Nice, on the Côte d'Azur, is an ancient city,
with the present old section influenced by Italy
and the promenade and hotels influenced by the Victorian English....
There is a small hill to the east of the city, and the Greeks and Romans built their defenses there, overlooking the sea. Over the centuries the city was overtaken by many different rulers, and belonged to Italy several times. It didn't become definitely French until 1860, which is why the old quarter of the city has an Italian look. The old city is in the foreground of the photo above.
Getting to central Nice from the Villefranche-sur-Mer cruise port
Large cruise ships anchor in the bay by the small town of Villefranche-sur-Mer. Open the link to the page for the town and it shows you how to get to the train station if you wish to explore Nice on your own. It is only a five minute train ride to Nice. The Nice station is about 1 km./.6 mile from the ocean and the promenade (the green line above). Walk down the stairs in front of the entrance and continue straight. The second or third building on your right is the Excelsior Régina Palace (hotel) - where Queen Victoria liked to stay in Nice.
To take the tram from the station, walk down to the street below the station, turn left and walk two blocks to the street with tram tracks - the stop is just at the corner. The tram costs 1.50€ and you purchase tickets in the little machine at the stop.
On the tram, punch your ticket in the green machine to validate it. Have Euro coins ready.
Get off at Place Massena where the tram turns (beside) - it is a wide paved square.
If you take a 'Nice on your own' cruise excursion (a more expensive option), see where it says 'tour bus stop' on the map above. This excursion may also go to other towns or cities.
There may also be a shuttle bus from your ship to downtown Nice.
If you come to Nice on the train, near the station is the Russian Orthodox Church.
Getting to central Nice from the Nice port
Only small cruise ships come to the harbour at the Nice port. To get to the city from there is an easy walk. There is a small hill to the west of this harbour and you can go around it either way - see the pink line on the map above. At the mouth of the harbour (bottom right in the picture beside) there is a free ferry so you don't have to walk around the harbour. It is a small boat with an electric engine, so is a pleasant and quiet (and short) ride.
Beside is the Nice port. The photo is taken from Chateau Hill.
Step 1 - The 'Prom'
The walk begins by the waterfront on the west side of the park. This is close to where excursion buses will stop, close to the tram stop on Place Massena and also near to where you reach the beach from the train (see the top map).
The Promenade des Anglais (Walkway of the English) is arguably the most famous feature in Nice.
In the middle of the 1700's, the wealthy English began to leave the damp and cold (and the terrible London fogs of that era) for the winter, and Nice, with its pleasant climate, became a popular destination. Some built homes in the hills behind Nice and some near the waterfront, and by the 1800's grand hotels were built for these early tourists. When Queen Victoria spent time there, the popularity was guaranteed.
In the winter of 1820 there were many beggars in Nice because of severe weather in the north, and the English put them to work building the promenade, and the city helped with this. When 'le Prom' was completed, every day the wealthy English promenaded along the waterfront in their best finery. Walking to get the sea air or driving their carriages along the street by the pedestrian promenade was the place to be seen.
Below is 'le Prom' today. Quai des Etats Unis is the part closest to the camera with a wider beach. This was named in 1919 to honour the US as they entered WWI. The Promenade des Anglais is beyond that, with the wider boulevard.
I took the above photo of the promenade in 2010 on my first visit to Nice, across from the park. There is more information below on the stream that runs under the park and enters the ocean here.
Below are the things to see on the 'Prom' from the Negresco Hotel on the west, east to the Opera House and the old city. See the map at the top of this section.
The Negresco Hotel (below left) was built in 1912 and is a landmark on the waterfront. It looks wonderfully pretentious from the promenade, but the entrance is even more elaborate. The entrance is on the opposite side of the building, away from the sea. On the sea side is the famous Regency-style Le Chantecler restaurant. The price of admission to this quirky and elegant hotel is an expensive cocktail - but then you can prowl around the public rooms.
Next door on the right is the Palais Massena (below right), now a museum, with lovely landscaping. This was built in the 19th century by a prince as a holiday home. See the map at the top for the location of the buildings.
Continuing to the east are the two waterfront casinos. The first casino on your walk is the Casino du Palais De La Méditerranée. It is also a hotel, with a restaurant, bar and theatre. Built in 1929, it was completely rebuilt in 1990 except for the stunning facade. Casino Barrière Le Ruhl is at the west corner of the park. It was built in 1970 when the original building was demolished. It is a popular casino, and has a restaurant and shows.
