It’s not difficult to find delightful things to do in Nice, France. This laid-back city, located on the Bay of Angels along the French Riviera, enjoys more than 300 days of sunshine per year, making it perfect for sun worshippers.
And for the culturally inclined, the history here runs deep, dating back to the Greek Phocaeans, with strong Roman influences as well.
Nice is a magnet for devotees of the beachside riviera lifestyle. You’ll also encounter a surfeit of wonderful local food and wine, some of which comes with a dash of Italian culinary flair, the influence of nearby Italy.
Here are some of the best things you can do in Nice.
Explore the Old Town
The Old Town of Nice, or the Vieille Ville, or Vieux Nice, will likely be one of your main stops, which makes sense, as you’ll find plenty here to keep you occupied.
The slender lanes in the Old Town are given shape by the tall, shade-giving apartment buildings here, marked by their distinguishing shuttered windows.
Vieux Nice, located below Castle Hill, is perfect for meandering sightseeing strolls. You’ll pass by old churches, art galleries, boutiques, and brasseries, plus an assortment of shops.
As you wander, check out the St. Francis Market fish market along Saint-Francois Square, where you can see how the locals procure their meat and fish. Of course, you’ll want to drop into the Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate, and the big flower market too.
If you have a sweet tooth, Patisserie Henri Auer confectionery, located next to the Nice Opera House, has been in business since 1820 and is the spot for candied fruits, quality chocolate, glazed nuts, and other sugary delights.
Visit Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate
While you’re in the Old Town, make your way over to Rossetti Square to visit Sainte Reparate Cathedral (Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate).
Construction on this baroque church got underway in 1650, with work continuing over the decades until the space was consecrated in 1699.
Saint Reparata is the patron saint of Nice. She was a young Catholic Palestinian girl martyred by the Romans for her faith.
One story says that when she was killed, her soul transformed into a dove, then immediately took flight. Another legend details how her body was set on a raft, then guided by angels to Naples, which is how the Bay of Angels got its name.
Today, Sainte-Réparate is a brightly decorated cathedral, with a baroque façade added during the 1800s. You’ll find ten different ornate chapels inside. The cathedral’s central high altar is dedicated to Saint Reparata and contains some of her relics.
Enjoy the Flower Market at Cours Saleya
Flowers, spices, trinkets, and a riot of color make the Cours Saleya thoroughfare’s flower market (Marché aux Fleurs) a powerful attraction to anyone drawn in by open-air bazaars.
Located in the Old Town, Cours Saleya Flower Market is full of flowers to browse and buy. Vendors at the Fruit and Vegetable Market here will be more than happy to sell you some local produce as well.
You can also pick up other French souvenirs such as dried spices, baked goods, and other tasty nibbles while you peruse the stalls. Cours Saleya comes with bars, sunlit cafés, and restaurants nearby where you can stop for a drink or dine out while steeping yourself in this picturesque marketplace’s floral ambiance.
In addition to the Marché aux Fleurs, Cours Saleya hosts an antique flea market on Mondays, plus other types of markets at different times, like the evening artisanal crafts market.
Drop by Cathédrale Saint-Nicolas de Nice
Nice’s Saint-Nicolas Cathedral stands out in a country full of elaborate churches because Cathédrale Saint-Nicolas de Nice is actually a Russian Orthodox cathedral.
Saint-Nicolas is the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral outside of Russia. The structure, with its bulbous green domes, was commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II to service the growing Russian community in this part of France. Today, the building and the land it occupies belong to the Russian State.
Saint-Nicolas is a working cathedral, located on Av. Nicolas II. If you’d like to learn more about its design, by Russian architect Mikhail Preobrazhensky, you can opt for a guided tour to dig deeper into this church’s fascinating history.
Saunter Down the Promenade des Anglais
One of the nicest things to do in Nice is to go for a walk, or bike ride, down all or part of the Promenade des Anglais, which curves around the waterfront.
The Promenade des Anglais, lined with palm trees, got its name from English holidaymakers who would visit Nice in droves for the sun and sea. Funds raised in 1823, with a lot of money from the British community, helped pay for the esplanade’s construction.
Whitish pebble beaches next to the promenade, like Le Voilier Plage and Lenval Beach, are ideal for setting up a parasol and soaking in some rays after a dip in the water.
A stroll along the paved esplanade, over four miles in length, will take you past famous hotels, like Le Negresco, plus museums, outdoor sculptures, shops, cafés, and casinos, all of which showcase an eye-catching slice of Nice’s coastal allure.
Read: Best Beaches in Nice
Lay Eyes on Place Masséna’s Red-Infused Architecture
Nice’s central meeting point, close to the Promenade des Anglais, is Place Masséna, marked by the red façades of the Italian-style neoclassical buildings lining the square.
Place Masséna will offer you easy access to the Old Town, Castle Hill, the Promenade des Anglais, the Promenade du Paillon (a long and narrow urban park), and the Jean Médecin shopping avenue.
The Fontaine du Soleil is one of the main features of this handsome square. The fountain’s centerpiece is a large white sculpture of Apollo, the Greek sun god. Apollo watches over the square’s black and white checkered surface.
