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 Marseilles.
Before we get into the list of best things to do in Nice, let’s start with a couple of essentials when planning a trip to Nice.
First, 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 trips to nearby cities and hikes!
Second, Where Should You Stay When Visiting Nice?
Where to stay can definitely impact your trip to Nice. I really prefer to stay within walking distance of the majority of the attractions, with means staying near the old town and old port areas of Nice. You definitely don’t need to stay IN old town, but I would for sure stay somewhere within a 10-15 walking distance of the old town area.
These are my top picks for where to stay in Nice!
Budget – Hotel Le Meurice: This hotel is just a stone’s throw from alllll the action. It’s just a minute to the Promenade des Anglais, the Jardin Albert 1, and Old Town. Plus, there is a boulangerie AND fromagerie (cheese shop) just around the corner! The staff is very friendly, the rooms are cozy and charming, and there is a mini-fridge in the rooms (not a given in France, and perfect for storing the cheese you’ll pick up at the fromagerie!) Get more details for Hotel Le Meurice here
Midrange – Palm Nice Hotel: This is a stylish, recently renovated hotel, very close to Place Massena and not far from the beach and old town. These rooms are well-maintained and also have a minibar. The double rooms with the terrace are a beautiful oasis in the city! Get more details for Palm Nice Hotel here
Upscale – Hotel Suisse: Located right on the Promenade, this gorgeous hotel has views over the beach and town. Rooms are light and airy, with balconies with picture perfect views. The arched windows and nice décor are the cherry on top! Get more details for the Hotel Suisse here
With those important details taken care of, let’s get into what to do in Nice! There’s a lot of places to see and points of interest in Nice – here are my favorite things to do and see in the beautiful city of Nice, France:
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1. The Promenade Des Anglais
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!
Walking the promenade is one of my top favorite things to do in Nice (and maybe my #1 favorite thing) – there’s just such a great vibe and the views can’t be beat.
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 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.
2. Vélo Bleu Rentals
The Vélo Bleu is the city-wide bike rental system for Nice and the surrounding towns. Renting a bike and cruising around for an hour is a really fun way to go sightseeing in Nice.
Renting a bike and using the system is really easy. Download the Vélo Bleu app on your phone before you go, and input your credit card information.
Then, when you’re in town, open the app to find the closest available bike rental spot, scan the QR code, and away you go! When you are done, you can return the bike to any open spot, not necessarily the one you picked it up from. It’s a really carefree way to experience the city and a bit of a hidden gem in Nice for tourists.
The price is very reasonable – it’s 1.50 euro to subscribe, and then the first 1/2 hour is free, the second 1/2 hour is 1 euro, and any hours after that are 2 euro/hr.
3. Explore Old Town
There are few things I enjoy as much as exploring an old town painted in orange and yellow hues, 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.
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!
A great option if you like the idea of having a guided tour but also like exploring at your own pace is this self-guided audio tour – just download the app on the your phone before coming to Nice, pop in your headphones, and get an in-depth tour of old town while you wander!
4. Marché Aux Fleurs (Flower Market)
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 in addition to flowers, offers fruit, vegetables, sea food, and other food products.
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 (look for soaps, lavender products, jams, herbs, and olive oil), or grab something to eat, this is the place for you, and is definitely one of the best local 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.
5. Jardin Albert I
The Jardin Albert I has a little bit of everything, and is an absolutely delightful greenspace in Nice. 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 grassy areas, 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.
Wandering through the garden, people watching, enjoying the respite from the city while admiring the beautiful surroundings is one of my favorite things to do in Nice – we always come through here a few times during our stay.
6. Place Massena
Situated right by (and almost inside of) the Jardin Albert I is Place Massena. This square is very distinctive, with a checkboard pattern on the ground, bright red buildings around the periphery, and a large fountain.
It’s a great photo-op spot and a definite must-see in Nice.
7. La Colline Du Château (Castle Hill)
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 hill — La Colline du Chateau, or Castle Hill — is great for exploring and is one of the best things to do in Nice.
On the west side, you can access the hill 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 – more on that soon!
On the hill, you have lots of points of interest to see, such as 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 back over the city and out to the sea.
8. The Port
The Port of Nice, while not huge by Mediterranean standards, is still worth a stroll by (and is definitely large enough to give you yacht envy!)
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.
9. Musée Matisse
This museum houses one of the world’s largest collections of Matisse’s works of art. 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.
10. Hit the Beach
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.
If you visit during the spring, fall, or winter months, it might be too chilly for laying out in your bathing suit or swimming in the sea, but there are always still 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!
11. Notre Dame de l’Assomption Church
If you’ve visited Paris or even just seen pictures of the world famous Notre Dame in Paris, you’ll notice that the Notre Dame de l’Assomption of Nice looks like her little sister! While smaller, it is still an impressive and intricate basilica. It has many of the hallmarks of Gothic architecture, with two towers on the front, beautiful, grandiose stained glass windows, and soaring, pointed arches inside. It’s definitely worth a visit!
