Updated Jan 2020 – While the main tourist season in the South of France’s spans from Easter to late October, there are definitely plenty of activities in and around Nice in winter without worrying too much about the cold, unless you want to. Here are 10 things to see and do in Nice in winter.
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When you think of Nice and the South of France, you think of steamy, sunny days, and sprawls of sun loungers. Beautiful people are dining al fresco, sipping rose at one of the pricey, seaside restaurants.
The reality is, Nice can be scorching hot and chock-full of sweaty, irritated tourists during the summer. Getting into a restaurant can be a next to impossible without a reservation, and the hotel prices are at their all-time high. Traveling by bus or tram can be like riding in a hot sardine can. “Doesn’t the driver know how frickin’ hot it is back here?”
- 1 Weather in Nice
- 2 Head to the Ski Resorts
- 3 100% Ski Bus from Nice
- 4 February is a time for festivals and carnivals on the Cote d’Azur
- 5 Nice in winter is great for Traditional Jazz and Live Music
- 6 Fun thing to do in Nice in the winter is have lunch at a Cat Cafe
- 7 Happy Hour on a rooftop terrace overlooking the Mediterranean
- 8 Take the Nice Hop-on/Hop-off Bus Tour
- 9 Enjoy Discounts with the French Riviera Pass
- 10 The Opera in Nice is a nice winter experience
- 11 Shopping Centers in Nice
- 12 Shopping Centers near Nice
- 13 Watch a film in Nice in the winter
- 14 Dine at one of the usually-booked Nicoise Restaurants
Weather in Nice
The weather in Nice is quite mild in winter with highs between 55-60° F. We rarely get snow and if we do, it only lasts a day. Just long enough for everyone to get excited, for the buses to come to a standstill, and for people to take loads of photos to say, ‘Woo hoo, we got snow.’ Then it’s gone.
Out of all the months, February is the rainiest, so pack an umbrella.
When it rains in Nice, we know the mountains are getting snow. That’s great for skiers. It’s a super time to wander around and see how Nice truly operates as a normal city, without all the tourists. The hotels are less expensive, so situate yourself in Nice and use that as your base for exploring the area. And speaking of using Nice as a base, you could also do a variety of day trips from Nice to Italy. So keep that in mind as well.
Ok, so let’s get started with things to do in winter in Nice.
Head to the Ski Resorts
If you are a ski buff, you are in luck! 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 and Le Boréon.
Auron Ski Resort is the closest at only 1.5-2 hrs from Nice on the local bus. Auron is great for beginners to advanced skiers, as well as non-skiers. There’s ice skating, ‘Airboard Luge’, snowmobiling, horse-drawn carriages, and even swimming and aqua cycling in an outdoor pool that’s heated to 30°C (86°F)!
You’re also not that far from many Italian ski resorts. It’s well worth adding a few extra days and hit the Italian slopes as well.
100% Ski Bus from Nice
There is a dedicated ski bus called the Bus 100% Neige, which you must reserve in advance from Lignes d’Azur and it leaves from the Nice Ville train station and the Nice Airport. There are a few hotels, restaurants and bars, and you can easily make a day or an overnight of it. It’s great for fresh, clean air and beautiful views of the Southern Alps.
February is a time for festivals and carnivals on the Cote d’Azur
Winter time is a time for festivals and carnivals on the Cote d’Azur, and there are three popular festivals to keep in mind.
The first is the famous Nice Carnaval in mid February. The dates are February 15-29, 2020. This carnival runs for two weeks with fanciful parades based on an annual theme. The 2020 theme is the King of Fashion. I can’t wait to see what outlandish outfits the characters on the floats will be wearing.
There is a ‘Battle of the Flowers’ parade where people vie to catch bouquets of flowers and mimosa tossed into the crowds. Ticket prices are anywhere between $22 and $26 depending on the parade.
Fete du Citron
Then there’s the Fete du Citron or Citrus Festival in the town of Menton near the Italian border. That festival takes place simultaneous to the Nice Carnival. In 2020, the festival is from February 15 – March 3. Floats are made entirely of oranges and lemons, and they have an expo garden where you can marvel at the creations made entirely of fruits. It’s truly amazing and smells great. I love this festival.
