Nice, the capital of the Côte d’Azur, is vibrant, cultural and artsy, and yet it retains a certain charmingly kitsch arrogance, exemplified by the impossibly bronzed (and exposed) chests of the hoards of over-60 ex-pat gentlemen. A Mecca for both French and international tourists, Nice is unapologetically… well… nice!
The crowded hub of the Promenade des Anglais might be swarming with tourists, but it definitely has its charm – lined with palm-trees and soaked in sun. But the heart of Nice beats in the markets of Cours Saleya, a teeming flower market that smells – and looks – just like heaven.
This is all before nightfall, of course, when the pedestrian-only zone of Rue Messina literally lights up and the Old Town becomes a street party where the beautiful and rich mingle with gaping and not-so-rich backpackers in a celebration of la vie bien.
Don’t let the constant sunshine and beautiful people fool you into thinking that Nice doesn’t have depth, however. Nice almost rivals Paris in terms of artistic swagger, and instead of having a mere few museums filled with the work of great artists, Nice boasts several, some dedicated entirely to showcasing the work of a single artist. Check out the Picasso Museum, the Musee National Message Biblique Marc Chagall and the Matisse Museum, to drop a few names.
If this isn’t enough culture for you, check out the nearby Archaeology Museum or get up-close and personal with some real-life ruins at the ancient Roman ruins of Cemenelum.
France: Live it Up in Nice
The core of the Côte d’Azur, radial hub of the Riviera and focus of the south of France, Nissa La Bella is the comely capital of the Alpes Maritimes département and gateway to the likes of Grasse, Cannes, Monaco, Menton, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Saint-Tropez and Antibes-Juan-les-Pins.
To wit, a considerable percentage of the over 30 million annual domestic and global visitors to land in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur pass through Nice. Moreover, Nice Côte d’Azur Airport is the most important port of arrival in France outside of Charles de Gaulle International Airport and Orly Airport in Paris. As such, Nice is a staple holiday resort par excellence with the jet-set and hoi polloi alike.
Alas, our concern is with the former, or, more correctly, just how to live it up in Nice, upper-crust-style. Tag along as we underscore where to dine, where to shop and where to stay in the exceptional Mediterranean city.
Nice’s Top 10
10. Theatre de la Photographie et de l’Image Discover Nice at a glance at this museum, which exhibits the best in photography from around the world.
5. Castle Hill The best views are obviously seen from the top of this hill, but the flowers and waterfalls on the way make the hike up surprisingly pleasant.
9. Rue de France Pedestrian Zone Load up on souvenirs, or just grab a café au lait and watch the world go by.
4. Matisse Museum The park and olive grove surrounding this museum are stunning, but do try to actually spend some time inside. The artwork isn’t bad, either.
8. Russian Orthodox Cathedral Nice doesn’t even officially own these huge onion towers, but they’re still one of the city’s best attractions.
3. Nice Archaeology Museum Ruins of ancient Roman baths that are actually not as ruined as you might expect.
7.Cours Saleya Flower Market Don’t stress if you sleep in and miss out on the freshest fish – late morning is when Nice’s most vibrant market really comes to life.
2. Le Chateau Climbing 200 stairs to see a chateau that doesn’t even exist has never been so rewarding.
6. Musee National Message Biblique Marc Chagall Chagall’s vibrant interpretations of the Bible are presented on canvas and stained glass at one of Nice’s top museums.
1. Promenade des Anglais It’s tempting to simply stroll back and forth all day, so make sure you actually go during the day if you want rustling palms rather than hustling pimps.
- Vieille Ville (Old Town) – A historic medieval village with quaint restaurants.
- Monastere de Cimiez – This stunning monastery is a must-see for visitors to Nice.
- Basilique Notre Dame – Built in 1868, this basilica boasts a beautiful gothic exterior.
- Palais Lascaris – A richly decorated, 17th-century palace boasting an opulent interior.
- Cathédrale de Sainte Réparate – A baroque cathedral dating back to the 17th century.
Nice Art & Culture
- Museum of Asian Art – Indian, Chinese and Southeast Asian art.
- Musee Chagall – This popular Nice museum is home to beautiful stained-glass windows.
- Musee Matisse – A charming collection of artwork, all housed within a 17th-century Genoese villa.
