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12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Nice

Written by Lisa Alexander
Nov 17, 2020

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It is easy to understand why Impressionist painters were drawn to Nice. With its sunny weather and stunning seaside scenery, this picturesque city resembles a pastel painting. 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.

The city was originally discovered in the 1820s by British aristocrats as a winter resort. Today, it is still a popular vacation destination. Considered the center of the French Riviera, Nice is the perfect starting point to explore the dazzling Côte d'Azur coastline.

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.

Nice is one of the best places to visit in France to experience the good life. From wandering the quaint cobblestone streets to strolling the famous Promenade des Anglais, the joys of spending time in this beautiful city are endless. Plan your visit with our list of the top things to do in Nice.

See also: Where to Stay in Nice

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Walk the Cobblestone Street of Vieille Ville (Old Town)

Vieille Ville (Old Town)
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. For tourists, among the most memorable things to do in Nice is visit the famous Marché aux Fleurs, a traditional Provençal flower market with outdoor stalls featuring colorful striped awnings (open every day except Mondays).

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. The Palais de la Préfecture on Rue Alexandre Mari is a splendid Neoclassical building, also known as Le Palais des Rois Sardes because it was the former palace of the Kings of Sardinia.

Exemplifying 17th-century Provençal Baroque style, the Cathédrale Sainte-Reparate has an exquisitely decorative interior, featuring Corinthian columns with gilded detailing and many little cherub figurines in friezes surrounding grand pieces of artwork. Just a few steps away is the Eglise Saint-Jacques, prized for its delicate frescoes and impressive sculpture collection.

Continuing farther north is the Palais Lascaris (15 Rue Droite), a sumptuous Baroque palace (listed as a Historic Monument) that was originally the home of the Lascaris-Vintimille family, the Counts of Castellar. The rooms on view feature furnishings from the 17th and 18th centuries, Flemish tapestries, rich stucco work, and ceiling paintings of the Italian school.

2. Stroll along the Promenade des Anglais

Promenade des Anglais
Promenade des Anglais

The most emblematic street in Nice, the Promenade des Anglais is a gorgeous pedestrian area that follows the curve of the Baie des Anges beaches. This legendary seaside road is lined with planted palm trees and filled with elegant gardens.

Originally just a small footpath, the Promenade des Anglais was developed by Englishman, Reverend Lewis Way in 1820 at his own expense. The road was further enhanced in 1931 when it was given two separate roadways. At the time, Queen Victoria's son, the Duke of Connaught, inaugurated the promenade in royal style.

Today, the road traffic has been diverted with underground tunnels, making the promenade ideal for people to stroll. The Promenade des Anglais is also popular with cyclists and skaters.

Since the Belle Epoque, it has been graced by opulent buildings such as the Palais de la Méditerranée theater and the exquisite Villa Masséna (65 Rue de France) palace. Registered as a Historic Monument, the Villa Masséna houses an art collection and is surrounded by lush gardens.

Another exceptional building on the promenade is the Le Negresco (37 Promenade des Anglais), which is listed as a National Historical Monument. Le Negresco is a lavish five-star luxury hotel with a world-class art collection and a Michelin-starred restaurant.

3. Wander through Parc de la Colline du Château (Castle Hill Park)

Parc de la Colline du Château (Castle Hill Park)
Parc de la Colline du Château (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 shady oasis features leafy palms, a waterfall, and winding paths that invite leisurely strolls. Several spots offer incredible panoramic views of the Baie des Anges, the Vieille Ville, and the Nice harbor. For refreshments, visitors can choose from two cafés with outdoor terraces.

Visitors can arrive at the Colline du Château by foot from the OId Town of Nice or take an Art-Deco lift or escalator from Place Garibaldi. Another option is to take the Little Tourist Train that departs at the end of Quai des États-Unis.

Address: Rue des Ponchettes, Rue de Foresta, Montée Montfort, Nice

4. Musée Matisse

Musée Matisse
Musée Matisse

Sitting on the hill of Cimiez, the Musée Matisse is must-see attraction for art lovers. This delightful museum occupies a historic Genoese villa surrounded by splendid Italianate gardens. The permanent collection represents an extensive and diverse ensemble of Matisse's works.

There are 31 paintings and 57 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.

The museum also hosts temporary exhibits, cultural events, and art workshops. Another highlight of the museum is the lovely setting. The grounds include an olive grove and gardens.

Address: 164 Avenue des Arènes de Cimiez, Nice

Official site: http://www.musee-matisse-nice.org

5. Monastère Notre-Dame-de-Cimiez

Monastère Notre-Dame-de-Cimiez
Monastère Notre-Dame-de-Cimiez

Near the Matisse Museum, the Monastère Notre-Dame-de-Cimiez is nestled in the stylish quarter of Cimiez directly above the ancient ruins of Cemenelum. Below the monastery are 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.

