Updated August 2019 – The illustrious Cannes Film Festival takes place every May and has been referred to as the most important international film festival in the world. The dates of the Cannes 2020 Festival are May 12-23. The Festival is big business, full of industry types, primarily trying to sell distribution rights for their films. They are also there to get films financed, and find films in which to invest. It can be quite an experience, even if you do not have a ticket to the film festival.
There are many opportunities to enjoy the lively festivities, see some Cannes films for free, spot celebrities and soak up the unique experience on the French Riviera. I made the trip twice in one week, and learned a few lessons to make your voyage easier, and time, more productive.
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- 1 Visiting Cannes during the film festival
- 2 How to get to the Cannes Film Festival
- 3 Cannes Film Festival Tickets
- 4 Where to stay in Cannes during the film festival
- 5 Cannes Film Festival Tips
- 5.1 If departing from Nice by train, buy online
- 5.2 Depart Nice from Nice Riquier train Station, not Nice Ville station
- 5.3 When you get to Cannes, perch yourself on the Intercontinental Carlton Cannes Terrace
- 5.4 Go to the Cannes during the first week of the Film Festival
- 5.5 Lurch behind the Festival Venue for views of the Cannes film judges
Visiting Cannes during the film festival
Cannes’ population is 74,000, and at one point during one of the film festivals, it peaked to 210,000. Of that, about 32,000 are members of the film industry with an additional 5,000 press. That leave 100,000 tourists, extra waiters, security staff, pickpockets and prostitutes!
What this all means is that Cannes could nearly triple in size and that will put a strain on all services, hotels, restaurants, transport systems… The first weekend is always the busiest, so plan your trip around your aggravation level! During one of the film festivals a few years ago, more than €2 million worth of jewels were scarfed up by organized jewel thieves! No joke! You need to be extra vigilant during the Cannes Festival.
How to get to the Cannes Film Festival
If you fly into Nice Cote d’Azur Airport, the arrival options are by cab, train, bus or helicopter.
A TAXI from Nice to the Cannes Festival
A taxi from the airport will cost about €90 for a 30-minute ride. You can easily grab a taxi outside both Terminals 1 & 2 at the Nice airport.
The Nice Airport BUS to Cannes
There is a direct bus to Cannes from both airport terminals. It’s operated by Nice Airport Express and a 1-way ticket costs around $25 for a 50-minute ride. It will drop you off at the Cannes Train Station.
If you are in downtown Nice, there is an interdepartmental bus that goes to Cannes. The Bus 200 starts just outside the Meridien Hotel and will hit every pothole all the way to Cannes. It stops in a variety of towns and gets you to Cannes in an 1 1/2 hours depending on traffic. It’s a long ride, but cheap at about $2 one way.
Take the TRAIN from Nice to Cannes film festival
The nearest train station from the airport is Saint Augustin, and walking there isn’t very intuitive. You can walk there in about 20 minutes, but you are better off taking a taxi to Nice Saint Augustin station. It ride from Nice to Cannes takes 30 minutes and a ticket is about $6.50. You can book a ticket online or simply at the station.
If you are in Nice itself you have two train stations to choose from: Nice Ville Station and Nice Riquier Station. The train costs around $7.50 for a 35-50 minute ride, and I’m going to suggest you go from Nice Riquier. As I mention below, Require is one stop before the main Nice Train Station and during the festival, that train is standing-room-only. Get on at Riquier and you’ll have a lovely comfy seat before the hoards get on at Nice Ville.
Take a HELICOPTER to the Cannes Film Fest
There are a variety of helicopter companies that you’ll find at the airport, and it’s best to book in advance. Looking at info from Azur Helico, for around $500 you and two more friends could fly to the Cannes Film Festival in style. Not such a bad idea if you want to splurge a bit and be mistaken for someone famous. Unless, of course, you are famous. And don’t forget your sunglasses, which furthers the intrigue as you disembark toward the Croissette.
Plan your travel wisely
I mentioned I did the trip to the Cannes Festival twice. The first voyage was with friends from out of town. We were already in Nice, so we headed to the main station, Nice Ville, which was a big mistake. We didn’t want to be running after a schedule, so we decided to head to the station to catch the next available train. Usually there are more trains from Nice Ville than the smaller one.
