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40 Unusual Things to Do in Nice

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If you're looking for unique and offbeat experiences in Nice, I've got you covered. Maybe you've already checked out Nice's museums and beaches, strolled the Promenade and wandered the Old Town. However, there are plenty of unusual and lesser-known things to do in Nice that will make your trip even more memorable. Whether you're a history buff, an art lover, sporty or a foodie, Nice has something for everyone.

Unusual Things to Do in the Old Town

Nice's old town is a repository of traditional culture and architecture that never ceases to delight. Of all the things to see and do in the old town, here are my favorite highlights.

Shop Local Products at Cours Saleya

Courges

The colorful Cours Saleya market (Tues-Sun mornings) has products from near and far. Look for seasonal produce such as courges (above) in winter or zucchini flowers in summer. All products are labelled with their origin. Fruits and vegetables from the nearby towns of St Jeannet or St Laurent du Var are particularly prized.

Sample Socca at Theresa

Theresa socca stand

Socca is a chickpea pancake cooked on a large, flat round pan. It's a traditional Nice snack, served with lots of black pepper. Theresa's socca stand on the Cours Saleya turns out excellent socca. And it's perfect for vegans!

Admire the Maison de la Treille

Maison de la Treille, Nice
This captivating old house with a luxuriant vine cascading down the front may be the Old Town's most Instagramable spot. Treille means “vine” and this one has been here at least since the turn of the 20th century. At one time it was a tavern and then it became a center for Nice’s language and traditions. Around 1930 artist Raoul Dufy depicted the house in a painting, Le Mai à Nice which now hangs in the Musée des Beaux Arts.

Tour the Archaeological Crypt

Archaeological Crypt Nice
A visit to the archaeological “crypt” is a fascinating peek into medieval Nice. Before Nice's walls were destroyed in 1706, the Old Town was protected by a system of gates, towers and bastions, none of which are visible today. At least not above ground. When work began on Nice's tramway in 2007, workers were startled to discover the intact remains of fortified Nice including a moat and an aqueduct. The crypt stretches over 2000 square meters under Place Garibaldi with a system of walkways to facilitate visits. Visits must be reserved in advance and include a guided tour (in French). Reserve here.

Check out Matisse House

Matisse House, Cours Saleya

Right at the eastern end of Cours Saleya, admire this handsome 17th-century building where the painter Henri Matisse lived and worked from 1921 to 1938. Although built as a residence, it became a schoolhouse in the 18th century. Gaze up to the second floor and you'll see sculptures representing the four liberal arts: grammar, drawing, architectecture and music.

Notice Adam & Eve House

Adam and Eve House

On the corner of rue Barillerie and rue de la Poissonnerie is this facade sculpted in 1584 and then restored.The quarreling couple seem far from the Garden of Eden but the building with this carefully restored frieze is known as "Adam and Eve House".

Check out the Old Washtub

Lavoir, Nice

On rue de l'Ancien Senat is the last public washtub in Nice which probably dates back to the 16th-century. Notice the soap niche between the washing and rinsing sections.

Admire the Catherine Segurane Monument

Catherine Segurane Monument

Catherine Segurane is Nice's most beloved heroine. During the siege of 1543 when the Turks were pummeling Nice with cannonballs, Mme Segurane allegedly lifted her skirt and mooned the besiegers while holding her laundry stick. The Turks were so horrified they turned tail (so to speak) and left. The city was saved by a washerwoman! The monument is across from the St Martin-St Augustin church.

Unusual Things to Do on Castle Hill

There's no castle on Castle Hill (Colline du Chateau)! Nor is there a chateau. It was once a military fortress but after its destruction in 1705, the top of the hill became a place of parks and gardens surrounding the ruins of an ancient church.

Admire the View from the Top

Panoramic view from the Colline du Chateau

Climb to the top of Castle Hill (Colline du Chateau) or take the elevator and enjoy panoramic views of Nice from several lookout points.

