Updated January 2018: When you think of Nice and the South of France, you think of steamy, sunny days, and sprawls of sun loungers. Then there are the ‘beautiful people’ dining al fresco sipping rose at one of the chic restaurants. The reality is, is that it can be scorching hot and chock-full of tourists during the summer. And while the South of France’s main tourist season extends from Easter into the late October, there is definitely plenty to do during the winter without worrying too much about the cold, unless you want to. Here are my suggestions of 10 things to see and do in Nice this winter.
The weather in the Nice is quite mild with winter highs between 13-15° C (55-60° F), and it’s a great time to wander around with plenty of unique things to see and do without fighting the crowds. You’ll often find it’s less expensive all around, so situate yourself in Nice and use that as your base.
A great way to discover Nice and the Cote d’Azur is to get a Cote d’Azur City Pass to Marseille, Nice and Monaco. I will explain this below, but you can book it here.
1) Head to Auron Ski Resort
Nice is just at the southern end of the Alps and there are six ski resorts within varying distances: Auron, Isola 2000, Valberg, la Colmiane, Roubion et Le Boréon. The resort of Auron is the closest at only 1.5-2 hrs from Nice and you can take local transport to get there. It’s a great place for beginners to advanced skiers, along with non-ski sports, such as ice skating, ‘Airboard Luge’, snowmobiling, riding a horse-drawn carriage, and even swimming and doing aqua cycling in an outdoor pool that’s heated to 30°C (86°F)!
There is a dedicated ski bus called the Bus 100% Neige, which you need to reserve in advance from Lignes d’Azur and leaves just outside the Nice Ville train station. There are a few hotels, restaurants and bars, and you can easily make a day or an overnight of it, so great for fresh, clean air and beautiful views of the Southern Alps.
2) Attend a Winter Festival
In February there are three popular winter festivals taking place around the same time, so you can take advantage of them all. Nice gears up for the famous Nice Carnival from February 17 – March 3, 2018, the city of Menton, near the Italian border, hosts the Fete du Citron from February 17 – March 4, 2018, and nearby Mandelieu la Napoule celebrates its favorite flower during the Fête du Mimosa from around February 20-28, 2018. These towns will be busier during February and hotels will book up.
Pulling some random midweek dates in February, the 5* Hyatt Palais de la Mediterranean on the Promenade des Anglais is showing rates from $249 per night for two people. The 4* Nice Beau Rivage, just at the edge of Old Town, also on the Promenade, is coming up from $80 per night, and 3* Hôtel Le Genève conveniently located next to Place Garibaldi is at $65 per night.
3) Listen to Traditional Jazz
La Cave Romagnan is one of Nice’s oldest caves, and on Saturday evenings they offer a Jazz apero from 7 – 10 pm. Get there early as the place is small ,and you have to squeeze in just to see the band, while others are blocked, belly up to the bar trying to get a drink. You will also find various art installations (paintings, drawings, and photos) on the walls by local artists, and many are for sale. It’s truly an old traditional treat. Cave Romagnan is at 22, rue d’Angleterre, Nice.
4) Enjoy Lunch in the Company of Cats!
Warm up to the purr of Atyl (Oriental), Jaya (Bengal Snow), Evoli (Selkirk Rex), Edguard (Sphynx), Luke (Maine Coon) and Leon (American Curl), at La Ronronnerie, Nice’s first Cat Café. That’s correct, Cat Café! And the cats run the joint.
This exotic crew of felines makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, while I enjoy a light lunch of bagel sandwiches and various salads. I go with a small pack of Kleenex, because Jaya, the Bengal Snow cat, loves it when I throw them up on her turf. She’ll bat the Kleenex back at me and we play this game for a few minutes! Atys will also steal the meat from my bagel if I’m not looking! Very naughty! But I can’t say enough about this place. I could spend hours there. In fact, I do. They are all exotics and just beautiful. Le Ronronnerie is located at 4 rue de Lépante, Nice.
5) Afternoon Tea in Monaco
Treat yourself to a regal afternoon tea at the 5* Hôtel Hermitage Monte-Carlo. Choose from Black, Green, White, Herbal, Flavored and Smoked tea from around the world. Add some of their delicious homemade pastries and you can while away the hours snacking in luxury in Le Limùn Restaurant. They are located near the Monte-Carlo Casino at Square Beaumarchais.
