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There’s nothing quite like the French Riviera – the beautiful and glamorous coastline on the Mediterranean Sea lined with beautiful beaches and luxury yachts. Nice, the region’s capital, is an attractive destination for anyone looking for French culture and great weather.
And while many visitors use Nice as a starting point to see the smaller beach towns and mountain villages of southern France, it has much more to offer than a convenient train station and well-connected airport. The city’s history is unique and fascinating, its old town is full of beautiful buildings and delicious restaurants, and some very famous art pieces are housed in its museums. Plus, you can’t beat the views that Nice offers.
As someone who lives just a few train stops away, I visit Nice quite often, and it seems that I’m always finding something new there. Friends have asked me how many days in Nice is enough – and while I’m sure I could come up with a much longer itinerary, I think 2 days in the city is appropriate for seeing its best sites.
Whether you’re making a stop before or after a longer French Riviera vacation, or you simply want to escape your city for a quick getaway, you will definitely enjoy Nissa La Bella (“Nice the Beautiful” in the old nissard language). Follow my sample Nice itinerary below and customize it yourself with the tips that come afterward!
- TLDR: The Ideal 2-Day Nice Itinerary
- How to Get Around Nice
- Where to Stay in Nice
- Along the Promenade des Anglais
- Jean Médecin
- Old Town (Vieux Nice)
- The 2-Day Nice Itinerary in Detail: Day 1
- Morning: Castle Hill & the Promenade des Anglais
- Lunch & Afternoon: Old Town, Place Massena, & Museums
- Dinner & Evening: Fine Dining & Rooftop Views
- The 2-Day Nice Itinerary in Detail: Day 2
- Morning & Lunch: Visit the Principality of Monaco
- Afternoon: Shop Along Jean Médecin and Enjoy Nice History
- Dinner & Evening: More Fine Dining or Old Town Casual
- More Things to Do in Nice, France
- Lounge and Swim on a Pebble Beach
- Stroll through Botanical Gardens and Green Spaces
- Enjoy One of the Many Day Trips From Nice
- Take a Sightseeing Cruise
- Experience Nice Carnival
- How many days do you need in Nice, France?
- Is 3 days enough to visit Nice?
- What is there to do in Nice?
- Is Nice, France expensive to visit?
TLDR: The Ideal 2-Day Nice Itinerary
You came here for a Nice itinerary, so let’s get right to it – this is how I would spend 2 full days visiting Nice. I assume you have two full days, whether that means arriving on an early flight, departing on a late flight, or arriving/departing the day before/after.
Perhaps not everything on this list is appropriate for you or the time of year you visit. Keep reading to see what there is to do in Nice, where to stay, and other practical information for customizing your itinerary.
|Day 1||Day 2|
|Morning||Hike up Colline du Château (Castle Hill) while it’s still cool out to enjoy the views, nature, and history. Come down the stairs to the top of the Promenade des Anglais, enjoy more views, and walk or bike the promenade in the other direction.||Go to Monaco by boat – you’ll get the views and experience of a sightseeing cruise, and the transportation to one of the best day trips from Nice! Explore the principality’s famous casino, palace, and luxurious atmosphere.|
|Lunch||Crêpes, socca, or other local dishes in the old town at a brasserie.||Have lunch in Monaco at one of the many lovely spots by the casino or the port.|
|Afternoon||Wander around the old town and Place Massena to walk off lunch. Choose one or more local museums based on interest: Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Marc Chagall National Museum, Terra Amata Prehistory Museum, Parc Phoenix, etc.||Return to Nice by train and walk down Jean Médecin from the station for some shopping. Hop on the tram to go to the Jardin des Arenes de Cimiez – tour the Roman ruins and stunning olive tree groves, if you didn’t do this with the Matisse Museum on Day 1.|
|Dinner||Fine dining at Le Plongeoir, one of Nice’s best restaurants with an amazing view.||Have another fine dining meal at a rooftop restaurant, like Calade at the Radisson Blu, OR take a simple pizza or socca to the beach for a budget-friendly and casual meal.|
|Evening||Enjoy views of the promenade, the sea, and the stars from the rooftop bar at the Le Meridien Nice.||Have a drink at a bar in the old town after dark, or take a bottle of wine to the shore.|
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How to Get Around Nice
Nice is not an off-the-beaten-path place. As one of France’s most popular tourist destinations, it’s not hard to find your way to the capital of the French Riviera.
The Nice airport is called the Nice Côte d’Azur International Airport (NCE). Low-cost carrier Easyjet has a base of operations here, allowing for cheap connections around Europe – especially to Paris, London, Rome, and other major cities.
