While sunny blue skies and palm trees may not be the first thing that comes to mind at the thought of Christmas, the French Riviera is an incredible place to spend the holidays. The typically balmy winter weather means it’s not uncommon to dine outside even in December, ideal conditions for enjoying a hot chocolate or glass of mulled wine on the beach.
From Nice’s beautiful Promenade des Anglais fringed with hundreds of lit-up palm trees, to Monaco’s elegant Christmas village, the Cote d’Azur is transformed into a sparkly winter wonderland at this time of year. With the nearest ski resorts located just an hour and a half from Nice, it’s also perfectly located to spend the day or weekend on the slopes as a family.
Whether you’re hoping to find some quintessentially British Christmas traditions in the South of France, or looking forward to a very French Christmas, there are plenty of events, markets and things to do with kids on the French Riviera for Christmas 2023.
If you’re spending the festive season on the Cote d’Azur, here are some of the best family-friendly activities happening on the French Riviera at Christmas.
Nestled beside the picturesque old town on Place Massena and Jardin Albert 1er, Nice has the biggest Christmas Village on the Cote d’Azur. The festive winter wonderland located behind the Promenade des Anglais has a life-size nativity scene, children’s play areas and Santa’s workshop. La Maison du Père Noël in the Jardin Albert 1er is open to visit every day from 11 am to 8 pm (and until 10 pm on Fridays and Saturdays). Children can meet Santa Claus himself from 2 pm to 7 pm every Wednesday, at weekends and from the 23rd-25th December from 2 pm to 7 pm.
The annual Christmas parade in Nice takes place on the second Saturday of December along Avenue Jean Médecin, with over 200 performers, dancers, acrobats and more. The full Christmas programme is available on the Nice Mairie website (in French).
Monaco’s Christmas Village may be one of the most luxurious pop-up markets in the region, with food and market stalls in wooden chalets overlooking the magnificent Port Hercule. This year’s edition is part of the Prince Rainier III Centenary celebrations so is set to be extra special, with 800 real fir trees, a Ferris wheel, toboggan and more. There will also be live performances throughout December and creative Christmas workshops for children aged 6+ every weekend from 2-6 pm.
Traditionally each winter the Olympic-sized Rainier III swimming pool is transformed into a beautiful outdoor ice rink, but in 2023 it will become a more eco-friendly roller-skating rink with go-karting.
This year the Place du Casino will be filled with giant baubles telling the story of Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Father Christmas himself will be stopping at the Carré d’Or and a choir is set to perform on the steps of the iconic casino on 17th, 20th, 23rd, 24th and 25th December from 1 pm to 5 pm.
Brave swimmers can join in the annual Monaco Christmas Santa Swim on Christmas Eve at 10 am at Larvotto Beach, taking a chilly dip in the Mediterranean sea dressed like Santa, before a warming breakfast and a raffle in support of local charities.
Christmas in Antibes and Juan les Pins offers an unmissable events programme, with extravagant lights, musical performances in the old town and a Christmas village and fairground at the Esplanade du Pré des Pecheurs and Place Nationale. The full calendar can be downloaded. Highlights include art workshops at the Picasso Museum, a letter-to-Santa writing atelier and more.
Jacques Leonetti Square will be home to a fantastic 200m² open-air ice rink that is free for under 10s and a very reasonable 3€ for ages 10+. There are Christmassy food trucks nearby and a sweet petting zoo with farm animals and pony rides (called the “petite ferme pédagogique”).
Perhaps the most iconic Christmas moment in Juan les Pins is the unique arrival of Père Noël on water skis! With the sport having been famously invented at the neighbouring Belle Rives hotel, Santa makes an impressive sight from the beach (catch him at 10.30 am on the 20th of December). Don’t miss the free sleigh rides from 2.30 pm to 5.30 pm on Christmas Eve, departing from Port Vauban and on Rue Lacan.
The pretty medieval walled village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence is definitely sleepier in the wintertime than during the bustling peak tourist season but comes to life around Christmas. Starting with the official light switch-on on Friday 8th December at 6 pm, on the Place de Gaulle, with a choir and an appearance from friendly mascots Olaf and Rudolph.
The theme for Christmas 2023 is “Noel au Pays des Jouets” (Christmas in Toyland) and there is a packed programme of fun Christmas events in St-Paul-de-Vence for families. Le Noël des Enfants is a weekend of free children’s activities and entertainment on the 16th and 17th of December. Families can expect festive shows, outdoor games, an immersive flash mob, a free cinema screening of The Polar Express and creative Christmas workshops like origami and snowball decoration making.
The Mairie is also hosting an intergenerational Petanques tournament on the 9th of December, the annual Loto de Noël (with impressive prizes) on the 10th of December and guided visits of Saint-Paul-de-Vence by lamplight throughout December. For last-minute gifts, don’t miss the truffle market on the 23rd of December from 10 am on the Place de Gaulle. Foodies will be able to discover some of the top producers of the Alpes Maritimes and enjoy truffle dog demonstrations, pony rides, a tombola and more. All public car parks will be free from 23rd December 2023 to 8th January 2024.
The French Riviera is one of the only places in the world where families can spend time on the beach and the ski slopes in the same day. Some of the nearest ski resorts on the French Riviera are less than a 1h30 drive from the coast, meaning you can head to the mountains for a day or weekend during the Christmas holidays. Excitingly, the French Alps are in the process of bidding to host the 2030 Winter Olympics too.
Some of the best ski resorts near Nice include Valberg, known for its’ charming stone village and skiing for all levels. La Colmiane is the closest ski station to the coast and home to France’s longest zip line. Auron is the largest resort in the area and a firm favourite ski destination among families on the Côte d’Azur, located just an hour and a half drive from Nice.
Located only 90km from Nice, Isola 2000 is a great family resort. While it may not be as architecturally pretty as some of the other more historic ski resort villages, the facilities are great for beginner and young skiers and there is a snow park for snowboarders to practise tricks. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the Mediterranean Sea from the Sistron peak. Over the Italian border, Limone Piemonte offers beautiful skiing in a quintessentially Italian setting.
Find more things to do with kids this Christmas on the MumAbroad blog