The 12 best things to do in Nice: from perfect promenades to divine dining

The 12 best things to do in Nice: from perfect promenades to divine dining

You can't visit Nice without indulging in a leisurely stroll along the stunning Promenade des Anglais © Marco Bottigelli / Getty Images

Famous for its sunny climes, gorgeous beaches and colorful architecture, the newly Unesco-listed French city of Nice is also packed with art, culture and world-class things to see and do.

From strolling along its legendary Promenade des Anglais and exploring every corner of its picturesque old town to delving into its rich art history or sampling top Niçoise cuisine, here are the best experiences in Nice.

Stroll along the Promenade des Anglais

The vast, palm tree-lined Promenade des Anglais is the most iconic stretch of seafront in Nice. It stretches from the airport in the west to the castle headland in the east – 7km (4.3mi) of uninterrupted views of the Baie des Anges – and gets its name from the English expat patrons who funded it in 1822. “La Prom”, as it is known to locals, has a dedicated lane for cyclists and skaters. If you fancy joining them, you can rent skates, scooters and bikes from Roller Station.

Spot the promenade's iconic landmarks along the way, including the pink-domed Hôtel Negresco (built in 1913), the art-deco Palais de la Méditerranée (1929) and Niçoise sculptor Sabine Géraudie’s iron sculpture La Chaise de SAB (2014), which pays homage to the famous blue chairs dotted along the seafront.

The 12 best things to do in Nice: from perfect promenades to divine dining

Explore the fusion of Italian and French architecture and culture on the streets of Vieux Nice © Maremagnum / Getty Images

Explore the narrow streets of Vieux Nice

“Nissart” culture is rooted in a long history, much like its gastronomy, halfway between France and Italy. Immerse yourself in it with a leisurely wander through Nice’s old town. It is in this district you can really see the traces of the city’s Italian past.

Lose yourself in the winding, narrow streets and alleyways and don’t forget to look up to appreciate the colorful facades which are so typical of the area. Admire the architectural gems, including Cathédrale Ste-Réparate and 17th-century Palais Lascaris, before making your way to the lively markets and café terraces of the Cours Saleya.

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Climb up the Colline du Château for glorious views

For magnificent views over the rooftops of Nice and the azure blue waters of the Baie des Anges, climb the steps (or get the free lift) leading up to the Colline du Château.

This leafy, wooded park on the eastern edge of the old town used to be the site of a medieval castle and military fortifications that were destroyed by Louis XIV in 1706. Archaeological digs have since revealed Celtic and Roman remains. Today, the Tour Bellanda remains, alongside a lovely garden with play areas, an impressive artificial waterfall and sweeping vistas best enjoyed at sunset.

The 12 best things to do in Nice: from perfect promenades to divine dining

The stalls of Cours Saleya market have something for everyone, from food and flowers to local crafts © Fraser Hall / Getty Images

Browse the stalls at Cours Saleya market

Dating back to 1861, the rightly popular Cours Saleya market is made up of a beautiful flower market and a much-loved fruit and vegetable market. On Mondays, a flea market takes the place of the food and floral displays. There’s also a night market featuring local crafts that runs from May to September.

Surrounded by colorful buildings and a buzzing business district, the food market overflows with seasonal Mediterranean produce from small local producers. Collect picnic supplies like organic tomatoes, zucchini flowers, spices, olives or lemons that come from the neighboring town of Menton. Saturdays and Sundays are the best days to buy cheese from Alpine producers. There are also plenty of street snacks and pastries you can munch on as you browse the stalls.

Taste Niçoise street food specialties

Tuck into socca (chickpea-flour pancakes), pissaladière (caramelized onion and anchovy tart), tourte de blettes (chard, raisin and pine nut pie) and other delicious Niçoise street snacks at local institution Chez Pipo near Port Lympia, or from the Chez Thérésa cart at the Cours Saleya market in Vieux Nice.

Another emblematic local treat is pan bagnat, a round-shaped sandwich filled with tuna, hard-boiled eggs, anchovies, black olives and raw vegetables, and soaked in olive oil. Essentially, a salade niçoise in a bun! Try some of the best in town at Lou Balico in front of the MAMAC museum, Kiosque Chez Tintin next to the Libération market or La Gratta by Port Lympia.