Refresh Yourself at the Castle Hill Cascade

Cascade, Castle Hill

Follow signs to this tumbling waterfall which opened in 1885. This refreshing oasis was built to commemorate the new pipeline that brought water from the Vesubie river to Nice.

Visit the Christian and Jewish Cemeteries

Christian cemetery, Nice

It's not at all morbid to visit cemeteries! The two cemeteries on Castle Hill resemble outdoor sculpture gardens.

The 2250 tombs in the Christian cemetery display an exuberant mixture of artistic styles from sober to bizarre. Wander through the busts, medallions, sad statues, crosses, angels and crying maidens to the Gastaud family tomb where the angel of death hovers over a tomb half-opened by stone hands. It's hard to miss the 12-meter high Grosso tomb which displays his wife and two children topped by a benevolent angel.

Jewish cemetery, Nice

The adjacent Jewish cemetery commemorates the Jews from Nice who perished in the Holocaust as well as local Resistance heroes.

Unusual Things to Do Around The Port

Nice's Port Lympia took a few centuries to complete but the result was worth it. Bordered by colourful pastel buildings and filled with boats of all sizes, it's one of Nice's most impressive sights. Plus, there are tons of restaurants, bars and cafes in which to relax between sightseeing.

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Caserne Lympia

Caserne Lympia

Building the port was a drawn out labor-intensive process. The Caserne Lympia was built in 1750 to house the prisoners who worked on the port and the equipment they needed to work. In 1826 the building was enlarged and the clock tower added. It remained a prison until 1887 and then became an army barracks. Now, it's an arts center that has temporary exhibitions and a rooftop terrace that presents live music in the summer. The interior still has prison bars and other objects from its former incarnation.

Caserne Lympia

Admission is free. (Closed Sunday, Monday)

Hop Aboard Lou Passagin

Lou Passagin boat

The beloved Lou Passagin is a free boat shuttle that connects the eastern and western quays of Port Lympia. It uses the traditional pointu fishing boat because the service began as a way for fishermen to supplement their income. Now updated with a solar-powered motor, the boat takes only five minutes to make the journey. At the eastern dock, you'll see a fleet of pointus, carefully maintained but no longer used for fishing.

Pointus, Port Lympia
Pointus

Charles Felix Statue

Statue of Charles Felix at Port Lympia

Charles Felix was the Savoy-Sardinian king who spearheaded the port's development. The statue was commissioned in 1826 out of gratitude that the king kept the port's duty-free status which was important to the city's development. Whoops. The port lost its duty-free status in 1853 at which point furious Nicois rioted and broke the left index finger of the statue.

Browse the Marche aux Puces

Marché aux Puces, Nice

Paintings, vintage furniture, lamps, bric-a-brac: you never know what you'll find at the Marchi aux Puces on the west quay of Port Lympia. This small flea market began as a way to help widows, orphans and veterans after the devastation of WWI. It migrated to various locations before the city built this structure to accommodate the merchants in 1995. The right to sell here is tightly regulated; the merchants can usually trace a long lineage in Nice.

Unusual Things to Do in Cimiez

The stately residential neighborhood of Cimiez is renowned for its Belle Epoque architecture and a series of museums and parks. When done exploring, hang out in the garden-park at the top of the hill. Bring a picnic or enjoy snacks from a stall.

Pay Hommage to Matisse

Matisse Museum

The Matisse Museum is in a 17th century Genoese-style villa. No, Matisse never lived there. It belonged to the Gubernatis family before becoming a hotel at the end of the 19th century. Now it exhibits a selection of Matisse's works and hosts a series of prestigious temporary exhibitions. After visiting the museum, hop over to the cemetery of the Franciscan Monastery where the artist reposes in peace along with his wife Amelie.

Discover Roman Nice

Roman baths

For the Romans, Cimiez was Cemenelum and the location of their regional capital. It was a city of about 10,000 people with its own amphitheatre and baths. The Archaeological Museum displays objects excavated from the city and provides the only access to the Roman baths. The amphitheatre is free to enter.

