Visiting Nice & Villefranche
Called Nice La Belle (“Nice the beautiful”), the capital of the French Riviera has long been famous for the beauty of its old town, markets, beaches, and Castle Hill, which affords stunning views of the entire city.
Nice is a great city to discover on foot, as most of the main points of interest are very close.
Visiting the City of Nice
As the second-largest city of Provence after Marseille, Nice is both chic and popular, festive and dynamic, and boasts a diverse and young population. To visit Nice is to discover the historical, multicultural and gastronomic center of the Riviera.
On the program: stroll through the streets of the old town, discover the bluest sea of the legendary Promenade des Anglais, taste many local specialties, and admire the most beautiful views of the Bay of Angels.
A Day in Nice: What to Do and See.
1. Free walking tour Nice
Take the Villa Hostels guided walking tour to get a free and entertaining introduction to Nice and its history. You’ll discover the hidden sites and monuments among the winding streets of the Old Town, and learn about the history of the city, stories both well-known and secret. Visiting the Place Massena, the opera house, the Cours Salaye market, Castle Hill, and many other sites, you’ll get a feel for all that Nice has to offer.
It’s a great way to meet other travelers staying at the hostel and a good introduction to the city itself. Ask at the hostel for more details.
2. Promenade des Anglais
The “Promenade des Anglais” runs the entire length of Nice’s beaches, from the old town past the airport. It’s a beautiful walk along the Promenade, and you can stop at any beach that piques your interest. The Promenade is also lined with restaurants and cafés with terraces to stop for a coffee and croissant and enjoy the view. It’s great for people-watching, as the Promenade is a popular spot for joggers, cyclists, locals, and tourists.
You can also check out the famous hotels along the Promenade like the Negresco and the Palais de la Méditerranée, a 5-star luxury hotel in Art Deco style.
At the southern point of the city, at the end of the Promenade des Anglais and next to the port, is a large hill that overlooks the old town and port, which was originally the site of the castle which protected the city. You can climb to the stop by stairs, which takes 5 – 10 minutes, with different look-out points along the way. Alternatively, a free elevator will also take you to the top.
The rocky hill once hosted a fortified citadel, of which today you can see only some ruins. It’s a beautiful, wooded park, perfect for a picnic with the most stunning views of Nice and the Mediterranean and port. The top of the hill boasts a famous waterfall that looks out over the city – an absolute must for Instagram photos!
4. The Old Town of Nice
Old Nice looks like a small village from the middle ages: a labyrinth of cobblestone streets and wide-open city squares. Building facades run from pale yellow to rich ocher and red with brightly colored shutters which help bring to life the winding alleyways. Many of the buildings are centuries old. Wander through the maze of narrow streets to find the best French products: craft shops, small food vendors and restaurants, and chic clothing stores, plus innumerable cafés, gelato shops, wine bars, and souvenir shops.
After doing some shopping, be sure to stop at Place Rossetti, a well-known city square with restaurants and cafés, a famous gelato shop (Fenocchio), and the cathedral Sainte Réparate, whose namesake is the patron saint of Nice.
5. The Cours Saleya Fruit & Flower Market
This pedestrian street is known for a lively food and flower market. You’ll find fruits and vegetables from the region, but also prepared specialties like Socca, Pan Bagnat et Pissaladière, and local products like olive oil, spices, tapenade, and anchoïade.
The market takes place every day except Monday, where an antique market takes place. We love the market for its dynamic atmosphere, bustling crowds, and discussions in French, English, Italian, and Nissart – the local dialect.
6. La promenade du Paillon
The Promenade du Paillon also called the Coulée Verte or green splash is a beautiful new central park of 12 hectares in the heart of Nice that separates the old town from the new city, following the route of the now subterranean river Paillon. It begins at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MAMAC), passes by Place Masséna and ends at the Théatre de Verdure next to the Promenade des Anglais.
The park is a favorite spot for locals and tourists to rest and enjoy the greenery. There are many facilities for children, shaded areas and green walking trails, and a large fountain space that draws crowds in the summer. In the winter, the Christmas market and Ferris wheel grace this area and make for beautiful views and photos.
7. Matisse museum
Easily accessible by bus and on foot in the beautiful Cimiez district, the Matisse Museum is housed in a beautiful 17th-century Genoese villa, located in the heart of a grove of olive trees, some of which are over 1000 years old. The museum is dedicated to the works of Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954), who lived in Nice from 1917 until his death in 1954, and is a must-see if you love art. You will have access to nearly 70 paintings, 200 drawings, engravings, sculptures, illustrated books, photographs, and paraphernalia of the artist.
8. Russian orthodox cathedral
Classified as a Historical Monument, the Russian orthodox cathedral is located close to the train station. Your visit will transport you to another era: that of Tsars on the Red Square of Moscow. The St. Nicholas Cathedral is one of the most important Russian Orthodox buildings outside of Russia. The interior is adorned with blue wall paintings and iconography of the Orthodox religion.
Villefranche Sur Mer
Villefranche is a charming fishing village protected by a 17th-century castle and set in a stunning little bay 15 minutes along the coast from Nice. It’s the perfect place to relax at the end of the day, or for an early morning trip to the beach and a visit to the old town and market.
The beach overlooks one of the most beautiful harbors in the world, full of little fishing boats whose white bows contrast with the gold and red buildings of the town. On the promenade above the beach, you’ll find one of the best Pan Bagnat restaurants, a typical sandwich of this region, at the restaurant Nicette. The straight station is just next to the beach, and you can also reach Villefranche by bus (81 from the end of the Parc du Paillon).
Local Guide Tips
- Take the Villa’s own guided walking tour to get a free in depth introduction to Nice and its history. Ask at the hostel for more details.
- Walk along the Promenade des Anglais and enjoy the views of the Bay of Angels which stretches 5 km towards the airport.
- Head into the fruit and flower market, the largest in France, to see the hustle and bustle of the local culture.
- Stroll around the mazy streets of the old town where you’ll find baroque churches, boutique shops, quaint cafés and many restaurants. Try the local snacks like Socca at Lou Pilha Leva snack bar in old Nice.
- Visit the Parc de Chateau from where you get incredible birds eye views over the city and the arc of the Bay of Angels, curving away in the distance towards the airport.
- Head to the old port area and take a guided boat trip to see the Bay of Angels and Villefranche from a different perspective. For more information see the website: http://www.trans-cote-azur.co.uk/departing-nice/coastal-tour-boat-cap-nice-villefranche-bay
- Jump on the bus 100 from the port and go visit the picturesque harbour village of Villefranche, only 15 minutes from Nice.