When people think about Nice, France they probably think of azure water, all year round sunshine, pebble beaches and spectacular coastline. That’s what Nice is mostly famous for, and that alone is a great reason to visit this city. However, there is more to this popular French Riviera city and in this post I’d like to share some of the best things to see in Nice besides the beach.
Don’t get me wrong – I love beaches, and even more than that I love beautiful beaches! Nice is a great place to go for a holiday. We visited Nice in summer and were very happy to spend several days combining time relaxing on a beach with city sightseeing, architecture, fine dining and short day trips. Here is the list of things we recommend to see and do in Nice, France.
Promenade des Anglais
Promenade des Anglais in Nice is a well known and popular place for walking along the beach. The promenade was initially built in 1824, expanded and widened since then, and now it stretches over the seafront of Nice for about 4km.
Have a stroll on the promenade to enjoy the views over the turquoise colored sea. Get down to the beach to throw pebbles into the water or have a swim if you’re visiting in summer. Admire beautiful architecture and some of the historical buildings along the Promenade des Anglais. Go for a walk in the evening to see the buildings in a different light.
In 2020 Nice hosted the Grand Depart event of the famous bicycle race Tour de France. Our visit to Nice in 2020 coincided with the event. So there were Tour de France signs all over the central city and the Promenade des Anglais in particular, as it was the starting point of the race.
‘#I love Nice’ sign
Walking on the promenade make sure to reach the giant “#I love Nice” sign. It’s not only a popular spot for taking photos, but a viewing point with the scenic views over to the sea and Prom des Anglais.
Rauba-Capeù Memorial and Phare de Nice
If you are coming from the promenade, continue walking passing #IloveNice sign and on your left you will see Rauba-Capeù Memorial. It’s a memorial to the citizens of Nice killed in WWI.
On your right, at the end of a long pier you will see Phare de Nice – a lighthouse at the entrance to Port Lympia. It’s a nice place to enjoy panoramic views or to watch a sunset over the water.
Place Massena and Fontaine du Soleil
The main square of Nice city – Place Massena – is very bright and colourful and a place not to miss when in Nice. The red facades of the houses, the black and white paving and illuminated sculptures at night make Place Massena a joy to the eyes.
The illuminated sculptures are part of a contemporary art installation called ‘Conversation in Nice’. It consists of seven sitting men each representing a continent. They are lit at night with changing colours – blue, green, pink, purple.
Located in the heart of the city, Place Massena often holds concerts and other public events. When we visited in 2020 there was a fan zone for the Tour de France 2020 at Place Massena.
On the south side of Place Massena stands the beautiful Fontaine du Soleil (‘Fountain of the Sun’). At the center of the fountain there is a seven meter high statue of Apollo, representing the sun. It’s surrounded by five bronze statues representing Earth, Mars, Mercury, Venus and Saturn.
Another big public square to visit in Nice is Place Garibaldi. Built in the 18th century the square was used for military parades at the time of its creation. No wonder it’s so large and spacious! In the middle of the square there is a statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi – Nice born famous Italian patriot and general.
If you visit on Saturday or Sunday you may catch one of the local markets on Place Garibaldi – The Artisanal Market (every first Sunday of the month) or Antique and Flea Market (every third Saturday of the month).
Castle Hill overlooks the city of Nice and takes its name from a castle which once stood on that place in the early 18th century. Use the staircase right next to the Promenade des Anglais to get to the top of Caste Hill.
We walked to Castle Hill, stopped at the La Cascade (man-made waterfall) and got to the uppermost viewpoint on the hill. The most beautiful view of Nice opens at the viewing platform on top of Castle Hill. You can see the azure waters of the sea, Promenade des Anglais, Nice’s old town and the green hills surrounding the city.
Walk the streets of Nice Old Town
Nice Old Town (known as Vieille Ville or Vieux Nice) lies just beneath Castle Hill. Walk the old narrow streets of Vieux Nice, enjoy a coffee at one of the street cafes, admire the old architecture and historical landmarks. Vieille Ville will give you that cosy feeling of cute narrow streets of old Europe.
Visit Cours Saleya during the day to experience Nice’ main marketplace. Or go there in the evening when the stalls are closed, and restaurants set up their tables outside so you can enjoy an evening meal at the historical heart of the city.
