The city of Nice, located in the south of France close to the Italian border, is where the rest of France comes on vacation. The beautiful old town known as Vieux Nice is a charming place to wander, and the sweeping views of the Mediterranean Sea offered from the city center are hard to beat. Plus, with the majestic mountains of the French Alps rising behind the city, Nice is both an excellent destination for outdoor enthusiasts and, thanks to the presence of incredible museums like the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art and the Musée Marc Chagall, a fantastic place to explore culture too.
But Nice, and the Côte d'Azur region of which it is a part, are not known for being affordable. When you visit Nice, it's easy to find your budget spiraling out of control. The French Riviera is many things, but cheap is not one of them, and Nice is one of the more expensive cities in Western Europe.
Still, there are ways to keep your travel costs down. Taking advantage of affordable hotels and budget-friendly restaurants can help you save money and enjoy Nice on a budget. Plus, the city has some great free sights that you can take advantage of to enjoy more of the French Riviera without spending Riviera money.
Whether you arrive via Nice airport or Nice-Ville train station, the first thing you should do is find a place to drop off your heavy bags. Knowing your belongings are being safely looked after will make it much easier to navigate the narrow streets of the Old Town and fully enjoy this lovely place.
Cheap places to stay in Nice
Finding affordable accommodation in Nice can be a challenge all year round, but that's especially true in the busy summer season when the beaches of the French Riviera are packed with visitors from across France and beyond. Late July and August are the busiest times in the sunny south when seemingly the whole country shuts down and heads to the beach.
However, even if you're traveling at this busy time, you can still find a place to stay and visit Nice without spending a fortune. Naturally, everyone wants to stay in the charming Old Town or close to the beach, but if you are willing to consider places a little further out of town, you can find some good bargains. The truth is, the city of Nice really isn't that big, so even if you're on the outskirts, it's not hard to get into the city and enjoy everything it has to offer. You could even consider staying in some of the outlying towns, such as Cagnes sur Mer, and take a bus into town. There's a bus that services towns along the coast, running from Nice to Cannes via Antibes, that only costs one euro for a one-way ticket.
If you're wondering where to stay in Nice, check out our Nice neighborhood guide for some inspiration. And if you're looking for affordable places to stay, consider these options:
Hotel du Pin Nice Port
Located in the always lively area of Nice's Old Port and just steps from the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, this three-star hotel lets you sleep with a view of the mega yachts of billionaires for a very affordable price. In the height of the August tourist season, private rooms start at less than €200, and that includes breakfast. Given the exceptional location in the shadow of Castle Hill, that's a great bargain.
For that price, you can get a standard double room with a single double bed or a twin room with two twin beds. There are also larger rooms available, including a family room with a double bed, single bed, and a pull-out couch, and at only €237, it doesn't cost that much more than the smallest room available.
If you want to stay close to the Old Town and have access to some great restaurants and things to do just steps from your hotel door, this option is hard to beat.
On the edge of Nice's Old Town and practically right outside the train station, this affordable hotel is a good option for budget travelers. Granted, the area around the train station itself isn't the most scenic in Nice, though it is a great location for street food and reasonably priced restaurants. But just a short walk or a quick ride on the tram will bring you to many of Nice's top attractions, including the beautiful beaches along the Promenade des Anglais.
Housed in a traditional townhouse, this hostel provides both private rooms and mixed dormitories, with a communal kitchen so you can cook your own meals with food bought from the food market and save money on restaurants. There's free Wi-Fi and a coin-operated laundry so you can keep your clothes clean, and the walled patio is a great place to sit out and enjoy the sunny weather while meeting your fellow travelers. In August, a single bed in a dormitory will cost you around €50, while a private room goes for approximately €100. Given the location, it's really not a bad price.
Ibis budget Nice Californie Lenval
If you want to stay close to the water without blowing your budget, this international chain is a good option. Located on the western edge of Nice, closer to the airport, it's still easily accessible from the city center. Best of all, it's just across the street from a public beach where you can stretch out on the pebbles and swim in the crystal-clear water the city is famous for. A short walk along the Promenade des Anglais will bring you to everything the heart of the city has to offer. Plus, local buses run regularly along this street, so if you don't feel like walking, you can get anywhere in the whole city for just a few euros.
In the busy August tourist season, you can snag a double room for around €100. Though small, some of these rooms have a courtyard view. They also include Wi-Fi, air-conditioning, and satellite TV.
Cheap things to do in Nice
One of the keys to traveling to expensive places on a strict budget is finding free or cheap things to do. After all, there's no point going all the way to Nice just to sit in your hotel room and not see any of the city. Luckily, Nice has some great attractions that offer free entrance. And even some of the top attractions in the city can be a great value with a little bit of forward planning.
