You're in the heart of the French Riviera but you're also in a French city where the locals outnumber the visitors. So get a slice of French life and venture out early to the Cours Saleya. The vibrant, colorful market square is where everybody comes to shop for the freshest fruit and vegetables, fat, succulent olives and olive oil, exotic flowers, cheese, bread and charcuterie of every kind imaginable. It’s surrounded by cafés where terraces spill out onto the pavement so you can sip a coffee and watch the world go by. On a Monday, the antique and flea market lasts from 7am to 6pm.
Day 1 in Nice - Start at the Market in the Morning
The Cours Saleya is at the heart of the old town. It’s overlooked by the Chapelle de la Misericorde which if you’re there on Tuesday from 2.30 to 5pm is worth dropping into for it glorious rich 17th-century baroque decoration. Walk a little north to rue du Collet and Oliviera (8 Bis rue du Collet, 00 33 (0)4 93 13 06 45) where olive oils of all vintages and pressings are taken seriously. Taste before you buy and get inside knowledge from the staff.
Walk north from here to Place Rossetti and an ice cream at the wonderful ice-cream parlour, Fenocchio at No. 2, tel: 00 33 (0)4 93 80 72 52. It's open daily from 9am to midnight and offers a mind-boggling variety of flavors including olive oil, lavender and thyme.
A little further north, you come to the Palais Lascaris which shows you how grandly the nobility lived. Built in 1665 by Jean-Paul Lascaris, Field Marsh to the Duke of Savoy, the palace is sumptuous with tapestries and frescoes, grand staircases and a large collection of historic musical instruments. Palais Lascaris is at 15 rue Droite, tel.: 00 33 (0)4 93 62 72 40. It’s open Wednesday to Monday 10am-6pm and is free.
For lunch try one of these suggestions of good cheap restaurants in Nice where you can try one of the local specialities. Socca is rather like a crepe - a thin pancake of chickpea flour and olive oil, baked and crisped in the oven and seasoned with black pepper. Otherwise try that other great Nice speciality - pizza.
After lunch, make your way to the Parc de la Colline du Chateau where the ancient Greeks founded the city of Nikaia. Despite the name there’s no chateau here, but you do get a fabulous view of the city laid out before you and the sea beyond. It gives you a wonderful overview of one of the most spectacular parts of the French Riviera. It also gives you an idea why artists like Renoir, Leger, Matisse, Picasso and Marc Chagall came here to live. You can climb the steps from rue de la Providence or montée du Chateau. Otherwise take the lift by the Tour Bellanda, at the east end of the quai des Etats-Unis. It runs June to August 9am-8pm, April and September 9am-7pm, and October to March 10am-6pm.
For anybody interested in modern art, the Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain (MAMAC) at Promenade des Arts, tel.: 00 33 (0)4 97 13 42 01, is a must. It has a powerful collection of modern art, concentrating on French and American art from the 1960s to today. Kenneth Noland, Larry Poons, Frank Stella, Sol Le Witt as well as the major Pop artists such as Warhol, Lichtenstein and Christo are displayed along with French names of Claude Viallat, Bernard Pages, Olivier Mosset and more. It’s open Tuesday to Sunday 10am-6pm and is free.
If modern art’s not your thing, stroll around to the port where large ferries leave for Corsica and other Mediterranean islands and yachts of the multi-million dollar variety bob up and down in the sparkling sea.
If you’re here on a Friday, there’s an unusual tour on offer in the early evening. Take the tram around what is an open-air museum of 12 artworks, some lit up at night. The guided tour in French and English leaves from Agence Ligne d’Azur, 3 place Massena and you must book in advance at the Tourist Office. Cost Adult: 8 euros plus 2 euro for the transport ticket; children under 10 3 euros; free transport for under 4 years.
If you’re a foodie, then you’ve come to the right city. Consider booking a cookery class with Canadian chef and writer, Rosa Jackson at Les Petits Farcis. Rosa takes you on a tour of the Cours Saleya market showing you what to buy, how to choose, where to go, what to look for, then takes you to a few shops such as a specialist cheese shop. Then you learn how to cook what you’ve bought in her old Nice apartment. It’s a great day and a very good introduction to the food culture of Nice. Then come back to the Cours Saleya on your own and shop like a local.
