What to see and do in Nice over a week-end
Nice, is the fifth most populous city in France and the capital of the Cote d’Azur!. Known all around the world for its turquoise waters and the glitzy feeling, Nice has been for centuries an holiday destination for wealthy visitors. Founded by Greeks in 500 BC, it takes its name from the Greek goddess Nike , meaning “victory”. It is rightfully nicknamed by locals “Nissa la Bella” (Nice, the Beauty) in the nissard dialect, which reinforce its reputation of being one of the most stunning cities in the world!
The 7 km long “Promenade des Anglais” takes its name after the English nobility who used to come here in 19th century on holiday and loved to stroll along this elegant and spectacular seaside street leading to the picturesque and colourful buildings of the Old Town, the best place to eat al fresco and enjoy the over 300 sunny days per year the city is famous for.
This region has something appealing for all ages: natural parks, mountains, canyons, lakes, hills, islands, striking beaches…whatever reason brought you to Nice in the first place, you will find below inspiration to come back to this city and further explore this attractive part of the world.
The city is a highly desirable expat destination to live in due to the various international job opportunities, the ski resorts with sea views at less than 2 hours driving, Provençal and medieval villages, gorgeous beaches, islands to explore and the all-year mild climate!
What can you actually see in 48 hours in Nice? Here is my top list of the unmissable things to visit over a week-end.
1. Parc de la Coline du Château
This park is also called “the cradle of the sun” because it offers astonishing views over the harbour and the Bay if the Angels at sunset or sunrise.
No matter when you choose to visit it, this hill will leave you breathless (also because of the steep flight of stairs that you need to climb to reach the top). The Castle of Nice used to be a military fortress built on the top of the hill for military purposes during 11th century. It was considered one of the most impenetrable fortress which resisted to multiple attacks until the 18th century when Louis XIV decided to destroy it once for all.
Today the Parc du Château is a must see attraction of Nice and it offers the best views over the bay and the harbour. It is the perfect place for outdoor sport activities or just chill out and bask in the sun surrounded by Mediterranean vegetation right in the heart of the city centre.
2. Promenade des Anglais
Clearly the most iconic boulevard of the city ever-present on all Nice postcards is the Promenade des Anglais, a 7 km long boulevard running parallel to the Bay of the Angels. On one side a colourful line of old buildings and quirky cocktails bars overlook the palmed street, mirrored by a long pebble beach and the most turquoise waters you will ever see!
During the 19th century, this boulevard’s construction has been financed by the English wealthy tourists (hence the origin of the name) coming here on holiday to get some vitamin D and bask in the sun (little has changed over the centuries)!
Today “La Prom‘” as it’s called by the niçois , it is the symbol and pride of the city and became very popular among skateboarders, cyclists, runners and families walking here during the week-end! Take a picture in front of the icon of Nice, the hotel Negresco, a Belle Epoque five stars hotel, where celebrities and politicians usually sleep when visiting Nice.
The Prom’ is definitely the place to be on the 14th of July, National day in France, to admire the wonderful fireworks on the beach (despite of the terrorist attack in 2016).
3. The Old Town
The Old Town is the most picturesque and colourful neighbourhood of the city: it is jam packed with architectural hidden gems, independent vintage and souvenir shops, little typical restaurants and daily open air markets! Once considered a dodgy and poor area of the city during the 8th century, it has been refurbished after the Second World War and started attracting tourists and residents.
Today it’s the heart of the local nightlife and in the evening get lost in the maze of his alleys and have a cocktails in one of the quirky pubs where live music is played or on the seaside lounges at sunset!
Here are the highlights not to miss:
- Cathedrale St. Reparate, is the biggest and most decorated 13th century church taking the name after the Saint Patron of Nice. According to the legend, it’s named after a Palestinian girl, Reparate, who was arrested for her Christian faith in the year 1060, but refused to convert despite the tortures. After being beheaded, her body was thrown at sea on a raft to be eaten by seagulls but the angels guided her towards the bay of Nice, where her body arrived pristine and therefore it is considered a miracle. This is the reason why the bay it’s called the Bay of the Angels and how Reparate became the patron saint of the Cathedral and the city.
- Eglise du Gesu,a baroque church with black marble and golden features. This is the only church opened until midnight.
- Eglise Sainte-Rita, patron of the lost causes, it is tucked away in a small alley but it’s actually the most impressive church of the Old Town due to the pink marble decorations, the chandeliers and mystic atmosphere. It is probably my favourite one and the most frequented by locals for sure.
- Musée Palais Lascaris an 18th century palace featuring ancient tapestries and frescoed ceilings, baroque stairwells in pink and gold alabaster. This hidden gem is often forgotten by the tourists who walk past this little alley.
