Updated on the 16/4/2020
Planning to go to Nice soon? Think fresh seafood, sandy beaches, hilly landscape, warm weather and picturesque cityscape. Blessed with all the good things you can think of, Nice (pronounced as Nees) is an amazing city for a weekend getaway. This unofficial capital of Cote d’Azur is so gorgeous that when I first saw it from the plane, I fell in love with it immediately!
If you are going to Nice soon, you need to check out these top free things to do in Nice!
Promenade des Anglais (English Promenade)
This promenade stretches up to 7 kilometres. Not only the windswept beaches lure sun-worshippers and beach bums, Promenade des Anglais is also the venue for the annual ebullient Nice Carnival that happens in February til March.
Summer brings a bonanza of activities to Promenade des Anglais.
Promenade des Anglais is such an integral part of Nice city life, nothing is gonna change it even after the attack in 2016.
It tends to be very crowded in summer. If you want to find your own slice of isolation and still enjoy the warm weather, go in April-May or September-October when it’s not too cold to enjoy the beach.
Bear in mind that there are opportunistic thieves around the corner to take your belongings.
You can head up to some private beaches like Castel Plage or Blue Beach which offer lockers for you to put your belongings.
There are often water sports like parasailing happening at Blue Beach as well.
Also, beaches in Nice can get pretty pebbly so have some thongs/flip-flops/slippers/jandals to avoid abrasions!
Vielle Ville (Old Town)
The old town of Nice has a flair of Italian architecture, which is explained by the fact that Nice wasn’t even part of France until 1860.
Crisscrossed by sun-soaked streets and surrounded by tall ochre-coloured apartments, the old town can be a real maze.
However, it’s a beautiful place to get lost and explore what the old town has to offer!
Although being part of France, Niçoise cuisine is fairly different from the rest of France.
Indulge in a truly gastronomic experience in one of the tantalising al-fresco restaurants that you can find everywhere in the old town.
Visit Jardin Albert 1e, which is located at the heart of the city. The water fountains there always puts on a show.
If you’re feeling fancy, go to Boscolo Plaza Hotel where they have a rooftop terrace offering a bird-eye view of the plaza! You have to order a drink, of course.
Cours Saleya Market - things to do in Nice
Strolling around markets is probably one of the best free things to do in Nice! Located strategically in the heart of the old town, Cours Saleya Market is always pulsating with an exuberant vibe.
This awnings-covered market runs all year round, although there tends to be fewer vendors during the colder months.
Cours Saleya is made up of 4 markets, with the fresh produce market being the largest one.
Fruits and vegetables are aesthetically displayed and vendors lure passer-by with free samples. Spices, soap, souvenirs, honey… you name it!
There is also a flower market that is of historical importance: it was the first wholesale flower market in the world which can be dated back to 1897!
Being the carnation-growing capital, the vendors from Cours Saleya now ship their flowers all over Europe. The flower market opens all day long.
How can a market be complete without food vendors? Try some of the authentic Niçoise dishes like socca! This roasted chickpea crepe is a famous speciality. Normally, the batter is baked on copper pans in large wood-fired ovens and was originally sold to hungry labourers as a cheap breakfast.
And did I mention that the crusty baguette here can go as low as 1 euro? Just get yourself some cheese, duck paté, olives, tomatoes and head to Promenade des Anglais for a picnic!
The flower, fresh produce and the food markets run from Tuesday to Sunday, and place is replaced by the flea market on Mondays. In summer, there is an evening market running from 6pm until midnight. Avoid the tourists by arriving early!
- Flower Market:
- Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 06:00-17:30.
- Wednesday and Saturday 06:30-13:30.
- Sunday 06:30-13:30.
- Closed Mondays.
- Fruit and Vegetable Market:
- every day except Monday from 06:00-13:30
- Antiques/Flea Market:
- Every Monday 07:00-18:00
- Evening Market:
- 18:00-00:00 – Summer months
Parc de la Colline du Château (Park of the Castle Hill)
Feeling guilty about all the good food that you’ve had while in Nice?
Head up to the Castle Hill. Apart from shedding off those calories, it will also earn you one of the best views of the city.
With the cerulean waters and Promenade des Anglais acting as a perfect backdrop, Nice can’t be more insta-worthy for a picture. You can also see the port (Place Ile de Beaute) from here.
Although this hill is named as “Castle Hill”, there is in fact no castle on the hill. It was dismantled in 1706 by the soldiers of French King Louis XIV. There is also a park at the Castle Hill with a waterfall.
The hike starts from Old Town and the route is fairly marked.
If you don’t feel like doing a hike, take the free elevator to the top of the hill. This is highly recommended in summer as it can be blazing hot in Nice.
You can also choose to board the Little Tourist Train instead. It’s 10 euros for adults and 5 euros for kids. This train will bring you to all the major attractions in Nice and it lasts 45 minutes.
Bear in mind that there’s only a 10-minute stop at Castle Hill so you might not have enough time. I stayed at Castle Hill for a good 1 hour (or even more)!
St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral
Visiting cathedrals or churches is one of the common free things to do in Nice.
St. Nicholas is the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in Western Europe. It certainly has its own wow factor if you haven’t seen enough Russian cathedral.
The architecture is vastly different from the conventional Western European Gothic or Baroque churches. It’s a whole new world when you step inside the cathedral.
Lavish woodwork and the baroque ornate interior design will set your jaw wide open. Although it’s a little out of the way, I still recommend seeing it.
If you don’t have enough time and have seen enough of cathedrals of this sort (they are ubiquitous in Italy and Spain), consider skipping it.
Parc Phoenix - free things to do in Nice
This 7-hectare park is located at the western entrance to the city of Nice.
