Our first visit to Nice in France in winter was in January. This was also the first road trip by car from Kyiv, Ukraine. We had a 2-week route with 2,393 km (1,487 miles) to drive through Hungary, Slovenia, and Italy. Nice was the ultimate goal with an itinerary for 2 days that we’ve all been anticipating so much.
Neither of us has ever been to the French Riviera before, and yes, we could’ve waited till summer, but that travel itch is, well, sometimes it is the main stimulus. As it turned out, in this case, it served us right. A few years later, we managed to visit the gem of Cote d’Azur in the summer and got a chance to compare. We unanimously agreed that our weekend in Nice in winter was much cozier. The city had that relaxed vibe with a focus on the local life rather than a hectic and busy vibe brought by 100s of tourists during the summer months.
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Why is Nice worth visiting in winter?
The three main reasons are:
- Unusual Christmas in turquoise colors by the Mediterranean sea if you head to Nice in December.
- Fewer tourists in January.
- A chance to live in Nice on a budget.
We were in the city in January, with the Christmas rush behind, and the tourists leaving the French Riviera. That led to lots of hotels and AirBnBs being listed with major discounts. We managed to rent a lovely studio on Promenade des Anglais, with its windows facing the beautiful blue waters of the sea, at only 35 USD per night. In high season, we would’ve paid twice as much.
Also, the winter season allows for lots of walks that fit perfectly into our itinerary for Nice, France. The city’s center with all the main points of interest is relatively small. Because the weather in winter is mild and there is no exhausting heat or the dust of the summer months, traveling through the city by foot becomes an absolute treat.
Things to consider when planning 2 days in Nice, France
- If you are headed to Nice in December for the Christmas celebrations, definitely book in advance. Around 5 million tourists per year come to the gem of the French Riviera, and a big chunk of this traffic happens during the last two weeks before the New Year.
- Pack wisely. The weather in winter is friendly and yet, a bit tricky, too. A pair of warm shoes, a coat over a sweater, a scarf, a hat, and maybe warm gloves – this is the travel wardrobe that kept us warm during the chilly mornings and evenings. But then again, you can be in luck when it is warm enough to be wearing sweaters and jeans with a scarf (that being said, we’ve seen quite a few locals going for a swim in January).
- Nice is very friendly to joggers. Morning exercises on Promenade des Anglaise are such a treat! Understandable that when staying in Nice for 2 or 3 days, there will most likely be no time for sports on the itinerary. But if you are extending the visit, consider throwing a pair of jogging sneakers and a couple of extra T-shirts.
- Parking is a huge challenge in this town. Most of the places are limited to several minutes to hours. Plus, and we are writing this with all our love to the lovely people in Nice, hearing the bumpers crashing in the morning is heartwrenching. And it is also the usual deal as the locals are squeezing their vehicles into narrow parking lots along the boulevards. The best tip would be to look for the nearby paid garage and to leave the car there.
- As far as where to stay in Nice, we would definitely recommend the Promenade. There is nothing like waking up to the sound of the sea and to the beautiful blue hues of the water literally taking all the space in the window. Surprisingly, we found the Promenade to be a relatively quiet place in winter. Alternatively to the Old Town, we can also recommend Gambetta and Jean-Médecin areas.
Seasonal things to do in Nice, France, in winter
Enjoy Christmas in Nice
If you are in Nice in December during the festive days, making your way through all the Christmas fairs, decorated parks, squares, and streets could easily take two days. So, here’s just a brief outline of activities:
- Massena square transforms into a Christmas ensemble of decorations and activities. There is a Christmas Village with all the fun things to do, as well as the rink that remains frozen up until February.
- Of course, while in the Massena area, don’t miss out on a chance to ride the Ferris Wheel for the truly festive panoramic views.
- Afterward, head towards the Cathedral Saint Reparate for the Midnight Mass. The nearby Place Rosetti is where the live nativity is set.
- There is a fabulous rink in Monaco if you are up for a drive and are willing to explore activities outside of Nice.
Come in February for the Festival
For two weeks in February, the Old Town of Nice becomes home to the multi-colored parade with gigantic floats and mind-blowing performances. Each year, a theme is picked, and the activities are held during the daytime and in the evenings. Promenade des Anglaise is the place where the flower battle takes place, while the area around Place Massena turns into the massive stage for the floats and performers.
Nice Itinerary for 2 days. Day 1
Head to the markets in the Old Town of Nice
No one beats the French when it comes to the local markets. The one in the Vieille Ville may be the perfect way to make an acquaintance with the town. It is called the Cours Saleya. On all days but Mondays it hosts a flower market and fruit/veggies stalls. On Mondays, the area becomes the flea market.
Hidden in the old and cozy streets of the Vieille Ville are also the fish markets where it is oh-so-fun to practice French while taking advice from the locals on how to cook whatever type of fish you are buying from them.