We arrived to find each of the manual ticket terminals 6-people deep waiting to book a ticket. Right…, that meant 3-5 minutes per person, per transaction, so somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes just to get a ticket, and we’d miss the next train.
Cannes Film Festival Tickets
Getting tickets to the Cannes Festival itself can be a challenge if you are not accredited in the film industry. But don’t worry. There are still ways you can see some films and be a part of the festivities.
To be honest, getting concise information about what is available is like pulling teeth – it’s painful. There are so many websites with conflicting information. And much of the information is from last year as films are still being submitted as of the writing of this. It’s all very fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants. It would be great if there were one site that had all the details about getting Cannes festival tickets, but there are just too many associations involved in the festival.
Here is a variety of Cannes films you can participate in either for free or a small fee:
Free Films during the festival at Plage Macé
Each evening on the seafront at Plage Macé you can enjoy a free film. You don’t need a ticket, you just show up early enough to grab a chair. During the festival, they show a variety of old Cannes Film classics. This looks like a lot of fun, actually. Plage Macé is located at 34 Boulevard de la Croisette, just a stone’s throw from the Film Festival grounds. Films start around 9/9:30pm but get there early for a seat.
Free films through Cannes Cinephile
These films are organised by the Cannes Cinéma association and allows the public to see the films selected at Cannes for free. They will be shown at the following cinemas: Théâtre La Licorne (25 Avenue Francis Tonner), Le Studio 13 (23 Avenue du Dr Raymond Picaud), Cinema Le Raimu (17 Chemin de la Frayere) and Salle Alexandre 3 (19 boulevard Alexandre 3).
For program and cinema tickets, stop by the Cannes Cinéphiles tent on the Pantiero Promenade between 9 and 5:30p. You can register and get your free tickets there. It sounds like these don’t fill up so don’t be afraid to push ahead to get a free ticket. The Promenade de la Pantiero is the western extension of the main drag in Cannes, the Croisette.
Free Cannes Film tickets during Critic’s Week
Tickets for Critic’s Week at the Cannes Film Festival are also free. They can be picked up at 25 Rue Pasteur. While ticket availability isn’t guaranteed, because those with Cannes Film festival badges get priority, most often than not you WILL get a ticket. Great way to see some interesting feature films and short films.
Pay a small fee for the Director’s Fortnight films
Tickets for Cannes films shown as part of the Director’s Fortnight, or Le Quinzaine des Realisateurs, must be purchased at their temporary offices in La Malmaison, an old mansion on the Croisette, which is located at 47, la Croisette.
Ticket sales start on May 8 at 10a, and throughout the entire festival. The only venues showing films with these tickets are at: Le Théâtre Croisette, which is in the JW Marriott hotel, the Cinéma Les Arcades – Salle 1(77 Rue Félix Faure), and the Olympia Theatre(5 Rue de la Pompe). There are other venues, but unless you are invited, accredited or registered through Cannes Cinéphiles you can’t attend. What-eveh….
Cannes Film Director’s Fortnight ticket prices are €8 for one film ticket and €35 for a pack of six films. If you are a film buff, you might as well buy a full pack.
Where to stay in Cannes during the film festival
How long’s a piece of string?
Depending on how far in advance you book, getting a hotel in Cannes may or may not be a challenge. That said, there are more than 1000 properties available in the Cannes area, including camping if you are interested in that.
Otherwise, look at hotels in neighboring areas or cities, like Le Cannet, Cannes la Bocca, Vallauris, Juan-les-Pins, Mandelieu, or Antibes. Worst-case scenario is you book a hotel in Nice and commute from there. It all depends on your style and budget, really.
Keep in mind that hotels in Cannes do book up early. Just as soon as the new dates are announced, many of the cheapest hotels are booked. So book your hotels for the film festival early.
Cannes Film Festival Tips
If departing from Nice by train, buy online
For any major event on the Cote d’Azur, where you plan to take the train, buy your ticket online in advance. I would have saved a ton of time and aggravation by not waiting in line to buy a ticket. The only caveat is you need to pick a specific train and time, but don’t worry about that. The ticket checkers are more concerned that you have a valid ticket for the right train, not the exact time of the train – except for Thello trains. Those cost more, but any ticket to Cannes will be valid for your route.
