The Ultimate Guide to Nice
Nice in the south of France on the Mediterranean Sea is a wonderful place to visit and spend time. It has been designated by UNESCO as the Winter resort town of the Riviera. We have been several times and liked it so much on our last trip we decided to spend a month exploring the area. Nice alone can take up a whole week of exploring and when you add the surrounding area you will need at least a few weeks.
Read on for the best things to see and do when planning your trip to fabulous Nice, France.
Things to do in Nice, France
Old Town - Vieille Ville
The old town in Nice is packed with 4-story buildings. Little has changed here since the 1700s. It is a colourful and vibrant part of Nice and well worth spending some time here exploring all the nooks and crannies. There are restaurants, bars, nightclubs, markets, hair salons, along with arts and crafts shops. But, more importantly there are real people living here. People who have lived here their entire lives. In a month’s time, you recognize the locals and exchange pleasantries. You listen to interesting stories. You start to feel the rhythm of living in Vieille Ville and it is comfortable and safe.
Cours Saleya Markets
Located through the gate from the East end of the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France, the daily market is also the regional flower market. We filled our condo with flowers each week and purchased our daily vegetables here. Our flat was just a few buildings away. On Mondays the vegetable and flower market becomes a flea market with all kinds of treasures.
Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France
The Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France was finished in 1824. The walkway extends for 7 km along the Baie des Anges. It is one of the main attractions of Nice. Along the 7 km stretch are luxury hotels, museums, restaurants and fashionable beaches. Many events are held on the promenade including the Nice Carnival. It was here at 6 am that I saw the sky, land and sea take on the famous azure blue so loved by impressionist painters. It was an awe inspiring and magical moment; the reason for travel.
Baie des Anges Beach in Nice, France
The beach along the Baie des Anges has many restaurants and private lounge areas where you can get full service while sunning yourself. There are lots of open areas where the locals go to sun, swim and eat. Across the road are public washrooms and pay washrooms where you can change. Many change right on the beach. There is no false modesty here.
I love the beach at Nice. It is made up of perfectly smooth mid size rounded rocks that act like a warm bean bag after swimming in the cool Mediterranean Sea. You just sit down and wiggle your way into the rocks and your whole body is supported by the warm rocks – just like hot rock massage therapy but for your whole body.
Parc de la Colline du Château (Castle Hill)
At the east end of the Promenade des Anglais is the Castle Hill park. At the top is the Nice grave yard, ruins of the castle along with great view points, gardens and a waterfall that is cool and refreshing after a couple of hours on the beach.
Promenade de Paillon - Fun
The Promenade de Paillon in Nice, France was created by covering the Paillon River that was a continual flooding danger. The promenade is lined with palm trees and greenery. The main feature is the Water Mirror which was completed in 2014. It is a gathering place for the local community and hosts numerous events throughout the year. It is just a few minute walk from the Promenade des Anglais.
Place Messéna - Shopping
The shopping in Nice, France is along the Place Messéna. You will find Gallery LaFayette, Zara and other affordable stores and smaller shops lining the Avenue. Here you will also find Tiffany, Prada, and other luxury brand stores. I have been in a lot of Tiffanys around the world but have never seen the level of luxury as in Nice. As a result, the security is extremely tight. Customers enter one at a time through a sealed glass compartment where you are scanned before entering the store. The items for sale in this Tiffany are priced in the 10s and 100s of thousand Euros.
Musée Marc Chagall
The permanent collection in the Marc Chagall National Museum is largest collection of the artist’s work in the world with over 800 pieces. In fact, the museum was developed with the cooperation of Chagall with him curating the collection, designing and creating the large mosiac, the stain glassed windows, the gardens and even the placement of each piece within the museum.
Villa Masséna was built in a neoclassical style with Italianate influences. Completed in 1901, it was designed by Hans-Georg Tersling, a prominent architect on the French Riviera. Villa Masséna became a museum in 1921 when it was donated to the City of Nice by the Masséna family.
It contains Napoleon artifacts, paintings, and historical and classical collections. The villa and heritage garden makes this property the architectural jewel of the Promenade des Anglais.
Art and Culture Activities
Nice, France Opera House
Since the 1700s the Nice, France Opera House has been the centre of Nice culture, housing opera, ballet and symphony. The theatre is a smaller version of the Paris Opera House and designed by the same architect. The yearly calendar is full of wonderful performances. We were at Madame Butterfly for this picture.
C'est pas Classique Music Festival
Every November to December, the City of Nice, France, hosts a free series of concerts and entertainment. There are over 40 performances, all free. We went to many of the concerts and saw amazing things like an opera singer collaborating with a rock band, and a string quartet, all adding their sounds to the innovative musical piece set to a laser show and multimedia screen. More info on dates are here.