Most other low-cost and full-service European carriers offer services to Nice, especially in the summer, as do United and Delta from North America. Middle Eastern destinations like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, and others are served over the summer.
On the other hand, you can also arrive at the Nice Ville train station from Paris, which only takes around 5 hours. There are many connections to Marseille every day, as well as to Ventimiglia, the Italian town on the other side of the border. From there, cities like Genoa, Milan, and Turin are easy to connect to.
Long-distance buses from other cities all around the continent also stop in Nice. However, driving in the city is a nightmare, if you ask me – rent a car for day trips to other parts of the Riviera, but not to stay in Nice.
Many attractions in Nice are within walking distance from one another. Certain museums, however, are better reached by tram. It’s easy to buy single-trip tickets from the machines at the stations, and they are cheap.
Where to Stay in Nice
Nice is a relatively small city, but it’s still important to choose an appropriate area to stay in. Many of its neighborhoods stretch far back towards the mountains, far from the historic center and any place a tourist would want to be. Therefore, I recommend narrowing your search to one of the below areas.
Along the Promenade des Anglais
As you’ll see below, the Promenade des Anglais will not be left off your Nice itinerary. Lined with palm trees, this street runs along the Mediterranean Sea and has long been a place to stroll, bike, relax, and dine in Nice.
Many of the most popular Nice attractions are along the seaside or close to it, making the Promenade des Anglais a convenient area to stay. Budget accommodations are hard to come by here, as it’s luxury hotels with spectacular views that take up this prime real estate. Here are some of the best:
- Le Meridien Nice – This Marriott-affiliated property is about as central as it gets; it has an awesome rooftop bar, which I visit even as a non-guest, and a delicious breakfast.
- Hotel Le Negresco – Perhaps the most famous hotel in Nice, it’s in an ornate 20th-century building and across the street from some great beach clubs.
- Radisson Blu Hotel Nice – While it’s a bit further down the coast from the city center, this hotel has an awesome rooftop pool, and its Calade Rooftop Restaurant is a popular one.
Between the train station and Place Massena is a street called Avenue Jean Médecin, which is used to refer to the whole neighborhood. It’s the city’s main shopping street, and the tram line runs straight up and down this road, making it convenient for moving around when visiting Nice.
It’s also just a short walk to the seaside and the main attractions. Here are some of the best accommodations in Jean Médecin:
- Villa Saint Exupery Beach Hostel – A great option for travelers on a really tight budget with some unexpected amenities for a hostel.
- Hotel Nice Riviera – This mid-range boutique hotel provides easy access on foot to both the seaside and the shops of Jean Médecin.
- Mercure Nice Centre Notre Dame – A nice, brand-name hotel within walking distance from the train station and the Nice Étoile shopping mall.
Old Town (Vieux Nice)
The narrow streets of Nice’s old town are in a compact neighborhood set beside the promenade and Castle Hill. This is the spot to be if you want to spend a lot of time wandering the historic center, dining in traditional cafés and crêperies, and shopping in its boutiques.
You may have better luck with vacation rentals in the old town, although there are some boutique hotels. Here are some great options:
- N&J Le Saleya One-Bedroom – Convenient and affordable spot for a couple or solo traveler in the heart of Old Nice, equipped to save even more money by cooking.
- Old Town Luxury 3-Bedroom – For groups or friends or a family, extra bedrooms and a large living room are a huge bonus, in addition to an ideal location.
- Hotel Beau Rivage – Another of Nice’s most iconic hotels, they also have a private beach club across the street, which offers evening entertainment.
The 2-Day Nice Itinerary in Detail: Day 1
That all said, let’s get into the specifics of how I’d spend 2 full days in Nice. After that, I’ll include a few bonus things to do in and around the city that can be substituted or added to your version. Day 1 is a busy one, including many of the most popular things to do in Nice.
Morning: Castle Hill & the Promenade des Anglais
Hike to the Top of Castle Hill
n the morning, while it’s still cool out and not too crowded, capture some iconic shots of the Cote d’Azur or the old town on a hike to the top of Castle Hill – called Colline du Château in French. It’s 426 steps up (305 feet high) and a relatively easy climb if you’re healthy. Many walking tours of old Nice include the trip up the stairs.
You will find several landings and photo ops along the way, offering the option to stop and rest. And, there is a small café at the top if you’re looking for light refreshments. Still, bring a travel backpack to pack water and snacks on a hot day.
