This is perhaps the best known part of Nice. For more than a century, people have been flocking here to walk along the famous
Vieux-Nice (Old Town)
A marvelous ambiance flows from this little cluster of picturesque narrow and winding streets, from early morning to late at night. The houses sometimes press so close together across these narrow passages that they almost seem to be reaching out to embrace one another. Those with an interest in religious art will marvel at the number of churches such a small corner of town can hold, particularly when you survey it from the heights of the
Masséna – Town Center
The tranquil atmosphere of this district is unique in the city of Nice. Here, you no longer feel like you are in one of the biggest cities in France. There are a few great restaurants serving specialties of the region and patronized by discerning locals, including
The hill at Cimiez has traditionally been the most fashionable residential area of Nice. Two aspects of Nice's historic past can be found here among the pleasant villas and well-manicured gardens. The remarkable Roman amphitheaters, which hosts the annual
Mont-Boron & Mont-Alban
To get to Mont-Boron, you'll have to take a car or use public transport, unless you feel like a long walk (it is a pleasant one, meandering through lovely Mediterranean landscapes and charming belle époque estates). However you travel, you'll pass the
This is the newest district of Nice and, as a result, the furthest from the center. Situated near the airport, Arénas contains many offices and hotels, where everything is very modern and practical. It is essentially the business center of Nice. Points of interest include the enormous greenhouse at
Promenade du Paillon
This district has grown in size and importance over recent years. Here you'll find the
The Promenade des Anglais & the Colline du Château
Given that these two sites appear prolifically on postcards of Nice, it's certainly worth your while to see the real thing. The Promenade des Anglais follows the shoreline for several kilometers and the vast hillside parkland of the Colline du Château (Castle Hill) overlooks the magnificent Baie des Anges. It'll only take half an hour or so to complete the route, although there are many distractions that could extend it into a leisurely stroll, such as a stop on the beach or a break in the shade of pine trees.
Starting from the Albert I Gardens, cross the road towards the shore and you'll find yourself on the famous Promenade des Anglais. The wide walkway is a favorite place to stroll, ride bikes or roller-blade; down below, the pebbled beaches (both public and private) are great for sunbathing and swimming. Keep heading in the direction of the green hill—the Colline du Château. If you look hard enough, you may be able to make out the fountain on the hillside, which is lit up at night. Continue on until you reach the Rauba Capeu human sundial at the foot of hotels La Pérouse and Suisse. Follow the pavement on your left for around 50 meters, leading you to the bottom of the stairway to the Colline du Château itself. You can always pay to take the lift a little further on, but if you climb the steps you can explore the Bellanda Tower and its little Maritime Museum. The park on the hill exhibits many fine examples of local flora, and you can take in all the different views over the town – the Baie des Anges, the crowds of red-tiled rooftops in the old town, the port and Mont-Boron. Kids will relish the chance to go tobogganing and play in the park. Don't look for the Château though...it was destroyed in the reign of Louise XIV. The only ruins are those of a medieval cathedral.
At the end of this tour, treat yourself to an upscale dinner at Le Chantecler. This restaurant is located in the ultra-luxurious Hôtel Négresco and was awarded two stars by the Michelin guide. This is truly a gastronomical experience not to be missed.
Saint Réparate Cathedral
Discover the most picturesque part of Nice by taking a walk through the old town. The intertwining web of narrow little streets, colorful old houses and little boutiques reveal the charming soul of the city.
Approach old Nice from Place Garibaldi, passing by the Grand Café de Turin, renowned for it excellent seafood. Take Rue Pairolière into the heart of the old town. This long, narrow street, lined with lots of little shops, is incredibly lively during the day and perfect for a little detour to buy some traditional products from Nice and Provence (olives, herbs, etc.), or to sample local specialties like farcis (vegetable parcels stuffed with meat) or socca (a pancake made from chickpea flour). The street opens out into Place Saint-François, the square where the fish market is held.
