Nice is a magnificent city and a favourite with tourists. Ideally located on the French Riviera, on the southeast coast of France, it is no wonder that Nice, the unofficial capital of the Côte d'Azur, is the fifth biggest city in France and has visitors flocking to it year round.
The city has been inhabited for close to 400,000 years and got its name from the Greek, , meaning 'City of Victory'. Today this culture-rich region is an eclectic fusion of ancient wonders and hedonistic pleasures, with sun, sea, shopping and fine dining competing with cultural and historical sightseeing opportunities. The hot summers and mild winters mean that visitors can appreciate the picturesque beaches in the region in all seasons, though the winters will likely be too cold for swimming.
Nice is a great shopping destination, boasting some glorious markets offering everything from traditional French fare to vintage clothing, as well as countless upmarket boutiques and shops for those looking to indulge in the famed French fashion culture. The charming old town offers many cultural delights, with impressive architecture ensuring that just a stroll through the area feels like an historical experience. Those with a taste for the celebrated French cuisine will also be spoiled for choice in Nice which is known to be a gastronomical hub.
The traffic may be manic in Nice, and the beaches in the area are mostly pebbly, but the city has an undeniable romance and a glamourous reputation which has drawn the rich and famous for decades.
Antibes is a few miles east of Cannes and a very popular excursion from the city. It has one of the best markets on the coast and an excellent Picasso museum in its ancient seafront castle, the 16th-century Château Grimaldi. Picasso was lent a room in the castle to use as a studio in 1946 and several extremely prolific months followed before he moved to Vallauris, leaving all his Antibes output to what is now the Musée Picasso. Although Picasso donated other works later, most of the collection dates from this one period, including the best known work, Ulysses and his Sirens. Picasso himself is the subject of some of his paintings. There are also works here by some of Picasso's contemporaries, including Nicholas de Stael. Alongside the castle is a cathedral which dates from medieval times; only the choir and apse survive from the original Romanesque building, while the nave and magnificent facade are Baroque. Nearby is a market which is open every morning over the summer and overflows with local produce.
Renowned artist Henri Matisse spent a good portion of his life in Nice, living in the city from 1918 until 1954, and he is honoured by this museum. The Musée Matisse has several permanent collections, mostly painted in Nice and many donated by the artist and his heir. The better known paintings include (1937), (1935/1942) and (1905). There is also an ensemble of drawings including (1951) and (1952). Seeing his nude sketches today, you'll wonder why early critics denounced them as 'the female animal in all her shame and horror.' The museum opened in 1963 and is located near the Hotel Regina where Matisse used to reside. It is very attractively housed and the striking, colourful building is surrounded by an olive grove. The exhibits give a lot of insight into Matisse's process and technique which is a treat for enthusiasts. There are guided tours of the museum on offer in French, English, Italian and German.
The Chateau de Nice was built in the 11th century for military purposes. It is located in Vieux Nice and features on most sightseeing tours of Nice, but the fortress itself is long gone and only some ruins remain. The attraction for visitors is the Parc du Chateau (or Colline du Chateau, that is, the Castle Hill) which surrounds the former fortress. With wonderful views over the rooftops and gleaming mosaic tiles of Old Nice, along the sweep of the Promenade des Anglais and out to the Mediterranean, the Château park is a lovely attraction in itself and a good place for visitors to orientate themselves within the city. Visitors can take cool walks in the shade of the trees, enjoy the large grassy park, explore the Roman ruins and visit the waterfall; it is a pretty and peaceful place to spend an afternoon.
The fortress was razed by Louis XIV in 1706 and the only part left standing is the 16th-century Tour Bellanda, a tower which now houses the Naval Museum. The cemetery where Garibaldi is buried covers the northwest side of the park. To reach the park, visitors can either climb the steps at the front, from the Quai des Etats Unis, or for those who aren't up to it an elevator is available.
Just outside of Nice, near the airport, this vast tourist attraction includes a botanical garden and numerous animals, among other things. 2,500 species of plant are collected in the Phoenix Parc Floral and some of them are very rare; the tropical greenhouse is one of the largest in Europe. There is a greenhouse dedicated exclusively to orchids and another which features the biodiversity of Southern Africa. The aviary contains many species of exotic birds and there are beautiful butterflies in one of the greenhouses and an insect zoo, as well as several aquariums and a big lake containing birds and turtles. There is also a tacky theme park with automated dinosaurs and mock Mayan temples which will probably delight children. One of the highlights of the park is the Musée Départemental des Artes Asiatiques the Museum of Asian Arts - which houses a collection of ethnographic artefacts, including silk goods and pottery, as well as traditional and contemporary art. This is a great excursion for the whole family and should happily occupy everybody for a few hours at least.
Housed in the former residence of the Ukrainian Princess Kotchubey is a fine collection of 19th and 20th century art, including works by Boudin, Ziem, Raffaelli, Renoir and Monet. The Musée des Beaux-Arts Jules Chéret gallery includes great sculptures as well as paintings, including works by J. B. Carpeaux, Rude and Rodin. There is also an important collection devoted to the masters of the Second Empire and Belle Epoque, a great attraction for visitors to Nice. The building is truly lovely and would be worth seeing even if it didn't house a museum, and there is a lovely little garden to sit in as well. The collection is nicely arranged in spacious rooms and there is a pleasant, airy feel to the place. It may not take very long to see everything, but art lovers will be richly rewarded by a visit.
