Exactly two years ago, travel blogger Arianwen spent a weekend in the gorgeous coastal city of Nice as part of a winter European tour. In today’s article, she tells us why it’s one of France’s most visited locations and recommends things you could do during your stay.
Nice is the second most-visited city in France after Paris, and with good reason.
Nestled behind the ‘Bay of Angels’ on the French Riviera (or Cote d’Azur), it’s blessed with hot summer climates and mild winters. In fact, temperatures are usually above 20°C and often more than 30.
This is a city where you can find elegance and charm without the excessive price tag of some of its neighbouring cities, such as St Tropez and Cannes and the incredibly glamarous sovereign state of Monaco.
The origin of its name can be traced back to 350 BC, when the Greeks founded a settlement and called it Nikaia after Nike – the goddess of victory.
With mouthwatering Mediterranean food, free museums, historic architecture, bustling markets and a stunning backdrop of Alpine scenery, there’s plenty to admire in Nice. The following guide should help you plan your visit.
PROMENADE DES ANGLAIS
Running along the seafront from the city to the airport, the palm tree-lined Promenade des Anglais is a gorgeous place for a stroll. Admire 18th century housing, which was once home to local dockworkers and fishermen, or pick your way over the pebbly beach for a paddle in the sea. On sunny days, you can rent a mattress to make sunbathing more comfortable.
Place Massena is the city’s main square. It’s filled with fountains, palm trees and statues, surrounded by red ochre buildings, and split through its centre by tramlines. Often used for concerts and parades, this part of the city is instantly recognisable by the vibrant checkered tiling on its walkways.
Wander into the warren-like passageways of the historic quarter and you can lose yourself for hours browsing food and flower stalls. Stumble upon quaint city squares, hidden churches and boutique souvenir shops, or make a beeline for the daily fish market at Place St Francois.
On the eastern end of the promenade sits a mount where the Castle of Nice once stood. In its place is a park and public garden with fantastic views of the seafront and city. It’s a lovely place to take a stroll at any time of the day, but it’s especially memorable at sunrise or sunset.
There are plenty of museums to explore in Nice and many of them are free to enter. Fans of Andy Warhol will find works such as the ‘Campbell’s Soup Can’ on display at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (or MAMAC), where the rooftop terrace offers great views of the city. At the Matisse museum, you will find many of the artist’s paintings and sculptures, as well as temporary exhibitions of some of the objects and items which it’s believed inspired his creations. Directly opposite the museum is the cemetery in which he was laid to rest.
Numerous sculptures line the city’s tramway and the best way to see them is to join a guided tour. This costs €10 and includes a tram ride. It includes a lot of hopping on and off trams, so keep a close eye on small children, as well as your tour guide. One of the most memorable installations is the ‘Conversation Piece’, which features seven seated figures on tall poles representing each of the seven continents.
PINE CONE TRAIN
One of the most picturesque train journeys in France, the Pine Cone Train takes you 150 km from Nice to the high Alps, reaching an altitude of more than 1000 m. It passes through some very pretty villages, which provide the perfect location for a picnic stop and some panoramic views of the Mediterranean coast.
FOOD AND DRINK
One of the best places to go for food is a pedestrianised street just behind and parallel to the promenade, which starts at Place Masséna. There are plenty of good-quality restaurants, but it’s best to research a few options first to avoid disappointment. Local dishes include the Nicoise salad, as well as farcis (vegetables stuffed with breadcrumbs) and socca (a pancake made from chick pea flour). You’ll also find plenty of bakeries, ice cream parlours and cosy bars and cafes. Place Rossetti tends to attract a young crowd and, while it’s a lot of fun if you want to party into the night, is probably best avoided if you’re with young children.
Yelloh Village has four campsites along the French Riviera between St Tropez and Cannes. From Cannes, it’s about one hour’s drive or just over 30 minutes by train to Nice. This fantastic city should not be missed!
Arianwen is a professional journalist and author of the adventure travel blog Beyond Blighty. With a passion for adventure and outdoor pursuits, she’s travelled solo through over 30 countries on six continents. Follow her on Facebook, Instragram or Twitter to find out more.