How Nice is Nice!
"The French air cleans up the brain and does good – a world of good."
-Vincent Van Gogh
Choosing a European City Break
It was pretty much a spur of the moment decision for me to book this long weekend in Nice. I had been searching through flights to other European cities, thinking that a trip to the French Riviera would be much more expensive (especially during the summer period). However, I was surprised to notice that deals to Nice were showing as one of the least expensive European city breaks at that time (July 2019). Nice is the type of holiday destination that I love because it is not just a sun and beach destination, it is also a city full of culture. Nice has the perfect selection of markets, museums, beautiful architecture, colorful buildings and plenty of pretty streets to wander in the Old Town area.
Nice, The French Riviera
Nice is found along the Mediterranean Sea in the French Riviera, which sits at the foot of the Alps. Its mild Mediterranean climate became increasingly popular in the 18th century with many aristocratic families, especially the English, starting to spend time here during the winter months. It became so popular with the English that the main seaside promenade of Nice ('Avenue des Anglais') is named after the influence of the English in the construction of this Avenue. The beautiful light found in the natural environment of Nice is popular with artists and a lot of the greats spent time here (such as Matisse and Chagall).
Architecture of Nice
This colorful city is an Instagrammers dream! Nice is known for its orange, red and pink buildings and distinctive pinky-red Mediterranean rooftops. Much of the Old Town area of Nice dates back to medieval times. Its Art Deco style dates back to La Belle Époque period (between 1871 and the beginning of the First World War in 1914). This influence is found throughout the city, where you will observe many corner buildings (often being rounded instead of at a right angle) and you will find a lot of ironwork in the design of the buildings. However, this style of design began to disappear in the late 1930s with the politicization of Classical Modernism.
Getting There (Flights)
I first searched SkyScanner for an idea on the price of flights, however, I am dubious of booking directly through this website as I recently had a bad experience with them. I booked flights to Vancouver through their website and the third-party agency took my money but failed to provide the flights! This was a disaster as I was due to fly to Vancouver the following week but the agency held my money and so I didn't receive the refund in time to book another flight and flights were going up every day! There was a lot of confusion when I contacted their customer services team too. This agency was Vayama. They are not a scam agency, however, it is always best if you can book directly through the airline/s rather than relying on a third-party agency. I might book through Skyscanner again at some stage in the future, however, I will never use them in a case whereby flights are last minute or, urgent.
I still find it a good idea to do a quick search of SkyScanner to research the options and costs that are available for the dates that you intend to travel. Once you have an idea on the cheapest options available, you can then refer to the official airline/s website and book directly through them; presuming flights are in a similar price range as per your Skyscanner search.
For hotel options, I searched Booking.com and found quite a cheap room for the three nights that I was visiting. This hotel suited me, however, it was quite basic and so I wouldn't highly recommend it online as a hotel to stay in during your trip. Feel free to contact me directly if you would still like the name of this hotel! The hotel was clean and breakfast was included in the cost. This was great as it allowed me to save time instead of having to find somewhere to eat every morning. The hotel was located just off the main shopping street, Avenue Jean Medecin, which was only about a 15-minute walk to the Old Nice area. I saw a few other well-priced hotels on Booking.com, however, they were not central to the Old Nice area (which is where you will find the main hub of activity).
Best Area/s to Stay
Ideally, close to the Old Town or Old Port area are the perfect locations to stay in Nice. Avenue des Anglais is the main Promenade along Nice beach and, the section of the Promenade that is closest to Old Nice is a great location to stay...if you can afford a hotel along here! Hotel Negresco is a stunning building (scroll through the above gallery for photos of this hotel) and if you want to treat yourself then this is a hotel to consider for your trip! Another luxurious hotel along Avenue des Anglais is that of the Hyatt Regency (see above gallery photo too).
OLD PORT AREA
Enjoyable Walk with Stunning Views
While there is not as much shopping and activity happening in the Old Port area compared to the Old Town, it is still a lovely walk over to the Old Port from the Old Town area. Spectacular views overlooking the beach, Promenade des Anglais and Nice city are found along this short walk. It is roughly a 15-minute walk along Quai de Rauba Capeu from Castel Plage beach area to the Old Port. The Old Port is a nice area to wander, stop for a coffee, and admire the colorful boats docked in the Port.