Things to check out on Castle Hill, a former military citadel, are its three cemeteries, the ruins of the citadel, playgrounds, a beautiful waterfall (Cascades or Cascade du Casteu), and possibly a few street musicians.
Most of all, it’s the views of the old town below, the Promenade des Anglais and its beaches, and the shockingly blue sea that bring people up here, as it’s an amazing panorama.
Walk or Bike the Promenade des Anglais
Come down Castle Hill near the seaside with at least an hour to spare before lunchtime. The Promenade des Anglais (nicknamed “la Prom”) is a famous road that winds along the Mediterranean coastline with a wide and long pedestrian walkway. It’s a great place to take a leisurely stroll, check out the beaches, or hop on a bike, which are for rent at various stations.
This road had humble beginnings as a 6-foot-wide footpath. It wasn’t until 1931 that the Prom became two roads separated by a boulevard of palm trees. Today, it’s Nice’s most famous landmark, and you’ll find the iconic #ILoveNice sign at its eastern end, overlooking the electric-blue water.
While the promenade stretches for about 7 kilometers, the easternmost 1 or 2, in front of the old town, are the best for strolling and views. You can easily do it yourself, or take the expertise of a guide and the ease of an E-bike on a city highlights tour.
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Lunch & Afternoon: Old Town, Place Massena, & Museums
Explore the Old Town (Vieux Nice)
Just below Castle Hill and behind the promenade is the charming old town known in French as Vieux Nice. Its narrow cobblestone streets and old squares are lined with boutique shops, traditional restaurants, art galleries, churches, and picturesque photo ops.
I recommend enjoying some socca, crêpes, or pizza at a brasserie here for a casual lunch on day 1. Socca is a very simple local dish made from chickpea flour in a wood-fired oven, often sold at food trucks. It’s cheap, tasty, and great for eating on a walk or the beach.
One spot not to miss is the Cours Saleya, a long pedestrian street just behind the promenade. Every morning (except Monday), vendors set up here to sell flowers, filling the air with sweet fragrances and beautiful colors. It has since also turned into a produce market that sells other things, including souvenirs and art for tourists.
The Nice Cathedral sits on a square in the old town’s heart and is free to visit, with its centuries of history and stunning artwork. The Église de Gesù around the corner has some of the most beautiful baroque architecture in the city. Most of the area is pedestrian-only, so it’s best to explore by wandering on foot or taking a walking tour.
Gather at the Historic Place Massena & Shop on Avenue Jean Médecin
Nice is centered around the Place Massena, a very large square just a stone’s throw from the Promenade des Anglais and beside the old town. There’s usually a large Ferris wheel here, the Fontaine du Soleil fountain, and its Greek statues. Beautiful architecture and art installations surround it all.
Explore Art, Culture, and History at Nice Museums
Art lovers will be really happy in Nice – some of Europe’s most famous artists spent time on the French Riviera, as the beautiful scenes inspired great pieces; many of those pieces are still housed in local museums. And with the city at an important crossroads, there’s a ton of history and culture to be displayed as well.
Museums are spread throughout the city, but all can be reached using the convenient tram system, if not the bus. I recommend spending the last hours of the afternoon on day 1 at one or more of these. Here are some of the big ones to consider adding to your Nice itinerary:
- Musée Matisse (Matisse Museum): Also known as the Museum of France, it displays the famous painter’s collections in a 17th-century villa – most of which were painted in Nice, where Henri Matisse was from. Consider saving this one for Day 2; you’ll see why later.
- Marc Chagall National Museum: This museum features the largest public collection of this Russian-French artist – more than 400, including many paintings inspired by the Old Testament.
- Musée D’Art Moderne et D’Art Contemporain (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art): Often just called the MAMAC, this modern art museum features more than 1,300 European and American avant-garde works from the 1960s and 1970s close to the city center.
- The Musée de Prehistoire de Terra Amata: This lesser-known spot is a must-visit if you’re a prehistory buff. A dig at this site discovered an elephant hunter’s camp going back 400,000 years, plus the first traces of the domestication of fire.
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Dinner & Evening: Fine Dining & Rooftop Views
Enjoy Exceptional Gastronomy
Nice offers a huge range of French foodie experiences – from charming outdoor cafes (where I fell in love with crêpes, both sweet and savory) and street food to elegant dining at high-end restaurants. There are also cooking classes here for those who like this kind of experience in a new place, as well as wine-tasting workshops.
