Nice has its own bubble.
The people here are like nowhere else. And the weather here is like nowhere else.
In Nice, you can relax or you can be a part of the jet set.
It’s up to you.
Nissa La Bella
Renamed unofficially by the people of Nice, Nissa La Bella simply means Nice The Beautiful. (pronounced niece)
And Beautiful it is!
It’s the second largest city of Provence Alpes Cote d’Azur after Marseille and hugs the Mediterranean coast. From Nice, you can easily go the mountains for a little trekking or skiing or take a break in the countryside.
The weather in Nice is like no other place in France, truly the area lives in its own bubble.
Sunny year round warm summers and mild winters is the norm, while elsewhere others are sweltering or freezing.
You could spend months on end discovering everything the area has to offer.
But if it’s your first time in Nice, then there are a few main things you have to check out.
So here we go!
Promenade des Anglais
English aristocracy spent many winters here during the early 19th century. At that time, the promenade was just a simple dirt path.
There are a few stories surrounding the origin of its name, but one fact we are certain of is that the English community enlarged the path which was financed by an English reverend. And it became known as the English Path.
Today the Promenade des Anglais is known worldwide.
People in Nice also call it La Prom. Short and sweet and oh so beautiful!
It stretches from the port to the airport, about 8km.
There is a bicycle lane that continues all the way to St Laurent du Var, but no need to go that far for now, just have fun along the water.
Skaters, strollers, musicians, joggers, and walkers can all be found at some point on the Prom. You can sit and relax on the famous blue chairs and look out towards the horizon wondering why it took you so long to get here 🙂
While walking up and down the Prom, you’ll pass the famous and luxurious Negresco Hotel with its pink dome.
This is a major landmark in Nice and an old traditional hotel well known amongst the upscale hotels in France, in the same vein as the Ritz in Paris.
Parallel to the Promenade des Anglais, the Cours Saleya is a long pedestrian stretch with restaurants and bars on either side. It’s most famous for its Flower Market held Tuesday-Sunday.
On one end the flower market sells everything from small to complex flower compositions in addition to all sorts of Mediterranean plants and small trees.
The other side of the market sells mostly fruits and vegetables but also delicious olives, cheese, and typical local products.
Take a walk through the market first before buying to see what attracts you the most. Prices differ and it could be a good idea to do a quick comparison while strolling.
Arrive early as this market is usually crowded during late mornings. Vendors start packing up around 1230-1pm. Bring small change and a big bag.
Stop for breakfast, stay after the market for lunch or just enjoy a delicious coffee in the sun and people watch.
On Mondays, the flower-fruit-veggie market is replaced by an Antique Market which starts early in the morning until afternoon.
Colline du Chateau
At the eastern end of the Cours Saleya, you can make your way to the Colline du Chateau. It means Castle Hill. But there is no castle here!
There used to be a fortified citadel back in the days.. but it was taken apart by King Louis XIV in 1706.
What remains today is a beautiful park with breathtaking views of the Baie des Anges. You could walk here for hours.
Have a picnic. Let kids play on the giant spider structure. Have a crepe. Go for a jog or a walk. Find the waterfall.
Admire the view of the city’s rooftops.
Spend an afternoon or the entire day.
This park is green and has plenty of small paths everywhere to explore. It’s a cool change (literally) from the heat during summer months.
There are 3 ways to up to Castle Hill.
- You can climb the stairs if you’re into some serious exercise.
- You can wait in line to take the elevator which requires a fee then walk the rest of the way.
- Or you can take the little Tourist Train (fee) that departs from the Promenade des Anglais.
- All three options are good depending on the age of the children and your endurance.
Wandering into the Old Town or as the nicois call it, Le Vieux Nice, or Le Vieux for short, you’ll feel completely transported to another time.
Within the old town walls, discover the labyrinth style streets filled with all types of small shops and cafe’s as well as restaurants, pubs and small theaters.
Here, everyone knows each other, it’s like a village within the city and there is always something to do with great people watching.
Besides the tourists, the old town is a small microcosm of real people who work hard and raise families.
At night it can be as crowded as during the day, so for a little peace and quiet find a small restaurant on a hidden side street…
During the summer months it overflows with crowds but if that’s the only time you can make it, then by all means just go.
You can enter the old town from several sides, including from Cours Saleya, from Place Massena (behind the fountain of the naked statue) as well as the other side of town close to the Mamac.
