Nice’s unofficial national anthem is Nissa La Bella, a sentiment you can’t help but agree with when you visit the largest city on the French Riviera. Nice’s beauty comes from its 19th-century mansions on its promenades and boulevards, from the city’s Italianate old town and rugged natural terrain that offers countless fantastic viewpoints.
The artist has always cherished this landscape, which is even more beautiful in its unique light. So Nice is also now one of the best places for art galleries in Europe, with museums dedicated to Chagall and Matisse. Add in top-notch cuisine, a perfect climate and a touch of Riviera charm, and you have a very special place.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Nice:
1. English Avenue
There’s the Promenade des Promenades, and then the Promenade des Anglais, which is more than just a majestic sidewalk next to the Mediterranean: it’s been an integral part of Nice’s city life since the dykes were built (the recent raids won’t change that) in 1820 years.
The ebullient Nice Carnival parade will take place in February, while the rest of the day will see joggers, couple skateboarders and family members mingle throughout the day.
The promenade winds for 7 kilometers, and on the east side is a luxurious palace of the 19th century.
You can sit on benches and find shade under pergola and palm trees.
2. Old Town
The oldest part of the city is Nice’s wide boulevards and vast squares such as Place Massena.
It’s an alley lined with local shops and restaurants, obscured by tall ochre-coloured apartment blocks, dominated by the Colline du Château to the east.
Glaciers, crepes and cafes all flow into the squares, which are usually lively until the wee hours of the morning.
It is no coincidence that there is a strong Italian feel to the architecture and the environment, as Nice was not French until the Treaty of Turin in 1860.
Recommended Itinerary: Nice: Old Town Treasures Walking Tour
3. Parc de la Colline du Château
In this steep hilltop park on the east side of the city, you’ll see some stunning panoramas of the French Riviera.
From the Baie des Anges you can look back at Nice and the blue sea, a sight you want to stay as long as possible.
You can pick out all the landmarks such as the Hotel Negresco and the port to the east.
If you’re feeling fit, you can walk to the top from Vieille Ville, but there are also free lifts, recommended in summer.
4. Marc Chagall Museum
Chagall was so invested in the design of the museum that he decided where each of his pieces would be placed, configured the layout of the garden, and designed the stained-glass windows of the concert hall.
So in many ways the museum itself is a coherent work of art.
But it was created to accommodate Chagall’s series of 17 Biblical themed paintings, divided into New and Old Testaments.
These include the famous Resistance, Resurrection, Liberation triptych, painted before, during and after World War II.
5. Beautiful Cathedral
Aside from its patterned dome, this landmark building in Vieille Ville has a rather unremarkable exterior.
The average visitor to the square in front may not even realize that this is the city’s cathedral.
Inside it’s a different story, and once you walk through its gates, the building takes on a new look.
It was built in the 17th century in an extravagant Baroque design and consists of ten beautifully decorated chapels with sculptures, paintings and gilding.
Again, this is the kind of architecture you would expect to find in Italy or Spain.
6. Cours Saleya Market
Nice Old Town also has a lovely flower and fresh produce market, which is open every day except Monday when it is replaced by a flea market.
If you’re vacationing in an apartment in Nice, this market is a godsend, selling fresh produce, local delicacies such as socca made on site, and flowers from the Provence and Alpes-Maritime countryside.
Many sellers will tempt you with free samples, which is an effective way to get your business! Flowers are on display for the longest time, until 17:30, long after the vegetable sellers have packed up.
Beat the tourist craze and get there early.
7. Massena Museum
This 19th-century villa on Promenade des Anglais was donated to the city in 1919 by the Duke of Rivoli on the condition that it should be open to the public as a local history museum.
You have to go and see what it was like inside these Belle Époque mansions with gardens designed by Edouard Andre, who was also in charge of those at the Monte Carlo Casino.
Inside are all sorts of interesting oddities, such as Napoleon’s death mask and the tiara of his wife Queen Josephine, as well as a collection of 19th-century French art on the second floor.
The city contributes a lot to French cuisine, and there are some local dishes you can’t leave Nice without trying.
Salade Niçoise is an obvious start: it’s hard-boiled eggs, green beans, anchovies, tomatoes and olives, and it pairs perfectly with Bandol’s rosé or Bellet’s white.