The church is about a 15 minute walk north of the Promenade des Anglais. If you need a break from all the walking, you could also take the tram that runs north and south along Avenue Jean Medecin.
12. Mediterranean Cooking Class or Food Tour
The best part of traveling is the food, amiright?
While restaurants are fun, we’ve loved doing cooking classes while we travel! They offer such a unique insight into the regional culture, plus you get to chat with a local, which is so interesting! And of course, the food is always top notch!
This cooking class in the countryside of Nice is perfect for enjoying a provincial afternoon. Surrounded by olive trees, you’ll learn about traditional food customs and prepare a delicious Mediterranean meal. Check availability for this cooking class here
Or, if you’d rather dive into the restaurant scene of Nice with a knowledgeable local, this Nice food walking tour will introduce you to a whole sampling of some of the best regional food the French Riviera has to offer. Check availability for this food tour here
13. Russian Orthodox Cathedral
Doesn’t this cathedral 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 10am-6pm, and when a service is not currently in session.
14. 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!
15. Go on a Day Trip
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, You can see the border of Italy from Menton, and it has a particularly colorful and vibrant old town.
There’s also the Sentier Littoral (coastal path) in Antibes, where you walk on an interesting and scenic path that is literally right on the edge of the sea.
The glittering city of Monaco is another great option if you want to see the casinos and admire extremely expensive cars on the streets.
If you fancy a slightly more rigorous hike, just outside of Cassis is the Calanque Nationalk Park, where you can make the trek to the stunning Calanques d’en Vau.
Alternatively, you can canoe, paddleboat, or swim in the La Gorge du Verdon, a deep canyon with turquoise water.
There are so many places to explore in Provence!
Map of Nice Attractions
Practical Information for Nice
Here are a few more important details for your trip to southern France:
Nice Travel Essentials
Sandals: You’ll definitely need good footwear for exploring the city. These sandals are my absolute favorite summer footwear – they are cushy and supportive and feel fantastic straight out of the box. I have struggled hardcore finding good sandals to wear on trips when I’m walking a lot, and these are THE best, by a long shot!
Sneakers: Alternatively, if its chilly or you would rather wear sneakers, I have loved these white, faux leather sneakers. Again, they are super cushy and keep my feet happy during long days walking around. I wouldn’t wear these on vacation straight out of the box, though – give them a couple weeks to break in, and then you’ll be golden!
Tripod: We always bring a tripod with us to take pictures of ourselves together. This little tripod can be twisted around branches or poles, while this bigger tripod is better for getting a good shot anywhere.
Packing Cubes: I can’t believe I waited so long to try out these packing cubes. Gone are the days of having my clothes get all jumbled together after two days of travel! Now I pack like items together and everything stays organized – they are my new best friend!
Purse: A crossbody purse is essential for travel. I always travel with this purse (and keep it zipped and in front of my body to prevent pickpocketing).
Power Adaptors: France uses type C plugs, so if you are coming from the US (or another country that doesn’t use type C), you’ll need power adaptors to charge your electronics. These ones are inexpensive and come in a set of three!
Dresses: Finally, a trip to southern France (especially during the summer!) just calls for some light and airy dresses. I LOVE this one and own it in two prints, (now that I’m thinking about it, maybe I need a third…). I also love this dress, it’s just so dang easy to wear.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Securing some travel insurance is an important part of prepping for any international trip – you never know when something might happen, and your regular insurance generally won’t cover you overseas. Costs for a medical emergency on vacation can add up extremely fast, so it’s just better to be safe than sorry. (And If covid has taught me anything, it’s that you never know what could happen!)
I like booking insurance at Insure My Trip, as they offer a variety of plans with different coverages to choose from, so you can find the right option for you. Plus, they have great customer support if you need help before, during, or after your trip.
How to Get Around on Day Trips
Within Nice, you can absolutely get around just by walking, or possibly by taking the bus or the tram if needed. However, if you venture out on some day trips (which I highly, highly recommend you do!), you’ll need some other forms of transportation. 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!
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 is a little hectic, but worth it to get the flexibility. Once you get out of the old town area and onto the highway, traffic is a lot less busy. 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 near the Old Town, there are several car rental spots very conveniently located on Avenue Gustave V (search for Nice city, and not just Nice airport). 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 (there are a limited number of automatic cars) and be prepared to spend a little more.
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.
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
Final Thoughts on 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.
Whether you visit Nice for the beaches, the architecture, the food, the laid back vibe, or the access to other points in Provence, you will not be disappointed!
Need More France Inspiration? Check out these articles:
- What to Eat in Nice for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner
- A 3 Day, 5 Day, or 7 Day Paris Itinerary
- How to Have the Perfect Picnic in Paris
- The Colmar Christmas Market: An Picturesque Winter Wonderland
This was post updated January 2022