The French Riviera is all glitzy beach clubs and million-dollar yachts, and Nice is at the heart of it all. Both the beaches and the city of Nice itself are brimming with life and activity. But unless you’re making stacks like Beyonce and Jay-Z, Nice starts to border on prohibitively expensive. So how can you enjoy Nice when you’re poor?
Realistic daily budget in Nice
I won’t beat around the bush. This is what you can expect to spend on a completely average day in Nice:
Hotel – €192
Brunch for two – €50
Two loungers and umbrellas – €50
Three bottles of Prosecco and two starters for survival – €165
Mid-range dinner for two – €66
Total – €523
If you want to have a nice dinner for two, you’re looking at least €130. You can, of course, have a lighter breakfast instead of brunch, but then you need to have a proper lunch, so that will probably even out or be even more expensive. I suppose you could also cut back on your drinking, but what else are you supposed to do at the beach all day?
As you can see, it’s hard to ball out on a budget in Nice – the only option is to ball out right into bankruptcy. I don’t know about you, but if I had realized it cost more than €500 a day to simply exist in Nice, I would have gone to Croatia. But alas, if you’re set on the south of France, here is how to enjoy Nice when you’re poor.
Making the best of the beach clubs on a budget
Nice beaches are rocky and uncomfortable to lay out on, so unless you’re coming equipped with your own beach chairs, you’ll inevitably have to shell out anywhere from €20 – 50 per day for a deck chair at a private beach club.
Protip: Opera Plage is the cheapest one on the promenade, which is why it gets booked up by 9 or 10 am. You can also save by waiting until late afternoon to get a reduced day rate and enjoy the lounger for the hottest hours of the day.
As you can imagine, the food menu at these places is outrageous. Most people sneak in their own drinks and snacks, and no one seems to care. Why would they? They probably make a fortune just charging people for loungers all day.
The best way to get your money’s worth for those beach clubs is to simply stay there. Cancel your hotel; you live on the beach now. You have a bed, shade, a bathroom and shower, and nonstop beach access. The beach clubs close around sundown, which is 8 or 9 pm in the summer when the city is alive with activity. Go to dinner, have a drink, check out the Cours Saleya night market – buy nothing because you’re broke. Then do it all again the next morning.
Enjoy the public beaches
The great thing about Nice is that there are just as many free public beaches as there are private beaches. As you walk down the promenade, you’ll find dozens of free public beaches alternating between fancy private beach clubs. You’re free to come and enjoy the beach whenever you want for as long as you want. But given how rocky the beaches are, you might want to buy your own mat and umbrella, which becomes more worthwhile the longer you stay in town. When you leave, you can donate your beach supplies to another poor traveler in need.
Explore the city on foot
Nice is more than its beaches, and thankfully, they don’t charge you to walk around. From its sprawling Old Nice full of colorful buildings and sidewalk cafes to Castle Hill, where you can get sweeping views of the coast and enjoy some nice hiking, Nice is the perfect place to stroll around and people watch for hours at a time. You can also spend hours just sitting along the lengthy Promenade des Anglais and watching the ocean roll in.
Take trains around the coast
Surprisingly, one of the cheapest things to do in Nice is take public transportation. You can easily access other cities in the Côte d’Azur by train for less than the cost of a sandwich in town. This opens up the possibility to go to even cheaper places and see nicer beaches. For example, a train to Villefranche-sur-Mer is less than €3 and takes about 10 minutes. There, you can find short stretches of sandy beach where the water is calmer than Nice, and they’re free to the public.
Another popular day trip from Nice is Eze, where you can take the Chemin de Nietzsche, a steep mountain path that the philosopher hiked every day while writing his most famous work. If you want to splurge, you can make your own perfume in Eze, but otherwise, you can just enjoy the small hilltop medieval town by just walking through it for free.
Eating and drinking in Nice on the cheap
If you’re in Nice for the beach like everyone else, it’s time to commit to that beach body. Forget fish and beef – you can’t afford that anyway. Have a Niçoise salad for lunch and spend all day drinking bottles of rosé from the grocery store. When you’re just about ready to pass out, eat a pizza or socca, a local specialty of chickpea pancakes that is quick and cheap.
If you’re already paying upwards of €200-300 a night for a hotel, you might as well get one with free breakfast. That way you can survive off that for most of the day. Better yet, stay somewhere with a kitchen and cook most meals at your accommodation. You can stock up on fresh ingredients from the local market and still enjoy vacation cuisine that’s perfectly Nice.
If this sounds like a lot, it probably is. I’m telling you, just go to Croatia instead! Otherwise, don’t say I didn’t warn you every time you have to pay €14 for truffle fries.