Another historical place to visit in the old town is Lascaris Palace (Musée du Palais Lascaris). It’s a 17th century building that now hosts a museum with a huge collection of vintage musical instruments.
Don’t miss Place du Palais de Justice. Surrounded by historical buildings and with a few cafes, it’s a nice city space just in front of the city’s courthouse.
Place Rossetti, Cathedral of Saint Reparata and ice-cream
Next in the old town of Nice, visit the 17th century Cathedral of Saint Reparata (Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate). The cathedral is named after the city’s patron saint – Saint Reparata. It’s located at Place Rossetti and is open to the public.
Make sure to visit the best ice-cream shop in Nice – Fenocchio at Place Rossetti. It’s not just that their ice-cream is very good, but also that they have around 50 different flavours of ice-cream and 30 different flavours of sorbet! Don’t know about you, but never before I have seen so many varieties of ice-cream in a shop!
Vieux Nice is a great place for shopping for local products. From markets with foods, crafts and flowers, to shops and boutiques with clothing and accessories, you can easily combine walking in the old town with shopping experience.
Port de Nice Lympia
Old Port of Nice (called Port Lympia) is located to the east of Castle Hill, easily reachable by foot from Vieux Nice. Port Lympia had served as a city port since the 18th century and today it’s the main port of the French Riviera.
Walk around Port Lympia to watch yachts and boats coming and going from the port. Enjoy the views and admire neat colored houses surrounding the old port. Stop at Notre Dame du Port Church – the 19th century church opened as a place of prayer for seamen. Take a free boat – Lou Passagin – that runs between eastern and western banks of the port. Have a meal at one of the restaurants around the port.
Even though this post is about things to see in Nice besides its beaches, I simply could not avoid mentioning at least few of them. During our visit to Nice we really liked that we could spend time on a beach in the morning, and then explore other attractions of the city in the afternoon. Especially when travelling with kids it’s important to alternate walking and sightseeing with more relaxed activities. Such as going for a swim or, if visiting Nice in colder months, just spending time on a beach enjoying the sun and calming effect of the water.
The main Nice Beach is great for sitting by the water, watching sunsets, and listening to the sounds of the waves rolling the pebbles. Unlike some other popular resorts in France (for example, Biarritz on the west coast), the main beach of Nice is not sandy but pebbles beach.
If you want a sandy beach in Nice then go to Plage des Marinieres – a beautiful sandy beach with calm waters and scenic views. Plage des Marinieres is located just over the hill from Nice in the village of Villefranche-sur-mer. You can get there either by train or by car.
We found this beach on our way from Nice to Monaco, when we stopped at Boulevard Napoléon III viewpoint to enjoy the views. The following day we decided to visit the Plage des Marinieres beach. We spent a few hours on the beach swimming, sunbathing and admiring the views.
Day trips from Nice
If you’re staying in Nice for a couple of days, it might be a good idea to take a day trip to explore more of the region around Nice.
To conclude our list of best things to see in Nice, here are three day trips from Nice we would recommend.
Monaco is only a half an hour drive from Nice – a perfect day trip destination. There is a direct train between Nice and Monaco, or alternatively rent a car to drive there.
Spend a day in Monaco walking its streets, sightseeing, visiting one of its museums or parks.
Drive to Gorge du Verdon
Rent a car in Nice and drive to one of the most beautiful roads in France – road to Gorge du Verdon. Gorge du Verdon is one of the largest canyons in Europe and it’s simply magnificent – with its cliffs, Verdon river, scenic roads and multiple viewpoints along the road.
Drive up to the Pont du Galetas bridge and Lake Sainte-Croix. There you can rent a boat or a paddle-boat to enjoy the scenery from the water.
Driving around Gorge du Verdon, paddle-boating on Lake Sainte-Croix and swimming in its blue waters was one of our family favorites during the visit to the south of France.
Take a Boat trip
There are many options for a sightseeing cruise or a boat trip from Nice. Take a short sightseeing cruise to Villefranche Bay. Enjoy a round-trip by boat from Nice to Saint-Tropez. Admire the Nice coastline from water while cruising from Nice to Monaco.
You can choose a trip to your preferences and book it online at Get Your Guide – they have a great selections of tours and free cancellation options: