What is a trip to the French Riviera without a stay in Nice and Monte Carlo? These two gems on the Côte d’Azur boast deep blue ocean views, city hustle and bustle, and old France charm. Mallory and I took a week-long vacation through the Riviera, including stops in St. Tropez and Cannes. And Nice stands out in my mind for its labyrinth of Vieille Ville and Monte Carlo for its glitz and glam. I’d love to share the top things to do in Nice and Monte Carlo for your upcoming French Riviera adventure.
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Where We Stayed
Our Airbnb was a step into yesteryear because we stayed in the labyrinth known as Vieille Ville. Getting to the Airbnb was a problem because it was in a pedestrian-only zone. (And somehow we made it through the road barriers, and then our Peugeot got stuck in these ancient streets made only for feet.) Alas, once we found out that we had to park several blocks away and discovered where our cozy apartment was, it was smooth sailing.
This small yet practical apartment sits perched on the fourth floor, no elevator. But walking down the ancient streets, you’ll feel transported back hundreds of years. From the Airbnb window, you can see the dome of Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate de Nice. The very best thing about this apartment is its location: it’s legitimately steps away from the best shops and restaurants. If you’re not afraid of a few stairs and want to be close to the action, this is a great Airbnb. Get $50 off your first Airbnb stay.
Walk along Promenade des Anglais
This paved path straddles the Mediterranean Sea and a strip of shops and restaurants. The Promenade des Anglais spans about 7 kilometers, or a bit over 4 miles. And during our several days in Nice, I took multiple walks on this gorgeous stretch. It’s also been scientifically proved that sunsets are more beautiful on the Mediterranean — or something like that.
Climb La Colline du Château
The Promenade des Anglais is stunning, but the prize for best views goes to La Colline du Château, which translates to castle hill. Climb the stairs or take the elevator up to this park spanning nearly 50 acres. And take a peek at the castle ruins, too. At the top, walking paths, snacks, playgrounds and epic views await you. Out of all the things to do in Nice, this one definitely should be on your list.
On our first afternoon there, Mal and I decided to split up to do some solo exploring. I walked past this darling macaron shop but didn’t feel like I had room for another sweet, which is a rarity for me. I took a photo in hopes of coming back. The following day, I found my way back and sat down at a table for one at Angea.
My hopes were high because I’d gone out of my way to return to this ‘grammable spot. And I’m here to tell you: it did not disappoint. My purse dons a Ladurée macaron keychain, and it’s been my pastry of choice for years. All to say, I have expectations for these treats, and my salted caramel ice cream macaron sandwich took me to another world. Sincerely one of the best macaron sandwiches I’ve had: flaky yet chewy macaron cookies and sweet, flavorful ice cream. If you have a sweet tooth, Angea must be on your list for things to do in Nice.
Old Sport Club
Several days before we arrived in Nice, we explored St. Tropez. There we dined at a phenomenal Thai restaurant and struck up a conversation with the couple at the table nearby. Mal and I told them about our grand adventure through the Riviera, including our stop in Nice. Quelle chance, we live in Nice, they told us before inviting us to hang out.
We made good on that offer, and several days later, Julien told us he’d be taking us to a secret bar. He wouldn’t tell us where it was, only where to meet him several blocks away.
The average pedestrian easily walks past this Gatsby-themed bar without even noticing it exists. I sure did! The outside suggests it’s a photo booth, but with Julien’s know-how, he led us to this hidden bar called Old Sport Club. The sliding door to get in wears the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg and the phrase “Les rendez-vous memorables sont clandestins.” This translates the memorable meetings are secret.
Inside, the bar is dark with tea lights scattered across the alcohol shelves, and the clientele lounge at high-top tables and couches. The eyes of T.J. Eckleberg shrouded in greenery grace the walls, and jazzy rap music pulses. The bar’s soundtrack honestly reminded me of that of The Great Gatsby (2013).
This speakeasy’s menu changes often, Julien told me. Yet all oozed personality and spunk. I ordered the fig milk punch, a gin cocktail with coconut water and a fig for a garnish. Other drinks’ ingredients ranged from kumquat to rhubarb, white chocolate to truffle.
Although the address isn’t available online, this speakeasy ranks highly for Nice nightlife. One review on TripAdvisor says you must call for the address. If you email me at [email protected](dot)com, I am happy to share the address with you.
Mal’s family friend recommended Le Banthai to us. And after our out-of-this-world Thai experience in St. Tropez, we were hungry for more pad thai. We told the hostess we’d like a table, and she immediately asked if we had a reservation. Mal and I told her no, and she said it was up to the kitchen if there would be space. They gifted us with a small table, and we’re glad they did.
Not only was the pad thai superb, but the prices were also not crazy high. And normally, I don’t love live music at restaurants, but the Brits playing that Thursday night had me singing along. Lesson learned: make a reservation.
St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral
When in France, it’s inevitable that you’ll see some type of cathedral, basilica or church. And after a while, they all start to look about the same. (My apologies to any historical architecture buffs out there.) But in all of my travels throughout France, I’ve never seen a church like this one.
