So, the French Riviera might be a popular tourist hotspot in the summer months, but what about in the winter? Thanks to the warmer temperatures of the Mediterranean, there’s still plenty to enjoy in Nice from December to February.
That’s why I’ve compiled a list of the 18 best things to do in Nice, France in the winter. As an expat who now calls Nice home, I’ve seen this beautiful city throughout the seasons. Personally, I love Nice in the winter.
You get the festive vibes from the Christmas village, the carnival is on the horizon, and the city is way less busy! What’s not to love about that?
If you’re a budget traveler, I’d definitely recommend visiting Nice in the winter. While you might not get the scorching beach temperatures, you’ll still avoid the snow, rain, and ice that cover much of Europe, and you’ll save a ton of money on accommodation and flights versus peak times.
This, of course, doesn’t include flying over Christmas, where prices for just about everywhere surge again.
So, with that in mind, let’s dive in and discover the 18 best things to do in Nice in the winter – from a local!
1. Visit the Nice Carnival or La Bataille de Fleurs (or Both!)
Okay, so you might have heard of the Venice Carnival in Italy and the Rio de Janeiro Carnival in Brazil. Well, the Nice Carnival in France follows a similar vibe.
Held in February every year, at the end of winter, the Nice Carnival is probably the city’s biggest event of the entire year.
Each year has a different theme that groups, businesses, and organizations take to heart while they create their booths, floats, and costumes for the giant parade. This parade takes place in the heart of the city, along the Promenade du Paillon, but Carnival definitely takes over the city.
For two whole weeks, you can experience the bustling culture and vibes of Nice. From party music and dancing to stalls selling quintessential Nice food and drink to beautiful Carnival-themed textiles and gifts being sold, it’s a must-visit if you’re in the area.
Make sure you pack your dancing shoes and your festive attitude!
And don’t forget to buy your tickets online in advance as they sell out quickly, especially if you want a seat!
You can also check out the la bataille de fleurs, which is done during the day and is a separate parade where they throw tons of flowers. I haven’t been yet but I’m planning on going this winter!
2. Enjoy the Lights on the Promenade des Anglais
Spanning seven kilometers along the coast, Promenade des Anglais is one of the most popular locations in the whole of Nice. In the winter months, when the night draws in and the sun goes down earlier, the whole of the Promenade des Anglais becomes illuminated.
This is predominantly for the festive Christmas period, so you’ll be able to appreciate the light displays if you’re visiting Nice in November or December.
You’ll definitely be able to see a giant illuminated Santa, towering above the beach to bring in the festive season.
Along the Promenade des Anglais, you’ll see dozens of palm trees lining the pathways and dividing the promenade from the beach.
In winter, these palm trees are covered in lights, like tropical torches lighting your way down the Promenade des Anglais after a delicious evening out at a local restaurant or bar!
3. Visit the Christmas Village at Place Massena
What says winter in Europe more than a Christmas Market? Pretty much all large European cities will have some kind of Christmas Market during late November and December, and Nice is no different.
The Christmas Village takes over the gorgeous Place Massena just behind Promenade des Anglais and is full of family fun.
From a giant Ferris Wheel to the ice skating rink to a series of around 50 stalls selling food, drink, Christmas gifts and crafts, and more, it’s the festive hub of the city.
You’ll often find tourists and locals alike mixing in Place Massena during this time, trying to get in the mood for the holidays!
It’s best the visit the Christmas Village once the sun goes down. Then, the square is completely lit up with twinkle lights and illuminations which brings a magical feel to the market.
Treat yourself to a bowl of something warm and enjoy a glass of mulled wine or cider as you explore the wonderful stalls and shops.
4. Welcome in the New Year with Nice Philharmonic’s Free Concert
If you happen to be in Nice on New Year’s Day, you’re in for a treat. Each year, the Nice Philharmonic offers a free lunchtime concert.
