Before we get to the reasons why Nice should be on your list of day trips from Monaco, it might help you to know my love story with this region. My fascination with the French Riviera started in high school when I read The Great Gatsby. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s lyrical style enthralled me, and I became a fan of the deceased writer. In college, I was introduced to the works of Edith Wharton, the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize.
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Both Fitzgerald and Wharton spent a lot of time in the French Riviera and infused their love of the region into their literary works. Thus began my curiosity with the South of France.
Over a decade later, I decided to travel the world. It felt natural to traverse the paths that my favorite writers once held so closely in their hearts.
I chose Nice as my home base for traveling the French Riviera due to its broad network of public transportation which provided ease of access to the nearby towns and cities. It also makes for a great destination if you’re looking for day trips from Monaco.
When I arrived in Nice, it was drizzling. My Canadian flight-seat neighbor (with a dimpled smile and very nice teeth) assured me that this was not the usual March weather in Nice.
“It’s usually pretty sunny and nice,” he said.
I exhaled and leaned back into my seat.
“I hope so,” I said. “I want to see some of that Riviera sunshine.”
And see it I did. From the boardwalk of the Promenade des Anglais to the old town of Nice, to the nearby French Riviera cities and towns, that sunlight always managed to put a smile on my face the moment I stepped into it.
There are many different ways to enjoy Nice, but if you want to experience the real French way of life, then slow down, and do as the French do here in the Riviera.
Before we go over some ways to enjoy your trip to Nice, France, one thing that will hugely determine how much you enjoy your trip to the South of France is when you visit it.
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The best time to visit Provence and the French Riviera
To get the most out of your trip to Nice, you might want to go during the shoulder seasons. The best time to visit Provence and the French Riviera is from March to April or during September.
From March to April, the weather turns sunny and warmer. It was usually in the high 50s to low 70s Fahrenheit when I was there from March to mid-April. There were a couple of days of rain, but for the most part, the air was cool and the Riviera sun was shining. It was great weather for strolling around Nice!
My French friend also gave me a tip.
“Next time you come here, you should go in September,” she said with her French accent. “The weather is still nice, and you get all the buzz left over from the summer, all the events happening. Prices are cheaper by then.”
That was another thing. Many of the cities and towns in Provence and the French Riviera profit a lot from tourism, so the prices of everything there is very seasonal. From groceries to accommodations, prices skyrocket during the summertime when the mobs of tourists come to bask in the sunlight of the South of France.
To get more bang for your buck and still enjoy the best of what Provence and the French Riviera has to offer, the best time to visit Provence and the French Riviera is during March to April and September.
Once you figure out the timing of your Nice trip, check out some tips for what to do in Nice for a day…
Things to do in the French Riviera: Shop at the Liberation market
When I began writing this article, it was 6 pm in Nice, and it’s pouring outside. It was the first rainfall I’d experienced there, and it’s so unlike the ebullient sun-drenched Nice that I’d gotten used to since I first landed there in March.
The torrent of rain was made more of a surprise since the day before that was a beautiful sunny day. On that sunny day, I went grocery shopping and decided to finally buy something after days of passing by the open-air market near the Liberation station, scanning the aisles of fruits and vegetables—and then leaving due to my dread of having to speak English to French people.
The Liberation market is officially called Marché aux Fruits et Légumes de la Libération in French (so you know how to find it ;-)). It is not populated by tourists because most tourists don’t know about it. The market is a bit off the beaten track since it’s housed near the Liberation tram station, and not near the tourist-heavy areas such as Old Town Nice or Place Massena. However, it’s still within reach because it’s only three tram stops away from the Place Massena tram stop!
This is great news because here you can experience your day in Nice like a local by attending its bustling farmer’s market. At the Liberation market, you’ll be shopping alongside locals and even local chefs who come here almost every day for fresh ingredients.
The market opens from 8am to 12:30pm, everyday except Mondays.
You can find fresh fruits, vegetables, seafood, eggs, and flowers at this market. The prices are better than prices at the popular Cours Saleya market, from what I’ve heard. This is probably due to the fact that it’s not located in a prime real estate, touristy area.
My first time there, I got an eggplant, some grape tomatoes, flowers, and prunes. I paid about 3 euros for the eggplant and a bag of grape tomatoes, 5 euros for the flowers, and 5 euros for half a kilogram of prunes. Very decent prices for fresh and delicious food!
Later that night, I bought some spices at the Carrefour grocery store nearby and made a very savory ground beef eggplant parmesan dish.
If you’re looking for things to do in the French Riviera, check out this hidden gem of a market!
Promenade des Anglais things to do
There are many restaurants that line the street facing the Promenade des Anglais. But if you want to enjoy Nice like a true local, why not pack a nice picnic to enjoy your day in Nice at the beach?
