Nice is a city in southern France located on the Mediterranean coast, between Marseille, France, and Genoa, Italy, with 1,197,751 inhabitants in the metropolitan area at the 2007 estimate. The city is a major tourist center and a leading resort on the French Riviera (Côte d’Azur). It is the historical capital city of the County of Nice.
Nice has a Mediterranean climate : the city enjoys mild temperatures most of the year; rainfall is very moderate and mainly concentrated in the September to March period.
Summer is hot, dry, and sunny. Rainfall is rare in this season, and a typical July month only records one or two days with measurable rainfall. Temperatures seldom go below 20°C, and frequently reach 30°C. Average annual maximum is about 35°C. The absolute maximum recorded temperature in Nice was 37.7°C on the 1st of August 2006.
Autumn generally starts sunny in September and becomes more cloudy and rainy towards October, while temperatures usually remain above 20°C until November where days start to cool down to around 17°C.
Winters are characterized by mild days (11 to 17°C), cool nights (4°C to 9°C) and variable weather. Days can be either sunny and dry, or damp and rainy. Frost is unusual, and hasn’t happened in the last few years. Annual minimum is on average around 1°C.
If you go to Nice for bathing or general lounging on the beach, you may wish to think again. The beaches of Nice consist entirely of large flat stones (“gallets”). A few private beaches have added a layer of sand, but the free public beaches are a stony experience. Besides towels or mats, you should definitely bring sandals as walking on the stones can be painful, and a cushion, if you want to sit. Showers are provided (for free) on all public beaches and there is a beach volleyball area that is netted off with white sand.
Although the beaches are mainly pebbles it is important to note that many visitors enjoy the beautiful light blue sea for a swim. If you can bear to walk for few steps on the pebbles it is definitely an opportunity for swimming rather than playing in the water as the beach drops quickly and the tidal pull can be very strong, and not for beginners. Lying on the beach for a sun tan or relaxation is also manageable as long as you rearrange the rocks/pebbles to a comfy surface for sitting and lying. Private beaches offer various services from restaurants/bars to the rental of lounge chairs and towels.
Much nicer beaches exist in other towns close by, such as Villefranche-sur-Mer, Antibes and Cannes, which are far more sandy. Villefranche is a particularly preferred beach choice, only twenty minutes away by the TAM 100 bus.
For views of Nice the best vantage point is the heights of Mont Boron. From the derelict old Fort and the nearby villa of Sir Elton John there are fine views over the city to the mountains and east over Villefranche and Cap Ferat.
Go to Eze. It is a small village on the way to Monaco. The village is situated on a small mountain and there is a beautiful cactus garden with a spectacular view (a must see). There is also a perfume factory which you can visit for free.
Also close by is the magnificent Villa ile de France, of the Baroness Ephrussi de Rothschild, straddling the magnificent peninsula of St Jean Cap Ferrat in the so-called Golden Triangle of Villefranche, Beaulieu and Cap Ferrat.
Hiking trails emanate from La Turbie high above Monaco and the Grande Corniche, which are double the height above sea level of Eze and offer the hardened walker truly spectacular vantage points over the Riviera.
Each main town on the French Riviera has its own local bus network, for Nice its “Lignes d’Azur” and the 100 or more Ligne d’Azur routes are the main form of urban transport for locals going to work or school. Of more interest to tourists, an inter-urban network, the TAM (Transport Alpes-Maritimes)connects all the Eastern Riviera towns between Cannes and Menton and all the main villages like Èze and Vence. Its routes radiate from the main bus station in Nice, the (Gare Routière) in central Nice on Avenue Félix Faure near the Rue du Lycée. Bus fares are only €1, with a change to a non-return connecting service also permitted within 74 minutes, so it is worth mastering the bus system to get around.
The Ligne d’Azur and TAM routes overlap in and around Nice, so the ticket and tariff system is integrated to a common ticket zone, in which the local Ligne d’Azur tickets and passes are accepted on the longer distance TAM buses, but only between Cagnes-sur-Mer to the west, and Cap d’Ail short of Monaco to the east. The fare is identical on both networks – €1 for any distance – but with TAM you must always tell the driver your intended destination, so he can judge whether you should purchase a TAM ticket or a Lignes d’Azur. Outside the common zone, Lignes d’Azur passes are not valid and you need to pay the €1 fare in cash.
