Many visitors arriving at Nice-Côte d’Azur Airport will head straight for one of the famous destinations which lie along the coast of the French Riviera such as St Tropez, Cannes, Antibes and Monaco. Yet just 10 minutes away to the north-east is the stylish city of Nice which more than merits a visit thanks to its Mediterranean ambience, belle époque architecture, charming old town, fine museums and a thriving restaurant scene that one would expect of France’s 5th largest city. But the word is out. In terms of visitor numbers, Nice is now the country’s 2nd most visited city after Paris and a popular short break destination for both French and foreign visitors.
The strongest reminder of the origins of Nice as a tourist destination is the aptly names ‘Promenade des Anglais’. This is thanks to the first tourists to the region in the 18th century who were wealthy English families attracted by the mild winter climate of the South of France. During one particularly severe winter the city was inundated with beggars from the north of the country. Some of the Englishmen came up with the idea of providing work for these people by constructing a promenade along the seafront hence the ‘English Way’ came into being. Its original name, ‘Camin deis Anglés’, was from the local Nissart dialect but this was changed to the French translation, ‘Promenade des Anglais’, after Nice was annexed by France in 1860. Today the promenade remains one of the key features of Nice which attracts locals and visitors alike who stroll its length whilst admiring the delightful views across la Baie des Anges.
Some of the other major attractions which Nice has to offer are the following:
Place Masséna: Road traffic can no longer access the delightful main city square which now makes it one of the most popular spots for visitors. The city tramline passes right through the middle whilst it is surrounding by a fine selection of cafés and restaurants. It serves as the city’s main venue for important annual events including the Carnival and Bastille Day celebrations.
Zone Pietonne: There’s a pedestrianised zone which runs parallel to the Promenade des Anglais from Place Masséna. This area is packed with an impressive array of restaurants representing many parts of the world together with some lovely terrace cafés.
Place Garibaldi: This is another square which deserves a special mention thanks to its fine architecture and the part it has played in the history of the city. The development of the tram network has also allowed this square to become completely pedestrianised. Its key location puts it at a crossroads between the Old Town of Nice and the commercial centre.
Le Vieux Nice: The Old Town of Nice is a small area of narrow streets which is only accessible on foot. Wandering around it is a delight as you stumble upon a bustling market, colourful houses, lively squares, pretty churches and no end of ice cream parlours. After dark it becomes one of the city’s top spots for nightlife.
Matisse Museum: The finest art museums and galleries of the Côte d’Azur are located in Nice. Of particular note is the Matisse Museum which is housed in a 17th century villa in the Cimiez neighbourhood of town. Well worth a visit to see an excellent collection of the artist’s work. Another popular museum is the ‘Musée National Message Biblique Marc Chagall’ which is also located in this residential district.
Getting to Nice
It’s only 6km from Nice’s Côte d’Azur Airport to the city centre. The airport is very well served all year round by flights from all over Europe with many airlines adding additional flights to their schedules during the summer months. Taxis into the city cost around €30 with prices varying according to the location of your hotel, the number of passengers and the amount of luggage.
For a fixed price just book a transfer with Shuttledirect who provide private transfers by car or will collect you in their minivans when travelling as a larger group. This is an ideal option when travelling as a family as they have plenty luggage capacity and can provide baby seats on request if you’re travelling with young children. As well as transfers into the city of Nice they can also arrange transport to all the other popular destinations along the Côte d’Azur including Monaco if required.
The most economical option for getting into the city is to take the airport shuttle bus which departs every 30 minutes. Bus number 98 goes to the city centre whilst number 99 drops off at the main ‘Gare de Nice-Ville’ railway station. Both services pick up outside the two airport terminals. If you’re travelling to Nice by rail rather than air, the city is only four hours from Paris on the high-speed TGV service. There are also international train services to Italy, Switzerland and Belgium.
Getting around in Nice is really cheap and straightforward thanks to the excellent tram system. There’s a whole range of tickets available including 1-day passes, 7-day passes and 10-trip multi-tickets which allow access to all trams and buses both within the city and beyond. This allows visitors to not only get around the main city attractions but also take day trips as far as Cannes, Antibes or Monaco.
Where to Stay in Nice
Nice has the 2nd largest number of hotel beds in France after Paris catering for more than 4 million annual visitors. Of the many establishments available the following three deserve a special mention:
Hotel Negresco (37 Promenade des Anglais): Located right on the ‘Promenade des Anglais’, the historic Hotel Negresco has been welcoming visitors since it opened its doors in 1913. Today it is an iconic city landmark with front rooms offering spectacular views across the bay. The hotel provides guests with access to its own private beach.
Hyatt Regency Nice Palais de la Méditerranée hotel (13 Promenade des Anglais): Another fine hotel located on the promenade which has successfully retained its historic facade whilst providing guests with all the amenities of a high-class, modern establishment. Its excellent location allows for easy access on foot to most of the city’s main attractions and restaurants whilst also offering an excellent in-house dining-room.
Hotel La Perouse (11 Quai Rauba-Capeu): Located at the far end of the promenade within walking distance of Old Nice, this small hotel has exquisite rooms with small terraces overlooking the sea. The dishes served up in its restaurant are truly exceptional and the staff throughout the hotel are a credit to this fine property.