The entrance ticket costs 5 euros (sorry, not technically free but very affordable!) and children under 12 years old can visit Parc Phoenix for free!
There’s a warm greenhouse located at the centre of the park. It’s one of the largest in Europe and is home to many species of trees and plants.
To make it even more real, there are hidden speakers everywhere in the greenhouse playing the sounds of birds softly.
Besides, this park has an aquarium. There are many colourful fishes (and overfed carps) in the man-made ponds. Brightly coloured flamingoes, iguanas, otters and other animals roam freely.
I mean, you don’t even need to go to a zoo! Visit the official website of Nice tourism office for more info!
Museums in Nice - what to do in Nice
Visiting museums can be of the best free things to do in Nice! There are many museums in Nice for you to visit. Generally, the price of the entrance ticket to the municipal museums is 10 euros. If you fall into any of the following categories, you can get in for free:
- Student: Just show your student card
- Children under 18
- Residents of Nice can get in for free with a proof of the most recent electricity bill. You will get a blue Pass Musee (Museum Pass) which will allow you to visit all the municipal museums for free for 3 years.
- If you are under 26 and you’re from any of the countries of the EU, you can enter for free.
If you don’t fall into any of the categories but still want to visit a museum for free, there is a promotion in March (the whole month) which allows anyone under 26 to visit the museum for free.
In May, there’s a Europe-wide event called European Nights of the Museums which allows anyone to visit any participating museum for free from 18:00 to 23:00.
If you are not fated to get any of the freebies up there, there are 3 museums that are free all year round.
These are the Museum of Asian Art (near Parc Phoenix), Villa Arson and Franciscan Monk Museum.
You can also buy the 7-day museum pass for only 20 euros and this lets you visit all 14 municipal museums (including Palais Lascaris and Matisse Museum) in a span of a week. I mean, if you have to pay 10 euros for 1 museum, might as well get the pass right?
Chagall Museum, which is one of the most-visited museums in Nice, is unfortunately not a municipal museum. The good news is, it’s free on the first Sunday of the month.
Most museums are closed on Tuesdays.
Place Ile-de-Beaute is a port with many colourful boats! It’s not too far from the foot of Castle hill and can be reached within 20 minutes on foot.
This port is much smaller than Monte Carlo in Monaco.
Cafes and bistros are much cheaper here compared to the city centre. Sit back at Ma Nolans to enjoy a beer or wine. Or dine in at one of the alfresco restaurants and watch the ferries come and go!
Can’t get enough of the beautiful bird-eye view of Villefranche-sur-Mer and Promenade des Anglais? Hike up to Mont Boron! Even the Castle hill looks small after hiking up here. If you love an easy hike, this is for you.
Located just at the outskirt of the city, Mont Boron is a perfect half-day trip for people who don’t have enough time to visit the French Alps.
It’s only 191 metres in elevation but it can be quite steep at times. If you want to save yourself from blisters, take the local bus (no.100 Menton bus or no.14 and stop at Place du Mt. Boron).
The main attractions at Mont Boron are the English Castle and Grotto of Lazaret. There’s also a huge park and another castle at the north lookout point of the park.
After visiting Mont Boron, you can walk down to Villefranche-sur-Mer and enjoy some food there. There is bus 81 or bus 100 going back from Villefranche-sur-Mer to Nice.
If you have time, take a day trip to the picturesque town of Menton and San Remo!
Saint Jean Cap-Ferrat is a small town near Nice (20 minutes away). There are so many walks here which you can do for free, ranging from flat seaside walk to coastal walk. If not, you can just visit this little charming town.
To go to the town, you can catch bus no. 81 from Nice which goes all the way into the town of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat. You can also take the No. 100 Monaco bus which leaves for Monaco and get off from the cape and walk to the town. This walk is one of the best that I have done while in Nice.
This summarises the top 10 free things to do in Nice! To be honest, some of them are trully the best things to do in Nice!
After Nice, you should definitely head to Monaco and Eze for a half-day trip.
If you want to DIY your Nice to Monaco day-trip, prebook your Nice to Monaco ferry ticket in advance!!
Where to stay?
Nice is not too big but you still wanna stay close to the beach near the downtown. However, most of them are very expensive so I have chosen a few that’s cheaper to help out our wallets.
Budget – You can get a double room at Meyerbeer Beach for around 46 euros per night. For such a strategic location – located downtown and very close to the beach – that’s really a steal. This place books out like crazy so get on it when you can.
Comfortable – Boutique Hôtel Neptune Nice has standard rooms for 2 for just 60 euros is located at a prime area with many restaurants around. If you don’t mind the room being a little smaller (after all, it’s France), you can enjoy a !
High-end – If you wanna splurge while make the most out of your bucks, stay with Apart’hotel Ajouta! I don’t have to upsell it – just click into the link and see it for yourself. You wouldn’t mind be treated like kings or queens, would you?
Getting from Nice Airport to the city centre
Luckily Nice Airport is just 7km from the city centre. There are plenty of options as to how to get to the city centre.
Tram 2 connects the airport to the city centre. Make sure that you board the one that says Aéroport instead of CADAM. A one-way single journey costs 1.50 euros, making it really affordable for budget travellers.
Taxi, however, charges a flat rate of 32 euros.
You can also prebook a private transport prior to your arrival as well. It is a mere 10 euros more than the taxi flat rate.
This concludes my top 10 free things to do in Nice!
If you want to know the dirt-cheap budget guide to Europe, find out how I manage to Travel Around Europe for less than USD 35 a Day!
Find out the Top 8 Restaurants to Try in Paris! This list was carefully curated by my friends (all Parisians) and I after living in Paris!
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