Cathedral Sainte Reparate
The old town has a few squares to its name, but Place Rosetti is the largest. On one side the beautiful baroque Sainte Reparate Cathedral cannot be missed.
Sainte Reparate is the patron saint of Nice and the cathedral a historical monument.
It has been restored and cleaned up so now its colors are fresh and vibrant giving it the beautiful look it deserves. The inside is decorated in a harmonious way giving a sense of peace to its visitors.
The acoustics are great so make sure to check out if there are any concerts at the time of your visit.
In Place Rosetti restaurants try to squeeze in as many tables as possible making it a lively place during summer.
Don’t forget to also check out Fennochio for ice cream or sorbets. They have over 50 flavors and some I’ve never tried like Bailey’s, lavender or cinnamon.
An ice cream lover’s paradise.
Back in the days of the Roman empire, Cimiez, called Cemenelum was the administrative center of the Alpes Maritimes area. It’s located on a hill (of the same name) in the northern part of town.
Today, this residential neighborhood is where you can see beautiful “belle epoque” architecture, ancient ruins, visit a museum and discover an ancient Franciscan monastery.
Jardins des Arenes de Cimiez
The first thing you notice when you enter the Jardin des Arenes de Cimiez is how green it is!
Beautiful olive trees lined up everywhere. Some are over 100 years old.
The park is a perfect place to spend the day with the family. Have a picnic and bring a ball or board games to just chill out.
The entrance to the park is free of course, but the onsite cafe where you can sit in the sun and be happy – is not. Go anyways to people watch and just relax.
For smaller kids, the carousel will most certainly be a fun thing to do a million times over.
On Sundays (and sometimes on a national holiday) during the month of May, the park organizes La Fete des Mai.
It’s a traditional and very popular event. The park sets up delicious food stands and sells local foods like pan bagnat and pissaladiere music for dancing, shows and concerts, makeup for boys and girls, inflatable toboggans and lots of other activities to keep everyone busy and happy.
Expect long lines.
The Matisse Museum is within the park.
What’s left of the Ruins?
If you are in the Jardin des Arenes de Cimiez, you can visit the Gallo Roman ruins close to the east entrance (where the bus drops you off on Boulevard de Cimiez)
You can also get a glimpse of more ruins attesting to the early Roman empire, through the fence further up from Musee Matisse. Here you’ll see parts of what was once an arena, amphitheater, and hot-cold thermal baths.
You can reserve a guided tour if you want to see details up close.
For more in-depth archeological facts from the bronze to middle ages, visit the small Archeological Museum on site.
Monastere de Cimiez
If you leave the park via the large double-sided stairways towards the parking lot, you’ll see right in front of you the humble but beautiful Monastere de Cimiez.
Founded in the 4rth century by the Benedictine monks, today the Franciscan monks live here. In 1993 it was declared a historical monument.
Inside you can admire three key paintings of the Italian medieval artist Ludovico Brea as well as other works dating from the 15th to 18th century.
Next door is a beautiful and quaint cemetery where the artists Matisse and Dufy are buried.
The Jardin des Fleurs is one of the oldest gardens in Nice and located right next to the monastery. Go through the large gates and follow the aisles filled with stunning and gorgeous plants and flowers.
Make sure to walk all the way to the other end for breathtaking views.
It is groomed and manicured and throughout the whole park there are small hideouts to rest and enjoy the view.
The cloister near the entrance is not open to the public all the time, but the outside is just beautiful.
During the summer months enjoy an outdoor classical concert in this magnificent setting.
.Located just before the Jardin des Arenes, (on the other side of the street), the Regina is a well-known landmark recognizable by its size.
This massive luxurious hotel was used by Queen Victoria in 1896 as well as the English aristocracy to escape their dreary winters. They would occupy the entire west wing for weeks on end and a crown was built on one of the dome towers.
Today the outside is still intact and the interior renovated into upscale apartments and offices.
It’s worth mentioning because it’s a beautiful example of Belle Epoque architecture – and you will pass by it before arriving at the gardens.
To visit all the places in Cimiez listed above, you can come by car and use the parking lot in front of the Monastery or along the Jardin des Arenes on Av du Monastere.
Or you can take the bus (number 15 near Galerie Lafayette) from Place Massena. It costs 1.50e and takes about 15-20 minutes. It will drop you off in front of the garden. From there everything listed is within walking distance.
To take the bus back down, return to your arrival point, cross the street and take no. 15 back towards Place Massena.
