It’s bustling – in a good way.
We can’t pretend that Nice isn’t already one of France’s hottest tourist destinations. The largest city on the famed Côte d’Azur – or French Riviera as it’s commonly called in English – has been a superstar since the 19th century.
Europeans flock to its cerulean blue seas in July and August. Its Carnival Mardi Gras celebrations (mid-Feb to March) are some of Europe’s greatest, and every May it is filled to the brim with visitors during the Cannes Film Festival and the Monaco Grand Prix car race.
Its story is multicultural – and glamorous.
Tourism is nothing new to Nice. It has a great variety of hotels, including many affordable 3-star and 4-star properties. Nice’s resort status came to life as a winter vacation destination, beginning with wealthy Brits who came in the late-1700s for the sunny, mild winters.
Once the railroad arrived, Nice was soon flooded with Parisian aristocrats, Belgian kings, English queens and Russian princesses who traveled to enjoy the splendor of la Belle Époque on the shores of the Mediterranean.
The weather wasn’t the only reason they came. By the late 19th century Nice was known as a rich man’s paradise complete with seaside casinos, jaw-dropping scenery, impressive hotels, theaters, mansions and the crème de la crème of European social circles.
Artists, writers, musicians and wealthy Americans soon followed, and Nice’s reputation as a summer resort took shape. Jumping forward to today, Nice’s resort tradition has been going strong for over two centuries.
Things have changed in some respects. The upper class that once shunned the heat of the Mediterranean sun is now more likely to be lounging on a beach in nearby Cannes, St Tropez or St Jean de Cap Ferrat. Gamblers are more likely enjoying nearby Monte-Carlo. So then – what’s left of Nice? A fabulous, inviting city filled with much to enjoy, eat and visit.
Going back in time, before Nice’s Belle Époque resort days, Nice was actually part of the Italian Kingdom of Sardinia. It only joined France 155 years ago!
Nice today exudes this fantastic, multicultural, Italian-French blend. Because of the architecture and color scheme, you could easily mistake Nice’s Old Town (Vieille Ville or Vieux Nice) for an Italian city.
There is no shortage of Italian restaurants (gnocchi in particular are a delicacy in Nice), and you’ll undoubtedly encounter many Italians visiting from across the border, which is only 25 miles away.
Nice’s Old Town, markets and shopping are amazing.
Nice is an incredibly easy city to navigate. It has great tram and bus systems. Much of its center is pedestrianized and contains wonderful parks, fountains and green areas.
Our favorite place to explore on foot is the city’s Old Town, a lovely labyrinth of ochre-colored medieval buildings, bakeries, cute shops, markets, inviting restaurants, Baroque churches and elegant palaces.
Wandering Nice’s Old Town gives you a bird’s eye view of the city’s Italian past. Some of its grandest squares look like they came straight out of Turin, the former capital of the House of Savoy – which ruled Nice for centuries. When exploring Vieux Nice, whose layout hasn’t changed much in almost four centuries, be sure to walk down Rue Droite, the location of the elegant Palais Lascaris.
Another Old Town must-see is the Cathedral of Sainte Réparate, which resides in the enduring Place Rossetti. From the outside, you could mistake it for any other church. Its 17th-century interior however is positively dazzling. A late-addition jewel in Nice’s Old Town is the opera house, which was created in the early 19th century to entertain the city’s posh aristocrats.
Vieux Nice houses several businesses that have stood the test of time. One in particular, the Patisserie Auer, used to supply England’s Queen Victoria with chocolate goodies when she wintered in Nice.
There is also much shopping to be had in Nice’s Old Town, particularly for antiqueoholics. The pedestrian Cours Saleya street has served as the city’s main market square for centuries.
Most mornings it hosts Nice’s famous flower market, but on Mondays it’s the scene of a lively antiques market. (On Saturdays, try the market in Place Garibaldi or the shops on Rue Catherine Ségurane.)
Its natural scenery is surreal.
Nice is a magical combo of Mediterranean seas and Alpine foothills. Its most famous avenue, the Promenade des Anglais (“the English Promenade”), was actually commissioned by 19th-century English vacationers.