You can get a sandwich at a boulangerie or pick up some tasty food at a grocery store. Then carry it on over to the beach area at the Promenade des Anglais.
There are many choices for seating once you get to the beach area. You can walk along the promenade towards Villefranche where the “I love Nice” sculpture stands. There are some stone benches where you can sit and watch the sea rise while you enjoy your picnic. From the bench, you can see the boats to your left floating at the dock. Sometimes, a boat or two will float across the sea within your view.
The floating boat view on a clear sunny day is definitely one of the best things to do at the Promenade des Anglais!
If you’d like to be closer to the shore, you can walk on down to the beach area and have a picnic on the pebbles. The beach in Nice is a pebble beach, so if you want to sit close to the shore, be sure to bring a spread for comfort.
You can also score a seat at one of the many blue chairs that face the sea along the promenade. Those seats tend to be more populated with people than the stone benches since they are situated further along the promenade on the way towards Cagnes-sur-Mer.
After you finish relaxing by the beach, you can cross off “picnic” on your list of Promenade des Anglais things to do!
What to do in Nice when it rains: Get lost in Old Nice
The old town of Nice is a must-try experience rain or shine. The area is a few minutes walk from Place Massena, and close to most of the biggest tourist spots such as Cours Saleya and the Promenade des Anglais. You can get there on the tram and access it from the Massena, Opera Ville, or Cathedral Ville tram stops.
Old Town Nice is full of restaurants, shops, and alleys for you to wander around and get lost in. It’s a great place to try some gelato (Oui Gelato, Azurro, or Fenocchio) or meet a friend for lunch in one of the many brasseries and bistros with outdoor seating (La Favola for affordable Italian food near Cours Saleya)…or just to window shop and take pictures of the charming shops that line the alleys there.
The area has an old world charm with its many different storefronts and cobblestoned paths. It is very dense and walkable. It’s also a great place to hang out at if you’re wondering about what to do in Nice when it rains.
The South of France has a great cafe culture where you can meet with friends and just chill at a coffee shop because of the pace of life there is slower. Old Town Nice’s many restaurants and cafes allow you to spend a couple of hours chatting away with friends and family while enjoying the view of the people walking outside.
You can order an afternoon coffee or some hot cocoa, chat, and people watch while sipping away your warm drinks on a rainy day. It’s a very cozy way to enjoy the European way of life, so when it rains in Nice, put this on your list of things to do!
Things to do in the French Riviera: Walk almost everywhere
Like many of the towns and cities in the South of France, Nice is a city built for walking, so it’s very pedestrian-friendly with its many walkways. This is especially true since the weather is so mild here! It’s so much nicer to go for a stroll when you are not battling the wind or rain (like you would in Tokyo/Frankfurt).
You can enjoy your day in Nice and get your daily exercise by simply strolling around and checking out the different sights and sounds of the city.
A great place to walk around and enjoy the bustle of the city is Place Massena. There’s a man that often sets up his red piano right in the middle of this checkered plaza to play tunes. There’s also another man that does an impression of Michael Jackson and will lip sync and dance to music.
On one side of the Place Massena (opposite from the Promenade des Anglais), you will find a beautiful garden with hanging flowers and plants. There are benches there for you to sit and talk with friends, or even have a picnic. On the other side of Place Massena (facing the old town of Nice), there is an area full of little fountains with water spurting out of the ground. It’s lit up at night for a great mixture of light and water.
Avenue de Jean Medecin is another great place to walk if you want to do some shopping. High street stores such as Pimkie, Zara, Mango, and H&M line the boulevard along with more local French stores. This area also houses the Nice Etoile shopping mall with over one hundred stores and restaurants spread across four levels.
For some major charm attack, you can walk the area between Place Garibaldi and the old town of Nice. Here you can peruse many cafes, restaurants, and stores within a very dense area.
One of the best things about Nice is that the most fun areas of the city are all within five to ten minutes walking distance from one another. You can get to Place Massena and cross off all the items on your things to do in Place Massena list, then walk for about two to five minutes to get to Nice’s old town. Then from the old town, you can walk for two to five minutes to get to the Cours Saleya area. From Cours Saleya, you can walk across the street to reach the Promenade des Anglais in two to five minutes.
The long stretch of the Promenade des Anglais faces Place Massena, Cours Saleya, and Nice’s old town. So that entire area is connected with a network of walkways for easy access from one place to another.
Day trips from Monaco? Choose Nice as a destination.
If you’re somehow basing your stay out of Monaco, Nice is a great place to put on your list of day trips from Monaco. It’s about a fifteen to twenty minutes if you take the bus from one city to another, which will allow you to experience different ambiances of the French Riviera within a short travel time!