The Best Things to See and Do in Nice, France

Soak up the quintessential French Riviera ambience on a visit to Nice
Soak up the quintessential French Riviera ambience on a visit to Nice | © Oscar Nord / Unsplash
Ryan Snittendek

As the gateway to the French Riviera, Nice has been a hangout for the well-heeled for hundreds of years. Aristocrats, society grandes dames and artists of all stripes have flocked here for the food, the wine and the stunning light. While the smaller satellite towns around it – Cap Ferrat, Cap d’Antibes, even Cannes – might boast better beaches, nowhere has quite the same ambience. Here are our recommendations of the best things to see and do in Nice.

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Promenade des Anglais

Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France

You’ve not really been to Nice unless you’ve taken a stroll along the Promenade des Anglais, the pedestrian walkway that stretches for seven kilometres (4.3mi) along the coast, separating the sea from the city. Built in 1820 at the instigation of a group of British residents, la Prom, as it’s known, has become a favourite place to stroll, cycle or simply watch the world go by. It’s also one of the best places to gather on big public occasions – New Year’s celebrations here are something else.

Matisse wasn’t born in Nice, but he lived here for nearly 40 years, and is buried in the cemetery of the Monastère de Cimiez. The painter and sculptor, who arguably did more than anyone else to revolutionise the visual arts in the first two decades of the 20th century, is celebrated in his adopted hometown by the impressively comprehensive Musée Matisse. Located in the imposing 18th-century Villa des Arènes, the museum hosts an excellent permanent collection of the master’s artworks, as well as rotating exhibitions illuminating different aspects of his life and career.

Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Nice

Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Nice

With onion domes and colourful spires that look like they’ve been lifted straight from Red Square, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral cuts a strange silhouette among the stereotypically French apartment blocks of Nice’s Le Piol neighbourhood. But while it might look slightly out of place, the church actually predates many of the surrounding buildings. It was consecrated in 1912, and dedicated to the memory of Nicholas Alexandrovich, son of Tsar Alexander II, and heir-apparent to the Russian throne until his tragic death. He passed away in 1865, at the age of just 21, in a villa not far from this spot. As the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in Western Europe, it’s a sight worth seeing, but also testament to the long tradition of Russians spending time on the Riviera, one which continues to this day.

Notre Dame de Nice

Notre Dame de Nice is the largest, and most spectacular, church in the city. Despite that, it’s not the official cathedral – that title had already been claimed by an older building in the city centre. But if you want to immerse yourself in the splendour of French religious architecture, this is the one to visit. Partly this is explained by Nice’s interesting history; until 1860, the city was actually part of the Kingdom of Sardinia, but was annexed during the Italian Wars of Independence. Nice’s new rulers decided they needed to make the city feel more French, and so commissioned a brand new church in the Gothic style – Notre Dame is the result.

Musée Marc Chagall

Originally hailing from Belarus, artist Marc Chagall called many cities home over the course of his long and prolific career. But while his artwork can be seen everywhere from MoMA to the Louvre, it’s the Musée Marc Chagall in Nice which arguably best reflects his life and work. Not least because he helped design it, setting out instructions in his will, right down to where he wanted each painting to hang. Chagall lived in St Paul de Vence, just outside the city, from 1948 until his death at the ripe old age of 97. Along with the Musée Matisse, this is a must-visit for anyone who wants to understand European Modernism.

Monastère de Cimiez

With the novelist Roger Martin du Gard, the painter Raoul Dufy and, of course, Henri Matisse having been laid to rest here, it would be worth making a pilgrimage to the Cimiez monastery for its cemetery alone. But the rest of the site, which has been used by monks since the 9th century (a brief break following the French revolution aside) is well worth a visit. The Franciscan Museum provides you with fantastic insights into monastic life down the centuries, and the stunning 15th-century church features three paintings by the Renaissance master Ludovico Brea.

Jardin Albert 1er

Right in the middle of Nice, just across the Promenade des Anglais from the Centenary Beach sits a pleasant oasis of green, filled with palm trees and fountains. This is the Jardin Albert 1er, a lovely place to sit and watch the world go by after a long day of sightseeing. Named after the man who was King of Belgium when the First World War broke out, it boasts an open-air concert venue, the Théâtre de Verdure, which has hosted everyone from Edith Piaf to Iron Maiden down the years.

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