Day 2 in Nice - The Glittering Promenade des Anglais
Put on your glad rags and head for the most glamorous street in Nice and the best-known boulevard in France outside Paris. Start down by the sea, just west of the stately Opera, and the Jardins Albert 1er. Here you'll find the Theatre de Verdure which hosts concerts but more importantly the annual Jazz Festival that takes over the whole town in July and is well worth attending.
This is the start of Nice’s most famous boulevard, the Promenade des Anglais, created during the 19th century when the grand milords of England arrived on the French Riviera to escape the northern weather. Follow their example and walk along the ‘Prom’ as it's locally known. The 6-kilometer long boulevard is lined with palm trees and large pavements on one side and the baie des Anges on the other. Joggers exercise beside the sea; some just sit and gaze at the wonderful expanse of ocean while others sunbathe on the rocky shore.
The architecture of the Promenade des Anglais is playful and fun, full of whimsical tiled domes and towers. You pass the Palais de la Méditerranée at no. 13, with its grand Art Deco façade. Today it’s back to its original purpose as a chic casino where you can win, or lose, your fortune.
Don’t miss the fairytale architecture of the Villa Huovila at no. 139, which sums up the Belle Epoque style. Drop into the famous Hotel Negresco as you’re passing for a coffee or a drink. If it's lunchtime, take advantage of their summer deals in the delightful circus-style Brasserie. There's a dish of the day at around 18 euros, or the dish of the day with coffee and delicacies around 22 euros. Otherwise, take your pick from my bistro suggestions, or make for Le Festival de la Moule at 20 Cours Saleya for moules-frites.
For a glimpse at the story of this great seaside resort, make your way to the Musée Masséna. Located at 65 rue de France/35 promenade des Anglais, tel. 00 33 (0)4 93 91 19 10, the museum gives a good idea of Nice’s history from the 19th century to the 1930s. An added bonus is the building, an aristocratic villa from 1898 set in beautiful and historic gardens. It’s free to visit and open daily, except for on Tuesdays, from 10am to 6pm.
To the north of the Prom, you’ll find the Musée des Beaux Arts (Fine Arts Museum, 33 ave des Baumettes, tel. 00 33 (0)4 92 15 28 28. This is the place to catch up on Raoul Dufy, the French Fauvist painter whose exuberant colors echo the sparkling Mediterranean that he constantly painted. The Museum is free and open daily, except Mondays, from 10am to 6pm.
Still further north is one of the great French Riviera sites, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St-Nicolas, off boulevard Tsaréwitch, built in 1912. It’s a wonderful, exuberant building, its six onion domes and gold crosses standing out against the bright blue sky. The widow of Alexandre II offered land and money to build the cathedral in memory of her son, the Grand Duke Nicolas Alexandrovitch who had died in Nice. It’s at Ave Nicolas II, tel.: 00 33 (0)4 93 96 88 02. Open daily 9am-noon & 2-6pm, it’s free and the nearest bus stop is Tzarewitch (bus no. 17).
- If you’re feeling energetic, hire a bicycle to wiz up and down the Prom and elsewhere. Vélo Bleu has 1200 self-service bicycles in 120 locations around the city. There are 34 kms of cycle paths to choose from; charges vary but start at 1 euro a day. More on tel.: 00 33 (0)4 93 72 06 06; and the website.
- Get tickets for a 24 or 48 Hop-on-Hop-off Bus tour and you can use it to get to all the museums. Tickets cost from £17 per person.
Day 3 in Nice - Roman remains, Matisse and Marc Chagall
Escape the crowds in the old town or along the ‘Prom’ and see a slice of upper-crust Nice life. Cimiez to the north of the town is where the rich have always lived. It’s a lovely, quiet suburb full of gorgeous belle époque villas and was important from the start. In the days of the Roman Empire, Cimiez was the capital of the province of Alpes-Maritimae.
Apart from the sheer pleasure of walking the leafy streets and seeing exuberant architecture, there’s a lot more to tempt you to take the bus no 15, 17 or 22 to the stop Arenes/Musée Matisse.
Start with the far distant past at the Gallo-Roman site. The Arena was fairly modest by Roman standards, accommodating a mere 4000 spectators who came to watch the gladiators and the chariot races. You can wander around the remains of the thermal spa with their hot and cold baths. Drop into the Musée archéologique, the Archeological Museum at 160 ave des Arènes, tel 00 33 (0)4 93 81 59 57, to get an idea of life in Nice 2,000 years ago. The museum is open daily except Tuesday 10am to 6pm and is free.
