With its extravagant hotels, beautiful coastline and amazing architecture, Nice leaves tourists wishing they extended their stay. A great visit to the French Riviera or as the French refer to it – the Azure Coast (Côte d’Azur).
Read more below about our experience in this unforgettable place where Italy meets France, where Pizza is a first class citizen alongside Classic recipes, creating one of the best places the Mediterranean has to offer.
The city’s history stretches across millennia with the earliest records from around 350 B.C.. The Greeks were first to establish a city by the name of Nikaia.
It’s believed they named it after the Greek Goddess of victory – Nike. Now you also know the origins of the name of the famous shoes brand.
Up until the 18th century most of its history was part of Italy’s and namely under the Duchy of Savoy. The official language was Italian and everything about the city was of Italian influence.
After changing a few times hands between the French and the Italian Kingdoms, Nice ultimately became part of nowadays France. The agreement between France and Italy was ratified through a referendum offered to the people of Nice.
The people in the end chose to become part of France. This also caused and exodus of the local Italian population back to Italy. Nowadays, you can see many Italian, architectural notes including also many restaurants offering Italian cuisine.
The city houses over half a million residents in the metro area. It is situated in the Maritime Alps county (department) of France within the southern region of Provence-Alps-French Riviera. The local currency is the Euro.
Travel to and around Nice
The city itself is accessible by all means of transportation although flights to this destination tend to be fairly accessible especially out of season.
If you are looking for suitable flight options, make sure to check out this article with top tips on how to find cheap flights.
The local airport Nice Côte d’Azur Airport (NCE), is conveniently situated a few kilometres away from the city, on the coastline.
Once you arrive at the airport you are presented with a few convenient ways to make your way into the city. You can choose to head to your accommodation either by renting a car/taxi or simply hopping on the public transport such as trams or busses.
Transportation in Nice is very easy, convenient and affordable. Bus or Tram tickets are interchangeable and with 1 ticket you can travel up to around 74 minutes, the exact T&Cs will be listed on the tickets.
You can buy your tickets from vending machines using cash or bank cards. There is also an option to get a day pass, you can see more about prices and best ticket options for you here.
We suggest you plan your visits carefully as you might see that most of the old city centre attractions are within walking distance.
If you are looking to explore other towns and resorts on the French Riviera the best way to get there is by train. It offers cheap and reliable transport to and from Nice. To check travel times and tickets we do encourage you to visit the national rail operator SNCF, here.
In general, there are plenty of hotels and accommodation options, however, we would recommend staying somewhere central as you can get around quite easily.
We would recommend booking your accommodation through an aggregator such as Booking.com or Agoda to get the best rates. We visited Nice with friends, so an apartment was a better option for us on this occasion.
Similarly to to our trip to Chisinau, Republic of Moldova, we chose to stay at an Airbnb accommodation. It offered a great location, not far from the train station as we also wanted to see the likes of Cannes and Monaco but also close to the main beach and old city centre.
Sure, like we say in our article on how to plan a holiday, do account for the overall cost as you have to factor in breakfast.
Things to do in Nice
Nice has plenty of things to offer to prospective tourists. Everything from its amazing coastline to impressive architecture, Nice has something for everyone.
First and foremost we suggest you group your points strategically so you can cover them efficiently. As mentioned above, the old city centre can be covered within a day by foot however, the other parts may need you to buy public transport tickets.
Alternatively, you might consider a Hop-on, Hop-off Bus Tour to cover the main attractions.
Below we grouped the attractions in 3 areas and we’ll expand as follows:
- Old City Centre & Castle Hill
- Mount Alban & Fort
- Cathedrals & Cimiez Neighbourhood
Old City Centre & Castle Hill
For this particular set of your visit we suggest you start from the Promenade of the English (Promenade des Anglais) and make your way past some of the local landmarks as you go by.
Enjoy a Cocktail at the famous Hotel Le Negresco
Hotel Le Negresco is a landmark in Nice. It was named after Henri Negresco (né Alexandru Negrescu, 1868–1920), who had the palatial hotel constructed in 1912.
He was educated and worked as a confectioner at the luxurious Casa Capșa in Bucharest, Romania, and left home at the age of 25. As director of the Municipal Casino in Nice, he had the idea to build a sumptuous hotel of quality that would attract the wealthiest of clients.
Although soon after opening, the First World War broke out and so he never really saw his dream realised.
Having said this, the hotel has been restored to what Henri Negresco envisaged. The hotel features a spectacular Baccarat 16,309-crystal chandelier in the Negresco’s Royal Lounge which was commissioned by Czar Nicholas II, who due to the October revolution, was unable to take delivery.
The Royal Lounge features multiple works of art as well as leaving one clearly impressed by the grandeur of this room.
If you want to have a drink, head over to the bar. Its stylish wooden finish and elegant furnishes make it really stand apart from any other bars you might have seen in the past.
A word of advice, do try and make an effort with your clothes as they tend to choose their customers so maybe shorts and flip flops may not be a suitable choice. Business casual attire should be fine.
