“Cote d’Azur”. “The South of France”. “The French Riviera.” These descriptions of my new neighborhood just SOUND expensive and conjure up images of movie stars and fast cars. But since I’m not a movie star and live on a budget, I’ve found ways to cope with prices slightly higher than what I left behind in Taiwan. Last Summer, my 20-something nephew, Sean, and two of his college buddies visited Nice for a few days. On their first night in town, I took them to one of my favorite burger joints, The Blue Whales. This popular pub serves very large, delicious burgers at very large prices and quickly blew the budget of these young backpackers. So, I looked for more budget-friendly ways to entertain them during their stay and found that there are plenty of fun, cheap (and free) things to do in Nice.
Visiting Nice on a budget? Here are ten cheap (or free) things to do in Nice:
#1 – Walking Tour of Old Town
There are many walking tours offered in the historic Old Town area of Nice. I recently joined Riviera Bar Crawl & Tours on a beautiful Saturday morning for their FREE walking tour. We met by the Apollo statue near Place Massena and obediently followed our beautiful, young Mongolian tour guide’s red umbrella through Old Town. There were around 20 in the group and it was a great way to meet other travelers from all over the world. The tour wandered from Place Massena to the Opera House, Flower Market, up Rue Rosetti for a quick coffee stop, and then climbed up the stairs to Castle Hill for a view over Old Town and the Port.
For a more in-depth look at the fascinating history of the city, TresNice Tours offer a walking tour for 14 EUR in smaller groups with a maximum of 10. (Check their website for booking details.)
#2 – Hike around Nice Cape
Nice is a city that was made for walking! Located just past the Port, I recently discovered a stunningly beautiful coastal hike with incredible views. It’s become my new “happy place”!
Getting there from Old Town: Walking around the port, follow the coast to La Reserve restaurant (a cool but definitely not cheap place!) Keep walking past the large rocky cliffs filled with topless sunbathers until you reach a small community garden across the street from Square Theodore de Banville Park. The trail begins in this garden, hugs the coastline around the cape and ends at the base of Mont Boron. When you reach the end, you’ve got two options: retrace your steps along the coast trail or hike up 240 steps to the main road running from Nice to Villefranche.
Signs posted along the path warn of the dangers of hiking this trail during rough seas. The waves crash over the trail in some areas and it can be quite dangerous. But when the sea is fairly calm, the views are stunning! It’s an easy hike and mostly flat with just a few steps to navigate.
#3 – Hike up Mont Boron
Fort Alban sits on top of Mont Boron and makes a wonderful half-day hike. Along with a fascinating old fort and amazing views, you’ll also get to walk right past Elton John’s house!
Fort Alban was built by the Duke of Savoy in 1560 and is a great example of really old French military architecture. It survived through the centuries and even withstood the ravages of WWII. (Guided tours are available here.)
Getting there: The easiest route to the top starts very near La Reserve restaurant and follows a series of stairways through the local neighborhoods, ending with a “Y” in the trail at the top. The path to the left will lead you past Elton John’s house and up to Fort Alban with stunning views all the way to Italy on a clear day! The path to the right runs along the edge of Mont Boron, with benches lining the flat, paved trail and uninterrupted Mediterranean Sea views.
A slightly more challenging route to the top begins at the end of the Nice Cape hike, with 240 stairs to the main road. From the intersection near Carrefour supermarket, follow the main road to Notre Dame church and catch the stairway uphill from there.
#4 -Taste the wines at Cave Bianchi
Located in Old Town near the Opera House, this small wine shop has been around since 1860 and was built on the site of a former monastery. The cave (wine cellar) dates back even further, all the way to the 16th century. Walking into the cellar, with low ceilings and bottles of fine wine lining the cave walls, feels a bit like stepping back in time.