Leaving Place Saint Francois behind, take Rue Droite and look for the entrance to the Palais Lascaris on your right. A visit to this large Genoese mansion house, former residence of the Lascaris dynasty, uncovers the glory of the baroque movement, of which Vieux-Nice offers many fine examples. On leaving the palace, continue along Rue Droite until intersected by a large steep road—Rue Rossetti—which will take you down to the square of the same name, where the 17th century Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate stands tall. You can also savor the delicious ice cream at the renowned Fenocchio, or relax in one of the many café terraces. By taking a right at the cathedral down the little side street, Rue Gallo, you will find the false door, behind which is a vaulted passageway and staircase that looks out onto Boulevard Jean Jaurès.
Turn left and continue down Rue du Marché where you can buy souvenirs and pottery. The street ends in the pretty Place du Palais-de-Justice. Don't cross the square but take an immediate left into Rue de la Préfecture and on to some of the old town's most welcoming pubs and beautiful signs and photographs of Martinetti. Keep going as far as the intersection on your right and go down Rue de la Poissonnerie, where you will chance upon the charming and unassuming little church of Sainte-Rita – the patron saint of lost causes. At the end of the street, the famous Cours Saleya beckons, loved by the locals for its sun-kissed café terraces and lively, colorful fruit and vegetable market. On Mondays you can visit the flea market, but any day of the week you can enjoy strolling around the bustling stalls. Right at the end you'll be able to see, and smell, the blooms at the flower market. While you're near the Cours Saleya, stop in Atmosphère (L') for a bite. This lovely little restaurant serves delicious duck as well as impressive seafood dishes, and the servers are friendly and efficient.
The Franciscan monastery
An attractive hill in the very heart of Nice, just north of the old town and bordering the east of the city center, Cimiez is a stylish residential district, that is both stately and calm. Many of the houses exude the charm of the belle époque and are complemented by little gardens. The district is home to an ancient archaeological site and museum, concealed in the delightful park where you can also find the Matisse Museum and the Franciscan monastery. The Chagall Museum is nestled at the foot of the hill.
Bus numbers 15, 17 and 22 will drop you off at Cimiez's Roman amphitheaters which are right in the middle of the vast parkland. Although the big park tends to be overrun by bicycles, roller-bladers and soccer players on Wednesday afternoons and weekends, it is a haven of peace and quiet during the week. It has a wonderful olive grove and beautiful pathways that will inspire an exploratory stroll.
Ancient culture enthusiasts may also be interested in the Archaeological Museum, where you can see collections dating from the bronze age up to the beginning of the Middle Ages. All around the museum, paved alleyways, Roman amphitheaters and thermal baths from the 3rd to 5th centuries are open to explorers.
The hillside park also shelters the Matisse Museum. Within a Genoese villa, the painter's work from the beginning of his career to the end of his days is displayed alongside some of his personal belongings.
Cross the park until you reach the Franciscan monastery, bordered by a magnificent Italian garden. This spiritual center, dating from the 17th century, presents an array of murals and works of art that trace Franciscan life from the 13th to the 18th centuries. The adjoining cemetery is the final resting place of the two masters of color, Henri Matisse and Raoul Dufy, whose tombstones can be visited.
Heading back towards the city center (take bus number 15 from the monastery square), stop off at the Marc Chagall Biblical Message Museum. Designed by architect André Hermant, the building is both sober and modern in appeal, set amid olive, holm oak and cypress trees. The museum contains over 600 works of a biblical theme, as well as enormous canvasses, mosaics, sculptures, tapestries and superb glass works.
If you've worked up an appetite, don't pass up Auberge de Théo. This little restaurant serves local specialties as well as traditional Italian dishes. The homemade pastas are delicious as are the pizzas, and the meal won't be complete without a serving of their heavenly tiramisu.
