If I could live in one place for the rest of my life, Nice would be one of my top choices. It’s a friendly beach town with a “French city” feel the more you walk towards downtown and away from the beach. The climate is always pleasantly warm, with the exceptions of hot days in the upper 90s during the peak of summer. The train is very easy to use, and you can be in any coastal town around Nice within 20 minutes.
Where to Stay
I followed the recommendation of my favorite travel guru Rick Steves and stayed at Hotel Les Cigales. It has all the basic amenities, but honestly if you’re that close to the French Riviera, why would you need to spend time in your hotel room? The front desk was very helpful in recommending places to go, giving directions, and even tracking down a cab driver when a cell phone got left in it (which was a lifesaver!). It’s between the beach and the train station, taking about 10 minutes either way.
If this is a luxury vacation, you’ll want to stay right on the water. You can’t beat looking at the Mediterranean Sea every morning, after all! Book a room with a view at the Hyatt Regency Nice Palais de la Mediterranee. Even if you don’t stay here, at least go for a beautiful lunch.
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While there are a ton of activities you can do, here are my top five recommendations:
Swim in the Mediterranean
This was the first time I’d ever been in the Sea, and I was so excited. The water felt satisfyingly warm and was so clear. I was in awe at how blue the water looked down the beach. I was certain all the pictures I had seen before were Photoshopped until I went there for myself.
A few tips I learned:
- Buy “beach shoes,” as the beaches have nothing but rocks. I didn’t even think to research this when I was dreaming of laying on the beaches of Nice. The rocks are very shiny and smooth, but don’t feel good on your feet (trust me, I tried to get away with not buying shoes). It’s also really hard to walk up the rocks out of the water to the flat part when your toes are slipping and can’t grasp anything. I might as well had “tourist” stamped on my forehead as I kept falling down every time I came back out of the water.
- Stop at one of the local tourist stores along the promenade and pick up a cheap floaty to go in the water with. This was one of the most relaxing activities I’ve ever done in my life, and you don’t have to worry about being knocked over in the water. Give it to a local child or other tourists when you’re done if you don’t have room to pack it in your suitcase.
- If you’re going in the summer, reapply sunscreen constantly throughout the day and drink lots of water! I tan pretty easily and already had somewhat of a tan going, so I thought putting on sunscreen twice in the day was more than enough. Going to Paris for the next part of my trip looking like a lobster wasn’t fun. It’s most likely stronger than what you’re used to. Also, buy several jugs of water to bring with you to the beach, and make sure you drink plenty when you get back to your hotel room, especially if you’re consuming any alcohol during the day.
I was astounded by how many cute shops there were on almost every street. There’s also a giant mall if you need your fix of chain stores or Starbucks (don’t do it – you’re in France!). A tram runs through the main area of shopping from the train station to the beach if you feel like hopping on and off when you see shops you like. There are many local, family-run stores, which I always like supporting. Plus, it’s fun to come home to your friends and when they ask where you got those cute shorts, you can say “at a boutique in Nice.” This area also has some of the few chain restaurants I saw like McDonalds and Subway if you’re getting sick of reading the menus in French at local restaurants.
Rent a Chair At A Private Beach
Yes, this sounds pricey, but if you plan on being at the beach all day this is more than worth it. This was easily one of the best days of my life. Hotels often have a discount with one of the beaches (or “plage” in French), so it’s worth it to check with the front desk before you head out.
For around 25 euros, you get a lounge chair with a cushion on top, a towel, a giant umbrella next to your chair, and servers coming around all day to provide you with food or drinks should you wish to order. I’m a huge sun lover, but trust me on this, you’ll eventually have too much sun and appreciate that umbrella and lounge chair you paid for.
Another tip: leave your towel on your chair. You’ll be able to leave the beach to save money on getting lunch at somewhere cheaper, or even back to your hotel room if needed. As long as your towel is there, that chair is yours for the day! Just make sure you adhere to the beach tips I gave above.
Old Nice (aka “Vielle Ville”or “Old Town”)
The vibe of Old Nice felt different from the section of town right on the water, and that was a good thing. There is a huge section in the middle with tons of outdoor restaurants with anything from pizza to seafood. Due to the location of Nice, there’s a lot of options as far as fresh seafood goes.
Off the recommendation of a family member, I stopped at Le Festival de la Moule, supposedly the place for the best mussels in southern France. I don’t particularly like mussels, but when in Nice… I ended up choosing a spicy salsa combination, which was surprisingly delicious. They have almost every variety of sauces you can think of for mussels, so even if you’re picky you’ll be able to choose something.
Last but not least…gelato! Every evening stroll ended with two scoops of gelato at Fenocchio, my top choice for gelato in Nice. It was always insanely packed and you literally had to push your way to the front to shout your order. This was also the time to practice your French, as they don’t speak English back to you (at least none of the workers I encountered did). I don’t have any pictures unfortunately because I ate my gelato too fast every night, but trust me when I say this is the place to go. They had about 30-40 different flavors to choose from, so you’re sure to walk away satisfied.
Walk Along the Promenade
Make sure to bring your euros while you’re here because you will want to buy everything. As the morning goes on, the promenade gets full of local vendors selling everything from sunglasses to jewelry to sketches they will draw of you. I had way too much fun during the day at the beach and have a lack of pictures due to this, unfortunately, but did capture some at night. The above pictures were taken at about 11 PM at night, and you can see how people are still on the beach and out on the promenade. The street performers come out at night, and I saw some impromptu karaoke, break dancing, and even mimes performing (not my favorite!).
What’s the best beach vacation you’ve ever had?
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