Nice in 3 Days: a guidebook for getting the most out of your visit

Plan your vacation in the Pearl of the French Riviera and get ready to spend a dream weekend. This article gathers its main attractions.

Matteo Gramegna

Matteo Gramegna

11 min read

Nice in 3 Days: a guidebook for getting the most out of your visit

Nice | ©Party Lin

Nice is a city with a millenary history, famous for its lively atmosphere and the splendid Promenade des Anglais. Located between the Mediterranean and the mountains, it is the perfect destination for a long weekend.

Being a world-famous tourist destination, there are many things to see and do in Nice. If that's not enough, glamorous destinations such as Monaco, Cannes and Saint Tropez are located nearby.

Day 1: Old town and Villefranche sur Mer

Old Nice| ©Albeto
Old Nice| ©Albeto

The oldest part of the city reveals its Italian past. The winding streets and colorful houses are reminiscent of the alleys of Genoa. Your first day in Nice can only start here.

Explore Vieux Nice

The old town of Nice is the obligatory starting point of any itinerary. Pastel-colored house facades alternate with baroque churches and picturesque squares. On Saleya Street, there is a market every day. Monday is dedicated to antiques while from Tuesday to Sunday it is full of stalls with flowers and plants.

Before visiting the Cathedral of Sainte-Réparate and strolling along Place Giuseppe Garibaldi, I recommend a good brunch. You will gather the necessary energy to see the original core of the city. Next, you will find the specialized restaurants of Vieux Nice:

  • Le Makassar, they offer three different formulas (Salé, Sucré or Le Petit), each with an "open bar" of orange juice. The reviews are unbeatable (5 Rue Alexandre Mari).
  • Maranna, where everything is taken care of in detail. Besides delicious, the dishes are a real delight for the eyes (36 Rue Droite).
  • HOBO. If you can't start the day without a good coffee, this is your place. The bruch costs about 20 € but it is very complete (5 Bis rue Sainte-Réparate).

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Reach the port district

Nice's fishing port is a narrow strip of water between the old town and the slopes of Mont Boron. Work began in the 18th century by decision of King Charles Emmanuel III of Sardinia and was completed in 1860, when the city had already been annexed by France.

The surrounding neighborhood is very dynamic and its landmark is the picturesque Place Île de Beauté crowned by the Church of Notre-Dame-du-Port. You will recognize it by the monumental entrance reminiscent of an ancient Greek temple. It is also worth seeing Place Giuseppe Garibaldi which houses a monument dedicated to the eponymous character.

If you are looking for an original gift, I recommend Puces de Nice, a flea market with objects from the last century, paintings, second-hand books, musical instruments and thousands of other trinkets and curiosities (Rue Robilant).

Stroll down to Villefranche sur Mer

While you're in the port district, you can take the opportunity to walk along the Cap de Nice path. It starts at the Félix Rainaud Gardens, near Coco Beach, and ends in the Lazaret district of Villefranche. Along the way you will enjoy breathtaking views of the sea.

The walk is of medium difficulty and requires at most one hour. In order not to waste too much time, you can return to Nice by train. Villefranche sur Mer station is located in the city center and you just need to take the TER C3 line and get off at Nice Riquier or Nice-Ville. It is at most two stops.

Taste the Provençal food at L'Escalinada

After a long walk, it's time to comfort yourself at the table. For the first evening I suggest a genuine restaurant that offers Provencal classics such as marmite du pêcheur (a seafood soup with rouille sauce and croutons), grilled lamb skewer, cuttlefish a la niçoise (with tomatoes and peppers).

The restaurant is located within walking distance of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art and is open every day (except Tuesday and Wednesday lunch) from 18:30 to 22:30. I recommend you to book through their official website (22 Rue Pairolière).

Book your excursion in Provence from Nice

Day 2: Cimiez

Matisse Museum| ©Cao Biki
Matisse Museum| ©Cao Biki

Located in the hinterland, the district of Cimiez became particularly famous in the 19th century. At that time, Edward VII, Queen Victoria, George V and other English monarchs stayed here. It is worth a visit to discover another side of Nice.

Start the day in Cimiez

Leaning on the hill of the same name is Cimiez, an elegant neighborhood dotted with Belle Epoque residences. Getting there is very easy, from the city center - for example on Rue Gioffredo, a stone's throw from Place Massena - just take bus 5 and get off at the Arènes/Musée Matisse stop.

The first destination is just a few meters away: the Cimiez Arena and the surrounding park. It is a Roman amphitheater built between the 2nd and 3rd centuries near the ancient Cemenelum, ancestor of today's Nice. If you travel to the city in May you can coincide with the Fête des Mai.

A short distance away is also the Monastery of Cimiez, known for the large baroque altarpiece and the green area surrounding it. From here you can enjoy one of the best views of the city. Also worth a visit are the ruins of the Roman baths and the Museum of Archaeology (160 Avenue des Arènes de Cimiez).

