10 Top Things to Do in Nice, France

The first time Matthew and I visited Nice was in 2014, for our five-year anniversary, and it was definitely a good choice: strolling around this French Mediterranean city is romantic and there are so many beautiful things to see and do.

In fact, we liked it so much that we went back in 2019 as well.

Nice (pronounced “Neese”) is a glamorous city located right on the Mediterranean Sea, in a region of France known as the French Riviera. Nice comes in at the 7th largest city in France, and while definitely not a little town, it has a much more laid back and relaxed vibe than larger cities like Paris or even Marseille. There’s a lot of places to see and points of interest in Nice – here are my favorites:

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The Promenade Des Anglais – My Top Favorite Thing to Do in Nice

promenade-des-anglais-nice

The most famous attraction and jewel of Nice is the Promenade Des Anglais (the English Walkway) – a very wide boardwalk right along the Mediterranean. It extends for miles and has access points down to the beaches (which are beautiful, but rocky). Along the path you will find people running, walking, biking, roller-blading, and (the greatest of all past times) people watching. And I recommend all of them!

Seaside, there are also numerous restaurants/bars on the beach where you can relax while watching the waves. City-side, there are mainly apartment buildings, but you will also find some restaurants – McDonald’s! (kidding) – and some of the iconic buildings of Nice such as the Hotel Negresco. 

With serene ocean views on one side and typical French Mediterranean buildings lining the other side of the street, it’s a location you can come back every day to enjoy. We walked on it multiple times and it was invigorating every time. At least once, be sure to walk all the way to the point by Castle Hill – there is a great lookout spot with a picture perfect view of Nice.

Vélo Bleu Rentals

You can rent bikes from Vélo Bleu (Blue Bike) stands, which is a really fun way to go sightseeing in Nice. You will need to register with a credit card, which includes calling a phone number (there is an English option, don’t worry). The “registration” for the Vélo Bleu bikes can take about 5-10 minutes the first time, but then any subsequent rental after that is a quick process. The Vélo Bleu app will show you locations of bikes around the city and is very helpful.

Old Town

A woman in a pink dress stands on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Palm trees line the promenade and people are out enjoying the sunny day.
nice-old-town

There are few things I enjoy as much as exploring a pastel-colored old town and discovering all the little gems tucked away. Tucked away in the narrow, winding streets are numerous restaurants, their smells layering in every alley. Around every corner you’ll find cute specialty shops catering to a variety of tastes. Old town is for sure one of the best places to visit in Nice.

We particularly like stopping by L’Atelier Des Cigales (The Cicada Workshop), a little shop selling handmade provincial pottery, and swinging by Place Rossetti for gelato or crepes. Matthew’s favorite store is called “The Crazy Cow”, because it’s just so delightfully random.

There are also stores selling olive oil, spices and herbs, local made soaps, candy, and clothes – all really interesting and many are locally-made products. There are also several beautiful churches and cute plazas and the whole neighborhood has a very distinct feel from the rest of Nice. Where much of the rest of the city feels open, airy, and bright, the Old Town is tighter and has darker, richer colors. You really feel you’ve entered a different place!

Marché Aux Fleurs (Flower Market)

marche-aux-fleurs-nice
marche-aux-fleurs-nice

This charming flower market is place that locals frequent for their daily produce, but is also an attraction in its own right!

The Marché aux Fleurs is located on the Cours Saleya, near the sea in the Old Town, and offers fruit, vegetables, sea food, and other food products in addition to flowers.

I think one of the funnest parts of vacations is trying to imagine yourself as a true local and markets are *the* place to do that. Whether you pick up some flowers for your room, browse goods to bring home as souvenirs, or grab something to eat, this is the place for you. Definitely one of the best places to visit in Nice.

After visiting the market, you can stop to relax and enjoy a drink at one of the many cafes lining the street as you watch others go about their day.

Le Marché Aux Fleurs is very conveniently open every day except Monday.

