Nice (pronounced “Neese”) is located right on the Mediterranean Sea, in a region of France known as the French Riviera, or the Cote d’Azur. Nice comes in at the 7th largest city in France, and while definitely not a little town, it has a much more laid back and relaxed vibe than larger cities like Paris or even Marseilles.
There are many places to visit in Nice to keep you busy for a while. Nice is also a great base for exploring more of the French Riviera on day trips. Because of its international airport, Nice is also a good starting point for a fun French Riviera road trip.
When to Visit and for How Long
There’s no bad time to visit Nice, France because of its mild winter temperatures and famous carnival. I have visited Nice in spring and summer but I love summer the best.
Stay two days in Nice to visit the main sites and enjoy the beach, more days if you plan to visit other places nearby on day trips.
How to get there
Fly to Nice International Airport.
Nice city center is less than 30 minutes away by Tram. Take the PORT LYMPIA Tram (Tram 2) which stops at the airport (Terminal 1 and Terminal 2), and connects with the city centre via the “Jean Médecin” station, and with the port via the “Port Lympia” station. There is a tram to the airport roughly every 8 minutes during the week.
Other alternative is taking Bus no.12 which stops in front of Terminal 1 on the southern carriageway nearest the airport. Bus no.12 will stop at the Promenade des Anglais, the Place Masséna (Masséna square) and the Vieille Ville (old town). “Aéroport / Promenade” stop.
There are also two bus lines, no. 98 and no. 99, which connect Nice International Airport with the Riquier bus station and with the bus station at Gare de Nice Ville (Central Train Station), respectively
There is direct train from Paris to Nice with journey time close to 6 hours. Book directly with SNCF Connect.
The central train station of Nice is the Gare de Nice-Ville. Although there are two other train stations, Riquier and St Augustine, in east and west Nice respectively, most travellers will be using the Gare de Nice-Ville. Gare de Nice-Ville has been renovated few years back and it is nice to see that now there is an elevator and escalator for travellers with suitcases.
How to get around
The most reliable and cost-efficient manner of getting around in Nice is to use the public transport means. However, getting around by car, by taxi or by bike is also possible, and in some areas like the beach and old town is best explored on foot.
Public Transport (Bus and Tram)
Public transport in Nice is provided by Lignes d’Azur and its buses and trams cover the city, with some lines also going to nearby medieval towns, as well as Monaco and Cannes. There is also a special bus to the mountains and express buses to the airport. The public transport in Nice forms a dense network of connections that can be used with one ticket.
You can also visit the carrier’s website: lignesdazur.com, which is available in French and English. However, if you are using public transport to navigate around the city, google maps is still your best bet.
Few rules on riding the Bus
– You stop the approaching bus by waving your hand and get in using the front door
– Tickets must be validated in the yellow validator in the vehicle,
– Press STOP button to get off.
There are 2 important bus stops in the city: Parc Phoenix and Vauban (Gare Routière) stops. The first is located near the airport and you can easily get there by tram T2 from the center. Buses to Cannes, Grasse, and Vence, among others, depart from here. The second is the bus station for intercity communication, but there are also buses to Eze Village and Monte Carlo from here.
There are three tram lines in Nice: T1, T2 and T3. The first line (T1) connects two points in the north of the city by passing through the south near the sea through Massena Square, creating a kind of letter “U” shape on the map. The T1 tram connects, for example, the main train station, Gare Thiers, with Garibaldi Square and the surroundings of Nice’s Old Port.
The second tram line in Nice (T2) connects the Old Port with Nice’s airport, therefore running between east and west. In the center of Nice this tram goes into a tunnel, where the important stops are the Jean Medecin stop (the nearest stop to Gare Thiers station, here you will be able to change to the T1 line) and the Garibaldi Le Chateau stop (here you can also change to the T1 line). The last stop is the Old Port of Nice (26 min from the airport). The T3 tram connects the airport with the stadium.
At each tram stop there is a vending machine where you can buy tickets. The ticket should be validated inside the vehicle or on the platform before boarding – the yellow validators are used for this.
Ticket prices for public transport in Nice and where to buy them
A single bus or tram ticket is called a SOLO and costs 1.50 euro. You can buy it from a bus driver or the vending machine at the tram stop. This ticket allows you to change between different buses and trams within 74 minutes – but not on the return journey. So in 74 minutes you can go from point A through B to C, but you can’t then return from C to B or A, even if the ticket is still valid.