Discover the collection of the Matisse Museum

In the same neighborhood of Cimiez is a 17th century villa with red walls and surrounded by a garden. This elegant residence has been converted into a museum dedicated to the artist from Cateau-Cambrésis.

The peculiarity of this museum is that it brings together works and objects from the private collection of the artist or his heirs. It is thus possible to appreciate his stylistic evolution over the years. The ticket has a correct price: about 10 €. If you want to book in advance, I recommend you to consult the official website.

Enter the Basilica of Notre-Dame de l'Assomption

Notre-Dame de l'Assomption is a neo-Gothic building inspired by the basilicas of Paris and Angers. It was designed by the architect Louis Lenormand and is notable for its imposing square towers and the large rose window over the entrance.

It is located near Avenue Jean Médecin, a commercial artery with many stores and bars. The famous Galeries Lafayette ( 6 Avenue Jean Médecin) is 600 meters away.

End the day in a restaurant in the old town

Chez Acchiardo is the perfect destination if you want to try a classic of Provençal cuisine: the Daube. This word defines a veal stew cooked for long hours in a clay pot.

This dish is usually accompanied by Merda de can. Don't be fooled by the name, they are delicious green gnocchi from Nice. Chez Acchiardo is open every day of the week (except Monday) from 12:00 to 14:00 and from 19:00 to 22:00.

Book your excursion to Cannes from Nice

Day 3: villas and gardens

Villa Masséna| ©dalbera
Villa Masséna| ©dalbera

Today's itinerary starts within walking distance of the center and touches on the essential attractions of Nice. The first stop is a magnificent villa surrounded by a large garden.

Take a leap into the past at Villa Masséna

Villa Masséna is a neoclassical building on the Promenade des Anglais. The design bears the signature of Hans-Georg Terslin, a Danish architect and a leading exponent of the Belle Epoque. Since 1921, this splendid residence has become a museum dedicated to the history of Nice (between the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century) and of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Indeed, on the second floor - after climbing a magnificent staircase - you will find the memorabilia of the last great emperor of France, such as the vest he wore during his captivity on St. Helena and his funerary mask. As for the second floor, it hosts very interesting temporary exhibitions.

Villa Masséna is open every day of the year except Tuesdays and some holidays (January 1, Easter Sunday, May 1 and Christmas). As for the price, a standard ticket costs around 10 €.

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Phoenix Park

To get to your next destination, just take the L2 streetcar towards the airport from the Alsace-Lorraine stop and get off at Parc Phoenix. It is a highly recommended destination, especially if you are traveling to Nice with children. Its 7 hectares are home to parrots, lontras, wallaby, iguanas, lemurs and a small farm with geese, horses, goats and other animals.

In any case, the huge pyramid-shaped greenhouse is the most famous attraction. It is called "Le Diamant Vert" (the green diamond) and is divided into five spaces: southern Africa, central greenhouse, ferns, Louisiana and orchids. The price of a single ticket costs about 3 €.

The amount includes another attraction located in the same park: the Museum of Asian Arts. It is located near a lake and the building was designed by the famous Japanese architect Kenzo Tangé. If you like nature, I recommend another activity: an excursion to the Verdon Gorge.

Admire the Saint-Nicolas Cathedral

Once the walk in the park is over, you can take streetcar line 2 to the Alsace-Lorraine stop. From there, a 10-minute walk is enough to reach the largest Orthodox church outside Russia.

The temple was inaugurated in 1912 and has great symbolic value. In 1865, the son of Tsar Alexander II died of meningitis on this very spot. The project was entrusted to Mikhaïl Préobrajenski who designed a church with six colorful domes reminiscent of the Moscow Cathedral of St. Basil.

The interior is richly decorated and includes splendid frescoes and more than 3,000 sacred icons. As usual, it can be visited from 10:00 to 12:00 and 13:00 to 17:00 (in winter) or from 9:00 to 12:00 and 14:00 to 18:00 (in summer). The price of a ticket is around 5 €.

Say goodbye to Nice in Jan

Before leaving Nice and returning home, you can enjoy a dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant: Jan. The establishment is named after its owner: Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen, the first South African chef to win this prestigious award.

His creations include scallops and green asparagus sprinkled with sesame and white chocolate. The restaurant is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 18:00 to 22:00. You will find it in the port district (12 Rue Lascaris).

When is the best time to visit Nice?

Summer in Nice| ©Javier Doren
Summer in Nice| ©Javier Doren

Nice has a Mediterranean climate, with mild winters and warm, sunny summers. There are at least two seasons when it is worth visiting and the first is undoubtedly spring. Nature awakens and temperatures do not reach excessively high peaks.

This is the perfect time to take a trip to Provence from Nice. It is a charming region where you can go horseback riding in the Camargue, visit the Calanques National Park or admire the famous lavender fields in bloom.

