The 12 Best Museums in Nice18 November, 2021by Bounce
Nice, in the Provence region of France, is one of the most beguiling cities in the entire country. With the glittering Mediterranean Sea in front of the city and the impressive mountains of the Alps behind, the scenery alone is enough to draw millions of visitors each year to the French Riviera. But Nice is also a very ancient city, with a history that stretches back thousands of years. It also has a proud history as a home for artists, so you'd expect to find some world-class galleries here. You will.
If you're looking to soak up some culture on the Cote d'Azur, you've come to the right place. Nice, France, is a cultural powerhouse of the Alpes-Maritimes region, and a great place to visit the museum of your choice. But remember that not all museums will let you bring heavy bags inside. Besides, why would you want to? Make use of luggage storage in Nice so that you can more easily explore what the city has to offer.
Marc Chagall National Museum
Not many museums are founded by the artists they feature, but that's the case in this nice Museum. The Musée National Marc Chagall was founded by the legendary artist himself, and its permanent collection is the most extensive exhibition of Chagall's work anywhere in the world. The museum is arranged around Chagall's work on Old Testament biblical themes, and contains over 400 different works of art including paintings and drawings. The Chagall Museum is also something of an architectural marvel, and is housed in extensive gardens that include an olive grove. The Chagall museum is obviously a great place to visit for fans of Marc Chagall, but will also impress connoisseurs of religious art.
Henri Matisse is one of the most famous artists of the 20th century, and for good reason. Though he was born in northern France and developed his art in Paris, he later moved to the Cimiez neighborhood of nice - one of many great neighborhoods you learn about in our Nice ultimate neighborhood guide.
Matisse created paintings, sculpture, and was even working in stained glass when he died, leaving an impressive artistic legacy behind. This legacy is celebrated at the Musée Matisse, one of Nice's many municipal museums dedicated to fine art. The exceptional collection of the Musée Matisse makes it one of the world's largest collections of the artist's work. It's also housed in an opulent villa the dates back to the 17th century. Fans of modern art will love this museum, and you could easily spend hours admiring the paintings and sculptures this talented artist left behind.
Few artists can claim to have changed the course of art, but Pablo Picasso is one of them. Though born in Spain, Picasso spent much of his work life in Provence, finding the unique light of the Côte d'Azur very much to his liking. You'll find museums dedicated to Picasso and the revolution he created in painting throughout the region, but not many compare to the Picasso Museum located just outside Nice in the beautiful coastal town of Antibes. Just a short train ride from Nice offers you the chance to come face-to-face with the work of this exceptional artist. Plus, the town is well worth enjoying in its own right.
Along with its permanent extensive collection, the Musée Picasso holds rotating exhibitions of work by other artists, including sculpture and photography. Not only is this a great place to visit for established fans of the legendary artist, but the Musee Picasso could also convert new admirers to the artwork of this revolutionary thinker.
Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
Located on Place Yves Klein, the Musée d'art moderne et d'art contemporain, also known as MAMAC, is one of the best museums in Nice. Located a short walk from the Old Town and not too far from the famous Promenade des Anglais, this gallery is dedicated to the display of – as you've probably guessed – modern and contemporary art from the 1950s up until the present day. You'll see artworks by Yves Klein, Christo, Andy Warhol, and other luminaries along with lesser-known artists. Most importantly, you'll get a crash course in the work of still-living artists as you explore the white marble galleries and enjoy the architecture at one of Nice's top attractions.
Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence
The Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence is located outside Nice in a town called Vence. The chapel only dates back to the 1950s, so unlike many impressive churches in France, you won't be peering back into ancient history. But you will get up close and personal with the masterworks of Henri Matisse.
Matisse created murals and stained-glass windows in this chapel that he considered his masterpiece. Many subsequent art critics have had to agree. There's nothing like seeing the work of an artist in the place it was originally meant to be on display, so appreciators of Matisse should make the trip out of town through Cagnes sur Mer to Vence to see this unique site.
Back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the neighborhood around Nice's oceanfront promenade des Anglais was the place to be seen. Wealthy locals like Victor Massena built villas as close to the ocean as they could get, and Massena's was one of the most impressive. Built in 1898, the Villa is now owned by the city of Nice and preserves a glimpse into the lives of the aristocracy of the belle epoque. It also contains some interesting artwork and the ultimate keepsake of French nobility, one of the many death masks of Napoleon. It's a fantastic place to visit for anyone interested in this period of history which was in many ways a golden age for the city.