If you are renting an Airbnb in Nice, markets are where I highly recommend doing the shopping. If you are staying in the hotel, stop by the market stalls for the local fruits, snacks, and neatly packed spices for different cooking occasions.
Bike through Promenade des Anglais
The iconic 7-kilometer promenade by the blue waters of the Angel’s Bay is what made the town so popular in the first place. Back in the 18th century, this area was flooded with aristocrats from Europe who invested in real estate here and spent the winter seasons by the gorgeous seafront.
Probably the most legendary building of Promenade des Anglais is the Negresco hotel. Named after the initial owner, Anri Negresco, it was built in the 1900s. Parts of the iconic pink dome were created in the workshop of Gustav Eiffel. The list of prominent guests included Coco Chanel and Ernest Hemingway.
Located right behind Negresco is the Villa Masséna Musée, another noteworthy stop on Promenade des Anglais.
Enjoy panoramas from the Castle Hill
Located at the end of Promenade des Anglais, Colline du Chateau is a lush green park with gorgeous views of the coast and Promenade des Anglaise on one side and the Port de Nice on the other side of the hill. Back in the days, this was a military fort. On your way up, you will be passing the Casteau waterfall and the ruins of the old cathedral. Speaking of the way up, you will have a choice of either ascending by the lift or walking up the stairs.
Walk all the way to the Coco Beach
Descend the Castle Hill from the side of the Port de Nice and continue walking along the seafront. This is a meditative 2.5 km trail through the Park Vigier and Jardin Felix Rainau. There will be plenty of cafes with a view on your way towards Coco Beach. If you are feeling adventurous, you can continue walking by taking the Coastal Path towards Cap de Nice. The trail starts right after the Coco Beach.
Enjoy evening panoramas of Nice from Mont-Boron
Full disclosure – for this view, you will need to beat 100 steps up the hill and into the area. But the ascend is so worth it! Mont-Boron is a prestigious part of town, which may also be a perfect pick if you are looking for apartments with a view.
You can also reach the viewpoint by car. There are several parking spots where you can leave the vehicle.
Nice Itinerary for 2 days. Day 2
Take a walk through the Old Town
While the first day was dedicated to exploring the seafront, the second day is when we recommend learning more about the heart of Nice.
Start at Jardin Albert 1er and head towards Place Garibaldi. On your way, you will pass Place Massena with its iconic checkered tiles and the Fontaine du Soleil. Then, head in the direction of the Mirror Fountain, and continue the stroll towards Fortifications de la Porte Pairolière.
This area hosts plenty of cafes perfect for a cup of coffee or a decent lunch.
Head towards the Cimiez quarter
This lovely residential area is a mix of old Roman ruins and artistic points of interest. From Place Garibaldi, head up towards the Boulevard de Cimiez. Among the stops to plan in the neighborhood, we recommend the Franciscan Monastery, the remains of the Roman City, and the Valrose Castle, as well as the legendary museums – Matisse and Marc Chagall.
Pick a museum or an art gallery
Nice has the highest concentration of artistic life in France, after Paris. There is a total of 19 museums and art galleries in town. Naturally, the iconic location starring on all the lists of things to do in Nice in December, January, or February is Musée Matisse located in the heart of the Cimiez Quarter. Following it is the Musée National Marc Chagall. If you would prefer something a bit more modern, then our recommendation would be Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain, aka MAMAC.
Don’t miss out on all the local food
Would it be too cheesy to recommend the Niçoise salad in the first sentence of the paragraph about local food? Be that as it may, the dish is well worth the attention. Also, did you know that there is no standard recipe acknowledged as the standard? Some chefs in the area make it with potatoes, while others stick to rice. While doing so, they also eagerly advocate for their version to be the classic one.
Among other great dishes to try in the area, there is the onions and anchovies pie Pissaladièr, as well as bouillabaisse, the coastal soup with several types of fish.
Visiting Nice in France in winter: Frequently Asked Questions
If I have only one day in Nice in France in winter, what would be the best itinerary?
How many days are optimal for a stay in Nice, France?
What is the weather like in Nice in winter?
What are the best areas to stay in Nice, France, in winter?
Written by Inessa Rezanova
I am a Kyiv-based screenwriter with 10+ years of experience in producing scripts. I love my job, and no, I did not quit it to travel the world. I see different countries in my spare time. As a storyteller, I believe that it is the emotional journey that matters the most. This is why together with my sister I started this blog to encourage everyone to travel and to do so with a heart and mind opened to adventures.
Images by Natalie Rezanova
I am a photographer based in Kyiv, Ukraine. I am lucky to be able to do what I love the most for a living. Photography is an endless source of inspiration for me. My mission on this blog is to inspire by sharing some of the favorite captions from my journeys. I also provide professional photography tips to help the readers bring home some beautiful photo memories.