We’ve already established that France is the most visited country on earth and, while many of those visitors head for Paris, Nice as the city with the fifth largest population in France is often on the agenda of those all-important visitors. Of course, Nice has been a tourist hotspot for hundreds of years but has managed to maintain its charm and unique vibe to become a year round destination, largely thanks to its mild climate – never too cold in winter and never too hot in summer.
My earlier post on the history of Nice established that it began life as a winter resort for English aristocratic families in 18th century who raised funds in 1822 for the Promenade des Anglais which stretches for 8km (5 miles) along the city’s gorgeous seafront. So it’s an ideal spot to soak up the sun, people watch, walk, bike or skate along, enjoying its many attractions which includes lots of bars and restaurants, and arguably offers the best views in the entire city.
Place Massena provides a bridge between the new and old towns. It’s Nice’s largest square and the site for street performances, Carnival de Nice, jazz festivals and so on. It also beautifully showcases Nice’s rich history and heritage. If you’re visiting Place Massena at night, watch out for the lights in the statues representing the 7 continents as they change colour.
From Place Massena head into the Promenade du Paillon, a 12-hectacre urban park which connects the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art to the sea. This wonderful green space is organised into five continents, with samples of flowers and trees from each one. One of its major attractions is the giant water mirror, a large lake equipped with water jets, which kids love!
Castle Hill towers above the Old Town and is the site of the ruins of Chateau de Nice. It’s one of the best places to visit because of the panoramic views of Promenade des Anglais, Bais des Anges, Port de Nice, indeed the entire city. Climbing the stairs takes 10-15 minutes or you can take the lift. If you’re there at noon, be prepared for the cannon booming on the dot of midday – it’s so loud, it will make you jump!
A great place to wander around, soaking up its medieval vibe. You can clearly see and feel the Italian influence as this area was part of the Kingdom of Savoy before returning to France in 1860. The narrow streets are colourful and labyrinthine, packed with interesting shops, plenty of bars and restaurants and well-known spots like Place Rossetti, Cathedrale Sainte-Reparate and the Cours Saleya Markets.
The oldest and most ornate cathedral in Nice is Cathedrale Sainte-Reparate, which contains many artefacts of Saint Reparata, a 15-year-old martyr. Over the centuries the cathedral has gone through many changes with Baroque and Latin styles incorporated in its construction. Inside, there are 10 small chapels dedicated to other saints.
No place in Vieille Ville is as vibrant and as integral to its identity as the Cours Saleya Markets which operate daily in various guises. There’s been a flower market here since 1897. Hemmed in by fine buildings and teaming with visitors, the Cours hosts markets every day. Tuesday to Sunday mornings you’ll find a flower, fruit and vegetable market while Monday showcases its antiques market. During the summer months, you’ll also find various gift stalls to browse in the evenings.
But this isn’t Nice’s only market. Aside from its fish one on the other side of the Old Town and the permanent antiques one (Marché des Puces) opposite the port, there’s also a bustling food market held on Tuesday to Sunday mornings in the Place de la Libération, near the old Gare du Sud.
The largest Eastern Orthodox cathedral in Western Europe can be found in Nice. Saint Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral, relatively recently transferred back to the Russian State, was originally built for Tsar Aleksandr II and the Russian community residing in Nice. The tsar fell in love with Nice’s beautiful climate and later died here. I was fortunate to attend a christening here some years ago – a fascinating experience.
This is a very small selection of the places I enjoy visiting in Nice. There are more parks, more churches, much more of the Old Town and Castle Hill to see and don’t get me started on our magnificent museums. Better still, come and see for yourself!