One of the oldest human settlements in Europe, Nice boasts a long and varied history. It’s been fought over for centuries, changing empires and allegiances many times—and it’s easy to see the attraction. This jewel of the French Riviera has served as cosmopolitan vacation playground of the rich for more than 100 years yet has still managed to retain its Old World charm and natural beauty.
Only part of France since 1860, Nice long had much closer ties to neighboring Italy than to Paris. This legacy is clearly apparent in its architecture and the niçoise cuisine, which takes full advantage of the produce and seafood of the Mediterranean. The local language of Nissart is much closer to Italian than French, too, although it has largely been erased by efforts to unify the French nation.
While well-known as a haven for the rich, Nice offers plenty for travelers of any budget. In fact, most of the attractions that have beckoned travelers for centuries sit out in the open air and near-constant sunshine for everyone to enjoy. From the fragrant and colorful flower and food market each day at Cours Saleya to the iconic beachside Promenade Anglais with its decadent hotels, to the hundreds of boutiques and antique shops scattered throughout Vieux Nice (the old city), one could easily spend days just window shopping and wandering the narrow streets.
|Clearly, this was the attraction for Matisse, Picasso and Chagall, just to name a few of the great artists who made Nice their winter—and often permanent—home. Thanks to their legacy, today Nice boasts some of the finest art museums in the world, and most are free to visit. Also free are the Roman ruins and museum in Cimiez just up the hill from Vieux Nice, not to mention the breathtaking views on the way.
For the ultimate joie de vivre experience, buy some bread and cheese at the Cours Saleya farmers market and head to the beach for an impromptu picnic, or enjoy the absolute best view in town following the locals up the steps to the top of Colline du Chateau, a clifftop park at the ruins of an ancient fort. (Take the elevator for just €1.20, approx. $1.50). It’s no wonder that Nice is the second-most-visited city in France.