Nice city guide: where to eat, shop, stay and more

From its coastline lapped by clear Mediterranean waters way out to its hilly outskirts, the city of Nice needs no introduction. The popular French Riviera gem is all about indulging your senses with a feast of colourful architecture, incredible restaurants and nightlife, and charming viewpoints looking out across awe-inspiring landscapes – it’s little wonder so many artists have made their mark here. From shopping to eating your heart out, we recommend 17 great ways to discover the best of France’s fifth city.

Promenade des Anglais, Nice. Image: iStock/Eva-Katalin

What to see and do

Wander through Vieux Nice

Amble through the atmospheric Vieux Nice for an afternoon filled with history, charm and top landmarks attractions that should top any visitor’s must-see list: discover the Roman Catholic Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate with its impressive baroque accents, get to know 17th-century Nice’s aristocratic splendours with a visit of the Palais Lascaris, and catch a ballet, opera or classical music performance at the utterly grand and gorgeous Opéra de Nice – all before winding up in one of the old town’s plentiful restaurants, cafés and bars.

Get your fill of art at the Matisse Museum

Housed in the quaint Villa des Arènes in the hilly neighbourhood of Cimiez, on the outskirts of central Nice, this museum is dedicated to the incredible colour-strewn, cut-out works of French painter Henri Matisse, who called Nice home for 37 years and stayed at the sea-facing Hotel Beau Rivage, from where he painted many a picture of the landscape beyond his window. For an added layer of inspiration, couple a visit to the museum with a stroll through the adjacent Jardin du Monastère de Cimiez, a marvellously landscaped affair and the oldest gardens on the Côte d’Azur, where romantic walkways and sprawling city vistas beg to be discovered.

Stroll along the Port of Nice

One of the most important harbours on the French Riviera, the port of Nice is not to be missed – particularly if you’re a luxury boat aficionado who can’t pass up a lush line of sparkling white yachts. If the stroll has you dreaming of a romantic overwater jaunt, take an hour-long cruise to Villefranche-sur-Mer to discover the Baie des Anges and the city’s coastline at its finest, with a crop of inland hilltop villages rising in the distance.

Port of Nice. Image: iStock/Eva-Katalin

Discover monochromatic masterpieces at the Musée de la Photographie Charles Nègre

Located in a quaint orange building on Place Pierre Gautier, within the city’s old town, this museum houses an incredible collection of local and international photographic works spanning both old-school and modern-day trends. Open Tuesday to Sunday, it comprises a vast two-tiered space showcasing the best of black-and-white photography, with art by André Villiers, Mario Giacomelli, Otto Steinert and much more all on display.

Hike up to the Parc de la Colline du Château

Amid the city’s hustle and bustle, choose to unwind and retreat from the crowds with a stroll towards the top of Castle Hill, a historic and beautifully green park from which the city and ocean views are perhaps the most incredible in the city – particularly at night, when Nice and its promenade come alive with a flurry of lights. Once the site of a citadel. Be warned that the ascent on foot is steep and perhaps not suited for those with mobility issues – an Art Deco lift will ensure that nobody misses out on those amazing vistas.

Where to eat

La Rossettisserie

Melt-in-your-mouth meat is the order of the day at this family-owned Old Town hideout near Place Rossetti. Whether you opt for a main of deliciously roasted beef, braised lamb, veal or herb-dusted chicken, you’ve a handful of dangerously flavour-packed sides to choose from – including ratatouille, baked potatoes, and ultra-creamy mash topped with garlic sauce. The cosy atmosphere and service are second to none, with free bread top-ups and friendly staff high on the list of perks, while the desserts are show-stealers – follow a hearty main up with crème brûlée or tiramisu for the ultimate treat.

Le Plongeoir restaurant. Image courtesy of Le Plongeoir/Eric d’Herouville

Le Plongeoir

Le Plongeoir stands out in a sea of eateries thanks to its brilliant and historic location, hovering above glistening waters on a rock pillar that also sports three diving boards – from which the restaurant takes its name. Diving will be the last activity on your list, though, as a menu of creamy risotto with fricassee of squid, Mediterranean sea bream with fennel and orange, grilled octopus on an onion and zucchini tart, and iced chocolate truffle with candied orange all make pretty great distractions. A too-cool-for-school lounge bar completes the stylish scene here, for pre- or post-dinner drinks and sharing platters.

