Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the beautiful city of Nice is known for being one of France’s most popular tourist destinations. It is also renowned for being very elegant, exclusive and expensive – certainly not somewhere many would initially conceive of as a budget travel destination. However, after having visited this glorious European city, I wanted to let more people know about a side of this city that can be enjoyed by even the most frugal adventurer. As such here are my recommendations for the best budget friendly things to do in Nice.
1. Visit the Famous Cathedral of Notre Dame
Notre Dame de Nice is one of the most important religious buildings in the city, if not the whole of France. This Roman Catholic Church is located right in the city centre of Nice, along Avenue Jean Médecin, a very popular shopping street. Notre Dame represents a majestic example of neo-Gothic architecture and is incredibly striking as the largest church in Nice with its 2 square towers and rose window portraying scenes from the Assumption of Mary. I love this place because of the historical grandeur you immediately feel on entering it. Like any of the most famous European landmarks, it’s certainly one to tick off the bucket list, especially as it’s free!
Notre Dame can easily be reached on foot, as it is located right in the city centre. Alternatively, you can use the city’s tram (line 1) and get off at Jean Médecin.
Opening hours: Monday to Friday from 8.30am-12pm and 2.30pm-7pm.
2. People Watch at the Place Masséna
If you can’t afford to indulge in any shopping along Avenue Jean Médecin, then can I suggest you visit the nearby main square of Nice, Place Masséna, instead. Sublimely lined with beautiful palms and pines, it’s a great place to indulge in some serious people watching or just to relax as you absorb the hustle and bustle of the city around you. During certain times of the year, the Place Masséna, becomes the main focal point of some of Nice’s biggest events and takes on a whole life of its own. Definitely try to visit it at these times if you can, you’ll certainly understand then why this is one of my best budget friendly things to do in Nice.
In February, during the Carnival period, the square is used for the parades.
In December, it hosts a lovely Christmas market, with lots of stalls, a Christmas tree and even a Ferris wheel.
On Bastille Day, July 14th (French National Day), commemorative military parades take place on the square.
3. Stroll Along the Promenade des Anglais
This promenade is the elegant waterfront of Nice, which stretches for 7km along the so-called Bay of the Angels. It is a place where both locals and tourists can take a rejuvenating stroll and delight in one of Nice’s most inviting attractions– the beautiful Mediterranean Sea views. After all, no trip to Nice is complete without enjoy some sea air and the beautiful colours of the Côte d’Azur! If walking isn’t your thing, then you can always rest and enjoy the so-called chaises bleues (blue chairs) – great icons of this luxurious French city that won’t cost you a cent to experience!
4. Feel like you’re in Moscow at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St-Nicolas
Inspired by the supreme Saint Basil’s Cathedral in the Red Square in Moscow, this religious building, which is the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in Western Europe, clearly stands out thanks to its very different style of architecture. Almost feeling like you are in Russia, this church has become the most visited attraction in Nice after the Promenade and I love it because it is so different from the rest of the city’s architecture – it’s always good fun to take a photo of you outside it and then share with your friends telling them you’ve been to Russia too! As such, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St-Nicolas is definitely one of the best budget friendly things to do in Nice. Sadly, the Cathedral is currently closed for important restoration works, but you can still see the outside, and take a photo! When it reopens, hopefully by November 2015, you can then visit the inside of the cathedral for 3€. If you do plan on visiting however, make sure you are appropriately dressed – long skirts or trousers with covered shoulders and closed shoes are advised.
The Cathedral of St-Nicolas is located along Avenue Nicolas II (Blvd. Tzarevitch). As I said, please be mindful of the dress code – the security guards are strict.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 9am-12pm and 2pm-6pm.
5. Spend a Morning at the Musée du Message Biblique Marc-Chagall
If you are in Nice, you cannot miss a visit to the wonderful National Museum dedicated to Marc Chagall, one of greatest artists of the 20th century. The museum contains a large collection of Chagall’s works that were inspired by his religion and was founded while the painter was still alive. There are some incredible, large pieces when you first enter the museum that are based on the bible books of Genesis and Exodus. I always find it interesting to see how religion is interpreted by artists, regardless of whether they have a faith not. Exploring this Museum will take a couple of hours, so allow plenty of time. Tickets cost 8€ (children pay 6€) but it’s well worth it to see the rich colours of this artistic work and because you receive a free audio guide with the admission fee too. In addition, free entrance is available on the 1st Sunday of each month for EU citizens aged under 26.
The Musée du Message Biblique Marc-Chagall can be found in the Cimiez area of Nice, at 16 Avenue du Docteur Ménard. This is around 2 miles from the city’s beaches, near the Matisse Museum, and bus routes 22 and 15 will get you here. Otherwise it’s about a 20 minute walk from the city centre.
Opening hours: 10am-5/6pm (closed Tuesdays)
6. Explore the Famous Matisse Museum
It goes without saying that this museum is dedicated to the famous French painter Henry Matisse and hosts the largest collection of his work globally. Admission fees are 10€, but children under 18 can enter for free. I recommend this place as one of the best budget friendly things to do in Nice not only to see the artist’s works, but also to enjoy the location of the building itself, which is located in one of the most ancient part of the city, Cimiez. Cimiez was the main site of the Roman province in Nice and today there are still some Roman ruins, like the arena and the baths, which are also interesting to see.
The Matisse museum is easily located on the hill of Cimiez at 164 Avenue des Arènes de Cimiez. You can catch local buses: 15, 17, 20, 25 here. The stop you need is Les Arènes.
Opening hours: 10am-6pm (closed Tuesdays)
So those are my recommendations for the best budget friendly things to do in Nice. What are yours?