Who hasn’t dreamt of going to Nice, the capital of the French Riviera? Apparently everyone, especially in summer. Every year, thousands of tourists flock to Nice’s famed beaches. So what to do if you want to visit Nice but can’t take the heat and the people? You go to Nice in winter, when the weather is splendid, and there are far fewer tourists! That’s exactly what we did and had a blast! Nice is a fairly big city, so the local population keeps it up and running all year round. That’s why there are tones of things to do in Nice in winter. The following are our favorite. We are sure you will be able to enjoy the best that Nice and France have to offer under the Mediterranean winter sun!
Why Visit Nice in Winter
- 1 Why Visit Nice in Winter
- 2 Things to Do in Nice in Winter
- 2.1 Stroll Along the Promenade des Anglais
- 2.2 Discover the Promenade Du Pailon
- 2.3 Get Lost in the Old Town
- 2.4 Admire Art at a Museum
- 2.5 Discover Saint Jean Cap Ferrat
- 2.6 Admire an Opulent Mansion
- 2.7 People Watch in Downtown Nice
- 2.8 Relax by the Quartier du Port
- 2.9 Climb the Castle Hill
- 2.10 Think Outside of a Box, in a Box
- 3 Day Trips From Nice
- 4 Where to Stay in Nice
- 5 Moving Around Nice
- 6 Nothing Beats the Mediterranean in Winter!
Considering its latitude, the weather in Nice in winter is one of the nicest in the Mediterranean. The average low temperatures are around 6degrees C at night and 11 degrees C during the day. However, temperatures do go up to 14 degrees C most days. What’s more, the city enjoys over 300 sunny days a year! Hence, you will be able to enjoy warm sunny days and crisp nights. In fact, going to Nice in winter has been a tradition of the rich and famous for over a century. In particular, the British aristocracy would visit until April.
For those of us commoners, another reason to visit Nice and France in winter is its lower prices. Some 11 million people visit the city each year. However, tourism in Nice is highly seasonal. Between 50000 to 600000 visit Nice each day. The highest number of course in August, while the lowest in January. Therefore, with occupancy rates of less than 50%, prices are great! An additional perk is the vibe. As you can imagine, locals are much more relaxed when they don’t have to put up with the demands of the flocks of tourists. We found the atmosphere in town to be like a village, relaxed and quaint.
Things to Do in Nice in Winter
Stroll Along the Promenade des Anglais
The Promenade des Anglais is the place to see and be seen in Nice. Everyone comes here to take a walk. We are talking about some 8 kilometers to walk around the Bay of Angels, dotted with palms and pergolas. The first promenade came to be in the 1820s. Its name comes from the British aristocrats that inaugurated the first stretch. Locals told us that you can’t enjoy it in summer. It gets that crowded. Quite a different story in winter. Begin your walk at the marina Port Nice Carras, and walk all the way to the Monument Aux Morts. You will have splendid palaces to admire to your left, and the blue Mediterranean to your right.
Discover the Promenade Du Pailon
A favorite of local residents, the Promenade Du Pailon is a 12 hectare (30 acres) park in the middle of Nice. The park opened in 2013 and has 1600 trees, 6000 shrubs, and 50000 perennials from all continents. But that’s not all. There is a beautiful 3,000 m2 water mirror equipped with 128 jets and a fog plateau, and a 1400 m2 area with 980 atomizers that will envelop you! Begin your walk at the Albert I garden next to the Centenary Beach (Plage du Centenaire). You will go past Massena Square, the Fountain of the Sun to your right. Finish your walk at the National Theater of Nice.
Get Lost in the Old Town
Nice’s Old Town (Vieux Nice for the locals) remains unchanged since the 1700s. It’s the area north of the Albert I garden, east of the Promenade Du Pailon, and south of the Colline du Chateau, the hill presiding over Nice. Get lost amongst its narrow cobbled streets in search of old textile and soap shops. The Old Town’s life is center on three markets: food, flowers, and flea markets, all along Cours Saleya. We almost forgot to mention the fish market on Place St-François. Regarding temples and palaces, the nicest are the baroque Sainte Reparate Cathedral, the 17th Century Palais Lascaris, and the 16th century Chapel of Mercy.