An example of contemporary architecture near the Acropolis neighborhood created by Sasha Sosno. This square head is massive measuring 30 meters high and 14 meters wide. Inside are the offices of the municipal library and not open to the public.
However, if you’re in the area, just look up, you can’t miss it!
From here it’s a short walk towards the Coulee Verte, a long green stretch of a park where you can picnic or just relax on a bench under a shady tree. There is a small playground where kids can have some fun and run around.
If you continue walking to the end of the Coulee, you’ll reach the fountains of Place Massena.
They go on and off quite often during the summer and kids just have a blast running through the water.
From Place Massena, it’s an easy walk to the Galerie Lafayette and Jean Medecin for shopping, but I get into this a little further down 🙂
Russian Orthodox Cathedral
This early 20th-century church was commissioned by the Tsar Nichola II, head of the Romanov family. Although small, it remains a unique example of Russian architecture and religious art outside of Russia.
Nice has quite a large Russian community after the English community.
The interior is extremely charged with religious icons and carved woodwork. It is a place of worship, so you must respect certain rules.
The admission is free, but guided tours are 10 euros.
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Kids love this park. Located close to the airport and across from the sea, it is a perfect and inexpensive way to spend the day. Entry is 5 euros (free for under 12) and there is a great deal to see.
Visit one of the largest greenhouses in Europe where you can experience different tropical climates, learn about plants and see exotic birds.
There is also a large lake with ducks and swans as well as several garden displays with over 2,000 species of plants. Stop and watch the water show coupled with music for a few minutes. Get lost in the bamboo labyrinth. Go see the animals and exotic birds.
Different exhibits and activities for kids of all ages are scheduled throughout the year. Check their website.
Smart idea: Bring your own picnic over buying something at the snack bar – it’s overpriced and not that good…
- Marc Chagall – Amazing and colorful paintings by this famous painter can be at the Musee Chagall in Cimiez. Enjoy his painting depicting biblical stories with enchanting images.
- Matisse – Aside from his magnificent paintings, this is the best place to follow the painter’s life from his beginnings through drawings and sketches.
- Mamac (Musee d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain)
The museum of contemporary art is located on the outskirts of the old town. Don’t miss some of Warhol’s work and Klein’s famous “Blue” painting and Nikki St Phalle statues.
- Musee de la Photographie – A great little photo museum. Each couple of months they feature well known – and lesser well known – photographers.
Check here for more info
A little shopping anyone?
Of course, when you come to Nice you want to indulge in some shopping. Avenue Jean Medecin is a long avenue that stretches 1.5 km. from Place Massena all the way up close to the train station.
At Place Massena, you’ll find the famous Galleries Lafayette, a big department store with everything under the sun. A bit on the expensive side, but if you go during the “Soldes” period (sales) you can probably find what you want.
Continuing upwards on Avenue Jean Medecin, there is Zara, H&M, Sephora and plenty of other brand name and lesser known shops that you can stop in.
At the midpoint of Jean Medecin, shop to your heart’s content at the mall “Nice Etoile”.
3 floors of boutiques, including Hollister, Naf Naf, IKKS etc.. You can also have lunch there and use the ATM machines at the entrance.
If you keep going, your next stops will be Fnac, a large well-known store for books, CDs, Apple products, and electronic supplies.
Right next door is Pull and Bear, and Bershka.
You’ve probably had enough if you get to this point.
But if not, keep going up Av. Jean Medecin for smaller local shops.
Tired of walking?
Take the tram back down to Place Massena. It’s a straight line and costs 1.50e. If you only shopped for 90 minutes then you can use the same ticket back.
But how realistic is that right?
You will probably spend most of your time around town like the pedestrian area, the old town, the beach and Avenue Jean Medecin. These are all walkable, especially if you take your time and enjoy while getting to different places.
If you don’t want to walk much or want to go to a different part of the city, then you can take the tram. It’s only 1.50e.
There are only 2 tram lines (the 3rd one is still under construction until end of 2018). All stops have a map showing the available routes from where you are.
Buy a tram ticket from the machine (at the tram stop) and once aboard don’t forget to slide your ticket through a small machine to get it stamped.
If the tram doesn’t go where you want then take a bus (you can buy your ticket from the driver) and check the route here: Lignes Azur
These few things to do in Nice only scratch the surface. However, it is a good start to get the feel of what this city is about.
Remember that many places are closed on Mondays. Many shops also close between 12-2pm.
This almost forces you to take the time for a good lunch!
So enjoy. 🙂 Together.