- Musee et Site Archeologiques de Cimiez – The ruins of an ancient Gallo-Roman settlement.
- Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MAMAC) – The artwork of contemporary artists.
- Av. Jean Medecin – The main shopping avenue. Home to two huge entertainment stores.
- Galleries Lafayette – This is where designer stores can be found in abundance.
- Ventimiglia – A large, open street market selling inexpensive fashions.
- Etoiles – A shopping mall featuring many well-known stores.
- Rue de France – Exclusive clothing boutiques and many cafes and restaurants.
Gay & Lesbian Nice
- Blue Boy – A small yet busy venue and one of the most stylish gay discos Nice has to offer.
- Kf-bis – A restaurant with a considerable gay following
- Cherry’s Café – A popular bar and restaurant with a terrace on which visitors can enjoy drinks.
- Castro Street – This venue features dark, cosy areas for couples to relax.
- O’Neill’s Irish Pub – A drinking establishment with a friendly atmosphere.
- Parc Phoenix – This magnificent park contains 2,500 different plants, many housed within a tropical glasshouse.
- Colline du Chateau – The castle overlooks the Baie des Anges and harbour and provides visitors with spectacular city views.
- Cliff Walk – Take the Sentier Littoral pathway around Cap de Nice. Enjoy the best of Nice’s outdoor scenery.
- Eze – A small village near to Monaco, located on a small mountain and boasting a beautiful cactus garden.
- Villefranche-sur-Mer Beach – The beach provides the ideal location to spend a day relaxing in the sun.
- Watch the Olympique Gymnaste Club Nice Côte d'Azur (OGC Nice) football club at the Stade Municipal du Ray.
- Catch the Rugby Nice Côte d'Azur Université-Racing rugby club.
- Take a trip to the clay courts of the Nice Lawn Tennis Club to see tennis professionals in action.
- Visit the Sports Palace Jean Bouin, home to national and international figure-skating competitions in the autumn and winter.
- Watch golfers at Nice’s Golf de la Grande Bastide golf club.
Nice, the second most popular tourist destination in France after Paris, is located on the Mediterranean coast about 32 km (20 miles) from Cannes. Nice is believed to be one of the oldest human settlements in Europe; visitors come to see its architecture, such as Notre Dame de Nice, and to learn about its history.
- Place Garibaldi
- Promenade des Anglais
- Old Nice
- Walk through the Place Masséna, an authentic Mediterranean city square reserved for pedestrian traffic
- Walk through the Jardin botanique de la Ville de Nice, a botanical garden with thousands of plant varieties
- Tour Terra Amata, an archaeological site displaying evidence of the early use of fire
Nice has mild summers and a moderate amount of rain falling in the winter. Average highs in summer are around 27ºC (81ºF), average lows in winter do not approach freezing. Nearly 900 mm (35 inches) of rain falls each year, mostly between October and May.
Getting There & Around
Flights arrive at Nice Côte d'Azur Airport, one of the busiest in Europe. Alternatively, Nice can be reached from Paris by train in six hours. There are also numerous bus lines, which run to Nice from a variety of European locations.
Nice has a public bus system which operates until about 8 pm. Taxis are available but expensive. The main sites of tourist interest are in the town centre and rarely more than a 20-minute walk away.
It might be a blessing in disguise that drivers in Nice seem to get crazier as the streets get narrower. Strolling around the city is one of the best ways to explore it, so get off the long waterfront promenade and check out these top five neighbourhoods.
It’s been quite a few years since Queen Victoria used to holiday at Cimiez’ appropriately named Hotel Regina, but the quarter hasn’t lost any of its elegance. Cimiez isn’t exactly vibrant, nestled high up between the Old Town and Nice Centre, but you’re not here for the restaurants and nightlife.
The Roman-influenced town is now famous for its Roman ruins – which, unlike her late Majesty, are still aesthetically pleasing despite their age. The Roman Amphitheatre and the Archaeological Museum provide two of Cimiez’ main photo ops, while art lovers will want to visit the timeless masterpieces of Matisse and Chagall in their respective museums.
