sea view of city and mountains
France

First Timers to Nice – Top Things to Do

Welcome to Nice – the gem of the French Riviera. The second largest city in the Alpes-Cote-d’Azur after Marseille, Nice stands as one of France’s most popular tourist destination. And for good reason. Its year-round sunshine, mix of real-city grit with beautiful old-world charm and its stunning seaside location. The Italian influences are everywhere, with the tall ochre-hued buildings with long shutters, straight out of Cinque Terre. 

For those visiting Nice for the first time and wonder what to add to your itinerary – here are my recommendations for the top things to do in Nice France.

Top Things to Do in Nice

PROMENADE DES ANGLAIS

sunrise of pink sky over calm sea

You can’t travel to Nice without strolling along the Promenade des Anglais. It’s one of the top attractions. This pedestrian walkway stretches for seven kilometres along the coastline. It’s the boulevard that separates the Mediterranean sea from the city. Built in 1820, it’s a popular place to cycle, run or stroll. Or, simply sit in th iconic blue chairs and watch the world go by. And, it’s also the best spot to watch the sun rise and set. 

OLD TOWN

orange building with mint green shutters

Get lost in the city’s old town (or Vieille Ville) with its narrow laneways lined with very tall houses that shadow the streets. The ground floor of these 16th century buildings are occupied by shops, cafés, restaurants and galleries. 

What to see in Old Town

stone statue with fountain
Start at the city's largest and most spectacular squares - Place Massena. This bustling square features postmodern buildings encircling the only authentic reminder of the Old Town – the Fontaine du Soleil, displaying an image of Apollo with all the usual grandiose regalia.
church with yellow and green accents
Next, head to the 18th century Cathedral of St. Reparata (or Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate). It sits on Nice's most beautiful square – the Place de Rossetti. 
colourful buildings with market stalls
A trip to the Cours Saleya market is a must. Cours Saleya features everything from produce to spices to crafts to baked goods. Without a doubt my favourite is the flower market.

Market tip: the best street food can be found at the Cours Saleya market. Try socca (chickpea pancakes), pissaladière (caramelized onion tart) or tourte de blettes (chard, raisin and pine nut pie). 

CASTLE HILL

waterfall against rock wall

To get the best panoramic view of the city head to Castle Hill (or Colline du Château). What was once the site of a 11th century castle, only to be destroyed a few centuries later, all that remains is the ruins of a defensive wall. But, for first timers to Nice, this is a must-see. As on a clear day, you can see from Antibes, along the bay to Nice’s Old Port, and then as far as Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. Take the stairs or elevator to the top behind the artificial waterfall. This is one of the best places to visit in Nice.   

THE BEACH

pebble stone beach with sea and pink sunrise

One of the best things to do in Nice France is head to the beach. Nice’s beaches are mostly pebbled rather than sandy but are so beautiful. The most popular public beach is Beau Rivage. It’s a classic beach scene with its stripped umbrellas, sunbathers galore and glistening blue water of the Mediterranean sea. Coco Beach is a local’s favorite. This rocky shoreline is great for snorkeling, as well as, swimming. Sunbathers stretch out on the big flat rocks close to the water’s edge. 

Beach Tip: Consider renting a beach spot for the day. For about 40€, you receive a towel, lounge chair and umbrella. Or, head to the private beach clubs at Beau Rivage and Coco Beach, where you get that, plus licensed drinks. 

MUSEUMS IN NICE

curved stone staircase with garden

If you are an art lover, you’re in luck. Almost all of the city’s best museums cater to art. Everything from classic 15th century paintings to modern Pop Art from the 1960s. The best part is these museums are located in a grand villa offering visitors the most incredible setting. Here are the best museums in Nice:

  1. Matisse Museum – 17th century villa full of classic French paintings
  2. The Musée Massena – 19th-century estate featuring ornate carvings and paintings from the Belle Époque period
  3. Musée National Marc Chagall – the largest collection of Marc Chagall works
  4. The Musée des Beaux-Arts – 19th century Italianate villa featuring an expansive collection of classic French and Italian classics through to post-Impressionist paintings

Museum Tip: purchase the blue museum pass for 10€ to receive a 24-hour all-access admission for any of best museums in Nice

OLD PORT

port with boats and yachts

Known as the heart of Mediterranean life, this is one of the most popular ports in Europe. This is the perfect place to sit back and relax, and have a drink or a meal in one of the bars or restaurants in the area while taking in the amazing Mediterranean vibes.

