Things to Do in Nice
Nice Old Town (known locally as Le Vieux Nice) is a lovely honeycomb of narrow streets, dotted with beautiful Baroque churches, vibrant squares, shops and restaurants. Thronging with tourists eating the famous ice-cream during the day, at night it becomes one big party with bars and nightclubs spilling out onto the streets.
The key things to see are the Cours Saleya (the open air market), Chapelle de la Miséricorde (a wonderfully ornate Baroque church dating from 1740), Chapelle de l'Annonciation (known locally as Sainte-Rita), Eglise Saint-Jacques (dating from 1612 and built by the Jesuits, it has some excellent frescoes), the Cathedral Sainte Réparate (1699), and the Palais Lascaris (paintings and statues).
If you're spending an even remotely significant amount of time in Nice, then you'll soon become familiar with Place Massena. It's the massive, open square at the bottom of L'avenue Jean-Médecin; just a little bit past it is Vieux Nice and the Mediterranean. Walk under the porticos in foul weather, or enjoy the sun on its wide walkways. It ends in a gorgeous fountain framed by faded cherry-red buildings, a favorite with photographers of any ability.
In the daytime, Place Massena is a busy pedestrian/tram intersection, and it can seem like barely controlled chaos as people scurry, stroll or simply hang out along its dizzyingly tiled surface. At night it's a bit less busy, but many are more distracted as the large human-like sculptures high atop poles change color like lava lamps! Place Massena is also the site for many of Nice's most popular events throughout the year, from Mardi Gras to Fete de la Musique concerts to summer outdoor markets.
Only one street back from the seafront, Cours Saleya is a mainly-pedestrianized street/square which hosts a daily market. It is split between its famous flower market selling bucketfuls of blooms in the western half, and a magnificent food market at the eastern end, with long trestle tables displaying exotic spices, shiny fruit and veg, pastries, fruits glacés (glazed or candied fruits such as figs, ginger, tangerine and pears) and more. On Mondays from 6am to 6pm, Cours Saleya also hosts an antiques market.
Lined by restaurants and cafes, it is the perfect place for breakfast, to sip coffee and people-watch, or for after dark, when the market is closed and the outdoor seating from the restaurants expands to fill the square.
Le Chateau, the shaded hill and park at the eastern end of Quai des États-Unis, is named after a 12th-century château that was razed by Louis XIV in a fit of pique in 1706 and never rebuilt. There are some ruins but not really a chateau to speak of. In the one remaining tower, the 16th century Tour Bellanda, is the Musée Naval. The cemetery where Garibaldi is buried covers the northwest of the park.
From this 300 ft (92 m) hilltop park aslo known as Castel Hill, the glittering views of Vieux Nice spires and the Baie des Anges are mesmerizing. It's worth the walk up - especially as you pass waterfalls, pools and gardens along the way. Once at the top, sit and have a coffee under the trees; the cafe offerings are very much kiosk style but the view makes up for everything.
Rising above the port in Nice is Mont Boron, a green wilderness with great views over Nice and beyond.From Mont Boron you can see over the port of Nice, Nice town and to Villefranche and Cap Ferrat. From this height you it’s easy to understand why this coastline is called the Cote d’Azur - the blue of the sea is simply amazing.
Since 1860, Mont Boron has been preserved as a nature retreat with trees native to the Mediterranean, including Holm Oak and Aleppo Pine. With 6 miles (11 km) of sign-posted trails, this has become a popular place for both locals and visitors to escape the narrow streets of the city and take in the fresh air. It's also good for mountain biking. You can catch the bus (number 14) to the top of Mont Boron and then walk back down.
Nearby Mont Albon has a 16th century military fort perched 720 feet (220m) above the sea. From here you get 360-degree views of the surrounding coastline and the Alpes-Maritimes.
A monumental square made up of Baroque architecture, the late 18th century Place Garibaldi lies at the eastern end of the Old Town of Nice. Recent renovation has revitalized the beauty of the buildings.
Place Garibaldi has shops, bars and cafes including Grand Café de Turin, famous for its seafood and a great place to dine al fresco and people watch. On the weekends the square fills with stall holders selling antiques and bric-a-bracs. Many of the main streets of Nice cross the square: Avenue de la République, Boulevard Jean Jaurès, Rue Catherine Ségurane and the rue Cassini which leads to the old port. Tram No. 1 runs through Place Garibaldi and around the edge of the Old Town (Vieux Nice) and most of the square has now been pedestrianized. The square has a majestic fountain in its center with a statue of Italian hero Giuseppe Garibaldi who was responsible for unifying Italy in the late 19th century. He had hoped that Nice would become part of Italy.
