Nice is the gateway to the wonders of the French Riviera—a place where aquamarine waters glitter and wash over golden sand and where people from around the globe gather to enjoy old-world beauty and active street life.
This is the second-most-popular travel destination in France, mainly due to its lovely parasol-ed storefronts, lively promenade, chic locals and cool restaurants and bars. But also because it serves as a springboard to discovering famous neighboring towns such as Monaco, Cagnes Sur Mer and Cannes. The Italian seaside towns of San Remo and Savona on the Coast of Genoa are not too far away, either.
Nice encapsulates vibes from both Italy and France, easily seen in its architecture and way of life. The streets of Vieux, Nice’s old town, reveal that rare hybridity in the form of Italian-style narrow facades with shuttered windows and the Nissart (French/Italian) dialect. Nice is sunbathed in history and art, a place artists such as Matisse, Renoir and Picasso once called home. It is also an epicurean’s dream, with food markets and dreamy bistros on every corner.
Nice is brilliant at blending the charm of an electrifying city with the recharging nature of its seaside, the magic of storied buildings with the simple nature of waterfront cafés. City breaks in Nice are something else.
Nice’s confluence of French and Italian culture naturally filters down to its food. Common dishes include socca, a gluten-free flatbread made of chickpea flour that can be found throughout town; raviolis niçois, pasta filled with ground beef and Swiss chard, soupe au pistou, a fresh, herbaceous vegetable soup topped with a dollop of pesto, and tourte de blettes, a raisin and pine nut pie.
Residents—including professional chefs—head to the Cours Saleya market to grab ingredients for home-cooked meals. Ranked as one of the best markets in France by the National Council for the Culinary Arts, The Cours offers the freshest and most locally sourced ingredients in town. Striped awnings house colorful flowers such as dahlias and geraniums and customers can peruse through stall after stall of organic vegetables, fruits and cheese.
If you’d rather eat out than make your own dinner, check out Polly and Cie, a local favorite for its Chinese noodles and veal fries. The concept store adheres to an always changing menu, so don’t expect the same items day after day. Polly and Cie base their menu on what’s in season to ensure that every dish is fresh and reflects and honors the environment.
While celebrating both French and Italian flavors, we are in France after all and Nice does southern French cuisine right. Still, if you must have that authentic pasta or you’re not a fan of French flavors, head to Miamici, a popular trattoria on Victor Hugo Boulevard. The restaurant only uses the freshest ingredients, whether they be herbs, olive oil or vegetables. Italian classics such as burrata with tomato jam, gnocchi with tuna and tagliatelle with tender pork cheek dominate the menu. Venture outside tradition and try the sea bream carpaccio with fennel and pomegranate seeds and beef tataki with ricotta. The interior features textured ceilings, turquoise cushions and flower print wallpaper, which all lend to a relaxed yet elegant atmosphere, perfect for conversation over copious amounts of good wine.
As mentioned before, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Nice is the Cours Saleya Market in the old town. It’s a great place to while away the hours, exploring the myriad stalls for a fresh bite or a handy souvenir. Pick up something for breakfast or get flowers for your hotel room. Just make sure to get there before 1:30 p.m. since the spot closes at midday every day.
For a unique experience, take Tram 1 from downtown to La Gare du Sud, the train-station-turned-hangout now housing cafes, food stands and clothing stores. As part of a renovation effort in the Liberation neighborhood, the historic station was converted into a shopper’s mecca while still retaining its most striking architectural details. Guests can explore the lending library or check out the latest blockbuster at the movie theater inside.
Art buffs head to Musée Matisse in the Cimiez quarter, the home of myriad works by Henri Matisse. The famed painter and sculptor worked with different media, all of which are represented at the museum bearing his name. From drawings to sculptures to paintings and decoupage, you can see it all in this charming little Genoese villa. Matisse had such a grand love affair with Nice—he first visited the seaside town in 1917—that he lived out the remainder of his life there. Visit his tomb at the Monastere Notre Dame de Cimiez, just a stone’s throw away from the museum.
Music lovers should make a pitstop at The Electric Monk, a funky record shop on Alberti road, selling vintage and collectible vinyl by artists such as The Smiths, Madonna, Vanessa Paradis, and Grace Jones. It is bold and old school, and a good opportunity to step back in time while in Nice.
For a cheap trip to Nice, go with a basic and affordable hotel such as sunny Ibis Styles Nice Centre Gare with its cozy beds, clean showers, and charming views of the city center. The hotel is decorated with splashes of color—think neon green and pink—and incorporates pop art sculptures and palm trees.
Another option is staying in what is known as an “aparthotel,” apartments and studios with private balconies, rooftop terraces, kitchens and even free buffet breakfast. Residhome boasts a roster of these apartments, all close to the Promenade des Anglais, arguably the heart of the city.
If you want to splurge, but still stay under the €200 a night, consider a palatial “palace” such as Le Negresco, the most recognizable hotel in Nice that sits right on the Promenade des Anglais. The place is majestic and adorably kitschy at the same time, a jewel in the Côte d’Azur, with access to a private beach. Enjoy the grand vibes of a Belle Epoque masterpiece, filled with antiques such as items from an 18th-century fairground. The Beatles, Salvador Dalí, and Grace Kelly once graced its hallways so you know you’re in good hands here.