Hi Frugalistas! A lot of people dismiss Nice in favour of other parts of Provence or the French Riviera, but Nice and its surrounding area has a lot to offer visitors. With its great transport links, it makes a great central location to explore the region.
Arriving in Nice
Most people will arrive by plane or train. Nice Ville station makes arrival pretty easy – you are at the northern edge of the tourist part of the city. Turn left out of the station and walk half a block – the tram to take you to the Old Town or the sea will be right in front of you.
Arrival by plane is easy as there are many airlines – including budget airlines, that land in Nice. Catch a taxi for around EUR30 or the bus for EUR4 (can be used on the regional buses and Nice trams for the rest of the day). I arrived on a Saturday morning and the buses were busy, busy, busy. Expect to stand, or try and choose a less popular time to arrive! The bus makes a number of stops along the Promenade des Anglais (the road that runs along the beach) so check in advance for the stop closest to your hotel.
Finding somewhere to stay
Within Nice you have plenty of options from budget right through to decadent luxury. I think of Nice in three accommodation zones – the Old Town, the area behind the Negresco Hotel near the sea, and the area near the Station. Like most areas around the station, this one is a bit grittier, so unless you are planning on catching the train a lot, are just staying one night then catching an onward train or you really want to save money, go for the Old Town or closer to the sea. Personally, I like the area in behind the Negresco – it’s still a central location, and is a bit more residential rather than touristy. For good 3star value I can recommend either the Hotel les Cigales (a couple of streets behind the sea) or the Hotel Grand Florence (about half way between the sea and the station).
Nice makes a great base for exploring the surrounding Riviera towns and hilltop villages by public transport. If you are planning on having a car – don’t stay in Nice! Car parking is expensive and the streets are narrow and hard to negotiate. Trains and buses run all along the coast and into the hills making it easy to visit most places by public transport. A one day bus pass for unlimited use costs EUR4, or buy a one way ticket for just EUR1. You can easily get to places like Monaco, Cannes or St Paul de Vence by public transport. Within Nice itself, buses and the tram will also take you anywhere for 1EUR.
Where to eat
Most food in Nice is either French or Italian. There is plenty of Italian gelato when the summer heat strikes. Avoid the touristy places along rue Massena and head a couple of blocks off for better options. Having said that, I can recommend La Maison de Marie (through an arch into a lovely little courtyard just off rue Massena). Lovely service and a 3 course set menu Nicoise (including a main course of the lovely local rouget – red mullet) comes in at just EUR22 plus drinks. On popular Cours Saleya (home of the fabulous market) I didn’t get to eat there, but a number of people recommended La Cambuse to me. Elsewhere I ate well at Le Grimaldi – the patient staff were even happy to let me practice my French on them on a quiet rainy Sunday night.
What to do
I like to use Nice as a base for getting out and about around the Riviera. Monaco, Antibes, Cannes and all the lovely hilltop towns are within easy reach for day trips. Do walk around the town though – explore the Old Town with its Provencal architecture or the eastern part of the town with its wedding cake style 19th century architecture. Take a walk along the sea front promenade and admire the coastal views.
Eat gelato. ‘Nuff said!
For a different day trip there is a train that runs from Nice Sud station into the mountains towards Grenoble. Not a lot to do when you get to the end of the line, except have lunch when you get to Digne-les-Bains at the end of the line, but lovely scenery, with some fantastic views (including snow on the nearby Alpes Maritimes).
The beautiful Cours Saleya market operates as a flower market every morning and as a full market on Saturdays.
For those of a more cultural bent, there is also a Chagall Museum.
If perfume is more your thing, head to Grasse and the Fragonard factory.
If Nice is your last stop in Provence, olive oil, soaps and lavender goods are plentiful. I also like Provencal rose wine – tasty and inexpensive. There are plenty of designer boutiques, particularly in the smaller streets behind rue Massena and the Negresco.
Don’t do what many people and just dismiss Nice. It makes a great place to visit!
Disclaimer: the author booked and paid for all recommended hotels and restaurants mentioned in this post.
Related post: Cours Saleya market