The Fine Arts Museum of Nice
The building that houses the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nice is a work of art all by itself. Built in 1878 for a Ukrainian princess, this Nice museum is worth visiting for its architecture alone. But it also houses a spectacular collection of fine art from the 15th to 20th centuries. The stunning galleries here are well worth the steep climb from the center of Nice to see what this museum has to offer.
Expect to see work by Jan Brueghel the Elder, Bronzino, Monet, and Pablo Picasso. With so many of the museums in Nice focusing on the more modern artists that made the city their home, it's nice to balance your cultural exploration with a museum that covers a broader scope. Plus, the museum is located not far from the beaches of the city and close to the vibrant university district, so it's a neighborhood well worth exploring by itself.
Nice-Cimiez Archaeological Museum
Cimiez, the home and final resting place of Henri Matisse, is a great place to visit for fans of 20th-century art. The area's roots go back way further than that. The Musée Archéologique de Nice-Cimiez was once an encampment for the Roman army, and there's even an amphitheater in the park that dates back almost 2000 years. While the ruins of the arena aren't quite as impressive as the Coliseum in Rome, they are completely yours to explore at your leisure. In the summer, the city even stages free concerts in the amphitheater, making for an atmospheric way to enjoy the city's rich past. Purchasing a ticket for the Archaeological Museum also grants you entry to the Paleontology Museum, which explains the story of even earlier occupants, the early humans that lived in the area 400,000 years ago.
Nice Natural History Museum
Art and history are all very well if you're into that kind of thing, but there's more to explore in this coastal city. The Nice Natural History Museum helps you learn more about the flora and fauna of the region and the complex ecosystems in this place where mountain meets ocean. Located behind Place Garibaldi in the heart of the charming Old Town, Nice's Natural History Museum isn't the biggest you'll ever see, but it is a fun place to visit for an hour or two. Founded in 1846, it's actually one of the oldest museums in the city, cramming thousands of specimens from around the world into the small space of its exhibits.
National Sports Museum
Continuing in the theme of museums that focus on something other than painting and sculpture, this National Museum is a treasure for fans of athletics. The museum is located in the Stade Allianz Riviera, Nice's main soccer stadium, but its focus is far broader than the exploits of local team OGC Nice. Instead, this exciting museum focuses on the history of sports from the 16th century to the present day, and includes such treasures as the match ball used in France's 1998 World Cup victory.
Nice Prehistory Museum
Nice wasn't always the beautiful and bustling city it is today. Once, this rocky coastline was home to elephant hunters and coastal scavengers that long predated the modern world. In fact, Nice's archaeological treasures include one of the first known instances of the use of fire by humans. The first inhabitants of Nice were a different species entirely to what we currently are.
Nice's earliest human settlement dates back 400,000 years, and you can learn more about it at the Prehistory Museum located on Boulevard Carnot on the eastern side of the city. This highly specialized museum may be small, but it offers a fascinating glimpse into a distant period of prehistory that is tantalizing in part because of how little we know about it.
Museum of Asian Art
A museum couldn't ask for a more impressive setting than this. The Museum of Asian Art rises out of the center of an artificial lake in Parc Phoenix. Inside, you'll find an extensive collection of art from the Orient, acting as a crash course in the history and culture of many different Asian nations. It's a great place to see something a little more exotic and get a glimpse of cultures very different from that of the French Riviera.
What are the best free museums in Nice?
With its old-world glamour and modern charm, Nice is not a city known for being particularly friendly to budget travelers. However, the city is keen to share its art and culture with the world, and so you can find both free museums and days when admission to the bigger museums is free or greatly reduced. For instance, students get free admission into Villa Massena. It's also totally free to see the Roman amphitheater in Cimiez, and the Marc Chagall Museum offers free admission on the first Sunday of every month. If you're looking for more free things to do in Nice, check out our guide.
Which are the best museums in downtown Nice?
With its markets, quirky shops, and proximity to gorgeous beaches, downtown Nice is a fantastic place to explore. It's also home to some of the city's best museums, including the Museum of Contemporary and Modern Art and the Natural History Museum.
Are there any cheap museums in Nice?
Along with the free admission offered by some of the city's cultural institutions, you'll find that many of Nice's museums don't charge very much for admission. The city's municipal museums charge €15 for entry, but that includes free entry to all of them for 48 hours, making it a real bargain for fans of art and culture. That includes the Matisse Museum, MAMAC, and the Musee des Beaux-Arts, among others.