In 1822, Nice’s orange crop had an awful year. The workers faced a lean time, so the English residents employed them to build the promenade des Anglais, today a wide boulevard fronting the bay that stretches for 7km (4 1/4 miles), all the way to the airport. Along the beach are rows of grand cafes, the Musée Masséna, and the city’s most glamorous hotels.

Crossing this boulevard in the tiniest bikinis are some of the world’s most attractive bronzed bodies. They’re all heading for the beach. Tough on tender feet, la plage is made not of sand, but of pebbles (and not small ones, either).

Rising sharply on a rock at the eastern end of the promenade is the Colline du Château. Once a fortified bastion, the hill has since been turned into a wonderful public park complete with a waterfall, cafés, and a giant children’s play area, as well as an incredibly ornate cemetery. Head up aboard an elevator from the quai des Etats-Unis; more athletic visitors can walk up one of five sets of steep steps. The park is open daily from 8am to dusk.

advertisement

Continuing east of the Colline, you reach the Vieux Port, or harbor, where the restaurants are filled with locals. While lingering over a drink at a sidewalk cafe, you can watch the ferries depart for Corsica and the yachts for St-Tropez. Just inland, the neighborhood around rue Bonaparte and place Garibaldi has become one of the hippest in town: head here for authentic eateries, hip bars, and the superb MAMAC (Museum of Contemporary Art).

The Vieille Ville, or Old Town, begins at the foot of the Colline and stretches to place Masséna. Sheltered by red-tiled roofs, many of the Italianate facades suggest 17th-century Genoese palaces, including the free museum Palais Lascaris. The Old Town is a maze of narrow streets teeming with local life, flower-strewn squares, and traditional boulangeries: sample a Niçois-style onion pizza (pissaladière) here. Many of the buildings are painted a faded Roman gold, and their banners are laundry flapping in the sea breeze.

From Tuesday through Sunday (8am–1pm), the Old Town’s main pedestrianized thoroughfare, the cours Saleya, is crowded with local producers selling seasonal fruits and vegetables, cured meats, and artisanal cheeses. At the market’s western end is the Marché aux Fleurs. A rainbow of violets, lilies and roses, the market operates Tuesday to Sunday from 8am to around 6pm. On Monday (8am–6pm) the cours Saleya is occupied by a superb antiques market, with vendors carting wares in from across France and Italy.

advertisement

Nice’s centerpiece is place Masséna, with rococo buildings and bubbling fountains, as well as the new Promenade du Paillon parkway that stretches from the MAMAC down to the Jardin Albert-1er. With palms and exotic flowers, this pedestrian-only zone is one of the prettiest places in town. During renovations, the city authorities discovered an Archeological Crypt near place Garibaldi, place Jacques Toja (www.nice.fr/culture; tel. b 5€ adults, 2.50€ children under 16; closed Tues, Thurs, and Fri). The site can now be visited on a 60-min. guided tour.

In the once-aristocratic hilltop quarter of Cimiez, 5km (3 miles) north of Nice, Queen Victoria wintered at the Hôtel Excelsior. Half the English court traveled down from Calais with her on a luxurious private train. To reach this suburb and its attractions, take bus no. 15 from bd. Dubouchage.

Organized Tours

advertisement

Bus tours — One of the most enjoyable ways to quickly gain an overview of Nice is aboard a Nice Open Top (www.nice.opentour.com; tel. 04-92-29-17-00) double-decker bus. Between 10am and 6pm year-round, one of a flotilla of this company’s buses departs from a position adjacent to the Jardin Albert I. The panoramic 90-min. tour takes in the harbor, the museums of Cimiez, the Russian church, and the promenade. Per-person rates for the experience are 22€ adults, 18€ students, and 5€ for children 4 to 11. Participants can get off at any of 12 stops en route and re-board any other buses, which follow at 30- to 60-min. intervals, depending on the season. Advance reservations aren’t necessary, and commentary is piped through to headsets in seven different languages. For just 3€ more, visitors can purchase a 2-day pass.

Another easy way to see the city is by the small Train Touristique de Nice (www.trainstouristiquesdenice.com; tel. 06-08-55-08-30), which also departs from the promenade des Anglais, opposite Jardin Albert I. The 45-min. ride passes many of Nice’s most-heralded sites, including place Masséna, the Old Town, and the Colline du Château. Departing every 30 min., the train operates daily 10am to 5pm (Apr–May and Sept until 6pm and June–Aug until 7pm). The round-trip price is 10€ adults and 5€ children 4 to 12.