Take a Stroll on the Promenade of the English
Another great thing to do is just walk alongside the beach. As this location was very popular with the English during Victorian times, the local authorities saw that many English tourists like to take a walk by the beach, hence the name Promenade of the English
You will notice that the beach is actually unpleasant to sit on a simple towel given that it’s made up of polished stones. There are a few bars on the beach that offer their sunbeds for renting.
Overall, we found it a very nice walk leading to the old city centre and especially on a sunny day it makes it very enjoyable.
Throw a coin at Fontaine du Soleil
In the middle of the square you will see the fountain of Apollo. The square is a sight for many open air art exhibitions and at night it features multi coloured people statues sitting on the columns.
It reminded us a lot of the Montjuic Magic fountain in Barcelona. You can sit down and have a coffee whilst enjoying the views and the people walking by.
Glance at the Nice Opera
Walking on the United States Avenue towards the old town centre, you will be able to spot the Opera.
It features as a landmark since 1885 for performing arts with an opulent interior showcasing opera, ballet and music.
Nice Cathedral & Rossetti Square
This baroque style cathedral is a jewel hidden in between the old town buildings next to the Rossetti Square. The cathedral features stunning inside décor with impressive holy paintings and statues.
Inside you will also be able to see the remains of St. Reparata from which the Cathedral gets its name. We suggest you sit down and admire as this is in itself a work of art as well as a cathedral.
Shop around at Cours Saleya
The Marché Aux Fleurs Cours Saleya is situated parallel to the Quai des États-Unis. In the past, it belonged to the upper classes. It is probably the most traditional square of the town, with its daily flower market.
Although it started off as a flower market, nowadays you can also buy sourvenirs and different food produce or even sit down at one of the nearby restaurants and watch walkers passing by.
We actually bought a local specialty called Socca, a chickpea style pancake. We talk more about it in the Food and Drinks section.
Climb up the Castle Hill
As the name suggests there will be some climbing involved. Not to worry for those with low fitness levels, it’s not as intense as you might think. At the end of the hike you’ll be rewarded with an amazing view of the city and sea.
We’ve noticed also some little tourist train buses which go up. They could also be a viable option if you don’t feel like climbing.
We recommend you approach the hill from the North as it has less of a steep climb. The climb from the beach is done through some stairs which can be steep for some.
On the way up you will also be able to see some of the ruins from the old citadel although only the foundations. Below the view point you will also see an artificial waterfall. A good spot to take photos for sure.
Enjoy the view from the Waterfall
Once you are here you will be able to gaze at the view which covers the city of Nice. Here you will be able to see the old city centre, Hotel Le Negresco and even the airport in the far.
On the other side, you will also be able to see the Marina (Port Lympia) with all the yachts lined up waiting to set sail on their next voyage.
View the Sea from Bellanda Tower
To get an even better view point of the sea and beach head over on the way down from Castle Hill to the Bellanda Tower. This was basically a bastion part of the citadel which now has been converted to a viewing point.
We really enjoyed the view from here and managed to take some good shots.
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Enjoy the views from Mount Alban & Fort
On this mountain you will be able to find the 16th century fort with the same name which protected the nearby areas as well as stunning views of Port Lympia and the nearby gulfs.
The fort was closed when we went there but that didn’t stop us from enjoying this spectacular view.
From there you can proceed through the forest. Walking down the hill you will notice that this area is a like a public garden with plenty of picnic benches and recreational game areas.
To be enjoyed on a sunny Sunday for sure!
Churches & Cimiez Neighbourhood
On this part of your tour we’d suggest you buy tickets for public transport as some of these places are fairly remote from each other.
St. Nicholas Cathedral
This is a property of the Russian Federation, it is recognized as a national monument of France, and it currently belongs to the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate. It is the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedral in Western Europe.
The cathedral was opened in 1912, thanks to the generosity of Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II. From 1931 until 15 December 2011 (after a longstanding legal dispute over ownership was resolved), the parish that occupied the cathedral was part of the Paris-based Patriarchal Exarchate for Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe under the jurisdiction of the Church of Constantinople.
The Cathedral features typical Russian motifs with the iconic onion domes and bright paint colours. It reminded us of the Russian Church in Sofia, Bulgaria.
We really enjoyed the architecture and felt it was a must see in Nice.
Basilique Notre-Dame de l’Assomption
This basilica is a vast neo-Gothic church founded in 1864, known for its imposing twin towers & vibrant stained glass. The inside décor of the basilica is a little less impressive but still worth checking it out.
We though it’s a great place to visit as it stretches alongside Jean Medecin Avenue with plenty of cafes and shopping places.
Walk around the Cimiez Neighbourhood
Leafy Cimiez is an upscale residential area known for art at the Musée National Marc Chagall and Musée Matisse, both set in serene gardens. When we went to visit the area, Matisse Museum was closed, perhaps a reason to return.
Les Arènes de Cimiez are an expansive park with a vast olive grove, includes the ruins of a Roman city, an archaeology museum and the Monastery of Cimiez, with its church and cloister. The monastery gardens are also very beautiful and worth a visit.
Elegant apartment buildings fill the area, including the regal late-1800s Excelsior Regina Palace.
Other things to do
During our stay in Nice, we went on a day trip to Cannes and also spent a day in Monaco. Would recommend both places. Here are some more ideas about things to do.
