A Mediterranean resort that also includes Juan-les-Pins, Antibes has 25 kilometres of coastline and is a getaway for the very rich but also one of the French Riviera’s preferred destinations for French families.
You can mix afternoons at the beach with day-trips to Nice and Cannes, which are both minutes from the resort on the TER train.
There’s much to occupy you closer by, with a coastline made for walking, and a waterfront fortified by Vauban in the 1600s, now the preserve of the world’s richest people, who moor their gargantuan superyachts in the port at eye-watering expense.
Lets explore the best things to do in Antibes:
When you add it up you realise that Antibes covers a very large area, made up of the old town, the entirety of the peninsula and of course the summery resort of Juan-les-Pins.
There are almost 50 private and public beaches close by, and that doesn’t include the informal coves along the Sentier de Tire-Poil where you can bathe on the rocks and slip into the water to cool off.
To select just one: Plage de la Salis is a free, white sandy bay next to the yacht club with smooth, glistening sea on clear days.
2. Musée Picasso
Even before you consider what lies inside, this historic building is a treasured slice of Antibes’ heritage.
It was built on top of the original Greek Acropolis, and the first few metres of the walls are Roman.
A branch of the Genoese Grimaldi Family (for whom it’s named) held it until the 1600s when the French crown took over.
Fast forward to 1946 and Picasso was invited by the city to use the newly restored castle as a studio, and he obliged, completing several works here that summer.
In 1966 the museum was inaugurated and it now has 245 of his paintings, ceramics and drawings.
There are also sculptures by Joan Miró and Germaine Richier, and paintings by Nicolas de Staël.
3. Port Vauban
What you’ll see from the quay at Port Vauban is surely the most stupendous concentration of wealth on the planet.
Where oligarchs’ superyachts are now moored there’s been a harbour since the before the Romans, and in the 1600s it was fortified by Vauban, the military engineer-extraordinaire.
Since the 20th century though it has welcomed boats belonging to the world’s mega-rich.
These yachts rival cruise liners and make some look small by comparison.
Rates for a berth are well in excess of €1m, and the extraordinary tonnage of the craft moored here make Port Vauban the largest marina in The Mediterranean.
4. Le Nomade
Eight metres high, on the terrace of the old Bastion de St-Jaume in the Port Vauban is a monumental sculpture designed by Barcelona artist Juame Plensa.
It was installed in 2007 and depicts the figure of a person looking out to sea.
When you get close you’ll notice that the figure is made up totally of letters made of aluminium.
To try to paraphrase the artist, these signify the constructive potential that letters contain, as they allow us to construct thought.
The sculpture is open on one side, so you can walk inside.
The best time to see it though is after dark or at sunset when it is illuminated.
5. Sentier de Tire-Poil
You can thank the French government for wonderful walks like the one that twists through Mediterranean vegetation around the rocky southern reaches of the Cap d’Antibes.
In 1986 the Loi Littoral restricted coastal development and granted free public access to coastal paths like this.
It links the l’Argent Faux cove with the beach and La Garoupe, and continues for 3.2 kilometres around the perimeters of sprawling estates, through tunnels in the rock, along cliff tops and past seascapes that vary according to their exposure to the sea and coastal winds. As you head up the east side of the peninsula the winds ease and the sea starts to look very inviting.
So don’t forget your swim gear!
6. Garoupe Lighthouse
The simplest walking route to the 29-metre-high lighthouse on the Garoupe Plateau is up the Chemin de Calvaire from Plage de la Salis.
It’s about a kilometre from the beach but the incline is pretty steep and it’s one to attempt in the morning or evening in summer.
The view down to Juan-les-Pins over the stone pines and olive trees will make you forget the effort though.
There are two chapels next door belonging to the Garoupe Sanctuary, one containing a byzantine icon of Sébastopol from the 1300s.
Both chapels are there to bestow good luck on Antibes’ sailors.
Here’s an interesting factoid for you: The lighthouse is among the most powerful on France’s entire Mediterranean coast.
The 500 watt bulb has a range of 60km for sea-going vessels and 100km for planes and helicopters.
7. Fort Carré
Guarding the northern lip of the Port is a fortress that Vauban bolstered in the 1680s as part of his defensive plan for Antibes.
It’s on the Saint-Roch peninsula in four hectares of parkland, and with an elevated position 26 metres above the water.
The fortress was effectively the first line of defence against the County of Nice, a province of the Piedmontese State and so an enemy of France in the 17th century.
Vauban made various smart tweaks to the structure, such as replacing stone with brick because its splinters weren’t as deadly when hit by canon fire.
The fortress has survived undamaged, and there’s a splendid 360° view from the ramparts, 43 metres above sea level.
