Nice Old Town: Absorbing History and Culture in the Côte d’Azur

The pedestrian-friendly streets, winding pathways, historic houses decked out in trompe l’oeil and rust-red tiled roofs, and vibrant squares of Nice Old Town (known locally as le Vieux Nice) are just some of the reasons to explore this enticing Côte d’Azur outpost. The Old Town, with its plethora of restaurants, shops, and open-air markets bearing flowers, vegetables, and cheeses, has the feel of a medieval village nestled amid the fifth most populous city in France. This beautiful city cozies up to the Mediterranean, where the Promenade des Anglais (Walkway of the English) beckons, and you can experience it as an extension on the Vantage French Waterways: Highlights of Burgundy, Beaujolais & Provence cruise.

La Prom

The Promenade des Anglais, often called simply la Prom by locals, takes its name from the earliest visitors to this signature area of the south of France. This beachside promenade is a perfect place to wander before grabbing some vital sunbathing time on the beach. Bask in the warmth of the sunlight as it shatters into countless tiny reflections off the impossibly blue Mediterranean, the same views that inspired legendary painters like Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse.

Take in the beauty of the Old Town on a Promenade tourist train near the lush Albert I Garden. The train rolls through Nice Old Town, up the Chateau Hill, and back down again, where you can begin exploring the area in depth.

Iconic Architecture

The pedestrian-only Place Rossetti presides over the Old Town with a grand fountain and the striking Cathédral Sainte-Réparate, dating back to 1699. Other historic places of worship in the Old Town include the ornate Chapelle de la Miséricorde, a unmistakable baroque church, and the Jesuit-built Église Saint-Jacques-le-Majeur, which boasts unforgettable frescoes.

On the secular side, the open-air Cours Saleya market is open daily, offering a different experience each time you visit. Also not to be missed is the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Palais Messena, one of Nice’s few remaining 19th-century villas. Free to the public, this romantic manse offers a little of everything, be that a painting or an artifact, from a number of eras, up to and including the Napoleonic, Belle Époque, and Art Deco periods.

Meanwhile, the Opéra de Nice is a sight to behold, with or without the chance to experience a performance. Some performances happen during atypical hours, like Sunday mornings, when the heralded L’Orchestre Philharmonique de Nice has been known to play.

Finally, the Observatoire de Nice, now known as the Côte d’Azur Observatory, majestically presides over Nice Old Town on Mont Gros, courtesy of legendary architects Gustave Eiffel (of the Tower fame) and Charles Garnier, who designed the iconic Palais Garnier for the Paris Opera. Get a truly unparalleled view of the area through a massive telescope that was among Europe’s largest in 1886–87 when it became operational. Amuse-toi bien!

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