Admire Art at a Museum
With 19 museums and art galleries, Nice has the highest concentration of museums in France after Paris. We recommend visiting at least three. The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Nice has an impressive collection of 1300 works by 300 different artists. We loved Yves Klein and his monochrome blue, and the fantastic sculptures of Niki de Saint Phalle. The next one you have to see is Palais Massena. The building is one of the grandest palaces in Nice. Wait till you go inside, it’s all marble! The Museum tells the story of the city from Napoleon to the mid 20th Century. Marc Chagall himself overlooked the development of his museum on Avenue Dr. Ménard. The museum opened in 1973 and holds an impressive collection of Chagall works, including his gouache Bible paintings.
Discover Saint Jean Cap Ferrat
The Saint-Jean Cap Ferrat is Nice’s most exclusive suburb. Actually, it’s been amongst the world’s most sought after real estate for centuries. We are talking about a cape to the north of Nice peppered with the most fantastic mansions. Most are belle époque mansions, set in luscious gardens. We loved the fact that you can walk along a pedestrian pathway. Begin your walk at Promenade Maurice Rouvier, continue along Plage du Talon and Plage Crois dei Pin. You will get to the Port de Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, where you can sip coffee admiring the views. From there, you can go to the Lighthouse museum and explore the western side of the cape. The views over Nice are unforgettable.
Admire an Opulent Mansion
One of the world’s richest families built their Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in the heart of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. The house is truly stunning. Let’s just say that the Rothschilds had no shame in showcasing their wealth. The gardens are fantastic too. In fact, they are amongst the nicest in the whole of France. We are talking about a collection of plants from all over the world. Take your time and walk admiring the views of the city. To get there, you can walk along Avenue Denis Semeria, or take bus 81 from Place Garibaldi. Since the bus takes you along the coast, it’s a lovely ride.
People Watch in Downtown Nice
Nice’s main commercial area is around Boulevard Victor Hugo. All sorts of shops, restaurants, bars, and hotels line the boulevard. Begin your walk at Boulevard Gambetta, where the Alsace and Lorraine Park is. A couple of blocks north, you will find Nice’s Protestant Church to your right. From there, its two blocks to one of the city’s most spectacular palaces: The Boscolo Hotel. One more block and you’ll reach Av. Jean Medecin, a pedestrian street. Turn left and walk all the way to the train station. On your left is Le Grand Café de Lyon and its lovely terrace. Return on the same avenue. Just before reaching Massena Square, you will find Gallerie Lafayette on your left. Of course, you shouldn’t miss the epicenter of Downtown Nice: Place Garibaldi.
Relax by the Quartier du Port
Between Chateau Hill and Saint-Jean Cap-Ferrat lies Nice’s Quartier du Port neighborhood. You can access the port from Garibaldi Square walking along Rue Cassini that will take you to the Quai Cassini. Once on the quay don’t forget to enter the 19th Century Notre Dame du Port Church. Walk all around Port du Nice Lympia admiring the yachts and boats. As you can imagine, some of the best seafood restaurants in town are in the port. Rue Bonaparte is interesting too. Take note that once you leave the quay, the neighborhood has more of a local feel. Once Rue Bonaparte ends, loop around Place Max Barel and continue for a couple of blocks on Corniche Andre de Joly until you reach the Park Castel des Deux Rois.