To the east, the former Franciscan monastery has beautiful gardens offering shade on a hot summer’s day. If you’re here from mid July to mid-August, check out the open-air classical music concerts in the cloisters. Don’t miss the cemetery where both Matisse and Raoul Dufy are buried. The Monastery church is open Monday to Saturday 9am to 6pm and the gardens are open from 8am to late afternoon. Both are free.
Have lunch at the delightful Côté Sud restaurant before visiting the 17th-century mansion that houses the Musée Matisse at 164 ave des Arènes de Cimiez, tel.: 00 33 (0)4 93 81 08 08. It’s a real home, full of the personal belongings and some of the paintings of the artist who so loved the light and colors of the Cote d’Azur. Matissee spent his winters in Nice from 1916 onwards, then rented an apartment on place Charles-Felix. He died in Cimiez in November 1954 at the age of 85.
Take bus no. 15 or 22 down the Boulevard Cimiez to the Musée national Marc Chagall (the stop is Musée Chagall). The rather dour building was specially commissioned and opened by Marc Chagall himself in 1972. Set in a garden full of Mediterranean plants, it’s opposite the former conservatory of music in the villa Paradiso and has a permanent collection on show as well as regular temporary exhibitions. The museum is on ave du Docteur-Ménard tel. 00 33 (0)4 93 53 87 20 and is open daily except Tuesday 10am to 6pm. Adult entry is 8 euros.
Vieux Nice is the best place for evening entertainment. There's a huge choice of bars, many offering a happy hour 6 to 8pm. For a chic lesbian and gay bar, try Pulp Fiction Saloon at 7 rue Emmanuel Philibert at place du Pin, tel.: 00 33 (0)4 93 55 2535. The Snug at 22 rue Droite, tel.: 00 33 (0)4 93 80 43 22, is a good quite small Irish pub and bar, also serving food.
There are two big casinos in Nice. The Casino Ruhl is at 1 promenade des Anglais, tel.: 00 33 (0)4 97 03 12 22. The Palais de la Méditerranée is at 15 promenade des Anglais, tel.: 00 33 (0)4 92 14 68 21. Both are serious and cater to high rollers.
Short Trips from Nice
Antibes is one of France's most charming small towns. Medieval ramparts hug the coastline as the sea pounds the rocks below. The old town is a charming maze of small streets, full of bistros, bars, and boutiques. Its heart is the old cast-iron marketplace that fills up daily with a fresh fruit and vegetable market. Nearby the Picasso Museum is housed in a small chateau that the artist lived in during his time in Antibes. It houses some great art plus ceramics that Picasso designed and had made by craftsmen in nearby Vallauris. And then there's the splendid Fort Carre, built by Vauban as a defense against raiders from the sea. It overlooks the best marina on the Mediterranean, filled with the kind of yachts that not even a lottery win will buy. Add to that the pine-filled Cap d'Antibes that takes you round to Juan-les-Pins, and it makes a very attractive place indeed.
Find out More About Antibes
St Paul de Vence
St Paul de Vence is a very pretty medieval fortified village perched on top of a hill behind Nice. Yves Montand and Simone Signoret had a house here and frequented the fabulous La Colombe d'Or Hotel.
More about St Paul de Vence
More Suggestions of Places near Nice to Visit
Nice Itinerary - Getting to Nice, Hotels and Tourist Office Information
Nice makes the perfect place for a short break. In three days you can see the city and its attractions and soak up the atmosphere of the Mediterranean's most important city.
Getting to Nice
Nice is the major city on the Cote d'Azur and has good international air connections. It is also accessible by high-speed express TGV trains from Paris and the rest of France. Nice makes a good central location if you want to explore Provence and the Alpes-Maritimes.
Where to Stay in Nice
Nice has hotels for every budget, from the high end to the budget. Here are a couple of suggestions for budget options.
5 promenade des Anglais
Also at: Train station
Both share the same telephone number: 00 33 0892 707 407
Tourist Office website
The Tourist Office can book hotels for you. Check in advance on the website or in person when you are in Nice.
They also organize tours of the city.
Take advantage of the Riviera Pass which offers special tours, guided visits to sights and attractions in Nice and the surrounding villages, as well as a sightseeing bus tour in Nice. Passes range from a 24-hour pass for 26 euros, a 48-hour pass for 38 euros to a 72-hour pass for 56 euros. With transport, a 24-hour pass is 30 euros, 48-hour pass is 46 euros and a 72-hour pass is 68 euros.