While you do need to buy your ticket in advance from the Nice Opera – and they do go really quickly – it’s a cool way to welcome in a New Year depending on how bad your hangover is!
Not in Nice on New Year? Throughout December, many of the churches and cathedrals around Nice offer free winter orchestral performances on Sunday afternoons.
They vary in location and musical style, but if you want to hear your favorite carol alongside some classical favorites, then it might be worth keeping your eyes peeled and your ears open!
The church that lies on the Port or Notre Dame is your best chance for free Sunday afternoon winter concerts.
So, if you’re looking for wintery cultural excursions in Nice on a budget, these free concerts should be high on your itinerary!
5. Take a Coastal Hike Along the Cap de Nice
With winter temperatures in Nice averaging around 9/10°C, it might not be the warmest place in the world, but it’s relatively balmy for a winter hike. The best place to enjoy a hike in Nice? It has to be the gorgeous Cap de Nice coastal route!
Giving panoramic views across the Mediterranean and the Cote D’Azur, the Cap de Nice is a beautiful place to hike. There are two main coastal routes – one that goes along the top of the cliff and one that follows the water’s edge.
Personally, I prefer the less well-known “Sentier du Litteral” route, which is the one that follows the water’s edge.
From here, in warmer months, you’ll see people cliff jumping from halfway up the cliff, but in the cooler season, it’s a pleasant 5km hike that brings you to coastal villages and offers respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.
6. Take the Train to Menton
There are a ton of great day trips from Nice all along the French Riviera and even into neighboring Italy, but one of the best has to be to the town of Menton. Known for its beautiful coastal views and abundance of citrus fruit, it’s an enchanting place to spend the day.
However, if you visit Menton in the last couple of weeks of winter, from mid-February, you’ll be in for a huge treat. From mid-February into March, Menton is transformed by the famous Fete du Citron.
Now, this isn’t your regular orange and lemon festival that just has a couple of bottles of limoncello and some clementine cake, no, Menton goes big.
In fact, the main event sees the city’s park covered in floats of all shapes and sizes, portraying lions, horses, and even the Taj Mahal.
Except, they’re all entirely made of lemons and oranges. It’s insane. These aren’t small structures, they’re huge and elaborately made by hand.
The Fete du Citron definitely has to be seen to be believed, and it only takes around 40 minutes on the train to get there from Nice.
7. Check out the Cathédrale Saint-Nicolas de Nice
Also known as the Russian Cathedral, the Cathédrale Saint-Nicolas de Nice is one of the most striking buildings in the whole city. Designed in the Russian Revival style, it looks like it’s been teleported straight out of Moscow into the French Riviera.
This Eastern Orthodox church is popular for its beautiful architecture and ornate design on the inside. In fact, it’s the largest Eastern Orthodox church in the whole of Western Europe, so when you enter, you’re hit by the sheer scale of the place!
In addition to the cathedral itself, you can also visit the beautiful gardens that surround the church. With stylish topiary, water foundations, and lush greenery, it’s a tranquil spot in the heart of Nice that’ll make you forget you’re in a city for a moment or two.
8. Shop at the Antique Market: Les Puces de Nice
If you love hunting for bargains, this next Nice favorite is going to be a paradise for you. Les Puces de Nice is located in an unassuming building near the port, and unless you’re looking for it, you could easily pass it without realizing the magic that lies within.
This antique market has a little something for everyone from vintage crockery to old Asterix comics to century-old jewelry.
Honestly, Les Puces de Nice is an absolute treasure trove of interesting finds. Of course, as it’s a market, haggling is expected, so you should definitely try your luck and see if you can grab a bargain.
The market almost winds around in a mini town of its own, with different alleyways and rows splitting off in different directions. You could easily spend hours exploring the various stalls, but remember your luggage limit when you’re looking at those bigger ticket items!
9. Enjoy the Market at Cours Saleya
Honestly, I love exploring the fresh produce markets when I’m on holiday. Not only do you get to buy delicious food and drink, but you also get to meet locals and really soak up the atmosphere and vibe of a destination.