The parades are $26 if you want a seat, or $12 if you are okay standing. The expo garden costs about $15 to wonder around. It’s a great day out.
Fete du Mimosa
And finally during the last week of February, the town of Mandelieu la Napoule celebrates its favorite flower during the Fête du Mimosa. That festival is from February 19-26, 2020.
This festival runs one week and they have afternoon and evening parades and tickets cost around $15. These towns will be busier during February and hotels will book up.
Pulling some random midweek dates in February 2020, the 5* Hyatt Palais de la Mediterranean on the Promenade des Anglais shows rates from $230 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 $112 per night, and 3* Hotel Vendome Nice conveniently located near Place Massena is at $73 per night. These are great prices for this season.
Nice in winter is great for Traditional Jazz and Live Music
La Cave Romagnan is one of Nice’s oldest caves, and on Saturday evenings they offer the best Jazz in Nice from 7 – 10 pm. Get there early as the place is small. You have to squeeze in 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.
Another locale that offers music in Nice nightly is Shapko Bar in Old Town, near Place Rossetti. They offer R&B, rock, funk, jazz and loads of cover bands. Nice place if you want live music every night of the week. Depending on who’s playing, it can get quite busy. Music starts around 10p and goes until 2:30a.
Fun thing to do in Nice in the winter is have lunch at a Cat Cafe
The best lunch spot in Nice is warm and fuzzy. Cuddle up to the purr of Jaya (Bengal Snow), Evoli (Selkirk Rex), Edguard (Sphynx), Luke (Maine Coon) and Leon (American Curl), at La Ronronnerie, This is Nice’s Cat Café and definite a fun thing to do in Nice in the winter. That’s correct, a 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! I can’t say enough about this place. I could spend hours there. In fact, I do. I’m there once a month. They are all exotics and just beautiful. Le Ronronnerie is located at 4 rue de Lépante, Nice.
Happy Hour on a rooftop terrace overlooking the Mediterranean
Even during the winter, Nice’s bars and restaurants accommodate for the occasional cold temperatures. You can enjoy several, lovely rooftop bars where you sit outside, enjoy the sun and warm up near portable heaters. A few top choices are the rooftop bars of the Hotel Meridien, right on the Promenade.
Seafront Bars in Nice
There are a variety of seafront bars on the Promenade with balconies overlooking the sea, such as Movida, Waka Bar, Tropaz Bar and L’Eden. Those are great spots if you get a seat on the balcony. You can enjoy an apero and a sunset.
Further down the Promenade, hit the rooftop terrace at the Radisson Blue Hotel. They have stunning views of the entire coast toward Nice. Prices with be a bit higher than other Happy Hour locations, but who doesn’t want to sip a cocktail or enjoy a local glass of red wine overlooking the Baie des Anges?
Take the Nice Hop-on/Hop-off Bus Tour
On days when the wind is brisk, book the popular Nice Hop-on/Hop-off tour bus. This is a brilliant 1.5hr tour and hits all of the major stops you should see in Nice and the surrounding area.
You can book it for 1 or 2 days and simply hop on and off as you like.
The bus now goes to neighboring, Villefranche-sur-mer, so you can spend part of a day snooping around the village and exploring the citadel. Go on a Sunday when there is an antique market down by the port.
There is recorded commentary and you’ll receive a set of headphones to take in all the details. Tickets are about $23 for the day and you can book your tickets here.
Enjoy Discounts with the French Riviera Pass
Buy a French Riviera Pass for 24, 48 or 72 hours, and there’s a lot you can see in Nice in the winter indoors! Take advantage of the numerous attractions that are included. 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 with your pass.
Other attractions that are included 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 – just to name a few. Well worth the price of the card if you use your time wisely. You can order online. I’d seriously consider booking this to save the most money, and is one of the way you can see Monaco on a budget.
