5 Fabulous Free Things to Do in Nice in One Day

Bonjour Nice La Belle! With your clear air, soft Mediterranean light, beachfront promenade and seductive Italianate old quarter, your status as one of France’s top tourist destinations is secure.

However, your beauty and glamour can come with a price tag to match.

But here’s the good news. Visitors can enjoy your attractions without spending a single euro.

So don that sunhat and those sunglasses, and an air of sophistication, and let’s explore five fantastic free things to do in Nice in one day.

sdie of a church and view from la vielle ville one of the best free things to do in nice

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Is One Day in Nice Enough?

You could easily spend a week exploring Nice, soaking up the sun on its 7km long beach and taking day trips to nearby towns and Monaco.

However, if you have just a day in Nice, this is enough time to take in the city’s highlights and to get a sense of its old-style glamour.

The Best Free Things to Do in Nice, France

Make the most of your day in Nice with my pick of these free things to see.

If you need it, here’s a map to help you navigate between Nice’s most important tourist attractions. Just click here for a live map or on the image itself.

map showing locations of free thjings to do in nice france
Free things to see in Nice, France. Map Data @ 2020 Google

1. Wander around the old town (La Vielle Ville)

With its warren of pedestrianised alleys crammed with local shops, galleries, restaurants and boutiques, the old town is enchanting. The best thing that you can do is simply wander without an agenda.

woman walking up steps with dog between ochre colored buildings
Old town, Nice, France

A good starting point is the food and flower market in Cours Saleya and then head down one of the streets leading away from this square.

There’s no chance that you will get lost.

The old city does not cover a large area and you will always find your way back to the seafront or one of the main squares. If you are not pressed for time, explore as many of the streets as you can.

The old town’s Italianate architecture is no accident.

Nice has only been part of France since the Treaty of Turin was signed in 1860, when Italy ceded the city to repay French assistance in their defence against the Austrians. All street names are in French and Nissart, the local dialect of Nice and Monaco.

2. Visit the Cathedrale Sainte-Reparate

The religious heart of Nice, the Cathedrale Sainte-Reparate, was completed in 1699 and is in Place Rosetti in the Old Town. Its cupola, clad in brightly coloured tiles, is a city landmark. Inside, it is in-your-face grandiose baroque with ten ornate chapels dedicated to different saints.

But who was Saint Reparte?

She was a 15-year-old girl who lived in Palestine in the third century. Condemned to be burnt alive for her religious beliefs, she was saved by the rain only to be beheaded. It is said that her soul turned into a dove and flew away.

Her mortal remains were placed in a boat which was blown by angels’ breath across the sea to arrive in Nice. This is how the Baie des Anges (Angel Bay) gets its name.

3. Climb up to Castle Hill (Colline du Chateau)

Dominating the eastern side of the old town of Nice, Castle Hill is something of a misnomer.

panoramic view of red rooftops and beach in nice france
View of Nice from Castle Hill

The original Chateau de Nice has long since crumbled away, and what you are left with is a park area at the hill’s summit. At 92 meters above sea level,  there are sweeping panoramic views of the old town and Promenade des Anglais to the west, and Nice Port to the east.

To get there, it’s an easy climb along 200 or so steps, passing an artificial waterfall (Cascade Dijon) to reach the hilltop plateau. There is also a free lift that will take you most of the way. But where’s the fun in that?

4. Watch the world go by in Place Masséna

One of the best free things to do in Nice – or in most cities come to that – is to watch the world go by. At the heart of Nice, adjoining both the old town and the beach, Place Masséna is where it’s happening.

fountain in renaissence plaza in nice france
Place Masséna, Nice

With its sublime Sun Fountain, red terraced buildings and black and white marble mosaic floor, it is a great arena for people watching from the terrace of one of its many restaurants or cafes.

Or if you are in the mood for a spot of window shopping, check out the stores along Jean Médecin Avenue, which bisects Place Masséna and is Nice’s main shopping street.

5. Take a stroll along the Promenade des Anglais

Built in the 1820s and running the length of the Baie des Anges (the Bay of Angels), the Promenade des Anglais is Nice’s main artery.

aerial view of a long beach backed by buildings
Promenade des Anglais, Nice

Couples stroll hand in hand. Joggers pound its 7km length. Rollerbladers and skateboarders weave through families taking in the sea air.

If active pursuits aren’t your thing, take a seat on one of the iconic chaises blueus (blue chairs) under the shade of a pergola or palm tree. Or admire the public art, including a mini Statue of Liberty.