You need to validate the ticket every time you enter a vehicle, and also if you change vehicles. The validated ticket has the date and time printed on it. Sometimes the ticket machine spits out the ticket without printing it, then you have to put it back in the machine for validation.
If you plan to travel more often or in a group of several people, it is worth checking out the MULTI ticket. It costs €10 and includes 10 tickets (one card that can be validated 10 times). The MULTI ticket is available only from vending machines. It can be validated immediately for more than one person by putting it into the validating machine multiple times.
There is also a Pass 1 Jour ticket, which costs €5 and is valid for 24 hours, and a Pass 7 Jours ticket for €15 which is valid for 7 days.
The last useful ticket is the Ticket Azur, for which you have to ask the driver. The ticket costs only €1.50 and will allow you to change from Nice public transport to a bus that goes outside the city. For example: you have accommodation in Nice, but far from the Old Port where you can take bus 100 to Monaco. You buy a Ticket Azur ticket from the driver for €1.50 and go by bus or tram to the Old Port. There, you change to bus 100 to Monaco and go to your destination on the same ticket. Similarly, you can do it on your way back by buying a new Ticket Azure.
Children younger than four can travel for free, and two children who are both younger than ten, can ride on one SOLO ticket.
Taxis and Uber
Uber drives in Nice and private trips are cheaper than taxis. For example, an Uber from the airport to the center of Nice costs about €20; while the price of traveling by taxi has recently been regulated and is approximately €32. A taxi from Nice to Cannes costs about €80, and about €90 to Monaco.
It was not long ago that the local authorities of Nice set up a bicycle sharing system which spreads throughout the city of Nice. The reliability of the system, known as Velo Bleu, is proven by the some 120 bike stands in the city and by the uninterrupted accessibility of the system. Subscriptions to the system can be made for one day, one week, one month or one year, and tourists should be pleased to learn Carte Azur, which is made available by the bus company in Nice, can also be used in order to gain access to the bicycle sharing system of Nice.
Nice has plenty of car rental companies. It is not advisable to explore Nice with a car as finding available parking place can turn into a nuisance. But if you want to explore others towns in Cote d’Azur, renting a car is the best option because you have more flexibility and the road trip view along Cote d’Azur coastline is stunning.
Best Things to Do in Nice
La Colline du Château (Castle Hill)
Castle Hill is a rocky hill located on the Eastern side of Promenade des Anglais, overlooking Old Nice and its port. This hill is one of the best places to visit in Nice, and it offers incredible views of Nice, the Baie des Anges, and the Alps in the distance.
In the 11th century, a citadel occupied this hill, but King Louis XIV’s soldiers entirely dismantled it in the 18th century. Today, it is a beautiful park great for a stroll. Don’t miss its surprising waterfall! The access to La Colline du Chateau is through stairs. But there’s also a free elevator located at the end of the Promenade des Anglais.
Nice Old Port
The Old Port, located in Old Nice, is another of the best things to see in Nice and a wonderful place for a stroll. Nice’s Old Port is a colorful and busy place, with about ten quays and various markets selling local products.
Built in the 18th century, this port is one of the French Riviera’s main infrastructural hubs. It accommodates both the ships operated by ferry companies and private yachts for tourists.
Walk along Jean Medecin and watch the kids play at Promenade du Paillon
The Avenue Jean Médecin is the main shopping street in Nice where you will find all kinds of shops, from retail stores to organic shops and supermarkets. You can also find the Nice Étoile shopping mall, some restaurants, coffee shops and other leisure and entertainment venues.
The surrounding buildings are eye-catching and beautiful. The main tram line, Line 1, passes all the way through and splits the city in two from east to west. Avenue Jean Médecin is also a connection point for both Line 1 and 2 of the tramway.
Walk along Jean Medecin until you reach Place Masséna, the main square of Nice, and turn left to Promenade du Paillon.
The Promenade du Paillon begins in Place Massena with the Miroir d’Eau (mirror of water), a 3000m² paved section dotted with water jets; sometimes they puff out a gentle cooling mist that is pure relief on a hot day, sometimes they shoot fountains of water high into the air – they can switch at a moment’s notice, so walk amongst them at your own risk! They are a huge hit with children who love running in and out of the jets and shrieking with laughter every time they change.
