Nice is a city located on France’s Mediterranean coast. This sizable seaside metropolis acts as a hub for visitors exploring the famous French Riviera. Most people on their way to Monte Carlo, Cannes, or other glitzy Cote d’Azur towns pass through the city. However, Nice is a great destination in its own right. Its cosmopolitan-yet-laid-back vibe, history, art and beautiful scenery, both urban and natural, make it a worthwhile place to spend a few days. In a region known for its luxury and high prices, Nice stands out because many of its best attractions are completely free to enjoy.
1. Castle Hill (Colline du Chateau)
The most attractive aspect of Castle Hill is not its namesake palace, which is in a state of disrepair, but the views of the Mediterranean and the picturesque urban coastline of Nice from the top of the hill. It is a bit strenuous to hike the 300 feet (around 100 meters) to the scenic overlook spot, but there is a lift that can take you part of the way.
2. Promenade des Anglais
This is the most well known part of Nice. The boardwalk-like area, often referred to as The Promenade, or simply La Prom, is usually crowded with people strolling along the seafront. Carnival celebrations, flower shows and various other events take place along La Prom. Bicycling, rollerblading and skateboarding are popular alternatives to walking.
3. Musee Matisse
This museum in the Cimiez area features a variety of art by the famed French artist Henri Matisse. There is a nice diversity of art, with drawings and paintings, for which Matisse was best known, making up a bulk of the work. However, engravings, sculptures, even full-sized illustrated books are also part of the collection. Best of all, entrance is free.
4. Musee et Site Archeologiques de Cimiez
This archeological site boasts Roman ruins from an ancient settlement that was once thrived during the age of the Roman empire. An on-site museum helps to put the ruins in a historical context. Entrance is free, though visitors have the option of paying for a guided tour (currently €3).
5. Vieux Nice (Nice Old Town)
No visit to Nice is complete without exploring the Old Town (Vieux Nice). The narrow lanes and aged-but-well-kept buildings and storefronts make for many picture-worthy sights. However, the historic atmosphere is only part of the attraction. Markets, including a daily flower and fruit market, take place inside this neighborhood. A host of boutiques and small, family-owned shops make for an ideal window-shopping scene.
The beaches in Nice itself are more about the water than sand. The seaside is rather rocky, not sandy, making barefoot frolicking an uncomfortable experience. Nonetheless, plenty of people come to suntan and swim every day, creating a lively beach scene that is worth checking out, especially if you are interested in having a swim in the bright blue waters of the Mediterranean.
7. Theatre de la Photographie et de l’Image
This unique museum is housed in a historic building that was once a theater. Admission is free, but that is not the sole reason to visit. The Theatre is a must for photography fans since the exhibits include the works of photographers form around the world, including some of the most well-known artists and photojournalists. Exhibits change regularly, so there is always something new to see.
8. Nice Flower Market
The Cours Saleya Flower Market is a huge daily market in Vieux Nice. It features rows and rows of stalls selling flowers of every shape, color, size and scent. Saleya also features fruits, spices, and even fresh seafood (though the flower section is the best for sightseeing). If you can get there just after sunrise, you’ll only have to contend with locals, not other tourists. This means a more authentic experience (that is worth getting up early for).
9. The Port at Antibes
Antibes is not far from Nice and can be reached easily by bus or train. If you are seeking a more traditional suntan-and -sand beach experience, this is a great alternative to Nice’s pebble-strewn shores. It is also an ideal spot for getting a taste of the opulence of the French Riviera: Antibes is the port of choice for the Riviera’s multimillion dollar yachts.
10. Rue de France Pedestrian Zone
This pedestrian thoroughfare is filled with shops and cafes. There is a lively atmosphere in this usually-busy area, with street performers and a multitude of vendors making it possible to enjoy yourself even if you aren’t shopping. A few Euros will get you a spot in one of the Rue’s cafes where you can sip something cool while soaking in the atmosphere.
Nice is the French Riviera’s hub. However, there is enough in the city to make it more than a stopping off point on the way to Cannes and Monte Carlo. In fact, for people looking to save money, Nice is the best place on the Riviera to find free attractions.
Do you have your own favorite free places to visit in Nice? Let us know in the comment section below!