On our last day in Nice, we stopped by this church, but unfortunately, it wasn’t open yet. We simply drove by, but if I return to Nice, I’d love to go inside to see all of its glory.
Having a museum filled almost entirely with your own artwork: talk about goals, y’all. Musée Matisse houses the works of its namesake from paintings to sculptures. I knew who Matisse was prior to my visit, but wow, I did not realize the vast span of his mediums. If you enjoy classic French art, this is a must.
Another cool tidbit about visiting Musée Matisse and other Nice spots: With my 10 euro ticket to the Matisse Museum, I also received access to all municipal museums and galleries for 24 hours. For 20 euros, you can have access to these museums and galleries for 7 days. Talk about a good deal!
As part of the deal, we were able to visit the nearby Archaeological Museum of Cimiez. There we were able to look at ancient Roman baths and pieces from hundreds of years ago. We didn’t spend too much time here, but it was a nice touch to be able to visit several museums with one ticket.
Other museums included in Le Pass Musée: Musée des Beaux-Arts, MAMAC, Musée de la Photographie Charles Nègre and Palais Lascaris, among others.
La Gare du Sud
With 30 restaurants and shops to choose from, this gourmet food hall is sure to please everyone in your entourage. Mal and I were starving and loved how many options we had. I opted for “Tex-Mex” (please see quotation marks) at El Kitchen. And although it wasn’t as authentic as this once-Texas resident would’ve hoped, it was still plenty delicious and filling.
One of the things that attracts so many to France is its rich history. And a great way to experience this rich patrimoine is in Old Nice, or Vieille Ville. These narrow streets wind and cluster to create a labyrinth of shops, boutiques and restaurants. This part of Nice is quaint and authentic France, and if you’re looking for the top things to do in Nice, this must be a part of your itinerary.
In Old Nice, I stumbled upon Papeterie Rontani, a paper shop stuffed to the brim with journals, maps, craft supplies and paper gifts. I love getting lost in shops like these, and I bought a regional map of France. This girl can always use a new map!
Lu Fran Calin
When people imagine French cuisine, they may conjure images of croissants and snails. And although those aren’t incorrect ideas, they don’t tell the full story of French cuisine. Each corner of France has its own local specialities, and when in Nice, Mal and I engorged ourselves with the Niçoise recipes.
Our new friend Pauline whom we met in St. Tropez suggested Lu Fran Calin, a restaurant serving the best of Nice’s cuisine. It’s a type of food with a heavy Mediterranean influence. Mal and I split the assiette dégustation appetizer with a smattering of all the classic Niçoise recipes. Think: cooked mushrooms, tapenade, chickpeas, seasoned red peppers and socca (basically chickpea fries). The food and atmosphere were both delightful.
Pro tip: Lu Fran Calin had a sign in its window with the Cuisine Nissarde logo. This means that it’s authentic, approved Niçoise cuisine. You can find a list of other Cuisine Nissarde-marked restaurants here. And later that week, we visited Villefranche-sur-Mer, where we ate at another Cuisine Nissarde-marked restaurants, and it was also incredible.
So if you see this logo of a woman holding a basket of produce with the words Cuisine Nissarde, you are in good hands.
In eighth grade, I saw the movie Monte Carlo with Selena Gomez, and I was never the same. The glitz and glam of Monaco with its classical architecture and luxe attitude allured me. And since then, I’ve watched that movie more times than I can count, and each viewing only augmented my dream of visiting Monte Carlo. This city is technically in another country — that of Monaco. But Monaco is less a square mile and is extremely easy to access.
Mal and I made the 30-minute drive from Nice to Monte Carlo very easily. Even though it’s technically a different country, there’s no border control between France and Monaco. No car? No problem: there are trains from Nice to Monaco. Here’s what Mal and I did in Monte Carlo:
Casino Café de Paris
When in Monaco, you gotta roll the dice, right? I’m happy to report that we left Casino Café de Paris richer women than we came, even in the 15 minutes we spent there. When you see pictures of Monaco, it’s probably the Casino de Monte Carlo. And this building is absolutely gorgeous and is impossible to miss. Unfortunately, on the day and time we were in Monaco, this casino was temporarily closed.
Café de Paris
Connected to the Casino Café de Paris is a darling French café on the square. I enjoyed an affogato on their gorgeous patio and can’t recommend a visit to the Café de Paris enough. Next door to this café, there’s a gift shop where I added another postcard to my collection.
Hôtel de Paris
Although I didn’t win enough at the casino to book a stay at the Hôtel de Paris, you must get a look. This hotel boasts more than 150 years of history and even hosted the wedding meal of Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace. The Hôtel de Paris has the world’s largest wine cellar and is home to a 3-starred Michelin restaurant. And most importantly, Selena Gomez’s character stayed there in Monte Carlo!
If you’re in search of a trip with rich cuisine, history-filled streets and lavish luxury, look no further than Nice and Monaco. It had been a long-time dream to visit these French Riviera spots, and my hopes were not dashed. Allez-viens !
Did I miss any top things to do in Nice or Monte Carlo? Tell me in the comments.