Nice Cycle Tours (+ 33 6 19 99 95 22 / http://www.nicecycletours.com/)
Nice Le Grand Tour (+33 8 70 40 73 20 / http://www.city-discovery.com/nice/tour.php?id=1177)
Nice City Sightseeing Small Group Tour (http://www.viator.com/tours/Nice/Nice-City-Sightseeing-Small-Group-Tour/d478-2356NCE08)
An Art Tour of Nice
Art Tour from Nice (+33 8 70 40 73 20 / http://www.city-discovery.com/nice/tour.php?id=4296)
Nice's trademark symbols are of course its Carnaval and the sea, with all the activities that come along with it. But there are a thousand other ways to amuse yourself in Nice, whatever the season. Try shopping in the local markets. The region's warm climate means outdoor markets stay open year-round, and the local color provided by the men and women of Nice adds a certain je ne sais quoi for tourists. You can also go clubbing in the evening, pop into a local pub, take in a movie, or visit one of the many museums and art galleries. Cultural heritage and a wide range of artistic enterprise occupy a very important place in the town. The outskirts of the city are also wonderful places to explore by foot, bike or car, especially the surrounding hills or a trip over to Corisca.
If you find yourself in Nice during February, you can't afford to miss the Carnaval – one of the most famous after Rio and Venice. Let yourself be swept along in the joyous procession of weird and wonderful floats, brass bands and clowns tottering on stilts. Carnaval also brings delightful displays of blooming mimosas and carnations along the magnificent seaside walkway, the Promenade des Anglais.
Museums & Antiques
Visitors interested in cultural attractions certainly won't be disappointed either. Nice boasts a huge number of museums including the Matisse Museum, dedicated to the works of the great artist; the Terra Amata, preserving Nice's prehistoric past; and the Fine Arts Museum (Beaux-Arts). Nice also has countless art galleries—enough to captivate art lovers of every style--many of which are nestled in the charming and picturesque streets of Vieux-Nice. You might like to look out for Sylvie T or Espace Loas. The area around the port is sure to enrapture any antiques enthusiast, especially stores such as Ginac. Satisfy your architectural appetite at the Palais Lascaris and the Cathédrale Sainte Réparate, masterpieces of the Italian-influenced baroque style.
As far as shopping is concerned, there are two main streets to check out, Rue Masséna and Avenue Jean Médecin, both in the town center. Rue Masséna is Nice's major pedestrianized district, in and around which cluster pretty little boutiques of every variety: find leather goods at Longchamp or stylish clothing at Kenzo, Sonia Rykiel, and Façonnable. Avenue Jean Médecin is located nearby, and you'll find that fashion takes center stage here as well; one of the most popular shops is Zara. Department stores and shopping arcades, including Galeries Lafayette and Nice Etoile, are also in the vicinity. Finally, for dedicated shoppers, the enormous Cap 3000 shopping center is worth the journey out to the suburbs near the airport.
But the markets are truly the most charming sight in Nice. All week long, at almost any hour of the day, Cours Saleya (a little pedestrian friendly area between the old town and the sea) is brought to life by the inimitable Saleya fruit and vegetable market, as well as the flower, arts and crafts and flea markets. Go to whichever market tempts you the most, and stroll in the shade of the colorful awnings. Then take a break in one of the café terraces, sip a cool drink and soak up the wonderful Mediterranean atmosphere.
With the first rays of summer, you can enjoy the pleasures of the seashore. Nice's beaches are pebbly rather than sandy though, so those who like their comfort will do well to hire a sunbed on the private beaches, such as Castel Plage or Opéra Plage. Most of the private beaches also offer a wide range of water sports including jet and water skiing. Sailing and deep sea diving excursions are available from the kiosks at the port, between the Quai des Docks and the Quai Ile de Beauté. Don't miss out on the boat trips that take you on a seafaring discovery of this beautiful coastline—various sailing companies can take you out to sea while glass-bottomed boats reveal the underwater world and all its wildlife.
When night falls, celebrate Nice's diverse nightlife by heading for one of Nice's best destinations like La Palousa or Master Home, two of the many pubs in the old town.
Film fanatics will revel in the tiny Mercury cinema, which shows films in their original language, as well as the Cinémathèque. The Village Cinema Lingostiere, found in the West Nice district, offers modern comfort and the latest technology in movie-going.
Music lovers should prick up their ears as every year the town stages some fantastic music festivals including a Jazz Festival and Religious Music Festival. Nice also has a splendid and very active Opera House.
