There are so many things to do in Nice, France’s fifth most populous city located plum on the gorgeous French Riviera. Any trip to the famous Cote d’Azur undoubtedly features Nice, as with its glorious old town and huge promenade along the seaside it is the perfect base for a whole bunch of exploring along the southern French coastline.
But Nice is much more than just a home base for exploring. There is so much to discover in this city including amazing sights, quaint historical areas and delicious food. There are infinite things to do in Nice, but I’ve compiled my top 15 to help you plan your visit.
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Where to stay in Nice
I’ve stayed in a few different parts of Nice and whilst all were enjoyable I would always recommend staying as close as possible to the old town. The Mercure Marché Aux Fleurs is my favourite as it is located right on the Cours Saleya where the flower market is.
It is also just across the road from the Promenade des Anglais.
1. Walk the Promenade des Anglais
Nice’s most famous attraction is the long stretch of seaside that runs along the Mediterranean Sea for around 7km from the airport all the way down to the Quai des États-Unis and Chateau du Colline. Stroll the Promenade, joining the throngs of skaters, dog walkers and joggers who are out to enjoy Nice’s most spectacular sight.
When you need a rest, take a stop at the iconic blue chairs set out along the pathway and watch the world go by. For the budget conscious traveller, it’s the perfect activity as it is absolutely free. This needs to be the top of anyone's list of things to do in Nice.
2. Explore the Cours Saleya Marketplace
At the heart of Nice’s old town is the bustling marketplace, Cours Saleya. This striped umbrella covered centre of commerce features the famous Marché Aux Fleurs, showering the central marketplace in vibrant colours in the form of fresh cut flowers.
Not to miss out on the action, fresh fruit and vegetables are also in plentiful supply here. The market-place heaves full of life daily before it clears out to make way for outdoor dining at surrounding restaurants in the evening. This is definitely one of the best things to do in Nice to get in touch with the history of the city.
3. Take in the view from Chateau du Colline
The best free view in Nice, the Chateau du Colline is perched up high above the Port end of the Promenade des Anglais. Be prepared for some stair climbing to reach the summit, but when you look down on the Cote d’Azur from above, you’ll see why this is the most remarkable vantage point to see the long stretch of coastline where Nice meets the sea.
There is a lovely park and some ruins atop the Chateau du Colline as well and views that look down over the Port of Nice as well as the Promenade.
4. Watch the fountains at Promenade du Paillon
This long, rectangular park that starts at the central Place Massena features a long stretch of thin water cover over fountains that shoot up at designated times, making a fantastic display of water for young and old. The Miroir d’Eau also lights up at night, with the colours of the French flag red, white and blue featuring heavily.
It’s a lot of fun to watch kids and the young at heart walk amongst the bursts of water, trying to dodge the inevitable soaking. It’s a beautiful spot to spend some time, day or night.
5. Enjoy a serve of steak-frites at Chez Acchiardo
Nice’s food is one of my favourite things to experience when I visit. Deep in the heart of Nice’s Vielle Ville, Chez Acchiardo might be tourist-laden, but it is popular for a reason. Family run and always busy, this weeknights-only, quaint restaurant serves up delicious local fare.
The steak-frites has to be my favourite meal here, but to be honest it is all good. To reserve a table at Chez Acchiardo, either call the restaurant, or wander past the night before you’d like to visit and book a table in person.
6. Wander the Vielle Ville
Nice’s Old Town is a tourist attraction in itself. By day, enjoy the saffron coloured buildings and colourful street vendors. By night, stumble across restaurants and bars hidden in the maze of narrow laneways that makes up Vieux Nice.
Make sure you stop past to admire the beautifully designed Opera House, the Palais de Justice and the many cathedrals and churches contained within the historic district of Nice. One of the main joys here is simply to allow yourself to get lost amongst the winding alleys and discover hidden gems.
7. Visit the Super Luxe Negresco Hotel
Opulence doesn’t get much more definitive than the grandeur of the Negresco Hotel, the Riviera’s most famous hotel. Overlooking the Promenade des Anglais, this beautiful hotel has graced the French Riviera since 1913. For the budget conscious, simply enjoy the white, green and pink domed exterior of the hotel against the sunny skies of Nice. It is particularly impressive at sunrise and sunset.
For the higher-end traveller, a visit inside is possible if you visit the Negresco’s bar and purchase a drink. The beverage prices here are exorbitant, but if an Aperol Spritz made with Tattinger champagne is your thing, then look no further. The interiors of the hotel are impressive, but with cocktails costing 25 euro, it’s probably not the place you’re likely to stay for more than one round.
