10 Fun Things to Experience While Visiting Nice

Nice is a real city with a gritty meets cosmopolitan vibe and an economy that functions year-round – it isn't all about the beach here, although the beach is pretty spectacular. The hub city in the French Riviera, Nice makes a great base for exploring the Cote d'Azur, but also has plenty of native attractions including a half dozen plus museums including Musee Matisse and Musee National Marc Chagall. Away from art, however, Nice is home to a fantastically unique black pebble beach, the legendary Promenade des Anglais and a very cool Old Town (Vieux Nice), which itself is filled with boutiques and restaurants and well worth a wander. While if you'd rather get into the beautiful turquoise meets cerulean hued water, there are also adventures to be had both on it and underneath.  

Once you've finished exploring Nice itself, however, there is so much to see within 30 minutes of the city by train. To the east there is Monte Carlo, Monaco, seat of the Grimaldi family, and home to its own sparkling beach and fabulously famous casino. To the west you have Cannes (just 10 minutes by train) and then Antibes, which was immoralized by Jazz Age writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and while always posh, has recently seen a renewed love affair with travelers.   



Musée International d'Art Naïf Anatole Jakovsky

This turn-of-the-century mansion is the site for a fine collection of "naive" art, a genre known as a forum for unschooled and untrained artists including Rousseau, Bauchant, Bombois, Rimbert and Seraphine. Guided tours provide a unique overview of the history of this painting genre that began in the 18th century and continues to present day. The museum also features works from painters across the globe from Haiti to Croatia to Brazil. The museum is a result of the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Anatole Jakovsky, who donated this extraordinary ensemble of work to Nice in 1982. Jakovsky, a naive art connoisseur, provided more than 600 works that span 200 years and hail from around the world, each piece capturing the genre's development. The grounds here are worth wandering as well.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: It features a great collection of naive art from around the world and is in a gorgeous park setting.

Becca's expert tip: The museum is closed on Tuesdays.

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Cathédrale Orthodoxe Russe St-Nicolas à Nice

A Russian Orthodox jewel on the Cote d'Azur, this turn-of-the-century cathedral is Tsar Nicolas II's tribute to a late Tsarevitch claimed by tuberculosis in 1865. Constructed in 1896 to serve the large population of Russian aristocrats who had taken up winter residence in the French Riviera, it is a polychromatic Byzantine masterpiece of brick and marble that is the largest of its kind outside Russia. It is renowned for its hand-carved woodwork, ceramic mosaics, religious icons framed in jewels and ornate beauty. But St. Nicolas's most characteristic feature is its six gold-leaf onion domes that are recognizable throughout the city.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: A fantastic Russian Orthodox cathedral that has been lauded as a superior example of sacred architecture.

Becca's expert tip: The cathedral is closed to visitors on Mondays, but is open the rest of the week between 9am and 6pm with a one hour closure from 1pm to 2pm.

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Musée des Beaux-Arts

This museum houses a remarkable collection of Italian and French works of art from the 15th-century to the 19th-century with works from artists like Degas, Monet, Boudin and local French Riviera artists Jules Cheret. There are also some excellent Impressionism pieces like ceramics by Picasso and an imposing sculpture, The Kiss, by Rodin. The museum is housed in an extraordinary Belle Epoque building, which is a work of art in its own right. A former private mansion, it was built in 1878 by the Ukrainian Princess Elisabeth Kojchoubey, it is a joy to wander through – the grand staircase here is beyond impressive.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: It houses a wonderful fine art collection featuring works from French and Italian masters in a gorgeous Belle Epoque mansion.

Becca's expert tip: The museum is closed on Monday. Note to walk here you'll have to climb a pretty long hill.

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Musée et Site Archéologiques de Nice-Cimiez

In the Cimiez quarter of Nice, about 2 kilometers from the city center, this is a well curated museum where artifacts from the Bronze Ages (1100 BC) to the late Middle Ages are displayed on two open-plan floors. The exhibits display tools, weapons, ceramics, coins jewelry and other relics that race the city's history and progression through the centuries. Outside the museum you'll find the Roman Cemenelum at Cimiez. These ruins date from the first- to four-centuries and during their early Roman Empire heyday served as public bathes. Also here are the remains of paved streets and a 400-seat amphitheater from the same time period.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Roman ruins and an interesting museum that traces the history of Nice from the Bronze Age to the late Middle Ages.

Becca's expert tip: Visit during July when the Nice Jazz Festival is held on the grounds.

