Beautiful by name, beautiful by nature.
Blending old-world opulence and year-round sunshine, the French Riviera city offers coast, culture and charm in abundance.
The capital of the Côte d’Azur, which was added to the Unesco list in 2021, attracts holidaymakers with its sights, sounds and flavors. As the birthplace of jazz in France, Nice is also home to some of the best restaurants in the south of the country. This is where dishes come alive with fresh, local Mediterranean flavors.
In the old town, colors and atmosphere nod to the region’s historic Italian past, and the town’s fashionable boutiques, effortlessly cool restaurants and pebbly beaches offer something for everyone.
Getting to this French Gulf coast destination is easier than ever with Etihad Airways now offering seasonal flights. Gulf Air also flies direct from Bahrain to Nice. If you’re planning to spend a few days exploring this gem, here’s what you should have on your radar.
Any visit to Nice should start at the Promenade des Anglais, the city’s most popular destination on the edge of the old town. Flanked by palm trees, it’s home to some of the country’s finest hotels, including the eccentric, pink-domed Le Negresco — a legendary spot that’s been a favorite of celebrities, royalty, millionaires, and politicians for more than 100 years.
The seven kilometer promenade was once the favorite place for British aristocrats to stroll and is still the place for one more than a century later morning run, a scenic stroll or an evening drink at one of the myriad waterfront bars and restaurants. Try the boho-chic Ruhl Plage for a sundowner overlooking the Bay of Angels, or grab a table at Les Jardins du Capitole, where you can order a Nicoise salad – the dish is locally sourced – served the traditional way a salad plate, directly opposite the sea. Painted public benches and pergolas offering shade from the Mediterranean sun make this a great spot for people-watching, so grab an ice cream and enjoy the view.
Forget golden sand, most of Nice’s beaches are strewn with pebbles, which can take some getting used to when sunbathing. There are several beach clubs along the coast, including Regence Plage and Plage Beau Rivage Nice, which you can pay to enter, but if you want to lounge like the locals, pack a yoga mat for extra padding and head to one of the public beaches. Head west off the main road to find quieter spots and crystal clear waters perfect for swimming and snorkeling.
From here, stroll up away from the promenade and you will reach the hilltop neighborhood of Fabron. This leafy residential area boasts stunning coastal views and is also home to a lesser-known museum showing the history of Naïve Art. Stop at Boulangerie Napoleon III, where it’s worth the calories to indulge in one of the best almond croissants in town.
Flower markets and live jazz in the old town
As the fifth largest city in France, Nice isn’t small, but its efficient tram system makes it easy to get around. Hop aboard for an afternoon in the heart of the UNESCO-listed city. Get off at Opera — Vieille Ville and you are in the old town. This labyrinth of winding streets is packed with visitors, traders and locals strolling the shady streets lined with historic tenements, restaurants, galleries, cafes and more.
If you prefer, reserve this spot until morning, when early risers will be rewarded with a colourful, fragrant experience at the flower market in Cours Saleya. Beneath red and white striped awnings, this market is over 100 years old and you’ll find every flower imaginable here – from deep purple lavender to sunny yellow mimosa. Evening visits feature fewer flowers but more music at Apero Jazz at Cafe le Flore, an open-air French restaurant with live New Orleans-style tunes. If you can’t get a table don’t worry, there’s more live jazz at nearby Palais de Justice Square.
The castle towers over the old town on the hill. Not the inspiration for Ed Sheeran’s 2017 hit of the same name, but home to the ruins of the Castle of Nice, destroyed some 300 years ago. Perched almost 100 meters above the Old Town rooftops, it is the ideal spot for a dramatic view of the harbour. At the top you’ll find a picturesque park and man-made waterfall, visitors can also take the Art Deco-style public elevator down 92 meters to the harbor below.
Italian charm in southern France
Not far from Castle Hill is Garibaldi Square – a reference to this French town when it was part of Liguria’s Provence. A bronze statue and fountain in the center are dedicated to the Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi, who was born here. At the top of the square, opposite the 18th-century Chapelle du Saint-Sepulcre, stop to see the open-air exhibition, which runs until October
Nica La Bella Treasure of the Riviera features photographs of Nice, its residents and visitors. It includes canvases depicting Queen Victoria vacationing on the French Riviera, Prince Charles and the The Duchess of Cornwall visiting in 2018 and French rock ‘n’ roll star Johnny Hallyday ride their bikes along the promenade.
If you’re hungry afterwards, sample some of the city’s most famous oysters at nearby Cafe du Turin, or indulge at long-standing Serain Cappa pastry shop.
To the west is Place Massena, Nice’s main square. Here you will find salmon and ocher colored buildings, towering illuminated Buddha-style statues and the grandiose Fontaine du Soleil, which depicts Apollo as the sun and five bronze statues representing planets. Dining at nearby L’Aromate, a Michelin-starred restaurant serving modern French cuisine, comes highly recommended.
Nice’s flagship city park is also right by the fountain and covers 12 hectares in the heart of the city. The Promenade du Paillon is popular with families for its shady, tree-lined areas and fantastic wooden jungle gyms, and you’ll see children running and screaming in the Miroir d’Eau – a 3,000 square meter paved area dotted with jets of water every step of the way soak near her.
If shopping is on your radar, Le Carre d’Or is the place to go for all things luxury. Famous for its boutiques and Belle Epoque architecture, this chic neighborhood counts boutiques from Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Armani and Hermes among its well-heeled residents.
Art, cathedrals and unforgettable sunsets
For more budget retail therapy, the Jean Medecin district has French shopping and restaurants galore. Here you can also indulge your cultural cravings at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art and the Musee Massena, a venue filled with historical artwork and artifacts. If you visit the former, don’t miss the rooftop observation deck, which offers 360-degree views of the city.
Just behind the museum is the La Tete Carree Library, a massive cube-shaped head sculpture where you’ll discover an entire library. Even if you don’t venture inside, it’s a worthy photo. After an intense shopping and cultural marathon, fortify yourself with French cheese and sausage platters at the nearby Bay Side restaurant and bar.
If your art cravings aren’t satisfied yet, head just outside of the city towards the Cimiez district and the Musée Matisse. This tribute to Henri Matisse has one of the world’s largest collections of the artist’s work, including paintings, photographs and decorative objects.
Take a slight detour on your way back to town if you want to see the most ornate onion-domed Russian cathedral in southern France. Located on Avenue Nicolas II, just off Boulevard du Tzarewitch, the Cathédrale Saint-Nicolas de Nice is the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedral in Western Europe, and its unique beauty — with colorful architecture, ornate interiors, and detailed murals — still makes it well worth a visit a distinct lack of visitor information.
South of here and back towards the sea is the AC Hotel Nice by Marriott. This art-centric residence is flanked by two giant bronze Venus sculptures and regularly hosts exhibitions featuring local artists. At the top of the roof is Farago, a must visit place at sunset.
With perhaps the best golden hour views in town, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Nice’s terracotta rooftops and the distant Southern Alps, this poolside terrace also serves excellent tapas and live music, and is a perfectly fitting place to watch the sunset an exciting weekend.
Updated August 04, 2022 at 2:28 p.m