Walking tours — The Office du Tourisme organizes a “Discover the heart of Nice” English-language walking tour of Nice Old Town every Saturday morning at 9.30am. It departs from the Tourist Office at 5 promenade des Anglais, and costs 12€, or [6] for children. It winds through markets, artists’ residences, and along the ancient streets.

advertisement

Cycling tours — Energetic guests may join Nice Cycle Tours (www.nicecycletours.com; tel. 06-19-99-95-22), 3-hr. bike voyages around the city. Tours cost 35€ per person, and the friendly team also run food tours and eBike expeditions. More professional cyclists can join Danish biker Tina Baltzer at Lifesparkz (www.lifesparkz.net; tel. 06-40-52-94-39). Her trips (from 40€ person) run along the Tour de France and Ironman routes that ribbon across the French Riviera. 

Boat tours — Nice owes its soul to the sea. In 1993, the nations of France, Italy, and Monaco teamed together for protect an 87,500km2 (33,784 square miles) sanctuary for giant pelagics. To spot dolphins, turtles, and the Riviera's seasonal pod of migrating whales, take a trip into the blue with Fastboat (www.dolphins-whales-watching-med.com; tel. 06-12-73-73-90; departures from Nice Port and Beaulieu-sur-Mer). The 4-hour adventure costs 120€, or 70€ for children ages 11 and under. Fastboat’s experienced captain is extremely respectful of local mammals and sea life.

Alternative tours — Possibly the coolest way to get around Nice is by Segway, the two-wheeled electronic scooters. Mobilboard, 2 rue Halévy (www.mobilboard.com; tel. 04-93-80-21-27) runs tours. Children 14 (minimum age) to 17 must be accompanied by an adult. A 1-hr.-long tour of Nice costs 30€ per person. Alternatively, 2CV Escapade, 7 pl. Ile de Beauté (www.2cv-escapade.com; tel. 06-52-01-30-40), in Nice Port, offers multilingual city tours in a classic Citroën convertible from 60€ per group of two or three persons. 

advertisement

Food tours — Foodie visitors to Nice should pack a pair of plus-size shorts. Those not content with a personal market tour can join the professionals at The French Way (www.thefrenchway.fr; tel. 06-27-35-13-75), for a 3-hour market tour. Sample local delights like tarte aux blettes and socca chickpea pancakes en-route. Tours costs 65€ per person. In a similar vein A Taste of Nice (www.foodtoursofnice.com; tel. 06-19-99-95-22), run a highly regarded Niçois cuisine food tour. The 3 to 4 hour guided walk indulges in local specialties and wines. Prices are 60€ per person. The outfit's other tours include an organic wine tasting 'Tour de France', plus an electronic bicycle tour that, to quote, "even couch potatoes" can enjoy. Cordon Bleu-trained Canadian chef Rosa Jackson runs Niçois cooking school Les Petits Farcis (www.petitsfarcis.com; tel. 06-81-67-41-22). Rosa’s market tour, followed by a cooking class and four-course gourmet lunch in her 17th-century Old Town apartment, costs 195€ per person.

French Riviera Museum and Travel Passes

Visitors who aim to hit the sights hard can save with two great value travel cards. The French Riviera Pass (www.frenchrivierapass.com) is best for hardcore culture vultures. It costs 26€ for 24 hr., 38€ for 48 hr., or 56€ for 72 hr. and offers access to over 60 choice sights. These include the Villa Kerylos on Cap-Ferrat (usually 10€), the Musée Chagall in Nice (normally 10€), and the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco (a whopping 16€). City tours like the Mobilboard Segway ride (17€) and the snorkeling boat trip to Villefranche (25€) are also included. 

advertisement

The Cote d’Azur Card (www.cotedazur-card.com) was relaunched in summer 2018. For 45€, or 25€ for children, holders can visit all the sights featured on the French Riviera Pass and get bus tours and seaside activities too. A more relaxed adventure, it allows for unlimited usage for 3 days out of 6, so you don’t have to kill yourself with culture during a 72-hr. window. Highlights include Nice’s hop-on hop-off Open Top Bus Tour (normally 22€), plus paddleboard trips and island boat rides from Cannes. 

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.