Jan

Bringing a heady dose of romance and sophistication to the table is Restaurant Jan, a Michelin-starred hotspot for experiencing a culinary voyage. A classic, Gothic-inspired aesthetic reigns supreme, and just 24 seats means you’ll enjoy an intimate and personal evening. Across the tasting menus, Mediterranean flavours from the South of France flirt with South African influences and hospitality, all paired with incredible wines.

Pure & V

Just a seven-minute walk inland from the Promenade des Anglais is another strong contender on the city’s gourmet seafood scene: the white-and-bright Pure & V, where Danish chef Mathias Silberbauer and sommelier Vanessa Massé join forces to present fresh, seasonal produce across rustic-chic dishes, beautifully paired with fine wines. Opt for a tasting menu to enjoy a truly unique experience, complete with snacks and petits fours, or choose from the a la carte selection of lobster with tomatoes and pastis liqueur, monkfish with candied lemon, and oat, kumquats and camomile for dessert.

Le Plongeoir restaurant. Image courtesy of Le Plongeoir/Eric d’Herouville

Mon Petit Café

Helmed by David Angelot, a seasoned chef taught by big industry names including Guy Martin and Bernard Pacaud, this restaurant focuses on the best of local produce and traditional flavours, presented with a delicate and modern twist. Once you’ve settled down within the inspiring dining room, where deep turquoise blue hues make a calming backdrop, choose from a menu that features a delectable array of seafood-heavy dishes – the perfect go-to when dining on the south French coast.

Peixes

Raw ingredients combine in lashings of bold colours and textures at this Michelin-recommended restaurant, where modernity and creativity are the highlight of every dish off the very imaginative, seafood-focused menu – noteworthy options include a great scallop ceviche with mango and avocado puree, and a freshly made gnocchi with courgette. Refined yet convivial, this restaurant is another go-to if you’re looking for al fresco dining.

Vegan Gorilla

If you’re vegan or vegetarian, fear not: while Nice does not scrimp on options for carnivores and cheese-lovers, it also hosts a crop of tempting meat- and dairy-free options – including this outpost on Rue du Lycée, just a couple streets away from the Galeries Lafayette department store, Place Masséna and Promenade du Paillon at the heart of the city. Earthy interiors of wooden furnishings and crates make up an intriguing yet appropriate backdrop for organic, gluten-free feasts. The menu changes weekly, with simple but beautifully perfected dishes offering a refreshing dining experience.

Traditional socca. Image courtesy of Chez Pipo

Chez Pipo

When in Nice, don’t miss a chance to try its most delicious speciality – the socca. A thin, pancake-style flatbread made from chickpea flour, it encompasses almost a decade of culinary history – and you’ll find no better place to sample it than at the friendly and warm Chez Pipo, where you can pull up a stool, take in the traditionally-themed décor and enjoy a convivial meal, all before kicking back with a drink at the bar.

Déli Bo

Open since 2012, Délicatessen Bonaparte (Déli Bo for short) is a smart restaurant-tearoom concept where simplicity is the key aesthetic – without compromising on complex and rich flavours, of course. Enjoy a hearty breakfast, Sunday brunch or a gorgeous selection of biscuits, chocolates and cakes to go – the vanilla- and lemon-flavoued sablés, meringues and bubblegum-pink pralines make the perfect gifts to take home for a loved one. The brand also offers a pastry shop on the port, for a whirlwind of sugary delights you won’t be able to pass up on.

Where to shop

Open-air markets

Make someone’s trash your treasure with an afternoon of hardy retail therapy at one of Nice’s open-air markets. Open Tuesday to Saturday during set seasonal hours (10am-6pm from 1 October to 31 May, and 10am-7pm from 1 June to 30 September), the Marché aux Puces stocks second-hand furniture, knick-knacks and endless more trinkets to take home with you, while on Mondays, Cours Saleya’s restaurant terraces mix and mingle with a sizeable market where you may just get away with an excellent bargain on traditionally French homeware and antiques. Elsewhere, stock up on beautifully vibrant flowers at the Marché aux Fleurs (held daily except Mondays, Sunday afternoons and public holidays, from 6am-5.30pm), where food and antiques are also on hand should you be hungry for light bites and more lush buys.