Nice is full of interesting architectural delights, but perhaps none is as unique as the Russian St Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral, which speaks to the history of Nice as a popular destination for visitors from all over the world. While the Promenade des Anglais is a nod to the English, who wanted to walk along the shoreline in the sun without being directly on the beach, the cathedral is a similar concession, this time to the Russian nobility – namely Tsar Nicholas II – who found the mild climate and beautiful location to be equally alluring.
The cathedral is one of the top sites to visit in Nice, although it isn’t remotely French. Even if it weren't commonly known as the Russian Cathedral, one look at its exterior would give it away; it looks as though it was shipped directly from Moscow, with its fanciful onion-shaped domes and brightly colored exterior.
As far as historic French castles go, the Château de Crémat is a mere infant, built in the beginning of the 20th century. But it was designed to appear like it was there long before the city of Nice that spreads below it, with a mixture of architectural styles and a creamy exterior that reflects the stunning Riviera light.
Those wondering if it’s worth a visit should look no further than their taste buds. The Château de Crémat was built specifically for its surrounding land, which is taken up entirely by picturesque vineyards that yield some quality wines. Guided tours of the castle are free, and wine tastings are available for a tasting fee.
More Things to Do in Nice
The Musée National Marc Chagall houses the largest public collection of of the Russian-born artist's seminal paintings of Old Testament scenes. Be sure to peek through a plate-glass window across a reflecting pond to view a mosaic of the rose window at Metz Cathedral. Chagall (1887 – 1985) is buried in St-Paul de Vence, a town not far from Nice.
The main hall contains 12 huge interpretations (1954 - 67) of stories from Genesis and Exodus. In an antechamber, an unusual mosaic of Elijah in his fiery chariot, surrounded by signs of the zodiac, is viewed through a plate-glass window and reflected in a small pond. Five paintings based on the Song of Songs (1960s) form the most startling series, an explosion of passionate red (in contrast to the sea greens, deep purples and blues of the main room) dedicated to his wife Vava.
Since its founding in 1849 in the Grasse Province in the south of France, this world-class perfumery has been creating famous fragrances for men, women, dignitaries and even soldiers for more than 150 years.
Travelers can embark on a one-of-a-kind tour of Molinard Parfumery that starts with a film exploring the company’s history and ends with a trip through the 1930s where visitors can witness perfume-making in its most traditional sense. The guided tour loops through Molinard’s beautiful reception area and flows into the soap room, where years ago a single person created hundreds of soaps by hand. The distillery remains one of the tour’s most incredible stops, as it’s one of the few perfume factories in the world to avoid modernization. Travelers will pass by the cream room, where they’ll learn about packaging and production before the final sales room stop, where a well-curated exhibition showcases fragrance collections from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
The Matisse Museum (or Musée Matisse) houses a splendid assortment of works by Henri Matisse. Its permanent collection is displayed in a red-ochre 17th-century Genoese villa overlooking the olive tree-studded Parc des Arènes. Nearby is the Hotel Regina where Matisse lived. Temporary exhibitions are hosted in the futuristic basement building.
The reception hall of the museum is dominated by a colorful paper cutout frieze entitled Flowers and Fruits , designed by Matisse for the inner courtyard of a Californian villa in 1953. Attracted by the weather, scenery and proximity of his friends (Picasso, Renoir and Bonnard lived in neighboring towns), Henri Matisse wintered in Nice until his death in Cimiez in 1954. Well known pieces in the permanent collection include his paper cut-outs of Blue Nude IV and Woman with Amphora.
The Monastery of Cimiez includes a church, a cemetery and a convent where some Franciscan friars still live. The church has significant paintings by 15th century local artists the Brea brothers. The convent houses the Musee Franciscain which is decorated with 17th century frescoes, many documents and a recreated cell showing how the austere religious life is lived. The chapel dates from the 17th century and the lovely gardens have sweeping views across Nice.
The painter Henri Matisse is buried in the cemetery of the Monastère Notre Dame de Cimiez. His grave is signposted 'sépulture Henri Matisse' from the cemetery's main entrance (next to the monastery church on av Bellanda). Raoul Dufy (1877 - 1953) is also buried here.
Designed by Gustave Eiffel of the Parisian tower fame together with Charles Garnier, the architect of Monte Carlo Casino, Nice observatory opened in 1878 and is still a working astronomy laboratory. Resembling a Greek temple, fronted with Ionic columns but topped by a 92-ton dome covering what was once the largest telescope in the world, the observatory is built on a floating platform that originally allowed the telescope to be easily maneuvered into position; nowadays it is moved by hydraulics. It is regarded as one of the planet’s leading observatories, pioneering research into astrophysics and geosciences.
Sitting on the hill of Mont Gros behind Nice in a typically Provençal landscapes scattered with olive trees, a visit to the observatory offers unparalleled views over the glamorous Côte d’Azur and the sparkling Mediterranean Sea. It is open for two-hour guided visits only and English-language tours have to be arranged in advance.
