How to spend a weekend in Nice

Advice

Our rich and noble forebears flocked south to the Riviera capital, for the sun, unbounded friskiness and the sensuous curve of the Bay of Angels. Queen Victoria befriended Sarah Bernhardt there. And, when dying in Britain, she – the queen – allegedly gasped: “If only I were in Nice, I’d get better.” I’ve no doubt she was right. Today, the city has just as much to offer – culture, good food and festivity are in the city’s genes. And it’s still pulling in artists and high-rollers. 

But, crucially, Nice’s aspiration to sunlit sophistication is sustained by the southern blood pumping through its veins. Its heroine, Cathérine Ségurane, gained her status by mooning at attacking Turks during a 1543 siege. The local population remains feisty. Baroque churches, arm-waving commerce in the Old Town, festivals and a café terrace life of great gusto all keep the place rooted in Mediterranean reality.

Explore our interactive map below for all the local highlights, and scroll down for our suggested day-by-day summary of the best things to see and do. For further Nice inspiration, see our guides to the city’s best hotels, restaurants, nightlife and things to do.


In this guide


How to spend your weekend

Day one

Morning

Curving five miles round the bay, the Promenade des Anglais is a hyphen between sea, city and the vast sky, the most seductive seafront in France. Stroll beside palms, pergolas and joggers. Twentieth-century development has left blots, but the aura remains, underwritten by the sheen of the elements.

Walk to the Albert I gardens and then along Rue St-François-de-Paule. At number 14, Alziari is the region’s most venerable purveyor of olive-related produce. Moments further on, at 7, Auer has been making cakes since 1820. Shortly, the street spits you out onto the broad Cours Saleya whose morning flower and food market (daily, bar Mondays) is a barely controlled effusion of colours, aromas and Provençal sensuality.

Now plunge into the Old Town, its crammed streets a concentration of Mediterranean life, memories and arm-waving commerce. Note the raging Baroque of, say, the Eglise-de-Jésus at 12 Rue Droite. Then wedge yourselves into L’Acchiardo for lunch just along the same street at Number 38. The family has been serving Niçois specialities since 1927. Best to have booked – in person or on 04 93 85 51 16 – either earlier in the morning or the day before. It’s a busy spot. For more suggestions of the best things to do in the city, see our guide



Cours Saleya, Nice


The morning market at Cours Saleya is a barely-controlled effusion of colours, aromas and Provençal sensuality


Credit: Rostislav Glinsky Photography (Rostislav Glinsky Photography (Photographer) – [None]/rglinsky

Afternoon

Trek up the nearby Colline du Château where Nice was founded by the Greeks and whose castle was razed by Louis XIV. Now there’s parkland, an abundance of Niçois families at play and fine views back over Nice and the Bay. This was Nietzsche’s favourite walk, a break from writing Thus Spake Zarathustra. Trot down again to the shops. Posh, big-brand shopping clusters around Rue Paradis. The long Avenue Jean Médécin has more reasonable retail.

If not shoppers, take in the Palais de Masséna at 35, Promenade des Anglais. Amid less distinguished modern Prom developments, the palais nobly recalls Nice’s Belle Epoque. It’s now a museum, telling both the story of Nice, and its own story of wintering aristos bidding to out-lavish one another. Once free, it now costs €10 (£8.50) – but add five euros, to €15 (£13), and that gets you entry into all Nice’s municipal museums for four days.



Colline du Château, Nice


The Colline du Château is a fine and extensive park, with woodland, a waterfall and absolutely the best views over Nice and the bay


Credit: Thomas Faull/mrtom-uk

Late

Push out le bateau this evening, with cocktails in the wood-panelled bar of the legendary Hôtel Le Negresco – everyone you’ve ever heard of, Liz Taylor through Nikita Khrushchev, has drunk here before you – then dine in the recently-renewed (and lightened) ancien régime setting of the hotel’s Michelin-starred Chantecler restaurant The five-course dinner menu is at €190 (£162). Otherwise, mains are from €63 (£54). Motorcycling chef Virginie Basselot has given this already-first-rate restaurant a shot of youthful elegance and simplicity. If the price looks steep, try the same hotel’s La Rotonde, where Ms Basselot presides over brasserie-style fare, with a three-course €65 (£55) menu.

Later, Le Shapko in the old town has live blues, rock, funk and jazz every night, to 4.30am. For more suggestions of the best nightlife in the city, see our guide

Day two

Morning

Indulge your inner tourist by taking the open-topped, Grand Tour hop-on, hop-off bus (€23/£20 for the day), which starts near the Place Masséna. Commentary and music are good.