- Place du Palais de Justice: this square is located at the entry to the Old Town and hosts vintage and bric-a-brac markets during the week-end creating a pleasant atmosphere in this lively neighbourhood.
- St. François Clock Tower: situated in the homonym square, this panoramic 50 metres high tower has been recently opened in 2019 and offers spectacular views of Nice. Only 126 steps separate you from your next great picture!
- Cours Saleya: ideal for people watching and having a drink on the terrace, this picturesque pedestrian area is packed with bars and restaurants and hosts the flower market every morning! During summer an evening market selling handcrafts and souvenirs is installed in this pedestrian street.
- Place Garibaldi: This scenic square is home to a monthly handcraft and local products market during the week-end. In the middle of the square the statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi, born in Nice, dominates this lively and colourful neighbourhood rich in restaurants and fountains.
- Place Rossini: the heart of the Old Town is a place to be not only to visit the St. Reparate cathedral, but also to taste one of the best home-made ice-creams of your life at “Azzurro” and eat it sitting near the fountain watching people eating al fresco and strolling around in the Old Town maze!
- MAMAC Museum: overlooking Place Garibaldi, the three interactive floors of the Modern Art Museum will amaze the fans of Contemporary art.
3. The Harbour
When you reach the end of the Promenade des Anglais, carry on walking around the park cliff and the colourful Nice harbour’s view will appear in front of your eyes! It is a bustle of colours and life and it is dotted with sea view restaurants and bars: have a drink or taste some local seafood dish looking at the yachts and traditional wooden boats going in and our of the docks.
It is also possible to take on a diving trip to the nearby coves in St. Jean Cap Ferrat. a cruise to Cannes or St. Tropez or embark toward Corse or Sardinia. The harbour is easily reachable thanks to the brand new tram stop which allows you to move quickly across the city.
4. Place Massena
The link between the Old Town and the modern city, this jaw-dropping square is a mix of traditional architecture and modernity. The square features columns displaying resin Buddha who lights up during the night, a majestic marble fountain representing Apollo, the God of the Sun, and the access to the Parc du Paillon, an oasis for children and families looking for some rest in the middle of this lively and restless city. The square leads to “Jean Médecin” and “the Carré d’Or” areas, both popular for shopping.
5. Monastère franciscain de Cimiez
Occupied since 16th centuries by the Franciscan monks, this place is a true oasis of peace where meditation and prayer is encouraged by the awe inspiring sea views over Nice, lush vegetation, botanical gardens and the sanctuary which is not to miss miss for its beautiful architecture but also for the classical music concerts held in the church! The park is divided in multiple sections: the “sacred forest”, the rose garden, the kitchen garden, the pergola with climbing plants,
The monks still work their own kitchen garden. In the cemetery nearby you will also see Henri Matisse tombstone, the famous Fauvist French painter.
6. Musée Matisse et Arènes de Cimiez
This museum dedicated to one of the most popular French post-impressionist artists (Henri Matisse) is located in a Genovese style pink villa surrounded by ancient olive trees and by the Roman ruins of an old amphitheatre. The ruins and the park worth a visit on their own which can be extended to the Franciscan Monastery nearby with incredible views over the sea and the hills all around Nice. The painter is buried in the nearby cemetery. To get here either take bus number Bus : 5, 33, 18, 16 and stop at «Arènes / Musée» Stop.
7. Musée des Beaux Arts de Nice
The Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nice is built in the former 19th century mansion built by the Russian princess, Elizaveta Vasilievna Kochubey. This elegant and ornate palace is home to paintings and sculptures of artists living on the French Riviera for the last four centuries such as Auguste Rodin, Pablo Picasso, Jean-Honoré Fragonard and many others.
8. Musée Massena
This Belle Epoque building and the Italian gardens constitute an attraction to visit itself. The interiors are home to 19th century portraits and an exposition tells the story of Nice from the beginning up to the Belle Epoque time.
9. Parc du Mont Boron
This park is the second lung of Nice and offers magnificent panoramic views over the Cap Ferrat on one side and the bay of Nice and the Cap d’ Antibes on the other! The quietness of this area is only disturbed by the cicadas and birds singing.
The fort is not accessible but you can take a walk around and admire the different point of views. You can decide to get downhill towards the pretty fishing village of Villefranche sur Mer or follow the seaside path taking you back to the Cap de Nice.
This park is the perfect place to breathe some air and find some shelter from the sun especially during summer: here you can have a panoramic picnic under the shade of Aleppo pines, olive and carob trees. Take the bus N°33 from the city centre and stop at the end of the bus trail.
If you found this article useful do not miss my French Riviera travel post about the best day trips and the places not to miss out.