On the coastline of the Mediterranean in the French Riviera, Nice is the perfect place to kick back and relax for a few days. I spent 5 fantastic days here towards the end of my two month adventures in spring 2014, using its low key vibes, easy day trips, and endless beaches to ‘recharge my batteries’. It’s not an overly large city, and doesn’t have dozens of attractions to visit and see, but for me that was part of its charm.
Nice is home to the third most important airport in France, the Nice Côte d’Azur Airport, which is located just outside of the city. There are frequent shuttle busses from both terminals that lead to and from city centre with numerous stops along the Promenade Des Anglais along the way. Tickets can be purchased from the ticket booth just outside the airport entrance, or on the bus itself. Nice also has a train station, as well as a large Port.
For the most part, Nice is pretty walkable. The city does also have a tram system, as well as bus routes throughout the city. Tickets can be purchased on board. For those looking for a more touristy way to see the sites, there is a little tourist train that starts along the Promenade Des Anglais.
Where To Stay
There are a few places I would recommend staying in Nice. For me, being a water-lover, I wanted to be as close as possible to a beach. There are plenty of beaches along the Promenade Des Anglais so it’s not difficult to find a spot within easy walking distance from the sea. Other popular areas are Place Masséna, Old Town, and the Port.
What to See and Do
Made up of narrow cobblestone alleys, and winding streets, Old Town Nice is a great place to wander. Full of shops, cafes, and restaurants, it’s one of the most popular places to grab a bite to eat. The Old Town is also home to the famous flower market, as well as important landmark buildings including the Palais Lascaris, and Cathédrale de Sainte Réparate. And if it’s hot and you need something to cool down, Old Town is also the home to the city’s best gelato shop: Fennocchio which boasts to have over 100 flavours ranging from classic chocolate to the questionable flavour of cactus. Prepare to wait in line though, this place is popular!
A little misleading in its name due to the fact that there never was a castle, Castle Hill offers the best views of Nice. Located between Old Town and the Nice Port, this hill is a hot-spot for tourists and locals alike. Its steep trails are popular with runners and the park up top is a popular place for locals and their families to spend an afternoon playing. The man made waterfall is also a popular sight. Castle hill makes for a great place to have a picnic and relax with a book and get stunning photos of Nice and the Mediterranean Sea from above. There are numerous paths leading to the top of Castle Hill, as well as an elevator.
As the main square of Nice, Place Masséna is the spot to find public events, celebrations, and concerts. Lined by palm trees, gardens, and red buildings built in Italian-style architecture, this square is picture perfect and a popular hangout spot for locals and tourists alike. There are plenty of high end shops in this area, as well as a large mall, Galleries Lafayette, filled with floor upon floor of European design good ranging from clothing, to shoes, to jewelry, to handbags and wallets.
Promenade Des Anglais
Promenade Des Anglais is a giant sea-side road that leads from the airport all the way to the Nice Port. On the land side it is lined with hotels and restaurants while numerous beaches line the sea-side. There is a wide area for pedestrians and cyclists as it is the perfect place to enjoy an evening walk. It’s also common to find locals playing sports along its path: when I visited there was some sort of soccer tournament going on.
Promenade Des Anglais is lined with numerous beaches stretching out down the coast line. It is important to note however, that these are stone beaches and not sand beaches, so if you plan on spending a day here it’s best to bring a beach matt or something thicker to sit/lie on. Showers and toilets are available for a fee, and some beaches do have restaurants/bars.
The Russian Cathedral
Probably the furthest attraction of the city, the Russian Church is about a 25 minute walk from Place Masséna. It’s a stunning building in the centre of Nice, and the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in Western Europe. The Cathedral is open to viewers during certain times, so make sure to check the schedule first, or you will likely end up like me trying to take photos through the closed gate.
Another important square, Place Garibaldi is located between Old Town and New Town and is a short walk from the Nice Port. Like Place Masséna, Place Garibaldi is also home to some stunning architecture, though rather than numerous shops it is lined with a variety of restaurants. This is also the area where you catch the bus to Èze and Monaco.
The Flower Market
Probably my favourite place to visit in Nice, the Flower Market is the perfect place to grab some homemade food, shop for souvenirs, or just wander and look at what the vendors have to offer. Though there are quite a few vendors selling flowers, the Flower Market is home to all kinds of items. Some stalls offer fresh cuts of meat and sea food while others deal in fruits and vegetables. A few have mouth-watering displays of fresh made bread, croissants, and other baked goods and a couple offer a variety of fresh cheeses. Basically, this is the place to come and buy your food for the day, whether you needed something pre-made or something to cook later for dinner, you can find almost everything here. I, kid you not, visited every day of my stay and bought a basket of berries and a baguette. I went out for dinner once, but pretty much lived off bread and fruit during my 5 days in Nice- it was so good. The market is open every day except for Mondays, (which is antique day) from morning til early afternoon. Go as early as possible though because things disappear quickly.
Located on the far side of Castle Hill, the Nice Port is one of the most picturesque areas of the city. It can be reached by walking along the Promenade des Anglais (which offers stunning views) or by walking behind Castle Hill through Place Garibaldi area. Nice Port is another popular location for hotels and restaurants. If you are planning on taking any sailing or boating trips, they will leave from this area.
What to Buy
The main shopping street in Nice is avenue Jean Medecin, upon which you can find all kinds of boutiques, European chain stores, and the Nice Etoile mall. As mentioned above, another popular spot is the Galleries Lafyette, which offeres a variety of products of European design. Aside from the European fashions, Nice also offers some more budget friendly and unique products that make great souvenirs and gifts for friends and family back home. Some of my favourite finds were olive oil soaps that came in numerous different scents, bags of herbs de Provence for cooking, chocolates, and lavender. The flower market is great for these types of items- just be sure to shop around the different vendors before buying!
Nice is a gateway to all kinds of easy and close day trips throughout the area. A few favourites are:
- Monaco: about a 45 minute bus ride (check out my 1 day guide here)
- Èze: About a 20-30 minute bus ride en route to Monaco (check out my suggestions here)
- Cannes: about a 40 minute train ride ( a longer bus route is available)
- Antibes: Often combined with a day trip to Cannes, Antibes can be reached by bus or train
- St. Paul de Vence: a 1 hr bus ride from Nice
If you’re up for a longer day trip, you can also visit St. Tropez or Provence from Nice, just be ready for a long day, and a fair amount of time spent on public transportation.