Visitors will enjoy wandering the monastery's luxuriant grounds, landscaped with Mediterranean trees and a rose garden. Vantage points from the garden offer sweeping views of the town all the way to the sea.

Address: Place du Monastère, Nice

6. Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain

Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain
Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain | Tammy Lo / photo modified

This museum of modern and contemporary art was opened in 1990. Housed in a sleek building created by architects Yves Bayard and Henri Vidal, the building has four towers faced in Carrara marble from quarries in Carrara, Italy. A whimsical modern art installation adorns the courtyard.

The museum's collection represents a cross section of fine arts from the 1960s and 1970s, including pop art and American abstract art. Particularly noteworthy are works on display by Yves Klein, of the Nouveaux Réalistes movement, who was born in Nice in 1928.

Address: Place Yves Klein, Nice

Official site: http://www.mamac-nice.org/english/

7. Soak up Nature at Jardin Albert Ier

Jardin Albert Ier
Jardin Albert Ier

With its shady trees, expansive lawn, fountains, and fragrant roses, this verdant park is a popular spot for relaxation and leisurely strolls. Families with young kids especially appreciate the park because of its playgrounds and old-fashioned carousel.

The Jardin Albert I has a pleasant open-air theater, the Théâtre de Verdure surrounded by pine and palm trees. In the spring and summer, this outdoor venue offers music concerts, including rock festivals and performances by popular rock bands.

The garden is located between the Avenue de Verdun and the Promenade des Anglais. A short walk away from the garden is the busy Avenue Jean Médecin, one of the principal shopping streets in Nice.

Address: 2-16 Avenue de Verdun, Nice

8. Musée National Marc Chagall

Musée National Marc Chagall
Musée National Marc Chagall | Rosino / photo modified

Admirers of Marc Chagall will be delighted by this museum, which houses a remarkable assortment of Chagall's biblical-themed works. The collection contains 12 large paintings depicting Old Testament illustrations, as well as a wide selection of paintings created by Chagall throughout his lifetime.

Pleasant green space surrounds the museum. The natural landscaping of olive trees, cypresses, oaks, and Mediterranean flora gives the impression of a Garden of Eden. Agapanthus flowers were planted in the garden because they bloom in early July, around the time of Chagall's birthday.

Address: Avenue Docteur Ménard, Nice

Official site: https://en.musees-nationaux-alpesmaritimes.fr/chagall/

9. Cathédrale Orthodoxe Russe Saint-Nicolas

Cathédrale Orthodoxe Russe Saint-Nicolas
Cathédrale Orthodoxe Russe Saint-Nicolas | cremona daniel / photo modified

Built in 1912 by Tsar Nicholas, the Cathédrale Orthodoxe Russe Saint-Nicolas is considered one of the most beautiful Orthodox churches outside Russia. Designed in the Muscovite style, the cathedral's richly decorated interior has the appearance of a jewel box with its ornamental icons, murals, and gilded iconostasis.

The cathedral is still used as a place of worship. Visitors are admitted but must respect certain rules: For men, wearing a shirt is required. For women, mini skirts and shorts are not allowed, shoulders should be covered, and a head covering is preferred.

Guided tours of the cathedral are available (in English, French, or Japanese) daily.

Address: Avenue Nicolas II and Boulevard Tzarévitch, Nice

10. Musée des Beaux-Arts

Musée des Beaux-Arts
Musée des Beaux-Arts

In the university district of Les Baumettes, the Musée des Beaux-Arts offers an extensive collection of works spanning the 16th to 20th centuries. The collection includes French paintings, as well as Italian and Flemish works.

Highlights are the 17th- and 18th-century French paintings, and 19th-century paintings and sculptures. Artists represented include Jules Chéret, Fragonard, Jan Brueghel de Velours, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Pierre Bonnard, and Raoul Dufy.

Address: 33 Avenue des Baumettes, Nice

11. Place Garibaldi

Place Garibaldi
Place Garibaldi

A short walk away from the Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain, the Place Garibaldi is one of the largest squares in Nice. Designed in the late 18th century and bordered by stately Baroque buildings, the square now has a modern urban feel as it is at the junction of four high-traffic thoroughfares and is crossed by a tramline. Gracing the square is a statue of famous Nice resident, the Italian freedom fighter Garibaldi.

12. Relax Among the Olive Trees in Jardin des Arenes de Cimiez

Jardin des Arenes de Cimiez
Jardin des Arenes de Cimiez

Set in a grove of hundred-year-old olive trees, this lovely garden across from the Cimiez monastery is a wonderful place of relaxation. On sunny days, locals enjoy going for leisurely strolls in the garden. Tourists will appreciate this space for its refreshing greenery, as well as the amazing sea views from the terraces.