The best place in Nice for this has to be at the Cours Saleya market.
Cours Saleya is half food market and half flower market. As such, you get an amazing blend of smells as soon as you arrive at the plaza.
Plus, if you go on a Monday, instead of produce and flowers, there’s an antique market, where I’ve spent way too much money but I can’t stop going back! From old French magazines, vintage headscarves, paintings, etc., you can find it here.
If you’re staying in self-catering accommodation, like an Airbnb, you can always pick up some ingredients for lunch or dinner from one of the local vendors, or buy some quintessentially French produce and take it around the corner to the Promenade des Anglais where you can find a bench and enjoy a local picnic lunch.
Sounds pretty perfect, right?
10. Wander Around the Old Town
Nice’s Old Town is a beautiful area to explore come rain or shine. With cobbled streets, buildings that are older than the US, and plenty of side streets to explore, you can spend an entire day roaming around this area.
And if you’re visiting near the Christmas season, you can wander around town checking out the decorations and lights.
The Old Town is full of amazing boutiques, restaurants, cafes, and bars, so you can pull up a chair, order a drink, and sit and watch the world go by around you. Honestly, it’s one of the best people-watching spots in the whole of Nice.
With Old Town having so many side streets and alleyways, it’s easy to get lost in the labyrinth of old buildings. Just embrace it. You’re probably going to get lost.
But you might just find a hidden gem or a cute cafe along the way. It’s all part of the magic of spending time in Nice’s gorgeous Old Town!
11. Take a Day Trip to Monaco
Another popular day trip from Nice is to go to the neighboring principality of Monaco. Known for billionaires, royalty, and James Bond, Monaco isn’t exactly a budget-friendly place to visit, but it’s amazing for a short day trip.
You can get from Nice to Monaco in as little as 30 minutes on a direct train and be surrounded by high-end designer stores, casinos, and opulent restaurants and cafes. It’s not uncommon to see supercars being driven casually around the hairpin bends of Monte Carlo. After all, an astonishing one in three people who live in Monaco are millionaires.
Head down to the beautiful harbor to see some of the nicest and biggest superyachts that you’ve ever seen before stopping off for a cocktail or two as the sun sinks over the horizon. It’s definitely an insight into how the other half lives and one where you need to treat yourself.
Monaco is definitely not the place to visit if you’re on a strict budget!
12. Grab a Deal at Saint-Jean-Medecin & Rue Massena
Speaking of budget-friendly things to do in Nice in winter, shopping at the famous Saint-Jean-Medecin & Rue Massena are both pretty affordable at this time of year.
There are often sales leading up to Christmas and a ton of sales afterward to get rid of the winter stock ahead of the new season releases.
If you’re looking to get some European-branded clothes and gear for a reduced price, winter is a great time to do so.
It’s also the place to come if you need to do some last-minute holiday shopping for your friends and family members back home.
Saint-Jean-Medecin & Rue Massena are both home to some of the major European brands like H&M, Zara, Calzedonia, and Decathlon, which are often more affordable on the continent than buying back home or shipping them off the international website!
13. Enjoy a Day Trip to Villefranche-sur-Mer
So, the resort town of Villefranche-sur-Mer might not be as bustling in the winter months as it is in the summer, but it’s still a beautiful place to visit.
You can either jump on the train or bus pretty easily from Nice to Villefranche-sur-Mer, or you can hike along the coastal route and be there in around an hour.
The first thing you’ll notice about Villefranche-sur-Mer is the colorful houses and shutters that are everywhere. It’s a beautiful town and is certainly perfect for any Instagram snaps you want to get along the way!
There are plenty of things to see and do in Villefranche-sur-Mer, from walking around the old cobbled streets to exploring the harbor to checking out one of the many museums. It’s a more peaceful place in the winter and has a much calmer vibe than Nice if you’re looking to relax for the day!