They offer two daily wine tastings at noon and 6 pm when the sommelier will provide a glass of his choice of wine and commentary for 7 EUR. Small groups can also arrange private tastings in the cellar, guided by the professional sommelier. Cost for groups is 7 EUR per person plus the cost of the bottle. Contact Cave Bianchi directly to make group reservations.
Address: 7 Rue Raoul Boisio Phone: 0493856579
#5 – People-watch at an outdoor cafe
I’m easily entertained and can spend hours hanging out at a cafe while people-watching. Cour Saleya is famous for the daily flower market and is an ideal place to grab a cappuccino and indulge in some spectacular people-watching. The pedestrian avenue is lined with outdoor cafes and restaurants, all offering a delicious cappuccino with a view. Another option, just a block off Cour Saleya, is one of my new favorite hangouts, Les Distilleries Ideales, located at 24 Rue de la Prefecture. The interior of the cafe/pub is old and cool, and the outside is lined with small tables ideal for watching the world go by!
#6 – Dance to the music
One of the things that initially drew me to Nice is the amazing music scene. Any night of the week you’ll find a wide variety of musical options, most with no cover charge so if you don’t drink much you can experience a night of excellent music at a very affordable price!
Shapko: My favorite hangout is Shapko which offers live music seven nights a week with no cover charge. It’s a small, quirky venue with a large chandelier in the middle of the stage. (House wine is 4.50 EUR)
Location: 5 Rue Rosetti
Groovin’: Not far from Shapko is a small place called Groovin’. The walls of this dark hole-in-the-wall jazz joint are covered with vintage music posters and live music blasts from the small stage most weekend.
Location: 1 Rue du Moulin
Kosma: Near Place Massena is another small jazz club called Kosma which offers live music Wednesday through Saturday starting at 7:30 pm. On weekends they also have a late-shift band playing from 11 pm – 4 am.
Location: 8 Rue Sacha Guitry
Wayne’s: This place tends to draw a younger crowd and was a favorite of my 20-something nephew and his buddies. Music starts nightly at 8 pm with a mellower, acoustic set. Later in the night, live bands take the stage and it tends to get a little wild!
Location: 15 Rue de la Prefecture
(Check my recent post on Live Music in Old Town Nice for more details on places to go and artists to watch.)
#7 – Stroll the Promenade
Beginning at Castle Hill, the Promenade runs west along the Mediterranean for 6 miles, all the way to the airport. The Promenade area near Old Town tends to be the most crowded, but head west beyond The Negresco Hotel and you’ll find fewer people and smaller rocks to lie back on. Fortunately, it’s legal to drink in public, so grab a sandwich from one of the many patisseries and bottle of cheap French wine. Then grab a stretch of beach for an amazing (and free!) sunset.
#8 – Get happy at Happy Hour
When my nephew visited, we explored a few happy hour options and usually ended up at Guiseppi’s in Place Garibaldi. Happy hour runs from 6 – 8 pm daily when wine costs only 2 EUR per glass. One of my new favorite places for happy hour is Akathor, located along Cour Saleya. They offer happy hour drink specials from 5 – 9 pm with “happy dinner” available from 6 – 730 pm. They also have live music nightly to serenade while you indulge in fine French wine for 2.50 EUR per glass.
#9 – Quiz Night at Ma Nolan’s
Monday nights bring out the trivia geeks at Ma Nolan’s Vieux Nice. Teams of four compete against each other to test their useless knowledge on a wide variety of random subjects. It’s free to play and prizes range from 30 EUR bar tab up to 100 EUR for the winning team. Indulge in Happy Hour from 5 pm – 8 pm and stay for Quiz Night, beginning at 8 pm.
Location: 2 Rue Saint- Francois de Paule
#10 – Jump on the bus (only 1.50EUR)
There are some quaint French villages within a short bus ride of Nice and accessible for only 1.50EUR per ride. A few of my favorites include the perched villages of Eze and St. Paul de Vence, the glitz and glamor of Monaco and Monte Carlo, or the giant lemon trees in colorful Menton.