Travelling on a Budget in Nice


Nice, the capital of the Cote d’Azur is a mix of elegant charm, history and culture.

It is at once a chic seaside resort, a vibrant city, and the starting point of a longer journey to the coast and mountains in the distance.

We spent three days there at the start of our holiday, and also returned for a couple of nights at the end before flying back home. There is much to see and do over the course of a long weekend, as it is full of shops, tasty eateries and historical attractions. For those on a budget like us, here are some things to do to while away the days without breaking the bank.

Get pleasantly lost in the Old Town

Nice’s Vieux Ville is a highlight and a must-do when visiting the city. It is a maze of narrow, winding alleyways lined with tall, shuttered buildings that appear to fill the sky above. Sitting in one cafe you are almost sitting in the one opposite as well, so narrow are the streets. It is easy to lose an hour or two exploring the many boutiques, stalls, restaurants and cafes. An abundance of sights and smells, each corner brings a new and undiscovered square, building or eaterie. The shops are filled to bursting with soaps, oils, clothes, shoes and all manner of local produce. The market along the Cours Saleya is known for its colourful flowers, but also for antiques and fresh food.  The Old Town is busy and lively during the day and night and is a perfect place to explore and find something to eat, drink or simply watch the world go by.

Seek out the churches of the Old Town

While visiting the Old Town, be sure to venture into at least one of the nine churches. The unassuming buildings and entrances hide the beauty and wonder inside. They vary in their opulence and upkeep, but all bring silence to those who enter with their many columns, figures, statues, chapels and frescoes. Each provides a moment to stop and ponder, to look around and upwards in awe. The Saint Reparata Cathedral is the oldest and most ornate, and is the one to head for if you are short on time. Among the others, the beautiful Church of Jesus is also well worth a visit.  

Take a moment in the Place Massena and nearby parks

At the end of the Avenue Jean Medecin, where the trams meander along with a ding of the bell, is the Place Massena. This is the main square in Nice and contains the dominating fountain and statue of Apollo.  An impressive sight, it is framed on either side by large Neoclassical buildings with red facades. Dotted around the square, high up on plinthes are a number of figures, deep in thought. On one side of the square, is the Promenade du Paillon, a large park where children play and people sit and stay for a while.  One edge is marked with a fountain display that lights up in red, white and blue at night. On the other side is the Jardin 1 Albert. One of the city’s oldest gardens, it is a smaller park but contains an areas of green, palm trees and another fountain.

Walk up the Colline du Chateau (that has no chateau!)

From the Old Town, find the steps that go up the top of this hill. The effort is well rewarded with amazing views over the rooftops of the Old Town, and out across the sea. The Colline marks the city’s original site and once boasted a citadel which was dismantled by Louis XIV. It is now a peaceful parkland, that hosts ruins and a surprising waterfall at the top. The views also extend to the port on the other side where you can see large yachts, ferries, and smaller fishing boats come and go. Beware the noon-time cannon if you are around the Colline at this time. It marks a long-held tradition in the city and makes pigeons and unsuspecting tourists jump.

Grab a bite to eat

Food is in abundance in the many restaurants and cafes in Nice, and it is easy to find something for every taste and budget.  You cannot walk very far before finding a patisserie or boulangerie with a mouthwatering display of pastries and cakes which will keep you going for breakfast or lunch. Cafes and stalls in the old town also provide cheap but tasty food such as pizza, pissaladiere, and pan bagnat. Lou Pilha Leva at Place Centrale is one such place, and also cooks up moules frites. Socca is the fast-food of Nice and can be found at various places for 3 euros if taking-away. It is a traditional flatbread made of chickpea flour and olive oil, flavoured with salt and pepper. A little more expensive but for heaps of taste is Neuf-Cinquante, where all main dishes are 9.50 euros. You will probably need three dishes between two, and some wine, and definitely some pudding, so it all adds up, but is well worth it and still relatively cheap for a night out. For those on a real budget, head to the Monoprix supermarkets for all sorts of snacks from the shelves, salad bar and deli.

Take a walk (or ride) down the Promenade des Anglais

This 7 km long promenade extends from the Old Town to the airport on the west to the Quai des Etats-Uni on the east. Framing the Bay of Angels, this famous stretch of seafront has the sea on one side and the buildings of the city on the other. Stroll slowly or join the many others who run, bike, scoot or segway along it. Alternatively, jump on one of the Velo Blue bikes found at one of the many bike stations around Nice – sign up using your mobile phone and away you go.

Getting there

The airport, Nice Cote d’Azur is served by several budget airlines,and we flew there with Easyjet. There are two express buses that go to and from the airport, numbers 98 and 99, taking slightly different routes. They cost 6 euros each way, so a cheaper option is to find a local bus. This includes the Number 23 which runs from various points in the city and costs about 1.5 euros. If you have small rucksacks as we did, consider jumping on the Velo Blues to get to the airport, riding along the Promenade des Anglaises for one final time, before leaving the bikes at the nearest stop to the airport.

Nice is well placed for train and buses to explore further afield in the Cote d’Azur region if your journey continues.

Where we stayed

We stayed in the Hotel Star. A 2 star hotel, very basic but clean and centrally placed. In May a double room was between 54 to 65 euros per night.