The 12 best things to do in Nice: from perfect promenades to divine dining

Wander the beautiful streets of Nice and visit its many incredible museums © Gulcin Ragiboglu / Getty Images / iStockphoto

Get a modern art fix at the MAMAC

The Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain (MAMAC) exhibits a large collection of works from the influential avant-garde École de Nice. Immerse yourself in the powerful blue works of Yves Klein and the worlds of Niki de Saint Phalle, Ben Vautier and Martial Raysse.

This multilevel museum also houses pop art classics from Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, as well as contemporary art exhibitions, all within an impressive modernist building. Head to the rooftop exhibition space for panoramic views of the city.

Delve into the city’s history at Musée Masséna

Originally built between 1898 and 1901 as a second home for Prince Victor d’Essling, the grandson of one of Napoléon's favorite generals, Maréchal André Massena, this sumptuous belle-époque villa now houses a engrossing museum dedicated to the history of Nice and the Riviera.

Musée Masséna is one of the many architectural gems lining the city’s famous Promenade des Anglais and is well worth a visit to delve into Nice’s origins, the history and impact of tourism on the Riviera and the enduring importance of the Carnaval de Nice, which has been delighting locals and visitors alike since 1876.

See some of Matisse's greatest artworks

One of France’s most famous artists, Henri Matisse (1869-1954) lived in Nice for nearly 40 years. See one of the world’s largest collections of his work, including paintings, drawings, sculptures and paper cut-outs, at the Musée Matisse in Cimiez.

The museum is housed in a striking red-ochre Genoese villa surrounded by olive trees, a stone’s throw from the Monastère Notre Dame de Cimiez, where Matisse is buried.

The 12 best things to do in Nice: from perfect promenades to divine dining

The fountains on the Promenade du Paillon are the perfect spot to cool off and people watch in summer © Rostislav Glinsky / Shutterstock

People-watch on the Promenade du Paillon

After hitting the stores along Avenue Jean-Médecin and taking in the scenic surrounds of Place Masséna, with its hypnotic tilework, stunning baroque-style fountain and 19th-century red-ochre buildings, enjoy a well-earned break with a spot of people-watching on the Promenade du Paillon.

This 1.2km-long (three-quarters of a mile), beautifully landscaped park spans from Place Masséna to the Théâtre National de Nice, with green spaces, wooden benches, water features and children’s play areas aplenty. 

Go bar-hopping in Vieux Nice

If you have to choose one place in Nice for an evening out, make it the Vieux Nice, with its bountiful selection of bars, pubs and restaurants. Start off at Le Bateleur or Café des Amis on the Cours Saleya for a beer or a glass of wine in good company. Watch the sunset – cocktail in hand – from La Movida’s first-floor balcony overlooking the Mediterranean. If an old-school pint is more your thing, head to Les Distilleries Idéales, a long-running locals’ favorite.

Round off your evening with dinner at Bar des Oiseaux, Olive et Artichaut, Peixes or Le Comptoir du Marché, featuring the best local produce cooked to perfection.

Discover the leafy Cimiez quarter

Perched on a hill, the leafy district of Cimiez is home to elegant villas, two important art museums devoted to the works of Matisse and Chagall, Roman remains and the Musée Archéologique de Nice.

Originally a Roman bastion, Cimiez has transformed over time into an elegant residential area. In the 1890s, Queen Victoria regularly wintered at Le Régina, a monumental palace later converted into apartments, where Matisse lived in the 1940s. Today, visitors can admire the stunning facade while strolling through the neighborhood.

Go hiking in the Parc du Mont Boron

With 11km (6.8mi) of hiking trails, picnic areas and spectacular views, the Parc du Mont Boron offers an ideal escape from the hustle and bustle of Nice. The hilltop forest is spread across 57 hectares (141 acres) of Aleppo pines, olive trees and holm oaks.

History buffs can visit the 16th-century military Fort du Mont Alban at the top of the hill, which affords sweeping panoramic views of Nice, Villefranche-sur-Mer, the Cap-Ferrat peninsula and the Esterel mountains.

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