Nice: city guide. Beachfront promenades, glamorous hotels and epoque architecture on the Cote d’Azur

Why go

If enchanting architecture, cosmopolitan restaurants and glamorous surroundings are your ideal ingredients for a perfect holiday, Nice should be your first choice. Steeped in history, with charming pebbled beaches and a vibrant arts scene, the romantic Cote d’Azur destination is loved by backpackers, families and couples alike. It has great access to countless other Riviera hotspots, including Cannes, Monaco and Ventimiglia, with the view from the train arguably one of the best ways to gaze out at the Riviera, as idyllic glimpses of cliffs, boats and beaches flash by. Elton John even has a beautiful house on the hills of Nice – and Elton John can’t be wrong.

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What to do

You could easily lose yourself in Nice’s unique antique furniture market, where you can pick up vintage finds that you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Exploring Vieux Nice, the old town, is a beautiful way to immerse yourself in history: the market square hosts a colourful flower market, with a flea market on Mondays and if markets aren’t your thing, just wandering down Vieux Nice’s narrow roads is an activity in itself: the Baroque architecture is a feast for the eyes, and you never know which boutique you might stumble upon next.

Where to stay
 Hotel Negresco, Nice
Find glamour and charm at the Hotel Negresco

The lavish Hotel Negresco is perhaps Nice’s best-known hotel, listed in 2003 as a National Historic Building by the government of France, and is wonderfully luxurious, with its own private beach, a Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Chantecler, and doormen dressed in outfits from the 18th century. Otherwise, Hotel Ellington and Hotel Massena are both pretty, with comfortable rooms, and are both situated in a central location. If Nice is a bit pricey, neighbouring Antibes can be slightly cheaper.

Where to eat
La Terrasse, Nice
Head to La Terrasse for lunch with a view

Le Safari, the relaxed, friendly restaurant on Cours Selaya, is always a great place to sit and enjoy a meal on the sunny terrace. If you’re up for something more elaborate, La Petite Maison is world-famous for its tasty Nice specialties, luxurious interiors and top-notch service. La Terrasse has arguably the best views in Nice.

Getting around

The airport is pretty central and beaches and the promenade are best enjoyed on foot. There are myriad car rental options if you want to explore further but out favourite route is to take the train that winds through the mountains and along the coast. Surely one of the best ways to see this stunning coastline.

When to go

Nice and the surrounding areas of the French Riviera make fantastic holiday destinations from March through to November. Spring is a beautiful time of year but many think the best time to go is at the beginning of July, when the weather is beautiful and the shops, restaurants and beaches are just beginning to fill up – but before the huge swathes of tourists arrive from around the world and make it rather overcrowded.

Nice Place Massena square with sculpture columns Photo Alamy
Place Massena Square in the centre of the old town. Photo by Alamy
Three things we like
  1. Nice by night – with the jaw-dropping architecture captivatingly lit up, the restaurants and bars spilling out onto the streets, and the rush of the sea never far away, nighttime is when you’ll truly feel a million miles from home.
  2. The shopping – with the huge Galeries Lafayette on your doorstep, the gargantuan Cap 3000 perfect for shopaholics, and plenty of boutiques for those after some charm, there’s a variety of shopping to keep visitors entertained for weeks.
  3. The huge variety of pebbly beaches, each with their own quirky bar – and each with a selection of fancy cocktails.

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Something we don’t like

The weather can be hit and miss – and out of season, Nice tends to be rather quiet. Though some people prefer the off-season tranquility, of course. Food and drinks can be very expensive so check the menus before ordering.

Daybreak over Nice flickr Mike
Daybreak over Nice
Don’t miss

The crazy ice cream flavours available at kiosks around Nice’s centre, from cucumber to avocado.

The Zone Pietonne – the pedestrian area of Nice – is full of scrumptious restaurants, one-off shops and lovely cafes in which to sit and enjoy a coffee while people-watching.

A walk around the port to gawp at the enormous ships, each with a name more glamorous than the previous one, and with plush interior – and exterior – design to make your jaw drop.

High50 insider tips
  • If you find a taxi driver you like, keep his number close to hand – it can be difficult to track drivers down on occasion, so you’ll be glad you have a one-up against waiting tourists.
  • Even in the summer, the evenings can be breezy, so make sure you pack a cardigan or scarf to wrap around yourself.
  • The norm is to eat very late in the South of France – so don’t be shocked if you go to a restaurant at 7 o’clock and it’s completely empty. It will start filling up by 9 o’clock.
Travelling with family?

Children will love Antibes Land, the local amusement park, and Marineland, an animal exhibition park with sea lions, killer whales and dolphins, and spectacular shows that are fun for all the family.

Need to know
  • Flying time is just over two hours from London.
  • The airport is moments from the centre of Nice, and is serviced by a wide range of airlines including EasyJet and British Airways.
  • Two-pin European plugs are standard
  • It’s GMT + 1.
  • Currency is the Euro.