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Discover the treasures of the jewel of the French Riveria with these best free things to do in Nice in one day.
Bonjour Nice La Belle! With your clear air, soft Mediterranean light, beachfront promenade and seductive Italianate old quarter, your status as one of France’s top tourist destinations is secure.
However, your beauty and glamour can come with a price tag to match.
But here’s the good news. Visitors can enjoy your attractions without spending a single euro.
So don that sunhat and those sunglasses, and an air of sophistication, and let’s explore five fantastic free things to do in Nice in one day.
Where is Nice located?
Nice is situated on the French Riviera, around 30 km from the border of France and Italy, and 13 km from Monaco. After Marseille, it is the largest city on the French Mediterranean coast and in the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.
As well as being a destination in its own right, Nice makes a great base for visiting western Provence by rail or road.
How to get to Nice
Nice is well served by air, road and rail links. Nice airport is 7km from the city centre.
It is also a popular stop for Mediterranean cruises.
How to get around Nice
As many places of interest in Nice are relatively close together, it is easy to walk between them.
However, if you want to travel further afield, or your accommodation is not central, Nice’s integrated bus and tram system is your best bet. A ticket for a single journey, called a SOLO, will cost you €1.50 (October 2020 price); other ticket types are available, including a one day pass.
A single ticket allows you to change between buses and trams as long as you complete your journey within 74 minutes. (but not valid for a return journey). You can buy your ticket from the bus driver or at the vending machine at the tram stop.
Is one day in Nice enough?
Frankly, you could easily spend a week exploring Nice, soaking up the sun on its 7km long beach and taking day trips to nearby towns and to Monaco.
However, if you have just a day in Nice, this is enough time to take in the city’s highlights and to get a sense of its old-style glamour.
The best free things to do in Nice, France
To make the most of your day in Nice, here is my pick of things to do there. And best of these are all free things to do in Nice!
To help you get around, use this map to help you to navigate between Nice’s most important tourist attractions.
Free things to do in Nice, France: map (click on image for interactive map)
Wander around the old town (La Vielle Ville)
With its warren of pedestrianised alleys crammed with local shops, galleries, restaurants and boutiques, the old town is enchanting. The best thing that you can do is to simply wander without an agenda.
Not too shabby for the first of our free things to do in Nice!
A good starting point is the food and flower market in Cours Saleya and then head down one of the streets leading away from this square.
There’s no chance that you will get lost.
The old city does not cover a large area and you will always find your way back to the seafront or one of the main squares. If you are not pressed for time, explore as many of the streets as you can.
The old town’s Italianate architecture is no accident.
Nice has only been part of France since the Treaty of Turin was signed in 1860, when Italy ceded the city to repay French assistance in their defence against the Austrians. All street names are in French and Nissart, the local dialect of Nice and Monaco.
Visit the Cathedrale Sainte-Reparate
The religious heart of Nice, the Cathedrale Sainte-Reparate, was completed in 1699 and is in Place Rosetti in the Old Town. Its cupola, clad in brightly coloured tiles, is a city landmark. Inside, it is in-your-face grandiose baroque with ten ornate chapels dedicated to different saints.
But who was Saint Reparte?
She was a 15-year-old girl who lived in Palestine in the third century. Condemned to be burnt alive for her religious beliefs, she was saved by the rain only to be beheaded. It is said that her soul turned into a dove and flew away.
Her mortal remains were placed in a boat which was blown by angels’ breath across the sea to arrive in Nice. This is how the Baie des Anges (Angel Bay) gets its name.
Climb up to Castle Hill (Colline du Chateau)
Dominating the eastern side of the old town of Nice, Castle Hill is a bit of a misnomer.
The original Chateau de Nice has long since crumbled away, and what you are left with is a park area at the hill’s summit. At 92 meters above sea level, there are sweeping panoramic views of the old town and Promenade des Anglais to the west, and Nice Port to the east.
To get there, it’s an easy climb along 200 or so steps, passing an artificial waterfall (Cascade Dijon) to reach the hilltop plateau. There is also a free lift that will take you most of the way. But where’s the fun in that?
Watch the world go by in Place Masséna
One of the best free things to do in Nice – or in most cities, come to that – is to watch the world go by. At the heart of Nice, adjoining both the old town and the beach, Place Masséna is where it’s happening.
With its sublime Sun Fountain, red terraced buildings and black and white marble mosaic floor, it is a great arena for people watching from the terrace of one of its many restaurants or cafes.
Or if you are in the mood for a spot of window shopping, check out the stores along Jean Médecin Avenue, which bisects Place Masséna and is Nice’s main shopping street.
Take a stroll along the Promenade des Anglais
Built in the 1820s and running the length of the Baie des Anges (the Bay of Angels), the Promenade des Anglais is Nice’s main artery.
Couples stroll hand in hand. Joggers pound its 7km length. Rollerbladers and skateboarders weave through families taking in the sea air.
If active pursuits aren’t your thing, take a seat on one of the iconic chaises blueus (blue chairs) under the shade of a pergola or palm tree. Or admire the public art, including a mini Statue of Liberty.
Unless you choose to have a drink at one of the many cafes lining the beachfront, it won’t cost you a cent.
Relaxing on one of Nice’s public beaches is also free.
But a word of warning; Nice does not have the Med’s best beach. It is pebbly – not much sand here folks – which makes lounging and getting in and out of the sea uncomfortable.
A thick mat to lie on and water shoes are in order here. Also in the summer months, the beach can be rammed with locals and visitors alike.
If you more than one day in Nice…
If you have more than one day in Nice, why not visit Monaco?
The train service is frequent and the journey takes as little as 14 minutes. The scenery en-route is spectacular and it’s easy to explore in half a day.
Cannes is also an easy day trip from Nice.
Alternatively, if museums are more of your things, Nice has a great selection.
Museums to visit in Nice
164, avenue des Arènes de Cimiez 06000 Nice. Open daily except for Tuesdays.
36, avenue Docteur Ménard – 06000 Nice. Open daily except for Tuesdays.
Place Yves Klein 06364 Nice. Open daily except for Mondays.
33 Avenue des Baumettes, 06000 Nice. Open daily except for Mondays.
Check individual websites for opening times and ticket prices.
Where to stay in Nice
If you decide to spend more than one day in NIce – and I recommend that you do! – as befits a city of its size, there are wide selection of places to stay to accommodate all budgets.
I hope that this guide helps you to enjoy the best free things to do in Nice in one day. It’s a lovely city with lots to see and do, and it can be a city break that doesn’t have to break the bank. Let me know how you get on by sharing your thoughts below.
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