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The moment you step onto the Promenade des Anglais and witness the vista of aquamarine sea, white foam, striped umbrellas, and the surrounding leafy green hills, you will immediately understand the appeal Nice has had for centuries. Yes, there are the charming, winding narrow streets of the Old Town and the boutiques, the daily markets, and patisserie—but the view from the boardwalk of Nice is a spectacle to behold.
During these tough economic times, a lot of travelers might think that Nice is beyond their budget, a place reserved for movie stars (it was, once). Thankfully, this is not the case. All you have to do is know where to go. Besides, the beauty of Nice is positively free. Here is a short guide for your frugal, but fantastic, trip to Nice, the gem of the Riviera.
What to Do in Nice
If it’s beautiful outside, which is likely as Nice gets 300 days of sun a year, pack a picnic of bread, cheese, salami, and wine, and climb up the Colline du Château, which you can access from the east end of the Promenade. It is a good walk up to the top to the “Nietzche terrace” where you can look down to the harbor. On the other side of the hill you can see the splendid view of the entire town and the tranquil sea below.
Because this is France, the museums are exceptional. You can visit the Musée National Message Biblique Marc-Chagall for 6.50 euro (4.50€ for 18-25 year olds). On Sundays the museum is free. Here you can see 450 works by the famous Russian artist, who lived on the Riviera for years. Also nearby is the not-to-be-missed Musée Matisse . You’ll see his well-known Blue Nude IV, along with many of his other works, most of which were completed in Nice. The cost of admission is 4 euro, 2.50€ for students, and free for children under 18. And for a taste of pop art and more, pay a visit to the impressive Musée d’Art moderne et d’Art Contemporain. The museum features the works of both contemporary French and American artists, from the 60s to today, from Yves Klein to Andy Warhol. The building itself is an architectural marvel (see photo). The price is only 4 euro, 2.50 for students, and free for children under 18.
Because it will most likely be a lovely day, don’t miss the outdoor markets along Cours Saleya, near the Quai des Etats Unis. These markets are continually changing—on Tuesdays through Sunday you can buy fruits and vegetables (only in the mornings) and flowers (all day except only on Sunday mornings). On Mondays, stroll through the fabulous second-hand market, where you can browse for antique furniture, dishes, hats, books, paintings, and more. Several cafes line this thoroughfare, so you can take a break with a coffee and a croissant before heading off for your next adventure.
Nearby the Cours Saleya is the Place Massena, a grand pedestrian walkway in town that has at its center the famous Fountaine du Soleil. From here you can head to Avenue Jean Médecin and window shop at the boutiques and inside the Galerie Lafayette, a large shopping center.
If you’re outside and it’s noon, you will probably hear the cannon go off. Every day at precisely noon, a cannon is fired over Nice. The tradition goes back to 1860, when Sir Thomas Coventry, a British colonel, had the town of Nice fire the cannon as a signal to his wife to start preparing lunch. It is now a nice reminder for the people of Nice to take a break and eat!
Budget Eats in Nice
If you’re not careful, you could walk into a café and spend 12 euro on two cappuccinos and two croissants. But that won’t be necessary, because you will be staying at a hotel that offers breakfast for a small charge (see my suggested list of hotels below). But for lunch and dinner, here are a few recommendations.
For lunch, you can always take a picnic or try one of the many outdoor “fast food” restaurants in the Old Town (for instance, a burger, fries, and a beer for 12€). Also a must-try is the very Niçois “socca”—a snack made of chickpea flour and olive oil. It’s delicious! You’ll see spots selling these throughout the city.
But if you want to experience very good food without breaking your budget, try the fantastic La Luna Rossa (3, Rue Chauvin), which has a menu that combines the best of Italian and French (Niçois) cuisine. Without wine, you can pay a reasonable 20 euro. It’s not exactly low-priced, but the quality of the food is exceptional and always matches the season.
For dinner, especially a romantic one, I must recommend Chez Juliette, (1, Rue Rossetti), which is in Old Nice. Bathed in atmospheric rose hues, this gem offers traditional French cuisine at a decent price. Their fixed price menu for three courses was 17.50€ when I dined there. The French onion soup is sumptuous and their coq au vin excellent.
And then there is Brasserie Félix Faure, on 12, Avenue Félix Faure, which is where the locals go for a fun, casual meal. My friend who lives in Nice swears by this place. The mood is vibrant, they’re open until midnight, and the prices are good. Here you can get steaks, pizza, and mussels. A pitcher of rosé is only about 8 euro.
Budget Hotels in Nice
All of these hotels are less than 100 euro a night, sometimes much less, and they all offer a breakfast, which usually consists of fresh bread, pastries, and coffee, tea, and juice. While these hotels may not be as renowned as the Hotel Negresco on the Promenade des Anglais, you didn’t come to Nice to spend all of your time indoors.
If location is very important to you, the Hotel de La Buffa is a great choice. It’s only a couple of streets away from the Promenade des Anglais. These charmingly decorated rooms are also reasonably priced (in April you can get a single room on the quiet side of the building for 65 euro/night), and breakfast is 8 euro. For those who need it, there is a free wi-fi connection.
Or if the Old Town is more appealing, opt for the Villa La Tour , which offers single rooms as low as 49 euro a night and 52 for a double from April 1 through October (with the exception of certain dates in May during the Grand Prix). These particular rooms may not have a view, but you can enjoy one for free on their rooftop garden. Located within an easy walking distance of the bus station, this spot is ideal if you want to take some day trips to nearby Menton or Eze. They offer free wi-fi as well and their breakfast is 8.50 euro.
The family-run Hotel Wilson , not too far from the Old Town and a ten-minute walk from the train station (Gare Nice Ville), is a lovely hotel and is exceptionally well-priced. You can get a single room as low as 36 euro and a double for 40 euro. The rooms are charmingly decorated, sometimes in the style of a famous artist (for instance, the Frida Kahlo room). The family is very friendly and helpful, and the son, Jean-Marie, speaks excellent English. There is free wi-fi but when you book, make sure you ask for a room close to the breakfast room where the signal is strongest. Here the breakfast is only 5 euro.
Written by Cheryl Tucker for EuropeUpClose.com