Historic Sights in Nice
Below is a list of the most famous historical attractions in Nice, all of which have a long and interesting history:
Castle Hill Park: This is one of Nice’s top tourist attractions. Phoenician Greeks found the city of Nike on this exact spot a few millennia ago. In medieval times, a castle, now missing, protected the area. Today, it is a large landscape park and gardens (dating back to 1829) with a grand fortification which retains much of its Medieval look.
The Old Town (Vieux Ville): With local markets and churches, it is in these narrow pedestrian streets that you can observe and experience the traditional Nice way of life. It’s home to an impressive flower market, cafés serving socca (large chickpea crêpe, a local staple), and shops selling everything from tourist trinkets to cool vintage clothes.
Archaeological Crypt: The Archaeological Crypt is underground; the metal walking path actually hangs in the air, stretched out over the vast expanse of the excavation. From there the excursionists can clearly see the remnants of the ramparts, the bastions of the 16th century, the medieval aqueduct that supplied water to Nice and the stonework round Pairolière Tower of 14th century. Bits of medieval houses that belonged to the Augustin family and an aqueduct that once brought water to the Sardinian King’s palace lie deeper within the crypt.
It was opened to the public after construction of the tramway revealed well preserved remains which highlight the history of Nice since the Middle Ages as a stronghold of the County of Provence and then of the Duchy of Savoy. (Those who are going to visit the crypt are advised to wear low-heeled shoes, as they will have to walk on a metal trellis path and it is easy to break thin heels).
Notre Dame: The Basilique Notre-Dame de Nice church is an impressive architectural landmark in Nice built in 1868. It is the largest Church in Nice, France. It has two square towers, both twenty-five meters high, in Gothic-style design. The interior is nothing special (if you’re into churches, Italy has the most beautiful church interiors), but it does have several interesting stained-glass windows.
Chapelle de la Miséricorde: This church, built between 1747 and 1770, is a triumphant embodiment of the Baroque style. Starting with the elliptical nave and ending with the chapels which border it, everything inside is designed in the spirit of the curvy lines so characteristic of Baroque style.
Russian Orthodox Cathedral: Tsar Alexander II inaugurated the construction of the Russian Cathedral in Nice, which was dedicated to his son, the successor of the Russian Empire, who died in Nice in 1865. The cathedral was built, in 1912, for the growing Russian community in Nice. The structure was made in the Old Russian style, however certain modern elements give this Cathedral its own identity; for instance, the disposition of the Greek cross plan with five domes representing Jesus and the four evangelists. The church also contains a rich iconostasis made in Russia (where else?) by the Khlebnikoff workshops.
Cours Saleya Market: You can experience Nice the way its citizens have been since this market opened in 1816, when you purchase fresh goods such as olives, cheese, herbs, and flowers here. It is also a Broconte (‘antique market’), where antiques and other collectibles are present. During summer nights it moonlights as an artisan market. Check out our guide to Nice’s best market.
Villa Massena: This elegant museum is centrally-located, yet is an oasis of tranquility, surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens. Built at the turn of the 20th century by Danish architect Hans-George Tersling, it has a Neoclassical style with Italianate influences. Prince Victor of Essling lived here during winter. It was gifted to the city in 1921 and now displays interiors faithful to a reinterpretation of the Belle Epoque era..
Matisse Museum: A must-see is the Matisse Museum, housed in a magnificent 17th century mansion. Once home to the master himself, several of his major works are on display – both art lovers and the uninitiated alike will be captivated. Here, you can learn about the life and works of modern art master Henri Matisse.
Cimiez: Leafy Cimiez is an upscale residential area known its expansive park with a vast olive grove, the ruins of a Roman city, an archaeology museum and the Monastery of Cimiez. Elegant apartment buildings fill the area, including the regal ‘Excelsior Regina Palace’, built in 1895. During the Belle Epoque, Cimiez became the favorite holiday resort for the Kings and Queens of Europe, including Victoria, Edward VII, George V, and Leopold II.
The Cimiez Monastery is a beautiful Franciscan monastery built in the 800s by Benedictine monks. It now houses hundreds of items of art, a museum, immaculate gardens, and Matisse’s grave. Learn more about its history in our guide to exploring Nice’s history.
Masséna Square: The large fountain in the center of this square is called the “Fontaine du Soleil” (the Sun Fountain). There are 5 bronze sculptures in the basin and in the center stands an impressive marble Apollo (he is 7 meters (23 feet) tall and weighs in at 7 tons). When he was created, in 1956, he was even more impressive, but a group of men were intimidated by the statue’s already small-but-proportional penis, and protested in order to have the penis redone in a miniature size. As if that wasn’t enough, a Catholic organization in the 1970’s protested so much (apparently, offended by male nudity, but not female nudity) that the statue was removed for 30 years.
Fort du Mont-Alban: A military fort, its location is on the hill with the same name. It has a majestic panoramic scene. Westward, you can view Baie des Anges to the Esterel mountains. On the east, the scene starts from the bay of Villefranche that extends to Italian Riviera.
Port Lympia: Picturing yourself transported back in time is easy here, where not much has changed since the port was built in 1750 (it was built by slaves who were kept captive in the striking clock tower of the Caserne Lympia , now a gallery, which is easily visible from the western side of the port.) It’s a great place to experience a romantic harbor walk and have a snack on the streetside terrace of a cafe while admiring the fishing boats or the sunset.
Place Garibaldi: It is the oldest and largest square in the city. Buildings with baroque layouts surround the square. You can find the statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi (a famous revolutionary leader with a fascinating history, who was born in Nice) in the center.
Museum of Fine Arts: The Museum of Fine Arts of Nice opened in 1928 in a former private residence which dates back to the late 19th century. The collections retrace the history of art from the 16th to the 20th century, with highlights referring to the works of Fragonard, Rodin, Rude, Ziem, Raffaelli, Boudin, Monet, Sisley, Van Dongen, Dufy, Cheret, Degas and plenty other artists.
Monument–aux Morts: The landmark serves as a commemoration for the 4000 inhabitants of Nice who died during the First World War.
Learn more about Nice’s history and check out our guide to the best art museums in Nice and along the French Riviera.