Hop off first at the top of Cimiez Hill for the Musée Matisse. The artist was based in and around Nice from 1917 to his 1954 death. This ochre-red Genoese villa, contains a terrific vertical tasting of his work. It is, though, shut for works to March 14, 2024.

While in the district, bob to the ruins of the Roman arena at 184 and, across the olive grove, to the Franciscan monastery church. The 15th-century paintings by Louis Bréa amply reward inspection. Buy a snack lunch (sandwich, croque-monsieur) from the Buvette-des-Arènes-de-Cimiez stand near the Matisse museum. Eat it under the olive trees.



Musée Matisse, Nice


Nice is filled with excellent galleries but, if you are to see only one, make it the Musée Matisse


Credit: Fotolia

Afternoon

Note, nearby, the vast and stately Régina building. Now in flats, the hotel was built to host Queen Victoria whose 100-strong entourage colonised its west wing in the winters from 1897-99. There’s still a crown on the roof. In front of the gardens, the city erected a fine statue of the monarch in her memory. It shows her feminine, regal and not a bit frumpy.

Now walk down the Boulevard-de-Cimiez, where fancy fin-de-siècle folk built frothy villas. It’s all downhill, to the Musée Marc Chagall. Chagall’s great Biblical Message tableaux surge with colour and significance.

Now hop back on the bus, to the Russian cathedral. Built for wintering Russian nobles of the Tsarist regime, it later also served Russians fleeing the 1917 revolution. It remains the most splendid Orthodox church outside Russia.



Russian cathedral, Nice


The Russian cathedral is the most visited attraction in Nice


Credit: Leonid Andronov/Leonid Andronov

Late

Walk round the Rauba Capeu headland to the port, on both sides of which cluster creditable restaurants. Among the best, and particularly for fish, is the Bistrot du Port (shut Tuesday and Wednesday) here you can expect dishes such as an excellent bouillabaisse or sea bass on fennel. Regulars have included Italian international footballer Mario Balotelli, who, after stints with Manchester City, Liverpool, OGC Nice FC and the Olympique de Marseille now plays in Turkey, so you’re in sound company. Menu of the day – starter, main course, wine and coffee – is at €20 (£17). A la carte dishes are considerably more expensive. For more suggestions of the best restaurants in the city, see our guide

Afterwards, stroll the port and the newly hip zone between there and Place Garibaldi. Rue Lascaris concentrates a number of good bars. Try, especially, La Boulisterie at N°16 – with its indoor boules terrain, classic aperitifs, and retro French style, recalling why we all like France. No music post-1989. Or the Spanish-run tapas,-wine-and-champagne Goya at N°17.


Insider tips

Neighbourhood watch

Hop the tram from Nice’s city centre, along Avenue Jacques Médécin, to Place Général de Gaulle. Here, you’re at the heart of Nice’s up-and-coming Libération quartier, where the morning market (every day bar Monday) is maybe more genuinely Niçois than the much more famous one on the Cours Saleya.

Did you know?

Pan bagna (a salade niçoise in a bun) is the Riviera’s finest sandwich for lunch on the hoof. Get the best from A’buteghinna in the Old Town. Cards are not accepted, so take cash.

Attractions

If it is wet, spend the afternoon at the cinema. Le Mercury, recently renamed Cinema Jean-Paul Belmondo – in honour of the French film star – screens many films in English with French subtitles. ‘VO’ indicates which ones are presented in their original language.

Hotels

Make for the Aston Club on the seventh floor of the Hotel Aston La Scala for live jazz and blues music, Thursday nights through Saturday, from 7pm to 11pm.

City hack

The French Riviera Pass affords free or reduced entry to museums such as the Musée Matisse, as well as activities such as the open top bus tour, Le Grand Tour. It costs €28 (£24) for one day, €40 (£34) for two.


When to go

Absolutely any time. Nice is France’s fifth city. It’s on the move 12 months a year. It doesn’t – as do mere seaside resorts – shut or stop in synchronisation with seasonal visitors, which is why there are visitors all year round. In winter, the light will be limpid, the weather maybe warm enough to eat lunch outdoors – and the nights warmed by Europe’s greatest carnival, starting in February. Spring brings added perkiness to the fruit and flowers of the great Saleya market and bright warmth to life in general, while summer – the wiseacres will tell you – is hot and packed. And so what? There’s something very appealing about being in a city when it’s at full tilt – with festivals, crowds and life lived late on scores of bar terraces. September and October are more mellow, but only mildly so. While the temperature might better suit British people, the sea may still be warm enough for bathing, and Nice will remain Mediterranean. Its “mellow” might strike other people as rather exuberant.