Shadowy streets, cosy squares, colourful markets – during the day, Vieux-Nice looks as you might have imagined it to look two centuries ago… minus the iPod-wearing pedestrians. The Basilica of Saint Reparate and Palais Lascaris are masterpieces of Baroque architecture, and their interiors are almost as indulgent as the gelato at the nearby Glacier Fennochio.
Afterwards, head to the Cours Saleya or Marche Saleya for some shopping, or settle into a cosy alleyway bar to witness how thumping bass and hordes of young clubbers inject the Vieux-Nice with a decidedly new spirit after dark.
Promenade du Paillon
Nice’s River Paillon may have dwindled into a mere stream flowing under this 2km-long (1.25 miles) promenade, but the area above ground hasn’t suffered the same fate. Beginning from the Albert I Gardens and its open-air Théâtre de Verdure, make your way towards the 19th Century square of L’Espace Masséna. Ignore the monstrous Shell car park and derelict bus station that only slightly detract from the majesty of Théâtre National de Nice – they’ll be replaced by a strip of lush greenery by 2013.
Port of Nice
Once an important port of call for cruise ships on the Mediterranean, the Port of Nice is now an important port of call for those who want either splendid architecture or a good oily pizza. Get both at Café du Port before checking out some of the attractions. The Notre-Dame du Nice church has a phenomenal interior even if it doesn’t encourage your faith to soar to equally lofty heights, while the candied mandarin oranges at Florian confectioners are almost as impressive.
The most beautiful plaza in the Vielle quarter is an observer’s paradise – whether you’re observing the people, the general opulence of the square or the pricey designer clothing through the windows of Fendi and Chanel. The café-laden pedestrian only zone of Rue Massina is also surrounded by a few stores that will allow you to shop with your credit card rather than your eyes, so make sure to visit Avenue Jean Medecin and Galeries Lafayette, France’s #1 department store.
Nice Eat & Drink
The dining scene in Nice is almost as ‘du jour’ as the boutiques lining the streets of Vieux-Nice. You won’t find coupons for all-you-can-eat buffets in the local guidebooks here, where it’s all about quality over quantity. You didn’t think the French stayed slim just by strolling, did you?
Luc Salsedo Nice’s latest hotspot serves only three entrees, three mains and three desserts. Luckily, you’ll definitely want to come back at least three times.
L’Univers Christian Plumail The focus is on quality of products and an excellent taste – a recipe that’s only been modified slightly in almost 20 years.
La Reserve De Nice Worthy of its Michelin star simply for the fact that it overlooks the harbour entrance.
L’Aromate The lunch menu focuses on risotto with fresh local produce, but like many things in Nice, chef Mikhael Gracieux gets a little crazier after nightfall.
L’ane Rouge Simply excellent bouillabaisse in the Old Port of Nice. A place to take your partner, not your lover.
Chantecler Elegant, decadent, succulent… this is French fare that’s well worth the price tag.
Keisuke Matsushima The minimalist décor isn’t for everyone, but it certainly makes the artistically prepared dishes seem a whole lot more appealing.
Flaveur Upscale dining without the pretension. Listen to the wine recommendations, and don’t come overly hungry.
Diamant Noir Think you’ve already had a gourmet burger in your life? You’ll think again once you taste the seared foie gras burger with sliced truffles and bordelaise sauce. It even comes with French fries.
Bistrot d’Antoine So popular you almost need to book before you even arrive in Nice, but the experience is well worth remembering to do so.
January’s Luna Park is a large fair with attractions for the young, the not-so-young, and the young at heart.
February marks the biggest revelry in Nice with the Carnival, celebrated with parades, food fests and fireworks. The best part is that it lasts for two weeks.
Serene Cimiez gets a healthy dose of energy in May for La Fete de Mai, Nice’s oldest festival.
Fête de la Gastronomie in September is where Nice cuisine is highlighted at restaurants around the city. All you have to do to celebrate is eat!
Free concerts take place all around the city for June’s Fete de la Musique, which promotes the music of local artists.
Fisherman celebrate Fete de la Mer with mass at the Gesu church, followed by a procession to Les Ponchettes beach to set a boat on fire. In honour of the patron saint, of course.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch, but at the Nice Jazz Festival in July you can pack a picnic and have a very cheap one to go with the free jazz.
Fireworks and dancing mark July’s Bastille Day Celebration, one of Nice’s (and France’s) biggest and best festivals.