Nice doesn't really have a castle anymore since the castle that once dominated the city was destroyed in 1706. However, the hill the castle occupied, known in French as Colline du Chateau, is one of the best places to visit in the city. You can get free access to the hill by climbing it yourself from Nice, or you can ride an elevator to the top, which is also completely free.
Once at the summit, you'll have incredible views of the city and the coastline and some good hiking trails to choose from. On a sunny day, there's no better place to be than this hilltop park, and it won't cost you a thing.
Promenade des Anglais
More than just a city street, this broad boulevard functions as Nice's open-air living room. A great place to walk, run, or ride a bike, this street sweeps along the beaches of Nice and is the place to see and be seen in the summer. Along the way, you'll find plenty of beach clubs, restaurants, and cafés where you can grab some refreshments or sit on the beach and enjoy the view.
Cours Saleya Market
Located within the Old Town of Nice, this beautiful market is more than just a place to buy great food - though it is that, too. It's also a famous flower market, and visiting in spring when the blooms are at their best is a fantastic way to enjoy the beauty of Nice and get some incredible photo opportunities.
Cheap places to eat in Nice
Part of the joy of holidaying in France is the food. So while you can save a lot of money by cooking for yourself, you'll be missing out on part of what makes the city so special.
In this ritzy area, you'll find plenty of high-end restaurants with exclusive tasting menus and a prohibitive dress code. But Nice has enough restaurants to suit all budgets. Get away from the tourist sites of Old Nice, and you'll find that prices vary from one restaurant to the next. The best street food in Nice is a great way to eat excellent food cheaply, but these restaurants also offer a way to sample great food while keeping travel costs down.
Operating since 1926, this family restaurant oozes classical French charm. The place is tiny, so you'll want to get there early if you want a seat, especially because locals know this is a fantastic place for great food at low prices. A three-course lunch or dinner will cost you €20, which is an exceptional bargain to sample classic French cooking.
Bistrot du Port
Unsurprisingly located in the port area, this welcoming restaurant lets you dine with a view of the water at a price that's impossible to beat. The weekday lunch deal features two courses and includes wine for only €15. Reservations are most definitely advised.
Lou Pilha Leva
For classic Nicoise cuisine at low prices, this fast food outlet is hard to beat. Socca, pissaladiere, and moules frites are all on the menu here. Grab a plate of moules frites to enjoy on the picnic tables outside, and you'll be enjoying Nice just like a local.
Cheap bars in Nice
Thanks to its popularity with the international jet set, Nice has tons of glamorous cocktail lounges and bars where you can rub shoulders with the beautiful people. But that's not all it has. Look around, and you'll find some classic French bistros and bars where you can get a drink for cheap.
This popular bar couldn't ask for a better location in the heart of Old Nice, close to the beach. The large outdoor terrace has heaters during the winter, and the bar is well-equipped with board games to pass the time while you enjoy a drink. A glass of wine will cost you around four euros, and cocktails are just €8.50 during their happy hour, which lasts from 5 PM to 8 PM.
Cave de la Tour
French bars don't come much more authentic than this. This dimly lit haven has no Wi-Fi, adding to the feeling that nothing has changed here since it was first opened in 1947. What you will find, though, is locals enjoying a glass of the regional wine or a cooling pastis for less than five euros.
This international sports bar may not be the most quintessentially French place to drink, but it is very reasonably priced. Cocktails are just over eight euros every day and less than five euros during happy hour, and you can get a pint of beer for around seven euros.
Bonus budget tips for Nice
Visit during the shoulder season: The peak season in Nice is from June to August, when the weather is warmest. Consider visiting in the shoulder season (April-May or September-October) when the weather is still pleasant and the prices are lower.
Use public transportation: Instead of taking taxis or renting a car, use the public transportation system. The buses and trams in Nice are affordable and can take you to all the major tourist destinations.
Eat like a local: Avoid restaurants in touristy areas and instead, look for local cafes and bakeries. Try some of the local specialties while you're at it.
Buy groceries: If you're staying in a place with a kitchenette, buy groceries from the local market or supermarket and prepare your meals.
Hopefully, these money-saving tips have shown you that it's possible to have a great time in Nice without spending a fortune. As well as all the great free things to do in Nice, it's still possible to find some good deals on accommodation, food, and places to drink. Nice is such a fantastic place to visit that it would be a shame to let your budget stop you, and a little planning can make even this famously expensive city affordable.