MONT BARON

top of hill with sea views

If you want to escape the lively city for a peaceful setting then go to Mont Baron park. Mont Boron is a hill, 200 metres above the sea level, that separates Nice from Villefranche-sur-Mer. Amble through the park and take in the incredible views of Nice and the Cap-Ferrat peninsula. This is hidden gem is a local’s favourite and worth going just for the views! Best time to go is either sunrise or sunset. 

Travel tip: Mont Baron is a bit outside the city. Take city bus #33 from central Nice to Mont Boron. Approximately 15-20 minutes.

Best Restaurants in Nice

bistro table on cobble stone street

Like any large city there are endless options for dining – from the cozy bistro to Michelin star restaurants. Here are a few recommended ones:

  • Antoine’s Bistro – a local’s favourite known for its good food at good prices (address: 27 Rue de la Préfecture)
  • The Merenda – a local’s favourite for great tasting Italian dishes at low prices (address: 4 Rue Raoul Bosio)
  • La Petite Maison – a celebrity’s favourite, with other locations in Miami, Dubai and London is known for its high quality food and live band (address: 11 Rue Saint-François de Paule)
  • L’Ane Rouge – port side restaurant awarded a Michelin star (address: 7 quai des Deux-Emmanuel)

Best Day Trips from Nice

After you’re done sightseeing in Nice why not consider a day trip to some of the most beautiful places in southern France.  

  • Villefranche-sur-Mer – 7-km  
  • Monaco and the famous Monte Carlo – 20-km
  • Antibes – 24-km
  • Cannes – 30-km
  • Menton – 30-km

READ MORE | Guide to some of the most beautiful hilltop villages close to Nice 

Best Places to Stay in Nice

Nice has some of the best hotels in France. There are the most popular ones like Le Negresco, Boscolo Exedra and Hyatt Regency Nice Palais de la Mediterranee. Click here to start your search for the best hotel based on location, price, availability and book.

When I travel, I prefer to stay in a holiday rental than a hotel. If you do too, here are some of the best property rentals in Nice.

  1. Mime Artist – a cozy studio in the heart of Nice  €
  2. La Mignonne – 1-bedroom with balcony overlooking a iconic street in old town Nice  €
  3. Sunlit Serenades – a large 2-bedroom apartment in an Art Deco building in the Musician’s Quarter of Nice  €
  4. Must Be Nice – a lovely 1-bedroom with balcony in the chic Dubouchage neighbourhood  €€

To do your own search of holiday rentals in Nice click here. 

As a holidaymaker…

Nice France is the perfect holiday destination full of tourist attractions and top things to do. For any lover of French and Italian culture, Nice is the perfect blend. You’ll almost think you are on holiday in Italy with all the fresh pasta shops and gelaterias on every corner. With so many attractions in Nice it really makes for a great home base to explore the city and beyond. 

sea views of city in France
view of beach in France

Disclosure:  As an Affiliate Associate of Booking.com and Plum Guide if you click on the link contained in this post, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you decide to book. 

57 Comments

  • Paul Johnson

    Everywhere looks so quiet! Aside from the market shot, I’m guessing many of these shots were taken during some form of lockdown or a period of restriction on what outdoor activities were possible.

  • Tami Wilcox

    Nice is such a wonderful city to visit. We especially loved walking on the promenade and visiting Castle Hill. But we also found a great market and shopping area to explore, too!

  • Natascha

    In my childhood we sometimes bought a frozen “Nice Bouillabaisse”. I guess it did not taste very authentic, but for me Nice was the big world and very far away. Now 40 years later I have been to places as far as New Zealand and Chile, but still not to Nice. Your post brought it back on the list. Thanks.

