The famed Promenade des Anglais , hugging the pebbly shores of Nice, is often the image of the city that immediately springs to mind. But there is also an old town hiding many picturesque treasures and a modern, bustling city center. Unassumingly tucked into the eastern part of town, Nice's port exudes its own peaceful charm, and the various hills — Cimiez to the northeast of Vieux-Nice, and Mont-Boron to the east of the harbor — make up green and tranquil districts blessed with stunning panoramas. Arenas in the west and Promenade du Paillon northeast of the old town are the main business and conference centers, while the rest of the area is primarily residential.
This is perhaps the best known part of Nice. For more than a century, people have been flocking here to walk along the famous Promenade des Anglais . In the 19th century the gentle winters brought visitors, while today tourist season is at its height during the summer months. The locals never get tired of the place, whatever the season or the weather. Some jog, others rollerblade, many just walk, but they all appreciate the expansive sea view and fresh breeze. Take time to soak it all up sitting on one of the little blue chairs — an endearing, signature characteristic of the "Prom." The seashore is also lined with an impressive selection of luxury hotels, the most prestigious of which is the Hôtel Negresco .
Vieux-Nice (Old Town)
A marvelous ambiance flows from this little cluster of picturesque narrow and winding streets, from early morning to late at night. The houses sometimes press so close together across these narrow passages that they almost seem to be reaching out to embrace one another. Those with an interest in religious art will marvel at the number of churches such a small corner of town can hold, particularly when you survey it from the heights of the Colline du Château , which rises up like a natural border between the port and the old town. The most majestic of the churches is undoubtedly Cathedrale Sainte Reparate , a fantastic example of Baroque architecture. Another well-known Baroque building is the Palais Lascaris . Visitors more concerned with tastes than sights will not be disappointed. In addition to the architectural gems it contains, Vieux-Nice is also home to the best ice cream parlors, particularly surrounding the Place Rossetti . Glacier Fenocchio is a must, although you'll need plenty of time to taste every exciting flavor — choices include cinnamon, violet, fig, chewing gum, tomato, lavender and rose! There are also some excellent restaurants serving varied cuisines, including local specialties, Lebanese, and Italian, at very reasonable prices. Beer drinkers should try a pub crawl around the many establishments bordering the old town such as De Klomp . Street musicians playing live music often appear, guaranteeing a great night. For those who prefer more classical sounds to accompany their evening, the city Opera is also found in Vieux-Nice, and contains a truly magnificent auditorium. Vieux-Nice is also an artistic cornucopia, featuring an extraordinarily varied range of exhibits in all sorts of mediums. There's much enjoyment to be had just wandering through the little streets stumbling upon the galleries and discovering local art. Cours Saleya is one area where there's always something going on. The Marche Saleya is the fruit and vegetable market, and the flower market , flea market , and arts and crafts market are also held here. The cafe and restaurant terraces prove very popular both in summer and winter, especially at La Civette and Brasserie L'F . Perfect places to relax and relish the day!
Massena – Town Center
Place Massena is the heart of Nice, surrounded by impressive red buildings that contrast nicely with the surrounding greenery of the nearby parks. The Albert I Gardens boasts the immense black metal Arc de Venet , while in the Massena Gardens, you can enjoy pleasant shade offered by the trees. Outside these parks, the turmoil of the city resumes and the traffic, both on feet and wheels, is always very heavy. Throughout the day, window-shopping crowds walk up Avenue Jean-Medecin and through the pedestrian precinct where most of the shops, including Galeries Lafayette and the Nicetoile shopping center, can be found.
The tranquil atmosphere of this district is unique in the city of Nice. Here, you no longer feel like you are in one of the biggest cities in France. There are a few great restaurants serving specialties of the region and patronized by discerning locals, including Chez Pipo and Fjord . The port district, especially around Rue Segurane, is also home to fine antique dealers such as Ginac , where you will find historic treasures to admire (and perhaps to purchase). Outside, the port itself offers as many delights. From the quayside you can enjoy the sight of brightly colored fishing boats moored next to millionaires' yachts, ferry boats, and cruisers.
