The French Riviera, the Côte d’Azur… whatever you call the sun-kissed South of France, there’s nowhere better to live the high life. And Nice sits at the centre of it all, oozing seafront style with its palm-lined boulevards, grand hotels and old-school charm.
If you fancy sashaying through these parts at some point, don’t miss out on the top 10 things to do in Nice...
- Old town
- Promenade des Anglais
- Musée Matisse
- Cours Saleya markets
- Parc de la Colline du Chateau
- Musée Marc Chagall
- Place Masséna
- Parc Phoenix
- St Nicholas Cathedral
- Notre-Dame de Nice
1. Old town
Want to revel in the pleasures of everyday life on the French Riviera? Then Nice’s shabby chic but oh-so charming old town (that’s the Vieille Ville if you’re finessing your French) calls for exploration. You might want a map to navigate the higgledy-piggledy streets and pastel-coloured townhouses, although sometimes the best way to stumble across a hidden gem is to get lost.
Be on the lookout for time-worn churches such as the 17th-century Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate. Then follow your nose to one of the many family-run bakeries for just-out-of-the-oven croissants. Nom. If you want to capture the atmosphere of the place on camera, simply look up to take snaps of the wooden shutters, window boxes and washing lines above.
2. Promenade des Anglais
This sweeping palm-fringed prom is prime sun-soaking territory. With a front-row seat to one of the most beautiful beaches you’ll ever see (bonjour, Bay of Angels), it’s the perfect place to slow down and soak up the postcard views. Take it easy on one of the sky-blue chairs or take the whole stretch at speed and roller blade along á la locals.
It’s also where you’ll find the chicest spots in town – the beach clubs. If people-watching, posing and Dom Perignon are you’re thing, then isn’t it worth the steep entry prices for a bit of glamour?
3. Musée Matisse
Like many others of his time, famed French artist Henri Matisse was a big fan of Nice. He moved here in the 1917 to cure his sickness with the warm sea breeze and sunny skies. Make your way to the leafy heights of the Cimiez district and you can find out more about the man and his work at this dedicated museum.
The burnt-orange mansion and olive grove gardens are almost as stunning as the artist’s paintings, sculptures and paper cut-outs housed inside. The museum is open every day except Tuesday and it’s a reasonable 10 euros to get in. After you’ve had a nosy around here, pop across the park to see where Matisse is actually buried.
4. Cours Saleya markets
When the streets of Nice seem quiet, chances are everyone’s haggling for bargains at this buzzy, open-air market square. Stall-wise, this is a flower and fresh produce market first and foremost, where you can pick up Provençal herbs, honey and bunches of sunflowers. But on Mondays, the antiques dealers rock up with their vintage furniture and knick-knacks.
Hungry? If you want to snack on the go then grab a socca – a chickpea-flour crêpe enjoyed on its own or topped with things like sun-dried tomatoes. If time’s not of the essence then go all French and pull up a pew at one of the quintessential bistros for a long lunch of salade niçoise or moules-frites, all washed down with a few glasses of the region’s rosé.
5. Parc de la Colline du Chateau
After a couple of days eating French-style, you might want to stretch your legs and get some exercise. And that’s the perfect excuse to walk up the steps to Castle Hill and delve into its decorative gardens.
It’s also a great place for a spot of shade, so pack a picnic and a good book. Best of all, the panoramas over Nice’s seascape are just something else. There’s even a waterfall up here too.
6. Musée Marc Chagall
Fans of Marc Chagall will be pleased to know that this museum is home to the largest public display of his paintings – and the whole place was created in partnership with the artist himself. The star attraction is his biblical interpretation of the Old Testament. There’s also a stained-glass concert hall that hosts jazz and classical concerts.
The collection’s a little out of town, but buses run there regularly. And lucky for you if you’re there on the first Sunday of the month, entry is free.
7. Place Masséna
Located in the heart of the historical old town, this landmark sight is the city’s biggest square – and big it is.
One of the most scenic spots is the Fontaine du Soleil, an ornamental fountain complete with a statue of Apollo taking centre stage. Opposite, there’s a tree-lined mirror pool – just watch out for the criss-crossing tramlines on your way. Then follow the square’s chequered floor to the neoclassical arcades and you’ll find shopping delights including swish French department store Galeries Lafayette.
The square is especially pretty at night when the wrought-iron lamp-posts cast a soft golden light over everything.
8. Parc Phoenix
Welcome to a taste of the tropics on the French Riviera. A trip to the city limits will bring you to this beautiful botanical garden. At the centre of it all is a diamond-shaped tropical greenhouse, filled to bursting with an oasis of exotic plants and colourful birds flying overhead, complete with T-shirt temperatures. And you can’t miss the fabulous pink flamingos hanging out in the pond. Outdoor play areas, a swan-filled lake and loads of lawn space mean this is a great place to relax if you’ve got the kids in tow.
9. St Nicholas Cathedral
One thing Nice isn’t short of is churches. And impressive churches at that. This early 20th-century Russian Orthodox cathedral has wow factor and then some thanks to its gold-starred turrets and striped onion domes. A byzantine beauty by the city’s train station, St Nicholas Cathedral is pretty much a smaller version of the cathedral in Moscow’s Red Square. Inside is just as eye-popping – take a tour of the interior and admire the intricate woodwork and many religious icons.
10. Notre-Dame de Nice
Neo-Gothic in style, this ravishing Roman Catholic Basilica is the largest of all Nice’s churches. A gorgeous rose window, two towers and stunning stained-glass nod to the style of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. The homage to this icon of Frenchness was no accident, built to symbolise Nice’s re-entry into France back in the 1800s. The only difference is that this beauty is white and framed by palm trees.
Choirs, orchestras and organ recitals often take place here, so it’s worth popping in to see what’s going on when you’re there.
Posted: 29th Apr 2020. Updated: 31st May 2023.