Not just for nature lovers, the Arenes de Cimiez park also appeals to history buffs. Besides shady trees and welcome green space, the park boasts archaeological remains (an amphitheater and baths) from the ancient Roman city of Cemenelum. The garden is open to the public free of charge.

Address: 184 Avenue des Arènes de Cimiez

Where to Stay in Nice for Sightseeing

The best place to stay in Nice is close to the waterfront and the famous Promenade des Anglais, where you can enjoy the beach and soak up the seaside ambience. The Old Town, or Vieille Ville, is just a short distance to the east at the base of Colline du Château (Castel Hill). Below are some highly rated hotels in great locations:

  • Luxury Hotels: Right on the Promenade des Anglais and in the center of all the action is the Hyatt Regency Nice Palais de la Méditerranée. This five-star hotel features a spectacular pool area overlooking the sea and a chic restaurant that serves Mediterranean cuisine.

    Clinging to the cliffs below Colline du Château and just steps away from the Vieille Ville, the Hotel La Pérouse offers elegant guest rooms and gourmet dining at a lovely restaurant with a garden patio. The view of the city and bay from the rooftop sundeck is spectacular.

    A converted Belle Epoque mansion, the four-star Hôtel du Petit Palais provides spacious guest rooms and delightful terrace gardens. The hotel is within walking distance of the Musée Matisse and the Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain.
  • Mid-Range Hotels: A short walk from the Promenade des Anglais, La Villa Nice Victor Hugo offers bright, cheerful contemporary-style rooms in an elegant building of the Belle Epoque era.

    A few blocks away from the Nice train station, the Ibis Styles Nice Centre Gare features whimsical decor and a sunny outdoor patio where breakfast is served.

    The Hotel Florence Nice is tucked away on a pleasant pedestrian-only street, close to the Vieille Ville and just a five-minute walk to the Promenade des Anglais. The hotel has a variety of rooms; some feature terraces with city views.
  • Budget Hotels: Built on terraces of a lush hillside overlooking the sea, Le Panoramic Boutique Hotel offers stylish accommodations and fabulous views for the price. Most rooms have a private balcony or terrace. The hotel is a bit out of the way from most tourist attractions.

    Conveniently located in the center of Nice, the Star Hotel is just a 10-minute walk from the Vieille Ville. This two-star hotel has basic but comfortable rooms.

Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Nice

An organized tour is a great way to make sure you see all the highlights of this Côte d'Azur capital, without having to navigate your way around. You will also have a chance to see more sights in a short time, since most tour companies create day-trip itineraries that include the area's top places to visit. Below are some recommended tour options:

  • See the Top Sights: The Nice City Tour covers the top cultural attractions of Nice: the Promenade des Anglais, the Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain, the Russian Orthodox Church, Castle Hill, the Cimiez quarter, and Place Garibaldi. The tour also includes a drive along the Middle Corniche road with its stunning coastal views.
  • Bike around the City: Enjoy the idyllic scenery of tree-lined boulevards, sun-soaked beaches, and the fishing harbor on the Nice City Cycle Tour. The three-hour cycling itinerary also takes you past the Promenade des Anglais and Castle Hill. This is a small-group tour with a maximum of 14 people. Bikes and helmets are included.
  • Visit Monaco and Eze: The Monaco and Eze Small-Group Day Trip includes visits to two favorite French Riviera destinations. The medieval hilltop town of Eze delights, with its narrow cobblestone streets and breathtaking sea views. In glamorous Monaco, a fascinating Old Town, the magnificent Prince's Palace, and luxuriant gardens await visitors.
  • Tour Stunning Seaside Towns: Another guided tour that includes Monaco and Eze, the French Riviera Small Group Day Trip also stops in Cannes and the beautiful seaside town of Juan-les-Pins. This itinerary allows you to visit several of the most famous places on the French Riviera.

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imageHighlights of the French Riviera: Overlooking the serene, azure waters of the Baie des Anges, Nice is located near other gorgeous and glamorous French Riviera destinations like Monaco (20 kilometers away) and Cannes (33 kilometers away). Many smaller seaside towns and charming villages are also within easy reach from Nice on the Côte d'Azur coastline.

imageThe Charm of Provence: For those who want to explore the pastoral region of Provence, it's worth driving outside Nice to the picturesque countryside, where the hilltops are dotted with enchanting medieval perched villages. Noteworthy Provençal towns close to Nice include Saint-Paul de Vence and Grasse. About a two-hour drive from Nice are the quintessential Provençal town of Aix-en-Provence and the bustling seaport of Marseilles.

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