Its unique combination of timeless sophistication, a dynamic art scene, year-round sunshine, and an unbeatable coastal location puts Nice at the top of many travelers’ bucket lists.
The glistening azure ocean and dreamy Mediterranean climate made the vacation destination popular way back in the 1700s. Today, you can still find hints of the Nice attractions that excited travelers all those centuries ago!
From diverse art galleries and lively street markets to charming neighborhoods to explore and picturesque parks to enjoy, you’ll never be stuck for what to do in Nice. Add into the mix a varied culinary scene that stretches from Michelin-starred dining to cheap eats, from full-bodied red wines to light fruity craft beers, and it’s easy to understand why Nice has such a broad appeal.
With such a huge choice of things to see and do, it’s almost impossible to know where to begin. To give you a helping hand, we’ve put together a list of the absolute best things to do in Nice. Add these fun activities and attractions to your Nice bucket list, and you’re sure to have an incredible time exploring the gem of the French Riviera!
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15 Fun and Unique Things to Do In Nice
1. Get lost in Vieille Ville
The oldest part of Nice, Vielle Ville (also called Vieux Nice or Old Nice), makes a refreshing change from the city’s wide boulevards and oversized squares. The historic district is made up of intertwining alleys, colorful architecture, and picture-perfect plazas that seem bustling at all times of the day and night.
Here you can spend hours wandering the narrow streets lined by ochre-colored buildings and Baroque architecture. You’ll stumble across countless stores selling everything you can imagine, family-run restaurants, ice cream parlors, crêperies, and cafes which spill out into the streets.
There are also a few small art galleries dotted throughout the area where you can buy incredible pieces created by local artists.
Start your journey at Place Massena and head toward the sea. There are so many fascinating and beautiful places to explore around here that you really can’t take a wrong turn!
2. Get your art fix at the Modern & Contemporary Art Museum
One of the must-do things in Nice is to check out the city’s Modern and Contemporary Art Museum (Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain). Equally exciting for art lovers and those who aren’t quite sure, the museum is filled to the brim with captivating artwork from the 1950s up until today.
The gallery is spread out across three floors. Take a stroll through, and you’ll spot pop art pieces from Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. There’s also a handful of creations by new realism artists from Nice, including some by Yves Klein.
Don’t miss the chance to visit the rooftop exhibition. Here you can check out amazing artwork while also enjoying some of the best views in Nice.
The building that houses the gallery is a work of art itself! A sleek three-story structure designed by famous architects Yves Bayard and Henri Vidal, the building features four towers made from Carrara marble. The gardens are superb, too, with a few art installations that will definitely catch your eye.
3. Become addicted to salade niçoise
Whether you’re a foodie or not, trying a salade niçoise is one of the quintessential things to do in Nice. The dish was invented in the city in the 19th century.
Back then, it was thought of as simple food for poor people. Today that couldn’t be further from the truth!
Salade niçoise is a filling, hearty salad that you can easily enjoy as a full entrée. It’s made from a mixture of salad leaves topped with tomatoes, onion, radish, hard-boiled eggs, black olives, tuna, and anchovies – all drizzled with an olive oil dressing.
There are a few variations. Some places add boiled potatoes or another type of cooked vegetable, while others make the dish more modern and trendy by swapping the tuna for shrimp or swordfish. You can even get le pan bagnat, which is a mini salade niçoise tucked inside a hearty whole wheat bread roll.
Le Ligure Nice Restaurant makes an excellent salade niçoise. They have two options: the classic salad and a vegan option.
4. Explore eclectic artifacts at the Musée Masséna
Nice is filled with fabulous Belle Époque buildings, and Musée Masséna is one of the finest. Found along the iconic Promenade des Anglais, the 19th-century mansion was donated to Nice in 1919 by the Duke of Rivoli.
He demanded that the villa be transformed into a museum and opened to the public. The locals agreed to the demands, and today the Musée Masséna is home to an eclectic collection of artifacts, unlike anything you’ll see elsewhere!
The museum is dedicated to the art and history of the Riviera from when Nice first became a part of France up until the end of the Belle Époque period. You’ll find displays on everything from paintings and graphic arts to furniture and personal belongings of famous people throughout history.
The second floor is filled with 19th-century French art and is definitely worth a look. But we found the highlight to be Napoleon’s death mask. The mother-of-pearl tiara that once belonged to Empress Joséphine, Napoleon’s wife, was also fascinating.
After exploring the museum, take some time to wander around the museum’s grounds. The gardens were designed by Édouard André and are absolutely stunning.
5. Take a stroll along Promenade des Anglais
One of the top things to do in Nice is to take a leisurely walk along the Promenade des Anglais. The 4.5-mile stretch of land got its name because it was a popular place for British aristocrats to wander in the 18th century.