Admire the Franciscan Monastery and Gardens

Franciscan Monastery

The Franciscan Monastery is built on the site of a Roman temple to Diana and now contains several artistic masterpieces by Nice painter Louis Brea.The gardens are the oldest public gardens in Nice and offer a magnificent view over town. Music lovers are enchanted by the summer concert series that takes place in the monastery's cloister.

Tour Chateau Valrose

Chateau Valrose
Lucky are the students at the University of Nice who study at this castle-park turned campus. Built in 1870 for a Russian baron and financier, the exterior of Chateau Valrose is a festival of spires, pointed arches and massive staircases while the inside boasts crystal chandeliers, frescoes and a 400-seat concert hall. The park spreads over 10 hectares on Cimiez hill with a Gothic entrance gate on the eastern side to welcome Cimiez's aristocratic 19th-century visitors. Until the Baron's death in 1881, the finest musicians of the day performed at the Chateau.

Although the chateau and park are usually closed to random visitors, the University of Nice hosts a regular cycle of concerts and workshops that are open to the public. Check out the calendar of events here. The campus buildings are also open on Heritage Days in September.

Unusual Things to See in West Nice

Few tourists venture west of avenue Gambetta but it was once countryside where wealthy foreignors constructed lavish masions.

Wander the Villa Les Palmiers Gardens

Villa Les Palmiers (Palais du Marbre)
When Nice voted to join France in 1860, the celebration was held at this sprawling estate with Napoleon III in attendance. Later, an English art dealer bought the property and redecorated with tons of imported marble christening it the Palais de Marbre. Now housing the Municipal Archives, the villa's splendor is vividly apparent on the southern side where a vast manicured garden made up of reflecting pools and statuary recall the villa's heyday. On the neo-classical facade is a loggia engraved with John Keats' reminder that “A thing of beauty is a joy forever”. Stroll the shady path to the right of the garden and marvel at the ornate dovecote which served as a status symbol and also a source of fresh squab.

Visit the Naive Art Museum

Muséé d'Art Naif, Nice
Nearby is this fun museum devoted to naïve art. Paintings, sculptures, drawings and posters trace the evolution of this popular and accessible art form through the works of its most famous painters: Henri Rousseau, Grandma Moses, Ivan and Josip Generalic and many others. The museum is lodged in the former Chateau Sainte Hélène which once belonged to perfumer François Coty. Linger in the estate's park marked by the colorful sculptures of Frederic Lanovsky.

Venture out to the Caucade Cemetery

Caucade Cemetery

Although not as famous as Nice's cemeteries on the Colline du Chateau, the Caucade cemetery in west Nice is Nice's largest cemetery and boasts beautiful views over the coast. Dedicated to the Hereditary Grand Duke Nicolas Alexandrovitch, the Caucade cemetery testifies to the importance of the Russian diaspora in Nice. Many tombs of the Russian aristocracy, displaced after the 1917 revolution are found here. Don't miss the tomb of Princess Yourievska, the daughter of Tsar Alexander II, and the tomb of Princess Kotschoubey who built the palace that became the Musei des Beaux Arts in Nice.

Marvel at Gloria Mansions

Gloria Mansions
Only steps from the well-known Musée des Beaux Arts, lies this Art Deco masterpiece, named a historic monument in 1989. From a distance the grayish facade looks like any other apartment building. A closer look reveals that the tinted concrete glistens with encrusted oyster shells and the balconies curve like waves in the sea. On the top floor sculpted raptors, inspired by the Chrysler building in New York guard the building.

Behind the magnificent entrance gate (usually open) lies a courtyard with more stylish stuccoes and bas-reliefs. Peek through the building’s entrance to admire a mammoth glass-mosaic on the opposite side. Just visible is a monumental concrete staircase supported by green-tinted columns that spiral up to a glass roof. From the bronze hand-crafted letter boxes to the intricate railings and marble floors, Gloria Mansions is the height of 1930s design.

