The azure water along the coast of Nice — Photo courtesy of valentinama / iStock Via Getty Images

For most travelers, the mere mention of the French Riviera conjures up ideas of fun-in-the-sun languor. But Nice, the French Riviera’s assumed capital, doesn’t hibernate when the mercury drops.

With a population exceeding 900,000, Nice stirs and bustles year-round. And its winter appeal hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2021, UNESCO granted Nice World Heritage status, recognizing it as the Winter Resort Town of the Riviera. The distinction, earned for “outstanding universal value” to humanity, brings the city’s resort history full circle. It was a winter destination long before it became a summer hot spot.

In the late 1700s, the British upper classes started spending their winters in the Mediterranean city, and Russian nobility followed suit a few decades later. Summer on the French Riviera didn’t become fashionable until the 1920s.

With mild winter temperatures in the high 50s and low 60s, beach bumming might not be on your winter agenda, but the city is as enriching as it is sun-kissed, presenting travelers with plenty to choose from year-round.

Things to do in Nice, France

The Promenade des Anglais from aboveThe Promenade des Anglais from above — Photo courtesy of OTM / Hugues Lagarde

Nice’s Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels) dazzles, the sea an ombre flowing from aquamarine into a turquoise that fades into a delicate sapphire that’s absorbed by the deep cobalt hue that stretches to the sky-blue horizon.

Stroll the palm-tree-lined Promenade des Anglais (walkway of the English), a hallmark of what UNESCO describes as Nice’s exceptional universal value of architectural, landscape, and urban heritage. This beachfront stroll dates back to the 1820s and has been adapted to accommodate changing needs over the years.

Exploring the Cours Saleya in NiceExploring the Cours Saleya in Nice — Photo courtesy of lucentius / iStock Via Getty Images

Cours Saleya, the world’s first wholesale flower market, opened in 1897. In addition to florals, Nice vendors peddle produce, food, and, once a week, antiques. The market is just footsteps from Vieux Nice, the medieval Old Town filled with a maze of twisting lanes feeding into cafe-studded squares.

Sights of note in the Old Town include the Baroque-style Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate, or Cathedral of St. Reparata, named for the city’s patron saint; Maison Auer, a chocolate and confectionery shop that opened in 1820; and Palais Lascaris, a 17th-century aristocratic home turned musical instruments museum.

The Nice Museum Pass, which is valid for 96 hours, grants entry to the latter along with the city’s nine other municipal museums. The exception being the Marc Chagall Museum, which isn’t covered on the pass but warrants a visit.

A stained glass window at the Marc Chagall MuseumA stained glass window at the Marc Chagall Museum — Photo courtesy of Jaclyn DeGiorgio

The Marc Chagall Museum is perched in the Cimiez neighborhood, the hilltop district where Queen Victoria holidayed in the late 19th century. The district reveals some of the city’s finest belle epoque villas that once lodged the wealthy winter vacationers.

Jardin Albert, a park that skirts the Old Town, hosts the city’s annual Christmas market, a vibrant occasion complete with lights, carnival rides, wooden huts, and delicious winter treats.

Where to eat in Nice

A classic Niçoise salad is a must in Nice, FranceA classic Niçoise salad is a must in Nice, France — Photo courtesy of ivanmateev / iStock Via Getty Images

Beach club restaurants, like those of Ruhl Plage and Beau Rivage, remain open for off-season beachside dining where patrons can sip cocktails or wine with Niçoise salads and fresh seafood.

Two of Nice’s must-eat street foods are socca, fried chickpea dough, and pissaladière, a flatbread topped with caramelized onions, anchovies, and black olives. Several Cours Saleya stalls and Old Town shops carry the specialties, and The Socca d’Or, in Nice’s Le Port quarter, prepares both superbly.

Wine bars equipped with kitchens provide the setting for some of Nice’s top meals. The epic 25-year-old La Part des Anges has been joined by La Cave du Cours, Lavomatique, Fanfan et Loulou, Babel Babel, and Le Canon in recent years.

