Things to know before you travel to Nice, France
Are you planning to travel to Nice and looking for some quick travel tips? Great! We wrote this post with you in mind. Rather than write another post about the top things to do in Nice, we thought we’d share a few of the things we learned instead.
The purpose of our trip to Nice was to attend the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France. We decided to make Nice our home base for one week, to avoid a lot of packing and unpacking.
During our visit to the French Riviera, we made a day trip from Nice to Monaco and an overnight in Marseille to watch a game. Because of this, we really only had a few full days to explore Nice.
We hope these Nice travel tips will help you plan your Nice vacation.
The beach is rocky. Bring water shoes.
As you can see in the photo above, the beach along the famous Promenade des Anglais is rocky. This iconic beach stretches close to 7 km in length, so you’ll be able to find a spot.
Bring water shoes, sandals, flip flops or thongs. Preferably shoes you can wear directly in the water without them easily falling off.
There is a slope from the beach to the water that makes it challenging to get out of the water . It’s actually pretty comical to watch people try to get back to beach from the water. Envision a wabbly dance with flapping arms – the opposite of graceful.
The rocks are not sharp, they’re smooth. Some people call it a pebble beach. Regardless, these stones are not easy to walk on. Avoid using bare feet.
Many shops near the beach sell inexpensive beach matts to sit on. Get one. You’ll be glad you did.
There is a small patch of sandy beach.
While most of the beaches in Nice are rocky, there is a small sandy section at Ponchettes Public Beach (Plage des Ponchettes). It’s located at the eastern end of the promenade, near Vieux Nice and Castel Hill.
If you crave the sand, head to this beach. But be warned, this beach is one of the most popular public beaches in Nice, France.
You do NOT need to rent a vehicle
Most Nice tourist attractions are located near the old town, Vieux Nice. It’s a very walkable city, with several pedestrian only streets.
Parking in the city is challenging. There are limited parking lots and finding available street parking is like winning the lottery. Renting a vehicle will create unnecessary headaches. And, you’ll likely spend most of your time walking around the city anyways.
Use the public transit system to explore the city. Grab an Uber if you have a specific place in mind (like the impressive St Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral). Take the train if you want to visit nearby cities and towns, like Monaco and/or Menton.
Take advantage of public transit when you travel to Nice.
Consider the French Riviera Pass
If you like to visit museums and tourist attractions, you might want to consider the French Riviera Pass. With your French Riviera Pass, you get free access to most of the essential sites of the Côte d’Azur.
It’s a cost-effective way to explore the top Nice attractions. Choose between 24, 48 and 72 hours.
Some of the attractions included with the pass are Massena Museum, National Museum of Natural History, Marc Chagall National Museum, Musée de la Photographie, Saint-Nicolas Cathedral, free guided tour of Le Vieux-Nice, and Nice Grand Tour open-deck bus, to name a few.
Click here to see the price of the French Riviera Pass
Take the Nice Tramway from the Airport to your HOTEL
If you’re staying at a hotel, the Nice tram is convenient and inexpensive. You can catch the tram at both Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 at Nice Côte d’Azur Airport.
Depending on when you arrive, the traffic in Nice can be quite congested. And there are lots of stop lights and one way streets, making it a slow drive for taxis and ride-shares.
View the Nice tramway stops here.
You will need to purchase a ticket at vending machines located on the tram platforms. Click the British Flag for English and follow the prompts.
If you plan to use the tram multiple times on your Nice vacation, it might make sense to get the Multi ticket. It’s 10 Euros for 10 tickets (on one card). You can use these ‘tickets’ for multiple people, just make sure you validate the ticket for each person when you get on the tram.
View an interactive Nice tramway map here.
Organize a Private Transfer if staying at an apartment rental
Yes, I am somewhat contradicting the above statement. The main difference is HOTEL vs APARTMENT.
There is a difference. Let me explain.
Hotels are much easier to find because there is a big sign on the building. While the tramway is convenient and easy to navigate, the streets of Nice are not.
There are many apartment rentals in Nice, and most are in old buildings on one way streets.
Even if you are able to find the correct street intersection, you still have to the find the correct building and apartment number. It can be confusing (and frustrating) for a first time visitor.
We stayed at an apartment using Booking.com. The apartment is a 15 minute walk west of the Old Town. After making the reservation, we received contact info from the property manager. He gave us his Whatsapp to communicate with him via text.
He also gave us the Whatsapp number to a taxi driver that he recommends. We contact the driver and give him our flight info. He was waiting at the airport gate with our name on a sign. Then, once in the taxi, the driver texts the apartment manager and lets him know we are on the way.