  • Jackie

    Right away, I could see the Italian influence in Nice based on your photos. From the promenade, which reminded me of a similar structure in Postitano, to the shuttered windows throughout Italy, and more. Yet, I can see the unique “French-ness” as well: in the graceful curves of the architecture to the elegant bistros and chic apartment interiors. And, oh – the art of such creative masters! I’ve never been to Nice, but your article and (wonderful) photos have me longing for a trip to the French Riviera…therefore, I’ve popped it up higher on my bucket list!

  • Paula

    I have never been to Nice but I have read a lot about it. I would love to sit in one of those cafeterias and just soak on the European vibe. And I would have to check out the beaches too, of course. I did not know about the Old Town. That looks something that should be on my list too. Great tips!

  • Shreya Saha

    I have not been to Nice yet, but I have this beautiful place included in my French Riviera itinerary. I would surely love the beach and especially the view of the city from Castle Hill. I am also intrigued by the Old Town. In fact, Old Towns of almost all European cities fascinate me.

  • Smita

    It’s been a while since I was in Nice and your post brought back wonderful memories! We loved strolling along Promenade des Anglais and must have spent hours there, followed by exploring the streets of the old town looking for the best socca!

  • Yukti Agrawal

    I missed Nice during my France visit and have only seen mountainous Norther part. Would love to see some French coastal towns in my next trip. I loved the colorful and lively market of Cours Saleya. Old Port area is very photogenic with those colorful buildings.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      You’ll fall in love with the coastal towns and beautiful villages if you ever get to go!

  • Antoine and Marielle

    We live under 2 hours away from Nice but have yet to go. We prefer the more offbeat destinations in the south of France but your to-do list has got us convinced to maybe try Nice too. WIll favorite this list for later, thanks a lot!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Oh how lucky are you that you live only 2 hours away! It makes for a great day trip and I would definitely go on market day for a lively experience.

  • Subhashish Roy

    The views from the Castle are breathtaking. Nice seems beautiful with all on offer. The best part for me would be to roam carefree in the alleys of Old Town. Would also love to check out a few of the museums. And of course the street food too.

  • Umiko

    My friend and her family who live in the Netherlands always came to Nice every summer. Now I kow why. I would like to sit at that blue chair just to see the world go by until I fall asleep. Hehe… The old town grabbed my attention, especially with most buildings colored in yellow, my favorite color.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      If you love yellow, you’ll love Nice. It’s has lots of vibrant yellow buildings.

  • Linda (LD Holland)

    We have been to Nice a few times but can’t wait to get back again. Your post brought back all the spots we loved to wander. Although I must admit that the pebble beaches were not my favourite. We loved using Nice as a base to explore the French Riviera!

  • Raksha

    I have heard so much about Nice. A few of my colleagues had relocated to this beautiful place and thats when I had heard about it for the first time. I have always had it on my list since then. Being a water lover, I would love to visit the beach and laze around there most of the time. Thanks for this detailed guide, I have bookmarked it.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      You’ll love the coastal towns along the Mediterranean if you’re a water lover! Especially Nice.

  • Ummi Nadrah

    I have been to France but never to Nice yet. For some reason I dismissed it as just another beach town. And being someone who isn’t a big fan of beaches, I decided to give it a miss. Now that I’ve read this post, it’s good to know that the city has so much more to offer than just the beach. I think I’d love the Old Town and the hiking spots.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      This makes for a central spot to explore this entire area, and Mont Boron is a great spot.

  • Catherine Mendoza

    Nice seems like a stunning place. We’re actually planning to visit France this year if the pandemic permits. But since reading your blog, we could consider Nice then. It’s also a great guide for first-timers like me. I’d absolutely not miss the street foods in the market such as socca, as when visiting a new place, street foods are one of my tops. On top of that, it’s always a good idea to wander to the old town. Dining in at some restaurants or having a coffee there in the cafe is something to look forward to!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Nice also makes a great home base to explore some of the most beautiful hilltop towns, so it’s the ideal destination.