Next to the Casino Barrière Le Ruhl is the curved park - Promenade du Paillon. The Paillon Gardens was built over marshland and a small stream called Paillon, which empties into the sea below the Prom (there is a photo of this above). The first part of the park nearest the sea is called the Albert I Garden, after the Belgium king as a tribute to his courageous stand in WWI.
The Centenary Monument faces the sea from the front of the park. See it beside left, and in the old photo below.
In 1891, an elegant Moorish-style casino called la Jetée Promenade, was completed off the promenade opposite the west end of the park. It was inspired by the original Brighton Pier. It remained until near the end of WWII when the Germans dismantled the structure.
East of the park you are on the Quai des Etats Unis with a single street and no boulevard - this part of the walkway is called the Esplanade Georges Pompidou. Three (short) blocks past the Albert 1 Park is a small park with underground car parking. On the sea side of the small park is a sculpture made of nine steel pillars joining at the top called Neuf Lignes Obliques (Nine Oblique Lines). Apparently it is not popular in Nice, one critic calling it "a pile of rusty scrap devoid of any meaning". It is impressively large, though, and is also a good landmark - something that can't be missed.
One block past the steel sculpture is a lovely building, the Nice Opera House. The first picture (below left) is what you will see on the waterfront. Like many buildings on the prom the entrance and the majestic facade is on the street behind (photo on the right).
When you have seen the building from the Prom, walk down the small street on the right of the opera. In one block you will see the market in front of you. Turn left and in another block you are in the famous Palace of Justice Square, below left. Return the one block back towards the Opera to the open air cafes and the market called Cours Selaya and turn left. One block past the cafes look to your left to see the Palace of the Dukes of Savoy - now known as the Palace of the Prefecture (below right).
The market is fun! It is colourful and eclectic.... Continue to the end of the market - at the end of the street is a building in gold once the home of Henri Matisse - now an art gallery of Pacific treasures. Turn right through the arches to the street by the ocean. and turn left to the hill.
Step 2 - Chateau Hill
Chateau Hill (sometimes called Castle Hill) is ahead of you. You will see the Bellanda Tower ahead, which looks like part of a large barrel. In the left corner beneath the tower is the elevator to the hilltop, built into the rock, called Ascenseur du Chateau (right above). In one place on-line it said it was closed, which would be sad - perhaps it was just for the season or for repair. To the right and above this entrance are steps to the top of the tower, and then on to the top of the hill. This is quite a climb - some 300 feet. There is a wonderful view of the city from the top of the tower, and even better from the top of the hill.
An easier way to get to the top if you don't feel up to the climb and the elevator isn't operating, is by a little train (below) that will take you to the top of the hill and also goes through the old city. Catch it on the Promenade sea front across from the park and across from the tour bus stop. Some 'little trains' are not very much fun, but this one is good - except that it only stops once, at the top of the hill viewpoint.
So you get to the top of the hill, and there is no longer a castle and no chateau! The history is interesting, and the picture below shows the castle with its wall. When it got too crowded the town was added by the sea, surrounded by a wall. The river shown here in the foreground now goes underground below the curved park. The story of the hill is told very well on the Best of Nice Blog - (scroll down to the story of the castle). Part of the story is a lovely bit about a washer-woman!
If you have climbed the stairs or taken the elevator, turn right on the path at the top towards the sea. You will come to a lovely area to get city views. Carry on around the point of the hill to get spectacular sea views until you come to two viewing areas that look over the Nice Port. Leaving the second lookout, go up the shallow stairs with mosiacs.
If you go north you will come to the ruins of the chapel - there isn't much left, so the ruins are a bit of a disappointment. Past the ruins, cross back over the top of the hill to the west side on a road - and here is a restaurant with lovely views.
Find stairs that go down below the restaurant on the western hillside. Just below the restaurant on the western hill is a lovely waterfall - cool on a hot day. It is man-made, but that doesn't detract from the beauty. Keep going down stairs after you admire the falls - on the path below the falls is a grotto with water. Keep going down stairs until you come to a street where cars are parked overlooking the view.
Turn right on this street and walk gradually downhill until there is a wall on your right.
There are wonderful old cemeteries on the north end of the hill. If you walk north on the street with the parked cars, you will come to an old wall, and first the entrance to the Jewish cemetery, and the entrance to the old Christian one is at the far end of the walls.