Throughout the year there are a variety of food festivals in Nice, France. We were fortunate to be there for a chocolate and candy exposition and a huge food and beverage trade show. Both shows were amazing. At the trade show the champagne and wine samples are hefty and by the end of the first row of ten we had to stop taking samples. The chocolate samples are huge. Unbelievably, you can get tired of chocolate and wine.
Brief History of Nice
A fishing and trading port until the 1850s, Nice, France became a popular winter destination for the royalty of Europe. The British royalty were responsible for the rapid development in that time era. Along with royalty came the aristocracy from England, France, Germany, Austria, Russia and the rest of Europe. Each had to have a villa or patronage a luxury hotel where they would rent a floor or two like Queen Victoria did for many years. Their influence is shown in the development of the town site, roadways, architecture and iconic structures like the cathedral.
The Nazis captured and occupied Nice in 1940. In the Place where the weekly fish market is held is a commemorative picture plaque on the wall where 5 citizens of Nice that were part of the French Resistance were executed by a Nazi firing squad.
Nice, France Day Trips
Grassé - Perfume capital of the world
Grasse is the perfume capital of the world. At first, the main industry of Grasse was tanning hides, followed by the manufacturing of scented gloves for the aristocracy of France. This evolved to the perfumes of today such as Channel and Dior.
The Fragonard perfume company gives tours about the history of perfume and how perfume is manufactured. You also get to create your own perfume in the classroom under the tutelage of an expert perfume maker. These highly refined noses of the perfume world that make the perfume formulas used to be employees of the company but are now free agents that hire out to the highest bidder. The personal formula you create is stored by Fragonard and you can reorder any time for delivery anywhere in the world.
Grasse is a 45 minute bus ride from Nice. The town of Grasse is full of narrow medieval streets with lots of boutique shops and balcony restaurants. It is a wonderful place to spend the day exploring this significant mountain town.
St. Paul de Vence - Artsy village
Just 45 minutes on bus #400 from Nice, leaving every 45 minutes, is the artsy St. Paul de Vene. A walled medieval market town up in the mountains is a great day trip. There are restaurants, a self-guided historical walking tour, short hikes, and art shopping. The village is charming and picturesque and a delight to walk around and explore for the day. We had a delicious lunch in a small owner operated restaurant.
Cannes - Famous resort town
Cannes is 30 km west of Nice. Cannes has a population of about 80,000 and has a subtropical Mediterranean climate with 11 hours of sunshine during the day in the summer and a mild climate in the winter. The famous Cannes Film Festival, usually held in May, began in 1946 and has made this city a popular place for the rich and famous. It is a great day trip from Nice. The train takes about 30 minutes and costs around $5.
Saint-Jean Cap-Ferrat - Ultra Wealth
Located a few kms east of Nice and a quick bus ride, Saint-Jean Cap- Ferrat is the second most expensive residential neighbourhood in the world after Monaco. With luminaries such as the Rothschilds and the King of Belgium it was an enclave of the richest people in the world back in the 1800 and 1900s.
There is a 6 km coastal trail that circumnavigates this famous peninsula. The walk takes about 2 hours and there are swimming locations along the walk. We buy a picnic lunch of roasted chicken, some cheese, a fresh loaf of bread and a bottle of wine and eat along the way.
Eze - Views and Food
Eze is located between Nice and Monaco on the beautiful windy Moyene Corniche that offers spectacular views of the Mediterranean. This medieval village is attached to the rugged rocky hillside. The Chateau Eze overlooking the Mediterranean has expensive meals like my lobster dish that was $50. There are a number of shops including perfume outlet stores for those who do not have time to go to Grasse.
Monaco - Grand Casino
The famous Monte Carlo Grand Casino is in the small principality of Monaco that has been ruled by the Grimaldi family for eight centuries. Built in 1858 along with a railway to Paris, the casino brought in much needed cash to Monaco. This lead to an increase of tourism with many of the wealthiest people in Europe taking up residence in Monaco as there are no income or property taxes. Monaco has the highest per capita GDP in the world and boasts the most expensive penthouse in the world valued at over $500 million. From Nice you can catch the bus or train to spend a great day seeing the sights of Monaco. Read my article, “Breaking the Bank at Monte Carlo”.
Top Hotels in Nice, France
Hotel Le Negresco - Luxury
The Hotel Le Negresco is the Grand Dame of hotels in Nice, France. Located just outside of the Old Town at 37 Promenade des Anglais it was the most luxurious hotel in Nice when it opened in 1913 and its appeal continues today. This is recognized by the French Government with the hotel certified as a Living Heritage Company for its efforts to maintain the heritage building. It houses Le Chantecler a two-Michelin star restaurant. Past guests include Salvidor Dali, Princess Grace of Monaco, the Beatles, and Elton John to name a few celebrities that frequent the hotel. Rooms prices range from $300 to $2500 a night. Book your room here.
Mecure Promenade de Anglais - Moderate
Hotel du Pin Nice Port
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