Nice is the largest French city located along the Riviera, which is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful coastal areas in all of Europe. So it comes as no surprise that the Riviera’s crown jewel, Nice, is absolutely gorgeous. The portrait of this belle ville is breathtaking. Its wide sweep of Mediterranean waterfront is backdropped and descended by beautiful mountains to the north, capped by a picturesque hilltop château. Its smooth-rock beaches are romantically charming when paired with its proximate blue expanse. And paralleling the waterfront is the famous Promenade des Anglais, a strip that is majestically lined with grand hotels to match its picture-perfect surrounding.
Naturally, Nice is very popular among travelers. Among the famous French who have called this city home include Nietzsche, Victor Hugo, George Sand, Alexandre Dumas, and Henri Matisse. It has also been a Mecca for artists and in the past has not only attracted Matisse, but also the likes of Chagall and Picasso. There are many exuberant residences in the city that still serve as winter retreats for the well-to-do.
Nice’s history dates back 2000 years ago, as evidenced by archaeological ruins of houses. The city was more recently founded as a Greek port in 4th century BC and named Nikaia. Under the Greeks, Nice became a busy trading port. Over the ensuing centuries, the city faced invasions and pillaging at various times by forces like the Lombard and the Saracens in the 9th century AD.
In the Middle Ages, Nice rose from the ashes and redeveloped into an important port, allying itself with Pisa. The alliance made the city an enemy of Genoa and France. As a result, Nice faced numerous conquest attempts, many of them successful and one of them at the hands of the Counts of Provence.
In 1388, however, Nice joined Louis, the Duke of Anjou, and seceded from Provence; the city then allied itself with the Counts of Savoy for protection. This relationship lasted for another 500 years and has given Nice today its Italian-influenced culture and architecture.
In the 16th century, Nice still suffered through more attacks – this time around from Ottoman forces like Barbarossa Pasha. In 1705, the city fell to the French and remained French intermittently until 1814 when it was handed over to Sardinia. However, a treaty in 1860 masterminded by Napoléon III ceded Nice and Savoy back to the French.
Today, Nice is an exotic port town with a mixture of youthful energy and sophisticated high culture – yet influenced in many ways by its deep history. Its present multicultural population is rather fitting, given the city’s setting as the crossroads of various groups throughout its existence.
Nice is all about its beautiful waterfront, medieval churches, fine museums, and its elegant castles and mansions that remind visitors of the city’s past role as a glamorous retreat for the wealthy. The city is comprised of different quarters and neighborhoods with most of the attractions centered around Vieux Nice and the Promenade des Anglais strip. The old town of Nice (Vieux Nice) is a maze of narrow streets lined with local restaurants and shops – definitely worth visiting especially to see its numerous Italian architecture that are styled in the 17th century mold. The Promenade des Anglais is the famous strip along the waterfront of Nice and presents beautiful views of the Riviera.
While there are other districts like La Buffa, Camp Long, and Carabacel, only Cimiez outside of Vieux Nice and the Promenade des Anglais present any sights of interest to tourists. Cimiez in particular is packed with quality museums, including the Musée Matisse which showcases the largest collection of the famous painter’s works.
Colline de Château
Musée d’Art Moderne
Cathédrale Ste Réparate
Chapelle de l’Annonciation
Chapelle de la Miséricorde
Promenade des Anglais
Musée d’Art et d’Histoire
Musée des Beaux Arts Jules Chéret
Jardin Albert 1er
Opéra de Nice
Musée du Message Biblique Marc Chagall
Monastère de Cimiez
The beaches in Nice stretch all along the Baie des Anges (Bay of Anges), paralleling the Promenade des Anglais. Some of the beaches are perhaps not the best for bathing or lounging as they consist of gravel and rocks, but there are also stretches of smooth-rock beaches. You’ll also find private stretches like the Beau Rivage that have expensive restaurants and beach-side bars – the scene of crowded swimming, waterskiing, windsurfing, jet-skiing, and parasailing.
The bars and clubs in Nice, particularly in Vieux Nice and the Promenade des Anglais strip, are sleek in the James Bond mold typically entertained with piano bars and live bands in chic upscale décor. There are, however, more down-to-earth venues in the streets of Bréa where you’ll find the tune of blues and soul music.
Nice has a casino called the Casino Ruhl, located on the Promenade des Anglais. Its beaming bright colors make it a popular icon of the Riviera.
The city hosts the Nice Jazz Festival every July, which is a huge draw among serious Jazz fans. The world’s best jazz performers come to this event to exhibit their instrumental skills.
The best time to visit Nice is in the spring when the weather is mild and warm and before the beach tourism onslaught strikes in May and the summer months. Whether you visit in the winter or summer, however, the weather is never too cold. Nice has, on average, 300 days of sun each year.