10 Things to do in Nice this Summer
Nice is perhaps the most famous hotspot on the whole of the French Riviera (As the French say, La Côte d'Azur). This charming and beautiful region exists in a state of perpetual summer, and has been a place of inspiration for artists and socialites for centuries. In the late 19th and early 20th century La Cote d’Azur was a popular winter destination for the English upper classes, and by the 1920s, Americans (particularly American celebrities) had discovered it as well. Nice offers travelers the perfect combination of natural splendor, idyllic Mediterranean weather, and old world charm – all with a bit of glitz and glamour. There’s something about the French way of life that is cool without the appearance of effort – the French just seem to know what’s good without having to be told. You’re sure to discover plenty for yourself during your time in Nice, but here are 10 of our top suggestions for where to start.
1. Promenade des Anglais & the Beach
The Promenade des Anglais is the most spectacular and iconic road in Nice, perhaps in the whole of La Côte d'Azur. This idyllic boulevard runs alongside Nice’s famous beaches and offers panoramic views of the city on one side, and the azure Mediterranean on the other. Here you can lounge on the pebbly beaches and imagine yourself as one of the stars of the roaring twenties – relaxing during your fashionable and paradisiacal holiday in Nice.
Even though the Promenade des Anglais is beautiful and famous, it also manages to avoid being crowded – the South of France is one of the few places you can go as a tourist without ever feeling like you are being herded from one attraction to the next. There’s always activity on the Promenade des Anglais – people playing volleyball, eating delicious Nutella-filled crepes, lounging in the sun, or enjoying the evening festivities – but nothing is ever overdone or overwhelming, it’s perfect just as it is.
2. Vieux Nice & Cours Saleya
At the end of the Promenade des Anglais is the elegant, labyrinthine old city center – Vieux Nice. Here, nestled amid the eclectic, winding city-streets, you will find galleries, vogue clothing shops, and some of the city’s most delicious and authentic restaurants. In the daytime you can join locals for shopping, coffee, and great food. When evening hits Vieux Nice becomes alive!
This is where you will find some of the city’s best bars and clubs. The Cours Saleya (which includes the famous Marché aux Fleurs) is a must-visit attraction in Nice. Mingle with the locals, shop for artisan gifts, and try the delicious local produce – fresh figs, olives, spices. This is also a great place to shop for rich ingredients that only the French could come up with, including lavender infused honey, butter, oil, sugar, and ice cream.
3. Food, glorious food!
“In France, cooking is a serious art form and a national sport.” ― Julia Child
When you’re in France you absolutely must eat. Now, you did just read this, but it bears repeating, you really must eat. There is no more enjoyable actualization of the exacting and uncompromising side of French culture than French cuisine. Each region has its own specialties and Nice, with its delicious and distinctive mix of French and Italian influences, is no exception.
When you’re in the Cours Saleya you should try the famous Socca crepe – a gluten-free chickpea crepe that is cooked over coals and served hot – crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Pissaladière is another regional speciality - a salty tart topped with anchovies, onions, and olives…. and Farcis, baked vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini…) stuffed with ground meat, garlic, and bread crumbs….. then, of course, there is Niçoise Salad (Niçoise = From Nice) which includes anchovies, Dijon vinaigrette, shallots, red peppers, and other fresh vegetables. This salad often also includes potatoes and tuna. You can/should pair as many meals as you can with a glass of rosé, a specialty of La Côte D’Azur.
4. Place Masséna & La Fontaine du Soleil
This beautiful, bustling square, is one of the most iconic parts of the city. The whole square is tiled in a bold black and white checker pattern and in the center you will find the dramatic Fontaine du Soleil – a large marble landmark depicting Apollo, the Roman god of the Sun, surrounded by five bronze sculptures of Mercury, Earth, Saturn, Mars, and Venus.
As impressive as this statue is, it was actually a source of some ridicule when it was built in 1956 – Apollo is crowned with 4 horses (his iconic chariot) which led to people calling him the “4 horsepower” after the Renault 4CV, a popular car at the time. This mid-century joke is perhaps not as funny as it once was, but this was not the only issue people took with the 7 foot sun god. When he was first erected in the square there were complaints about the size of his manhood – some thought it was too big, others thought it was too small (poor guy). A sculptor tried to remedy the situation by chiseling off the business but alas, people were still unsatisfied and the Catholic women’s “League of Feminine Virtue” succeeded in having the statue dimantelled in the 1970s. It wasn’t until 2011 that La Fontaine du Soleil was restored to its rightful place in the square!
As interesting as this story is, on a practical note, the square is a great place to hang out, particularly at night when street performers and locals gather here. There are also usually vendors here throughout the day and there’s even a splash pad in the square where you can cool off on hot days!