To get down into a wonderful street in the old city, walk north along the cemetery wall until you come to an orange-ish building within the Christian Cemetery - the photo beside. You will see a telephone booth and a road/path angling down the opposite direction along the hill towards the ocean. Go down this path until you are at rooftop level and there are stairs down into a broad street (broad for the old city) called Rue Rossetti.
Step 3 - The old city
If you enjoy getting lost in strange cities, the triangular Nice Old City is perfect. There are narrow Italianate streets that are fascinating, with cafes, stores, beautiful churches and lovely buildings. You can't actually get lost as the area is quite small - and the sea is on the south, the hill on the east, and the curving park angles across the west and north to tell you where you are.
The old city was built in the 1600s, with narrow dark streets. By the 1800s, the area was a nasty slum, with no running water and streets that ran with sewage. Now it has become a popular place to live, with modern cafes and shops below the apartments.
The picture beside is Rue Rossetti, looking back to Chateau Hill. Looking downhill you will see a white tower ahead of you, once you walk around a slight bend. The streets are well marked on the building corners.
There are lots of things to see as you keep Rue Rossetti as your 'main street'. It has a one lane street for cars and two wide areas on each side for pedestrians.
As you walk down Rue Rossetti, peek into the narrow streets on either side. About two blocks down look left to see a church tower blocking the street. Go left on the following street to see the church itself. The Church of Jesu was built in the mid 1600s in the elaborate Baroque style with lots of cherubs and medallions.
Back on Rue Rossotti, you will see a square in front of the church tower ahead - but a block before you get to the square is "the Street of the Jews" on your right. It is now called Rue Benoît Bunico. Go to the
Best of Nice Blog - 21 fascinating facts about Nice" for a lovely story about it.
In the square ahead is the main cathedral in Nice (beside), built in the baroque style. There is a lovely dome that is difficult to see from the street. You can see the dome in the lower right corner of the photo at the top of the page.
The square is the Place Rossetti. Stop at the famous Fenocchio Ice-Cream Parlour, which opened in 1966. On-line the ad says "We hope that the visit you are going to do will stir up your greed and that you will come very quickly to visit us"... Don't miss it!
Walk to the right side of the cathedral and to the far right corner of the area - go straight on Rue Francis Gallo and you will come to stairs and an arch that opens out to the wide area - the tram tracks and the Promenade du Paillon Gardens. This park was built over the Paillon River.
Step 4 - A Walk in the Park
When you come out of the Old City, cross the tram tracks and the street, and find an entrance to the park. Once in the park, go to the center and the wide walkway, paved with different sized stones in attractive patterns. Back to your right is the Modern Art Museum.
Go to your left along the path, and soon you will see the reflection pools. If it is a hot day, slip off your shoes and paddle in the shallow water! Suddenly spouts of water may come from the floor of the pools. When quiet, there are lovely reflections that make excellent photos.
Then you come to Place Massena. This is an imposing square, with wide open spaces, fountains and lovely matching buildings on each side. Look for the seven figures on posts (one in the photo beside) - one for each continent.
The park continues across Place Massena with another reflecting pool. Shortly you will come to an odd sculpture - a long metal curve.
On my first visit to Nice on a tour of France, we stayed on the park in the Hotel Plaza. On either side of the park near the ocean are these old Victorian hotels, built for the English - this one in 1860. It is being updated at present, but it was very lovely and we were impressed with our room overlooking the park, and this weird sculpture. There were children climbing up and sliding down it - which didn't seem very safe!
Now I discover that it is called "Arc 115º5" by Bernar Venet. It represents the curve of the Bay of Angels - the Nice waterfront.
If you came by bus excursion, the tour buses stop just beyond here on your right. Just past the Hotel Plaza, turn to your right down a fairly narrow pedestrian street. This leads into more pedestrian streets with the world's expensive stores, flower baskets and a charming stroll.
I hope you enjoyed Nice! The walk above is about 4.5 km. or 2.75 miles. Add 2 km. or 1.2 miles if you came on the train and return that way. If you think this is too much, take the little train to Chateau Hill and the Old City, or the tram from near the station to Place Massena.
Food Specialties of Nice -
Salade Niçoise - traditionally made of tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, Niçoise olives, anchovies, and dressed with olive oil.
Socca - a crepe-like pancake made from chickpeas.
Pissaladière - a bread dough thicker than pizza Margherita, and the traditional topping consists of caramelised onions, black olives, and anchovies.