Excursions & Side Trips
Finally, it would be a great shame not to mention the areas surrounding Nice, where you can take advantage of the many excursions available. Explore Mont-Boron hill and the Fort du Mont-Alban, just a few kilometers below the port where you'll discover wonderful Mediterranean wildlife and a truly stunning view. The train des Pignes makes for a great day out, especially if you get off at the pretty little village of Annot perched on the hill. It's the ideal place for a few hours of walking.
Although it's possible to visit Corsica in a day, it's well worth it to stay a while longer. The Ile de Beauté is some 200km from the coast of Nice and can be reached via the NGV (Navire Grande Vitesse or high speed shuttle) or on Corsica Ferries. In winter, you can practice your skiing at Auron, and all within a 50km radius, towns such as Villefranche-sur-mer, Eze, Vence, Saint-Paul, Peille with their picturesque village settings, and the ever prestigious Cannes and Monaco, are your playground.
Nice is a major tourist destination all year round, and has a remarkably comprehensive selection of hotels, catering to all tastes and budgets.
Fans of belle époque architecture should head straight for Nice's most famous hotel, the impressive and aged Négresco, which occupies a place of pride on the city's magnificent seaside walkway, the Promenade des Anglais. It is among the most expensive hotels in the city, and with good reason: every room offers a panoramic sea view. Its beautiful architectural style is a constant source of inspiration for photographers, and the white façade, crowned with pink domes that look out on the sea, is featured on many a postcard. This gem of a hotel also harbors many treasures inside with rare antique furnishings and exquisite works of art. The Elysée Palace also captivates the hearts of art lovers. The building spans over two blocks, between which a feminine statue seems to glide—a construction of monumental proportions (26 meters or 85 feet tall) that is the work of sculptor Sacha Sosso, a leading figure in the Nice School of Art.
Other lovely hotels lining the Promenade include the Westminster, the West-End, the Beau Rivage, and two of the Mercure hotels, the Mercure Promenade des Anglais, and the Mercure Nice Marché aux Fleurs. For those with more modern tastes, the stylish comfort, central location and sea view of the Méridien is an ideal choice, with the added bonus of the Ruhl Casino on the ground floor. The Radisson hotel is another luxury option, closer to the airport. One last option in this area is the lovely La Pérouse just by the Cours Saleya, a lively pedestrian area full of markets and café terraces.
The four-star Palais Maeterlinck offers similar standards of excellence, situated further away from the commotion of the city near the pretty village of Villefranche. Overlooking the sea, and with a delightful swimming pool, it has a wonderful atmosphere. The hotel's restaurant, Le Mélisande serves some of the very finest French cuisine.
Masséna – Town Center
The Grand Hotel Aston, overlooking the gardens of Place Masséna, is an utterly charming hotel offering an atmosphere of simplicity. Also, centrally located large hotel chains include the Holiday Inn on Rue Victor Hugo, and the Mercure Centre Notre-Dame.
The area around the train station also has a large number of hotels. The large hotel, Ibis, with 199 rooms, represents good value for money. This area is also home to some of the more inexpensive accommodation in the city.
In the lower price bracket but more centrally located, the following two and three star hotels are well-maintained and good values. The beautiful ochre-colored facade of the Paradis Hotel can be found in the pedestrianized precinct. The comfy rooms are very welcoming and some even come with a balcony. Small in size, the Hotel Normandie is both a friendly and comfortable place to stay.
Hotel Apogia is a three star accommodation option close to the peaceful port area.
The Mercure Nice Californie, a little way out of the center, is a nice hotel in the Arénas/Californie district. The décor is fairly standard, but you can't fault them for comfort, service, and reliability.
For travelers with business needs, there is the Kyriad St-Isidore and the Novotel Nice Centre. The Kyriad Saint Isidore is situated near the airport and highways, and the prices are extremely reasonable.
Promenade du Paillon
The rates are a little higher at the Novotel Nice Centre, which is located between the Palais des Expositions and the Acropolis conference center, and is easily accessible to highways and the airport.