Taste Local Wines in Bellet

Chateau Cremat

High on the foothills of the Alps (but still in Nice) lie the vineyards that produce the renowned Bellet wines. At one time the wines were exported internationally and were much beloved by Thomas Jefferson. Now these high quality wines are only on sale locally. There are about a half-dozen vineyards on the hills of the Bellet neighborhood in west Nice but the best known are the Chateau Bellet and Chateau Cremat. Each offers visits and wine-tastings. Wheels are a must as public transport there is complicated.

Commune with the Plants and Animals in Parc Phoenix

Parc Phoenix

The Parc Phoenix is one of Europe's largest botanical gardens with 2500 plant species. It's also a zoo with over 70 animal species from crocodiles to exotic birds to farm animals. There's an artificial pond, fountains, picnic spots and a children's play area. It's a great family outing which means that on weekends and school holidays it can be less than peaceful. A visit to the Park Phoenix can easily be combined with a visit to the Asian Arts Museum (Musée des Arts Asiatiques) which is within the park.

Unusual Things to Do in North Nice

The neighborhoods that lie north of Nice's train station are largely residential and commercial but with a few startling sights that make a brief ride on tram line 1 highly worthwhile.

Visit the Saint Pons Abbey Church

Abbaye Saint Pons facade
The Saint Pons Abbey is one of the oldest abbeys in the south of France, built in the eighth century on the spot where Saint Pontius of Cimiez was martyred. Although the abbey is now a part of Pasteur Hospital and is not open for visits, the adjacent church is proudly open to display the results of its recent restoration. Dating from 1725, the church is a shining example of Nice's baroque architecture. Highlights of the brightly painted interior include lateral chapels decorated with twisted columns, a painting behind the altar depicting the martyrdom of Saint Pontius, and an exquisite crypt that contains the relics of the martyred saint.

Enjoy the Fresh Air Around the Cascade de Gairaut

Cascade de Gairaut

Nature is beautiful, especially when it's shaped and tamed as it is here. The Gairaut waterfall was built in 1883 to commemorate the arrival of water in Nice from the Vesubie river. Everything about it is fake from the "Swiss" chalet to the extraordinarily realistic fake rock cave adorned with fake stalactites. Only the Vesubie canal is real. Yet the entire effect is so peaceful and scenic that it was named a historic monument. It's a great place to stroll along the canal and enjoy the fresh air.

Discover Russian Nice at the Orthodox Cathedral

Russian Orthodox Cathedral

In the mid-19th century, Nice became a favored winter holiday destination among the Russian aristocracy. A Russian orthodox church was built on rue Longchamp but it soon proved too small to accommodate Russian congregants. The Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Nicolas was inaugurated in 1912. It's the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedral in Western Europe and a magnificent testament to the Russian presence in Nice. Russian architect, Preobajenski laid out the church in the shape of a Greek cross. This fairy tale configuration of onion domes and spires has a bell tower dome covered entirely with gold leaf. The immaculately restored interior is an eye-popping display of icons, murals, paintings and frescoes.

Because it was built on land that belonged to Tsar Nicholas II, the Cathedral is owned by the Russian Federation and under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Unusual Things to Do in East Nice

Head east from the port to a leafy, serene neighborhood that was first visited by nomadic tribes and later became a favorite of well-heeled aristocrats.

Explore the Prehistoric Lazaret Cave

Lazaret Cave

Prehistoric people weren't blind to the allure of the Nice coast. The Grotte du Lazaret was occupied sporadically by nomadic hunter-gatherers from 190,000 to 200,000 years ago. The short and free visit includes an artful light show inside the cave to illuminate how our distant ancestors may have lived. The visit is enhanced with explanatory exhibits, videos, maps and panels (in French). The cave is open Wednesday to Sunday 10am-5pm but it's best to avoid Thursday which is when schoolkids visit.