14. Watch the Sunset or Sunrise from Colline du Chateau (Castle Hill)
So, if you’re looking for one of the best views in the whole of Nice, you need to hike up to Colline du Chateau, otherwise known as Castle Hill.
It’s not really a secret spot – you’ll find locals and tourists up there most of the time, but the crowds are definitely less in the winter.
With the shorter daylight hours, you can easily hike up in the mid-to-late afternoon and catch the sunset from the top of the hill.
With the whole city below you and views out across the water, I honestly can’t think of a better way to end the day and welcome in the evening.
If you’re more of an early bird, start the day with a rejuvenating hike with a coffee and pastry, see the magnificent sunrise, and then head back into the city to continue onward with another beautiful day in Nice!
15. Join a Local Cookery Class
Let’s be honest, France is the home of gastronomy for a very good reason. Return home for the holidays with a new recipe or two by taking a local cookery class.
There are tons of cooking classes throughout the city, ranging from an hour or two all the way up to full-day intensives with lunch and wine.
Due to Nice’s location on the Mediterranean coast and close to the border with Italy, there’s actually a unique blend of French and Italian cuisine in the city’s blood.
Add into the mix all that fresh seafood that the fishermen bring in daily and you’re spoiled for choice!
One thing that you’ll be sure to learn in your Nice cookery class is Socca, the traditional Nice chickpea pancake.
Naturally gluten-free, this crunch and fluffy favorite can be found around just about every corner of Nice, and now you’ll be able to make it at home!
16. Check out the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Nice
The weather in winter doesn’t always match our plans, so it’s a good idea to have a couple of indoor excursions up your sleeve just in case. One of the best indoor attractions in Nice is the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Nice.
Features over 1,300 pieces of art from 300 different artists, mostly from France and America, The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Nice focuses on modern art and championing local artists.
Sometimes, art will spill over into the streets around the museum, especially large sculptural exhibits, so keep your eyes peeled for these as you won’t have to pay to appreciate it which is always a bonus if you’re on a budget!
With rotating exhibitions and mediums that include photography, painting, sculpture, and more, there’s a little something for everyone at this iconic museum in the heart of Nice.
In fact, it’s the second most visited attraction in the whole of Nice!
17. Visit Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
Located in the stunning Villefranche-sur-Mer area, just a few miles from the Old Town of Nice, you can find the amazing Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild.
Previously the summer home of Baroness Beatrice de Rothschild, this opulent villa and garden complex is open to the public to explore and appreciate.
Fans of architecture and design will love this place, that’s known for its unique early-20th-century design and amazing mosaic detailing. So much so, that it also plays host to a mosaic festival in October!
The showstopper, however, has to be the gardens. With nine different gardens, all with their own individual themes, you can be transported with every step.
As you wander, you’ll be rewarded with a sea view on three sides, sweeping all around you. It’s an amazing place to visit.
18. Spend the Day in Cannes
Looking to explore another resort town, this time more towards Marseille? Well then, jump on a 40-minute train to the beautiful town of Cannes.
Known for its luxury and world-famous film festival, Cannes is full of amazing shopping and restaurants if you want to treat yourself to a fun day out.
As it’s the off-season in winter, you might be able to get a table at restaurants and bars you’d never be able to get in the summer months or when the festival is on in May. Once you’ve had your fill of shopping and wining and dining, head to the harbor.
Much like Monaco’s harbor, Cannes waterfront is jam-packed and full of opulent yachts with famous or rich owners. However, it’s a beautiful place to wander around or jump on a dinner or sunset cruise around the bay, and see Cannes all lit up in front of you. Pretty magical, right?
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Dayna Brockbank is a travel and language-learning blogger who has lived around the world but has now settled in Nice, France. She speaks 3 languages at varying levels of fluency: Spanish, Italian, and French, and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Spanish Education. She and her husband focus on making travel part of life by living cheaply and traveling on a budget.