Heading to Nice on the French Riviera and not sure what to do? Here are eight things to do when you visit Nice.
1. Stroll along Promenade des Anglais, Nice
No visit to Nice would be complete without a wander along the Promenade des Anglais. Stretching for eight kilometres alongside the Mediterranean, the palm tree-lined Promenade was named after the wealthy English that started frequenting Nice in the 1830’s.
Lining the beach beside the promenade, you’ll find an endless number of beach umbrellas and sun lounges. It’s not cheap to sun yourself or swim here – each ‘zone’ is privately run and charges apply to rent the lounges and umbrellas, but it’s not every day you get to sunbake on the Mediterranean in Nice!
Speaking of beaches, here are 7 things you should know before travelling to Nice.
There are also plenty of water activities on offer like parasailing and jet skiing – and even an above ground swimming pool!! – and on the promenade itself, artists display their wares.
2. Explore Nice’s Old Town
A jumble of narrow alleyways, piazzas and Italianate buildings, Nice’s Old Town offers a great insight into the history of the city. Now a thriving commercial hub where you can buy everything from local produce like olive oil and lavender products to clothes and souvenirs – and everything in-between – Nice’s Old Town has a real buzz to it.
There are endless cafes, restaurants and bars at which to sit and people watch whilst you dine, or simply spend your time browsing. There are numerous notable buildings worth checking out including Cathedrale Ste-Reparte.
3. Visit the Flower Market in Cours Saleya
Each morning (except Monday), a huge flower market is held in cours Saleya in Nice’s old town. A riot of colour and scent, the Flower Market is THE place to buy fresh flowers in Nice.
If buying is not on your agenda, it’s still worth a wander amongst the stalls. The market runs until around 1pm each day and on Monday’s an antique market is held instead of the flower market.
4. Visit Villefranche-sur-Mer
Just seven kilometres to the east of Nice, Villefranche-sur-Mer is a pretty town that hugs a small bay. With the waters here deeper than in Nice itself, this is where the big cruise ships dock when they visit the French Riviera.
Villefranche’s bay is lined with pretty, Italianate-style pastel-coloured buildings (this stretch of coast was part of Italy until 1860) that overlook the bobbing boats, and the waterfront is lined with cafes and shops selling the usual beach gear and souvenirs.
Much quieter than Nice, Villefranche is a great place to sit and watch the fisherman haul in their catch of the day, or to wander amongst the narrow, winding backstreets.
Where to eat in Villefranche-sur-Mer
On our second morning we at breakfast at a restaurant down by the harbour. For €6 each we enjoyed bread and croissants with jam, juice and coffee – and a great view!
5. Visit Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
For garden lovers (like me), a visit to Baroness Rothschild’s villa and garden, Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, is a must. The magnificent villa, which sits atop a hill at St. Jean Cap Ferrat and overlooks both the Bay of Villefranche and the Bay of Beaulieu, and its beautiful gardens, are open to the public all year round.
Start your visit with a wander through the villa, a lovely pink Italian palazzo-style building. Numerous rooms, furnished as they were in the Baroness’s day, are open and a free audio guide provides a commentary on the various artworks and furnishings on display, including the Baroness’s priceless porcelain collection.
But for me, the gardens were the highlight. Seven different garden styles complete Villa Ephrussi including French, Japanese, Provencal and Exotic gardens and a rose garden. One of the main features, though, are the musical fountains that ‘perform’ to music every 20 minutes.
Bus Stop: Plage de Passable (line 81)
Entry fee: €15 per adult, discounts apply for seniors, students and families
6. Enjoy lunch by the water at St. Jean Cap Ferrat
After your visit to Villa Ephrussi, head downhill to the small harbour at St. Jean Cap Ferrat (it’s about a 10 minute walk). Around here is some of the most expensive real estate in the world but lunch by the water is affordable for most.
There are numerous waterside restaurants and pizzerias, and there’s a pretty relaxed feel to the town. Mind you, I guess if you lived here, you could be pretty relaxed – money wouldn’t be an issue, anyway!
If you’re catching the bus back to Nice, you can do so from the port. We were lucky to enjoy great conversation with an English couple on the table next to us at lunch and they kindly invited us to join them on ‘their’ boat back to Villefranche.
They’d arranged for to be collected by a speed boat, and it was a fantastic way to catch a glimpse of the seaside towns from the water. It sure beat the bus!!
7. Join the rich and famous in Monaco
How can you come to this part of the world and not visit Monaco? While it’s definitely not somewhere I’d return to in a hurry, I’m glad we made the effort to visit the tiny Principality.
We caught the public bus from Villefranche, and the drive itself was worth the making the trip. Hugging the coastline, along the Moyenne Corniche, the views were spectacular.
Monaco’s must-see sights include the famous casino and the harbour, lined with multi-million dollar yachts. Just as I expected, outside the Grand Casino it was bumper to bumper with expensive cars and their well-to-do owners.
From the casino, it was a short walk downhill to the harbour at Porte de Monaco where we wandered amongst the yachts and pondered their price tags.
Having had our fix of overpriced cars and boats, we headed to rue Princess Caroline, a pedestrianised street close to the harbour, where we enjoyed a nice meal at an outdoor cafe.
If we’d had more time, we could have shopped at the designer stores (not on our budget!) or visited the Palais Princier, the seat of Monaco’s government or the Jardin Exotique (exotic garden). Instead, we caught the bus back to Villefranche.
Where to eat in Monaco
Cafe Bilig in rue Princess Caroline offers a good selection of reasonably priced meals. Grab a table outside if you can.
8. Head for the hills with a visit to the hilltop towns of Eze or St. Paul de Vence
If you have a little longer to spend in Nice, a visit to the hilltop towns of Eze or St. Paul-de-Vence offers a total change of pace.
Eze sits on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Mediterranean, offering fantastic views. It attracts visitors in the thousands to its Jardin Exotique and to browse the narrow streets that are filled with galleries and craft workshops.
St. Paul-de-Vence, one of the most famous hilltop villages in the south of France, is home to medieval buildings and 16th century ramparts and has attracted artists since the early 20th century. The best seat in town can be found at the Colombe d’Or where many famous faces have dined over the years.
Getting around the French Riviera
The public bus service along the French Riviera is great. Services run regularly and are very cheap. Any journey on the Nice to Cap Ferrat line or the Nice – Monaco – Menton line is around €2 per person, regardless of the distance travelled.
There is also a train service along the French Riviera.
Where to stay near Nice
We opted to stay in Villefranche-sur-Mer instead of Nice and were happy with our decision. We stayed at Hotel Le Versailles which is located on the main road and overlooks the harbour. Rooms were OK but didn’t have a fridge, tea or coffee facilities or an iron. They did have a bathtub, WiFi (slow) and a balcony.
The hotel has a pool on a terrace overlooking the harbour, a nice bar and terrace area (from where we were fortunate to watch a spectacular fireworks display) and free car parking.
The public bus stopped just outside the front of the hotel and it was a ten minute walk down to the harbour.
Breakfast at the hotel cost €17 each and was quite basic (no hot foods). We ate here the first morning but chose a cafe by the harbour the following day. For other accommodation options, search hotels here.
If you’ve visited Nice, please tell me if I’ve missed any of your favourite sights and activities in my 8 Things to Do in Nice.
Prices correct 2020.