10 reasons to visit Nice – the jewel of the French Riviera.
With all-year round warm weather, stunning architecture, beautiful beaches, a gorgeous old town, colorful local markets, delicious mediterranean food and mesmerizing views, Nice is a must-visit destination in the South of France.
Add to that its ease of accessibility, the wonderful culture and the incredible day trips that you can make from a base in Nice, then you will soon see that Nice has everything you need for the perfect stay.
Oh, and did I mention that it is the city with the most museums after Paris and that the Nice Carnival is one of the biggest party events in the world!
Here are my top 10 reasons to visit Nice
The Belle Epoque Architecture and the Museums
The architecture of Nice owes much to its ‘mixed heritage’. Nice has only been part of France since 1860, when Italy reluctantly ceded Nice and Savoy to France in exchange for her help in defending Italy against the Austrians.
The Italian influence is seen in the architecture, the colors, the lifestyle and the gastronomy.
However, it was during the Belle Epoque period (from the 1870s to the First World War) that Nice started evolving into the stunningly beautiful luxury resort it is today.
During this ‘Golden Age’, (literally translated as ‘Beautiful Age’), Nice became a ‘Winter resort’ for the rich and the aristocracy, due to its temperate climate.
‘The ‘Promenade des Anglais’ takes its name from these uppercrust English (Anglais) tourists, who would ‘promenade’ along the sea-front with their parasols.
Nice is also home to many museums, including the ‘Musee Matisse’, The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, called MAMAC, The Museum of Art and History and The Palais Lascaris, in the Old Town, with its collection of musical instruments
The Old Town
When you visit Nice, take time to meander around the narrow streets of the ‘Old Town’, stop to taste some of the local delicacies and savour the incredible atmosphere.
The narrow alleys, colorful houses, and cobblestone streets are a treat to explore, and as well as the the touristy souvenir shops, you’ll also find shops selling leather goods, hand-crafted jewellery, local Provencal products, including soaps, perfumes, lavender sachets, local cheeses, fresh bread and wine.
There are also a large number of bars and restaurants here, so you can enjoy the local Mediterranean and Nicoise food in picturesque surroundings.
The Cours Saleya (home to the Flower Market) has a wide variety of restaurants, catering for all tastes, and just next to the Cours Saleya, Le Hussard rooftop bar and restaurant is a great place for a drink. You can also eat here, but if you want to eat at one of the tables, then booking is advised.
You should also visit the Place Masséna, which is the main square of the city and strategically located between Old Nice and the newer parts of the city, at the crossroads of several main boulevards and just a two minute walk from the Promenade des Anglais.
The main markets take place in the “Cours Saleya”, a beautiful pedestrian square in the heart of the Old Town, which is home to the “Marché aux Fleurs” (Flower Market) a large flower and food market, every day from Tuesday to Sunday.
It’s a lovely market to walk through and admire the beautiful flower displays, and in the shade of pretty striped awnings, you can see hundreds of brightly coloured flowers, and breathe in the delightful fragrances from the multicolored geraniums, orchids, pansies, fuschias and dahlias, as well as more exotic plants.
The only day you won’t find flowers and food in Cours Saleya is Monday. That’s the day for the flea market (“brocante”) where you can find all sorts of things from furniture, art, jewellery, books, vintage clothing, decoration etc.
In the warm summer evenings, Cours Saleya is also home to the evening crafts market “marché artisanal nocturne’
Just behind Cours Saleya and in front of the “Palais de Justice”, you can find a large book market on the first and third Saturdays of the month, selling beautiful rare books as well as second-hand paperbacks.
On the second Saturday there is a craft market, and a market selling old postcards can be found there on the fourth Saturday.
The iconic Promenade des Anglais
The Promenade des Anglais (the English Walk) is one of the most famous roads in France. It starts at Nice airport in the east and extends all the way around to the headland at Castle Hill in the west.
It was built by the wealthy English aristocracy who came to spend the Winter in the temperate climate of Nice in 1800s. They liked to wander along the seafront, and yet, they wanted to avoid spoiling their long, elegant dresses and their delicate silk shoes.
If 7km seems a bit of a challenge then I recommend you at least walk the part that goes from the old town to the Negresco hotel, passing through the Jardins Albert 1er and the Palais de la Méditerranée, stopping at one of the many bars and restaurants by the beach along the way.
It’s the perfect place to sit and soak up the Nice atmosphere and enjoy the views of the sparkling Mediterranaean.
The View from Castle Hill
If you’ve seen photos of Nice, then you’ve almost certainly seen pictures from the “Colline du Château”. It’s called “Castle Hill”, as there was once a medieval castle situated here, but it was destroyed by Louis XIV in 1706.
