The coastal French city of Nice, located in the ever-popular Provence region of the country, is many things. It's a place of ancient history and gorgeous scenery that will appeal to nature lovers, with many restaurants and local shops for city types. Once part of Italy, Nice combines Italian flair with quintessential French charm. It's also known for its seaside ambiance, palm trees, art galleries, and its famous flower market.
What it's not usually known for is being cheap. This beautiful French Riviera town is often considered a playground for the ultra-wealthy, along with nearby Monaco. After all, there's a reason why Nice airport ranks third in the world for receiving private jets.
The truth is, you don't have to be a business tycoon or oligarch to enjoy visiting Nice. If you're willing to explore, you'll find lots to do even on a budget. There are even tons of free things to do in and around the Old Town. So if you're planning to visit Nice on a budget, you come to the right place. And you have a much easier time if you drop off your bags at a Bounce luggage storage in Nice. The lighter you travel, the easier it will be to enjoy what the city has to offer.
This public park is a must-see in Nice. Nice Castle may be long gone, destroyed in 1706 after being taken by French troops. But the 93 m high limestone rock the castle occupied is still there, and the public park on top of the hill is a popular place to visit for locals and tourists alike. Mainly, that's thanks to the amazing view it offers over the Old Town and the Baie des Anges. On a clear day, you'll see the distant mountains that rise behind the beautiful city and be able to admire much of the Côte d'Azur from the hill's summit.
It's also a great place to walk around. Castle Hill Park is a paradise of olive trees, palms, and the beautiful artificial waterfall known as the Cascade Dijon. It's not only one of the top free activities in the city, it's one of the most popular tourist attractions of any kind. And though you can take a guided tour to learn more about the castle and its importance in the history of the city, you don't need to. You can save money by exploring at your own pace and soaking up the atmosphere.
The flower market of Nice is one of the city's most famous tourist attractions, and for good reason. Part of the larger Cours Saleya food and produce market, the vibrant flower market takes place every day from Tuesday through Sunday. It's such a colorful and interesting place that you can enjoy it simply by wandering through the stalls, smelling the flowers, and getting lots of pictures of this incredible location. However, those looking to save money will have to be careful not to pick up seeds for their own flowerbeds and vegetable garden. When you see the spectacular results local gardeners get, it's hard not to want to take some of it home for yourself. The market is located in the heart of Nice Old Town, just a short walk from the Promenade des Anglais, so it's a great daytime activity to combine with other Nice tourist attractions. And when you're done exploring for the day, Nice takes on a whole new flavor at night. Check out some of the best things to do at night in Nice.
Promenade des Anglais
The famous Promenade des Anglais is more than just a street. In many ways, it functions as the living room of the city. For at least 100 years, the Promenade des Anglais has been the place to see and be seen in this French Riviera city.
It's no surprise why. With the glittering Mediterranean Sea in front of it and the old town behind, the Promenade des Anglais offers a spectacular view and is close enough to the city center that you can combine a stroll with other Nice tourist attractions. In the summer months especially, the Promenade des Anglais comes alive with joggers, street entertainers, tourists, and locals, all soaking up the sun and the panoramic view. But whenever you visit, you'll get a lot of free entertainment and the chance to stretch your legs and get some exercise. In fact, it may be best to visit at multiple times so you can see the way the Promenade des Anglais changes from morning to afternoon to evening. And if you're not averse to spending some money, it's a great place to stroll after dinner in one of the city's many restaurants and work off the calories you just consumed.
Explore the Town Center
With its brightly colored buildings, cobbled streets, and charming old town, taking a wander through the city center is one of the best free things to do in Nice. And it doesn't need to cost you a thing. You could spend your time window shopping and soaking up the unique atmosphere without spending a penny. But if you're willing to spend some money, you'll find a wealth of bars and restaurants around every corner (though they can get a bit expensive), and the city center is also home to many of the best Nice museums, such as the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art with its extensive collection of 20th and 21st century masterpieces. For more contemporary art, don't forget to check out the avant-garde public sculptures in the striking Place Masséna. Who said appreciating art has to be expensive?
Located at the western end of the city, Phoenix Park is a great place to visit for a change of pace. It's the perfect tourist attraction for nature lovers, who will be delighted by the exotic garden and its thousands of plant species. Phoenix Park is also home to one of the largest greenhouses in Europe, and you'll also find exotic animals such as crocodiles and lemurs that young kids will love. There's also an accrobranche, or outdoor activity course, perfect for tiring out the youngsters. If you're visiting Nice with young kids, why not try some of these other things to do with kids in Nice?