Further down the Promenade is a children’s play area and the last section of the Promenade is a long stretch of lawn lined with olive trees; this section is the most peaceful and where you’re most likely to find office workers enjoying a packed lunch or elderly locals reading the newspaper.
Entry to the Promenade du Paillon is free and opening hours are from 07:00-23:00 in summer and 07:00-21:00 in winter.
Exploring Nice Old Town
From Promenade du Paillon you can continue walk to Nice Old Town and Cours Saleya. Vieux Nice (Old Town) is the city’s historic district, an ensemble of narrow streets, colorful architecture, and picturesque piazzas. In Vieux Nice, you will also find cultural venues, beautiful Baroque churches, and many shopping opportunities and restaurants.
The list of beautiful places to visit in Nice’s Old Town includes the Cathedral Sainte Reparate, the notable museums of Lascaris Palace and Galleries des Pochettes, and the Opera of Nice.
Taking stroll in Cours Saleya
Located in the historic district, Cours Saleya is the largest pedestrian area in Vieux Nice and one of the few places that still keeps its local and traditional charm. The place is great for a stroll, and it is well known for its colorful flower markets (our favorite part), but there are also stalls selling antiques and food.
Promenade des Anglais
Promenade des Anglais is one of the best things to see in Nice. This seaside promenade is Nice’s main landmark, famous beyond the French borders. The name of this promenade honors the English aristocracy, who in the 19th century acquired a taste for vacationing in Nice, and had the idea of building this 7-kilometer avenue by the sea.
As you walk to the left end of Promenade des Anglais, you will reach Albert 1rst garden. There is a carousel inside which will delight any children. I swear that France has Carousels in every corner of their town. I can’t seem to avoid them in all the cities in France I visited during my trip.
Swimming and Sunbathing in Nice Beach
Along the Promenade des Anglais, you will find Nice’s beaches with their legendary blue lounge chairs, the Museum of Asian Arts, the Palais de la Méditerranée, and the equally iconic Hotel Négresco.
The city’s seafront is bordered by pebbled beaches, public or private, and they are a great place for a lazy day sunbathing and a couple of dips. To avoid contact with the stones, the beaches are fitted with lounge chairs – Nice’s iconic blue chairs – and it is highly recommended to use special shoes to walk on the beach or take a bath.
The pubic beaches offer limited facilities, while the private beaches have luxurious amenities (changing cabins, towels) and bars and restaurants with seaside service. Some of these private beaches, like the Blue Beach or the Castel Beach, are amongst the most glamorous beaches on the French Riviera.
If you are looking for a cultural day in Nice, what to do? We suggest visiting Cimiez Hill, a calm neighborhood in Nice with a serene atmosphere far from the Old Town’s hustle and bustle.
Located 2km north of Vieux Nice, Cimiez is a beautiful place for a stroll. It also has some interesting attractions, like the Cimiez Arenas and Gardens, the Archaeological Museum, and the Matisse Museum. The historical monuments of Valrose Castle and Regina Palace are also located in Cimiez.
Cimiez also hosts popular city events like the Gourd Festival or the Nice Jazz Festival.
Day Trip to other towns in Cote d’Azur
As I have mentioned in the beginning that Nice makes excellent base for exploring other beautiful places on the French Riviera.
Here are the suggestions on where you can go:
1. Villefranche-sur-Mer – with a picturesque old town and beaches with pebbles on the small side
6. Saint Jean Cap Ferrat
7. Saint Paul de Vence
10. Saint Tropez
and the list goes on
Some of these places can be combined and can be reached with Bus and Train. For example a trip to Saint Paul de Vence can be done with Cannes using combination of Bus (no.400) and Train for your way back to Nice. Eze Village can be done with Ville franche-sur-Mer by bus and Monaco trip can also be combined with Menton.
Antibes is quite far, 25 minutes by Regional Train but can be reached faster using TGV train (about 14 minutes). Saint Tropez is tricky as it is not connected with direct public transport. You need to take a train to Saint-Raphael and continue with Bus to the Saint Tropez bus station
Where to Stay
Nice has no shortages of accommodations. Here are the suggested areas where to base yourself in Nice
- Old Town (Vieux Nice) – where to stay in Nice for the first time
- Promenade des Anglais – where to stay for the beach
- Gambetta – where to stay for budget travellers
- Le Port – most trendy neighbourhood
- Jean-Medicine – if you want to stay in the center and shop