A real jewel of the French Riviera, Nice is more than just nice. The glittering turquoise sea, loads of sunshine and a dash of that old-style glamour makes this place a Mediterranean evergreen. Nice is never boring, never out of style. Actually, you can never run out of things to do in Nice. You can spend a whole week enjoying its lovely charm, but even just a day in Nice will leave you with some really strong impressions. As a matter of fact, one day in Nice is actually just the right amount time to indulge in its French-Italian cuisine, visit some of the greatest masterpieces of modern art and enjoy its Mediterranean lifestyle to the fullest.
What’s the best time to visit Nice, France?
The best time to visit Nice depends much on your interests and preferences as a traveler. Even though Nice is popular as a summer getaway, it is a year-round destination. Thanks to its world-famous shoreline, crowds are bigger during the summer months, plus expect it to be overly hot during that period. If you’re fine with skipping the beach, months of March to June and September to November will be ideal as you can still enjoy some beautiful sunny weather with less crowds and more affordable hotel deals. Since Nice enjoys mild winters, it can also be a great winter retreat for travelers from north Europe. One more reason to visit Nice in the winter is the famous Nice Carnival held in February. The colorful parade takes place all over the city with giant papier-mâché floats as the ultimate attraction.
A few facts about Nice, France
Nice was founded as a Greek settlement on the shore of the Mediterranean around 350 BC. In Roman times, Cemenelum – the neighboring settlement, today a part of Nice – served as the center of Roman dominion in the region. A strong Italian influence in Nice is a result of a centuries-long association with the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia. Finally, the city became a part of France for good in 1860 under Napoleon III. Around mid-18th century, English aristocrats interested in spending their winters in Nice initiated the construction of the seaside promenade later named Promenade des Anglais (Walkway of the English). In the 20th century, the city was a mecca for modern painters – Matisse, Chagall, Picasso and Renoir have all spent time in Nice and were inspired by its soft light and turquoise sea.
One Day in Nice Itinerary
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to during on your one day in Nice.
Start your day at the Cours Saleya Market
Beat the crowds and visit this most famous market first thing in the morning. The Cours Saleya Market sells everything from fresh fruit and veggies to local delicacies and flowers. On Mondays, the place turns into a flea market selling secondhand trinkets, vintage jewelry and clothes. Skip your regular breakfast and sample the wide range of regional products from the food stalls instead. It is the perfect opportunity to try some of the Niçoise specialties like socca (chickpea flour crepe), tourte de blettes (chard, raisin and pine nut pie) or pissaladière (caramelised onion tart).
Stroll the Old Town (Vieille Ville)
After you finish with the Cours Saleya Market, you will be all set to start your Vieille Ville walking tour. Actually, you will already be in the middle of the charming Old Town, so pretty much any direction you choose will be a great choice. Follow your intuition and explore the cobblestone alleys, admire the colorful Italian-style architecture and charming 17th century squares. Don’t miss checking out the City Courthouse (Palais de Justice) and the square in front of it, and visit the Baroque Cathedral of Saint Reparata on the Place Rossetti Square.
The area is packed with street-side cafés, local shops and restaurants, so it’s a great place to enjoy your morning coffee. Besides coffee, you should also try the most delicious ice-cream at Fenocchio Glacier, with almost 100 flavors to choose from.
Explore the area around the main square Place Masséna
Super close to the Old Town, but something completely different, is the expansive area around Place Masséna with loads of city landmarks and popular sights all around. Start with the Sun Fountain and the statue of Apollo on the southern side and then continue your walk towards the central part of the square. Snap a few photos of the tilework and the seven statues of the Massena Square, find your bench and watch the kids play around the fountains at the Promenade du Paillon. On the opposite side, you’ll find the beautiful park of Jardin Albert 1er which is worth a quick stroll mostly because of the lush Mediterranean vegetation and the impressive monumental arch.
Take a lunch break
It’s time for a lunch break, but luckily you won’t have to go anywhere far. The nice pedestrian street Rue Massena, lined with restaurants, pizzerias and taverns offers plenty of options. Boccaccio is a great seafood restaurant, Flavio da Milano offers some amazing tapas, La Villa d’Este restaurant has numerous different Italian dishes and La Pizza Cresci, it’s easy to guess, has some great pizzas on its menu.