I cannot imagine trying to find this building and apartment number without the assistance of this friendly driver.
Fortunately, the property manager was available to greet us. Even when we were buzzed into the building, we had trouble finding the room number. It’s an old building that did not have floor or door numbers.
After a long travel day, it’s nice to not have to think. We paid about 50 euros for this private transfer; which is not cheap. But we think it’s worth it, especially with two tired kids.
Make sure you visit Vieux Nice (Nice Old Town)
Okay, so this is a no-brainer. If you travel to Nice, you must explore the cobblestone streets of the Old Town.
Did you know that Nice recently became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2021?
If you’re just starting to research the many things to do in Nice, put Vieux Nice at the top of your list. The charming Old Town is a maze of narrow streets with incredible architecture. Embrace the labyrinth and discover its many shops and cafes, but be cautious of pickpockets in crowded areas.
Stay close to Nice’s Old Town (and beach)
The Old Town is the place to be. It’s home to hundreds of restaurants, cafes, bars, shops and tourist attractions. It’s the heart of the city.
When researching where to stay in Nice, look for properties within walking distance to the Old Town. And the beach, if possible. After all, you didn’t travel to Nice to stay at a budget hotel near the airport, did you?
I’m all for saving money. Except, if it means staying far away from the action. The last thing you want to do is take public transit to and from dinner.
If you have to choose between Old Town vs Beach, I would lean towards the beach. But that depends on what you like doing and how much you like the beach.
Use the Promenade de Anglais as your compass
Nice is a very walkable city and the famous Promenade de Anglais is the easiest and most enjoyable way to get around the city. Use it as a marker to navigate the city.
Interesting fact – this celebrated promenade was originally financed by the British in the 1820s. Promenade des Anglais means ‘Walkway of the English’.
Due to its mild climate and location between the Mediterranean sea and the Alps, Nice became the winter destination for British aristocrats and upper-class families. In an effort to make Nice a more attractive winter destination for foreigners, the promenade was built.
Nice is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, listed as Winter Resort Town of the Riviera. The Promenade des Anglais is a big reason for this recognition.
History lesson aside, this promenade is a must-visit. We walked up and down this path multiple times, every day. Have a seat in one of the iconic blue chairs and enjoy the beach views.
English is spoken, but French is preferred (and appreciated)
French is the official language, obviously. And, while many locals speak English, it’s always appreciated if you try a few basic phrases. A simple “Bonjour” (hello) and “Merci” (thank you) will do.
Our boys speak French, sort of. Being in France gave them the perfect opportunity to practice their French. When locals heard them try to speak French, they instantly smiled and helped them with certain words.
Generally speaking, it’s always a good idea to practice the local language.
Get the best views of Nice at Castle Hill
The promenade starts/ends at Castle Hill, so you will inevitably find yourself here at some point. The Castle of Nice (Château de Nice) was a military citadel built in the 11th century. It offers the best views in the city.
There are several viewpoints at Castle Hill, so let your curiosity guide you. Check out the waterfalls and continue to Colline du Château Viewpoint of Port Lympia.
The view from Castle Hill is the most photographed landscape in Nice.
The main lookout point is at Bellanda Tower, picture above (on the left). The umbrellas in front of the beach are a part of Castel Plage, a popular restaurant and beach club.
There is an elevator at Castle Hill
We did not know this, so we walked up the stairs. The stairs are fine, but it was a hot and sweaty afternoon. And we didn’t have water with us, which was a mistake.
If you have mobility issues, or you just hate walking up lots of stairs, use the elevator instead.
Dinner happens after 8:00 PM
Admittedly, we are early eaters. Since having kids, our dinner time is typically between 5:30-6:30PM. Naturally, our stomachs start to rumble at this time.
As we wandered the cobblestone streets of the Old Town, we noticed many of the restaurants looked empty. Our first instinct is that the food or service is not great. Why else would this perfectly located French restaurant be empty at 5:30PM?
Don’t let this lack of guests fool you. Many of these same restaurants hit capacity by 8:00 PM. In some cases, you have to wait for over an hour to get a table.
Keep this in mind when planning dinner. If you have kids and you want to dine early, some restaurants might not be open for dinner yet. And, if you wait until later, you might not get a table at popular restaurants.
If there’s one thing we can all learn from the French, it’s how to enjoy eating and drinking. Sit back, relax, and soak up the evening atmosphere.
Only cheer for the home team in France!
The French are fanatics for football (soccer). Our boy is a mild fan of Paris Saint-German (PSG). He likes Mbappé and Messi, so he knows the name of the team. But he isn’t a real fan and I doubt he’s watched a full game from start to finish.