The Monastery of Cimiez, which includes a church, a cemetery and a convent where some Franciscan friars still live, is located in a residential area in the hills above the hustle and bustle of the city. The convent houses the Musee Franciscain which is decorated with 17th-century frescoes, and exhibits a monk's cell so visitors can get an idea of how the austere religious life is lived. The chapel dates from the 17th century and the lovely gardens have sweeping views across Nice. Apart from the monastery, the grounds of Cimiez include a large park set amid olive groves, the Archaeology Museum and Matisse Museum. Also within the gardens, the Musée National Message Biblique Marc-Chagall displays some 450 of the artist's oils, drawings, pastels, lithographs, sculptures, and ceramics. There is plenty to see and do in this picturesque area, which promises visitors a break from the bustle of the city.
During a couple of weeks in August, Cimiez is the site of the Nice Jazz Festival, with music being played every day until midnight and performed on three stages, in the olive groves and the Roman Amphitheatre. It is an hour's walk, or a short bus ride from the town centre.
Nice's most famous market area, the Cours Saleya, bustles with activity every day and is a riot of colour and fresh smells. Cours Saleya is the famous promenade in the southwest of Vieux Nice. A wonderful attraction for visitors, and beloved by locals, the market is packed with flowers, fresh produce, souvenir shops and sidewalk cafés. On Mondays the flowers and fresh produce disappear and instead the area hosts a large flea market and an antiques market; even those not looking to buy anything can enjoy the food and soak up the vibrant atmosphere. The promenade and square which house the stalls are impressive too and the backdrop of venerable buildings contrasts pleasantly with the riotous colour and frivolity of the market.
It is best to arrive as early as possible to enjoy the market before the hordes descend. Also, those planning to do some shopping should be sure to have plenty of change and small bills because the merchants do not like to break large bills and may refuse if they don't have sufficient change.
Celebrated modernist artist Marc Chagall (1887-1985), though born in the Soviet Union, spent much of his career in France. The Marc Chagall Museum in Nice has the largest permanent collection of his works, including his Biblical Message Cycle, comprising 17 large-scale paintings depicting scenes from the Bible. The museum contains a dazzling array of paintings, sculptures, stained glass windows and mosaics and the vivid colours and dreamlike quality of Chagall's work make the space come alive. It is a truly well-designed museum which captures some of the joyful quality of Chagall's work even though it is simple and small. Interestingly, Chagall himself positioned many of the works, as he was alive when the museum was built, and this goes some way to explaining how well everything seems to fit. There is a great film on Chagall's life running at the museum and it is really worth watching. One can also listen to audio recordings of explanations for each of the paintings and this hugely enriches the experience, particularly for those who aren't familiar with the artist. The museum has attractive gardens to wander in and a small cafe for refreshments.
Nice and the French Riviera were fashionable holiday resorts for Russian nobility in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, leading to a close relationship between the regions that culminated in the rose-pink Russian Orthodox Cathedral, one of the most beautiful buildings in Nice. Topped with the onion-shaped domes typical of Russian cathedrals, the church was built by Tsar Nicholas II in 1912 and is the largest of its kind outside of Russia. The interior of the cathedral is also magnificent; it is in the shape of a Greek cross and boasts some wonderful frescos, woodwork and art, as well as notable goldsmith's work. The odd image of the Russian spires set against the background of palm trees on the Cote d'Azur is one of the most interesting sights in Nice. Strolling past the cathedral, and getting some photos, is a must and it is well worth going inside as well.
Nice has a typically Mediterranean climate with hot summers and mild winters. During the hottest summer months, particularly in August, temperatures often climb above 86°F (30°C), while maximum temperatures in winter are about 59°F (15°C). August is the hottest month and January is the coldest. Rainfall is moderate and mostly occurs during winter; October is usually the wettest month. Snowfall is extremely rare. Nice is sheltered from the wind by the hills around the city so only the occasional mistral wind causes a stir.
Summer is peak tourist season in Nice and this is the best time of year to visit if you are going to enjoy the beaches. However, the spring months of April and May can be lovely and it is far less crowded. You will get plenty of sun but the water will be too cold for swimming, making spring the ideal time to go if you want a sightseeing holiday. Autumn can be rainy but the weather is mild and this can also be a pleasant time to visit Nice.
Nice city centre is small enough to get around on foot. Buses and trams are the main form of public transport and cover most of the city until midnight. Taxis are not a popular means of transport, as they are known to overcharge tourists and are difficult to flag down. The central train station takes commuters to other towns along the Riviera such as Antibes, Cannes, Monaco and more.
For many visitors Nice is primarily a launching pad for a French Riviera beach holiday. The weather is certainly a major drawcard, and despite its pebbly beaches, the luxury offered by the hotels and restaurants along the coast ensures that visitors can enjoy a beach holiday in immense comfort.
For those less interested in the prospect of a tan, Nice is an historic and artistic city with a rich offering of galleries and museums. Favourite art museums include Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain, Musée Matisee, and Musée des Beaux-Arts Jules Chéret. History buffs will love the 11th-century Chateau de Nice, as well as the Musée de Paléontologie Humaine de Terra Amata, which is built on a prehistoric settlement and traces life on the Riviera 400,000 years ago.
Those looking for a religious experience will also not be disappointed as Nice is home to a number of impressive churches and religious institutions. The Cathédrale Saint Nicolas, a Russian orthodox church, is an unexpected attraction in this French city. The Monastery of Cimiez, which includes a church, a cemetery and a convent, remains an active monastery and is a joy to explore.
Of course, throughout France the magnificent cuisine is a draw for travellers and Nice is known to be a competitor in this regard. Visitors looking for simple fare will enjoy Nice's most famous market area, the Cours Saleya, where fresh produce and quaint sidewalk cafés can be found. Those in search of glamorous fine dining will find a diverse offering of fancy restaurants in Nice.