In the 19th century, Nice was seen as a holiday retreat for the European elite. Not much has changed since then, as today this seaside village in the South of France draws five million visitors each year. It’s also home to one of the country’s busiest airports, with more than 12 million passengers flying on 57 airlines from 103 destinations around the globe. Here’s what you need to know about the city that serves as the gateway to the French Riviera, and how to holiday like the jet-set crowd without having to spend a cent.
The Nice Côte d’Azur International Airport (NCE) is the main hub of the French Riviera, serving cities from Saint-Tropez to the principality of Monaco. Delta is the only airline offering a nonstop flight from the US, with fares from New York City (JFK) starting at 30,000 Delta SkyMiles for a one-way economy ticket, or 175,000 SkyMiles for a seat in Delta One or business. You can also cash in your AAdvantage miles with a connecting flight on British Airways or Air Berlin, and connect in cities like London (LHR) or Dusseldorf (DUS), with one-way seats starting at 30,000 MileSAAver miles in economy or 57,500 MileSAAver miles in business/first.
From Nice Airport, the 98 bus costs 6 euros (~$6.67) per trip, departs every 16 minutes from both terminals for the 30-minute ride to the center of town along the scenic Promenade des Anglais. Taxis typically charge around 30 euros (~$33) to get to the city center, while Uber fares start around 22 euros (~$24). The public-transportation system is also an easy way to get around Nice and its nearby villages. The tram runs through the center of the city, connecting the train station with the main square, Place Masséna, and Old Town — fares are 1.50 euros, or about $1.67, each way. From the port, the 100 bus runs along the Riviera toward Monaco and Menton, the French town bordering Italy, stopping along the way in villages like Villefranche-sur-Mer, Èze and Cap d’Ail.
Where to Stay
You’ll find more than 200 hotels in the city, a handful of which you can book with points. The 196-room, five-star Hyatt Regency Nice Palais de la Méditerranée conveniently sits along the water on the Promenade des Anglais, just a quick walk from the Old Town’s bars and restaurants. Its indoor-outdoor rooftop pool shows off sweeping views of the Mediterranean from its perch, but if you want to get closer to the beach, book a beach bed just across the promenade with the hotel’s partner beach (27 euros, or $30, for a full-day rental). Rates for a stay in July start at 296 euros (about $329) or 25,000 World of Hyatt points per night.
Further down the promenade, you’ll come cross the 331-room Radisson Blu Hotel, Nice, which features a panoramic rooftop pool and restaurant, La Terrasse, overlooking the sea, as well as a beach bar by the water. Rates start at 231 euros (about $257) or 70,000 Club Carlson points per night in July.
Marriott also has two hotels in the city: the modern AC Hotel Nice on the promenade, with a courtyard garden and rooftop pool overlooking the sea (rates from 257 euros, or $286, or 35,000 Marriott Rewards Points per night in July), and the more upscale Boscolo Exedra Nice, part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. This hotel is set closer to the train station, about a 15-minute walk from the Promenade des Anglais in the heart of the city’s luxury shopping area and near boutiques like Chanel and Sandro. Rates at the Category 8 property start at 251 euros (or $279) or 40,000 Marriott Rewards Points per night in July.
Back on the promenade, Starwood has one property, Le Méridien Nice, situated across from the Old Town. The location is its feature, since you’re easily within walking distance of most places in town and the hotel’s partner beach, Ruhl, lies just across the street. Locals also love coming up to the rooftop restaurant, La Terrasse — one of the highest along the water— for leisurely drinks on Sundays when the weather’s nice. Rates start at 256 euros (or $285) or 12,000 Starpoints per night.
What to Do
Hit the Beach
Don’t expect Caribbean sand here. Public stretches of pebble shores sit between private beach bars and restaurants, which charge for an umbrella and beach bed. The Radisson Blu Hôtel Nice has its own private beach, Régence Plage, open from April to October, and charges 14 euros (or $16) for the day if you’re a hotel guest, or 18 euros (about $20) for non-guests. A new favorite just one town over is Les Bains Déli Bo in Villefranche-sur-Mer, a 90-bed private beach complete with a seaside bistro that’s an outpost of the original restaurant in Nice. Beds here are 20 euros (or $22) for the day.
Lunch Like a Local
From 12:00pm to 2:00pm, the city shuts down for the traditional “pause,” or lunch (it’s basically the French version of siesta). Linger over a long lunch — preferably on a sunny terrace — and don’t be afraid to order a bottle of rosé to go along with it. In the Old Town, Olive et Artichaut serves up market-fresh fare in gastronomic style with dishes like risotto with artichoke and cream of truffle. For something a bit lighter, stop by the family-run Café Marché, tucked behind the Cours Saleya market. Dishes change daily depending on what the sisters running the place come across at the market. Expect a mix of organic fare like homemade carrot soup with turmeric and spring salad with fresh, local goat cheese, black radish and beetroot.
Indulge in Apéro
In Italy, evenings kick off with aperitivo, and the French have a similar sort of pre-dinner drinking ritual dubbed apéro. Around 6:00pm, head to any one of the terraces lining Place Garibaldi or trendy Rue Bonaparte, such as Comptoir Central Électrique or Le Dandy, for a glass of wine and a spread of light bites — for a real treat, try the local specialty, pissaladière, an onion tart.
Soak Up Some Culture
The French Riviera is home to more than 100 museums, 12 of which honor a sole artist. In the hilltop neighborhood of Cimiez, a 17th-century villa houses the Matisse Museum (free to the public), showcasing the work of the artist who lived in Nice for nearly 27 years. This summer, the museum will restructure the collection, emphasizing Matisse’s link to Nice, and feature a series of work by Matisse’s friends and masters, such as Georges Rouault. Nearby, you’ll also find the Musée Marc Chagall (8 euros or ~$9), with blue stained-glass windows designed by the artist himself. The museum features more than 250 pieces from 1903 to 1985, including Chagall’s 1931 Bible paintings.
For more ways to spend your time in the South of France, check out these posts:
What are some of your favorite things to see and do in Nice? Share with us in the comments below.
Featured image of the Côte d’Azur from Eze Village courtesy of CRT Riviera Côte d’Azur/Jessye Autard via Getty Images.