It is well worth the trip to the top, as it offers glorious, panoramic views over the city. There are three ways you can get up to the summit.
i) you can tackle the climb up there: you should be aware that there are a number of stairs or a steep incline and it is quite a distance to the top, so it can be tiring.
However, the advantage of walking up is that you will pass some beautiful views on the way, such as the iconic waterfall and the Bellanda Tower viewpoint with stunning views over the Bay of Angels (Baie des Anges)
ii) You can take the elevator to the top. This is free, but just beware of the closing time if you also plan to come down by the elevator
iii) You can also take the miniature train
The miniature train will take you from the Promenade des Anglais all the way up to the château gardens, passing by Place Masséna, the old town, and the Cours Saleya before climbing up château hill.
I recommend walking at least one way, so you can take advantage of some of the viewpoints on the way.
Once you reach the top, make sure to take in the 360° panoramas, then you can relax in the lovely castle park or the café, and there’s also a kids playground with a huge rope climbing tree, slides and climbing frames.
The Climate and the beaches
One of the reasons to visit Nice is its all year round warm weather. It’s blessed with an amazing Mediterranean climate, which means mild, short winters, and long, warm summers.
It has, on average, 300 days of sunshine per year and very few days of rain, which means most activities take place outdoors.
The only drawback (for me) is that beaches in Nice are pebbly beaches, which can be a little uncomfortable (although some people prefer pebbly beaches as you don’t get ‘sandy’).
If, like me, you prefer comfort, I would recommend paying for a lounger at one of Nice’s private beaches, which you will find all along the Promenade des Anglais.
Oh, and the advantage of this is that you also have readily available food and drink all day. Who doesn’t love breakfast with a view?
Alternatively, you can head off to Villefranche-sur-Mer or Menton for a more sandy beach with great restaurants and shops close by.
Unsurprisingly, Mediterranean food is the heart of the food culture in Nice and the French Riviera, and is fresh, healthy, and absolutely delicious.
Nice has a selection of local dishes, some of which I’m sure you have already heard of, and others which I urge you to try when you visit Nice!
Some of the key local specialities include:
- Salade niçoise: The great classic of Nice, comprising tuna, salad, tomatoes, other raw vegetables, green beans, anchovies, hard-boiled eggs and olives
- Farcis Niçoise: The word ‘Farci’ means stuffed, and this dish is made from vegetables such as tomatoes, zucchinis and mushrooms- all stuffed with breadcrumbs and ground meats. And I definitely recommend giving it a try! It’s delicious!
- Socca is a traditional local fast food: a sort of pancake, made from chickpea flour, olive oil, and water and cooked in copper pans over a very high heat. It’s a really delicious street food and at about 3€ a slice, there’s no reason not to enjoy it!
- Pissaladière: So, this is a sort of pizza, but without tomatoes and cheese. It’s an open tart/pizza base, topped with caramelized onions, olives and anchovies. It’s also available without anchovies .
- Pan-bagnat: this is essentially a salad niçoise served on a large country roll
Nice is easily accessible
One of my favourite things about Nice is how easy it is to get to, which means that planning a trip there is so simple. It is without doubt the most easily accessible city on the French Riviera, which can be reached effortlessly in a number of ways.
Nice Côte d’Azur International Airport is the third busiest Airport in France serving over 1.3 million passengers annually, and you can fly directly to Nice from all over the world.
It’s then just 7km to the centre of Nice, which is easily accessible by public transport, taxi or UBER.
Secondly, there are good rail connections between the Alps, Provence and Italy and Corsica is just a short ferry trip away, and driving to Italy or Monaco is quick and easy.
And, if you want to visit the surrounding cities on the French Riviera, they are easily and cheaply accessible by bus or train.
Getting around the center of Nice is straightforward, as well, as there is a great public transport system, but you can also rent bikes, and you can easily walk around most attractions in the City Centre.
Nice is centrally placed along the Côte d’Azur, and the good transport links (see above) make it easy to explore neighbouring towns, such as Menton, Monaco, Antibes and Cannes, or across the Italian border to San Remo.
There are many day trips to choose from, but here are a few of my recommendations:
- Menton: This is a smaller town, very close to the Italian border, with a pretty port, a charming Old Town and a great selection of restaurants along the sea-front.
- Eze village: This small village perched above the sea is one of the most beautiful villages in France, and the exotic gardens are well worth a visit.
- The Villa Ephrussi :the winter residence of the Baroness Ephrussi de Rothschild, with its spectacular gardens and incredible views..