The most stunning viewing point along this walk is found at Pointe de Rauba-Capeu. This viewing point has become more popular for photographs in recent years following the installation of the #ilovenice sign. There is a replica of this sign found at Nice airport too. Monument aux Morts de Rauba-Capeù (Monument of the Dead) is located close by Pointe de Rauba-Capeu too. This monument honors Nice citizens killed during WWI. There is a photograph of this monument in the above gallery.
It is possible to enjoy a walk over to the Phare de Nice Lighthouse from close to where Pointe de Rauba-Capeu is located. It is less than a 10-minute walk over to the lighthouse from the Monument of the Dead.
It is worth a walk around all of the Port area where you will find a variety of cafes, restaurants, and bars to sit outside and relax in. There are plenty of options to drink and dine outdoors (overlooking the Port) along here. Also, you will likely find a colorful array of boats lined up and docked along the Port. I dined here on my first evening in Nice and enjoyed a glass of wine while sitting outside in the summer air. It was so very relaxing!
I dined in Gigi Restaurant which is located along the Port. Here I was able to sit outside overlooking the boats in the Port and enjoy a tasty pizza with a glass of wine. It was reasonably priced and I even returned here to dine another evening during my stay because it was so nice and such a relaxing area to eat in rather than parts of the busy Old Town area.
The lovely mother and daughter dining at the table beside me informed me that they had specially come to dine in this restaurant due to the Gluten-free menu on offer and they advised that they had loved their meal too!
Phare de Nice Lighthouse
/ Le Plongeoir
Phare de Nice Lighthouse
While there is a nice view of this lighthouse from Le Plongeoir, if you wish to walk to it then you will need to exit off the main road close by Monument aux Morts. It is less than a 10-minute walk to the lighthouse from this monument.
Located about a 15-minute walk from the Old Port area is the very popular restaurant, Le Plongeoir. This restaurant's location makes it unique in that it is perched on top of rocks over the sea. The restaurant also has a lounge bar area with diving boards omitting from the side of the building and over the sea!
The restaurant offers a Mediterranean influenced menu that evolves through the different seasons. Note that the restaurant shuts for some time during the off season.
My trip to Castle Hill was one of the highlights of my time in Nice! It is rightfully considered a "must-see" for tourists. The steps and elevator to the top of Castle Hill are located close to the Old Town area. It is free to take the steps or, the elevator up to the park. The park is free to enter too! The steps up to the park are quite steep and can be demanding in the strong summer sun.
This popular attraction offers spectacular views overlooking Nice and its beautiful shoreline. The Hill reaches 92 meters above sea level. A medieval castle previously stood on the Hill from the 11th century until the 18th century. The castle was attacked several times until it was finally destroyed in 1706 by command of Louis XIV. At the top of the Hill, you will find stunning panoramic views of the city, shoreline and the Old Port, the ruins of defensive walls and a cathedral, an artificial waterfall, a cafe area by the observation deck and two historic cemeteries (Jewish and Catholic). The artificial waterfall was built at the end of the 19th century. This impressive waterfall can be seen from ground level while walking around parts of the city. There is also a cannon at the top of the hill that is shot at noon each day!
Castle Hill is the most famous public garden in Nice. I regret that I had not allocated more time for wandering this park area as there is quite a lot of ground that you can cover while up here. There are some nice pathways at the top of the Hill, however, I found that it was not very well signposted along the trails. I did not even realize that there was another viewing point (overlooking the Old Port) at the other side of the Hill while I was up there. I very much regret not seeing this view and I will hopefully return to see it one day.
The Bellanda Tower is the cylinder type construction along the rock edge of the Hill and it was once home to the famous composer Hector Berlioz. The Tower is located close to the steps up to the park and the top of the Tower is a perfect resting spot for a quick break to catch your breath along your journey up the Hill. The Tower is a reconstruction of one of the bastions of the former castle and it was built in 1826.
The beaches of Nice shoreline stretch for several miles, however, for those of you longing for sandy beaches to lay and walk on then a trip to Nice may not be for you! The beach areas are composed of rocks and a pair of jelly shoes or, strong flip flops would be useful for walking and swimming in while in Nice. However, the beaches are usually still quite packed during the summer months, and people tend to bring suitable sunbeds/padded beach mats, etc. to lie on the rocks and enjoy the sun.
