Nice is an exciting, lively, chaotic and noisy city. Called "Nizza la Bella" by its proud inhabitants and the faded "Queen of the Riviera" by its critics, it has upgraded its appearance during the past years. The construction of the new tramway was accompanied by a massive regeneration of Nice's downtown area with elegant plazas and many pedestrian only streets. Nice has become one of the "hottest" places on the Mediterranean coast to invest in real estate.
Nice is the capital of the Département Alpes Maritimes and next to Marseille the most densely populated area in the Provence. Long gone are the days when well heeled English, Russian and other European noblesse descended on the town during winter and spring. What reminds us of these times are the Belle Époque hotels on the Promenade des Anglais and the Regency style buildings along the Cours Saleya.
Nowadays Nice is not solely dependent on tourism, it is the commercial hub for the eastern Provence and has a very diversified and dynamic cultural life. With a population of roughly 350.000, it is part of a contiguous metropolitan area of about 1 million inhabitants, consisting of separately incorporated towns stretching from here to Théoule sur Mer southwest of Cannes and expanding inland to Grasse. If it were officially regarded as a metropolitan area, which it is not, it would be France's 5th largest. All of this growth has its usual price tag - congested roads and highways, public housing (lots of it), crime and seemingly endless lotissements, the French version of suburban residential developments. Nice was notorious for its corrupt public officials, albeit it has been suggested by the media that in recent years the situation has improved. But like in most cities, the visitor can choose to see very little of the seamier side.
In case you arrive in Nice by car there is a huge public parking garage at the Promenade du Paillon (between Blvd. Jean Jaurés and Avenue Felix Faure) close to Vieux Nice. Other good choices are the public parking spaces on Rue Rivoli near the Hotel Négresco and at the Vieux Port (enter from Quai Rauba Capeu). The public parking below Cours Saleya is small and normally full.
The top attractions are the Promenade des Anglais, Vieux Nice (historic downtown) and the Cours Saleya , the Vieux Port and Château Hill, Place Masséna and the Masséna pedestrian zone and the Cimiez District, with its public gardens and Matisse Museum.
Of the many annual festivals held in Nice, Carnival is the best known. Since 1878, when the first Carnival took place, Caramantran (King Carnival) appears a fortnight before Lent, followed by costumed processions, floats, people with grotesque masks, confetti showers and fireworks. King Carnival is burned in effigy on Shrove Tuesday and on Ash Wednesday the lively Battle of Flowers ends the festival.
The broad promenade along the seawall provides for ample entertainment. You see the Niçoise doing their daily walk, jogging, rollerblading, skate boarding and the many visitors admiring the blue sea with a keen eye on many a beauty sunbathing on the beach. Some sections of the beach are privately run with the usual offer of bistro type food, drinks, sunbeds and sunshades. But you have unhindered access to the entire beach and can stroll along the surf, most likely with your sandals on as it is a pebble beach. The promenade is rather utilitarian, not as elegant as the one in Cannes or Saint Raphaël. There are plenty of palm trees and manicured lawns as a divider between the eight lane street which runs behind the beach promenade, but the pedestrian part of the promenade is rather plain.
The walk passes the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire Masséna (Promenade des Anglais/Rue de Rivoli) housed in a 19th century Italianate mansion. It was built by the great-grandson of Marshal Masséna, a native of Nice, who was regarded as a military genius by the Duke of Wellington. There is an extensive collection of local artwork and religious items from the First Empire until 1939. The next building walking west is the Hotel Négresco with its pompuous doorman in historic costume. It was built in 1912 by Henri Négresco (1868-1920), an immigrant from Romania and concessionary of the Nice casino, and frequented in the few years before World War I by royalty and the mega rich, the Rockefellers included. The Edwardian style building was classified a National Historic Monument in 1974. It is a privately owned 4 star hotel with elaborate public rooms. Reportedly the lavatories are more lavishly ornamented than most luxury hotel lounges.
The Promenade des Anglais continues for about 6km until the Nice airport. Just before you reach the airport, on No. 405 Promenade des Anglais is the Musée des Arts Asiatiques in a modern building designed by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange. Just before the airport Promenade des Anglais becomes a bit unsavory in the evening.
Opposite the airport is the Parc Floral Phoenix, a truly remarkable garden park. Outside are a lake, rockeries and numerous trees and plants, the real magnificent feature is the Astronomical Garden, a conical greenhouse, the largest in the world. It is divided into seven sections each of which has its climate automatically controlled, simulating one of the world's tropical areas. You can wander through areas of tree ferns, among exotic orchids and watch birds and butterflies.