Nice Travel Guide: Tips for this French Riviera City

Nice Travel Guide

Looking for a nice Nice travel guide? (Get it? I know, I’m clever.) Since I just planned a weekend here, I’m putting all my best advice below!

Back when I was planning my big Asia and Europe trip, I knew my friend, Elissa, and I would want to plan at least one weekend in May for travel. She wanted to go somewhere in southern France, and we, luckily, ended up in Nice!

I say luckily because one of the other places we considered was Cannes, which would’ve coincided with the Cannes Film Festival and been a crowed nightmare. And if we had booked one weekend later, we’d have been competing with the Grand Prix in Monaco, which would’ve also been a crowded nightmare.

Anyway, I really didn’t have many expectations for Nice besides knowing I just wanted to walk around and relax, which is pretty much exactly what I did. It wound up being so lovely! Full of buildings designed to be French but colored to be Italian, there’s quite a bit to do, see, and eat, making it the perfect introduction to the French Riviera. If you’re planning some Nice travel, here’s all you need to know below.

Nice Travel Tips for First Time Visitors

History of Nice

A Brief History of Nice

Nice as we begin to know it first came about around 350 BC. Colonists from Phocaea in Greece began settling here and gave it the name Níkaia after Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. Given its prime location on the Ligurian coast, it became a bustling port city.

Despite being French now, much of Nice’s history during the Middle Ages actually has much more in common with the chaotic formation of Italy. It’s during these times that things like the Castle of Nice (Castle Hill) were built. From 1388 through 1860, Nice was tied to the Duchy of Savoy and even adopted Italian as its official administrative language in 1561 when the Duke abolished Latin.

This mix of Italian and French histories is most evident in the architecture! If you take a look at many of the buildings, you’ll notice the pastel colors are more reminiscent of other Italian Riviera cities. However the designs are still very much French.

This all ended with the Treaty of Turin in 1860, when the area was ceded to Napoleon III. Nice was again a part of France which also caused something called the Niçard exodus, where a many Nice locals left the city for other parts of Italy.

For the early part of the 1900s, Nice was pretty quiet. Two notable events happened when the Tramway de Nice was built and then when the city hosted Formula Libre, Formula One’s predecessor.

As with other European cities, Nice felt the effects of World War II in 30s and 40s. During the early, pre-Vichy Regime years, it provided a bit of a safe haven for Jews fleeing Nazi occupation. Later it would deal with both Mussolini’s Italy and Nazi Germany. Even during these takeovers, two men, Angelo Donati and Friar Père Marie-Benoît, helped thousands of Jews escape.

Post-World War II, which happened when American troops liberated the city in 1944, Nice began to grow more into the French Riviera resort town we know it as today. Jean Médecin, followed by his son Jacques, each held mayorship from 1928 to 1990. Although Jacques was later arrested for corruption, for the most part under their leadership the city grew and modernized.

It recently became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2021 and sees thousands of visitors yearly.

When to Visit Nice

When to Visit Nice

You know, Elissa and I visited in May when the weather sat around 70-80F and was really pleasant with just a touch of humidity. She learned from her tour that the weather is pretty lovely year round. The coldest months of January – March rarely drop below 50F and sometimes get as warm 70-80F. All that’s to say:

Plan your visit in the off season.

Elissa’s tour guide warned her that the city’s population quadruples in size during the summer months, which I think would make it a pretty unpleasant place to be. You’re not really going to want to relax on the beach here as there isn’t sand but full on rocks, so there’s no need to come in the hottest, most humid, and most crowded months of the year! Save Nice for the off season or even a shoulder season like we did with May, and you’ll have good weather and walk around without feeling claustrophobic.

Where to Stay in Nice

This really depends on which way you come into town and how much you want to lug your luggage around. Luckily Nice has pretty smooth pathways, so even if you have a kilometer to walk, you don’t have to worry about picking up your suitcases or breaking a wheel on cobblestone streets.

To figure out your ideal location, I want you to first imagine Nice on a map with the sea at the bottom and the train station at the top. The stretch along Avenue Jean Médecin is about a 15-minute walk.

If you come by train and want to walk as little as possible, then I’d stay somewhere along close by the station. Thinking we’d both take the train in, we picked the Hotel du Centre, which is a really cute little hotel with the most incredible view of the Notre-Dame de Nice. It’s maybe 5 minutes from the Gare de Nice-Ville.

However, we actually both flew in, which means we took the tram in from the airport. In this case, the drop off point is actually closer to the seaside in the south, so you’d be better off finding a hotel around there instead.