The one exception to the €1 fare is the Airport Express bus, which has a €4 flat fare. This buys you a Ligne d’Azur all day pass into the bargain – handy if you’re arriving, not as beneficial if you’re leaving.
The long awaited tram line opened in November 2007, and forms a U-shaped route from Las Planas to the northeast to Pont St Michel to the northwest. Whilst it links the main train station, bus station, downtown and the university, it is basically a mass transit system designed to get workers and shoppers to the centre of Nice from the suburbs, and is not of any particular value to tourists. It uses the same tickets as the buses but you buy these from the machines at bus stops, unlike buses, where it is usual to pay the driver or show your pass on entering the bus. Another innovation is the hourly “commuter express” bus service direct to Monaco via the Autoroute, the 100 Express, though visitors may still prefer the slower and more scenic 100 route along the coast.
The SNCF rail service also links all the main coastal towns, so which is the best way to get around – bus or train? The journey from Nice to say Cannes by the 200 bus at €1 is considerably cheaper than the train, which is currently over €5. Meaning that the buses are liable to dreadful overcrowding and the prospect of standing for nearly two hours as it is slow with frequent stops and many traffic lights along the route. If you’re short on cash and don’t mind discomfort, take the bus. If you’re short on time and prefer to sit, take the train.
When taking the bus, you must be aware of the somewhat odd way the bus schedules are laid out. They list the departure time at the first bus station, not the one you are currently at (unless the two coincide, naturally). At the right hand side of the bus schedule, you have a list of stations, and next to some you will find the time listed it will take the bus to get there (+20′, for example). This means that you will have to do a lot of guessing. Best ask a native and leave some extra padding time if you plan to take a bus to any scheduled event that you really do not want to miss (airport, train, concerts, etc).
You can find local bus and tram route maps and timetables online. Route maps are listed under ‘Maps’ and timetables as ‘Timetables’. They are provided in PDF format. Also, a new service (‘Stop timetables’) purports to display the times at your stop. From previous experience with the bus company, those should stand somewhere between educated guesses and outright fiction, due to unpredictable road traffic conditions (like one hour traffic jams around Villeneuve Loubet).
Apart from the airport express routes 98 and 99, buses rarely run after 8 o’clock in the evening. The tram however operates from around 4:30AM to after midnight. Five nightly bus routes (called Noctambus) serve the main parts of city, from 9:10PM to 1:10AM, and TAM has also now introduced infrequent buses throughout the night on the 100 line. The night buses leave from the Station J.C. Bermond, near the bus station, and the day fares apply on these night routes. If planning a visit involving a late evening return, consider train services, which provide the most reliable form of late travel.
Nice has no metro and little need for one. The main train service is the national French railway SNCF which boasts the high speed TGV (slow to Marseilles and then very very fast on to Paris), and the local TER stopping trains which serve the main Riviera towns between Cannes and Ventimiglia across the border in Italy, including the daily commute to Monaco. Less well known is the little narrow-guage railway Chemin de Fer de Provence, which runs from Nice and has its own station two blocks north of Nice Gare Ville. It runs from Nice through the Var valley and along the Route Napoleon, three hours to Digne in Upper Provence. In summer months the latter part of the journey switches to a real steam train, the Train des Pignes (pinecones).
If you can, avoid the notoriously expensive taxis, though sometimes you do not have a choice. It is not always easy to find a taxi when you need one. Most will not respond to being hailed, and only ply from a taxi rank, from where cabs take passengers in turn. Taxi-drivers have great solidarity with their fellow taxi-drivers and will not accept offers to jump a line of waiting passengers. Taxi ranks will be found outside the train station and deluxe hotels.
Nice is a large, sprawling city of 300,000 population with large public housing projects spreading its surrounding suburbs, but most of the tourist and historical attractions are within the center – a radius of a twenty minute walk at the most. You will most likely be concentrating your visit within the old town and the central shopping districts, so you will not need buses, taxis, or other forms of motorized travel. Car hire is a complete liability as parking is scarce and expensive. The only downside of “by foot” is the notorious volume of “dejections canine” (that’s doggie-poo to you and me) and the lack of attention to the needs of those with reduced mobility – wheelchairs – as the dropping of kerbstones is entirely haphazard.