Where to stay

Luxury Living

The lavish Hôtel Le Negresco is the most-recognised landmark along the Niçoise seafront – topped by a flamboyant pink dome that was allegedly inspired by the architect’s mistress. It’s absolutely alive with genuine artistic treasures. Dining at the Michelin-starred restaurant Le Chantecler is an unashamedly extravagant gastronomic affair complete with 18th-century dark wooden panelling and impressive oil paintings. 

From

£
299

pn

Rates provided by
Booking.com



Hôtel Negresco, Nice


The lavish Hôtel Negresco is the most-recognised landmark along the Niçoise seafront

Boutique Bolthole

Bang in the centre, near the sea and opened in summer 2018, the Deck Hotel has a freshness and friendliness which make it one of my favourites in Nice. Light with the blues and whites of the Med sea, awash with good intentions (free coffee and bites through the afternoon, pool, table football, smiles), the place has cabin-style rooms. Standards ones are a bit small, but otherwise I found no fault. 

Doubles from €104 (£89).

Budget Beauty

A couple of blocks back from the Promenade des Anglais, the Hotel Villa Rivoli marries class to snugness in a highly satisfactory manner. Owner Barbara Kimmig started her career in luxury hotels, and has brought similar standards and exigence to venerable surroundings. Both salon and small gardens speak of an earlier age. Be warned, though: the least expensive rooms may be considered over-snug. Then again, in Nice, how much time are you going to spend in a hotel bedroom? For more suggestions of the best hotels in the city, see our guide

Doubles from €85 (£73).


What to bring home

Nice is only a hop from perfume capital Grasse, where Molinard is one of the most venerable producers. The firm’s Nice outlet is at 20 Rue St François de Paul. It smells irresistible.

Or go for wine. The tiny Bellet appellation supplies Nice’s (expensive) house wine from the hills directly behind the city. Try neo-Tuscan Château de Crémat for reds, or Domaine de la Source for whites.



Molinard, Nice


The smell at the Molinard perfume shop in Nice is irresistible


Essential Information

  • Nice is covered by the British Consulate in Marseille: 00 33 491 15 72 10, Les Docks de Marseille, Atrium 10.3, 1er Etage/1st Floor, 13002 Marseille. Open Mon, Wed, Fri, 9.30am-12h30. Staff are presently working remotely but, by phone and for emergencies, someone is available 24/7.
  • British Embassy, Paris: 00 33 144 51 31 00
  • Emergency services: Dial 112
  • Nice Tourist Office: 00 33 492 144 614; nicetourisme.com, 5 Promenade des Anglais

The basics

  • Currency: Euro
  • Telephone code: Dial 00 33 for France. French telephone numbers are almost all 10-digits, starting with “0”. When calling from abroad, knock of this initial “0”
  • Time difference: + 1 hour
  • Flight time: London to Nice is around two hours

Local laws and etiquette

  • French law requires that you always have personal ID about your person, so keep your passport on you.
  • If driving, you must have a fluorescent yellow bib in the car. It’s to be put on should you break down on a busy road and need to be visible to other motorists – and it’s a legal requirement.
  • Covid has changed greetings in France. When introduced to someone, one used to shake him or her by the hand. Now, unless you know them very well, the tendency is to bump elbows or fists. For te time being, cheek-kissing has declined – except between close acquaintances.
  • Note that, when offered something (a fill-up of your wine glass, more bread, a minor treat), simply saying “Merci” indicates refusal, as in “No, thank you”. This is quite different from British practice, where saying a simple “Thank you” implies acceptance, as in “Yes, thank you”. So, if you want your wine glass filled or more bread, don’t say “Merci”. Say “Oui, s’il vous plait.”
  • Round-the-clock snacking is far less common in France than in the UK – as is eating or drinking in the street. French practices are loosening, but you’re still unlikely to draw admiring glances if you’re walking along at 4pm with pizza in one hand, a can of beer in the other.

Author Bio

For 35 years, Nice authority Anthony has perpetuated the double-centennial relationship between noble Britons and the capital of the Côte-d’Azur. Few suspect he’s really a prole from Preston, Lancs.

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