At what point does a Christmas Village become a Christmas City? In December, the central square of Nice toes the line.
When To Go
Spring and autumn are the most pleasant times to visit, when temperatures are mild and mugginess is minimal.
Ocean breezes are less breezy and more blustery in winter, which is relatively mild but known for those strong winds.
With summer’s clear skies comes sweltering heat – although temperatures can drop to a more pleasant 17°C (63°F) after dark.
What To Avoid
Les Moulins and l’Ariane have little to offer tourists and have the highest crime rates in Nice.
Wine in restaurants is very expensive, so if you’re on a budget do as the locals do and order wine by the pitchet – a 50 centilitre jug.
The ‘duty free’ shops at Nice Airport have prices way above those found even in the high street.
Nice, France Information
Nice is the French Riviera's bold muse owing to its cultural charm, warm pebble beaches, chic resorts and lavish architecture with Baroque and Roman touches. It is also popular as the ticket to further exploits in glamorous getaways such as Monaco, Cannes and St. Tropez.
Located in southeast France, Nice is also the capital of Côte d'Azur, very much accessible to tourists due to its international airport and trains linking it to Paris. The city is packed in both summer and winter holidays, making the Promenade des Anglais a crowded hub for people basking under the glorious sun.
If you've had your fill of art in the French capital, expect another heaping portion in your plate when you visit Nice. It is home to some of the finest museums in the world hosting works of Chagall, Rodin, Monet and Matisse. And, one more fine creation you must not miss after a day in the beach, is the local cuisine prepared mostly with olive oil, made from Nice's very own olive groves of course!
The seaside of Nice remains a top favourite amongst visitors and locals alike who adore the wide shorelines and the blueness of the sea. Relax at the Promenade des Anglais as you watch people jog or stroll along the lovely coastline. It can get crowded, though, during peak season so if you are looking for a lesser hectic pace, try the hill town Cimiez.
Roman in influence and possessing every bit of French elegance, the small town of Cimiez bears witness to history and culture in all of Nice. Enjoy the scenic ruins of the Roman amphitheatre, baths, and the Archaelogical Museum nearby. The landmark Hotel Regina used to be a retreat for no less than Queen Victoria herself during her holidays in the French Riviera. Art lovers would want to drop by and admire the timeless masterpieces of Matisse and Chagall in their respective museums.
To have a more thorough look at the city's architecture, the churches and palaces in Vieux-Nice area are all worthy of a visit! Be in awe at the baroque styles of both the Basilica of Saint Reparate and Palais Lascaris. If you feel weary from taking pictures of these magnificent attractions, drop by the Glacier Fenocchio to sample its well-loved gelato! After this treat, you can head for either the Cours Saleya or Marche Saleya to feed on your appetite for shopping.
Another important section of Nice is Promenade du Paillon where you will find expo centers hosting major events in Europe and a little further up is the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.
February marks the biggest revelry in all of Nice and that is the Carnival. Watch out for parades, food fests, fireworks and musical activities during this event which traces its origins from the 14th century. The mood is much like Mardi Gras which carries on for two weeks.
In March, the folkloric festival celebrating gourds comes alive in the gardens of the Cimiez monastery for the Festin des Cougordons. See how the common household fixture becomes a work of art. Held also in the same town, La Fete de Mai enlivens the atmosphere in Nice with its focus on folk music and theatre. Fishermen toast to their patron saint Peter during Fete de la Mer in June with traditional ceremonies and parades.
Then in July, the Cimiez gardens play venue once more to the Jazz Festival where audiences can expect world-class musicians in town for this major annual event.
More Info On Climate
- Winter (November to February) 6-16°C; mild with strong winds
- Spring (March to May) 7 - 20°C; generally pleasant
- Summer (June to August) 17 - 29°C; clear skies and sweltering heat
- Fall (September to October) 13 - 22°C; gets milder and less humid
More Info On Getting Around
Exercise caution if you choose to rent a car to get around. Nice’s streets are narrow, and local drivers tend to have heavy right feet.
Public busses are a convenient option. They connect most parts of the city and run until around 1am.
Taxis can be expensive, but are a good option for travelling short distances – or if you’re a little nervous about getting behind the wheel yourself.
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