Visit a Museum
Thanks to its long history and many resident artists, Nice is a fantastic place to get a dose of culture by exploring the city's many museums. However, ticket prices can make a dent in your budget, so it's important for art lovers on a budget to be selective. With that in mind, it's worth noting that all the municipal museums in Nice can be explored by the purchase of a single €15 ticket. This affordable pass is valid for 72 hours and gives you access to the Musee Massena, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, the Matisse Museum, and several others. It's also worth noting that although it's not a municipal Museum, the pass also grants free access to the Marc Chagall National Museum, making it a great deal for art lovers.
It's also possible to visit many Nice museums completely free. The Marc Chagall Museum, for instance, is free for EU citizens under the age of 26, and free for everyone on the first Sunday of each month. Other museums are free on public holidays, so plan carefully and you could see some cultural masterpieces without spending a penny.
Mont Boron separates Nice from nearby Villefranche-sur-Mer, and while it may not have the most evocative name in the world, the incredible views and hiking trails more than make up for it. Reachable by bus from the city center, Mont Boron gives sweeping vistas over the Cap de Nice, the Baie des Anges, Nice harbor, and the rest of the Côte d'Azur. As you stroll through the olive trees, you'll come across Fort du Mont Alban, a 16th-century fortress built to protect the city from foreign invaders. You may also stumble across one of the three magnificent villas that occupy the hill, including one owned by Elton John. Whether you get a celebrity sighting or not, Mont Boron is one of the best free things to do in Nice, and along with Castle Hill, is the perfect way to get a complete overview of the stunning city. If you're looking for more hikes to test your fitness, check out our guide to the best hikes in Nice.
Carnival is celebrated around the world in spring and is synonymous with cities like Rio de Janeiro, New Orleans, and Venice. But Nice also has an impressive Carnival celebration, and if you're in the French Riviera during spring, you owe it to yourself to visit. The highlight of the carnival is the Bataille des Fleurs, or battle of flowers, when costumed performers hurl brightly colored flowers at one another and at the watching crowd along the Promenade des Anglais. Catch some flowers for yourself and enjoy one of the best free things to do in Nice while you soak up the vibrant atmosphere of this festival.
Head to the Beach
It wouldn't make much sense to visit the French Riviera and not head to the beach at least once. If you're a practiced beach bum, you've come to the right place. Even if you're not, you'll find plenty to like along the coast of Provence. Beaches range from pricey and highly exclusive to free and open to everyone, and if you're looking to save money, you'll find no shortage of places you can get some sun and sea without spending any money.
The beaches in Nice tend to be rocky, so aren't necessarily the best places for sunbathing, although that doesn't stop the locals. Plus, rocky beaches mean clear water which is great for swimming. if swimming is on your agenda when you visit, one of the best free things to do in Nice is to visit Coco Beach. More a rocky outcrop located beneath Mont Boron than a beach, Coco Beach is a great place to plunge into the Mediterranean and cool off from the summer sun. And it won't cost you a cent.
Take a Day Tour
There are enough free things to do in Nice to keep just about anybody busy on vacation. But the city is also part of a wider area that has so much to offer, it would be a shame not to explore. Taking a day tour out of Nice may not be exactly free, you can do it so cheaply that it may as well be.
For instance, you could visit Cannes, a jewel of the French Riviera and the home of the world-renowned Cannes Film Festival. The train that runs from Nice city center to Cannes train station takes around 40 minutes, so is your best bet if you're in a hurry. However, there is also a bus that leaves from right beside the Promenade des Anglais to Cannes train station by way of Nice airport. It takes over an hour to make the trip, but only costs 2 euros, making it the best bet for travelers on a tight budget.
Additionally, it's easy to visit Monaco from Nice city center. Nothing about this tiny principality is cheap, but it does offer some amazing views and a chance to see how the world's ultra-wealthy live. And if you get lucky in the Monte Carlo casino, the trip may even end up paying for itself.
Saint Paul de Vence
For another fascinating day tour from Nice, you could visit the charming village and artist haven of Saint Paul de Vence. Easily reached from Nice city center, this photogenic village was once home to Jean-Paul Sartre, Pablo Picasso, Bill Wyman, and James Baldwin, among others. Take a walk through the ancient couple streets and soak up the atmosphere that drew so many leading thinkers and creative types to this charming village.
Nice, and the French Riviera as a whole, may be known for glitz and glamour. But hopefully by now, you've seen that there are also plenty of free things to do in the city that are well worth your time. Castle Hill Park, the Promenade des Anglais, Nice Old Town, and the Flower Market are some of the best free things to do in Nice, and they're also some of the city's top tourist attractions. Even in a playground of the ultra-wealthy like Nice, you can always find free things to do. So next time you visit Nice, keep your wallet in your pocket and see some of the best of the city for absolutely nothing.