Food and Drink Highlights
As mentioned before, Nice, is a former Italian city. Therefore, it’s fairly normal to see a lot of Italian cuisine when walking around.
To say it simply, pizza is a first class citizen in this French city. Below are some recommendations of places to try and various foods you can expect when visiting Nice.
In general do expect to pay over 20 euros per cover at a minimum. You are after all in Nice…
Try the Local Socca
This is a traditional chickpea pancake. The closest taste you can imagine is hummus. It can be a bit of an acquired taste.
You can easily find it in the markets or at some of the local restaurants. They will typically write on a board whether they serve it or not.
For me, it felt a bit dry and mushy, although seasoned well (not as in picante).
Enjoy Classic Cuisine at Marcel Bistro Chic
Marcel Bistro Chic is overall a good choice if you want to try typical French cuisine. It also boasts proudly some awards listed on their façade.
They have pretty much most of the popular classics. From coq au vin to beef bourguignonne and even some of the more interesting frog legs or foie gras.
I had the beef bourguignonne and Hristina had the coq au vin. Both very nice and well cooked. The sauces were thick and the wine sauce was full of depth and flavour.
Try some Seafood at La Barque Bleue
La Barque Bleue is another good option for those looking to try seafood. They offer anything from mussels to local fish soups.
After a long travelling day that day I opted for some fries and mussels, whilst Hristina had the local “fisherman’s soup“. My mussels were good but no match to the ones we had earlier in Mamaia, Romania.
The Fisherman’s soup was good and if you’ve ever had a lobster’s bisque it will be very similar to that in taste. It also came with plenty of seafood and fish which was nice to see alongside with some garnishes.
The restaurant can be found in the bay of Port Lympia. The colourful houses alongside the boats in the marina reminded us a lot of Nyhavn in Copenhagen.
Eat a Pizza at Restaurant L’Ecurie
Restaurant L’Ecurie is a great place to enjoy the world’s most famous flatbread – the pizza. They have a stone oven making pizzas taste great.
I had a four cheeses pizza which I must say – I think it was there in my top 3 of all times. The amount of cheese there, was nothing short of a heart attack – but delicious for sure.
Hristina had an interesting combination of a white pizza with goat’s cheese and honey with pine nuts. Again all very good and worth exploring.
Indulge Yourself with Fresh Pastries and Breads
What you will see in Nice and in the rest of France is a lot of bakeries. By law, the baguette has to be made using only 4 ingredients: water, flour, yeast and salt. No additives or preservatives.
This means, when you buy your baguettes you can be sure they are 100% authentic. Most French go in the morning to buy their baguettes at their local bakery which we also did. Nothing beats fresh baked bread in the morning.
Another one to try is the fougasse. We haven’t tried it in Nice but it does taste like a cross between a baguette and focaccia.
We also chose to try some pastries and desserts. They were good and overall felt home made and not overly sweet which we liked.
We tried beignets, French doughnuts, an apple turnover which felt homemade however, lacked some filling and had a raspberry tarte which was amazing. The tanginess from the raspberries matched the sweetness from the tarte.
Another thing worth looking out for especially if you are a fan of onions is the pissaladiere which is a focaccia style bread with caramelised onions and anchovies. I tried it, it was ok, nothing special in the sense that the onions will overpower everything else.
Try a Local Favourite – Niçoise Salad
This one is a must. I had to try this local salad, although nothing one can’t replicate at home. It’s a standard salad served with a boiled egg, anchovies and a sprinkle of tuna.
It felt fishy but not overpowering the dish and overall not a heavy lunch.
Have a Cocktail at Les Distilleries Idéales
Les Distilleries Idéales is a chic cocktail bar nested in between the streets of the old city centre, offers not only cocktails but also wines and a large selection of beers from around the world.
Its elegant interior combined with great cocktails really make this bar stand out from the rest. They also offer a selection of minute foods perfect for the 4th round of drinks.
We really enjoyed the cocktails and they felt that they were priced right when compared to other local venues.
Nice is a great contender for a city break. It offers everything you’d expect from a trip to France and more.
It’s great for families, couples or solo travellers. It is definitely more on the higher end of one’s budget however, we think it will be worth it.
Looking at our experience, we think Nice is a great option for anyone looking to explore the French Riviera. You’ll be stunned by the views from the Castle Hill and be amazed by the truly blue French coast.
Ready to book? Below are some recommendations to get your trip started:
- Flights – we use flight aggregators such as Skyscanner and Google flights to find the best options. You can find more information about finding cheap flights here.
- Accommodation – would recommend booking your accommodation through an aggregator such as Booking.com or Agoda to get the best rates. We also use TripAdvisor to read reviews.
- Transport – consider Rentalcars.com for car renting or if you rely on public transport, you can use Omio for trains, coaches, ferries, airport transfers and even flights.
- Activities – a great option is GetYourGuide or Viator for tours, excursions, experiences and tickets to many tourist attractions.
- Luggage storage – if you need to store your bags whilst exploring the destination, you can use Radical Storage to find your closest luggage storage and enjoy your journey until the very end.
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