Call it a beach town with a dazzlingly rich heritage. Ranked as France’s fifth largest city and recently anointed the status of a World Heritage Site, Nice is thrumming with new-found energy thanks to a wave of massive renovations. With 10 museums, extensive city bike paths, Baroque and Belle Époque treasures and an abundance of green parks, Nice is also unpretentiously bon enfant and decidedly festive. Its central hub, Place Masséna is watched over by towering illuminated fibreglass figures, mounted on poles like benevolent lollipops, that change colour at night. The sleek tomato-red tram plays sound-designed jingles and showcases contemporary art installations. And there’s plenty to see and do, so without further ado, here are the best things to do in Nice.
1. Uncover Nice’s fascinating history
Find out what Riviera life was like 400,000 years ago at seaside museum Musée de Préhistoire Terra Amata, built on an ancient excavation site. Highlights include a reconstituted cave, a human footprint in limestone and elephant and rhino hunting weapons made from beach stones. Then grab a pan bagnat (salade niçoise on a roll) picnic and follow the rocky customs footpath from Coco Beach to the Cap de Nice, alongside deserted turquoise coves.
2. Try Nice’s tastiest spots
Go native and book a personalised Street Food Market Tour with Rosa Jackson, France-based food writer and chef, where you explore the city’s best outdoor morning markets and sample emblematic niçois finger food from socca (a paper-thin chickpea pancake sprinkled with pepper) to pissaladière (caramelised onion tart) washed down with some local rosé. There’s also olive oil and cheese tasting. Or, alternatively, try Rosa’s cooking class where you shop, then whip up the locals’ favourite lunch – stuffed vegetables and a sugar-dusted rum and raisin-spiked Swiss chard torte.
3. Explore the Old Town
Wander through the narrow cobblestone alleys of Old Town for a glimpse at Baroque splendour: begin with jewel box museum Palais Lascaris, a sumptuous Genoese palace awash with ceiling frescoes and a balustraded staircase; light a candle at the ornate church Sainte Rita, Nice’s adored patron saint of lost causes, then head to Saint-Jacques-de-Majeur church for more gilded cherubs and marble stucco. After dark, there’s also a secret courtyard patio bar, Le Bethel, where you sip beer (the give-what-you-want price of drinks is donated to the church) bathed in holy candlelight.