To accommodate the lords and ladies, a glamorous promenade was built. Today, the paved pathway that follows the coastline is every bit as striking as it was back then!
Not only is the Promenade des Anglais a great place to walk, but it’s also ideal for other sports. There’s a bike path that runs alongside the promenade. And it’s common to see joggers, runners, and roller skaters enjoying the area, too.
On one side, you’ve got the Mediterranean sea crashing onto the pebble beach, while the other side is lined with regal 19th-century mansions. If you get tired on the long walk, there are plenty of benches shaded by pergolas and palm trees where you can take a break and simply enjoy your surroundings.
6. Let your hair down at the Carnaval de Nice
If you’re visiting Nice in February or March, you’ve got to check out the Carnaval de Nice. Many countries across the globe hold big Carnival celebrations at the end of winter – and Nice is no exception!
For two weeks each year, the town is overtaken by a dynamic party atmosphere. Lively street parties, colorful processions, loud music performances, and amazing dance groups fill the Promenade des Anglais and Place Massena.
The opening and closing ceremonies are always incredible, so try and catch at least one of them. They both take place along the main promenade and are spectacular parades accompanied by fantastic light and sound shows.
There’s a different theme for Carnival each year, so check it out in advance if you feel like dressing up. If you can’t grab an outfit, it’s normal to see people handing out hats and basic costumes for free during the major activities.
The dates change every year depending on when Easter falls. So check the website, look out for posters advertising events, or ask in the local tourism office.
7. Go shopping at Marché Aux Fleurs Cours Saleya
If you’re planning on making your own meals, one of the most fun things to do in Nice is to pick up some fresh ingredients at Marché Aux Fleurs Cours Saleya. This market is set in the middle of Old Town and originally opened in 1897 as a flower market. Today, you’ll still find all kinds of beautiful flowers, but you can also pick up everything you need to make a wholesome, flavor-packed meal.
The fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetable selection is superb. But there are plenty of things you can take back home with you, too. Dried herbs and spices, bottles of wine, rare teas, and small jars of tapenade can all be purchased here.
If you can’t wait until you get back to your accommodation, you’ll be spoiled for choice with stuff to nibble on here. Freshly baked bread and pastries, as well as all kinds of delicious street food, will be there to tempt you. If you’re on a tight budget, you can fill up quite a bit simply by enjoying the free samples that most stalls offer!
8. Open your mind at Musée Matisse
Even if you’re not particularly into art, one of the best things to do in Nice is to spend a few hours at the Musée Matisse. The famous artist Matisse called Nice home for almost 40 years, and this art gallery is where you’ll find one of the largest collections of his work in the world!
The Musée Matisse is tucked inside a magnificent historic Genoese villa framed by one of the most stunning Italianate gardens you’ll ever see. The permanent collection includes a diverse array of Matisse’s work, including drawings, paintings, sculptures, and the paper cutouts he’s most well-known for.
The extensive collection – which includes some fascinating sketches for details designed for the Chapel in Venice – gives you a deep perspective into the artist’s creative method and genius.
As well as the permanent collection, Musée Matisse also features various temporary exhibits, art workshops, and cultural events throughout the year. Check the website to see if there’s anything interesting happening during your visit.
9. Chase the green fairy with a glass of absinthe
After hours exploring the best sights in Nice, unwind with a glass of absinthe, which is known fondly as the “green fairy” in France. The perfect thing if you’re looking for something a little stronger than wine and beer, absinthe varies between 90% and 148% proof, making it pretty powerful stuff! Because it’s so strong, absinthe has been banned in a number of countries, but it’s 100% legal in Nice.
Pouring and drinking absinthe is something of an art form when done properly. First, it’s poured into a special glass with a large bubble indicating the proper measurement. Next, a flat absinthe spoon is placed across the top of a glass, and a sugar cube is rested on top.
An absinthe fountain (typically a tall, ornate vessel with multiple water dispensers) is used to drip ice water over the sugar cube. As it trickles through, the water makes the clear green absinthe turn creamy and milky, allowing the flavors to float up through the glass and grow stronger.
The best place in Nice for Absinthe is the Absinthe Bar. Here they’ll serve you the drink in the traditional way, surrounded by absinthe memorabilia and friendly faces.
10. Escape to a tropical paradise at Parc Phoenix
One of the top Nice activities for families is Parc Phoenix. This huge park spans more than 17 acres and includes a zoo, tropical botanical garden, picnic area, and playground all in one. Entry is remarkably affordable for adults and totally free for children of most ages, making it a great day out if you’re on a budget.
Step inside the park, and you’ll see a giant lake that’s been taken over by countless ducks, swans, pelicans, peacocks, and other birds. You’ll find many areas like this throughout the park – giant open spaces where various species are hanging out. We saw kangaroos, turtles, ostriches, lemurs, and porcupines!
The highlight of Parc Phoenix is the glass pyramid greenhouse. One of the largest greenhouses in Europe, the towering structure boasts seven distinct climatic zones that allow a huge variety of flowers, plants, trees, and insects to flourish.
Here you can see palm trees, ferns, and banana trees, as well as flamingoes, butterflies, and koi. There’s also a small coral reef in the lower part of the greenhouse that provides a home for tropical fish and some caimans.
11. Hike up to Parc de la Colline du Château
For one of the best Nice sightseeing opportunities, hike to the top of Colline du Château. Also known as Castle Hill, this part of the city was once home to a medieval castle until it was destroyed in 1706.
Although there’s no longer a castle to admire, it’s still worth the trek for the chance to soak up the breathtaking views of the city. Castle Hill stands at more than 300 feet above sea level, allowing for unparalleled panoramic vistas across Nice.
As well as the captivating views, the top of Castle Hill is also home to a gorgeous park. If you’ve planned ahead, you can enjoy a peaceful picnic on the grass, surrounded by natural beauty.
You don’t have to wait until you get to the top for some remarkable views. Along the way, you’ll see a dramatic waterfall that’s certainly Insta-worthy. If you’re not up for the hike at all, there’s an elevator you can ride to the top. It’s totally free and, no matter how fit you are, we definitely recommend you take it in the summer!
12. Learn about French culture during Bastille Day
If you’re planning your trip for July, you’ve got to check out the Bastille Day celebrations. This annual event is held throughout France, including Nice, and celebrates everything to do with French culture.
The events change each year, but you can expect military parades, civilian parades, street dances, parties, and cookouts. Plus, the holiday always comes to a close with a spectacular fireworks display.
Bastille Day is one of the most inclusive, friendly events we’ve ever taken part in. There’s a vibrant, welcoming atmosphere throughout the whole day, and everyone is invited to join in on the festivities.
Keep an eye out for posters advertising where the main events are being held. But if you can’t see any, Promenade des Anglais and Place Massena are two safe bets where things are almost certainly happening.
Bastille Day is held each year on July 14. Keep in mind that although there are tons of fun activities and events going on, many businesses and stores will be closed on this day.
13. Have a lazy beach day
The idea of lying on the shores of the French Riviera might sound like a dream come true, but the reality is a little different. Instead of the soft golden sand you might be picturing, the beaches in Nice are mostly made of pebbles and rocks. But this doesn’t mean you can’t have a wonderful beach day!
La Réserve is a great place to go if you want some peace and quiet. This secluded beach is in the port area and has a relaxed, intimate atmosphere. If you get bored, there are some diving boards here you can use to plunge into the sparkling waters.
For something more glamorous, check out Plage Beau Rivage. This sophisticated private beach is at the bottom of Vieille Ville and offers a real VIP experience.
There are plush sun loungers, so you don’t have to lay directly on the pebbles, and umbrellas for when the sun gets to be too much. There’s also an excellent bar and restaurant and all sorts of fun activities organized throughout the day.
14. Snack on socca
When hunger strikes, one of the best things to do in Nice is to find the nearest place that sells socca. A Niçoise specialty, socca is a thin crepe-like pancake made from chickpea flour, olive oil, and water. It’s more of a savory than a sweet dish and is usually sprinkled with salt and pepper before it’s served.
It’s got a fantastically crisp outside and delicately soft interior when cooked properly inside a wood-fired oven. Because it’s such a popular dish, you’ll find it available in most casual cafes and restaurants throughout the city.
For the best socca in Nice, head for Chez Pipo. This place specializes in socca, and it’s surprisingly cheap.
We love the traditional version, but the restaurant also serves a garnished variety with extra bursts of flavor from marinated peppers, scallions, eggplant, anchovy, and sundried tomatoes. Additionally, Chez Pipo offers up a delicious selection of Mediterranean spreads (perfect if you want a fancier socca), as well as some of the best pizza you’ll find in Nice!
15. Transport yourself to Russia at Cathedrale Saint-Nicolas a Nice
Nice is well known for its beautiful architecture that looks like it would be more at home in Italy than France. But the Cathedrale Saint-Nicolas a Nice is an exception.
This religious building stands out from all the other architecture in Nice because it looks like it was plucked straight out of St. Petersburg in Russia. Built in a classic Russian Orthodox style, the cathedral features iconic onion-like domes and colorful spires that you don’t expect to see in France.
Although it looks out of place, the Cathedrale Saint-Nicolas a Nice actually predates much of the surrounding buildings. It was consecrated in 1912 when it was dedicated to Nicholas Alexandrovich, the son of Tsar Alexander II. He died when he was just 21 in a villa close to where the religious building stands today.
The Cathedrale Saint-Nicolas a Nice is the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in Western Europe, and the public is invited to enter. You can explore the inside of the cathedral most days when services aren’t in session.
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Nice. What’s your favorite thing to do in Nice?
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