With its peach-coloured façades, azure waters and gorgeous weather, Nice has a rosy, always-on-holiday glow.
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Known as the capital of the French Riviera, the coastal city is home to world-class art museums, bustling markets and pretty hiking trails. The best way to experience Nice’s many delights is to slow right down and enjoy them at a leisurely pace.
A stroll along the Promenade des Anglais is the essential start to a visit of any length. Start at the iconic Negresco hotel and look out over the Med as you wander down the French Riviera’s most iconic walkway. When you reach the end, turn your back on the sea and head into vibrant Vieux-Nice.
If it’s time for a bite, stop at the Cours Saleya, the open-air market that overflows with flowers, produce and artisan goods, to pick up a snack, and maybe a souvenir (lavender soaps are a fixture).
Continue through the wonderfully walkable old city, stopping in iconic buildings like the city's 16th-century cathedral and the opulent Palais Lascaris museum. CArry on to the lively Place Garibaldi, where you can pick up the tram towards Cimiez to take in some art.
After a couple of minutes you'll be in Cimiez for the Musée Marc Chagall. The museum is a stunner, home to one of the world’s largest collections of works by Marc Chagall. Or, if you’re a big fan of Matisse, visit the museum that bears his name, housed in a 17th-century villa. The museum is filled with drawings, sculptures, photographs and objects owned by the artists. The surrounding gardens are lovely and well worth exploring.
After the museums, head back to Vieux-Nice for something to eat on a sunny terrace with a glass of local rosé.
With a whole weekend to explore, you’ll have time to strike the perfect Niçoise balance: sun and culture in equal measure. Spend your first day exploring Vieux-Nice and the art museums in Cimiez. When the sun is about to set, take the tram to Place Garibaldi, pick up a freshly-made socca (and a bottle of rosé, if you’re so inclined) and take the lift to Castle Hill for a light picnic with a view over all of Nice. If you’re not done yet, walk over to the area surrounding Rue Bonaparte, where locals and travellers mingle over drinks on café terraces.
The following morning, pay a visit to the Cours de Saleya market to wander through the colourful aisles and pick up provisions for the beach. Stroll along the Promenade des Anglais until you find a spot you like the look of. The beach is stony rather than sandy, but it's still one up from Brighton.
If you’re more of a full-service type, go for a beach club with the iconic blue umbrellas. You’ll be able to order drinks and snacks directly to your chair, or head up to the restaurant for a proper lunch. In the evening, stay at the beach club for sunset cocktails and maybe live music or a DJ set. Once it’s time for dinner, head towards Vieux-Nice for fresh seafood.
On your last morning in town you’ll have time to visit the Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain (MAMAC), home to an excellent collection of European and American modern art from the 1950s to the modern day. If the weather is too lovely to stay inside, rent a bike and cycle down the promenade for a last eyeful of the bright blue bay.
Days one to three
Spend your first weekend wandering through Vieux-Nice, exploring the art museums of Cimiez and putting in some serious beach time. Once you’ve got a handle on the Niçoise way of life, venture out to explore what else the French Riviera has to offer.
The spectacular coastal drive from Nice to Monte Carlo will have you feeling like James Bond – depending on your rental car, that is. But before you go full Casino Royale, a stop in Eze is essential. The charming hillside town is filled with picturesque stone houses, winding lanes and – the star – stunning panoramas. Don’t miss the Jardin Exotique and the 12th-century ruins at the very top. If you can’t tear yourself away from the view, stay for lunch at one of the restaurants perched on the hillside.
From there, venture on to glitzy Monte Carlo. Park the car in the casino’s parking garage and walk along the port to ogle the superyachts. Walk or take the bus to Monaco Ville, the old town, where you can see the cathedral and the Prince’s Palace. From there, even if you aren’t a gambler, go into the casino for the incredible architecture alone. Be sure to bring your passport, as you won’t be admitted otherwise.
A week in the South of France affords the freedom to visit the nearby towns at their liveliest: on market day. The produce is much the same, but visiting towns on market day is an excellent way to see some local life. Neighbouring Villefranche-sur-Mer has its market on Saturdays, Saint-Paul de Vence is on Wednesdays and Antibes is every morning except Mondays.
Any day but Monday (when most attractions are shut), venture to Antibes to wander through the charming town. Visit the Musée Picasso, set in a chateau where the artist lived for six months. The museum houses an impressive collection and boasts beautiful views of the sea. While Nice has plenty of beach space, Antibes beaches are of the sandier variety. Head to a beach club to make a day of it or hop over to nearby Plage de la Gravette if you’re in the mood for a quick dip.
Head to Saint-Paul de Vence, one of the oldest medieval towns in France (and even more impressive on market day, Wednesday). Its winding alleys are lined with small art galleries and shops. While you’re in town, visit the Fondation Maeght, one of the best contemporary art collections in France.
From there, drive a couple minutes to Vence, a more lived-in market town than storybook Saint-Paul. Here you’ll find one of the gems of the French Riviera: the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence, a chapel designed entirely by Henri Matisse late in his life. The chapel is small and simple, but the exhibit that accompanies it tells the moving story of how Matisse came to design it.
After a few days of driving, spend your final day in Nice sunbathing at the beach club and getting some well-deserved rest.