Nice (Photo:S-F/Shutterstock)
Nice (Photo:S-F/Shutterstock)
5.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

Maria Harding
Cruise Critic Contributor

Port of Nice

Nice is the biggest city on France's glorious Cote D'Azur and the second most-visited French destination after Paris. With its intriguing old town, fabulous shops and stylish inhabitants, Nice provides the perfect springboard to sample the French Riviera.

The French Riviera stretches 80 miles along France's Mediterranean coast and is home to some of the world's most sophisticated resorts, such as Cap d'Antibes and St Tropez, as well as the small but very chic principality of Monaco, where America's darling, Grace Kelly, was a fairytale princess.

Grace certainly wasn't the first celebrity to fall in love on -- and with -- the French Riviera. In the 19th century the region played host to Queen Victoria and her son, King Edward VII, and was a favourite haunt of the Rothschilds.

Later visitor lists read like a who's who of the 20th and 21st centuries. Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Edith Wharton, Somerset Maugham, Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald and Aldous Huxley were all Riviera fans; more recent celebrities including Elton John have bought homes in this spectacular part of the world, which effortlessly retains its reputation as a magnet for the mega-rich of all nationalities.

The Cote d'Azur Economic Development Agency reckons that every year, the coast attracts at least half of the world's superyachts, while an estimated 90 percent of all superyachts visit it at least once. But despite its reputation as the playground of the beaux monde, there is also a very down-to-earth aspect to the Cote d'Azur.

Many residents zip about on local buses or low-priced trains; sleepy medieval villages perched precariously on the side of mountains are full of craft shops selling locally-made soaps, scented candles and other goodies at perfectly affordable prices. And in harborfront cafes, you can gaze at gleaming mega-yachts while tucking into a cheap-and-cheerful croque-monsieur, salad Nicoise or steak-frites.

Nice is bordered by Provence to the west, the Alps to the north and Italy to the east and epitomizes this blend of starry glamour with "all comers welcome" pragmatism. It's easy to explore on foot, has some excellent street markets and is an excellent -- and surprisingly affordable -- place in which to spend a few days at the top or tail end of a Mediterranean cruise.

Shore Excursions

About Nice


Pro

The coastline offers a choice of upscale resorts or laidback cafes; artistic haunts lie in between

Con

Keep an eye on the VAT or tax that can rack up dining and shopping bills an additional 20 percent

Bottom Line

The largest city on the Cote D'Azur offers the glamour of the French Riviera with sentimental charms


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Where You're Docked

Some (smaller) cruise ships dock at the Port of Nice on the Quai du Commerce pier, about a half-hour walk away from the city centre. Others anchor in neighboring Villefranche Bay and tender passengers ashore into the delightful little port of Villefranche-sur-Mer. This is worth exploring in its own right but is also a short (and regular) train journey from Nice.

Conventional and fast-ferry operations to Corsica also operate from Nice.

Port Facilities

Port facilities include a tourist information office, bureaux de change, toilets and a taxi rank. (NOTE: all taxis are metered and drivers are obliged to display their rates on a card. Before setting off, check that the correct rate is being applied and that the meter is on).

Good to Know

Heavy traffic. Take care crossing the busy roads

Thieves. The Riviera is a wealthy area and attracts a criminal element known for their boldness in breaking into cars and even opening the passenger doors of cars in transit to snatch bags from the front seat. Lock all valuables out of sight and keep passenger doors locked when traveling. And always keep an eye on your bags when using public transport.

Getting Around

On foot: Pick up a local map at one of the many tourist info offices and kiosks and head off on foot. A simple stroll along the Promenade des Anglais, with occasional detours to roam the winding streets of Nice Old Town and sip coffee, citron presse or pastis at one of the many streetwalk cafes, is a delight.

By car: You can hire a Mini or small Peugot from Nice Airport and zip around the Riviera and the Cote. All major car rentals companies are represented in Nice, including Hertz, Europcar and Avis.

NOTE: Check whether your rental car runs on diesel or gas -- confuse the two and you could end up with a big repair bill. Ensure, too, that you have the right licence to drive in France. Your regular license is fine if you come from an EU country but travelers from outside the EU need an International Driving License. French law dictates that all drivers must be over 18; all car travelers (front and rear) must wear seat belts (where fitted) and children under 10 cannot travel in the front seats.

By bus: If you're spending a few days in Nice and don't want the hassle of driving (and more particularly, parking), exploring the Riviera by bus is a good idea as local services, run by various companies including Lignes d'Azur and Autobus de Monaco are frequent and affordable.

The Sunbus (Tel: +33 (0)4-9313-5313) is the city's most popular public transport; services run from Station Centrale, on General Leclerc Square, to Nice Ville railway station and Vieux Nice. Single trip tickets are available. You can also buy a one or five-day pass. Routes 8, 9 and 11 run along the Promenade des Anglais and all buses heading down Avenue Jean Medecin from the Nice-Ville railway station go to the centre of Nice, Place Massena (which is also the hub of the city's tram network).

