Nice, capital of the Alpes-Maritimes department on the French Riviera, sits on the pebbly shores of the Baie des Anges. Founded by the Greeks and later a retreat for 19th-century European elite, the city has also long attracted artists. t is easy to understand why Impressionist painters and English aristocrats were drawn to Nice. With its sunny weather and stunning seaside scenery, this picturesque city seems to mesmerize its visitors. Surrounded by the serene blue waters of the Baie des Anges and sheltered by the foothills of the Maritime Alps, Nice has a mild climate year-round. Nice is a place to enjoy life, to take in the beauty of the gardens and the sea, and to soak up the vibrant Mediterranean energy. The city has a distinctive Italian character that’s especially visible in the Old Town. Whether wandering the quaint cobblestone streets or strolling the famous Promenade des Anglais, visitors will be delighted by the beauty, culture, and ambience of Nice. Today, it is still a popular vacation destination.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Nice is in the shoulder season of September to October, or from mid-March to April when you can capitalize on the low room rates.
Top Places to Visit in Nice
- Vieille Ville (Old Town)
The picturesque Old Town of Nice, with its maze of narrow alleyways and cobblestone streets, has a lively ambience reminiscent of Italy. Popularly known as “Babazouk,” the Vieille Ville begins at the western end of the Colline du Château (Castle Hill) and is bounded by spacious boulevards, including the Jardin Albert I, Place Masséna, and Promenade du Paillon. The southern end of the Old Town borders the Ponchettes market stalls at the Cours Saleya, where fishmongers and grocers sell fresh products. Besides the gastronomic appeal, the area around the Cours Saleya has many cultural attractions. On the Quai des Etats-Unis is the Galerie des Ponchettes (Musée Dufy), a museum dedicated to the artwork of Raoul Dufy. This museum displays an outstanding collection of Dufy’s charming, vibrant paintings. Exploring the Old Town further, north of the Cours Saleya, tourists will come across the Palais de la Préfecture, the Nice Cathedral, and another noteworthy 17th-century Baroque church.
2. Castle Hill Park
On a hill overlooking the Nice coastline, the site of Castle Hill was the first area of Nice to be inhabited by the Greeks two millennia ago. Once considered impregnable, the citadel was destroyed by soldiers of the French King Louis XIV in 1706. Now the property is set aside entirely as a park. This idyllic place is a pleasant oasis of greenery, shady trees, and rushing waterfalls. The park inspires visitors to enjoy a leisurely stroll and take in the spectacular views.
3. Cathédrale Orthodoxe Russe Saint-Nicolas
Built in 1912 by Tsar Nicholas, the Cathédrale Orthodoxe Russe Saint-Nicolas is considered one of the most beautiful Orthodox churches outside of Russia. Inspired by the Muscovite style, the cathedral has a richly decorated interior with many ornamental icons, murals, and carved woodwork, as well as an iconostasis of embossed metal. A virtual jewel box, the interior contains historical and religious objects that were brought here from Russia during its time of turmoil. The cathedral is still used as place of worship. Visitors are admitted but must respect certain rules: Men will not be admitted bare-chested or in shorts. For women, mini skirts and shorts are not allowed, shoulders should be covered, and a head covering is preferred.
4. Musée Matisse
Sitting on the hill of Cimiez, the Musée Matisse is must-see attraction for art lovers. This delightful museum lies in a historic Genoese villa surrounded by splendid Italianate gardens. The permanent collection represents an extensive and diverse ensemble of Matisse’s works. There are 68 paintings, 236 designs, 218 drawings, and 56 sculptures (almost all the sculptures Matisse ever created), along with interesting sketches for the decorations of the Chapel in Vence. The entire ensemble of works provides an overview of the artist’s creative method and genius.
5. Monastère Notre-Dame-de-Cimiez
Near the Matisse Museum and surrounded by beautiful gardens, the Monastère Notre-Dame-de-Cimiez lies in the stylish quarter of Cimiez directly above the ancient ruins of Cemenelum, which has interesting vestiges of the Roman baths and amphitheater. Originally a Benedictine foundation, the monastery was taken over by the Franciscans in the 16th century and extended in the 17th century. Its present appearance is characterized by the restoration carried out according to Gothic models in 1850. Inside the church are fine altarpieces of the Nice school, including a Crucifix by Bréa dating from 1475. The square outside offers an outstanding view and features a marble cross dating from 1477. The monastery also has a museum that shows the life of the Franciscan monks in Nice from the 13th to the 18th century. The visit offers insight into the general spiritual and social work of the Franciscan order.