A more casual street food is Socca, a cross between flatbread and pancake, made with chickpea flowers and sold by vendors in the old town.
Ratatouille also comes from this part of the world, and this famous vegetable stew is made with zucchini, eggplant, peppers and tomatoes.
There’s also fougasse bread, onion pie and Daube Niçoise, a beef stew served with bacon, tomatoes and red wine.
Available Tours: Food Tours
9. Phoenix Park
There’s a €3 fee to enter the park, but it’s well worth the money given how much stuff fills the seven hectares at the western end of English Avenue.
Kids are free to play and this is one of the few attractions in Nice that they are guaranteed to love.
There are 20 themed areas with 2,500 species of plants grown around the pond, in a modern greenhouse (one of the largest in Europe) and in various gardens.
There are also animal enclosures and terrariums with turtles, otters and tropical spiders, while mandarin ducks, Chilean flamingos and iguanas roam freely in the greenhouse.
Nice’s beaches are pebble, and while they’re beautiful, maybe not everyone likes sunbathing.
There are private areas with comfortable sun loungers and sometimes even sand.
Anywhere else you can still spend a relaxing afternoon in the sun, but the current can be a bit strong for the little ones and the beach shelves are steep.
A beach guaranteed to keep the kids happy is on the other side of Mont Boron in Villefranche-sur-Mer, where the waters are shallower and separated from the open sea by the headlands of Cape Nice and Cape Ferrat.
11. Monastère de Cimiez
This rising monastery north of the city center was founded by the Benedictines in the 800s.
You can get there along one of Nice’s most impressive boulevards, the Boulevard de Cimiez, with its extraordinary 19th century hotels and mansions.
The Gothic monastery buildings were built in the 14th and 15th centuries, with fine frescoes from the 1500s.
But most tourists climb for one purpose only: to visit the exquisite gardens, complete with flower beds, manicured plants, geometric lawns, pergola and a terrace with incredible city views.
These gardens are the oldest on the Côte d’Azur, built in 1546 as pottery for monks.
12. More art museums
With the Riviera Pass, you can enter the Chagall Museum and many other attractions with one ticket for 48 hours or 7 days.
Here’s a quick overview; the Matisse Museum has one of the world’s largest collections of the esteemed Impressionist work, but perhaps even more exciting for fans, it depicts the artist’s influence and process (there are tons of sketches to look at). There is the Asian Art Museum on the Promenade des Anglais, just behind the Phoenix Park, with a pavilion where you can take part in an authentic Japanese tea ceremony.
Then there is the contemporary art museum MAMAC, which houses works by Warhol, Lichtenstein and Yves Klein.
Cap-Ferrat is a 20-minute drive east of Nice, on the panoramic Boulevard Napoleon III, synonymous with Riviera luxury and old money. Be captivated by sensational turn-of-the-century mansions.
Villa 1, Ephrussi de Rothschild, is open to visitors and houses precious paintings, sculptures and furniture.
Like the famous trail of the Cap d’Antibes, Cap-Ferrat is also adjacent to a coastal trail with the mysterious rugged coastline of the Riviera and the great photo opportunities of the Massif de l’Esterel.
This trail is also the easiest way to get to the cozy beaches on the east side.
14. OGC Nice
From August to May, if you want to take a break from the brains and gastronomic sights of Nice and the French Riviera, you can always catch a live football game at the new Allianz Riviera Stadium just a few minutes west of the city.
OGC Nice enjoyed their best season in years in 2016, managed by Swiss coach Lucien Favre, who is respected for his charming style of football.
Their spacious new home of 35,000 people is also worthy of admission, built for Euro 2016. The club also now owns a wealthy overseas consortium, so could be gearing up for big things in the years to come.
15. Boron Mountain
Between the port of Nice and Cap Ferrat is a mountain that rises steeply from the water, reaching a height of almost 200 meters.
This is a rare open terrain reserved for olive, carob and pine forests.
You can go to the southwest and Nice stretches into the distance next to the Bay of Angels, and even Corindo Castle looks small.
On the other side is the panoramic view of Cap-Ferrat while you walk back up the ridge back to Fort du Mont Alban.
Built in the mid-16th century, the fortress is open to tourists in summer.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Nice, France
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