In recent years, two major innovations have revolutionized the way tourists can experience a trip to the capital of the Côte d’Azur: the tramway, and electric–bike rentals. The tram will whisk you from the airport to the downtown core in 15 minutes and is a tenth of the cost of taking a taxi. The electric bike, or Vélobleu, is quite simply the best way to tour the town (sign up at velobleu.org). As French crooner Yves Montand sang, it’s much more pleasant “à bicyclette...”
Explore the lively French Riviera city by Vélobleu, taking in all the top spots and stopping for an apéro with a view of the sea.
The Promenade des Anglais
The total length of the famous Promenade des Anglais, which hugs the equally celebrated Baie des Anges, is open to debate: somewhere between six and nine kilometres, depending on whether you consider the starting point to be the airport runways or closer to Gambetta, and the end point the outdoor theatre at Roba Capeu (“hat stealer” in the Niçoise dialect, because the winds can really pick up) or the port. Whatever the case, an e–bike is the ideal way to explore the promenade while admiring the sea, whose endless shades of blue inspired artist Yves Klein. There’s no need to slalom between walkers, strollers and rollerbladers, either – a secure, dedicated bike path has been built. Just make sure to hop off at one of the private beaches to have breakfast, lunch or go for a dip without fighting the crowds. The beachside concessions were given a makeover a couple years ago, and several historic establishments have disappeared. The best bets remain Castel Plage, Le Galet and Beau Rivage.
Next, head to the port to observe the multicoloured parade of small traditional fishing boats (called pointus, for their pointy shape), visit Espace Lympia, a small museum located in a former jailhouse, and have a snack on one of the streets that lead to Place Garibaldi and Place du Pin. This area is home to many of the city’s trendiest restaurants: Le Millésime, L’Usine, Lavomatic, Comptoir Électrique and Deli Bo. Or keep following the sea all the way to the city outskirts to take in the view from the Basse Corniche. Stop for a bite in Coco Beach, at La Réserve or Le Plongeoir, an iconic local establishment where the dining room is perched above the water. If your bike still has a charge, head for Villefranche Bay, which provides one of the prettiest views of the Côte d’Azur.
The old town
To enjoy a stroll along the narrow streets of Old Nice, leave your Vélobleu at the entrance to the Cours Saleya, near the opera house, whose whose neo–baroque facade recalls the glories of the Belle Époque. In the morning, this pedestrian area is home to the flower market and fruit and vegetable stalls. It’s an ideal spot to sip a coffee or an early apéro. For lunch or dinner, two locations are a cut above the regular tourist fare: La Petite Maison, at the entrance to Cours Saleya, and Le Safari, on the other end. Before you wade into the labyrinth of the old town, pass under the Ponchettes to seeles poutres (the beams,as thelocals have dubbedBernar Venet’s monumental sculpturepositionedat the end of the Promenade),and grab a patio table in a cocktail bar with a view (La Movida, for instance) to soak up the sunset.
On the way back downtown, you’ll pass by the Musée d’Art Moderne and the coulée verte, a huge stretch of newly created gardens and fountains on the grounds of the former bus station. Suddenly you’re in Place Masséna, primed for a shopping spree in the luxury boutiques of Avenue de Suède, or on the pedestrian streets if you’re on a budget. In February, the square hosts the carnival parade, and the Nice Jazz Festival is held here in July.
Related: Kent Monkman’s Guide to the Louvre
The electric boost provided by a Vélobleu e–bike really comes in handy when you leave the Promenade and the downtown area and start tackling the hills. These include Le Château (which offers unforgettable views of Baie des Anges, the promenade and Roman ruins), Cimiez (Roman arenas, former grand hotels converted to apartments, an archeology museum, gardens and a monastery), Mont Boron (which overlooks an army fort and a public forest), where you might spot Elton John’s Rolls–Royce (he has a house here), and L’Observatoire, which we highly recommend.