Located in Nice’s Phoenix park, the Museum of Asian Arts, as its name implies, aims to showcase a cohesive ensemble of various Asian arts. The museum was designed by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange and was opened in 1998 at the initiative of Jacques Médecin, mayor of Nice from 1966 until 1990.
In addition to the visit, the museum offers a wide range of activities including audio-guides in French, English, Italian and German (€2). Guided tours are available at 11am on the 3rd Saturday of the Month from September to June, and every Wednesday and Saturday at 2:30pm in July and August (€4). It is possible to register online or on-site. There are also workshops for both adults and children (€10 / €3.50) and calligraphy, origami and taï chi chuan and Qi gong classes, as well as a weekly tea ceremony. A full schedule is available on the website.
The Musée national du Sport, is, as its name states, a national sports museum. It was first opened in 1922 by the Minister of War, who at the time was also responsible for sports. The museum fell into disuse in the 1940s, but was reestablished in 1963 by the Secretary of State for Youth and Sports. The museum’s location changed a few times before finally being established in the Grand Stadium in Nice on June 27, 2014.
The museum covers sports from the 16th century all the way to today, and its collection contains more than 100,000 items, including sports equipment, paintings, sculptures, posters, drawings, philately, advertisements, books and magazines. There is also a collection dedicated to the history of the modern Olympics, from its beginnings in 1896 to the present.
Nestled east of the hill park, Colline du Chateau, is Quai Lunel in Nice’s Old Port, a great place to wander and find a restaurant for lunch or dinner with a view.
The Old Port fills with yachts at any time of the year and is a great place to soak up the maritime atmosphere and Nice, both past and present. To head out from Nice port and out onto the water you may hop on one of the ferries which can transfer you to ports on Corsica: Ajaccio, Bastia, Calvi and Ile Rousse. The area just west of the Quai Lunel, Quartier Segurane, is known for its antique shops and flea market, where you’re much more likely to find an authentic antique bargain than in the center of Nice Old Town. To reach the Port of Nice from central Nice, walk around the waterfront on the balcony-style walkway or head through the Old Town to Place Garibaldi and along rue Cassini.
The tiny village of Eze is one of the jewels of the south of France which is probably why it is chosen as a holiday spot by royalty, the rich and the famous. Perched on a rocky hill above the sea, it could not get any prettier. With narrow cobblestone, pedestrian-only streets, wonderful views of the surrounding hills and the azure water below, it is just as it was centuries ago. One of the most famous inhabitants was Frederic Nietzsche who, in the 1880s, used to walk up and down a hill path to the sea thinking up his philosophy.
At the top of the hill, just above the village, is the exotic garden. Filled with statues of earth goddesses, cacti, winding paths and wonderfully relaxing contemplative spaces and lookout points, this is not to be missed.
The medieval era of French history can still very much be felt today, perhaps nowhere better than at the nearly perfect St Paul de Vence. About 12 miles from Nice and almost directly inland from the Nice Airport, this medieval hilltop jewel is what visitors dream of when they say they want to stroll through a charming village in the South of France.
From the 12th-century keep, which now serves as the town hall, to the 14th-century church, the 16th-century fortified walls and the cemetery, which stands on the original village land and is the final resting place of Marc Chagall, walking through St Paul de Vence is truly a walk through history. Travelers love the Choisy Gallerie, where it’s sometimes possible to find Christian Choisy himself at work. Combined with the stunning views and the town's 20th-century obsession with showcasing artists, it's a day trip you won’t forget.
Set on the serene Cap Ferrat cape jutting out over the Mediterranean, the picturesque Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild holds one of the most sought after settings on the French Riviera. The pink-painted villa, once belonging to wealthy Frenchwoman Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, was designed by Belgian architect Aaron Messiah and built in the early 20th century. Today, the striking seafront palazzo is maintained by the Institut de France and is open to the public, and also hosts the annual summer opera festival: Opera Azuriales.
The villa’s grounds are the real attraction with a collection of nine exquisitely landscaped gardens. These gardens, listed by the Ministry of Culture as some of the ‘notable gardens of France,’ feature Spanish and Japanese themed gardens, a colorful rose garden, and a ‘stone garden’ decorated with ornate ‘musical fountains,’ with water features synchronized to music.
Villefranche-sur-Mer sparkles on the French Riviera with the Alps in the background and nearby the famous resorts of Nice and Cannes. The deepest natural harbor in the Mediterranean, the port was used by Greeks and Romans in their travels and still hosts visiting naval fleets. The gorgeous scenery of this Cote d'Azur town has featured in many movies, from Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, the James Bond film, Never Say Never Again, The Jewel of the Nile and The Bourne Identity.
The dazzling landscape features the 16th-century Citadel and historic medieval buildings right along the coast. This quaint fishing town is a wonderful location from which to experience the unique lifestyle on the Riviera, visiting Nice, Monaco and Cannes.
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