The hill at Cimiez has traditionally been the most fashionable residential area of Nice. Two aspects of Nice's historic past can be found here among the pleasant villas and well-manicured gardens. The remarkable Roman amphitheaters, which hosts the annual Jazz Festival , and the very well-preserved Roman baths are but remainders of France's Roman history, a past that can be further explored at the adjoining Archeological Museum . Le Regina, an enormous hotel now divided into apartments, conjures up the other important era of Cimiez's past: la belle epoque. Matisse spent the last years of his life here, and there is a museum dedicated to his paintings a little further up the hill. Art fans planning to visit the Matisse Museum might also enjoy the impressive canvasses at the Marc Chagall Biblical Message Museum .
Mont-Boron & Mont-Alban
To get to Mont-Boron, you'll have to take a car or use public transport, unless you feel like a long walk (it is a pleasant one, meandering through lovely Mediterranean landscapes and charming belle epoque estates). However you travel, you'll pass the Terra Amata Museum of Paleontology , which displays and curates prehistoric relics found in this area. The view of Nice from Mont-Boron is fantastic: most of the postcards depicting a panorama of Nice are photographed from this point. Elton John made a wise choice when he purchased the immense yellow villa atop Mont-Alban, the hill neighboring Mont-Boron.
This is the newest district of Nice and, as a result, the furthest from the center. Situated near the airport, Arenas contains many offices and hotels, where everything is very modern and practical. It is essentially the business center of Nice. Points of interest include the enormous greenhouse at Phoenix Park and the Museum of Asian Arts .
Promenade du Paillon
This district has grown in size and importance over recent years. Here you'll find the Acropolis Exhibition Center , a huge futuristic building which hosts a variety of events and conferences. The largest room, the Apollon, is reserved for shows given by singers and comedians. The respected Cinemathèque consistently delights both cinema buffs and casual movie fans. A little further afield, you can see the twin towers of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MAMAC) and the Theâtre National de Nice (TNN) , where the architecture is just as modern and innovative as the art shown inside.
Just about everyone has heard of Nice's most famous culinary export, the salade niçoise. It's made of fresh tomatoes, mixed greens, anchovies, tuna, beans and olive oil... but it is only the tip of the iceberg of the city's delectable specialties. Local cuisine draws from the mild Mediterranean climate, resulting in a light style of cooking based on fresh fish and seasonal vegetables. In addition to regional dining options, Nice boasts a dizzying number of restaurants serving traditional French gastronomy, seafood specialties, as well as international cuisine. If you need to quench your thirst, choose one of the welcoming taverns in the old town or a delightful sun-drenched cafe terrace... and don't forget the ice cream parlors!
A visit to the French Riviera really wouldn't be complete without sampling la socca—a delicious savory pancake made from chick peas. Other distinctive regional dishes include les petits farcis (stuffed vegetable parcels), morue à la niçoise (cod cooked with tomato and olives), pissaladière (which resembles a pizza made with onion rather than tomato), fleurs de courgette cuisinees (cooked baby zucchini), raviolis and pan-bagnat, Nice's twist on the sandwich using two round slices of bread soaked in olive oil enveloping a miniature salade niçoise. You can discover the flavors for yourself at Chez Simon and Au Rendez-vous des Amis , both of which have great views overlooking the city.
Vieux-Nice (Old Town)
If you're hankering for a cold one, the old town (Vieux-Nice) is positively overflowing with cozy, welcoming pubs like De Klomp or Master Home . The sweeping terraces at Brasserie L'F and Civette du Cours , both located in Cours Saleya , are also extremely popular. Famous for the Theatre en Niçois (a show performed in the local dialect), the Bar des Oiseaux will captivate you with its vibrant local color. Last but not least, Nice's dedicated gourmet cannot go without the flavors of Fenocchio , arguably the best ice cream parlor in town. With an endless selection of flavors, it is set amid one of the old town's charming squares, Place Rossetti , where the beautiful Cathedrale Sainte-Reparate stands.
For simple yet delicious dining, check out Chez Rene . Restaurants specializing in regional cuisine are tucked into neighborhoods throughout the city. Try Don Camillo or Petite Maison . All are centrally located and serve excellent French dishes à la carte and via set menus, in pleasant and contemporary settings. Slightly off the beaten path, the beautiful vaulted cellar of Baud et Millet offers cheese-based dishes accompanied by fine wines. For the best of fruits de la mer (seafood), the Grand Cafe de Turin is in a class of its own. Nice also has many options for those seeking international flavors. To sample the flavors of neighboring Italy, try Bistro Romain . For Lebanese, try the always-satisfying Byblos .
