The capital of the French Riviera, Nice lies at the centre of the popular, glamorous region of Southern France. As the main location of the international airport, many tourists arrive on flights to Nice every year, keen to explore the glitzy location, famed for its celebrities and expensive yachts.
The town of Nice itself, though, is less upmarket than its neighbours such as Cannes and St Tropez. One of the larger and more modern towns in the Riviera, this is the place to combine a cheap Nice flight with a budget hotel and use as a base from which to explore the expensive surrounding regions. That’s not to say the town isn’t a destination in its own right. It too sports a popular beachfront for promenading, a selection of fine restaurants and more than 300 days of sunshine every year. Though the modern town is sprawling, its old town centre is still beautiful, packed tightly with red roofed-houses and the perfect place for a wander after swimming in the sea.
Long, hot summers and mild winters are typical in Nice. January temperatures can drop to the very low temperatures (Celsius) and low teens. August is in the 20s although it can reach 37 degrees. Sea breezes keep you cool, requiring a light jacket for summer evenings.
When to fly to Nice
July and August are the peak season months in Nice. The hotels, beaches, and clubs are all crowded. February’s Nice Carnaval also brings in lots of visitors.
The weather in spring and autumn is still warm and most of the crowds have left. November is also pleasant, but many of the local hotel and restaurants are closed as their owners and staff go on holiday. The weather remains warm till fairly late in the year, so this can be a good time to get a good deal on a flight to Nice.
Winter is being rediscovered as a pleasant time to visit, but it is a little chilly for sunbathing and swimming. The mistral, though, may blow through for a few days making it feel quite cold.
The water is warm by May and the resorts are re-opening. In June, there is daylight past 10pm.
Getting around Nice
You may not feel like walking around Nice, but you’ll thank yourself if you do. The beautiful scenery, brightly lit streets, quaint buildings and sunny beaches are well worth it. The best walks are through historic Old Town and Promenade des Anglais, a stretch along the bay. If you do get tired of walking, most of the buses run until midnight. The Sunbus, which stops at some of the city’s main attractions, is the most popular. Buy Sunbus tickets at local cafés. The other bus option is Nice By Bus, which conveniently sells passes for one, five or seven days.
Taxis are available, but not as good. Drivers are known to overcharge tourists, so keep an eye on the meter and discuss the rate before you get in.
To get yourself around the city, try renting a bike, moped, motorcycle or yacht. Trains can take you beyond the city limits. France’s train service along the Riviera is fast and cheap.
Nice insider information
- The cours Saleya is in the Old Town. It has a daily market, selling flowers and vegetables and, on Mondays, antiques and bric-a-brac. The area, with its Belle Epoque architecture and Henri Matisse’s old residence, is a beautiful place to people watch.
- Niceski. The city was very popular with the Russian nobility who “wintered” here. The most famous sign of this is St Nicholas Cathedral, with its "onion-shaped" domes, which was the first to be designated a Russian Orthodox Cathedral outside Russia.
- Nice has several outstanding places of worship. These include the baroque Chapelle de la Miséricorde and the Cathédrale de Ste-Réparate, built in honour of Nice’s patron saint.
- There are excellent museums too. The Musee d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain has art by Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, and the Musee National Message Biblique Marc Chagall boasts the largest public collection of works by the artist. The Musee des Beaux-Arts, housed in the former private mansion of a Ukrainian princess, has the original plaster of Rodin’s The Kiss as well as ceramics by Pablo Picasso. The Musee Matisse is on the hill of Cimiez and contains Henri Matisse’s private collection that he gave to the city including a version of the world-famous Blue Nude. Palais Lascaris, a Baroque palace in the Old Town, is a museum of local history and there is also a restored 19th-century pharmacy on the ground floor.
- Nice is expensive, but cheap treats include walking the Promenade des Anglais, bathing at one of the public beaches, and climbing Castle Hill for views of the city.
- Cimiez, an upmarket suburb, is home not only to the Matisse museum, but also of the archaeological museum (Musée et Site Archéologiques), Roman ruins, and a Franciscan monastery where Matisse and Raoul Dufy are buried.