For traditional cuisine Nissarde, La Petite Maison, Chez Acchiardo, and Chez Davia serve some of the best in town. Olive & Artichaut specializes in superb seasonal fare with a creative touch.

How to get to Nice, France

Nice's exquisite coastNice’s exquisite coast — Photo courtesy of Jaclyn DeGiorgio

Delta Airlines offers direct flights to Nice Côte d’Azur Airport from New York and Atlanta from spring to autumn. United also has direct flights from Newark Liberty International Airport during those months. Otherwise, travelers can connect in major European cities, like Paris, Amsterdam, and London.

Several direct, high-speed SNCF trains run daily between Nice and Paris, completing the journey in five and a half hours.

Hotels in Nice

The five-star Le Negresco and four-star Hotel Beau Rivage are classics, and winter is ideal for experiencing these and other beachfront properties at reduced rates. Happy Culture operates several boutique hotels in Nice, including the Deck and Le Grimaldi, four-star hotels with nightly rates that won’t break the bank.

Hotel Amour, an edgy, bohemian four-star boutique hotel, opened in 2019. Among its perks are a rooftop pool, a private beach, and one of the city’s best cocktail bars.

For super luxe, try the five-star Anantara Plaza Nice Hotel, housed in a refurbished seaside belle epoque building.

The French Riviera beyond Nice

Monaco

The one and only MonacoThe one and only Monaco — Photo courtesy of OSTILL / iStock Via Getty Images

UNESCO-protected Nice is a perfect jumping off point to tour the French Riviera, and you can even do it one day. Glamour chasers shouldn’t miss Monaco, an easy train ride from Nice, where yachts, bling, haute couture, and fast cars abound.

On the tourism front, Prince’s Palace is open to the public from April to November, but the cathedral where Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier III stays open year-round. The changing of the guard occurs daily at 11:55 a.m. in the palace square.

Youngsters will enjoy the Oceanographic Museum, and kid-free travelers should drop in on the iconic Casino de Monte-Carlo. A valid passport is required for entry to the casino, and a dress code is enforced in the gaming area.

St. Paul de Vence

The straight-out-of-a-storybook St. Paul de Vence is one of France’s most visited villages, and it’s easy to see why. During winter, the cobbled Medieval town tucked into the hills between Nice and Cannes mellows out.

There, a meal at the historic La Colombe d’Or is compulsory for first-timers. Al fresco diners should duck inside to view paintings by Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Joan Miró, and Georges Braque displayed in the dining room.

Art lovers shouldn’t miss Fondation Maeght, a modern art museum near the village with works from some of the above artists as well as Jean Arp, Alexander Calder, Alberto Giacometti, and others. Picasso devotees can drive 30 minutes to Antibes to visit the Picasso museum.

Cannes

Cinephiles should see a movie at the Cineum Cannes, one of the glitzy film festival’s official screening locations, or snap a photo on the steps of the Palais de Festival, which are covered in red carpet year-round.

Food pilgrims will want to browse Cannes’ Forville Market, a covered market showcasing produce, fish, and other locally produced goods.

Menton

The beautiful colors of Menton on the French RivieraThe beautiful colors of Menton on the French Riviera — Photo courtesy of Milena Pigdanowicz-Fidera / iStock Via Getty Images

Those seeking the ultimate French Riviera food experience should book a table at chef Mauro Colagreco’s three Michelin-starred Mirazur in the colorful town of Menton, the last stop before Italy.

Grasse

The French Riviera is synonymous with perfume, and travelers can get a sense of the local pursuit at the International Perfume Museum or the Fragonard factory in Grasse, nicknamed the world perfume capital.

Visitors to Èze can craft a bespoke scent at the Galimard Perfumery and then saunter through the town’s Exotic Gardens, a plush oasis in a Medieval fortress overlooking the sea from 1,300+ feet.

Ski resorts

For a cold weather fix during winter, the Valberg, Auron, and Isola ski resorts are two hours away. The Nice ski bus schedule is ever-changing, so it’s best to pop into the tourism office to confirm departure times. Or just rent a car.

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