Who’s to say the best things in life aren’t free? The French believe that some of life’s greatest pleasures come from simply turning in and turning up for the beauty of daily life. Keep reading for my top 10 free things to do in Nice, France.
1. Admire the views from the Colline du Château
La Colline du Château (Castle Hill) holds the ruins of a military citadel overlooking the bay that stood from the 11th to the 18th century. Now tourists and locals alike trek to the top to enjoy its park and the best views of Nice. Kids can be found running around the vast playground while people picnic and do yoga in the grass. Not in the mood for stairs? Grab the elevator at the base of the hill.
2. Picnic on the Promenade du Paillon
Known to the locals as La Coulée Verte (the green flow) this park runs down the center of the city and opens into Place Massena. Flanked by on both sides by traditional ochre-colored buildings this green strip is an airy respite from the city. A life-sized wooden whale, dolphin, and octopus are fantasy-come-to-life in the form of children’s jungle gyms. Un miroir d’eau or ‘water mirror’ splash pad hides 128 timed jets for what seems like never-ending fun for little ones and dogs in warmer months. When the weather is nice Edouard and I pack a lunch and head straight to our favorite patch of grass.
3. People watch at Place Massena
The most well-known square in Nice with its black and white checkerboard tiles is ideal for people watching. Follow La Coulée Verte from either entrance and you’ll soon stumble into the Beetlejuice-esque square. A popular area for street performers and concerts in the summer, this square is always buzzing with activity. The start of the popular main shopping avenue Jean Medecin also begins here.
4. Stroll along the Promenade des Anglais
It’s impossible to visit Nice and not walk along La Promenade des Anglais (Walkway of the English). “La Prom” as it’s known to the French, is named after the British aristocrats who flocked to Nice each winter, and their affinity for promenading along the shore. Stretching almost 4.5 miles, its large sidewalk allows runners, cyclists, and daydreamers to take in views of the Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels) without colliding.
5. Go for a dip in the Bay of Angels
The old story goes that fishermen often ensnared sharks whose fins resembled wings. And so the Baie des Anges got its name. Come here to zen out to the sound of rushing waves over thousands of tiny pebbles or go for a dip. Maxing out at around 75 degrees fahrenheit in July, a swim is undoubtedly the best (and cheapest) way to beat the Summer heat.
6. Browse the markets of Cours Saleya
The Cours Saleya market is lined with striped awnings where vendors sell a variety of treats from soaps to produce to flowers. From Tuesday to Sunday you can find flowers for sale with food sold only in the morning. The inception of the flower market dates back to when Nice was the carnation-growing capital of the country and would send its flowers all over Europe. Check out the Brocante (antiques market) for collectibles on Mondays. Pro-tip: approach vendors just before they pack up for the day at 4:30pm for your best bargaining opportunity.
7. Get lost in Vieille Ville
Vieille Ville or Old Town is a must-see not so much for the unmissable historical sites but simply for the hustle and bustle of the charming narrow streets. What was once an area of traditional artisans has now given way to tourist-centered restaurants and shops that sell local goods. That being said there are still quite a few gems if you know where to find them. Lunch or tea and dessert at cozy Marinette doesn’t disappoint.
8. Hike up to the Fort of Mont Alban
This climb is not for the faint of heart as you’ll pass the Colline du Château on your way up! However there is a bus route if you’ve had enough walking or are short on time. This preserved military fort from 1560 is located between Nice and the bay of Villefranche-sur-Mer. Unfortunately the fort isn’t open, but the panorama alone is worth the trip. You can see Nice and the alps on one side, and on the other the peninsula of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat, the bay of Villefranche, Monaco and into Italy.
9. Scope out boats of all shapes and sizes at Port Lympia
Go for a stroll along Nice’s main port to see the rainbow of traditional pointu fishing boats, pearly white mega yachts, and everything in between. In the winter you can spy some impressive multi-story yachts (red carpets and helipad included) that dock here for the off season.
10. Window shop sweet treats
It’s no secret that the French are passionate for pâtisserie. Try not to drool on the glass as you pore over the ornate displays in the vitrines of local pastry and candy shops. Each creation is seemingly more beautiful than the last. Luckily, they taste just as good as they look!