The Top Things to Do and See in Vieux Nice

Cathédrale Sainte Réparate in Nice | © RudolfSimon/Wikicommons
Cathédrale Sainte Réparate in Nice | © RudolfSimon/Wikicommons
Photo of Alexis James
7 July 2021

Stroll along the Promenade des Anglais and admire the Belle Époque architecture of Nice, a Mediterranean gem on the French Riviera. Famous faces like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso have called its broad beaches and cobblestone streets home.

Nice’s Old Town (Vieux Nice) has a vibrancy to it that evokes a Matisse painting – from its 16th-century terracotta buildings and narrow alleyways to the palm trees backed by the azure Mediterranean Sea. The city’s colourful palette can be enjoyed in other ways, too, from exotic ice cream flavours to the radiant blooms of its famous markets. Grab your shades and try these top things to do in Vieux Nice.

Watch the world pass by at the Place du Palais de Justice

Market, Architectural Landmark
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Palace of Justice, Nice
© Helmut Corneli / imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo
This bustling square is the central thoroughfare for Nice’s Old Town. The Neoclassical Palais de Justice stands imposingly on its western side, while you’re only ever minutes away from the beach, Cours Saleya or the green respite of the Promenade du Paillon. This square is always teeming with purpose; stop for a crêpe at one of the square’s two cafés and indulge in some people-watching.

Smell the roses in Cours Saleya

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If you thought the buildings in old Nice were colourful, just wait until you’ve seen the flowers on sale at the markets of Cours Saleya. The Marché aux Fleurs competes with the allure of the Med’s freshest fruit and vegetables every day except Monday. That’s when the fragrant smells are replaced by a flea market, resplendent with knick-knacks and bric-à-brac for treasure hunters.

Stroll through Vieux Nice Port

Architectural Landmark
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The Port of Nice viewed from the viewpoint of Colline du Chateau
© Francesco Bonino / Alamy Stock Photo
Known officially as Port Lympia, Nice’s old port retains a practical use for visitors seeking to navigate the Med on a ferry to Corsica or Sardinia. But even if your next stop isn’t Bastia or Golfo Aranci, it’s worth paying a visit to the harbour. First, take in the views from Castle Hill, then descend east towards the port before dropping anchor at one of several cafés situated around the quays. From here, you can pick out your favourite super-yachts bobbing on the turquoise waters.

Buy a cone of Fenocchio ice cream

Ice Cream Parlour, Ice Cream, $$$
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Ice cream in the southern French heat is something of a rite of passage in Nice. The family-run Fenocchio ice cream parlour has been allowing customers to tick off that must-do experience since 1966. Located on the pastel-proud Place Rossetti, it offers over 90 flavours of ice cream and sorbet. You’ll find classic French picks, like pistachio and praline, alongside quirkier efforts including cactus, lavender and tomato basil. There’s also a second outlet near Cours Saleya on Rue de la Poissonnerie.

Explore Palais Lascaris

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Ceremonial room, Palais Lascaris, Nice
© Martin Thomas Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
Tucked down a quaint lane, the Palais Lascaris hosts a variety of eclectic marvels, including a display of antique musical instruments. The palace dates back to the mid-1600s, featuring vaulted frescoed ceilings, tapestries and Baroque stairwells in pink and gold alabaster. The beautiful exterior facade is easily passed by at street level, so look up to witness the architectural marvel.

Admire Matisse's House

Art Gallery, Museum
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One of of renowned French artist Henri Matisse’s former homes can still be found at No. 1 Place Charles Félix in Vieux Nice; however, it is the burnt crimson exterior walls, olive green shutters and golden terraces of the Matisse Museum that prove an aptly colourful home for the artist’s works. This 17th-century Genoese villa can be found in the hills of Cimiez, a 10-minute drive from Vieux Nice. Inside, you’ll find works spanning Matisse’s life, beginning from the artwork believed to be his first painting and up to the fragile but bold paper cutouts he created in his final years.

Admire Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate

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Old city in Nice and the Sainte Reparate Cathedral Alpes-Maritimes
© Valery Trillaud / agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo
Located in Vieux Nice’s most beautiful square – Place Rossetti – the Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate was built in the 18th century in honour of the city’s patron saint, a teenage girl murdered for her religious beliefs in 250 CE. Although much of this story has been lost in translation, this cathedral stands as a symbol of Nice’s architectural prowess and is a spectacular sight to see.

Visit the Nice Opera House

Opera House
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Opera house in city of Nice, France.
© Liudmila Habrus / Alamy Stock Photo
This historic opera house, twice rebuilt from scratch, comes with plenty of prestige. Former attendees include Napoleon III and Alexander II of Russia, while the great composer Johann Strauss once led the orchestra. While the attendees may have changed, many of the building’s creative quirks from its final completion in 1885 remain. These include four 2m (6.6ft) sculptures of Greek goddesses, representing tragedy, comedy, music and dance.

Promenade des Anglais

Building, Architectural Landmark
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The main street Promenade des Anglais that runs along the French Riviera at Nice
© Kirk Fisher / Alamy Stock Photo
Undoubtedly the most popular destination in Nice, located at the edge of the Old Town, the Promenade des Anglais boasts world-famous hotels like Le Negresco and waterfront bars, flanked by palm trees. It runs for 7km (4mi) from the castle headland to the airport. Join the runners pacing along the tarmac at dawn, or take a late afternoon stroll when it comes alive with skaters and buskers. Grab an ice cream and enjoy the view.

Place Massena

Map View
Place Massena, Nice
© Quentin Bargate / Alamy Stock Photo
Not sure where to stay your exploration of Nice? Head to the Place Massena. It adds a refreshing vibe to the rustic Old Town – combining postmodern Buddha statues alongside the grandiose Fontaine du Soleil. Peek into the numerous shops surrounding its perimeter or watch the street performers entertain the crowds. The aesthetically pleasing chequerboard pavement and terracotta buildings are poised for a photo opportunity.

Alex Locker contributed additional reporting to this article.

These recommendations were updated on July 7, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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