If you’re looking for authentic local cuisine, all you need to do is look for the Cuisine Nissarde label. It’s a special designation the Nice Convention and Visitors Bureau awards restaurants to let tourists know where they can find quality meals that respect traditional recipes and reflect the history of Nice cuisine.
For high-end dining with a view, Le Plongeoir is the place to be, with its delicious food and spectacular seaside spot. This would be my choice for your first dinner in Nice. Afterward, look for a rooftop bar with a view, like the one at Le Meridien Nice.
The 2-Day Nice Itinerary in Detail: Day 2
Day 2 of my itinerary has you getting out of Nice for the morning and seeing not only a new city but a new country. If you’d rather focus your efforts on seeing everything Nice has to offer, that is totally fine, and you can substitute this with something else – as we’ll see later on. You’ll then see Nice’s main shopping street and more history before enjoying the old town and beach for your final evening.
Morning & Lunch: Visit the Principality of Monaco
Visit Monaco by Boat
If you want to check off another country on your travel bucket list, take a day trip from Nice to Monaco – the second smallest country in the world and one of five microstates in Europe. You can easily see Monaco on a half-day trip, whether it be on a guided walking tour, on the hop-on hop-off bus, or on your own.
In fact, you can go to Monaco by boat from Nice, getting the sightseeing and fun of a boat excursion and transportation all in one! Play a slot in the famous casino, walk around its mega-yacht-filled ports, and tour the princely palace before enjoying lunch here.
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Afternoon: Shop Along Jean Médecin and Enjoy Nice History
Avenue Jean Médecin Shopping & Sightseeing
The main shopping street of Nice, Avenue Jean Médecin, runs straight down from the train station to Place Massena. It’s long but easily walkable, and the tram line follows the entire thing if needed.
One of the city’s most recognizable cathedrals, Notre Dame de Nice sits on this street near the train station. You can find everything from luxury and designer shops to budget fashion here, as well as some delicious ice creams to carry along the way.
Roman Ruins in the Jardin des Arenes de Cimiez
You may want to save the Musée Matisse for today, as mentioned, as there’s much more to do right outside of it. The museum is part of a larger historical complex of the Cimiez site that also includes the ruins of an ancient Roman city, a monastery, and a garden with olive trees that are hundreds of years old.
This archaeological site is amazing for learning about centuries of the region’s history. Plus, you’ll get to see the Matisse Museum, one of the city’s most popular.
Dinner & Evening: More Fine Dining or Old Town Casual
If you’d like to do another fine French meal, there is no shortage of options. Calade Rooftop Restaurant at Radisson Blu Hotel Nice is a very popular one with a panoramic view.
Alternatively, do another simple meal at an old town brasserie – there is definitely no shortage of these either. To finish the night, have drinks at one of the many bars in Vieux Nice.
You can also combine dinner with drinks in one of my favorite ways to end a day – on the beach, watching the sunset or stars. Take a pizza and a bottle of wine to a good spot on the rocky shore for a memorable way to end your weekend in Nice.
More Things to Do in Nice, France
It’s no wonder Nice is the second most popular tourist destination in France (only second behind Paris), and also a popular port destination for cruises. The city offers much more than beautiful beaches – green spaces and parks, mountains, ski resorts, museums, and a rich cultural history dating back to 400,000 BC. Here are a few more options for a substitution or addition to the above itinerary.
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Lounge and Swim on a Pebble Beach
Nice offers around six miles of coastline with nearly five miles of beaches. While the beautiful pebble beach on the Mediterranean requires no filter, water shoes or sandals are very helpful.
You won’t find sand here; the shore is covered by small rocks that are (on average) the size of baseballs. It’s pretty cool looking.
Many beach clubs offer chairs and umbrellas for daily rentals, as well as food and drinks, but there’s plenty of public beach space to lay down a towel and enjoy the sea for free. Plus, some hotels set up space for their guests – the famous Hôtel Nice Beau Rivage has a private beach.
The best beach in Nice that you don’t have to pay for, in my opinion, is the Plage Publique de Castel, which is at the end of the promenade. It’s great for swimming, relaxing, and evening or nighttime wine drinking. The latter can also be done by boat just offshore from Nice’s beaches and promenade.
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Stroll through Botanical Gardens and Green Spaces
At the Parc Forestier du Mont-Boron, you will find beautiful mountain, city, and sea views, as well as nearly seven miles of trails – all within the city’s confines. It’s a Mediterranean forest of Aleppo pine and olive trees, with some historic ruins throughout, right between the port and the neighboring village of Villefranche sur Mer.
