Greek Nikaia, Roman Cemenelum, Nice la Belle
Charming Nice, the second largest city along the French Mediterranean coast after Marseille and the 5th most populous in the country, is a beautiful, elegant and very opulent place. Right in between the mountains and the sea on the Côte d’Azur, the French Riviera. Ever popular among the rich and famous who make this place their preferred resort for their vacation, it is still attracting a great number of wealthy tourists looking to enjoy among some of the grand historical hotels by the promenade overlooking the sea. The main one, named Promenade des Anglais, takes its name from the English who made Nice their winter preferred vacation choice during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Even for just a weekend, that is more than enough time to visit the entire city and also neighboring Monaco with its tiny capital Monte Carlo, as we did in our trip. The city is well divided in 3 areas. The elegant 19th century extension, the beach front and the old town, all of them worth to see noticeable for the old town of course, based along the main market square where all the historical buildings, churches and the cathedral can be found. On a small hill is the old fort, although nowadays just a tower stands, but the viewing platform from the top is a must do. The best is to get there right before the sunset, as the changing of the colours with the sun are spectacular.
Coming here is generally quite pricey, specially during the high season months, and because this is a clearly more an up-scale tourist destination where superb hotels align the Promenade des Anglais, all of these orientated to a wealthy tourist sector, not the medium average tourist. But since we were not looking after a beach holiday (not that you could have it in February in Nice in the cold water anyway); this was another of our usual sightseeing city break, therefore not impacted by any high price whatsoever. Low season is the best to come here, avoid the hordes of tourists and enjoy really low prices even in the restaurants.
While the historic old town retains the oldest structures in the city, a maze of narrow streets and alleys; the beach front ijn the other hand, Promenade des Anglais, contains some of the finest and grandest hotels built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries such as the historic and world known Hotel Le Negresco. As last, there is the harbour, which is basically behind the fortress hill. From the harbour you are just a short walk to Place Garibaldi where you can find a tram stop should you wish to save the walk back. Nice is a city not too big nor too small, but the perfect size for doing most of the sightseeing on foot without the need of any public transportation.
Food was not a problem to find around the old town, and in fact, we repeated on the same place, a small pizzeria with such a great prices and incredibly good quality. You will not have problem to find something to your taste and budget around, and again if this falls during the low season months. No tourist traps and no rip-offs, wherever we looked it was very fair; however, I am pretty sure this will be a harder task during the summer with the city packed with tourists.
For more information about the city check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. France’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Nice
- Harbour At the eastern side of the city, beyond the Citadel as the hill turns around, it’s a great sight on it’s own for the beautiful houses all along and the hundreds of boats in the marina.
-Notre Dame du Port This church marks the harbour head along the northern side, perfectly central aligned, in neoclassical style.
- Colline du Chateau This is the citadel hill where you can get the best views over the city and sea, specially at sunset. At one side you have the harbour, at the other, the city with the old town and sea promenade.
- Old town – Vieux Nice Right under the citadel hill and delimited at its southeastern side by the sea promenade. Small and very compact, a maze of small streets and alleys very charming.
-Place Garibaldi The northernmost edge of the old town, one of the major transit hubs. A symmetrical square with all of the buildings in equal design and style. A tram stop is located here, and also the bus stop for going to Monaco.
-Promenade du Paillon The western edge of the old town, a tree-lined avenue with parks and monuments, separating it from the “newer” late 19th early 20th century extension of the city.
-Opera Marking the north-end of the Promenade du Paillon and just a street west from Place Garibaldi.
-Cathedral of Sainte-Réparate In the heart of the old town, one of the oldest structures still standing in Nice. Small if comparing with other cathedrals of a city the similar size.
-Place Rosetti Right at the front of the Cathedral, full with terraces and restaurants.
-Place Masséna The main square of the old town, south from the Cathedral.
-Place du Palais Where the Law Courts are located, a very pretty square towards the western edge of the old town full of historical buildings.
- Albert I Garden Links both the old town with the sea promenade, and the Promenade du Paillon that heads northeast from here.
- Promenade des Anglais The beach front, literally translated as Promenade of the English. All the major and luxurious historic hotels are located along it.
-Hyatt Regency The first of the grand hotels, in art-nouveau style.
-Hotel Le Royal More modest than the others yet in beautiful architecture.
-The Westminster With a name like that, it can only mean top of the range.
-West End Another of the top luxurious properties, in neoclassical style.
-Hotel Le Negresco Built in 1913 in modernist style, ranks as the number one in the city.
Nice International Airport is one of the busiest in France, located to the west of the city, it can be accessed fast, very frequently and reliable via the express bus number 98. This bus runs along the coast to the city centre with its final stop the bus station. The fare is 6€ per way, and with this ticket you can still use it for the rest of the day at any time in buses and trams.
Coming from elsewhere within France, apart of taking a plane, there is a great railway network with high-speed trains towards Paris and through the country; while international rail routes include destinations such as Milan, Genoa, Rome, Venice and even Moscow via Vienna, Warsaw and Minsk.
The city is small enough to be visit entirely on foot. There isn’t really a need for taking any public transport. It would not make even any sense because the best way to enjoy this beautiful city is walking, plus most of the streets inside the historic centre are pedestrian. Buses and trams however, cover most of the areas in the city and farther beyond.
Although it can be quite expensive to have a hotel room during high season, at least in the winter months you can find good deals (though not the best). Unfortunately, unless you have a big budget, every major promenade hotel is very expensive no matter on the season. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
In our case we can recommend the So’Co by HappyCulture (formerly named Riviera, and former Best Western So’Co) on number 27 Avenue Thiers. Not even 5 minutes away from the central train station and from the nearest tram stop, was a quiet and simple place, but most important, comfortable. Very friendly and polite staff, very clean and extremely well maintained.