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Musée des Arts Asiatiques

There is an impressive array of antiquity on display at this superb museum where rare and unique artifacts preserve aspects of Cambodian, Chinese, Japanese, and Indian cultures. Items on exhibit include precious stones and metals, sandstone sculptures, fashions, textiles, decoratives, and contemporary art. All the pieces have been carefully curated and laid out with plenty of space to observe and admire – you won't find crammed rooms of objects here. The building housing the museum is also a fantastic structure. Designed by Kenzo Tange it is a white marble ediface that is deliberately minimal so as not to distract from the exhibits inside. The on-site cafe is also worth visiting.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: A fascinating and extremely carefully curated collection of Asian and Indian artifacts are displayed in an equally impressive building.

Becca's expert tip: Call ahead and see what days the on-site cafe is offering one of its traditional tea ceremonies to add to the experience.

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Musée national Marc Chagall

This museum pays homage to Russian-French artist Marc Chagall's full career but gives pride of place to his 40 Old Testament gouaches. Designed to Chagall's precise specifications, the building itself is a work of art. Chagall also created stained-glass windows for the auditorium, where monthly concerts are held, and an intricate zodiac mosaic above the outdoor fountain. The catalogues in the gift shop are particularly useful as almost no other information is provided in English. While the peaceful gardens and outdoor cafe are the perfect place to admire the building's exterior. The museum is free to all visitors on the first Sunday of the month.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Even the building was designed by Chagall and is a work of art. The museum is also excellent although you'll need read French.

Becca's expert tip: Visit on the first Sunday of the month for free admission.

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Airport - Nce
Musée Matisse

Matisse called Nice home from 1917 to 1954 and this fine museum in a stunning 17th-century villa houses a remarkable permanent collection of his work, including paintings, drawings, sculptures and photographs and his signature paper cut-outs. It also has a collection of some of the furniture and possessions that were featured in his paintings. The museum is in the Cimiez neighborhood about 2 kilometers north of the city center and is located across the street from his former residence, which was also once Queen Victoria's winter palace. Don't skip the museum's garden area, which is surrounded by olive groves. Cimiez is also home to Nice's annual jazz festival and extensive Roman ruins.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Matisse lived in Nice for more than 30 years and this museum has a permanent collection representing the evolution of his work through his lifetime.

Becca's expert tip: Walk across the park from the museum to the cemetery of the Monastere de Cimiez where Matisse is buried.

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Place Massena

At the edge of Vieux Nice, this impressive square acts as the transition between the old and new architecture of the city. At the southern end of Av Jean Medecin, which is the main commercial street in the city, the square dates to the early 19th-century and has arcaded neoclassical buildings painted in varying shades of autumn colors. There are plenty of shops and cafes tucked along the northern edge of the square. Look to the east, however, and you'll be treated to magnificent mountain vistas. The square also boasts an elaborate fountain representing the nine planets of the solar system.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Marking the transition from the contemporary new section of Nice and the Old Town, Place Massena is a beautiful square.

Becca's expert tip: Look to the east for some pretty awesome mountain views. Popping into a cafe and people watching is another great way to enjoy this space.

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Built in 1820, this magnificent walkway has become one of Nice's most famous landmarks. Flanking the Bay of Angels, the walkway is the ideal place for athletic pursuits or a leisurely stroll, with stunning views of the sea on one side and the lush mountainside on the other. This boulevard is a must for Nice visitors and is perhaps the best way to experience some of the city's most beautiful scenery. We suggest coming at sunset and just grabbing a seat on one of the benches or cafes along it and watching people passing by as the sky and water shift colors before fading into black.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: This is one of the most famous landmarks in Nice and a stroll along it is mandatory for any visitor.

Becca's expert tip: Come at sunset and grab a seat on bench or one of the cafes and just people watch as the water shifts colors with the setting sun.

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Vieux Nice
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Little has changed about Nice's Old Town since its 18th century beginnings and today it is a wonderful place to just wander around. The narrow streets with pastel hued buildings are filled with food shops and bars, boutiques and cafes and delis. And then there are the squares, like cours Salaya, which is home to Nice's famous flower and vegetable market.. The tented booths here are a popular gathering place to shop, stroll, and chat for locals and visitors alike. Architecture buffs will want to look closely for exceptional examples of Baroque architecture like the the 17th century Palais Lascaris that is tucked away on back lane and Cathedrale Ste-Reparate, which honor's the patron saint of Nice, Chapelle de la Misericorde.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: This is the heart and soul of Nice, the Old Town has changed little since the 1700s and is perfect for wandering.

Becca's expert tip: Don't skip the flower and vegetable market at cours Salaya. The entire square is devoted to the market and it is a vibrant place to wander and get a feel for local life. Mondays feature a large flea market with exceptional bargains.

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Meet Becca Blond

Becca Blond is an award-winning Denver based freelance travel writer. She has authored more than 30 Lonely Planet guides on five continents. She also writes about Colorado and the world for...  More About Becca