- Cannes: The city where the famous film festival takes place every year. Don’t miss the famous “Croisette”!
- The Principality of Monaco: Monaco is famous for its luxury lifestyle, make sure to visit the Palace, the Monte-Carlo casino, the Harbour and the exotic gardens.
The Carnival of Nice
The Nice Carnival takes place from mid-February to early March, and it dates all the way back to 1274 but was only officially recognized in the 19th century.
In 2020 it takes place from the 15th to 29th of February, and the Place Masséna is the starting point for the Carnival parades which will turn around the Albert 1er gardens in a loop.
I haven’t yet been to the Nice Carnival, but it is on my bucket list and is definitely a great reason to visit Nice in February. You can find more information here.
Where to Stay when you visit Nice
The Hotel WindsoR, Nice
All hotel images courtesy of Hugh Rees
The Hotel WindsoR is situated just behind the Promenade des Anglais and is an oasis of calm right in the centre of Nice.
This four star belle époque hotel (built in the 19th Century) is just a stone’s throw from the historic centre of Nice, from the beach and from the renowned ‘Promenade des Anglais’.
Although it is in a busy area of Nice, it is set in a charming garden, with yuccas, lemon trees and bamboos, and there is even an aviary. It is a wonderful place to relax, soak up the sunshine and listen to the birdsong. There is an outdoor pool (open from May until October) backed by a stunning graffiti-art wall and in the summer, breakfast and dinner are served outdoors.
The WindsoR is an old building from the 19th century: it was built by B Pachiaud, an architect from the ‘Eiffel’ school, and it was transformed into a hotel at the beginning of the 20th century. It has been in the ownership of the Redolfi family since 1942.
There’s also a Wellness Centre with a small gym, sauna, hammam and offering a range of massages.
There are 57 rooms, each of which is unique. About 30 rooms are designed by contemporary artists and the rest are decorated with frescoes.
Some of the top rooms have balconies overlooking the garden and the pool. You can see some examples of the rooms below.
A large 27m² room with a garden view or whirlpool
A large 21-26m² room on the garden side with bathtub or shower
An artist-designed 17m² room on the garden side with a shower / or a 22m² room on the city side with bathtub
A 16m² room on the city side with a shower
The bar is open 24/7 for hotel guests and the restaurant welcomes guests in the evening from Monday to Saturday, offering a Mediterranean cuisine with fresh products and organic vegetables. Vegan and gluten free options are available. The restaurant has just received the labelling title of “Maître Restaurateur“, as it serves fresh produce and “bio” vegetables.
From 22nd November 2019 to 1st December 2019, the Hotel WindsoR was home to the OVNi Galleries exhibition.
The OVNi (Objectif Video Nice) festival is an annual event, featuring videos inspired by cinema throughout its various exhibition spaces, and divided into 3 parts : OVNi in the city, OVNi at the Hotel and OVNi Galleries.
If you’re looking for an oasis of calm in the centre of Nice and close to all the main attractions, then this is the place for you. To find out more about the Hotel WindsoR, you can have a look here; and you can find a detailed review here.
Other hotels you might want to consider when you visit Nice are shown below.
The Hotel Westminster
All hotel images courtesy of Hugh Rees
If you prefer to be right on the sea-front, then The 4 star Hotel Westminster is set on the Promenade des Anglais and is perfectly located for exploring the city.
The hotel is opposite a private beach club and reduced rates are available for guests of the hotel. There is also a spa, featuring a relaxation area with a sauna, steam bath, hot tub and counter-current swimming pool. There are 3 beauty treatment rooms, offering a range of pampering treatments.
The hotel style is an eclectic blend of old and new, with the snazzy seafront lounge and recently renovated Le Duc restaurant giving way to Belle Epoque moulded ceilings and frescoes in the Reception rooms.
The Hotel Aston La Scala
The Hotel Aston La Scala is also a 4 star hotel, located in the heart of Nice, and just 200m from Place Massena.
There are 149 rooms split into seven categories, from the standard comfort rooms to the penthouse suite. There are a number of restaurants and bars, giving guests plenty of dining options.
The rooftop pool is a particular highlight, with beautiful views of Nice’s Old Town and the sea.
I hope you have found this helpful, and if you decide to visit Nice, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. I’m Julia, the Senior Editor of European Travel and I can’t wait to share some more travel inspiration with you again soon! In the meantime, you can find more about the Hotel WindsoR on my blog and follow along on Instagram. Don’t forget to check out all the other fabulous posts by the other Editors and follow The Code of Style on Instagram.