Nice is located along the French Rivera in the south of France, and often conjures up images of millionaires soaking up the sun on their yachts. This might be the reason that backpackers tend to give this city a miss, but I managed to stay here whilst on a very tight budget, and still made the most of what was on offer.
Nice is ideal as a one night stopover between destinations, which is easy if you travel slowly and possibly have a little more time on your hands. I came here from Genoa in Italy, and ultimately my goal was to get to Barcelona. I made a stopover in Nice before getting the horrendously long bus to Spain, from Marseille. Sounds complicated, I know, but it saved so much money.
There are a few different options when it comes to getting into Nice. If arriving by train you’re in luck, because the train station is centrally located and close to many of the hotels and hostels. Simply hop off the train and you’ll find yourself immediately drawn into the hustle and bustle of Nice.
If you’re flying in, or getting a cheap bus as I did, you’ll arrive at the Nice Côte d’Azur International Airport, which is where many budget airlines operate from. I panicked slightly when my bus from Italy made its final stop here, as I was hoping to be taken to the city centre, but don’t worry: the airport is just twenty minutes away, and it only costs six euro to get the Airport Express bus.
When you see the long queue of people waiting to buy a ticket you’ll know you’re in the right place (ask for bus number 98 or 99). A cheaper option, which admittedly I was too lazy to do, is walk out of the airport to the Promenade des Anglais, and catch a local bus for less than two euro.
Initially I planned to stay in Nice for one night, but due to my own stupidity and lack of sleep when I checked in, I ended up staying for two! There’s not really a big hostel culture in Nice and at first I struggled to find a place, but then I came across the Antares Hostel.
If you’re just looking for a place to sleep at night it’s decent, if a little impersonal, but I still managed to meet people and have a good time, even though some of my roommates had interesting ideas about dorm room etiquette.
The first night I got woken up by a girl turning the light on at 1am, so that she could take pictures of herself on her laptop. She did this right next to my bed. With the volume turned up.
Despite this I woke up somewhat refreshed the next day and ready to take on the city.
Avenue Jean Medecin
The best way to get acquainted with this city is to walk down the high street, Avenue Jean Medecin. It’s lined with shops, and after weeks of budget travel and living out of my backpack, I was a little overwhelmed at being surrounded by so many things again!
Being on a budget, I took this opportunity to just window shop (and restrain myself from buying a whole new wardrobe), and take in the stunning buildings. One of my unexpected discoveries was reaching Place Massena Square at the end of the Avenue. In the summer it’s stunning with the sun and blue sky enhancing the colours of the surrounding red buildings, and the Fontaine du Soleil is worth checking out too and taking some pictures of. Loads of street performers tend to congregate in this area, making it a really fun and social place to relax and people watch.
Old Town – Vieux Nice
After this it’s worth dedicating a few hours to exploring the beautiful old town, which you’ll find is a complete contrast to the busy high street. It’s best to just stroll around here without a map, and accept that you will likely get lost in the maze of little cobbled streets.
Chances are you’ll find yourself coming out somewhere you recognise anyway, even if it’s not where you initially planned on being. There are some beautiful baroque buildings to be glimpsed in this part of Nice. Be sure to check out the Cathédrale Sainte Réparate.
Walking down The Cours Saleya, one of the busiest streets in this area, is also something not to be missed. It becomes a market during the day and when I visited it was packed! Try and head here before the crowds, as I imagine it would be nice to stroll around the stalls, but there were just too many people when I was there.
After exploring the old town you’ll be in the perfect position to head to Castle Hill. This is a slightly misleading name as there is actually no longer a castle here, but you can still see some of the ruins, and I guess that’s kind of the same thing!
If you decide to make the climb up, you’ll have time to catch your breathe again whilst taking in the beauty of the city below. Check out the waterfall too, which is actually more of a fountain. If you have less time (or energy) there’s always the lift option, the entrance to which can be found near the beach.
Relax on the beach
The main beach in Nice is stunning and is the perfect place to end the day and watch the sunset, with some delicious French food picked up from the supermarket for company.
This was my plan until within seconds of sitting down a group of four men came and sat uncomfortably close, and tried talking to me in French. When I made it clear that I didn’t understand, they laughed amongst themselves and continued staring at me. As if this wasn’t awkward enough, moments later an older Italian man sat down on the other side of me and wanted to exchange life stories, add me on various social media, and take me out for pizza! It’s safe to say that I declined his offer and quickly made my escape back to the hostel, definitely ready for some wine!
Maybe take some headphones with you if you want to avoid any unwanted attention, and actually get to enjoy the views.
The best way to end any stay in this part of France is to experience the nightlife, and thankfully not everywhere is chic and expensive, so don’t worry if you haven’t got your heels stuffed into your backpack! As I was to find out the best bars are in the old town, and if you stick to less touristy places then you can have a very affordable night.
If you’re just doing Nice as a stopover though, don’t get so inebriated that you oversleep and miss your alarm the next morning! Not only did the American guy in my dorm wake up the whole room with his phone alarm, but he failed to wake himself up, and no one else was feeling particularly like helping him out after this. I’ve always wondered if he managed to make that train to Milan or not!
If travelling around Western Europe then time should definitely be made to explore Nice. It offers the perfect mixture of beautiful beaches and sea, as well as interesting architecture and history, and let’s not forget the amazing nightlife. You might not need to stay long, but it’s a city you won’t forget in a hurry.