There are several Private Beach areas along the shoreline, and these can provide suitable sun-loungers, waiter service, shower, toilet facilities, etc. Some of these private beach areas include Castel Plage, Blue Beach, Plage Beau Rivage Nice, and Sporting Plage. If you intend to visit a private beach then it may be advisable to pre-book during high season as it can get very busy along the beaches at this time of the year. All of these private beach areas are located just off Promenade des Anglais which offers a nice walk overlooking the beach area.
One of my favorite things in Nice is to wander the old cobbled and narrow streets of the Old Town area. The beachside entrance to the Old Town is located close by the foot of Castle Hill, near Castel Plage private beach. The Old Town is very central with both Place Massena and Place Garibaldi located only a short walk from here too. In the Old Town area, you will find a variety of shops, restaurants, galleries, market squares, churches, stunning architecture, and beautiful pastel-hued buildings. The shadowed streets of the Old Town offer a nice break from the strong summer sun too!
The vibrant Place Rossetti square is where you will find the popular Baroque style Nice Cathedral ('Cathedral of Sainte Reparate') which sits alongside the beautiful Bell Tower. Nice Cathedral dates back to the 17th Century while the Bell Tower dates back to the 18th Century.
Place du Palais de Justice square offers weekly markets (books, crafts, paintings, postcards), however, the most popular outdoor market is that of Marche du Cours Saleya...
Cours Saleya Markets
The Marche aux Fleurs Cours Saleya outdoor market is held every day, except for Mondays, and offers a beautiful and colorful selection of flowers. Cours Saleya Market is held in the same location and it offers a colorful selection of local fruit and vegetable produce. The fruit and vegetable market shuts at 1 pm while the Flower Market continues until 5.30 pm (except for Mondays and Sundays).
During the summer months (June to September), Marché Artisanal Nocturne market is held in this location too. It offers a selection of crafts. Every Monday the market square holds Marché à la Brocante, which is an antiques/flea market (this market is sometimes moved to the Old Port area though). Cours Salyea is located very close to the beach and thus offers a nice area to wander when in need of a break from sunbathing! Once the market closes each day, the square converts into outdoor dining under the sky.
I ate in Brasserie L'F, which is located in the Cours Saleya market square. I've read some bad reviews about this restaurant (mainly concerning the staff), however, I found the staff lovely and the food was quite good and well priced too. The restaurant's location provides a nice location to sit outside and people-watch in the square. The restaurant is ideally located between the beach and the cobbled streets of the Old Town.
PROMENADE DES ANGLAIS
Promenade des Anglais is just a few minute's walk from Saleya Market (the Old Town area) and it stretches roughly 7 km along the seafront. The main tourist section of the Promenade is the first 1 - 2 km closest to Old Nice area. The Promenade is perfect for a nice stroll along the beach. It also has a lane specifically for cyclists and skaters and so you could rent skates, scooters or bikes (see Roller Station for rentals) and take a spin along the Promenade in the warm sea air. One of the most popular landmarks along the Promenade is the beautiful Hotel Negresco. This stretch of the Promenade offers a selection of beautiful buildings on one side and a view of the sea on the other side. There are plenty of benches along the Promenade where you can stop to relax and enjoy the view. This part of the Promenade is a great area to stay in during your trip, however, accommodation can be quite expensive here. There is a good selection of cafes and restaurants to stop off in along the Promenade too. I enjoyed sitting outside of a reasonably priced bistro, not too far from Hotel Negresco, and people-watching in the afternoon sun. The Hard Rock is located close by here too.
Along the Promenade (beside Hotel Negresco) is where you will find the very popular Musee Massena...
(Promenade des Anglais)
Located beside Hotel Negresco is the beautiful neo-classical (with an Italianate twist) Belle Époque building of Musee Massena. As well as its permanent collection of artifacts from the Napoleonic Era, the museum also has special exhibits, a beautiful garden, historical artifacts, artwork and impressive interior decor with stunning antique furniture and furnishings.
While I only visited the gardens of the museum, the museum itself receives great reviews! For only a small cover charge of €10, you can view the exhibitions and impressive decor within the villa. Tickets to the museum can be pre-booked online to avoid queues. The gardens are free to wander and there is a simple, yet moving, Memorial to the victims of the July 14th, 2016 terrorist attack located close by the front gate to the gardens and villa.
