Seasons of the French Riviera
The Côte d’Azur, known in English as the French Riviera, makes up a sizeable portion of France. Running along the Mediterranean coastline in the country's southeast, it starts in the region around Saint-Tropez (in the west) and extends to the border of Italy (in the east).
The area has a humid Mediterranean climate with four distinct seasons: a hot summer from June through August, a warm (and often wet) fall that lasts from September through November, a mild winter from December through February, and a sunny spring from March through May. Though rainy days are infrequent—the region is known for its ample sunshine—downpours along the coast are relatively common in autumn.
In terms of tourism, summer is the French Riviera's high season. Spring sees a spike in tourism, too, especially around major events like the Cannes Film Festival and the Monaco Grand Prix. Fall is a pleasant time to visit, as you'll see fewer crowds and generally favorable weather. Winter is, by far, the quietest time to visit.
French Riviera in Summer (June - August)
It stands to reason that the French Riviera's high season happens in summer: the region's beautiful beaches and resort towns are packed with locals and visitors from France and all over the world, and prices fluctuate to match. Things get particularly busy in August, when French people usually schedule their vacations, and on weekends, when French and Italian people plan quick getaways to the coast.
Weather-wise, it's hot, but not unbearably so, thanks to sea breezes along the coast. Expect highs in the mid-80s in Nice, with temperatures cooling off slightly after dark. July is the sunniest month of the year along the French Riviera, and the chance of rain is minimal. One phenomenon to be aware of is the sirocco, a hot, dusty wind blowing into the Mediterranean region from North Africa: it can drive the temperature up unexpectedly, but it always passes.
Summer is a great time for a relaxed road trip, like this 5-day option that traverses the region's coastal and countryside villages. Start and end in Nice, enjoying Mediterranean beaches, medieval architecture, local markets, perfumeries, and hiking trails along the way.
July - Nice Jazz Festival. The first jazz festival in the world attracts musicians and jazz enthusiasts from all over the world.
August - Festival of Pyrotechnic Art. This huge fireworks show lights up the skies over Cannes.
French Riviera in Fall (September - November)
In terms of weather, fall isn't the best time to visit the French Riviera. Though temperatures are comfortable, with temperatures hovering in the 60s and extending into the lower 70s on warmer days, storms and rainy days are common. October is far and away the wettest month, followed by November and September. That said, if you do have a sunny couple of days, it's almost warm enough to swim, especially since the Mediterranean water temperature—having heated up all summer long—is in the warm 70s.
The summer crowds typically clear out by the first or second week of September, meaning cheaper rates on hotel rooms (and less need to make restaurant reservations). Still, special events like the Régates Royales sailing regatta, which takes place in September, bring an influx of visitors to the region.
September - Régates Royales. Look for elegant boats speeding along the Bay of Cannes during this legendary sailing regatta.
French Riviera in Winter (December - February)
Winter can be a lovely time to travel to the French Riviera. You'll be able to take advantage of deals and promotions on hotel rooms throughout the region—and it's still warm enough, on most days, to have lunch outside, so long as you're properly dressed.
Christmastime brings international tourists and French and Italian weekenders into the cities for shopping and Christmas markets, so be prepared to book ahead, especially for Friday and Saturday night stays. The same goes for Carnaval de Nice in February: Nice sees a huge uptick in visitors at this time, so plan ahead if your itinerary crosses over with festival dates. The Fête du Mimosa (Mimosa Festival) in February doesn't attract the same number of visitors: you don't have to plan around it, but it's a great time to visit if you're interested in flowers.
In Nice, the average temperatures are usually in the 50s during the day, extending into the 60s when the sun is out. Expect rain in December—almost the same as you should expect in autumn—and drier, sunnier conditions in January and February.
December - Christmas. Lively Christmas markets pop up in cities and villages around the French Riviera.
February - Carnaval de Nice. A rollicking pre-Lent celebration featuring parades, masquerades, and partying in the street on Nice's waterfront.
February - Fête du Mimosa (Mimosa Festival). At this festival, happening in Mandelieu-la-Napoule outside of Cannes, the celebrations are dedicated to the cheerful yellow flower. Expect flower floats, parades, and music.
French Riviera in Spring (March - June)
Apart from summer—peak season on the French Riviera—spring is the most popular time to visit the region. Thanks to great weather and a busy calendar of sporting events and cultural festivals, particularly the Cannes Film Festival and the Monaco Grand Prix, the beaches and resorts are busy at this time of year, especially in May. You'll need to book ahead if you have your heart set on a particular hotel, and reserving a table at restaurants is recommended, too. Weekends are the busiest, as French and Italian tourists make quick getaways to the beach towns.
Temperatures hover in the upper 60s in April and early May, pushing up into the 70s in later May and June. Rain isn't particularly likely, but sunshine is. The ocean is still cold, though: it's not the best time for swimming, at least until June.
May - Cannes Film Festival. One of the world's most prestigious film festivals, drawing directors, writers, and actors from across the globe.
May - Monaco Grand Prix. Dexterous drivers take to the winding roads of Monaco during this famed motor race.
Beating the Crowds During the French Riviera's High Season
You'll have the place to yourself—comparatively speaking, at least!—if you visit the French Riviera in rainy fall or winter, outside of the tourist rush around Christmas and Carnaval. But you'll have major crowds to contend with if you visit the French Riviera between April and September.
If you're visiting in the spring, check ahead of time for specific festival dates. If you're not attending the Cannes Film Festival or the Monaco Grand Prix, steer clear of the French Riviera during that time, as you'll encounter higher prices and huge crowds in the region. In summer, crowds are unavoidable. But it helps if you can explore smaller towns and villages instead of focusing your time in the busiest destinations, like Saint-Tropez and Nice. Consider this short itinerary that takes travelers off the beaten path in the French Riviera and Provence.
Conclusion: When is the best time to visit the French Riviera?
Late spring or late summer may be the perfect times to visit the French Riviera. At the end of spring, you'll have warm weather that's ideal for sunbathing and sightseeing, but you'll beat the larger summertime crowds. In late summer into early fall—before the rainy season really kicks off—you'll encounter fewer crowds than in summer, and the Mediterranean Sea is warm, which great for swimming. If you're visiting during these periods, you can go all-in with a trip throughout the region, like this 15-day luxury option.
But if you can only manage a trip to the French Riviera in winter or fall, you'll love it anyway. Bring a warm coat and an umbrella, just in case: the French Riviera, regardless of crowds and weather, is gorgeous year-round.