Nice, France is a mixture of old-world charm and modern era beauty. A huge tourist draw on the Riviera, it manages to avoid becoming overly-commercialized and maintains distinctive French feeling. Bustling with plenty to see and do, Nice is the ideal vacation for anyone wanting to sample a piece of the Côte d'Azur.
Things to See and Do in Nice
Cours Selaya Flower Market (Vieux Nice)
You really have not experienced Nice if you don't take a stroll through the Cours Selaya. It is home to the Nice flower market, as well as copious amounts of local produce stands, cafes and bistros, and of course, thousands of flowers. When you visit, do as the locals do and bring small bills and change. Vendors will simply refuse a sale rather than having to change a large bill. Make sure that you also bring a bag for purchases to carry home. While here, stop for a cup of coffee and succa (a chickpea crêpe).
Vieux Nice is interesting because like many older parts of France, the neighborhood has given way to more modern conveniences becoming a blend of old and new. While Vieux Nice remains one of the last strongholds of a bygone era, it is also a central tourist destination. Of course this tourism brings with it a bevy of shops, bars, and museums. While here, bring your walking shoes. Part of the charm of Vieux Nice lies in her streets, boulangeries, and the older facade of many of the buildings - you will not get the full experience unless you walk around for an afternoon. Stop at Safari for lunch, and don't miss the sight of the Palais Lascaris which is arguably one of the most beautiful buildings in Nice. It should be noted too that the Cours Selaya is in Vieux Nice - so make sure you add that to your itinerary.
Place Masséna (New Town)
Admittedly, it's not the square itself that is a must-see in Nice, although if you happen to be traveling at Christmas time it is well worth the visit in and of itself. However, Place Masséna is the hub of New Town. Situated in the middle of New Town, streets sprawl from this central square in every direction. From here, you can shop at Galleries Lafayette and Nice Etoile (where you can find everything you forgot to pack), or spend some money on the rue Paradis which is known as a haven for high-end designer aficionados. While this area is known for shopping, it offers something to culture buffs too as the Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain and the Théâtre de la Photographie et de l'Image are both found here.
Take in the Art
Nice plays hosts to some relatively small, but world-renowned museums. If you do nothing else, do the major venues which include the Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain, the Musée de Beaux arts, and the Musée Matisse. If you have the time, make sure to visit the smaller galleries such as the Galerie de Jean Renoir and the Galerie du Chateau.
- Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain - This museum is located in the heart of town and focuses on contemporary art - particularly pop art. To get there, go to the Place Masséna and follow the Promenade des Arts. From there you cannot miss it.
- Musée de Beaux Arts - The building itself draws tourists as it was once the palace of a Ukranian princess. The art therin is from the last four centuries and typically features artists who at one point made their home on the Blue Coast. You will also find this museum off of the Masséna.
- Musée Matisse - Another artists' gem is the Muse Matisse. As you may guess from the name, the museum features works left by Matisse as well as those donated by his heirs. It is situated on the hill of Cimiez and it has been said that many take the walk to visit this museum simply for the ambiance of strolling in the surrounding neighborhood.
- Galerie Jean Renoir and Galerie du Chateau - These museums favor the up-and-coming, contemporary artist. While most would not go out of their way to see them, the small collections are among favorites for art buffs and those that have plenty of time to explore. Both museums are free, but have selected hours so make sure you check before you make a special trip.
If you love spas, then a trip to La Bulle d'Isis is a must. The spa treatment menu is noted for being substantial. More than 80 different treatments are available, including standard spa favorites like massages, mani/pedis and facials. However, if the mundane massage will no longer do it for you, you can soak in a tub of ganache and melted milk chocolate at this upscale haven. Talk about decadence in stress relief!
Drink and Be Merry
Granted, Nice is not known for its wine in the same way as say Bourdeaux. However, Nice still hosts some very fine bistros and wine cellars that should be on any wine aficionados 'to do' list while in Nice. Whether you're an expert in wine, or simply have a passing fancy, make sure that you check out the following for a truly sublime wine tasting experience:
- Cave de la Tour - Sitting on the rue de la Tour, this bar boasts mostly local wine. This is the place to come if you want a true slice of Nice culture. Simply put - you'll find good wine, good food, and a good ambiance.