One evening, we visited the Old Town to watch the France Rugby World Cup game.
To our surprise, the rugby game was not televised. Instead, the Ligue 1 match between OGC Nice and PSG was on the outdoor big screens. That’s fine we us. We like to watch sports with the locals. So we found a chair and decided to watch the soccer game instead.
Sitting directly behind us was a group of five PSG fans. I’d guess they were 20 years old. Young men.
When PSG scored a goal, the out-of-town fans cheered. Within seconds, about 30 fans of the home team (pictured above) turned around and started shouting. They rushed the PSG fans and things almost got out of hand. Some of the guys almost knocked over our youngest boy as they confronted the PSG fans.
Things cooled down, briefly. But we noticed many of these young men strategically changed tables in order to surround these unwelcomed PSG fans.
We were right in the middle of it. At that point, we decided it was time to leave. Fortunately, our boy did not cheer when PSG scored!
The lesson – if you watch a soccer match in France, make sure you cheer for the home team.
Splurge and eat a French Macaron
When you travel to Nice, you must indulge in its culinary delights. And what better indulgence then the simple and elegant macaron.
There are not a cheap treat, but they are oh-so-good and worth the splurge.
Do it! You know you want to.
How cute is this little shop in Vieux Nice? I might travel to Nice just for the macarons.
Watch your step!
Some of the old streets in Nice are in poor condition. In fact, most of the streets and sidewalks are in need of repair. We expect this in the old town, but it’s common throughout the city.
Watch for uneven surfaces that can trip you. It happened to us multiple times.
Also – watch out for dog poop!
It’s everywhere. I’m sure that most people are responsible dog owners (right?!), so I’ll try not to point the finger. But beware – the streets of Nice (and Marseille) are covered with dog poop.
And there’s a lot of human urine puddles, too. Most public washrooms have a fee (1-2 euros), which pushes people to pee outside on the street (especially drunk or homeless people). Watch your step!
Take a day trip to Monaco (or Cannes, Antibes, Èze, Menton)
No trip to the French Riviera is complete without visiting the glamorous microstate of Monaco. After spending the day in Monaco, we can confirm that a day trip to Monaco is enough time to see the sites and get a feel for the city.
It’s not very big, geographically speaking, so you can see a lot in a short period of time.
If you have time, visit some of the smaller villages and towns near Nice. Antibes, Villefranches, Èze and Menton are nearby cities worth a day trip.
Italy is also a short train ride away. We ate breakfast in France, lunch in Monaco, and dinner in Italy, which is three countries in one day. The train system is efficient and convient.
Related post – Things to do in Monaco for first time visitors
Book your train tickets on the app
The above photo shows you the most hated machines in France. The train ticket vending machines. These old machines are confusing and frustrating. And there is typically only one person, if that, available to help.
To avoid waiting in the painfully slow lines, download the app and book your tickets ahead of time.
Train tickets won’t work until 30 minutes before departure time
We arrived at Gare de Nice-Ville an hour early. The gates require QR codes on your phone or tickets from the vending machine. We attempted to walk through the gates but the QR code would not work.
We were confused. And there is no human to speak with.
A friendly person could see our frustration. She informed us that we should speak into a small yellow box located beside the gates. A small camera and microphone allows you to speak with a customer service person. It’s very impersonal and, in my opinion, poorly advertised/communicated.
This is a train station, after all! Hundreds of thousands of uniformed foreigners will travel to Nice and may need assistance. And we were visiting during the rugby world cup.
We were informed that the QR codes and tickets only become active 30 minutes before departure time. That’s why it didn’t work. Sure enough, the codes did work when used at the appropriate time. Duh!
However, this was not communicated when we purchased the train tickets.
The lesson – don’t arrive at the train station too early. There is limited seating and you can’t access the passenger area until 30 minutes before departure.
Avoid the peak season, if possible.
The summer months are considered peak season for tourists (June to August). France is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world, and the French Riviera is its most popular beach vacation region.
Avoid visiting during public holidays in France because that’s when locals also visit the region.
In general, travel to Nice during the shoulder seasons in the spring (April & May) and fall (September & October) should bring less tourists and milder temperatures. However, even in slower tourist seasons, it’s still a bustling city.
Hopefully you found these Nice travel tips helpful.
We enjoyed out time in Nice and can see why it gets its reputation as a top European travel destination. If you choose to travel to Nice, we hope these simple tips help with your trip planning.
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- Things to do in Monaco for first time visitors
Are you planning to travel to Nice, France?
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