Place Massena is a central area of Nice. It connects the Old and New town regions, and a visit to this colorful square is another must for any tourist to Nice! It is the main square of Nice and is a pedestrian-only zone except for the tram running through the square. This area of Nice went through a long period of reconstruction and refurbishment which was completed in 2007. The beautiful Neoclassical architecture that is found in the square strongly features red, orange and pink colors. 'Fountain of the Sun' is a popular spot for photographs. This fountain displays a marble statue of Apollo and, it also depicts several stories of Greek mythology. There are plenty of nice cafes, restaurants, and shops located here too. The plaza of the square is known for holding large events (Christmas Markets, Bastille day celebrations, etc.) and there was a large jazz concert on in the square when I visited.
This area is great to see in the evening too as there are seven statues, on tall polls, that light up at nightfall. These statues are part of a modern art installation by Catalan artist Jaume Plensa. They represent the 7 continents.
There is a nice park area just off Massena Square and it is very popular for its water installation, Dancing Water Spouts. The installation is hugely popular with kids and families, and you are sure to find people playing and running across these water spouts on a hot summer day!
Place Massena is located very close to Avenue Jean-Medecin, which is the main shopping street of Nice. Avenue Jean-Medecin is part of New Nice, and so the shops and eateries are mainly composed of high street shops/restaurants such as McDonald's, Zara, H&M, etc. As you can find these in most major cities, I don't consider shopping here to be a fun thing to do as a tourist...though I know others might need to feed their shopping addiction while here. 😂 To be honest, I prefer wandering the quirkier shops of the Old Town area and, I feel that you gain more of an insight and feel for a city when you visit the local food and craft shops. Though one notable place to visit along Avenue Jean-Medecin, if you like architecture and churches, is Basilique Notre Dam. There is more to follow below on this Basilica under the 'Churches' section.
Place Garibaldi is another beautiful square where you can sit and people-watch while enjoying a coffee or wine in one of the many cafes and restaurants located here. Place Garibaldi is found along the perimeter of Old Nice area and it is roughly a 12-minute walk from Place Massena and a 15-minute walk from the Old Port. Except for the tram running through the square, Place Garibaldi is for the most part pedestrianized. I found that this square had more of a peaceful and relaxed vibe than that of the main square (Place Massena).
A large statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Nice-born Italian nationalist and military hero, sits in the center of the square. The buildings here are beautiful colors of yellow with green shutters and baroque arcaded buildings.
The popular Modern Art Museum, Musee d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain, is located very close to Place Garibaldi. I was very much hoping to visit this museum, however, there just wasn't enough time to fit everything in during my few days in Nice! Next trip for sure!
LA TETE CARREE
This much photographed and popular Square Head ("La Tête Carrée") sculpture, by Sacha Sosno, is found only a 5-minute walk from Place Garibaldi / Musee d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain. The iconic building impressively stands at 30 meters in height and 14 meters wide. La Tête Carrée is a work of contemporary architecture and houses the administrative premises of the municipal library with regional vocation. The sculpture is appropriately titled "Thinking Inside the Box" and its giant square head houses 3 floors of books within the central library ("Bibliothèque Louis Nucera").
The sculpture was inaugurated in 2002 and, at the time, was the first inhabited monumental sculpture in the world. At night time, you can look up towards La Tête Carrée and make out the floors of the library lit up inside. The sculpture looks out over Place Yves Klein, the town square, from the small but colorful Jardin Maréchal Juin. This public garden is known for its multitude of various bright blooms and you will also find further sculptures on display in the gardens.
Russian Orthodox Cathedral
This Cathedral is located a little bit outside of the main tourist areas of Nice, however, I would strongly encourage a visit to this beautiful Cathedral if you have time! To date, it is the most magnificent Cathedral that I have visited. The Cathedral is roughly half an hour walk from Old Nice and only about a 17-minute walk from Basilique Notre-Dam on Avenue Jean Medecin.