Do some shopping
The center of Nice is a perfect place for some retail therapy. Avenue Jean Médecin which goes from Place Massena all the way to the train station has plenty of international chains, French boutiques, the luxurious Galeries Lafayette department store and the vast Nice Etoile shopping mall. If you crave more shopping, you can find more retailers in the streets intersecting the main avenue. While strolling the Avenue Jean Médecin, don’t miss checking out the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice, a vast neo-Gothic church known for its imposing twin towers and stained glass.
Spend the afternoon at the beach
Cote d’Azur may be translated as the French Riviera, but it actually means Coast of Azure and when you see it for the first time, you’ll immediately see why. The strip of beaches along the coast may be super crowded, but at the same time it is so alluring that it’s inevitable to at least take a dip into the glittering Mediterranean. You are going to enjoy it so much you’ll probably spend the whole afternoon at the beach.
Visit one of the famous museums in Nice
In case you’re not visiting Nice during summer months, you will still have plenty of spare time in the afternoon. Since Nice boasts some of the most famous museums in the country, it would be a shame not to visit at least one. Musee National Marc Chagall and Musée Matisse both house great collections of these remarkable modern art painters, but they can’t be reached on foot, so you may have to invest some extra time with the public transport.
Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, on the other hand, is located pretty central and therefore a great option for those spending only one day in Nice. The museum contains stunning collections of American and French avant-garde art, including Yves Klein. Not only are the exhibits impressive, but the contemporary museum building is itself very inspiring.
Climb the Castle Hill
In order to enjoy the spectacular panoramic city views, climb Colline du Château, or the Castle Hill. In case you want to skip the stairs, it’s possible to reach the site using the elevator you can easily find close to the main stairs. Just search for the orange structure with the Ascenseur du Château sign. Back in the days, the Castle Hill was built as a citadel used for military purposes, but nowadays it’s the city‘s most famous public park. It’s best visited at dusk because of the most spectacular sunset over the Promenade des Anglais.
Spend an evening at the Promenade des Anglais
You‘ve probably already passed through the Promenade des Anglais a couple of times during the day, but at night it transforms into something completely different. Enjoy the evening walk admiring the Belle Époque architecture, check out the enchanting Le Negresco Hotel and later move on to the beach to one of the bars where you can order yourself a glass of wine and enjoy an intimate atmosphere with the sound of the waves in the background.
Where to stay in Nice?
If you really want to live it up on the French Riviera, Hotel Negresco is the perfect place for your stay. This famous five-star hotel has its own private beach, high brow restaurants (Le Chantecler has two Michelin stars) and loads of pieces of art guests can enjoy. Each room has its own design, and the hotel’s location is on the Promenade des Anglais, so you will be right in the middle of all. Without a doubt, this is the definition of luxury.
Staying in Nice city center is also possible if you choose the Arome Hotel. This hotel was recently renovated, so you will have practically new rooms waiting for you, all of which are designed in a modern way. The location is fantastic – just a few minutes from the Promenade des Anglais and about a 15 minute’s walk to the Old Town. Be advised, to get to the hotel, you will need to use a staircase, which is something to consider for people with mobility issues.
Ibis Styles Nice Centre Gare
Ibis Styles Nice Centre Gare is a hotel that offers great value for your money. It is still located fairly close to the promenade and the Old Town, but slightly secluded in a very nice neighborhood. Well equipped and very comfortable air-conditioned rooms are designed with the beach in mind and provide everything you need. Oh, and the breakfast here is quite delicious.
La Maïoun Guesthouse
Those of you who are just thinking about hitting the beach in Nice should definitely consider La Maïoun Guesthouse. This hostel is located just 500m from the sea, but is also right next to the old town, so you can be wherever you want to go in a jiffy. The rooms are huge and come with a variety of appliances (kettle, microwave, toaster, fridge), but the place also has a terrace where you can relax and enjoy the view of the garden.
Extra tips for visiting Nice
If you are a type of person that likes to have everything in check before you arrive at your destination, then you’d probably like to have a pickup transfer from or to an airport booked in advance. Airport transfer Welcome Pickups gives you not only best possible price for that but also few other options like pre-ordering travel essential products (which then waits for you once you arrive at the airport).
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