The Best Museums to Visit in Nice, France

The Musée Matisse is just one of the many art museums to visit in Nice
The Musée Matisse is just one of the many art museums to visit in Nice | © BTWImages / Alamy Stock Photo
Alex Ledsom

Whether you fancy roaming through the archaeological Roman remains of Nice, ambling through historical artefacts from the Belle Époque period of French history or hunting down Niki de Saint Phalle’s shooting paintings from the 1970s, Nice has a staggering range of museums to discover.

Explore Nice from the water by chartering a boat for the day through SamBoat. Alternatively, book a week-long sailing holiday with Dream Yacht Charter.

The museums in Nice cater mostly to art lovers, with a multitude of galleries that house everything from classic 15th-century paintings, right through to Pop art from the 1960s. Whatever your taste, Nice offers an opportunity to see art in sublime settings – in grand villas perched high on hills overlooking the town or in state-of-the-art buildings with a roof terrace to die for. It’s as easy to find work by the well-known masters – a gouache painting by Henri Matisse, stained glass windows by Marc Chagall or an Andy Warhol, perhaps – in Nice as it is to delve into ornate carvings and mosaics from the 19th century.

1. Musée Matisse

Museum, Art Gallery, Building

Colourful artwork in a spacious gallery, with other sculptures and artwork, at the Matisse Museum
© BTWImages / Alamy Stock Photo
Henri Matisse is one of the most well-known French painters, and this museum in Nice offers the chance to get to know both the artist and his work. The 17th-century villa in which the collection is housed was Matisse’s home from 1917 until his death in 1954, and affords an intimate look at the painter’s life. The museum houses many of his early paintings as well as his later sketches, plus numerous engravings and sculptures offering a chronological perspective on how the artist’s work developed over the years. The Musée Matisse is in the leafy residential neighbourhood of Cimiez, which was the site of a Roman encampment called Cemenelum. It’s also close to the magnificent Cimiez Monastery, where Matisse is buried.

2. Villa Masséna Musée

Art Gallery

Two people walking to the entrance of Musee Massena, with palm trees and greenery around the building
© Tim E White / Alamy Stock Photo

Built in 1898 on the famous Promenade des Anglais as a winter residence for the flamboyant aristocrat Victor Masséna, the Musée Masséna offers an interesting insight into the late 19th-century life of French nobility. The former house now belongs to the city – it was donated to Nice by Victor Masséna’s son upon his father’s death, on condition that it was preserved as a local museum. The museum was heavily restored in 2008 and holds many ornate carvings and paintings from the Belle Époque period, plus its collection includes one of many copies of Napoleon’s death mask.

3. Musée National Marc Chagall

Art Gallery, Museum

The portrait Moses Receiving the Tablets of the Law by Marc Chagall and three people sitting on a bench in the Musee National Marc Chagall
© David Reed / Alamy Stock Photo
The Musée National Marc Chagall in Nice is a must-visit for any Chagall enthusiast. The museum holds the largest collection of Chagall’s work in the world and features a delightful range of artworks, from practice sketches to full-scale paintings. The museum features The Bible Illustrations, a series of striking paintings inspired by crucial events from the Old Testament and which reflect Chagall’s own Jewish heritage. The artworks on display depict religious characters and scenes which Chagall developed for The Bible Illustrations series after spending time immersing himself in the Holy Land of Israel in the 1930s and, later, studying Rembrandt’s biblical paintings in Amsterdam between the wars.

Explore Nice in style by renting a yacht for the day with SamBoat, or for a week with Dream Yacht Charter – no experience necessary.

4. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nice

Museum

Portraits on the wall and a sculpture of a woman sitting in a gallery space at Musee des Beaux-Arts de Nice
© Art Kowalsky / Alamy Stock Photo
Built in 1878 for Ukrainian Royal Princess Kotchoubey, the Musée des Beaux-Arts is in an Italianate villa – which will leave you breathless, both because of its divine architecture and because of the steep uphill climb needed to reach it from the centre of Nice. Get your breath back by wandering through the museum, which houses an impressive collection of art spanning from the 15th to the 20th centuries, featuring everything from French and Italian classics through to post-Impressionist paintings. The artwork is so varied that the Musée des Beaux-Arts has been the target of various heists throughout the years – the last one was in 2007, when thieves made off with four paintings, all of which were later recovered in Marseille.

5. Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain (MAMAC)

Museum

A sculpture of a wrecked car in a gallery space at Musee dArt Moderne et dArt Contemporain (MAMAC)
© Hackenberg-Photo-Cologne / Alamy Stock Photo
The MAMAC is dedicated to modern American and European art from the 1960s and beyond, including Pop art and new realist work. There are over 1,300 pieces of art on display here, including work by renowned Pop artist Andy Warhol. The first permanent exhibition displays a series of plain blue canvases by Yves Klein, which are part of his monochrome works from the 1960s. The other permanent exhibition is by Niki de Saint Phalle, showing a spectacular series of shooting paintings completed in the 1970s, where she literally took aim at social injustice by firing paint onto her canvases. She said that “by firing the gun myself, I was taking aim at society and its injustice”. After immersing yourself in the art, head to the roof terrace, which offers wonderful panoramic views of the city.

6. Musée Archéologique de Nice-Cimiez

Archaeological site, Museum

Brick walls and Roman ruins in a large outdoor space with trees at the Musée Archéologique de Nice-Cimiez
© Riccardo Bianchini / Alamy Stock Photo
The Romans founded an encampment called Cemenelum in the first century CE as a staging post for their army’s movements in the region –it’s now the neighbourhood of Cimiez, a residential area on the hill above Nice’s town centre. The encampment’s remains have been incorporated into the Musée Archéologique de Nice-Cimiez, which celebrates this history by providing an overview of Roman life at the exact spot where the amphitheatre and Roman baths used to stand. The remains are nowhere near as preserved as in other parts of Provence, such as in Arles or Nîmes, but visitors are free to roam over the ancient stones, imagining themselves as Roman gladiators.

For more beautiful sights, check out the Culture Trip guide to the best panoramic views in Nice.

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