  • Candy

    I’ve never been to nice and would love to get a panoramic view of the city. I’ll have to make sure to go on a clear day so that I can get clear views below 🙂 I’ll most likely take the elevator if the stairs look daunting 🙂

  • Ami Bhat

    This is a perfect guide for someone who is heading there for the first time. You get a feel of the city and at the same time, you are not overwhelmed by the things to see. I found St. Reparata quite fascinating. Coco beach looks like a place that I might be tempted to spend all my time . Loved this post

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thanks so much for your kind comment. You’re right, the beach is hard to leave once you’re there.

  • Jennifer Prince

    It looks so lovely, I don’t even know where I’d start! I adore visiting places like the Old Town, although being by the water seems serene. The buildings by the port are so lovely, too. I need to get to Nice someday!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Hopefully you’ll get there one day Jennifer. It sounds like you’d like it if you mentioned Old city, port, and water!

  • Amy Butterfield

    I wish we would have had more time for Nice on our previous European visit. But we did get to the Cinque Terre and a few other seaside hotspots, so definitely can see Nice being a place we would fall in love with. And the tip about renting a beach space is so great, we didn’t know this before our last trip and it was a new concept for us to embrace but definitely worth the cost!! There is just something so romantic about a historic and beautiful port city. Sigh.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      So glad you liked the post and found it helpful. I’m sure you’ll love Nice, especially if you fell in love with that Mediterranean vibe in Cinque Terre. Hopefully one day. Sigh 😌

  • Clarice

    Wow! I did not realize that there is so much to see and do in Nice. Happy to know that there a lot of museums that cater to art. Will definitely make sure to visit all of them should we have chance to be in Nice in the future.

  • Sue

    This brought back so many memories of some lovely trips to Nice but I’ve not been for years. I didn’t get to do many of the things on your list though so looks like I need to start planning to return!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      That’s great to hear you have been before, and there are things on this list that you didn’t get to see. Proves to be a useful guide!

  • Emma Todd

    Never having been to Nice myself, this was really good to read and nut out the main things to tackle in a first-time trip. I’d definitely be keen to check out what’s left of the castle wall. The waterfall looks lovely, even if it is artificial. It’s also good to know that you can reserve a spot on the beach with a chair and umbrella, especially if you’re only there for a short time.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you Emma, happy to hear that you feel this guide would help first timers to Nice.

  • Alison

    Oh this had me dreaming. Nice looks so appealing – and I didn’t really expect that. I think I’d even go just for the Chagall museum. This shows me how to get the best out of Nice – love it for what it is. And then I’d explore more of the south of France. A girl can dream . . . .

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Nice makes such a great home base for travelling to those quaint villages that this area is known for.

  • Kristina

    I’ve traveled all over France, but haven’t been to Nice…yet. Some friends went recently and loved it and your post shows just how lovely it can be. Thanks for the tip on the museum pass too (I always look for those!).

  • Riana Ang-Canning

    I went to Nice in 2012 but I don’t think I enjoyed it enough. Not sure why exactly, but it fell a little flat for me. I definitely missed Mont Baron park, which looks like a great view spot. I’d love to go back and try Nice again and see more of the south of France!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      I loved the south of France, and admit that many of the small villages stole my heart, more than Nice did. But staying in Nice made for the best home base to explore that city but beyond.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      He had a way of convincing us for just about every place he visited, didn’t he? I miss watching that legend.

      • Puloma Bhattacharya

        Nice is a popular French destination with multiple attractions. It would be so refreshing to take stroll down the Promenade De Anglais and explore pop art in museums of Nice. A trip to the Cours Saleya market, the cathedral and the Mont parc would be great way the vibes of the city.

  • Emma

    This brought back good memories of my trip to Nice. I loved the views from the castle, although that was quite the walk up there. The old town streets were probably my favorite thing, just getting lost in those tiny alley ways for hours. I didn’t do any museums on my trip but if I go back (which I’d love to) I’ll have to check them out

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