Climb the Castle Hill
The beauty that presides over the city is Chateau-Castle Hill, to the north of Nice. The first ones to live on the hill were no other than ancient Greeks, some 500 years before Christ. It’s obvious why they chose the hill: the unbeatable location and its unbelievable freshwater spring. In fact, the hill’s original name was Nike (victory). From there, it is a short step to Nice. In the 11th Century, the castle and fortress on the top of the hill were the biggest throughout the Mediterranean. After conquering the city, King Louis XIV had the castle completely dismantled. Many of the stones on Boulevard Des Anglais come from the fortress. The Germans occupied the hill during World War II and built what is now the lift. Don’t rush and admire both the rich flora and the views. Sunsets from the waterfall are unforgettable.
Think Outside of a Box, in a Box
There’s no way you are going to miss the La Tête Carrée Library. It’s the huge head in a block on the corner of the Promenade des Arts, overlooking the park in front of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Nice. French artist Sacha Sosno designed both the library and the park. We are talking about a 26-meter high building that is at the same time a sculpture. Within the face in the block, you will find 4 floors of offices and 3 floors of books. Take your time and walk about the paths that crisscross the park. Different sculptures, albeit smaller ones, can be found amongst the bushes and flower beds.
Day Trips From Nice
The land of princes, actresses, casinos, money laundering, Monaco is just a step away from Nice. Anyone with a shady past, from dictators to corrupt CEOs, has been able to live large in Monaco for centuries. There are countless trains leaving for Monaco from Gare de Nice Ville station in central nice. The journey lasts less than an hour. Though you can go spend the day and come back (the city is that small), spending the night in Monaco in winter is a great idea. Most tourists go for the day, so evenings and nights in Monaco are perfect.
Sanremo is to Italy what Nice is to France. The city has been hosting its world-famous music festival for 69 years! It probably gets very crowded the 4 days in early February when the festival takes place, so be sure to verify availability. To get to Sanremo, take the train from Gare de Nice Ville. There are trains almost every half hour and the journey lasts between 1.5 to 2 hours. Once in Sanremo, all you have to do is enjoy the Italian way of life. Walk along the promenade, have coffee and people-watch along Via Giacomo Matteotti and Via Pallazzo. Don’t miss the Santuario della Madonna della Costa nor the Casino di Sanremo. We spent a night at the Grand Hotel & des Anglais and had a fantastic time.
Where to Stay in Nice
Nice has the best quality of accommodation in France after Paris. There is literally a hotel for everyone. We stayed at the Hotel Royal Riviera and loved it. The hotel is a grand building at the entrance of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat, just a step away from downtown nice. Be sure to ask for a room with sea views. Next to the Riviera is the Hôtel Vacances Bleues Delcloy. Their garden is truly something else, with a big pool and fantastic views. They have pretty comfortable apartments, ideal for families. To stay downtown, book a room at the Westminster Hotel & Spa on the Promenade des Anglais. The building is beautiful and they feature a full size spa. Now, why don’t you pamper yourself a bit more and stay at the Hotel Negresco, arguably the grandest hotel in Nice (on the Promenade des Anglais). Even if you don’t spend the night there, go for a drink at the bar.
Moving Around Nice
Public transport connects Nice to the Riviera coast and the alpine districts. The train that runs along the coast goes all the way to Italy (including Monaco to the north, and Cannes to the south). Tickets are inexpensive and trains run pretty frequently from early in the morning till late at night. We took it to go from our hotel to downtown. The views from the train are fantastic. Buses are a great option too. Bus line 86 goes along 5 kilometers along the coast to Villefranche Sur Mer. It’s a lovely trip. Within Nice all you have to do is walk. That said, there is a very convenient tram that goes from the airport to the center.
Nothing Beats the Mediterranean in Winter!
As you know, we love the Mediterranean. That’s why we live in between Barcelona and Athens. What’s more, we always try to escape to other warm places in Europe in winter. While everybody is freezing in Europe, we get sun almost every day, warm days, and crips evenings. What we don’t get is masses of tourists! That’s why, from December till March we do a couple of trips around the sea. We’ve been to Malta, Mallorca, Santorini and Sicily in winter and had a blast. What could be better than enjoying these outrageously beautiful places without people?