Nice, somewhat centrally located on the French Riviera was a bit of a dark horse in my travel planning. I knew it was there. I knew I would probably like it, but I was a bit put off on the perception of the French Riviera being nothing but a playground for the rich and famous. Nice was a pleasant surprise. It ended up being a very enjoyable place and not terribly different in overall cost to many of the other cities I have spent time in. Like Paris, read more about that here, Nice is a place you can either spend a fortune or have a very mellow stay. It all comes down to what you end up spending your time doing.
For starters, let’s cover some geography. Nice is located in the center of the French Riviera approximately 1 1/2 hours from Cannes (famous for the annual film festival) and 20 minutes from Monaco (famous for well – being rich and famous – also James Bond). From my perspective, Nice is the unloved red-headed stepchild of the group. It’s big enough to have more to rely on than just tourism, but lacks the headline fame of its siblings. It also happens to be the place along the French Riviera with the most affordable accommodations and food. Good things for a backpacker like me.
I was expecting Nice to be a place I could just chill out by the beach for a few days and recover from too many days and nights out in Barcelona. How wrong was I…
Without further ado, here are some things to know about Nice.
The beaches are rocky
This was a bit of a surprise as I pictured the French Riviera as sun kissed sand over blue water. Not so much. The beaches in nice are all rocky – the stones are smooth – but they are rather big and it makes getting in and out of the water a struggle.
If you want a good show just sit on the beach under an umbrella (which will take 30 minutes to bury – and you might bend it on a rock…) and watch people try to be sexy while simultaneously trying not to face plant in front of their special someone.
Rocks and falling besides the point, the ocean here is warm and a magnificent color of blue. I think it has something to do with the sediment in the water causing it to look almost like a glacial lake. Either way, the Côte d‘Azur is impressive.
In addition, the flight path routinely comes over the main beach so you always have something new to see with places coming in from all around Europe.
If the rocks really bother you it’s very easy to shell out some cash for lounge side service at one of the many seaside cafes.
If you really are after sandy beaches. The local bus will cost you €1.50 and there are sandy beaches in sleepy little town about 15-30 minutes in either direction.
The nightlife is surprisingly fun
I really expected Nice to be a sleepy little town. Wrong. I met amazing people at the hostel and we did our best to make the best of the limited nightlife in town. While it was later in the season ( it really cleans out at the end of August) many places were still crowded with people and there was a shocking amount of live music. Thankfully I didn’t take many pictures…
Myself and two new friends – Rebecca and Nathan – dancing on tables grooving to live music at Waynes Bar. If you are in Nice, go to Wayne’s – it’s a blast. Plus – they let you dance on the tables. In fact, the tables are the dance floors.
Monaco is a quick day trip
There are two exits to the train station – use the upper one if you like stairs and getting lost.
Extra plus – vertigo.
Monaco is well-known from many films as a playground for the rich and famous. Considering ti was only 20 minutes by train from Nice I had to go check it out. Monaco is one of three widely recognized city-states in the world (Singapore and Vatican City being the others). They are individually governed and even have their own royal family. Funny considering Monaco is a speck on the map and can easily be seen in an afternoon.
I had no real plan when visiting besides to bum around and see what all the hype was about. My mind was filled with scenes from movies of big boats, fancy cars, and waspy people. Well, I was right about the first two…
I love the bottom left – literally a size competition…
This is just a sample of the many fancy cars I saw. Ferrari and Bentley were the cars of choice around town.
The cars and boats really lived up to the expectation. They are beautiful, some stunning, but overall just the rich flaunting their wealth for the world to see. It made me cringe more than impressed me.
Regarding the people, the only ones I really interacted with where the shopkeepers (not rich) and other tourists (also not rich). Usually engaging with tourists only to give them dirty looks as they abruptly stopped in the footpath, cut me off, or overall just annoyed me.
One of the most famous places in Monaco is the Monte Carlo Casino. They have a relaxed dress code before 2pm so you can see the massive line of people waiting to get in dressed in their best I (heart) Paris t-shirt and fanny packs. Go for the beauty, but leave once you get the requisite snaps.
I’m glad I went, but man, I couldn’t wait to leave. Too ostentatious, and too tourist riddled. I didn’t garner one thing that was authentic from Monaco.
The architecture is stunning
Back to positive things… and to Nice. The architecture in the town is incredible. It’s similar to Paris in style, and by that, most of France. I don’t know if it’s the fresh sea breeze, or the more laid back atmosphere but I constantly found myself staring at buildings. In particular around dusk when the light plays with the details in the buildings. It’s a pleasure for the eyes.
Dining options are limitless
The food in Nice was superb. There are hundreds and hundreds of outdoor cafes and plazas filled with restaurants. Cheap house wine and fresh seafood is a recipe for success for me. I really enjoyed it.
So, how to best wrap this up… Go to the French Riviera, it’s magical. Bring a partner to if you can. It’s incredibly romantic. Go to Monaco, see if you agree with me or not. As always, travel, explore, and live every day to the fullest.
C’mon – you knew I had to include a selfie…
If you have any questions about things to do on the French Riviera feel free to drop me a line.
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