There is an unfortunate stereotype that Museums are dusty boxes filled with artifacts, in truth, they are curated, inspirational worlds waiting to be discovered. Museums are a reflection of the present which offer windows into both the past and future. Nice’s many museums are fun and active places to visit as they provide beautiful settings for events and exploration. Here are a three of the most famous/worthwhile museums in Nice:
Musée Matisse – In his later years, the famous artist Henri Matisse retired to the South of France (where he had in fact spent most of his life), and it was here in Nice that he created some of his greatest pieces. Today, the city owns the most extensive collection of his works and houses them in the stunning Gubernatis Palace, alongside many of his personal effects. Located in the picturesque Parc des Arenes de Cimiez, the museum is surrounded by lush olive groves and is very near a gorgeous Roman amphitheatre – the perfect place for a picnic.
Musée Marc Chagall – This is another National museum dedicated to an important French artist. Marc Chagall was a true modernist who created works in almost every medium – he viewed his work as “not the dream of one people but of all humanity". The vibrance and spirit of his work is truly unparalleled, even among other great artists, so this museum is must-see.
Hôtel Le Negresco – This is not a museum in a traditional sense (and in some ways that is what makes it so much fun to visit), it’s a hotel full of great art! If you can afford it (it’s quite expensive) it’s worth spending the night here, but if not, drop in and see what you can. Throughout the hotel you will find world-class paintings, sculptures, posters, lithographs, jewelry, and more. The best part? You can take pictures of everything!
6. Côte D’Azur Observatory
Some might recognize this gorgeous 19th century observatory, designed in part by Gustave Eiffel (yes, Mr. Eiffel tower himself), from Woody Allen’s romantic comedy Magic in the Moonlight staring Emma Stone and Colin Firth. This beautiful building is one of the most romantic settings science has ever known. It is a point from which one can simultaneously appreciate the magnitude of human accomplishment and the majesty of the wondrous and infinite universe. It’s a bit of a hike, but you will not regret a trip to this remarkable place.
You don’t have to be religious to appreciate a magnificent church. Regardless of your beliefs, there is an intrinsic greatness in the artistry and human effort required to construct a cathedral. Nice had two particularly beautiful churches which are well-worth visiting, the Cathedrales Orthodoxe Russe St-Nicolas a Nice & the Basilique Notre-Dame de Nice.
The Cathedrale Orthodoze Russe St-Nicolas a Nice is a byzantine style place of worship and the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in Western Europe. This imincredibly ornate structure dripping in gold houses some dazzling icons.
The Basilique Notre-Dame de Nice is a Neo-Gothic basilica that looks a lot like the Notre-Dame of Paris, but with lots of gold on it (Sorry if you are an architect/art historian and I have offended you with the comparison). This particular church was guilt in the mid-19th century to ‘Frenchify’ the city.
8. Parc de la Colline du Chateau (Castle Park/Castle Hill)
As this highest part of Vieux Nice, this is one of the few places that is visible from almost everywhere in the city. Consequently, it offers some of the most breathtaking views of Nice – from the top you can see the Promenade des Anglais to the south, the Baie des Anges to the west, and the Port de Nice to the east. As the name implies, it’s a castle, the Chateau de Nice, on a hill. Here you will also find the Tour Belanda, a haunting old cemetary, and the famous Cascade Dijon, an artificial waterfall.
This is a great attraction to visit on you first day. There’s a lift that takes you to the top and there’s no better way to get your bearings in a new place than by getting a bird’s eye view. Unfortunately the park is only open until 8 p.m.
9. Scuba and Snorkelling
Nice is one of Europe’s top snorkeling destinations. There are certainly more colourful places to dive but here you will certainly find an eclectic mix of underwater treasures. Nice is also the place where scuba was invented – by the great Jacques Cousteau! You are sure to find many diving centers along the coastline where you can rent equipment and get guidance.
When you do descend into the depths you will find a rocky underwater world with schools of silver fish, plenty of octopi, branched red corals, dark purple sea urchins, and delicately beautiful jelly fish. Most of the artifacts in the shallows have been recovered and can now be found in museums, but if you do scuba dive you will likely come across Roman ship wrecks and ancient amphorae.
10. Tours…by foot, by wheel, by rail?
When you get to a new place tours are one of the best ways to get oriented. As with most major European cities Nice offers free walking tours (you pay whatever you think is fair at the end of the tour). But there are also other fantastic ways to see the city. Segway and scooter tours will take you to many of the same sights as a walking tour, with the added bonus of getting to ride a motorized vehicle.
Bicycle tours are a good compromise between the two (and you can always rent a bike or other vehicle and just explore on your own….although a single person on a Segway somehow looks more ridiculous than group). However, these are available in most cities that experience tourism, so if you’re looking for something different check out Le Petit Train de Nice. These train shaped buses are a unique Nice attraction and are ideal for taking funny photos and exploring the city in comfort.