Cours Saleya flower market in Nice, France. Image: iStock/Eva-Katalin

Le Comptoir de Mathilde

Lovers of French cooking and home décor will find not better place to call home for an afternoon than this hideout, nestled on Rue du Collet in the old town. Stocked to the brim with chocolates, condiments, sauces, spreads, spices and more edibles worthy of a top-tier French delicatessen, it also sells a fine selection of liqueurs, baked snack-time treats and utensils – hand-carved wooden spoons and chopping boards have never looked quite this attractive. Dating back to 2007, the shop’s focus is on a refined artisanal offering and an old-fashioned, nostalgic presentation that doesn’t take away from the quality of its produce.

Bérénice et Eglantine

When on the French Riviera, seek out a haven of wonderful scents and you shall find: this particular boutique, located on Rue Pairolière in the old town, is solely dedicated to offering beautifully presented, eco-friendly and ethical produce that will soothe your mind and body in no time: expect an endless array of soap cubes, presented in a colourful and awfully tempting rainbow across rustic-chic shelves, including irresistible produce by Marseille-based soap-makers, Fer à Cheval (opt for an olive oil-based soap for the ultimate bathtime indulgence). Also available here are locally-produced essential oils, beauty creams and cosmetics, grooming tools for men, and even a selection of tea.

Galeries Lafayette Nice Masséna

Retail therapy heaven awaits at the famous Galeries Lafayette department store, located right in the very heart the city. Perhaps best known for its Parisian counterpart, it offers the ultimate destination for shopping on Avenue Jean Médecin in Nice. You’ll find a vast spread of international fashion brands here, from Balenciaga, Burberry and Longchamp to Moncler, Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, with a healthy stock of beauty products and homeware also on hand to satisfy even the keenest of shoppers.

Image: Hotel Le Negresco, Nice

Where to stay

Boscolo Exedra

Standing tall on Boulevard Victor Hugo, this Autograph Collection property certainly delivers on all fronts. Whether you’re a lover of polished and stylish interiors, are looking for your fill of fabulous food, or simply wish for a rooftop pool by which to while the hours away (why wouldn’t you?), this five-star hotel is your go-to. Restaurant La Pescheria is a must-try for its delicious Italian fare and sophisticated rustic atmosphere, while the guest rooms stun with equally impressive décor – picture saintly all-white affairs featuring luxe touches of gold. Measuring in at 500 square metres, the bijou spa steals the show with its indoor pool, tea and fitness areas, treatment room, sauna, Turkish bath and Vichy showers – the answer to all prayers after a day of feasting, shopping and tan top-ups.

Hotel Le Negresco

Eccentricity knows no bounds at this five-star abode, whose grandeur and old-world charms spill onto the Promenade des Anglais. Such a brilliant location means you’re guaranteed strikingly open sea views. At Le Chantecler restaurant you could enjoy a true gastronomic experience amid 18th-century décor cloaked in bright red and pink hues, while elsewhere, the guest rooms and suites are true havens of fabulous traditional style – rest your head on a plump pillow as you take in the paintings, vibrant tones and antique furnishings, before making the most of a private terrace which overlooks swaying palms and the deep blue Med. Further facilities include a fitness area, car, limousine and helicopter rental services, plus a partner private beach and spa – perfect if you fancied a little more pampering.

Radisson Blu Hotel, Nice

Also featuring a prime address on the Promenade des Anglais, this fully renovated hotel offers a private beach, a rooftop restaurant dishing up excellent Mediterranean cuisine, and a beachfront restaurant where you can soak up the fine weather as you enjoy a meal. Modern guest rooms feature earthy woods, calming tones and plenty of natural light streaming in through floor-to-ceiling windows, while the wellness facilities are second-to-none: kick back on a lounger by the rooftop pool before working up a sweat in the sea-facing gym, enjoying a session in the sauna and Turkish bath, or treating yourself to a massage or three. It’s all about contemporary conveniences at this Radisson Blu, where stellar hospitality and an effortlessly laid-back atmosphere come as standard.

Image: Radisson Blu Hotel, Nice

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