8. Walk around the Port of Nice
On the other side of Chateau du Colline lies the Port of Nice. Often neglected for the much more coveted Promenade des Anglais, the Port also has beautiful scenery to cast your eyes over. Across the water, coloured buildings stand out against the sky as yachts and smaller boats bob in and out of the harbour.
At the start of the walk around to the port, you’ll come across the photogenic I Love Nice sign which also offers great views back over the Promenade and huge bay area Nice is famous for.
9. Take in a trademark Nice sunset
Nice consistently has some of the most picturesque sunsets I’ve ever experienced. Without fail, around 7pm the sky over the Promenade des Anglais starts to soften and the clouds turn a kind of pink-ish purple.
It is a lengthy sunset usually, and as the last rays drop below the mountain top, golden hour really sets in with soft lighting and candy-coloured hues above.
10. Sample the seasonal cuisine of Bar Des Oiseaux
Bar des Oiseaux is a great example of a local restaurant, though sometimes the wait staff can be a little abrupt as they get busy. The food here, though, is worth it with a seasonal menu featuring lots of fresh Niçoise seafood. Both times I’ve eaten here, the food has been exceptional and for a Michelin recommended restaurant the prices are extremely reasonable.
The décor is cute, and the restaurant is intimate with the kitchen in the open at the centre of the restaurant. What to eat? Anything with calamari here is brilliant.
11. People watch at Place Garibaldi
Place Garibaldi marks the end of the Vielle Ville on the Acropolis side of Nice. It is a picturesque square with shuttered buildings painted in canary yellow and a fountain at the centre.
Bordering the square are a number of restaurants and cafes, so grab some traditional French breakfast and start your day with a spot of people watching. It's a common meeting point for locals, so there's always plenty to see.
12. Get cultured at one of Nice's many art museums
Nice has plenty of museums to get your creative juices flowing. The Riviera boasts strong connections to the artists Matisse and Marc Chagall and both artists are represented here with museums in their name. MAMAC is the acronym given to the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art which features the work of Yves Klein amongst others. It also has a great rooftop view back over Place Garibaldi and Nice.
It’s easily spotted by the big square head marking the spot where the museum lies. My favourite art museum, though, is the Photography Museum. It’s smaller and unassuming and if you weren’t looking for it, you’d never spot it nestled in amongst the throngs of the Cours Saleya.
13. Satisfy your inner carnivore at La Rossitisserie
The French definitely know how to do roasted meats - sorry vegetarian & vegan readers! This cute little restaurant in Vieux Nice serves up a simple menu – your choice of roasted seasoned meat and a choice of side.
Here, the choice is as simple as chicken, lamb, beef or pork accompanied by roast potatoes, ratatouille or salad. You don’t need to think too hard either, because as you see the dishes start coming out, you’ll realise it is all equally as good.
Rossitisserie, like the other restaurants on this list, gets very busy, so a reservation is recommended at least the day before.
14. Take a day trip (or three)
Nice is the perfect base for exploring the French Riviera, but there are so many other towns to see along the coastline and even just a little inland up in the mountains if day tripping is your thing.
With the Riviera at your disposal, you have the choice of exploring quaint seaside towns like Menton, Antibes or Villefranche-sur-mer, mountainside villages such as Èze, Grasse or Saint Paul de Vence or more glitzy celebrity haunts such as Cannes or the Principality of Monaco.
The trains and bus lines of the Provence Alpes region are pretty reliable and with buses costing a mere 1.50 euros, they’re extremely economical. Check out my top 9 towns to visit in the Riviera.
15. Pay your respects at the War Memorial
Nice’s War Memorial can be spotted on a walk round to the Port of Nice from the I Love Nice sign. It’s erected against the cliffs where Chateau du Colline is perched. It commemorates those who fought and lost their lives in World War One and Two as well as the Indochina and Algeria Wars.
The memorial is extremely powerful and well designed. It’s perfect for a moment of reflection and respect for those from Nice who fought and died in the name of protecting their country.
In writing this list I became more and more aware of not just how many things there are to do in Nice, but also how many FREE things there are to do in this city. With a lot of the most famous and best things to do not costing a cent, there’s absolutely no reason not to visit.
The French Riviera is one of the world's most beautiful spots and Nice is front and centre as the heart of the Cote d'Azur.