Summer is also a highly recommended season, perhaps avoiding August. In this month the city and nearby towns welcome a large number of tourists. Note that the sea is not particularly hot even in summer. The maximum temperature reaches a maximum of 23º/24º. The ideal to alleviate the heat.

Book your excursion to Saint Tropez from Nice

The best ice cream parlors in Nice

Arlequin| ©uraywong
Arlequin| ©uraywong

Most tourists visit the French Riviera in spring and summer. At this time, there is nothing better than a good ice cream. The list below lists the best options:

  • Neron, an ice cream parlor that uses only premium ingredients such as Tahitian vanilla or hazelnuts from Piedmont. They use no artificial colors or flavors (15 place Saint François).
  • Arlequin, voted best ice cream parlor in France in 2014 (but has not lost quality over the years). It is famous for the "Tour de France" flavor: almond and lemon cream from the Côte d'Azur with a topping of white chocolate with lemon zest (9 Avenue Malaussena).
  • Fenocchio, an establishment in the heart of old Nice (2 Place Rossetti).
  • César Milano, according to some the best ice cream on the Côte d'Azur. There can be a queue, especially on weekends, but it's worth the wait (43 Avenue Jean Médecin).

What excursions can be done from Nice?

Cannes| ©Bob Zumwal
Cannes| ©Bob Zumwal

The capital of the Côte d'Azur is surrounded by many places worth a visit, and not only on the coast. Here are the best destinations for a day trip:

  • Roquebrune-Cap Martin, a beautiful medieval village near the Principality. Its main attractions are the Le Corbusier promenade, the castle (built in 970 by Conrad I, Count of Ventimiglia) and L'Olivier Millénaire, one of the oldest olive groves in the world. In addition to the car, you can get there by train (line C3 from Nice-Ville to Carnolès).
  • Cannes, a former fishing village that has become a favorite destination for actors, directors and film buffs. The famous festival is held every year in the second half of May. Its landmarks are the promenade of La Croisette, the La Malmaison Museum and the old town (Le Suquet). If you don't want to worry about the organization, I recommend booking a day trip to Cannes from Nice.
  • Grasse, the perfume capital of the world. It is located on a hilltop and is home to museums dedicated to fragrances - Musée International de la Parfumerie and the historic Parfumerie Fragonard Factory, etc. - and a splendidly preserved historic center. If you don't have a car, you can reach Grasse by train (line C3 from Nice-Ville).
  • Saint-Tropez, the most popular destination of the jet set. This beautiful town on the Côte d'Azur gained great popularity with the movie "And God Created Woman", starring Brigitte Bardot. If you like walking, I recommend the Sentier du Littoral, which connects the center with the Plage de Salins. You can get there by car or by booking a day trip to Saint Tropez from Nice.
  • Daluis Gorges, "le petit Colorado niçois". Century after century, the Var river has carved the reddish rocks of the region, creating an impressive canyon. It is worth renting a car and driving along the picturesque roads that cross it.
  • Menton, the city of lemons. According to legend, Adam and Eve, after being banished from Eden, came to Menton and planted a seed of this fruit. Since then, lemons have been omnipresent in the city, to the point that every February the Fête du Citron is celebrated. Again, the C3 train line is the cheapest solution.
  • Monaco, the most glamorous city in the Mediterranean. Despite its tiny size, there are dozens of attractions worth seeing: the Palace of the Princes, the old city on a rock spur, the Grand Théâtre, the Oceanographic Museum and more. For more information, I recommend you to read the post on how to visit Monaco and Èze from Nice.
  • Vence, a typical Provençal village. During a period of his life, Matisse lived here and decorated the beautiful Chapelle du Rosaire. If you stop for lunch, I recommend Les Petit Tabliers (7 Avenue Marcellin Maurel) and Mama Gaïa (Place Godeau).

What are the best beaches?

Plage de la Réserve| ©Pascal Perry
Plage de la Réserve| ©Pascal Perry

If you are coming to Nice in summer and you want to enjoy the good weather, you have made the right choice! The pearl of the Côte d'Azur has some really beautiful beaches:

  • Beau Rivage, the most glamorous of Nice. It is the private beach of the hotel of the same name but you can access even if you are not a guest. For more information I suggest you visit the official website (107 Quai des Etats-Unis).
  • Plage de la Réserve, small coves surrounded by rocks. It is frequented by locals and stands out for its views of Mount Boron (122 Boulevard Carnot).
  • Cocoon Beach, known for its lounge area. You can find more information on its official website (165 Promenade des Anglais).
  • Opéra Plage, the oldest of Nice. It stands out for the quality of its services including massages, swimsuit store, international press and an excellent restaurant (30 Quai des Etats Unis).

If you have a rental car, I also recommend the beaches of the peninsula of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Antibes and Villefranche-sur-Mer (especially Plage des Marinières).