My aunt and I had planned a trip around the French Riviera, but when a family emergency kept her from coming, she was generous to let me use the plane ticket and hotel room in Cannes. I was excited to see the city known for the Cannes Film Festival and for a weekend by the beach.
But the solo trip also provided a challenge: How would I do Cannes on a student budget? With its famous yearly tourists, Cannes is an expensive vacation spot. It’s not typically thought of as a budget destination, but I was determined to find the places and activities that would mesh with my limited funds. I found it is possible to spend some time in Cannes on a student budget. Well, sort of.
Cannes in a day
The first thing you’ll notice about Cannes is its tropical look mixed with money. Palm trees line the main road along the sea, the Boulevard de la Croisette, just in front of Dior, Chanel, and other designer stores.
Fancy hotels also dot the coast, so you won’t find any youth hostels in Cannes. But luckily, Cannes is small, so you don’t need to book a stay for the whole weekend. Instead, look for a hostel in Nice, and take the train to Cannes for a day. There are special rates for those under 25, so a one-way ticket to Cannes can be less than 4 euros. Take the train to the Cannes station, which will drop you off within walking distance from the beach, and the main streets in Cannes.
There is also a shuttle from the Nice airport, which is 12,50 euros for those under 26, and 15,60 for everyone else.
Once you make it to Cannes, the one thing that can empty your wallet is food. However, if you know where to go, it’s possible to stick to your budget.
First, try Marché Forville, an open market that was my favorite part of the weekend in Cannes. Located behind Hotel de Ville, the market is open everyday except Mondays from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. You’ll find multiple booths with fresh fruit, vegetables, and flowers. There are also baguettes, dried fruit and even Chinese food. Take a walk around before you purchase so you can see everything and get free samples. The vendors are super friendly, but they’re also good salespeople. One convinced me to buy five beignets instead of one. Maybe not the best choice for my health, but they sure tasted good.
But if you prefer a restaurant to a market, there are plenty of options. The cheapest one is street food, or food sold on the sidewalks along the beach on the La Croisette. Here you’ll find traditional crepes, croque monsieurs, and salads. I tried Croisette Corner, which had rude waiters, but reasonable prices. To save more money, get your meal to go.
If you’re in the mood for a traditional French sit-down meal, head to Rue Félix Faure. The bustling street is lined with different types of restaurants, all with different price points. For the most food for the least amount of money, look for formules, fixed-price meals which usually include an entrée (appetizer), a plat (main dish), and a dessert. These tend to be pricey for a student meal—plan to spend more than 20 euros, about $28—but it is a lot of food. To save money, try a formule for lunch, which tends to be cheaper than dinner. Another way to save is to order un carafe d’eau, a free carafe of tap water.
What to do?
While food is a highlight of all French cities, there are other things to do in Cannes besides eat. Obviously, there’s the beach. In the summer, the beaches in Cannes are packed with tourists and French vacationers. However, I went in October, part of the off-season, so I experienced a more relaxed and less crowded beachfront. It was a bit chilly in October, but it was still fun to sit by the water. There are blue chairs on the sidewalk along the La Croisette, a perfect spot for people watching, one of the best free activities in Cannes. Sitting on the actual beach can be tricky because most beaches in Cannes are private, therefore expensive. There are a few public beaches, but they’re known for being extremely crowded in the summer.
La Croisette is also great for walking around. If you follow it west, you’ll run into the Palais des festivals et des congrès, where the Cannes Film Festival takes place.
You’ll also notice La Croisette is home to many designer boutiques, so if you’re planning on doing any shopping on a budget, this is not the street for you. Instead, walk a few blocks away from the beach, and turn onto Rue d’Antibes. The street is full of shops for everyone and includes many common chains, such as Zara, Mango, and Fnac. Marché Gambetta, another open market, also has clothes at great bargains.
People watching, eating, and shopping can fill a whole day in Cannes, but before you leave, you have to walk to the Musée de la Castre. The museum is the castle-like building at the top of the hill you can see from La Croisette, so it’s a hike. Look for the ramp off of Rue Georges Clemenceau, and follow the signs for the Musée de la Castre.
The museum was closed when I went, so check the hours before you go. The museum is another good budget option because admission is only 2,20 euros for students under 26, and 3,40 euros without the discount, but simply taking in the views of the French Riviera from the top of the hill is an experience in itself. On your way down the hill, wander through Cannes’s “Old Town,” a cute area with quaint cafes, shops, and homes.
Look for restaurants in the area with pictures of their famous customers, such as George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Eva Longoria. Your trip to Cannes will probably be different than theirs, but at least you can say you vacationed with them.
Haley Adams is a senior at Indiana University majoring in journalism and French. She is currently studying abroad in Paris, France. Follow her adventures with French cuisine and culture on her blog, The Picky Eater’s Guide to Paris.