For a great meal in this area, try Pipo Socca . For international flavors, try Zucca Magica for flavorful vegetarian cuisine, or seek out fine dining at Allegro .
Fans of traditional French cuisine have many dining options in Nice. Restaurants of note include L'Horloge , and Epicuriens . If you're a fan of fresh, unpretentious fish dishes, you should book a table at Boccaccio . For tasty Italian in this area, try Quebec , which serves wonderful pizzas and pasta that are perfectly al dente. For flavors of Alsace, try the Taverne Alsacienne , or sample the cuisine of the Indian Ocean at Barachois . Casbah carries patrons to Morocco, the Petite Sirène to Denmark, Raja to India, and the Transsiberien serves the cooking of Russia!
For the finest and fanciest dining, there are two restaurants in town that stand out above all others. The prestigious reputation of the Chantecler befits the palatial hotel where it is located, Hôtel Negresco . The service, the ambiance, and the cuisine are all of the highest caliber.
Nice's other grand hotel, the Maeterlinck , boasts a similarly exceptional restaurant, the Melisande , which overlooks the sea. The menus in both establishments are regularly updated with fresh seasonal fare, serving dishes like lamb cutlet with mozzarella and aubergine, fillet of sole and foie gras with fresh pasta. For seafood, try Coco Beach , which is located just below Mont-Boron Park near the Cape of Nice.
The Promenade des Anglais & the Colline du Château
Given that these two sites appear prolifically on postcards of Nice, it's certainly worth your while to see the real thing. The Promenade des Anglais follows the shoreline for several kilometers and the vast hillside parkland of the Colline du Château (Castle Hill) overlooks the magnificent Baie des Anges. It'll only take half an hour or so to complete the route, although there are many distractions that could extend it into a leisurely stroll, such as a stop on the beach or a break in the shade of pine trees.
Starting from the Albert I Gardens , cross the road towards the shore and you'll find yourself on the famous Promenade des Anglais . The wide walkway is a favorite place to stroll, ride bikes or roller-blade; down below, the pebbled beaches (both public and private) are great for sunbathing and swimming. Keep heading in the direction of the green hill—the Colline du Château. If you look hard enough, you may be able to make out the fountain on the hillside, which is lit up at night. Continue on until you reach the Rauba Capeu human sundial at the foot of hotels La Perouse and Suisse . Follow the pavement on your left for around 50 meters, leading you to the bottom of the stairway to the Colline du Château itself. You can always pay to take the lift a little further on, but if you climb the steps you can explore the Bellanda Tower and its little Maritime Museum . The park on the hill exhibits many fine examples of local flora, and you can take in all the different views over the town – the Baie des Anges, the crowds of red-tiled rooftops in the old town, the port and Mont-Boron. Kids will relish the chance to go tobogganing and play in the park. Don't look for the Château though...it was destroyed in the reign of Louise XIV. The only ruins are those of a medieval cathedral.
At the end of this tour, treat yourself to an upscale dinner at Le Chantecler . This restaurant is located in the ultra-luxurious Hôtel Negresco and was awarded two stars by the Michelin guide. This is truly a gastronomical experience not to be missed.
Saint Reparate Cathedral
Discover the most picturesque part of Nice by taking a walk through the old town. The intertwining web of narrow little streets, colorful old houses and little boutiques reveal the charming soul of the city.
Approach old Nice from Place Garibaldi , passing by the Grand Cafe de Turin , renowned for it excellent seafood. Take Rue Pairolière into the heart of the old town. This long, narrow street, lined with lots of little shops, is incredibly lively during the day and perfect for a little detour to buy some traditional products from Nice and Provence (olives, herbs, etc.), or to sample local specialties like farcis (vegetable parcels stuffed with meat) or socca (a pancake made from chickpea flour). The street opens out into Place Saint-François , the square where the fish market is held.