Hotels in NiceArea/Why StayPrices
Hotel Du Centre $$Near Notre Dame Cathedral, cute hotel where we stayedView Here
Boutique Hotel Nice Côte d’Azur $$Near train stationView Here
Ajoupa Aparthotel AMMI Massena $$Down near Place Massena, SUPER cute interiorView Here
Mime Artist $$Midway between train station and beach front, right next to Jean Médecin stop on tramView Here
Palais Saleya Boutique Hôtel $$$Close to the beachView Here
Must Be Nice $$Midway between train station and beach front, few blocks off Ave Jean MédecinView Here
La Mignonne $$In the Le Carré d’Or neighborhood, close to Vieux Nice & the promenadeView Here
Getting into Nice

How to Get into Nice

By Plane

If you come in by plane, you’ll arrive at the Nice Côte d’Azur Airport. It’s a pretty small airport and easy to navigate out of. From there, you can take the tram into town, and the whole thing should take around 30-40 minutes.

Pro Tip: Download the Nice Ticket app and just buy a ticket as needed there. Saves time and paper! Wish Paris had adopted something similar.

By Train

Like I mentioned above, Nice does have its own train station, the Gare de Nice-Ville, and it sits on the northern side of the main downtown area. It’s easy to walk to wherever you’re staying or need to go from there. You can book on SNCF’s site and if it’s showing sold out, try Omio. My friend found some open seats there when we were looking for another train in France.

How to Get Around Nice

On foot

For the most part, the best way to get around Nice is to simply walk. Nearly all of the main things to do and see are within walking distance, and, in fact, a car or the tram/bus would maybe save you 2-3 minutes max.

By tram/bus

For the few things right outside downtown Nice, you may want the tram or pus to get to. Use the same app, Nice Ticket, to buy a ticket and then use Google Maps to figure out your route.

By bike

If you want, Nice also has a public bike system known as vélobleu. I’m not familiar with it as we never rented them, but they seem pretty easy to use! Just download the E-vélobleu app.

Notable Sightseeing Places in Nice

Vieux Nice, France

Vieux Nice

If there’s one area that’s the core of what makes Nice charming, it’s the pastel facades of Vieux Nice (or Old Nice). The streets are narrow, the buildings pretty, and the restaurants and cafes abundant. The best way to enjoy it is to just stroll and snap away.

Place Massena in Nice, France

Apollo Fontaine & La Place Massena

If you ever get lost, this is the place you want to look for. Place Massena sits right before you get to the Promenade Anglais and the beaches. Its checkerboard-esque flooring is hard to miss. Though if you do somehow miss them, there’s still the Fountain of the Sun which features a statue of the Greek god, Apollo.

Castle of Nice

When it comes to Nice travel, this is the *main* sightseeing thing to do in Nice. The name, Castle of Nice, is a bit deceiving as it’s not really a castle but more of a park with the best aerial views over the city. Don’t let the stairs scare you – there’s a free elevator that’ll take you right to the top!

Beaches in Nice

The Beaches

While the beaches in Nice aren’t exactly the best for sunbathing, they are still lovely to hang out at. The free beach has nothing in the way of rentals (missed business opportunity if you ask me), but there are two paid beaches that have loungers, umbrellas, and towel rentals. We booked a day pass at Castel Plage, which I’d recommend!

Just a warning, you’ll probably want actual water shoes if you plan on swimming. Getting in and out of the water is no joke.

Cours Saleya Outdoor Market in Nice

Cours Saleya Market

Just look for the brightly striped tents of Cours Saleya in Vieux Nice for a fun, outdoor market! Everyday except Monday, you can find a flower and food market and then on Mondays, you can find an antiques market.

Get whatever fruit is in season and enjoy the fresh snack down by the beach! Also most stalls take credit card, which I was pleasantly surprised by.

Port Lympia in Nice Travel

Port Lympia

Another notable spot in Nice is Port Lympia, the city’s main port. It’s cool to see, though it loses some charm with all the modern looking yachts and boats.

Where to Eat in Nice

I admittedly did not eat very locally in Nice. By the time I got there I’d already spent about a week in France and was craving Asian food as well as quick, easy food (I caved and got a cheeseburger at McDonald’s on my way back to my hotel). French dining is lovely, but sometimes you don’t want to sit and relax for hours while you eat, ya know?

Anyway here’s where I ate and also wanted to eat but didn’t wind up visiting.

TIP: Honestly my favorite meal was when Elissa and I got some picnic supplies and carried them over to where the #ILoveNICE sign is. It’s on a cape, there’s seating all around, and you can’t beat the view. We went to the market to pick up cheese and strawberries, and then we found a boulangerie for a fresh baguette and waters. Absolute perfection!

Lunch in Nice

Restaurants for Lunch or Dinner

Note that I found all the service at these spots friendly! If anyone sucked below, I would’ve probably just left and written a warning about going to the place lol.

