Nice, the capital of Côte d’Azur, is one of France’s most popular tourist destinations and for good reason. With its baby blue waters and quaint European feel, visiting Nice is like being on the set of a movie – it looks almost too perfect to be real. While visiting Nice is bound to be a good time, the city is not without its surprises. Some important things to know when visiting Nice can make or break your stay.
Restaurants close midday.
Nice is one of those European cities in which restaurants close between lunch and dinner. It’s not uncommon for people to stay out at the beach until late afternoon and not make it to dinner until after 8 pm. As such, many restaurants (especially the good ones) are open until about 1 or 2 pm and then don’t reopen until 6 or 7 pm. Plan accordingly!
Related side note: When restaurants have a sign that says “nonstop,” that means they’re open in the afternoon, not that they’re open 24/7.
You’ll hear an explosion that goes off in Old Town at noon every day.
It’s probably a little jarring to hear a loud explosion when you’re enjoying a relaxing beach day in Nice. So one of the most important things to know when visiting Nice is that a cannon goes off at noon from Castle Hill every day. Funny enough, the cannon tradition was originally started by a Scottish Lord who wanted a very loud reminder that it was lunchtime. The cannon means you have about two hours to find a place to eat before everything closes.
If you’re in Nice the first Wednesday of the month, you’ll also hear a siren.
Europe never lets you forget that the Nazis or Soviets may drop bombs on your city at any moment. Even Nice is no exception. And the only thing more concerning than hearing an explosion at noon is hearing an air raid siren following it at 12:15 pm. But that’s exactly what you can expect when you visit Nice or anywhere in the south of France – it’s at 11:45 am in northern France – on the first Wednesday of every month. Don’t be alarmed! Consider it a second reminder that it’s lunchtime.
The beaches are rocky.
Though stunning to behold, the beaches in Nice may be a rude awakening for people who are used to sandy beaches. The entire coast of Nice is made up of rounded stones that have been smoothed by the waves. These rocks can be incredibly difficult to walk on if you don’t have water shoes, so if that’s not on your packing list, make sure you pick some up as soon as you arrive.
If you want the first row of loungers, make a reservation or come when they open.
Though the first row at any beach club with a private beach is more expensive, the spots are highly coveted and are booked up quickly. If you want nothing to come between you and the ocean, make sure you call ahead or come first thing in the morning. Many people leave their towels or other belongings and leave for breakfast before returning. Once you’ve booked the lounger, it’s yours for the day.
Nice is expensive.
If you’re weighing the cost of Nice against the south of Spain or even the islands of Greece, you will find that the French Riviera is far more expensive. It’s easy to compare when you know exactly how much things should cost. A lounger and umbrella at one of the private beach clubs along the coast will run you anywhere from €25-50 for the day. If you forgot your sunblock, it will cost you €20. A couple of pastries and coffees to start your morning can run you upwards of €30. And if you’re trying to eat cheap, even kebab is still no less than €15. When you know what kebab costs anywhere else in Europe, it’s hard not to feel sticker shock at these prices.
People are a lot nicer than in Paris.
French people have a terrible reputation for being rude and unwelcoming, but if the first place you ever visit in France is Nice, you would probably have no idea. From the moment you arrive, you’ll immediately realize that these are not the stuck-up people of Paris. Everyone in Nice from waiters to locals enjoying August in the Côte d’Azur is jovial, friendly, and kind.
Air conditioning is not guaranteed.
Even when the temperatures soar and the crowds pack the beaches, you won’t necessarily get much of a respite from the heat. Many restaurants and cafes don’t have air conditioning, which is why their doors are wide open and their tables line the sidewalk. Always sit outside, preferably in the shade, so you can at least enjoy the breeze. And although most hotels do have air conditioning, you may want to double check before you book so you’re not sleeping in a sauna every night.
It’s really easy and cheap to get around the Cote d’Azur.
One of the only things that is affordable in the French Riviera is transportation. Nice is well connected to cities like Marseilles, Cannes, even Monaco, via train or bus. And you probably won’t pay for than a few euro for the ride. So if you’re in town for a while and you want to explore other cities on the coast, it might actually be one of the cheaper things to do there.
Niçoise cuisine is not very French.
If you’re expecting to eat steak frites and crepes every day, you should know before you visit Nice that the local cuisine is not what most people consider French. You’re more likely to feel like you’re on the coast of Italy, probably because Nice was part of Italy until 1860. Niçoise cuisine is quite unique to the region, making use of Provencial ingredients that blend French and Italian cuisines.
Nice is not just a beach town.
One of the most pleasant surprises about Nice is that for a city on the coast, it is not a coastal city. On the contrary, Nice is full of life and culture. The city, with all it’s boutique shops and museums, is just as enthralling to visit as the beach. Rather than wither into a sad empty place as the night dwindles, the streets only get busier as the day progresses. By the evening, outdoor restaurants are packed, and street performers are entertaining the crowds.