To get from Nice to Monaco by bus costs about the same as by train. To go further afield, head for Nice's central bus station on Boulevard Jean Jaures, as services run from here along the Mediterranean coast to Cannes, Menton and other resorts. (For information call +33 (0)4-9385-6181)

By train: The SNCF railway station (Gare Nice-Ville) is on Avenue Thiers, roughly 10 minutes' walk from the Port of Nice. Frequent services run eastwards to Monaco and Menton, or westwards to Juan-les-Pins, Cannes, Antibes and other Riviera destinations. There are also fast (TGV) services to major French and Italian cities, including Paris, Marseilles and Rome.

By bike: Nice is heaven for cyclists as the city has an ever-growing network of bike routes, including one running the length of the Promenade des Anglais. Bike hire (pedal powered and otherwise) is a growing sector of the local economy.

Options include Elite Rent a Bike (21 rue de Rivoli, Tel. 33(0)4 93 81 09 41) and HOLIDAY BIKES (23 rue de Belgique, Tel. : (0)4 93 16 01 62 ). Both rent out motorbikes, scooters and buggies as well as bicycles, Be prepared to pay a hefty deposit -- anything up to E4,000 -- for a top-end machine.

Other: Roller Station (49 quai des Etats-Unis, Tel 33(0)4 93 62 99 05) rents out roller skates as well as pushbikes, so is a good option for the fit and the family-oriented.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The official currency is the euro (for the latest exchange rate, visit oanda.com or xe.com).

There are plenty of banks with ATM machines and exchange bureaux in Nice and at the airport, railway and bus stations. Major credit cards are also widely (but not universally) accepted. Carry some cash just in case.

Note also that France applies VAT (Value Added Tax) to most goods and services, currently at the rate of 20 percent, which adds a hefty surcharge to restaurant and shopping bills.

As a tourist, you can claim a tax refund on any goods bought for deportation, so keep all receipts and be prepared to present them -- possibly with proof that you are taking the goods out of the country -- at a VAT refund station. You'll find these at airports, railway stations with international links and most tourist offices.

Language

While English is widely spoken and understood -- particularly at main tourist attractions – do not assume everyone speaks it. Many taxi drivers, waiters and shopkeepers speak only French, so it's worth taking a phrase book or language app along.

Food and Drink

France is the home of wonderful food and the Riviera is no exception. Another plus of this sunny region is that its cuisine features plenty of healthy Mediterranean Diet options like Salade Nicoise; ratatouille (vegetable stew, fabulous with crusty bread and red wine); mussels poached in white wine, fish soup and stuffed sardines.

Only slightly less healthy and very delicious local specialities are Pissaladiere (onion tart with anchovy filets and black olives) and Socca (a flatbread made from chickpea flour and drizzled with olive oil). After all that healthy food finish your meal with cherry or chocolate-filled crepes flambeed in Grand Marnier, and some delicious local cheeses like Banon, a goats cheese from Northern Provence which is wrapped in chestnut leaves.

TIP: If you love French cheese so much you want to take some home and have time to visit Cannes, make a bee-line for Fromagerie Ceneri (22 Rue Meynadier / 33 4 93 39 63 68 /). House specialities include truffle brie, calvados camembert and goats cheese with basil.

Good for Star Spotting; La Petite Maison in the Old Town is known as a celebrity hang-out; locals say Elton John and Beyonce have both been spotted there. Pricey but with a good reputation for food (especially fish dishes). (11 rue Saint Francois de Paule; 04.93.92.59.59; Open daily, noon to 3 p.m and 7:30 p.m. to midnight.)

Good for Romantics: Le Grand Balcon (virtually opposite La Petite Maison) has warm and cosy decor, fine artwork on the walls, a library area at the rear and some fine French dishes featuring truffles. (10 Rue Saint Francois de Paule; Res 04.93.62.60.74; Open daily, noon to midnight, except Christmas Day.)

Cheap & Cheerful: Check out the indoor/outdoor restaurants which run along the Cours Saleya, near the market.

Shopping

The sunny, lavender-rich, Riviera is the heartland of the French perfume industry so locally-blended scents, room fragrances and soap are all good buys.

Foodies back home will appreciate pretty bags of herbes du Provence or bottles of locally-produced olive oil and les grand vins du France always go down well.

Vieux Nice, the old town located around Cours Saleya, is the Riviera's largest open-air shopping arcade, with more than 600 shops and boutiques and a great place to browse for souvenirs and gifts.

Best Cocktail

In a place this sophisticated -- and the country which is home to fine cognac -- it has to be a Brandy Alexander, a smooth-as-silk combination of cognac, crème de cacao, cream and grated nutmeg.