While Cannes has its annual film festival and Monaco is home to the Grand Prix, the seaside city of Nice smack dab in the middle is sometimes overlooked once you leave the airport. But those who stay are in for a pleasant surprise.
France‘s fifth largest city has attracted artists, upper crust and appreciators of the good life for centuries and you could spend years exploring. Art lovers will be happy to learn Nice and its surrounds are home to some of the French Riviera‘s best museums, and beachgoers have plenty of pebbles-between-your-toes choices along along the turquoise Baie des Anges. Nice’s Belle Epoque and Baroque architecture keep cameras working overtime while the city’s distinct Provencal and Italian bent lingers in the petit shops, restaurants and markets of the Old Town, as well as on the numerous trompe l’oeil squares where pizza-noshing and espresso sipping is as ubiquitous as the year-round sunshine.
We know you can’t see it all in a weekend, but here’s just a little nibble of Nice to whet your appetite for a return trip.
Get your bearings and make your way across the port, taking a seat at the recently revamped 1930’s restaurant La Réserve for a pre-dinner aperitif complete with sunset views over the Mediterranean. Book well in advance for a table at Restaurant Jan, a warm and welcoming restaurant in the buzzing port neighborhood, where stellar service and a prix fixe menu of South African meets Mediterranean cuisine earned it a well-deserved Michelin star in early 2016.
Start your day like the French do, by wandering a local market. Nice’s most well-known is Cours Saleya, a café-lined pedestrian stretch in the heart of the Old Town. Wander through the stalls at the Provençal market selling some of the best Socca (chickpea flour crêpes that are a regional specialty) in town, made on the spot by Chez Thérésa.
If lingering is your speed of choice, grab coffee on Rue Bonaparte, off Place Garibalidi, at Comptoir Central Électrique, a former lighting factory with an eclectic array of bulbs hanging from the ceiling. After proper caffeination, take a mid morning hike up to one of the most-visited attractions in Nice: La Colline du Château, also known as Castle Hill. The one-time citadel is now a lofty green space above the city with picture-perfect views over the port, Old Town and bay.
Afternoons are meant for the beach, especially during the summer and there are plenty of clubs lining the Promenade des Anglais where you can cool down under the umbrellas. If you prefer to wander, Nice’s Old Town is a must. The narrow ruelles are chockablock with restaurants, sunny cafes, art galleries and unique boutiques, such as home décor concept store Cabane (15, rue de la Préfecture) and vintage shop Caprice (12, rue Droite), with its throwback Chanel bags and YSL garb.
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If it’s too hot, or shopping is just not your bag, head up to the hillside neighborhood of Cimiez and get to know two famous artists of the French Riviera: Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall.
The Matisse Museum is housed in a 17th century villa surrounded by olive groves, Gallo-Roman ruins and the cemetery where the artist himself is buried. If you’re really a fan, drive to Vence to see the Matisse Chapel.
Not far away, the stunning Marc Chagall Museum holds the artist’s largest public collection.
FYI: If you’re a real Chagall fan, the village of St.-Paul-de -Vence, just 25 minutes away, is where the artists lived for 20 years.
Start the evening with a favorite French pastime—apéro— at one of the bars behind the port like the quirky RosaLina Bar (16 rue Lascaris), a former garage now filled with comfy sofas and mismatched chairs. If you prefer a view with your cocktail make your way to Movida where live Latin music, and affordable drinks and tapas are the perfect reason to go, along with the stellar views over the Promenade des Anglais aka “The Prom.”
Sorry Italy, Nice is home to some of world’s best pizza! Taste for yourself with a reservation at Les Amoreux (46, blvd. Stalingrad), a small joint with an Italian accent and an assortment of freshly baked Napoletana-style pies (even some heart-shaped ones for the ladies) you’ll still be dreaming about next week.
Nice may not have the booming reputation of its neighbors Cannes and Monaco, but the city is not lacking in after-hour fun. Portside Boston Bar is known for its craft cocktails served in an upscale pub setting, while the nearby BaR’Oc draws a local, neighborhood crowd to its cave-like interior with DJs spinning electro and soul.
For something a bit more low-key, order a glass of wine and head up to the mezzanine at Shapko in the Old Town, one of Nice’s only jazz bars.
Take a walk in Nice’s newest public park, the Promenade du Paillon, where you can sprawl out on the grass, read a book, splash in the water fountains, or take in some of Nice’s beautiful buildings that lines the 12-hectare, 1.2 kilometer greenbelt stretching from the Promenade des Anglais to National Theater. Grab a coffee anywhere along Cours Saleya at the numerous café terraces set up in the sun. Some don’t open until mid morning, and others, like Café des Fleurs, starts serving market vendors and treasure hunters at 5 a.m.
If weather permits, do as the locals do and head to the beach in Villefranche-sur-Mer, one of Nice’s closest neighbors and a popular hangout. There is a Sunday antique market on on the port. Nearby, the Cap Ferrat peninsula is filled with walking trails and monumental villas, including the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, that will take you to the Riviera of yesteryear as well as offer stunning views and gardens.
Spend your last evening with seaside seats at one of the more upscale private beach restaurants like the Balinese-themed Anjuna in Eze, set midway between Nice and Monaco. Back in Villefranche, Anjuna has opened up a sister spot, Palm Anjuna, that’s slightly more relaxed with a retro design and seafood-heavy menu.
For more regional cuisine, make your way back to the port in Nice and take a seat at the socca hotspot Chez Pipo, dating back to 1923, for a no-frills dinner sampling typical Niçoise specialties like pan bagnat, and salade niçoise.
To book a suitable hotel or other accommodation in, or near Nice, you can use the map below, which shows current prices for hotels and apartments. To book further afield, then just enlarge the map (+/-) to see more properties or, if you are headed for a particular part of the coast, enter your preferred resort/town/village in the ‘Where are you going?’ box.