Messugo gîte with the exception of Monaco at 1 hour. Many are only 10-15 mins away.
I’ve also written about things to do with young teens on the Côte d’Azur, ideas for rainy days on the Côte d’Azur, activities with toddlers and top indoor activities (all of which can be done when the sun shines too!) Have you been on holiday in the South of France? Do you have any favourite things to add to my list?
*** UPDATE 2016 Since devastating floods destroyed parts of Marineland killing an orca and many other captive fish and animals in October 2015, I have revised my opinion of this place and no longer endorse it. Personally I won’t visit again.