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
People have inhabited Nice since prehistoric times, but a clear, detailed picture of its past only emerges from antiquity onwards. After centuries of merchant activity marked by occasional invasion, Nice gradually developed through the 18th and 19th Centuries to take the shape we know today as a major tourist destination.
People have lived on the geographical site for 400,000 years, the history of which is chronicled at the Terra Amata museum. Primitive settlers, the very first inhabitants of Nice, established themselves at the base of Mont-Boron, in a cave known as the Grotte du Lazaret, where they lived among ibex, stags, oxen and elephants, and carved weapons out of the limestone rock.
Several thousand years elapsed in peaceful evolution, until Nice eventually gained its name in the 4th Century BCE when the Massaliotes won a memorable victory over the Barbarians. These victorious Greeks hailing from present day Marseille (200 kilometers/124 miles from Nice) named the colony Nikaïa, which literally means "giver of victory." Being the closest port of call from the island of Cyrnos (present-day Corsica), it became a Massaliote beachhead as well as an important commercial trading post. The beginnings of the new town were established not at the foot of Mont-Boron, as in prehistoric times, but on the slopes of the Château hill.
At this time, Nice was a small stronghold which protected the port using natural defenses—the Colline du Château. The few hundred inhabitants were mainly merchants under the authority of magistrates nominated by Marseille.
Roman occupation of Nice can be traced back to 14 BCE, the start of the Roman Empire. At this time the Romans effectively built a second town, Cemenelum, on Cimiez hill. Once it had become the county seat for the Alpes-Maritimes military government, Cimiez quickly became a strategic center. The lower parts of the town, close to the port and climbing the Château hillside, lived in the shadow of Cimiez for the next few centuries.
In the 6th Century, Nikaïa gained the upper hand over Cemenelum, which disappeared with the fall of the Roman Empire. Nikaïa became part of the French empire, and earned a place of importance through its successful maritime commerce.
While almost no traces of the Massaliotes remain, the Romans left many historic relics. Via Julia Augusta, linking Nice to Vinitmille (37 kilometers/22 miles away) is just one, and you can admire the Trophée d'Auguste – a magnificent construction with four well-preserved columns, which offers a great panorama at Turbie. It symbolizes the submission of the Alpine people to Roman rule, representing the first stage of conquests in the valleys. Emperor Augustus can also be credited with setting up the region's first real administrative organization. Finally, the most manifest remains of the Roman presence in Nice are the well-preserved Roman amphitheaters and baths which you can visit around the site of Cimiez Archeological Museum, on the hill.
In 813 the town was sacked by the Sarrasins, who managed to conquer the whole of eastern Provence on the Côte des Maures. It was only in 972 that Guillaume, the Compte de Provence, managed to rout them. The commercial activity of the lower town intensified and in 1176 the first town charter was drawn up.
With the death of Queen Jeanne de Provence in 1382, civil war broke out at a time when Nice was the third biggest town in Provence, after Arles and Marseilles. Six years later, the people of Nice chose to place themselves under the protection of the Compte de Savoie, Amédée VII, in what was called the "inedict" of 1388. Nice became a strategic stronghold for the Savoy Counts, and the town was instrumental in assisting their defense against the French and their allies.
In 1543 the Turkish fleet tried in vain to conquer the city. Local washerwoman turned symbolic figure Catherine Ségurane, instigated a particularly unusual form of defense. Legend has it that she lashed out with a carpet beater to send them running...while showing them her behind!
The 17th Century witnessed the flourishing of baroque art in Nice. Façades were painted in warm reds and yellows, ochre and burnt sienna; doorways and window sills were given contrasting colors and woodwork was painted in cold blues and greens. The restoration of the façades over the last few decades has returned Nice to its former baroque glory. Other striking examples of this artistic tradition are the churches of the old town like Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate.
At the end of the 17th Century, in 1691 and 1705, the French army twice destroyed Nice's defenses and the castle was razed to the ground. In 1713, the town again retreated to the protection of the Duke of Savoy, who had also become King of Sardinia.
Between the French Revolution and the Empire (1792-1814), the Alpes-Maritimes region was created and annexed to France. By the same token, Nice was also returned to the French, but this time with the assent of the people.
With the fall of Napoleon, Nice again came under the sway of Sardinia, but the language and culture distanced it further and further from Italy. On March 24, 1860, Napoleon III and Victor-Emmanuel II, King of Sardinia, agreed that Nice would be handed over to France once and for all, a decision that met with universal approval from the inhabitants. A remarkable economic boom ensued; roads were built, the railway arrived, and the population underwent explosive growth.