With tickets in hand, we went to the platform to find the next obstacle. There were several hundred people waiting for the same train, because the train before this one was cancelled due to strikes. The French do that. They decide to strike when it will be a huge inconvenience to everyone!
We were in for a boarding treat as we found ourselves pushing and shoving hundreds of people trying to board the same train. It was like a sad game of musical chairs, except with well-dressed football hooligans all going to a fancy ball. Once all boarded, the train was packed and we were sucking in unhygienic body odor and bad perfume until people started disembarking.
Depart Nice from Nice Riquier train Station, not Nice Ville station
I went back the following Saturday, the day before the last day of the festival, and took the train from my usual, tiny Nice Riquier station. It’s one stop BEFORE Nice Ville. There, I found no one in line to buy a ticket, and when the train arrived, there was no mad rush to get on the train. I sat on the left side, which faces the sea for the best views. Four minutes later, I arrived at Nice Ville and the train filled up, with people smelling each other’s armpits squished in the corridor. Score!
When you get to Cannes, perch yourself on the Intercontinental Carlton Cannes Terrace
I love strolling the famous ‘Croisette’, the seafront promenade, because it’s interesting. There are so many people and you don’t know where to look. Are they famous or aren’t they? Who’s that? Oh… no one! We walked down to the far end toward the Carlton to get a table at their outdoor cafe. This was easy and we had a vantage point to spot all the swanky cars dropping off hotel guests. My friends nearly choked on the prices of their Mojitos, but thought, ‘When in Cannes…’ Three drinks set us back €64!
We soaked up the atmosphere for an hour, then went back to the festival grounds toward the red carpet waiting, hoping, to get a glimpse of someone famous, but nothing. I kept thinking there had to be a trick to this…
Go to the Cannes during the first week of the Film Festival
During the first week, we could easily plop down in the hotel cafes and restaurants where the stars stay, like the Carlton or the Hyatt. But by Saturday just before the end of the festival, both the Intercontinental Carlton and the Hotel Martinez Cannes were closed off to hotel guests only. I was really wishing I still had my Hyatt ID card, but no such luck. I perched at Le 72 Croissette just outside the Hyatt to watch the festival cars arrive with, ‘you never know who!’ Go earlier in the festival as it appears most arrive for the second week of activities.
Lurch behind the Festival Venue for views of the Cannes film judges
I returned to the main festival area where a lot of people with badges were lining up to see films. But off to the left, to the back, was an entire area ‘behind the scenes.’ This is where actors, actresses, producers and directors were being dropped off or scooped up by their Renault Festival cars. It’s cordoned off, but you could still easily see who was being dropped off and who was passing to enter the Festival center. This is where I snapped all these photos.
You might see the Cannes Film Festival judges
Score! That’s where I got to see the Festival Judges: Donald Sutherland, Vanessa Paradis, Max Mikkelson, Kirsten Dunst, George Miller, plus others arrive through the back door. Sure, it wasn’t the red carpet, but I could have never gotten that close otherwise. And they appeared more natural, which I loved. And I swear Donald Sutherland was looking straight at me. I wanted to yell out, ‘Mr. Donald Sutherland’ while he was no more than 30 feet away, but I couldn’t. I’m not that type of person. I just thought, ‘shit, I hope these pictures turn out.’
Vanessa Paradis was walking extremely fast and I had to zoom the image later to figure out who she was.
Kirsten Dunst looked very natural, and I loved her everyday look. I am not a Hollywood groupie and seriously had to ask friends who these people were, but when I heard others yelling at them, I thought I should snap a photograph.
There is a lot of buzz going on at the Festival, and I was not even in the heart of it. As as an innocent bystander, I had a fabulous time and you can bet I was a happy buddha at the end of the day.
While you’re on the Cote d’Azur, these other articles might interest you:
I always keep May open for an adventure to The Cannes Film Festival and remind myself of these tips to make my trip more enjoyable. More info can be found at the Cannes Tourist Office. Again, the Cannes Film Festival dates are May 12-23, 2020.