It would be easy to visit Nice and stick to the Promenade des Anglais or the Bay of Angels, but that would be doing this diverse gem a disservice. One of the pleasures of a trip to Nice lies in uncovering its fascinating collection of neighborhoods.
Each has its own unique atmosphere, and to get the complete picture it’s worth spending a little time exploring. You’ll find the areas where the Nice elite call home, traditional Nicois parts of town and a fresh experience around every corner.
The Vieux Nice area is the city’s old town, with a complex layout that delivers mystery and enchantment in equal measure. Don’t worry about trying to plan your route around the alleys – simply immerse yourself in the experience. The pastel buildings here are so close to each other that they seem destined to kiss across the street.
The heartbeat of Vieux Nice is Cours Saleya, a huge market square that specializes in flowers and is always awash with spellbinding colors. Drop in on Mondays for the weekly flea market and to try to find an antique bargain.
Some of the best sights in Nice are to be found here too. Cathedrale Sainte Reparate, dedicated to the city’s patron saint, Palais Lascaris, dates back to the 17th century and boasts a gorgeous Flemish flourish. The Chapelle de la Misericorde is older still – a masterpiece of Baroque style that has to be seen to be believed.
On a hot day, join the lines at Fenocchio’s for sensational ice cream. Open for over half-a-century, it’s a Vieux Nice classic, with just shy of 100 different flavors including milk flower and almond and vanilla and pink pepper. It’s the best in the city.
Cimiez, sat high on a hill, is an entirely different prospect from the old town it overlooks. The Romans once put down roots here, while Britain’s Queen Victoria’s frequent visits made it highly fashionable. These days, it’s a laid back residential haven.
Artists have long loved Cimiez – Matisse lived here and the area now hosts the Musee Matisse in a fetching burnt ochre villa. There’s a wonderful array of work by the artist, who is buried at the Monastere Notre Dame De Cimiez opposite.
The Musee Chagall, also in Cimiez, boasts the world’s largest collection of his art, spanning the entirety of the painter’s 80-year career. The large Biblically-inspired paintings in the main hall are a particular highlight.
To find out what the Romans brought to the neighborhood during their time here, head for the Musee Archeologie de Nice-Cimiez, complete with an enthralling amphitheater and baths. Cimiez also offers plenty of opportunities for picnicking beneath the shade of the abundant olive trees. Alternatively, grab a table at Resto Cote Sud on Rue du Professeur Maurice Sureau for top-notch French cooking that utilizes fresh local produce.
Promenade des Anglais
Does a beach count as a neighborhood? It does when it’s the Promenade des Anglais, with sandy havens stretching from one end of Nice to the other. It’s where many visitors to Nice – along with a healthy smattering of locals – gravitate. Everyone walks here – and if they’re not walking, chances are they’re rollerblading, skating, cycling or even taking a Segway tour.
It’s a beautiful place to stroll at any time of day, whether it’s at the height of midday sun, or in the evening as the lights twinkle in the bay. If you’re in the mood for sunbathing, there are pebble beaches all along the bay, where you can rent sun loungers.
It’s worth noting that while the seafood restaurants that line the Promenade are largely decent, they also know their market, so prices here are higher than in other parts of town. If you don’t want to pay a premium, don’t worry, a coffee and a crepe looking out to sea is bliss enough.
Massena and Jean-Medecin make up the new town in Nice, a place that provides a sharp contrast to Vieux Nice. Here you’ll find sprawling tree-lined streets, such as the lovely Boulevard Victor Hugo.
There’s culture too – the Natural History Museum, Modern Art Museum (MAMAC) and Theater of Photography are here, but this is also the best place in Nice to go shopping. Try not to wear out your credit card in the huge department stores Nice Etoile and Galeries Lafayette.
Be sure to dip into Maison Auer, a deliciously ornate chocolate shop dating back to 1820 that boasts treats in every flavor imaginable. The shop’s Florentine interiors are almost as enticing as its famous confectionary.
The Port District
‘Le Port’, as it’s known locally, is one of Nice’s unsung neighborhoods, as well as being one of the best places in the city to get out and explore. With unrivaled views and an off-the-beaten-track aura that gives it an air of exclusivity, it’s one of the city’s highlights.
With fewer visitors than in the rest of the city, it’s easy to find a relaxed vantage point with breathtaking vistas. Try Pointe Rauba Capeu, where the whipping wind is said to ‘steal your hat’.
Yachts come and go from the port here, and there’s no better way to soak it all in than to pick a vantage point in one of the many fantastic waterfront restaurants. If you’re here from Tuesday to Sunday you can also spend a while browsing a range of antique stalls selling everything from clothes to crockery and trinkets.
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