And that’s just one of the many green spaces in Nice. There’s a surprising amount of parks, gardens, and nature in between the buildings and beaches. Here are some of the best ones to consider for your Nice itinerary:
- Jardin Albert 1er (Albert the 1st Garden): The city’s oldest public garden is situated directly between the Promenade des Anglais, the old town, and Place Massena.
- Promenade du Paillon: Just across the tram line from Jardin Albert 1er, this garden in the city center is especially popular for families, including children’s games and water fun such as mist sprays and fountains. It also hosts events such as art exhibitions.
- Parc Phoenix: A 17-acre park located across from the Mediterranean and close to the airport, featuring 20 themed gardens. You’ll also find the Asian Arts Museum and one of Europe’s largest greenhouses called the Green Diamond. This park is also home to crocodiles, iguanas, exotic birds, and lemurs.
- Jardin des Arenes de Cimiez: Located across from the Monastery of Cimiez and the Matisse Museum, this area features a large olive grove with thousands of trees that are centuries old. There are also ancient Roman ruins here, including an amphitheater that once held 5,000 spectators.
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Enjoy One of the Many Day Trips From Nice
Some of the other great destinations reachable from Nice include the medieval village of Èze on a rocky clifftop, the cosmopolitan Cannes famous for its film festival, and the lemon-themed village of Menton. You can even reach Saint Tropez by boat from Nice and get breathtaking views of the Mediterranean city and its pebble beaches.
If you’re traveling in the spring or summer and you have the time, you should strongly consider a trip to the Gorges du Verdon. This place, known as the Grand Canyon of Europe, is one of the most beautiful in France, in my opinion.
I kayak from up the river from the lake every summer and finish the day in the picturesque Provençal village of Moustiers Sainte Marie. If it’s June or July, even better – the surrounding fields fill with lavender blooms.
Take a Sightseeing Cruise
Nice and the French Riviera are famous for the Med – so why not get out on it? If you’re visiting in the summer season or in the months on either side of it, taking a boat excursion can be one of the best ways to enjoy Nice.
There are a number of coastal sightseeing cruises departing from Nice that allow you to see historic hamlets, cliffs and caves, and the famous Promenade des Anglais and its beaches from the sea. Snorkeling cruises are also an option, thanks to the wonderfully clear water.
Experience Nice Carnival
If you visit Nice in mid-to-late February, you won’t want to miss the Carnival. Actually, it’s unlikely you can miss it – the festivities take over the city for these two weeks each year. Carnival is a festival of events and parades that occur before Lent.
The Nice Carnival is one of the world’s oldest (going back to 1294) and major carnival events, attracting over a million visitors during those two weeks.
You’ll find many parades, events, and things to do in Nice, France, during the Carnival season. The nighttime parade theme changes each year, while the daytime Battle of Flowers parade consistently throws tens of thousands of flowers around town.
In fact, a hugely popular Nice itinerary for this time of year involves both Nice Carnival and the nearby village of Menton’s lemon festival. This sees the border town explode with decorations, performances, expositions, and all things lemon to celebrate its fruit-based heritage, and it takes place at the same time as the carnival.
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How many days do you need in Nice, France?
While you could spend many weeks in the French Riviera and still not see everything, 48 hours in Nice, France can be just enough to see the top sights of the city. However, plan for an extra few days if you want to have some quality beach time and see other towns along the coast.
Is 3 days enough to visit Nice?
Many locals from the rest of the country choose to spend a long weekend in Nice, France when they have the opportunity. Therefore, 3 days is a good amount of time to enjoy the best of the city.
What is there to do in Nice?
The capital of the French Riviera is famous for its beautiful Promenade des Anglais, the long, pebbly beaches that line it, and the quaint old town that backs it. Any Nice itinerary should include these, plus a trip up Castle Hill, one or more of the many museums, and perhaps a ride on the train to a nearby place line Monaco or Èze.
Is Nice, France expensive to visit?
The French Riviera is famous for its luxury, and it’s true that prices here can be much higher than elsewhere in Europe. However, Nice is not off-limits to budget travelers, as you can find fairly-priced accommodations in certain areas, take inexpensive public transport, and avoid the most expensive seafront restaurants.
- About the Author
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Woodrow is a travel writer who wants to do and see just about everything. He’s been to 40+ countries, all 50 US states plus Puerto Rico and the USVI, and is currently living in France and exploring Europe. Woodrow is an expert in travel hacking, finding bargain flights, and coined the term “upgrade engineering” referring to his talent to upgrade simple hotel room bookings into suite stays. Woodrow loves SCUBA diving, fishing, and all things aviation.
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