Leaving Place Saint Francois behind, take Rue Droite and look for the entrance to the Palais Lascaris on your right. A visit to this large Genoese mansion house, former residence of the Lascaris dynasty, uncovers the glory of the baroque movement, of which Vieux-Nice offers many fine examples. On leaving the palace, continue along Rue Droite until intersected by a large steep road—Rue Rossetti—which will take you down to the square of the same name, where the 17th century Cathedrale Sainte-Reparate stands tall. You can also savor the delicious ice cream at the renowned Fenocchio , or relax in one of the many cafe terraces. By taking a right at the cathedral down the little side street, Rue Gallo, you will find the false door, behind which is a vaulted passageway and staircase that looks out onto Boulevard Jean Jaurès.
Turn left and continue down Rue du Marche where you can buy souvenirs and pottery. The street ends in the pretty Place du Palais-de-Justice . Don't cross the square but take an immediate left into Rue de la Prefecture and on to some of the old town's most welcoming pubs and beautiful signs and photographs of Martinetti . Keep going as far as the intersection on your right and go down Rue de la Poissonnerie, where you will chance upon the charming and unassuming little church of Sainte-Rita – the patron saint of lost causes. At the end of the street, the famous Cours Saleya beckons, loved by the locals for its sun-kissed cafe terraces and lively, colorful fruit and vegetable market . On Mondays you can visit the flea market , but any day of the week you can enjoy strolling around the bustling stalls. Right at the end you'll be able to see, and smell, the blooms at the flower market . While you're near the Cours Saleya, stop in Atmosphère (L') for a bite. This lovely little restaurant serves delicious duck as well as impressive seafood dishes, and the servers are friendly and efficient.
The Franciscan monastery
An attractive hill in the very heart of Nice, just north of the old town and bordering the east of the city center, Cimiez is a stylish residential district, that is both stately and calm. Many of the houses exude the charm of the belle epoque and are complemented by little gardens. The district is home to an ancient archaeological site and museum, concealed in the delightful park where you can also find the Matisse Museum and the Franciscan monastery . The Chagall Museum is nestled at the foot of the hill.
Bus numbers 15, 17 and 22 will drop you off at Cimiez's Roman amphitheaters which are right in the middle of the vast parkland. Although the big park tends to be overrun by bicycles, roller-bladers and soccer players on Wednesday afternoons and weekends, it is a haven of peace and quiet during the week. It has a wonderful olive grove and beautiful pathways that will inspire an exploratory stroll.
Ancient culture enthusiasts may also be interested in the Archaeological Museum , where you can see collections dating from the bronze age up to the beginning of the Middle Ages. All around the museum, paved alleyways, Roman amphitheaters and thermal baths from the 3rd to 5th centuries are open to explorers.
The hillside park also shelters the Matisse Museum . Within a Genoese villa, the painter's work from the beginning of his career to the end of his days is displayed alongside some of his personal belongings.
Cross the park until you reach the Franciscan monastery , bordered by a magnificent Italian garden. This spiritual center, dating from the 17th century, presents an array of murals and works of art that trace Franciscan life from the 13th to the 18th centuries. The adjoining cemetery is the final resting place of the two masters of color, Henri Matisse and Raoul Dufy, whose tombstones can be visited.
Heading back towards the city center (take bus number 15 from the monastery square), stop off at the Marc Chagall Biblical Message Museum . Designed by architect Andre Hermant, the building is both sober and modern in appeal, set amid olive, holm oak and cypress trees. The museum contains over 600 works of a biblical theme, as well as enormous canvasses, mosaics, sculptures, tapestries and superb glass works.
If you've worked up an appetite, don't pass up Auberge de Theo. This little restaurant serves local specialties as well as traditional Italian dishes. The homemade pastas are delicious as are the pizzas, and the meal won't be complete without a serving of their heavenly tiramisu.
Nice Cycle Tours (+ 33 6 19 99 95 22 / http://www.nicecycletours.com/)
Nice Le Grand Tour (+33 8 70 40 73 20 / http://www.city-discovery.com/nice/tour.php?id=1177)
Nice City Sightseeing Small Group Tour (http://www.viator.com/tours/Nice/Nice-City-Sightseeing-Small-Group-Tour/d478-2356NCE08)
An Art Tour of Nice
Art Tour from Nice (+33 8 70 40 73 20 / http://www.city-discovery.com/nice/tour.php?id=4296)