They desired to stroll along Nice’s beachfront and gaze at the Bay of Angels. It’s a view that’s hard to adequately describe, but we’ll give it a shot.
The transparent sea is made up of shades of cerulean blue and deep sapphire. Just sitting on a bench and gazing at it feels refreshing!
When sunset arrives, the color palate packs a real punch… pinks and oranges cast against that blue. It’s hard to believe this pristine of a beach can be found in a major city.
Today Nice’s seaside promenade continues to be a major draw – for locals and tourists alike. You’ll see people moseying, running, cycling, rollerblading and walking their dogs along these four miles of heavenly views.
If you’re up for a swim, make use of the many facilities found along the beaches, some of which are public while others are private. Many rent lounge chairs, umbrellas and towels.
Even if you don’t want to swim, consider having lunch or a drink at one of the many seaside cafes found along the promenade.
For a terrific view of the promenade, sea and port, head to Castle Hill. Interestingly, this is where the story of Nice begins – with Greek colonists who settled the hill almost 2500 years ago.
Its art scene is fantastic.
Over the years, Nice’s outstanding natural scenery has caused many artists to live or vacation in the area, and today some of the French Riviera’s best art museums are located in Nice.
If you only pick one, make it the Musée National Marc Chagall.
The museum houses religious works of the brilliant, Russian, Jewish artist – including both paintings and stained-glass.
Much of his artwork beautifully depict scenes and characters (like Noah, Joseph, Abraham, Sarah, Moses and Isaac) from the Old Testament Books of Genesis, Exodus and the Song of Songs. If you’re an art fan, other worthy museums in Nice include the Matisse Museum, the Modern and Contemporary Art Museum, and the Fine Arts Museum.
Lastly, while it’s not an art museum, the seafront Masséna Museum is well worth checking out for anyone interested in Nice’s history.
The downstairs floor of this seaside mansion is so beautifully decorated, it pulls you straight back to the days of Nice’s Belle-Époque splendor. Imagine Downton Abbey – at the beach!
It’s ideally situated for day trips.
Nice’s location is perfect for making day trips along France’s Côte d’Azur. Sightseeing excursions, frequent buses and good train connections make doing so easy and convenient.
Popular destinations in the interior include the hilltop village of Gourdon, the perfume capital of Grasse and the art-kissed Saint-Paul-de-Vence. Along the coast to the west of Nice, daytrippers visit the glamorous Riviera towns of Sainte-Maxime, Saint-Tropez, Antibes and Cannes – home to one of the world’s most famous film festivals.
The eastern edge of Nice also offers incredible day trip opportunities, which feel more and more Italian-like as you inch eastwards.
Between Nice and the nearby, high-rolling principality of Monaco (which definitely merits a visit!) visitors can take the three “corniche” (coastal roads with amazing views) to visit resort towns like the very pretty Villefranche-sur-Mer, the affluent Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, and the medieval Èze village.
From Nice it’s also very easy to travel to Italy for the day to visit the markets of San Remo or Ventimiglia.
Why do we love Nice? Its authenticity.
Our favorite thing about Nice however is simply this: despite being located on a beautiful, sapphire-colored bay, it’s a normal, living, breathing French city (France’s 5th largest).
While known for being a former and current resort town, in no way is Nice a tourist trap. Its Old Town is not solely comprised of souvenir shops peddling Provencal soaps and dishcloths.
Even in places that would seem like tourist traps – like the medieval Cours Saleya and its Flower Market – you will see locals chatting away in neighborhood cafes and snacking on socca.
Locals actually inhabit the Old Town, and as you meander through its narrow streets you’ll see children playing, friends having drinks, and folks forming long lines to visit their neighborhood butcher.
We can promise you – Old Towns aren’t like this everywhere in Europe. It’s one of the many things about Nice that make it so very special.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about Nice! Click here to peruse our vacation packages to France, including a “Nice at Its Best” package. If you like parts of this and parts of that, we can work with you to customize your dream itinerary.
It goes without saying that Nice is an ideal destination for any romantic occasion like a honeymoon or anniversary, and it can easily be paired with Paris.
Lastly, if you have a group of friends or family members that would like to travel with you to France, we can customize an affordable itinerary just for your group.
Merci et bon voyage!