With a history that stretches back several hundred thousand years and includes everything from prehistoric hunter-gatherers to the most prestigious artists of the last few centuries, Nice's cultural treasures are every bit as worthy as its hedonistic delights.To soak up the very best that Nice has to offer, here are the very best things to see and do.
Stroll the Promenade des Anglais
With stunning Belle Epoque hotels on one side and the turquoise sea on the other, the English-built Promenade des Anglais may be one of the world's best seaside strolls. Take a break on one of Nice's iconic blue chairs or relax in the shade of a pergola and let the mist machines cool you off. More on the Promenade des Anglais.
Head to the Beach
Yes, Nice beaches have pebbles not sand but locals like it that way. Casual beachgoers can throw down a towel at one of the many public beaches. Get their early in the morning as the locals do. For a more luxurious experience, rent a lounge chair and umbrella for the day. Or, grab coffee or a meal at one of the beach restaurants. It's the Riviera at its best. Read all about Nice beaches.
Shop at Cours Saleya
No visit to Nice is complete without a stop at Cours Saleya, the sensual center of life in the Old Town. The daily morning market is thronged with food and flower shoppers from Tuesday to Sunday. The colorful piles of oranges, apples, strawberries, artichokes, cucumbers, tomatoes and whatever else is in season are a treat for the eye. Then there's chewy bread, olives, pungent cheese, candied fruit, nuts, spices and more to delight any foodie. Much of the produce is from the region or nearby Italy. Don't forget to grab a socca (chickpea pancake) at the famed Theresa stall. No sooner do the shoppers clear out than the restaurants set up their outdoor tables for lunch. On Monday mornings the piles of fresh fruit and vegetables yield to stalls selling antiques and bric-a-brac.
Wander the streets of Vieux Nice
With its narrow, shady streets, cozy squares, colorful markets, baroque churches and jumble of pastel houses, Vieux Nice looks and feels much as it must have about two centuries ago. At night, the young clubbers prowling the streets for the latest hangout make the Old Town seem like a vast open-air party. But during the day the streets are bustling with people on their way to work or the market, ready to shop or dine, greet friends or gossip in a cafe in Nice’s most convivial and least pretentious neighborhood. More things to see in Vieux Nice.
Enjoy the Views from the Colline du Chateau
Looming over eastern Nice, the Colline du Chateau (Castle Hill) was once a nearly impregnable fortress. Now it's a vast, leafy park strewn with medieval ruins and affording unforgettable views over the Promenade des Anglais to the west and Port Lympia to the east. Don't miss the Jewish and Christian cemeteries and the Cascade. More things to see on Castle Hill.
Relive the Past in Cimiez
The three main sites on Cimiez are the Roman ruins, Franciscan Monastery and Matisse Museum which covers nearly 2000 years of history. It's easy to do all three in a morning. Start at the Roman Amphitheater and Baths (attached to the Archaeological Museum). Just a few steps away is the Matisse Museum which provides invaluable insight into the painter's life and work. A short walk away is the striking Franciscan Monastery and Gardens. Pay homage to Matisse at his tomb in the Monastery Cemetery. More things to see in Cimiez.
Visit the Chagall Museum
Dedicated to the works of Marc Chagall (1887-1985), it’s one of the few museums where the artist himself had a hand in its design. Located in Cimiez, the highlight of the museum is the Biblical Message cycle, composed of 17 large paintings on Old Testament themes. Chagall wanted the building to be a serene environment for prayer and meditation. The clean, sober lines of the building and oblique lighting keep the focus on the master’s vivid colors and striking forms, just as he wanted. See the museum website for details.
Photograph the Port Lympia
There's no bad time to photograph Nice's old Port. The morning sun illuminates the western side while the late afternoon sun enhances the stunning colors on the eastern side (above). Browse the Marché aux Puces flea market and admire the stately buildings on the western side. Don't miss the free shuttle boat, Lou Passagin, which connects the eastern and western quays via a pointu (traditional fishing boat). More things to see on Nice's Port Lympia.
Take the Kids to the Coulée Verte
Nice's newest attraction is the Coulée Verte or Promenade du Paillon which is a leafy garden promenade in the heart of central Nice. It's not just for kids! The highlight is the Water Mirror (above), a shallow wading pool with rows of fountains that spout intermittantly. Beyond is a vast lawn and playground and on either side is a botanical garden with plants from around the world. With benches, water fountains and restrooms, it's a relaxing oasis on a hot summer day.
Walk the Cap de Nice
Past the port is a rocky footpath that winds along the rocky shore between Nice and Villefranche-sur-Mer. The views of Nice are stunning, especially at sunset. Along the way are rocky "beaches" and a spot where daredevil divers jump from high boards. Have a drink at the restaurant and watch. Because the path is so close to the sea, it's closed during exceptionally high winds and waves. More about the Cap de Nice.
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