The Opera in Nice is a nice winter experience
You could consider taking in a performance at the Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur. This beautiful building re-opened in 1885 after a massive fire in 1881. The original theatre, the “petit théâtre en bois” (little wood theatre) was first built in 1776. There are operas, symphonies and philharmonic music throughout the year. This season is Tosca, Eugène Onéguine and Carmen. You can also enjoy chamber music at the Chagall Museum and the Louis Nucéra Library auditorium.
Shopping Centers in Nice
You will inevitably want to go shopping in Nice while you are here. Winter shopping sales start mid-January and go on for about a month. You can stock up on warm-weather items at a fraction of the cost – so leave space in your suitcase.
You don’t have to go far to find some decent shopping on the Cote d’Azur. Aside from the Galleries Layafette department store, Nice has a couple of shopping malls: Nice Etoile on Jean Medecin in the heart of Nice, and Cap 3000, which is on the other side of the airport (take Bus 12 from the center of Nice).
Shopping Centers near Nice
Polygon Riviera, an open-air shopping center, is in the village of Cagnes-sur-Mer. The easiest way to get there, is to take a train from Nice Ville and get off at the Cagnes-sur-Mer train station. Bus 57 is right outside the station and goes to the mall and back. It’s very easy. While 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. With more than 300 sunny days a year, you are sure to have at least one sunny day when you are here.
Another brilliant shopping experience is the Metropole Shopping Center in Monaco, connected to the Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo. This is truly my favorite place. Over the holidays, the Metropole is so incredibly festive and chic. They really out-do themselves with the quality of their decorations. Monaco is just beautiful anyway and the Metropole fits right in.
While the prices may be a bit steep, they have the best shoe stores in all of Monaco, I swear. If you want jeweled tennis shoes and boots that scream you are rolling in dough, that’s the place to go. Be sure to stop at the cafe downstairs that is in the open atrium. Lovely place for lunch or an Italian hot chocolate.
Watch a film in Nice in the winter
A great thing to do in Nice in the winter is to catch up on the latest foreign films. Many film houses here show films in French, or in foreign/original languages with French subtitles. The best, in my opinion, is Cinema Mercury in Place Garibaldi, which has been around since 1911. This cinema shows the widest variety of art, indie, foreign – you name it – types of films, all in original languages. On Mondays, films cost $5.50, otherwise it’s @$8.
The Cinémathèque, in the Acropolis Complex in Nice, is a great place for cheap films on the big screen. It’s hit or miss with lots of different genres. Films don’t run for long, so swing by and pick up the list of what’s running for the month. And for $2.50, it’s a bargain to spend a few hours in the afternoon or evening.
The Cinema Rialto near the Negresco Hotel shows first-run films with discounts on certain days, and the most expensive will be the Cinema Pathe on Jean Medecin just across from the Nice Etoile shopping centre.
Dine at one of the usually-booked Nicoise Restaurants
Loads of restaurants serve traditional Nicoise cuisine, which you absolutely must try, and wintertime is when you can more easily walk in and get a table immediately. One of the more authentic is Chez 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. Frankly, Old Town is where the best restaurants are with Nicoise cuisine.
Forget getting a table in the summer without a reservation. Otherwise, get there by 7pm when doors open and see what’s left. It fills up quick! What’s popular? Try 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.
For some of the best Socca in Nice, you should try Chez Pipo. Locals say they serve up the best chickpea pancakes in town. Another option is to get in line at Rene Socca on Rue Miralhéti in Old Town Nice. The line might be long, but they serve up loads of other small Nicoise bites like fried sardines and stuffed peppers. Then take a seat on their terrace and enjoy your cheap ‘street food.’
There are so many great things to see and do in Nice in the winter. I hope you’ll try some of these. Drop me a line and let me know how it goes.
Europe in the Winter
You’ll actually find a number of reasons to visit Europe in the winter in general. One favorite of mine is Athens in Winter, which has the same mild temperatures as Nice, or maybe Prague in winter for its characteristic wonderland appeal. So give those a look, too.
Nice is a very gay-friendly travel destination with plenty of options for the LGBT community. Here’a a great 3-day Nice LGBT Travel Guide to get you started.
For starters, 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.