Nice is an elegant town along the Cote d’Azur of the French Riviera. Long overshadowed by nearby Cannes, St Tropez and even Monaco, Nice is actually the fifth-largest city in France, and has many attractions for visitors to the Mediterranean coast. Nice has been a haven for artists as well, and celebrates them with several art museums. Whatever your vacation desires, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Nice.
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Beaches of Nice
Of course, the main attraction of any French Riviera town is the Mediterranean beaches, and Nice is no exception. There are many beaches in Nice to choose from. Beau Rivage is a very popular public beach with a busy beach volleyball scene and the nearby Beau Rivage Hotel & Cafe with chair rentals, food and drinks. Coco Beach is more of a local secret, as it’s tucked in below the Promenade des Anglais and is great for snorkeling. Florida Beach is a party beach, with DJ’s spinning into the early hours in the summer. La Reserve is a quieter beach during the day, but in the evening La Reserve Restaurant draws crowds for cocktails and dinner at sunset.
Old Town, or Vieux Ville, is a great place to begin your exploration of Nice. Upon entering Old Town, you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped back into the 1700’s, with narrow, winding cobblestone streets lined with French bistros and boutiques. A big draw to Old Town is the Cours Saleya Flower Market, the hub of the Old Town. Cours Saleya has fresh produce, flowers and various food stalls. On Mondays, the market transforms into an antiques and flea market, while the summer months bring an evening craft market. In the center of Old Town is Place Rossetti, a square and fountain surrounded by Italian-style architecture. Another Old Town destination is the Palais Lascaris, a 17th century baroque building that contains a musical instruments museum.
Promenade des Anglais
Stretching for several kilometers along the coastline is the Promenade des Anglais of Nice, named for the English expats who funded the construction in 1822. You will definitely want to take a stroll along Promenade des Anglais while you are in Nice, and perhaps even rent a bicycle or pair of skates to join the locals. The Promenade is great for people-watching as you will see artists, buskers and musicians, or you can hit up several cafes and restaurants along the way. There are many hotels to choose from in this area, as well.
Separating Old Town from New Town is Place Massena, the main square of Nice. The square has many shops and cafes, and is pedestrian-only, aside from the tramway running through. Public art in the square ranges from a Greek fountain of Apollo to a modern art installation of seven neon statues lit up at night. There is also a Galeries Lafayette here, the department store selling perfume and designer apparel, while several side streets offer unique shopping boutiques. This is a popular place for public events, such as Bastille Day celebrations and the Christmas markets.
Avenue Jean Medecin
Avenue Jean Medecin, or “the Avenue,” is Nice’s main shopping thoroughfare. Beginning at Place Messena and running north from there, the Avenue has many boutiques and international brands, as well as the Galeries Lafayette and the Nice Etoile shopping center which has a food court in the lower level. Along the Avenue, you’ll also find coffee shops and cafes, as well as hotels if you want to stay in a prime location for shopping.
Formerly a citadel overlooking Nice from, today Castle Hill is a park, with little remaining of the original castle. At 92 meters above the sea, you’ll get your workout climbing the stairs to the peak, but you’ll be rewarded with outstanding views of Nice and the Mediterranean Sea. (Hint: there is an elevator if you’re not up for the climb!) Once at the top, you’re also treated to a waterfall, albeit man-made, but it’s still a pleasant site, especially on a hot day.
St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral
At one time, Nice had a thriving Russian community and the cathedral was built in 1912 to honor the son of Tsar Aleksandr II and meant for Russians exiled to Southern France. It is the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedral in Western Europe, and the architecture is distinctly Russian, blue domes atop pink brick walls and bright tiles. The cathedral is open to visitors daily for an entrance fee, and is part of the French Riviera Pass.
Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
A relatively new addition to Nice, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art opened in 1990 and is housed in a very distinct white marble building surrounded by modern sculptures. Inside, you’ll find American and European avant-garde art going back to the 1960’s. The museum celebrates Nice’s history as part of the art movement of the 60’s and 70’s. The museum is closed on Mondays, and entrance is included in the French Riviera Pass.
Marc Chagall was a Russian-French artist of the 1900’s. He was drawn to Nice in the late 1940’s as it was becoming a haven for artists, including Matisse and Picasso who lived along the French Riviera. While Chagall embraced all types of art, the Chagall Museum in Nice focuses on 17 paintings depicting Biblical messages from the books of Genesis, Exodus and the Song of Songs. Interestingly, the museum was opened while Chagall was still living in Nice and he provided extensive direction on the arrangement of his work. Additional acquisitions have been made over the years, making this the largest collection of Chagall art in the world.
Cimiez is technically a suburb of Nice, and the location of the monastery that was built in the 800’s and is still home to a small number of Franciscan friars. Visitors to the monastery especially love strolling through the gardens. There is a free on-site museum showing the history of monastic life, and an extensive exhibit about the Shroud of Turi, which resided in Nice at one time in history. In addition, there are many paintings here, as well as the grave of Matisse.
Just 400 meters from the Cimiez Monastery, you’ll find the Musee Matisse. Henri Matisse came to the French Riviera around 1920, and has many paintings depicting scenes around Nice. Along with Picasoo, Matisse is considered one of the most influential modern artists of his time. The Musee Matisse has one of the largest collections of his paintings in the world, in a former home of a consul of Nice. The museum has paintings, drawings, prints, photos and sculptures, including famous paintings Fleurs et Fruits and Les Abeilles.
Parc du Mont Boron
Another bird’s eye view of Nice can be had from Parc du Mont Boron, a Mediterranean forest with recreational areas for everyone to enjoy. You can hike up to the park from town, or take a bus, whichever you prefer. At the top, you’ll find the Fort du Mont Alban, olive groves, hiking trails, exercise circuits and picnic areas. There are over 11 kilometers of marked trails to explore.
Parc Phoenix is a 17-acre botanical garden and zoo in Nice. It has one of Europe’s largest greenhouses, containing seven different climates, as well as three exotic floral gardens such as the Australian African garden, the Thai garden and the Louisiana garden. The park also has an artificial lake with the “Island that Time Forgot” that has a bamboo forest. You can also see many species of birds, ducks and insects throughout the park as well as many Mediterranean waterfalls.
Nice Day Trips
Being on the Cote d’Azur, there are several enticing day trips from Nice that you can take. One of the most popular is a visit to Monaco, just 20 kilometers away. There are as many as 50 trains per day going from Nice to Monaco, making this an easy day trip. There is also a bus that leaves every 15 minutes, and is a great option to enjoy the spectacular scenery along the way. Another popular day trip from Nice is to visit Cannes, home of the world-famous film festival. To visit Cannes from Nice, it’s just 40 minute via train, which are frequent throughout the day. There are many other towns of the French Riviera that you can visit, such as Cap Ferrat, Antibes, St Tropez, Eze or you can even pop over to the Italian coastline, which is just 40 kilometers away.
You will find the cuisine in Nice very unique, as it blends Mediterranean, Italian and Provencal flavors. Ingredients like seafood, olives and avocados play an important role in the dishes here. Salad Nicoise is, of course, from Nice, and contains fresh greens, olives, olive oil, anchovies and tuna, among other ingredients. Ratatouille also began in Nice, and typically contains fresh herbs and vegetables. Whatever your palate, don’t miss the chance to sample some excellent regional cuisine in Nice!
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