Jardin Albert I

nice-jardin-albert-1
nice-jardin-albert-1

While the name of this park is perhaps a little uninspiring, the park itself is absolutely delightful. It starts right at the Promenade des Anglais and heads north and east for several blocks, hugging the edge of Old Town.

In this garden you can find plenty of green space as well as several fun features. There is an interactive fountain/splashpad area, a fantastically imaginative playground with the structures shaped like sea creatures, and various sculptures. There is also a wide variety of plants, from flowers to palm trees, both local and exotic.

Along the way you will pass by Place Massena – a square with a cute checkerboard pattern and a large fountain. If you are with kids, the garden is an absolute must-do. If you are with adults…it is still a must-do place to walk through – finding and enjoying green spaces is a great thing to do in Nice.

La Colline Du Château (Castle Hill)

castle-hill-nice
castle-hill-nice

As you walk east down the Promenade, you will see that it curves up and out towards the sea as it wraps around a hill. This is known as Castle Hill and exploring it is one of the best things to do in Nice. On the west side, you can access it from the Promenade via (a ton of) stairs that start just to the left of Hotel Suisse. From the Port area on the east side, you can access it by a maze of short ramps and staircases.

We’ve accessed it using both sides and I think both are interesting enough to recommend that you go up one way and come down another. Our favorite route is to go up the stairs from the Promenade and down into the port side as the port, while small by Mediterranean standards, is still worth a stroll by. And large enough to give you boat size insecurities. 

On the hill, you have lots of points of interest to see like a cemetery, an old watch tower, and the ruins of an old church. There are also fun features like a waterfall and a park that many locals use. And of course you have absolutely gorgeous views on both sides.

To the west, you look over the stunning red roofs of Old Town out to the shimmering Mediterranean. On the east, you not only see the port but in the distance you can view snow-capped mountains.

When you finish exploring the port, swing back west via the Promenade and see an impressive war memorial carved into the hill cliff. When we went most recently we happened to be there on VE Day and there was a stirring tribute being done there by veterans from WWII. 

 A map of how to access Castle Hill from the Promenade and from the port. Directions stop at the top of the castle hill because, of course, there’s no set path you have to follow, just explore as much as you want. Do note that there are a few places you can pick up the main path going from Castle Hill down into the port (right side of map)

Beach

beach-nice

In the summer, hitting the beach is one of the best things to do in Nice. The beaches are filled with sunbathers and swimmers enjoying the refreshing Mediterranean water. Both times we’ve visited have been in the spring and have been a little cooler, but the beach still has people enjoying the sunset or evening waves, sharing drinks, or having a picnic. Since Nice rarely gets extremely cold, it’s generally a pleasant place to visit year round.

Tip: Do note that the beach is a rocky beach – which means that if you want to lay out, a good thick towel is very helpful, and you DEFINITELY need some rubber flip flops or other form of footwear to walk, even for wading. Those rocks do not feel good on your bare feet, trust me! But we sure do love sitting and listening to the sound of the waves crashing in.

Russian Orthodox Cathedral

Doesn’t this place look like it could be right in the heart of St. Petersburg? Old churches are so interesting and showcase so much history! You can stop by the cathedral and explore the inside between 10-6, and when a service is not currently in session.

Musée Matisse 

This museum houses one of the world’s largest collections of Matisse’s works of ar. That in and of itself makes it worth a visit, but the museum is located in an old, 17th century villa – I love when museum buildings are works of art themselves! If you are an art lover, this is a great stop to make.

Private Mediterranean Cruise along the Coast

What is more peaceful and romantic than enjoying the sun and waves of the Mediterranean while cruising along the coast of France, Monaco, and into Italy? You’ll pass by several quaint villages and expansive villas – Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in particular is a gorgeous place to see!

Practical Information for Nice

Where to Stay

I like staying close to the action, so I really liked our stay at this perfectly located hotel. It’s just a minute to the Promenade des Anglais, the Jardin Albert 1, and Old Town. Plus, it has a boulangerie AND fromagerie (cheese shop) just around the corner! Thankfully, there is a mini-fridge in the room (you don’t always get that in France) for storing my stash of cheese!

