Best things to do in Nice
The history of the beautiful Nice goes back to around 350 BC when the Greeks founded a settlement on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea and called it Nikaia, after Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. For several centuries, Nice swung between the French and the Italian dominion. Only in 1860, under the terms of the Treaty of Turin, the Duchy of Savoy, including Nice, was annexed by France. Today, Nice has preserved its charm of resort for higher society and has also become more affordable to anyone. Even the air in Nice is special, fresh, and light! Check my selection of the best things to do in Nice!
Watch boats at Old Port of Nice
Tram number 2 has its final stop in Nice at Port Lympia. You may start your Nice visit from there. The Old Port of Nice is actually called Port Lympia. Once there was a valley with the same name. The King of Sardinia, Charles Emmanuel III, decided upon the construction of the port in the middle of the 18th century. Port Lympia has been one of the city’s economic driving forces: not only for the transportation of goods but also for its bustling tourist and sports activities, making it one of the most visited in the whole of France. From the esplanade, you can see the contrast of little local boats with the luxury yachts that dock here. At its centre stands the church of Notre-Dame du Port (not visible in my picture) from the middle of the 19th century; it is a place of prayer for sailors. When finishing the tour around the port, continue your way to Garibaldi Square.
Visit Place Garibaldi
Named on behalf of one of Italy’s great national heroes and crowned by his statue, the Place Garibaldi may seem strange in the middle of a French city, but it is worth knowing that until the late 19th century, Nice was an Italian city and Italian National hero Giuseppe Garibaldi was born there in 1807. Visit Place Garibaldi for lunch, dinner, or a drink and browse in the surrounding shops.
Climb Castle Hill
The city’s original site, Castle Hill, once boasted an impressive citadel that was entirely dismantled by the soldiers of the French King, Louis XIV, in 1706. You can find two historic cemeteries on Castle Hill: the Jewish cemetery and the Catholic cemetery. There are tombs of aristocrats and famous people, among others the grave of Emil Jellinek, the creator of the Mercedes brand (which was his daughter’s name).The hill is a popular spot for families as there is a playground at the top, space to run around, and a picnic area. You can explore what is left of the Chateau, see the ruins of an ancient cathedral, and enjoy Le Park du Chateau on the hill. Tour Bellanda will most likely catch your attention. Built on the foundations of a defensive structure, Tour Bellanda was home to the great 19th-century French composer Hector Berlioz while he was writing the King Lear Overture.The terrace offers a splendid panorama of the city and its surroundings. Take your time and stroll around the hill as there are several viewing spots with excellent views of Port Lympia, Old Town, and English Promenade.To get to the top, take the 300 steps from the Old Town. It was what I did. There are several other ways how to get to the top besides climbing the stairs. Take the Castle Hill Elevator from the Old Town next to Tour Bellanda, which brings you almost to the top. Alternatively, take the Petit Train de Nice, also called the Tourist Train. The train will take you to several sites in the city, then bring you to the top of the hill, and you will have 10 minutes to walk around.
Walk the streets of the Old Town or Vieille Ville
The oldest and most original quarter of the Nice lies below Castle Hill. You can feel the Italian past of Nice everywhere in the Old Town. The old buildings are often decorated with frescoes, and the labyrinth of narrow streets reminds Venice. Clotheslines or even birdcages hang from the green shutters. Today, the Old Town of Nice is home to many Arabs and Algerian French. Italian immigrants have also found their home there.
The most famous building in Vieille Ville is the Cathedral Sainte-Reparate, which honours the patron saint of Nice, a young girl who was executed for her Christian faith.
Visit the Cathedral of Sainte Reparate
The Cathedral of Sainte Reparate, or shortly the Nice Cathedral, dates back to the 17th century. It is dedicated to Sainte Reparate, a martyred virgin whose mortal remains are kept there. The building is an exquisite expression of the Baroque style and is overtopped by an 18th-century bell tower. Inside the cathedral, visitors can admire 10 chapels and three organs. Inspired by early Baroque architectural models from Rome, the structure has a basilica layout; with a triple nave and a transept. The interior reflects the influence of Saint Peter’s of Rome. The bell tower was built a little later, and the Baroque façade is from the early 19th century.
Address: 3, Place Rossetti.
Another religious building worth visiting in the Old Town is Saint-Martin-Saint-Augustin Church.
Admire Saint-Martin-Saint-Augustin Church
This church, dedicated to Saints Martin and Augustin, was built in the 17th century and holds a number of important artworks. It is one of the oldest churches in Nice. The façade was changed in the 19th century. Martin Luther performed a mass in this church in 1510, and Giuseppe Garibaldi was baptised there in 1807.Address: Place Saint-Augustin.
