Nice sits in the shadows of the Maritime Alps that reach right down to the harbor, where boats bob in front of restaurants and cafés. Eavesdrop on people’s conversations at the tables and you may hear the distinctive local dialect, Niçois, otherwise known as lenga nissarda.
Southern Nice looks out on to the Bay of Angels (Baie des Anges) and the sparkling waters that give the Côte d’Azur its name. Nice’s beaches, however, are not particularly nice – narrow, pebbly and crowded the second the sun comes out – but you can swim and sunbathe if the mood takes you.
In the main, the town’s most attractive qualities are on dry land: the pastel-painted confections of Belle Epoque architecture, palm trees and Art Deco buildings along the Promenade des Anglais, fine museums, great food and a lively cultural and night life.
Nice’s festivities culminate in the explosion of color and sound of the annual Nice Mardi Gras, a tradition that has been going since the 13th century.
Old Nice (Vieux Nice) is a labyrinth of tiny streets, clustered around the hill of Le Château, which have hardly changed since the 18th century. Modern Nice, in contrast, has spacious, palm-lined boulevards, with the large square of place Masséna at its heart.
In the north of the town is the exclusive suburb of Cimiez, where the Romans established a settlement. The ruins of Cemenelum include a public baths and an amphitheatre now used for outdoor concerts.
It does not take long to get your bearings and feel comfortable in Nice – it is a compact town where people seem keen to please visitors. It also makes an excellent base for visiting the rest of the Riviera.
West along the coast are Antibes, Cannes and St-Tropez, or head east to Menton (and beyond to Monaco) via hairpin-bend corniches offering truly spectacular sea views. In contrast to the big glitzy resorts are cliff-top villages such as Èze and La Turbie and seafront villages such as Villefranche-sur-Mer and Beaulieu.
Nice is found on the south coast of France, it is the the unofficial capital of the Côte d’Azur, is the largest town on the glamorous French Riviera; it is also one of the liveliest and most fun. While Cannes and St-Tropez exude exclusivity, Nice extends a warm, Mediterranean welcome to everyone from backpackers to jet setters.
Nice itself is an attraction: the rich blue-green sea, diverse shopping, splendid dining and lovely art-deco façades. But there are several spots that a tourist simply must see, such as the Cours Saleya Flower Market, the Matisse Museum, ancient Roman ruins, the Russian Cathedral and more.
Nice is second only to Paris in the number of museums and galleries. Be sure you know which spots have the most allure before you visit.
Cimiez : In a residential area in the hills above the hustle and bustle of the city, the grounds of ‘Cimiez’ include a large park set amidst olive groves, the Archaeology Museum, Matisse Museum and the Franciscan Museum and Monastery.
Musée des Beaux-Arts : Housed in the former residence of the Ukrainian Princess Kotchubey is a fine collection of 19th- and 20th-century art, including works by Boudin, Ziem, Raffaelli, Renoir and Monet.
Musée Matisse : Matisse spent the last few years of his life in Nice and he is honored by this museum. The museum has several permanent collections, mostly painted in Nice and many donated by the artist and his heir.
Phoenix Parc Floral de Nice : Outside Nice, near the airport, this vast tourist attraction includes a botanical garden and a bird and insect zoo where visitors can tour a greenhouse full of wonderful butterflies.
The Château : With wonderful views over the rooftops and gleaming mosaic tiles of Old Nice, along the sweep of the promenade des Anglais and out to the Mediterranean, the Château park is good place for visitors to orientate themselves with the city.
Antibes : Antibes is a pleasant excursion a few miles east of Cannes. It has one of the best markets on the coast and an excellent Picasso museum in its ancient seafront castle, the 16th-century Château Grimaldi. Picasso was lent a room in the castle to use as a studio in 1946.