Hike to Mont Boron

View from Mont Boron

From Lazaret Cave, steps lead up to Mont Boron, a verdant hill that was a favorite of vacationing Brits in the late 19th century. It's still a prestigious address with woods, parkland and ornate villas, one of which is occupied by Elton John. You could picnic in Parc Boron but bring a sandwich as there's nowhere to buy food. Not enough of a workout? Follow signs to take the path down to Villefranche-sur-Mer or keep climbing up to Mont Alban Fort.

Mont Alban Fort

Mont Alban fort
photo by Yolande Jourdren

This 16th-century fort was part of the Nice-Villefranche defensive system, built by the Savoy dukes to discourage French and/or Ottoman invaders. There's not much to see inside which is good because it's closed most of the time. Why go? The view from the top is the best on the Riviera.

View from Mont Alban
photo by Yolande Jourdren

Walk the Sentier du Littoral
Coast from Coco Beach to Villefranche

From Coco Beach east of the Port, a rocky path winds along the coast for 1.4km affording splendid views over the azur sea. Little-known to tourists, this walk is a favorite of locals especially in winter when the path catches the sun's warming rays. There's no shade whatsoever against the summer sun but there are several platform beaches to strip down and take a ladder into the sea. As the walk passes only a few meters from the sea, it's unsuitable and even dangerous in high winds. The coastal path ends under the Palais Maeterlink but it's possible to follow signs for the climb over the Mont Boron hill and down to Villefranche-sur-Mer.

Unusual Things to do on the Promenade des Anglais

Strolling the iconic Promenade des Anglais is the first essential thing to do Nice. The sea is mesmerizing but don't miss the prestigious hotels and villas on the landward side.

Have a Cocktail at the Hotel Negresco

Hotel Negresco exterior

There's no more iconic building on the Promenade des Anglais than the Hotel Negresco with its elaborate Belle Epoque facade and twin cupolas. The interior is even more impressive.

Royal Lounge, Hotel Negresco

The glass-topped Royal Lounge is famous for the Baccarat 16,309-crystal chandelier in the center as well as its outstanding art collection. Don't miss the bust by Renoir, the sculptures of Niki de Saint Phalle, and a portrait of Louis XIV. It's closed to the public unless you spring for a drink at the elegant bar (starting at €10) which is well worth it. 

Picnic in the Massena Museum Gardens

Massena Museum gardens

The Massena Museum is surrounded by stunning gardens filled with palm trees, Mediterranean plants and flowering bushes. It also contains a poignant memorial to the victims of the 2016 terrorist attack in Nice. It's a shady respite from the sun-dazzled Promenade des Anglais and there are benches to relax and nibble a sandwich. On summer evenings the garden offers a series of concerts.

And here are some fun and unusual activities. . .

Create Your Own Perfume

Molinard is a perfume factory based in Grasse but with an outlet on the Cours Saleya where you can learn about the perfume process and create your own scent in a private workshop. More.

Bike to Antibes

The bike path on the Promenade des Anglais extends all the way to Antibes, a distance of 22 kilometers. Most of the way, it's right along the sea. You'll cycle through St Laurent du Var, Cagnes-sur-Mer and Villeneuve Loubet before arriving in Antibes. More about biking in Nice.

Take a Bike Tour

Cycling is a great way to discover the city, especially when led by a professional guide. You can even climb the seven hills that rise from central Nice.

Check out Traditional Folk Dancing

La Ciamada Nissarda

La Ciamada Nissarda is a local folk dancing troupe that performs regularly at traditional events and festivals. It's a great way to learn about the music, dance and costumes from the past. Check out their schedule here.

Try Parasailing

Soaring above the waves of the Baie des Anges with a parasail above and a boat below is joyful and exhilarating. Nikaia Glisse will launch you into the air from their base at Beau Rivage beach any time from sunrise to sunset. Whether solo, duo or trio, it's an experience to remember. Also available are flyboarding and water skiing.

 

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