If you visit France and only get to Paris, you’re missing out on one of the best regions in the country. Nice is one of the 5 biggest cities in France and has a distinctly different feel from Paris and, really, any other part of the country. Because of its location on the coast and its proximity to Italy (it was actually part of Italy at various points in its history), this city has a more laid back beach vibe than its northern counterpart. As one of the key towns on the French Riviera, it also has the associated appeal, glamour and costs. This is where you go to see and be seen – beaches, yachts, clubs, casinos – it’s all here for the taking.
Why to go: Nice and the surrounding area has something for everyone – fascinating history, incredible museums, beautiful beaches, high-profile festivals, lively nightlife and fantastic food. The only cautions when planning a visit to the French Riviera are the cost and the crowds.
When to go: The busiest tourist season (and resulting highest prices) is during the summer – May through August, in particular. So, if you can avoid that timing, you will find it easier to get around and won’t be paying the “tourist” prices. With the reputation, glamour and luxury of this area, it would not be surprising to bump into a celebrity or two. This is even more likely an occurrence, in early May when a spotlight shines on this coast and the red carpet is rolled out for the Cannes Film Festival.
What to see/do: There’s lots to keep you busy in all of the towns on this coast. Specifically, within the town of Nice, there are a few well-known museums you can find in the city’s oldest area, called Cimiez. For a great hike and breathtaking view of the city and its stunning Mediterranean bay (Baie des Anges), head up to the castle on the hill above the old town (Vieux Nice). And for a very pleasant and flat walk along the sea, take a stroll along the Promenade des Anglais, which you can follow from the airport along the entire Baie des Anges to the old port of Nice (in the old town). Vieux Nice, itself, is a great place to wander, people-watch, window shop and take in the culture. Don’t miss the flower and produce market that takes place here every morning. Unfortunately, if you’re visiting Nice for the beaches, you’re going to be disappointed. Nice’s beaches consist entirely of stones that make walking barefooted or sunbathing very uncomfortable. You can buy a straw mat or rent one of the many chairs offered at the beach or you can take a short train ride in either direction along the coast for a more enjoyable experience. Villefranche and Antibes are two perfect alternatives.
What to eat/drink: A few local specialties to try include “socca” which is a chickpea flat bread (most easily found in Vieux Nice) and “pan bagnat”, which is a sandwich made with tuna. Other typical local dishes include fish and local vegetables. You’ll also notice that there’s an Italian influence in the local food as a result of the city’s history and location. Ice cream is always a great way to end a meal here and Fennochio’s is the place to get it.
Where to make a detour: There are so many great day trips you can take from Nice. If you have to choose just one, though, pick a visit to Eze Village. This is a charming little walled-in hill town that’s easily accessible by bus from Nice. The views from Eze are spectacular and you’ll love the cactus garden. If you’re up for the adventure, you can do the steep hike between Eze Village and Eze-sur-Mer, or if you want to extend your hike, return to Nice on foot.