Get Up Early!
No whining about jet lag! Get up bright and early to truly appreciate and enjoy the market. The best time to arrive is around 6 am when the vendors are setting up and the tourist hordes are still sipping café au laits in their hotel rooms. If that's too early for you on vacation, at least try to hit it by 8 or 9 am. (Note: there is a flea/antiques market on Mondays). Be sure you have plenty of change and small bills on hand, as the vendors don't like breaking a large bill to sell a piece of produce. Also, it's a good idea to bring a backpack or some sort of bag to carry your purchases. Early in the morning, the pavement cafes are relatively empty; time to order a coffee and a croissant and watch the action in front of you.
Stop for Souvenirs Along the Way
Follow the Promenade des Anglais along the shoreline until it turns into the Quai des Etats Unis. Go left there, at the end of the Place Massena, and then take the first right. Step into a couple of souvenir shops for a tacky tee-shirt or a lavender sachet. There are also some great shops on the road leading to the Cours Saleya, including a truffle boutique, the famous Alziari olive oil-themed shop and stores selling Provençal soaps, gourmet and household items.
Examine the Dizzying Selection!
You will see the tents of the market up ahead. Before buying anything, take one pass along the length of the market. You will spot what appear to be the largest, most alluring oranges you've ever seen ... until you walk down to the next vendor. Why not a bunch of flowers for your hotel room? Or fresh fruit for tomorrow's breakfast? Or some golf ball-sized marinated olives to nibble with cocktails in the afternoon? Or some bread to snack on while you sight-see? There are plenty of options for consuming the market's wares before you head back home, particularly if you're planning a picnic on the beach.
Let the Real Shopping Begin!
Now that you know precisely what you want, hit the stands in earnest. Don't let the crowds intimidate you. Do like the French do, and make your way up to the vendor's table. Grab what you want, and put each item into the silver bowls sitting out. (For instance, put all bell peppers into one bowl, and all grapes into another). If there aren't enough bowls, just put everything into one bowl. As soon as you can make it your turn, hand the bowl to the seller behind the table. They will weigh your selections, and you can see the total price on the small display screen (which can be helpful if you lack fluency in French numbers). Hand over your cash, and wait for your change. If you need to use the restroom at any point, there is a (paid) public toilet about 1000 meters from the western start of the Cours Selaya. Follow the signs, and turn right at the underpass with the restroom sign. Here's more about using toilets in France.
This area is jam-packed with historic attractions. There is the La Chapelle de la Miséricorde on the Cours Saleya, presenting unique architecture. The striking opera house on Rue Saint-François de Paule is worth a visit. If you head to the eastern edge of the Cours Saleya, and then turn left, you'll be in the heart of Nice's Old Town. This area of narrow streets features historic attractions, pastry shops, spots to buy fresh pasta and a diverse mix of shopping.
The Fruits of Your Labors
This has been a busy morning. Now it's time for a true reward. Take a rest at one of the many restaurants and cafés along the Cours Saleya. It's no surprise there are numerous restaurants specializing in seafood. There are also several spots featuring native Niçois cuisine (be sure to try ravioli daube, a great dish featuring ravioli in beef stew). There are a few great spots for sipping a coffee or a glass of wine. You may even want to return at night, as this is a popular after-dark spot.
Take a Guided Tour and Cooking Class
Book a cooking class at Les Petits Farcis with Canadian-born chef Rosa Jackson. You meet at a cafe for coffee, then take off through the market, buying ingredients and learning about what to look for and how to make sure it's fresh. Then it's off to her apartment to learn how to cook your purchases. It's a wonderful way to spend a day.