This Russian Orthodox Cathedral, 'St Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral', is an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral and is the property of the Russian Federation. The Cathedral is recognized as a national monument of France. It was opened in 1912 and is the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedral in Western Europe. The structure of the Cathedral is mainly of Old Russian style, however, it also has a modern twist with the disposition of a Greek cross plan with five domes representing Jesus and the four evangelists. It has an interesting history starting from when the Russian upper class grew in numbers (during the mid-1800s) visiting the French Riveria during winter months. During a visit in 1865, the son of Alexander II, Tsesarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich died of meningitis. Some time later, the Tsar and the Empress ordered a chapel built in the spot where Nicholas died. The cathedral was consecrated in December 1912 in memory of Nicholas Alexandrovich, Tsarevich of Russia. [Note that no photography is allowed inside of the Cathedral]
Eglise Saint Jean Baptiste
You will find this beautiful church only a 5-minute walk from Old Nice; it is roughly halfway between Place Massena and Place Garibaldi (circa 8-minute walk from either of these to the church). Though the church is not overly impressive in size, and it is not always open to enter, it is still a beautiful catholic church and is worth a walk by seeing as it is so close to several tourist locations.
Basilique Notre-Dame de l'Assomption
This new-Gothic church is located along Avenue Jean-Medecin. It is the largest church in Nice and was built between 1864 and 1868 according to the plans of the French architect Louis Lenormand. The Basilica impressively has two large square towers, a beautiful rose-window, and three porches.
Nice Cathedral & Bell Tower
As previously mentioned, Nice Cathedral and Bell Tower are located in the Old Town area of Nice. This Roman Catholic Cathedral has been classified as a national monument since 9 August 1906. Construction of the Cathedral started in 1650 and continued until 1949 - with new structures and decorative elements being added to the Cathedral over time. Construction of the side chapels occurred in 1900. The Bell Tower was built next to the Cathedral between 1731 and 1757.
CIMIEZ PARK, JARDIN & MONASTERY
Located roughly a 40-minute walk from the Old Nice area, Cimiez is a peaceful and tranquil place to spend an afternoon. Here, you can wander the gardens, visit the monastery, visit Matisse Museum and Musee D'Archeologie; all of which are located minutes apart within the park. There are plenty of spots for a picnic within Cimiez Park and there is an outdoor cafe where you can also sit outside and enjoy the warm summer sun.
The gardens are located just beside the Monastery and they are of an Italian-style. The monks’ former orchard and vegetable garden has preserved its original layout around a well with old pergolas and covered climbing roses. At the end of the garden, you will find fabulous views overlooking the mountains and parts of Nice city (see above gallery for photos of these views).
Musee D'Archeologie is located just off Cimiez Park. It is a Roman archeological site that features statues, coins, and other ancient finds too.
Matisse Museum (Villa des Arènes)
Located almost half an hour walk from Old Nice, Matisse Museum is a beautiful ochre-colored seventeenth-century villa that houses some 30 works of Matisse (1869-1954). A must-see for any Matisse lovers! The museum offers one of the largest collections of the works of Henri Matisse and dates back to his artistic beginnings and right through to his last works. The museum holds a variety of artwork of Matisse from paintings and gouaches, prints, drawings, photos, sculptures, books illustrated by Matisse, and objects owned by Matisse. As mentioned, it is roughly a 40-minute walk from Old Nice to Cimiez Park (which is where you will find Matisse Museum). Even if you are not a big fan of Matisse, it is also worth a trip out here simply to enjoy the beautiful and tranquil grounds of the Cimiez gardens; especially that of the monastery gardens and/or visit the Musee D'Archeologie located just a few minutes walk from the villa too.
Marc Chagall National Museum
Marc Chagall Museum receives great reviews and features highly on things to do in Nice. The Museum is located almost half an hour's walk from the Old Nice area. I walked to the Museum, however, it was quite a steep walk and it was difficult to follow some of the signage along the way. Perhaps a bus or taxi may be a better option on a hot summer day! Maybe the steep walk phased me a little, but I must admit that I was not as impressed with this Museum as I was hoping I would be from its reviews. It is quite a small Museum, especially considering its €10 entry. It is known for its stained-glass windows. The artwork within the Museum is quite limited, however, if you are a fan of Marc Chagall then you will likely enjoy a visit here. There is an audio guide available for your visit but to avail of this, you are required to leave your passport with the reception staff. I previously had my passport go missing from Aer Lingus staff and so I was anxious and thinking of my passport throughout my visit to the Museum. Also, I have heard of cases in hotels where passports were copied when left at reception so I tend to get quite nervous about leaving mine with strangers!
Other Art Museums
One of the only things that I didn't fit in on my list for Nice was a trip to MAMAC (Musee d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain). Next time for sure! Other notable art museums include:
- and of course, as mentioned earlier, Musee Massena has artwork on display too.
Thanks for reading,
* Click here for the photo blog of my trip.