Nice as a Base City

Besides being an interesting city with lots of places to visit on its own, Nice is really well-situated for day trips to surrounding coastal towns and hill villages. You definitely want to take advantage of that and plan a day trip or two!

From Nice, we’ve visited and loved Menton, the Sentier Littoral (coastal path) in Antibes, and Monaco. You can get to all of those places in under an hour by train.

If you rent a car, the Calanques of Cassis and La Gorge du Verdon are about 2 hours away and are absolutely stunning places to hike. Aix-en-Provence is another beautiful city, and Pont du Gard is a really impressive roman aqueduct. There are so many places to explore in Provence!

How to Get Around on Day Trips

We’ve done just about every mode of transportation in southern France – train, bus, and rental car – and there are pros and cons to each!

Car

Renting a car gives you the most flexibility, but it is also the most hands-on option (need to navigate, find parking, etc). Thankfully, driving in France is fairly straightforward, road conditions are good, and traffic on the freeways isn’t bad at all.

Driving in downtown Nice was not my favorite, but worth it to get the flexibility. We chose this option on our second trip to southern France because some places we wanted to hit weren’t easily accessible to train and much less convenient by bus.

If you stay at our favorite hotel near the Old Town, there are several car rental spots right around the corner on Avenue Gustave V (called Nice Downtown on the website). This was perfect – we waited until we needed the car to pick it up instead of renting it from the airport and then having it sit in a street parking while we explored Nice, and it was super convenient to pick up.

Most cars in France are manual transmission, so if that’s going to be a problem you’ll want to make your car reservation as early as possible (limited number of automatic cars) and be prepared to spend a little more.

Train

If the places you want to visit are easily accessible by train this is an excellent option for getting around southern France. You don’t have to mess with parking, tolls, driving in narrow old towns, or navigating.

However, sometimes the train routes do not connect directly to the places you want to visit. Plus, there is always less flexibility when you aren’t driving yourself.

Bus

This is the cheapest option, but honestly, this is my least favorite option because it’s the slowest. Buses can take a long time! It’s a good option though if you don’t need to go far. For example, if I was staying in Nice and wanted to visit Villefranche-sur-Mer, the village riiiiiight next to Nice, I wouldn’t take the train. It’s close enough to just take the bus.

So, which one to choose?

I would choose a car if…

  • You want to get places really early or stay late
  • If you are planning on going a new place everyday or almost every day
  • If the places you want to visit aren’t easily accessible by train (no direct route or the direct route is much slower than the driving time)

I would choose the train if…

  • You don’t want to deal with the hassle of parking and navigating
  • You are only doing a couple of day trips
  • You want the experience of taking the train in France
  • The places you want to go are easily accessible by train from where you’re staying

I would choose the bus if…

  • You are on an incredibly tight budget
  • The places you want to visit are super close to where you are staying

How Many Days Do You Need?

I think that two full days in Nice is a perfect amount of time to hit up all the things to do in Nice. I would plan several more days for day trip to nearby cities and hikes!

Final Thoughts Best Things to Do In Nice

Is Nice a good place to visit? My answer is a resounding HECK YES. After traveling around a lot of places in France, it remains one of my top top best places to visit.

When you go, for sure hit up at least a few of my favorite things to do in Nice. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Read more:

What to Eat in Nice for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

Aix-en-Provence: The City of Fountains

What to Eat in Aix-en-Provence 

Hiking the Calanques of Cassis

One Day in Menton

Visiting Pont du Gard: An Old Roman Aqueduct

Exploring the Sentier du Littoral of Antibes

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Hi there, I'm Stephanie

I love doing new things and having new experiences. Here I share recommendations for my favorite destinations and experiences,  as well as book lists set in international locations, tricks for getting good travel deals, and tips for learning a second language.

Let’s go exploring!

Do you love discovering underrated spots and hidden gem destinations?

Me too!

The big bucket list spots are so fun, but there’s something extra exciting about exploring an awesome spot you’ve never heard of before.

Sign up for my newsletter and download my free PDF detailing 30 off the beaten path spots in the US to discover!

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