- La Cave de l'Origine - This local hot spot is known by residents and tourists alike. At any given lunch or dinner, you can pass by and find the dining room crowded with those wanting to relax and enjoy a good glass of wine. The food is unique - but all made with local and often organic ingredients. The bar mostly stands out though because one of its owners, Isabelle Pontelle, hand-selects the unique wine menu.
- La Part des Anges - Many locals and regulars will swear by the wine sold here. The store boasts a variety of wine - both local and from outside of the immediate area - and a standard fair of cold cuts and of course cheese.
Hit the Beach
If your idea of a French Riviera vacation includes relaxing on the beach, you are in good company. Nice is not short on great beaches, but do expect things to be a little crowded depending on what time of the year you go. Many beaches are private and accessible by fee or by hotel guests only. For those that aren't, be prepared to guard your things carefully as thieves know that the beach is a great hot spot. Another surprise may be the texture of the sand, which is typically pebbled rather than smooth. Beach shoes are a great idea.
- Hi Beach - Hi Hotel's beach is one of the premiere destinations in Nice. Granted, it's known more for the phenomenal food of the Hi Beach hotel's restaurant, but the beach itself is a great place to catch the beauty of a French Riverian sunset.
- Castel Plage - This beach is a little out of the way, and consequently, you'll find it to be a little less crowded. It's in the lee of the headland, so it's a little more sheltered from the Mediterranean's choppy waves, and rumor has it that the restaurant is good.
- Blue Beach - If you're into para-sailing and other water sports, this is the beach to visit. It is also the only beach that is open year-round
- Opéra Plage - Not terribly different than the other public beaches in Nice, this one is ideal for tourists because it offers lockers for your valuables.
Where to Stay
The major hotels are scattered along the Promenade des Anglais; however, don't fret if you're not willing to spend the major bucks to stay at a primo location. If there's something Nice does well, it is accommodate the throngs of visitors it has year-round. You can find a hotel to hit any budget with a little digging. Expedia is a great resource for finding special offers when you are bargain-hunting. The major up-and-coming spots are listed below.
There isn't a hotel in Nice that matches the splendor of the Negresco. You'll spend a pretty penny to stay here, but many regulars believe it's well worth it. From the world-renowned chef of the famous Chancelier restaurant to the elaborately decorated rooms, the Negresco keeps a faithful clientele. If a five-star hotel is in your budget, the Negresco is a must.
Le Palais de la Méditerranée
This thoroughly modern hotel is paradise set within paradise. Le Palais de Med (as you'll hear it being called), is noted for it's seaside views - particularly from the third floor pool. Large common areas make this an idea place for businesses to hold conferences, however, it's the attention to detail that makes this hotel stand out. From meal times to the fresh cut flowers in each room, this is another great choice if your budget allows for a five-star experience.
Whereas the Palais de Med and the Negresco have been staples on the Riviera for decades, the Hi is a relative newcomer. Don't let it's novelty fool you into thinking that it might not offer as much as the established favorites. Simply put, the Hi is THE place to stay in Nice. The aforementioned restaurant is a must-see, whether you're staying at the hotel or not, and every last detail has been carefully thought out. Rooms here ditch the standard 'hotel chic' decor, so that each room reflects a particular nuance of the city. The Hi may not have been around forever, but it is sure to last for some time ahead.
Don't bother with a vehicle while you're in Nice. It is difficult to park and you might find that the locals are not that careful about avoiding bumping you in an attempt to squeeze into a spot. Instead, use the SunBus to get around Nice proper. You can find a schedule and bus route map at the the bus station at Place Masséna, or at the tourist office on the Promenade des Anglais. If you're wanting to venture out of the city, go ahead and use the train station which sits just north of the Place Masséna. You can also always take a taxi, but be prepared to pay a pretty penny to do so.
The best part about visiting Nice is the casual and relaxed ambiance in which you can explore. While offering plenty of things to do and places to see, Nice is a little spot of peaceful ambiance along the gems of the Riveria coast. Nice is not so big that you feel as if you can't enjoy it all, so take your time, soak up the sun, and stroll along the coast and towns to experience all Nice has to offer.