8. Musée Peynet
The 20th-century cartoonist Raymond Peynet settled in Antibes in 1976. He soon made many friends and threw himself into local life, holding exhibitions and designing posters for events here.
In the 80s he helped set up this museum, which now displays 4,000 illustrations charting his 50-year career.
There are exhibits of the jewellery and porcelain he created, as well as full-sized figures of his famous “Les Amoureux” characters designed for the window display in the Galeries Lafayette in Paris in the 50s.
They were the inspiration for an extremely popular and iconic series of dolls, selling in the millions since they were first released more than 60 years ago.
9. Musée d’Archéologie
The Bastion Saint-André, designed by Vauban and built in the late-17th century is the fitting home for Antibes’ collections of historical artefacts.
The exhibition space is small as the bastion is little more than a solitary coastal tower, and the museum is unassuming.
But it will drive home the rich and long history of the area.
The waters off the cape are notoriously treacherous and claimed Roman, Etruscan, Greek and Phoenician ships, and their contents are on show at the museum.
There are amphorae and other pottery, coins, mosaics and an enlightening assortment of everyday objects.
You can also go up to the battlements for views down the eastern side of the cape and up to the hills behind Cagnes-sur-Mer.
10. Jazz Festival
For the last 66 years a pine grove next to the water in Juan-les-Pins has welcomed some of the world’s top musicians for nine nights of concerts.
A quick breeze through just some of the names to have performed at Jazz à Juan tells you all you need to know about its standing in the music world: John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong have all performed on this stage.
The curators take pains to ensure the festival looks to the future, and has given more recent artists like Wynton Marsalis, Marcus Miller and Joshua Redman a platform.
There’s also a “jazz-off”, in which ensembles compete against each other for a prize each year.
La Croisette is where you’ll feel like a film star, if only for a few minutes.
On one side is the golden sandy bay, fenced off by private beaches, with a free municipal section at the end.
On the other the luxury fashion emporia line out in their dozens.
The Palais des Festivals is the building at the centre of attention for two weeks every May for the Film Festival, awarding the Palme d’Or, one of the most coveted prizes in the business.
You can stop for a photo on the red carpet, or cut through the glitz and trace the history of old fishing community in the steep, meandering streets of Le Suquet.
12. Île Sainte-Marguerite
Ferries shuttle back and forth to Sainte-Marguerite from Juan-les-Pins throughout the day.
You could stop at the market or local shops in Antibes or Juan-les-Pins for provisions, before setting sail.
Once there, unwind on the quiet forest trails and have a picnic lunch below the fragrant stone pines and eucalyptus trees.
At the top of a cliff on the north shore is Fort Royal, where the mystery Man in the Iron Mask was imprisoned at the behest of Louis XIV in the 17th century.
The prison has been replaced by a museum, but the cells are still intact and you can also survey the artefacts recovered from two local shipwrecks, one Roman and the other Moorish from the 900s.
13. Château de la Napoule
Carry on a bit further around the Golfe de la Napoule and you come to this château 25 kilometres from Antibes.
Right down on the seafront, the building’s origins go back to the 1300s, and for the next few hundred years it went through a number of rebuilds until it was bought by the wealthy and eccentric American artist Henry Clews Jr.
in 1918. He and his wife Marie spent more than a decade restoring the building themselves, infusing it with their own inimitable style, visible in Henry’s quirky stone carvings here and there.
The formal gardens, with their sculptures by Clews, fountains, topiaries and avenues are set in four acres and designated a “jardin remarquable”.
14. Parc Phœnix
One of the best family days out on the French Riviera is about two thirds of the way to Nice from Antibes.
It’s only a few minutes on the TER train and is a big hit with little ones.
The park covers seven hectares, combines botanical and zoo attractions, and represents great value for money as kids under 12 go free and parents pay just €3. The headline is the 7,000 square-metre tropical greenhouse, with a balmy environment supporting ferns, orchids, and hibiscus flowers.
There are terrariums with caiman, and Chilean flamingos, Mandarin ducks and iguanas roam freely.
Outside there are enclosures for otters, macaws, wallabies and porcupines, while swans, geese, pelicans and turtles are allowed to go as they please.
The mythic capital of the Côte d’Azur is 18 minutes on the TER and there are up to five trains an hour on weekdays.
So before you know it you could be sauntering through the Vieille Ville, where the city’s historic Italian influence is plain to see in its renaissance houses and baroque cathedral.
The Promenade des Anglais arcs for seven kilometres around the Baie des Anges and is known the world over for lavish Belle Époque buildings like Hotel Negresco.
There are myriad ways to make your time worthwhile: Trundle down to the sea on the pebble beaches, savour the art of Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse or scale the Colline du Château for the definitive view of the city.