6) Enjoy Discounts with the French Riviera Pass
Buy a French Riviera Pass for 24, 48 or 72 hours, and take advantage of the numerous attractions you can see for free. Nice alone has 15 different museums with the most famous being the Chagall Museum, the Matisse Museum, and M.A.M.A.C. These are all included for free with your pass. Other attractions that are included free are: the Picasso Museum in Antibes, the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco, a cologne-making workshop in Eze, the Exotic Gardens of Eze and Monaco, a boat trip to Cannes, guided tour of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral, the Garibaldi Crypt, a wine tasting at Domaine de Toasc – and this is just to name a few. Well worth the price of the card if you use your time wisely. You can order online.
Another way to see the French Riviera is by ordering the Cote d’Azur Day Pass to Marseille, Nice and Monaco. This is a ticket you buy online that will allow you to park in Marseille and Nice, along with round trip train tickets from Nice to Monaco. The ticket is $38.15 which includes parking in Nice and Marseille, Hop-on, hop-off tickets for all 3 cities and a a roundtrip train ticket from Nice to Monaco. It’s a fantastic way to get a comprehensive view of these fantastic seaside cities. This is a steal of a deal as Hop-on/off tickets alone in two cities would cost $46. Here you are getting a third city tour, parking and round trip train tickets. I’d seriously consider booking this to save the most money.
7) Check out the Opera
Take in some culture at the Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur. This beautiful building was re-opened in 1885 after a massive fire in 1881. The original theatre, the “petit théâtre en bois” (little wood theatre) was first created in 1776. There you can enjoy operas, symphonies and philharmonic music throughout the year. This season you can see Tosca, Eugène Onéguine and Carmen. You can also enjoy chamber music at the Chagall Museum and the Louis Nucéra Library auditorium.
8) Shop ’til you drop!
Winter sales start mid-January and go on for about a month, so you can stock up on warm-weather items at a fraction of the cost – so leave space in your suitcase. You can find great deals in the local shopping malls of Nice Etoile on Jean Medecin in the heart of Nice, Cap 3000, which is out by the airport (there are numerous buses from the center of Nice that will take you there), and there is a new shopping mall in neighboring Cagnes-sur-Mer called Polygon Riviera. Take a train from the main train station at Nice Ville and get off at the Cagnes-sur-Mer SNCF train station. From there, take the 57 bus right outside directly to Polygon.
While the Polygon is an open-air sprawl, you can warm up inside the shops and restaurants. It’s quite nice so go on a sunny day, and since there are more than 300 sunny days a year, you are sure to come across at least one when you are here. Last, but not least, is Galeries Lafayette, a multi-story department store, smack-dab in Place Masséna.
9) Watch a Drag Show
Nice is very gay friendly and there’s a hot spot in Old Town Nice by Place Rosetti called Bar B*tch/Butch. It’s a very open atmosphere of young, old, gay or not converging for a cabaret-style spectacle. Each Sunday they have a show starting around 10 pm with typically 3-4 lavishly dressed ‘ladies’ who lip-synch to popular tunes. Their makeup is impeccable and outfits are out of this world. Closed during the month of January. For more gay-friendly atmosphere, head to Rue Bonaparte just on the other side of Place Garibaldi. Bar Butch is located at 2 Rue Rossetti, Nice.
10) Sample authentic Nicoise cuisine
You will find many restaurants serving traditional Nicoise cuisine, but one of the more authentic is Acchiardo Restaurant in Old Town Nice. They serve a melange of Nicoise and Mediterranean flavors. The Acchiardo family have been operating since 1927 and it is now 4 generations deep.
It’s near impossible to get in here during summer. They don’t take credit cards and reservations are highly recommended. Otherwise, get there by 7pm when doors open. It fills up quick! Some popular items are their red wine marinated daube over traditional ravioli, stuffed vegetables called Farcis, fois gras, swordfish, rabbit, and duck. The desserts are interesting and local wines are reasonably priced. Acchiardo is location at 38 Rue Doite in Old Town, Nice.
There are so many great things to see and do in Nice all year round. I hope you’ll try some of these. Enjoy your stay!!
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