The Top Things to See and Do in Nice, France

The coastal city of Nice gives you picturesque architecture and ocean views alike
The coastal city of Nice gives you picturesque architecture and ocean views alike | © Andrey Khrobostov / Alamy Stock Photo
Alex Ledsom

The south of France has a reputation for the high life and Nice doesn’t disappoint in terms of culture, the views, the scenery and things to do. In addition to the main sights make sure these things are on your bucket list when you next visit. They’ll turn an amazing trip into an extraordinary one.

Swim in the sea

No visit to the south of France would be complete without at least a quick dip. The locals are unlikely to go in the sea except at the height of summer (other times of the year are considered too cold) but if you’re used to swimming in colder water (in England, for example), then the water is wonderful from about March until sometimes as late as November. Find a private beach to hire a lounger in relative comfort with waiter service or choose a more natural (but maybe more crowded) public beach. Don’t forget the suntan lotion.

Eat socca

Socca is a healthy alternative to fast food, made with chickpeas and cooked like a crepe

Socca is the local dish, made of chickpeas and cooked in the same way as crepes. It’s eaten in the same way as a pancake – as a healthier alternative to fast food – rolled up and wrapped in paper. It’s a great way to fill up, while you wander around the town looking for your next meal. Socca booths are all over town, but especially at Nice’s flower market on every day of the week but Monday (before 1.30pm for food).

Drink the local wine

The south of France has long been known and loved for its grapes. This is rosé wine territory, although the locals might think it a huge “faux pas” to continue drinking it through winter, when most switch to red (or at least white) wine. Head to Coco et Rico to try the local wines (organic available) behind the Promenade des Anglais.

Dine far above the crowds

Nothing will make you feel more special than heading up to eat lunch or dinner on the top of one of the hotels along the Promenade des Anglais. Lounge by the pools and then mooch over to your (pre-reserved) table on the balcony, overlooking the thousands of people on the Prom below. If you want to blow the budget, try Le Chantecler, the two-star Michelin restaurant at the kooky Hotel Negresco. Try the 3e restaurant at the Hyatt Regency for a fine dining experience but where the waiters are a little less formal. Or maybe try the poolside lounge restaurant, La Terrasse, at Le Méridien, where you can get a burger cooked to perfection (albeit still not cheap). It’s worth a drink in one of them at least, if not just to get the exclusive sensation of being on top of the world.

See some art (Matisse or Chagall)

The Musée National Marc Chagall is full of vibrant paintings

Many painters like Picasso, Van Gogh and Cézanne have flocked to the region because of its clear skies and magic light. Matisse and Chagall made Nice their home for large periods of their life and the Musée Matisse and Musée Chagall are only a Boulevard apart (about a 15-minute walk).

Celebrate jazz

Jazz came to the region in the 1920s, brought over by American ex-pats who came to live on the Côte D’Azur, to write or paint or party. Many of them, like F Scott Fitzgerald, hired big houses along the coast where they held ostentatious parties and invited famous US jazz bands to play. Nowadays, you can continue the tradition by visiting many local jazz bars and clubs, visiting during the Jazz festival (July) or having lunch at one of the big hotels that used to be a second home to these people who called themselves the “Lost Generation”, such as the Hotel du Cap or the Hotel Belles Rives in nearby Juans-Les-Pins. (Fitzgerald wrote at the Belles Rives and used the Hotel du Cap as inspiration for his books).

Party at Nice’s carnival

Every February, thousands of people descend on Nice for the annual celebration that traditionally comes before lent (when everyone is supposed to eat up all the fattening things in their cupboards before fasting). Join in the festivities, processions, pageants, flower battles and craziness by dressing up (fancy dress isn’t obligatory but it is encouraged).

For more gorgeous things to see, read the Culture Trip guide to the best panoramic views in Nice.

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