At the same time, winter tourism, which had started to develop in the mid 1700s with the arrival of the British aristocracy, gathered in popularity. In 1827 the town received some 600 winter vacationers, coming from all over Europe to enjoy the gentle climate. The latter part of the 19th Century and the years leading up to World War I were something of a heyday, to which the prolific and luxurious belle époque residences attest. Nice was the winter playground of the rich and famous, but with the aftermath of the Second World War, mass tourism grew and the trend was reversed: the resort town became, and still is, a summer holiday spot for sun-seekers who come to relax on the beaches. Today tourism is a vital and fundamental part of the local economy, a fact borne out by the airport—the second largest in France—and the vast array of hotels.
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.
Just about everyone has heard of Nice's most famous culinary export, the salade niçoise. It's made of fresh tomatoes, mixed greens, anchovies, tuna, beans and olive oil... but it is only the tip of the iceberg of the city's delectable specialties. Local cuisine draws from the mild Mediterranean climate, resulting in a light style of cooking based on fresh fish and seasonal vegetables. In addition to regional dining options, Nice boasts a dizzying number of restaurants serving traditional French gastronomy, seafood specialties, as well as international cuisine. If you need to quench your thirst, choose one of the welcoming taverns in the old town or a delightful sun-drenched café terrace... and don't forget the ice cream parlors!
A visit to the French Riviera really wouldn't be complete without sampling la socca—a delicious savory pancake made from chick peas. Other distinctive regional dishes include les petits farcis (stuffed vegetable parcels), morue à la niçoise (cod cooked with tomato and olives), pissaladière (which resembles a pizza made with onion rather than tomato), fleurs de courgette cuisinées (cooked baby zucchini), raviolis and pan-bagnat, Nice's twist on the sandwich using two round slices of bread soaked in olive oil enveloping a miniature salade niçoise. You can discover the flavors for yourself at Chez Simon and Au Rendez-vous des Amis, both of which have great views overlooking the city.
Vieux-Nice (Old Town)
If you're hankering for a cold one, the old town (Vieux-Nice) is positively overflowing with cozy, welcoming pubs like De Klomp or Master Home. The sweeping terraces at Brasserie L'F and Civette du Cours, both located in Cours Saleya, are also extremely popular. Famous for the Theatre en Niçois (a show performed in the local dialect), the Bar des Oiseaux will captivate you with its vibrant local color. Last but not least, Nice's dedicated gourmet cannot go without the flavors of Fenocchio, arguably the best ice cream parlor in town. With an endless selection of flavors, it is set amid one of the old town's charming squares, Place Rossetti, where the beautiful Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate stands.
For simple yet delicious dining, check out Chez René. Restaurants specializing in regional cuisine are tucked into neighborhoods throughout the city. Try Don Camillo or Petite Maison. All are centrally located and serve excellent French dishes à la carte and via set menus, in pleasant and contemporary settings. Slightly off the beaten path, the beautiful vaulted cellar of Baud et Millet offers cheese-based dishes accompanied by fine wines. For the best of fruits de la mer (seafood), the Grand Café de Turin is in a class of its own. Nice also has many options for those seeking international flavors. To sample the flavors of neighboring Italy, try Bistro Romain. For Lebanese, try the always-satisfying Byblos.
For a great meal in this area, try Pipo Socca. For international flavors, try Zucca Magica for flavorful vegetarian cuisine, or seek out fine dining at Allégro.
Fans of traditional French cuisine have many dining options in Nice. Restaurants of note include L'Horloge, and Epicuriens. If you're a fan of fresh, unpretentious fish dishes, you should book a table at Boccaccio. For tasty Italian in this area, try Québec, which serves wonderful pizzas and pasta that are perfectly al dente. For flavors of Alsace, try the Taverne Alsacienne, or sample the cuisine of the Indian Ocean at Barachois. Casbah carries patrons to Morocco, the Petite Sirène to Denmark, Raja to India, and the Transsibérien serves the cooking of Russia!
For the finest and fanciest dining, there are two restaurants in town that stand out above all others. The prestigious reputation of the Chantecler befits the palatial hotel where it is located, Hôtel Négresco. The service, the ambiance, and the cuisine are all of the highest caliber.
Nice's other grand hotel, the Maeterlinck, boasts a similarly exceptional restaurant, the Mélisande, which overlooks the sea. The menus in both establishments are regularly updated with fresh seasonal fare, serving dishes like lamb cutlet with mozzarella and aubergine, fillet of sole and foie gras with fresh pasta. For seafood, try Coco Beach, which is located just below Mont-Boron Park near the Cape of Nice.