Unless you choose to have a drink at one of the many cafes lining the beachfront, it won’t cost you a cent.

Relaxing on one of Nice’s public beaches is also free.

But a word of warning; Nice does not have the Med’s best beach. It is pebbly – not much sand here folks – which makes lounging and getting in and out of the sea uncomfortable.

A thick mat to lie on and water shoes are in order here. Also in the summer months, the beach can be rammed with locals and visitors alike.

If You Have More Than One Day in Nice

If you have more than one day in Nice, why not visit Monaco?

The train service is frequent and the journey takes as little as 14 minutes. The scenery en route is spectacular and it’s easy to explore in half a day.

two lines of boats in a harbour
Monaco

Cannes is also an easy day trip from Nice.

Alternatively, if museums are more of your things, Nice has a great selection.

Museums to visit in Nice

Many museums are closed on either Mondays or Tuesdays. Check individual websites for opening times and ticket prices.

164, avenue des Arènes de Cimiez 06000 Nice. Open daily except for Tuesdays.

36, avenue Docteur Ménard – 06000 Nice. Open daily except for Tuesdays.

Place Yves Klein 06364 Nice. Open daily except for Mondays.

33 Avenue des Baumettes, 06000 Nice. Open daily except for Mondays.

A 3-day museum pass gives you access to all of Nice’s municipal museums and galleries for 72 hours. There is also free access to the Chagall Museum and all the municipal museums with the French Riviera Pass.

How to Get to Nice 

Nice is well served by air, road and rail links. Nice airport is 7km from the city centre.

It is also a popular stop for Mediterranean cruises.

Thanks to an extension to the city’s excellent tram system, you can now take the tram between Nice airport and the city centre. Pick up the tram in front of Terminal 1, gate A0 or Terminal 2, gate A2.

Tram line 2 runs between Nice Airport and the Jean Médecin stop in the city centre. The journey time is 24 minutes from Terminal 1 and 28 minutes from Terminal 2. If you need to get to the Old Town, simply change onto tram line 1 here and alight at either Opéra – Vieille Ville or Cathédrale – Vieille Ville.

Trams run roughly every 8 minutes. Check the timetable here.

The No. 12 bus leaves from the Aéroport / Promenade” stop in front of Terminal 1 (on the southern carriageway nearest the airport) and stops at the Promenade des Anglais, the Place Masséna and the Vieille Ville.

How to Get Around Nice 

As many places of interest in Nice are relatively close together, it is easy to walk between them. However, if you want to travel further afield, or your accommodation is not central, Nice’s integrated bus and tram system is your best bet.

Find out all you need to know about using public transport in Nice here. rom the bus driver or at the vending machine at the tram stop.

Alternatively, why not make use of Nice’s growing network of cycle paths and rent a bicycle for an eco-friendly way of seeing the city? The distinctive Vélobleu self-service bikes, available from over 160 bike stations, make this super easy.

Electric bikes are also available.

red rooftops of mediterranean city

Where to Stay in Nice

If you decide to spend more than a day in NIce – and I recommend that you do! – there is a wide selection of places to stay to accommodate all budgets.

Mid-range: STE REPARATE F4 MODERNE, DESIGN

We stayed in this fabulous apartment, opposite Cathedrale Sainte-Reparate in the heart of the old town. With a maximum capacity of eight, it’s a great choice for a group of friends.

Book well ahead.

Mid-range alternative: Arome Hotel

A 3-minute walk from the Promenade des Anglais, this hotel is in an excellent location and has garnered great reviews.

Budget Hotel: Ozz

Convenient for the train station, this hostel is a 15-minute walk from the beach. Dorm beds and private rooms are available.

-> None of these take your fancy? Then, check out these other Nice accommodation options.

CHECK OUT THESE OTHER GREAT CITIES IN FRANCE!

bridget coleman the flashpacker 2

About Bridget

Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.

Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.

To get in touch, email her at hello@theflashpacker.net or follow her on social media.

2 thoughts on “5 Fabulous Free Things to Do in Nice in One Day

  1. Messafint says:

    Thank you for this. I live here in Nice for the past 10 years and it is always new to me to see Nice. There are a lot to be surprised when you visit Nice. I wilive and be old and die here in Nice.

    • Bridget says:

      Lucky you! Nice must be a great place to live. When I visited, a friend was teaching out there and showed me around.
      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment 🙂

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