An example of beautiful baroque architecture in the Old Town is the 17th-century mansion Palais Lascaris, known for its paintings, tapestries, and luxurious decorations.
Visit the museum at Lascaris Palace
Built in the first half of the 17th century and altered in the 18th century, the palace was owned by the Vintimille-Lascaris family until 1802. After changing several owners since then, it was bought by the city of Nice in 1942 to create a museum. Renovated in the Baroque style, the building is decorated with a tower-porch with a dome made of polychrome tiles and lantern. Inside the building an alcove room of the eighteenth century is preserved. The marble steps of a Renaissance staircase unfurl before you as you enter the freshness of the imposing vestibule. The rooms in the building are unbelievably richly decorated. There is also a collection of antique furniture in the style of Louis XV, which can be found in many rooms. The palace now hosts one of the most prestigious collections of ancient musical instruments in Europe. About 500 instruments can be found at the museum, some even from the 16th century. Regardless of your interests, it is worth visiting this place.
Address:15 Rue Droite
Walk the Promenade Des Anglais
The French and the Italians were not the only ones who, one way or another, shaped the history of Nice. The Englishmen, too, have left their mark on Nice. The famed Promenade des Anglais was built in the first part of the 19th century with financial sponsorship from the part of the English aristocracy who used Nice as a winter retreat. The residents of Nice affectionately refer to the Promenade des Anglais as “La Prom.” The 7 kilometres long boulevard is a favourite destination for joggers, roller-bladers, and cyclists. Pedestrians settle on the many benches under the white pergolas watching cruise ships and yachts in the sea.
Visit Massena Museum and Memorial
Villa Massena was built on the Promenade des Anglais in the early 20th century by the Danish architect Hans-Georg Tersling. The style chosen is neoclassical with a visible Italian influence. The owner of the villa André Massena donated it to the city of Nice in 1919, and Massena Museum was inaugurated a few years later. The museum exhibits the art and the history of the Riviera, mostly from the Belle Époque times until the First World War. The ground floor of the Villa is a work of art itself, thanks to its adorable interior design, the furniture and masterpieces of the 1st Empire, decorating the salons.The museum has a historic garden overlooking the Promenade des Anglais and adjoining the famous Hotel Negresco. Since 2016, the villa’s garden has become commemorating place of the 86 victims of the act of terrorism committed by a Tunisian man who drove a truck into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day on the Promenade des Anglais.
Address: 65 Rue de France
For over a century, the striking Hotel Negresco has been the favourite holiday destination for celebrities, royalty, millionaires, and politicians. From Dali to Grace Kelly, from the Beatles to Liz Taylor, the list of internationally known stars that have stayed at the Negresco is impressive. It all started with the Romanian businessman Henri Negresco in 1913. This exceptional man had built himself a brilliant career within the hospitality industry and managed several luxury establishments in Paris, Montecarlo, and Nice. The hotel in Nice, designed by Henri Negresco, immediately drew the attention of international celebrities. Each of the 96 rooms and 21 suites is furnished and personalised with exceptional furniture inspired by the most remarkable periods of French Art. Whether contemporary, baroque, or classic, most rooms have a sea view or overlook the gardens. Rooms start from 200 euros per night. The hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Chantecler, offers a talented tribute to regional products. With its sumptuous woodwork, Le Chantecler provides an 18th-century decor for exceptional dinners.
Address: 37 Promenade des Anglais
Where to stay
If your flight arrives late or departs early, I suggest the value for money option: Holiday Inn Express near the airport. The hotel is new; rooms are spacious enough and even have an iron and ironing board in the room.Address: 165 Bd René Cassin
I also stayed in a 4-star hotel near the railway station of Nice, and it had no lobby at all, and the room was really cramped. I even checked the 4-star hotel standard room size and found out it was at least 13 m2. My room was much smaller than that for sure. So be aware, check your room sizes before booking your hotel in Nice.
Nice has a good public transport network including few tram lines. Tram number 2 brings you to the city centre from the airport. If you travel around the city all day, the day ticket for public transport is your best bet. Lignes d’Azur application might be helpful for searching best public transport options because Google maps do not have all public transport information about Nice. Just be aware that information on the Lignes d’Azur application is not 100% reliable, so use common sense and other information to double-check your chosen route. Make sure you have cash available for purchases in Nice. Small shops do not accept credit cards there.
France is a huge and awesome country. Why not plan your next trip to Western France?
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Author: Anita Sāne