Try not to confuse the Place Masséna with Villa Masséna. The latter is located around eight or nine blocks west of the square. Villa Masséna and the Jardins du Musée Masséna are worth visiting too.
The Massena Museum, which is part of the villa, details the local history and contains artifacts related to Napoleon Bonaparte, including one of his death masks.
Take Advantage of Castle Hill’s Stunning Views
One of the comeliest vantage points in Nice is Castle Hill. You can hike up the many stairs winding up the hill’s side, or take the elevator if you’re tired. Once you reach the top, you will be rewarded with stunning vistas of the city, the Promenade des Anglais, and the Mediterranean.
Nice’s Castle Hill Park, or the Parc de la Colline du Château, ironically, no longer has a castle. Once upon a time, a medieval citadel did stand here. But the “Sun King” Louis XIV demolished it in 1706, and alas, the castle is no more.
These days, a trek up to the hill will take you past an attractive artificial waterfall. A green, grassy expanse, with a big playground for the youngsters, awaits you at the summit.
The elevator mentioned above, near the Old Town, will let you enjoy Castle Hill’s magnificent panoramas, minus the physical excursion that comes with the stairs.
Amble Past the Negresco Hotel
Le Negresco Hotel is one of the most famous hotels in France. This Belle Époque hotel, with its distinctive white façade and large pink dome, fronts the Promenade des Anglais.
Commissioned and built by the Romanian hotelier Henri Negresco, Le Negresco opened its doors in 1913. Over the years, the hotel has been used as a hospital during WWI and has seen its ownership change several times.
The lavishly decorated interior is something of a museum as well. Inside the Royal Lounge, you’ll find a splendid chandelier ordered by Tsar Nicholas II, plus a dazzling stained-glass dome designed by Gustave Eiffel.
Other French artworks, numbering in the thousands, and spanning the centuries, are displayed in areas available to the general public—even if you haven’t booked a room.
Enjoy the Local Cuisine
Nice, due to its French roots and its proximity to Italy, boasts a unique style of cuisine compared to the rest of the country. While in town, you’ll want to tuck into some of the local gastronomy that France is known for.
At the top of the list is the tasty, salted flatbread known as socca, made out of chickpea flour. Crispy, oven-baked socca can be found all over the city and is readily available as a snack to help you keep those hunger pangs at bay while you rove through town.
If you’re into greens, try a Salade Niçoise (Niçoise is the name for people from Nice). This salad typically comes with anchovies, olives, and tomatoes, plus a tangy dressing made out of vinegar, shallots, mustard, and other flavorful ingredients.
Pissaladière, a pizza-like pie with anchovies and onions, is another dish that sticks to its Italian roots. You can also opt for a Pan Bagnat, which is essentially a Salade Niçoise (with tuna or anchovies) stuffed between two pieces of bread.
If your taste buds lean toward the sweeter side, stop by one of Nice’s many gelaterias or ice cream parlors for a treat; a few standouts include Fenocchio, close to the Cours Saleya, where you can get your fill of delicious ice cream and sorbet, and Gelato D’Amore, just off the Promenade des Anglais.
Stroll Through the National Museum of Contemporary Art
While Nice is a storehouse of classical French art and amazing architecture, you might be in the mood for something more modern. If this is the case, drop by the National Museum of Contemporary Art, one of the best museums in France.
Le Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain (MNAC), located in the center, is itself an attention-grabbing building, with huge, windowless concrete towers connected via arch-shaped passageways.
Inside, you’ll find a large collection of European and American pop art, French New Realism, and pieces adhering to the minimalist ethos.
Some notable artists whose works are on display at MNAC include Andy Warhol, Dennis Oppenheim, Francis Bacon, French sculptor Sacha Sosno, and Yves Klein.
The National Museum of Contemporary Art is a brilliant spot to visit during a rainy afternoon, where you can immerse yourself in the contemporary art scene.
Explore the Past in the Cimiez District
A jaunt through the green and hilly Cimiez district, in the northern part of the city, will give you a chance to explore archeological finds dating back to Roman times, along with buildings and museums dating slightly closer to the modern era.
The Roman town of Cemenelum once thrived where Cimiez stands today. You can ramble around this open-field archeological site, and visit the excavated thermal baths. Visit the Musée et Site Archéologiques de Cimiez to learn even more about Roman life here back in the day.
The 19th-century Palais Régina is another notable site in Cimiez. This grand-looking building, with its long façade and Belle Epoque interior décor, was once used by Britain’s Queen Victoria as her winter residence.
If you’re looking for a slice of spiritual history, call upon the Franciscan Monastery and the Franciscan Museum of Cimiez. The monastery dates back to the 14th century.
The compound features a lovely garden, while the museum hosts a large collection of religious art and artifacts, which will give you some insight into how monks lived in the past.
Get an Art Education at the Musée Matisse
Want to discover more about the French painter and sculptor Henri Matisse? If that’s the case, the Musée Matisse, located in Cimiez, should make your list of things to do in Nice.
The Matisse Museum is housed in the red Villa des Arènes and is home to an extensive collection of Matisse’s work, including drawings, paintings, and bronze sculptures.
You’ll also find items on display inside the villa that Matisse used in his everyday life. If you’d like to pay additional homage to the artist, visit Cimiez graveyard, where Matisse is buried, along with his wife Amélie.
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