  • Maido (near Vieux Nice) – Cute spot for Japanese street food-esque dishes like okonomiyaki. Very casual and lively.
  • Bistrot d’Antoine (Vieux Nice) – French bistro with really good food. Recommend getting the meat of the day, I’m dreaming about that duck breast. Elissa got the braised pork cheeks casserole and gave it her stamp of approval too – it reminded me a lot of my favorite bo kho in Saigon!
  • La Langouste (near Notre Dame) – I went here on my last night when I was alone and after my first pick was full! Very delightful surprise as the seating is in the back patio and the food was delicious. Another spot I got duck breast and am salivating remembering it.

Other Places I Didn’t Go:

  • Lavomatique Really wanted to go here but was just too tired to walk back to Vieux Nice on my last night. It’s set in an old laundromat and the food looks incredible. Two reviews mentioned it would probably be a Michelin star restaurant someday.
  • Fournil Zielinska Sourdough lovers rejoice! We happened to walk by this sourdough bakery when it was closed, but it had to save it because it looked so nice.

Cafes & Dessert Stops

  • AZZURRO Aristan GlacierBusy gelato spot. It was pretty good! Not sure if you’d want to wait in line for it, though.
  • Hug Cafethis cafe was attached to our hotel, so we got breakfast here. The hotel breakfast is okay but the actual food the cafe has looked really good, so next time I’d just get that.
  • cafe fino Trendy cafe on the same street as Maido. I remember breakfast was nice and Elissa liked her egg mcmuffin, though she ordered it with skepticism.
  • The Service Course NiceA bike shop/cafe in Vieux Nice. They offer up milk alternatives, so I got a nice iced almond milk latte and vegan banana bread while sitting outside and relaxing.

Didn’t Go:

  • ClayCafe near Quartier du Port. Looks like a nice breakfast spot!
  • Cafés IndienElissa stumbled across this when she was wandering (I was tired and sleeping lol).
  • MarinetteAnother cute cafe in Vieux Nice that looks like it has some nice breakfast and sweet options.
Menton, France | Willemstad, Curacao | most colorful places in the world
Menton

Day Trips from Nice

If you want to explore more of the French Riviera, there are plenty of cool day and half-day trips you can take from Nice. I wanted to relax, so I didn’t go anywhere, but Elissa did a half-day trip to Monaco, which she said she liked. Monaco itself was kinda bleh, but the tour was cool and she learned a bit more about Grace Kelly on it.

Here are some other tours you could do:

Italian Dolce Vita & Menton

I actually forgot about Menton until it was too late! It’s been on my colorful places bucket list for ever, so I’ll just have to save it for a future riviera trip. Book Here

Gorges du Verdon & Fields of Lavender

This full day tour is for anyone who comes in June and wants to try and see the lavender fields. The Gorges of Verdon are these incredible canyons with aquamarine waters and, of course, the lavender fields of southern France are pretty much photo famous these days. Book Here

French Riviera in One Day

If have limited time and want to see as much of the Côte d’Azur as possible, this tour will go from Nice to Èze, Monaco, Antibes, Saint-Paul de Vence, and then Cannes in one very full day. Book Here

Éze, Monaco, & Monte Carlo

For something a little less intense and only half the day, you can do Éze, Monaco, and Monte Carlo. Book Here

Saint Tropez & Port Grimaud

If you’ve always been curious about the glamorous Saint Tropez, than this should be a cool tour (actually one I’d consider on a future visit if I don’t just go straight there myself). You’ll actually take a boat trip to Port-Grimaud before going to Saint Tropez! Book Here

Shopping in Nice Travel

Shopping in Nice

This is one of those moments where I wished I lived in France and also had an expendable bank account so I could just shop to my heart’s content. There are a ton of cute boutique shops and, of course, the antique market on Monday is every vintage lover’s dream.

I did manage to snag a cute boater hat after Elissa found a nice shop for hers but otherwise didn’t buy anything as I purposely left myself very, very limited space.

There’s also, of course, a ton of regular shopping. Along the main avenue you can find a giant H&M and Sephora; plus all the pharamacies for those of you who want to pick up some iconic French skincare products!

Safety Tips in Nice

Safety & Health in Nice

I found Nice to feel pretty safe over all, and I walked around at all times of day and all over both with Elissa and totally by myself. Naturally, as it’s more of a city than a town, you’re going to still want to keep an eye on your belongings and not get too cavalier with it all.

One thing that’s that’s really annoying with Nice travel but is endemic in all of France is the casual smoking everywhere outside. I think it’s one of those things that’s slowly improving, but just know that if you eat outside, you also risk being in someone’s smoke path, which is incredibly annoying.

And that’s all my best advice for some nice Nice travel (get it, haha). Let me know if you have any questions below, and I’ll do my best to help!

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Planning a trip to Nice in the French Riviera? Here's all you need to know

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