Top 10 Places to People Watch in Nice, France

By: Derek Noll

When coming to a foreign country and setting up a new life, one of the major goals is trying to fit in.  No one likes to be pointed out as the outsider and this especially applies to expats who want so desperately to integrate into their chosen culture as quickly and as seamlessly as possible.  Simply taking the time to watch the people around you, the people who call this new place home, can be a great advantage when trying to adapt to a new culture.  You can see people going about their day-to-day business and get a great idea of what makes a certain city, neighborhood or public space special.  Here are my Top 10 places to people watch in Nice, France.

Promenade du Paillon

The Promenade du Paillon is the brand new city park/green space in the center of Nice.  It opened in late October 2013 and since then has seen more pedestrian traffic than just about anywhere else.  It stretches for about one kilometer and separates the old town and the more modern city center.  There are plenty of park benches available so you can watch the multitudes as they go about their daily lives.

Lou Pilha Leva

This little old town restaurant is famous for its socca (a savory crêpe made with chickpea flour) and other Spécialitiés Niçoises such as pissaladière (onion pizza) and stuffed vegetables.  It is conveniently located in Place Centrale, along the busiest shopping street in Vieux Nice, Rue de la Boucherie, and faces one of the busiest entrances to the old city.  It’s an ideal location for your people watching needs, plus as an added bonus, all the seating is communal.  This way, not only can you see all the passersby as you enjoy authentic local favorites, you could very possibly be forced to interact with other patrons, including the many locals who frequent this establishment.

Place Garibaldi

Just north of old town, Place Garibaldi is a perfect place to watch people.  You can always sit by the fountain and watch as people make their commutes to and from the nearby bus stops and tram stops.  Or, you can take a spot at any of the many cafés and bistros that encircle the square.  As an added bonus, most of the bars in Place Garibaldi have decent happy hour prices, so you can observe the comings and goings of the locals with a delicious French wine in your hand.

The Market at Cours Saleya

Every morning (with the exception of Mondays when a flea market takes the space) a vibrant fruit, vegetable, and flower market takes place at Cours Saleya, a long open space less than a minute from the sea.  Markets are always a great place to watch people and an even better place to practice a new language, but this one proves especially fascinating. You get the typical locals that have been coming to this market their whole life.  If you come early enough, you get chefs picking out ingredients for their restaurants.  And because it is situated in a very touristic location, you will always see as many foreigners as locals, but this can prove to be helpful for integration into a new society, mainly as a source of what not to do.  Plus, you can kill two birds with one stone as the shopping for the day also gets done. But if you’re strictly in the mood to watch, simply pick one of the several cafés that line the market, take a seat, order a coffee, and observe.

Les Distilleries Idéales

This bar has arguably the most popular happy hour in Vieux Nice, and tables outside are hard to grab at this time, but if you manage to get one, the people watching is superb.  Situated on a corner, the tables line the two sides and the chairs face the pedestrian only streets, so you never have to crane your neck to see the action.  Les Distilleries Idéales is located on the busy Rue de la Prefecture, which is one of the few streets that cuts all the way across the old town, so pedestrian traffic is thick.  Drinking a cheap pint of Pelforth Brune and watching the masses go by is a good way to initiate yourself into the pace of life in Nice.

Avenue Jean Médecin

Often, the first street that people are introduced to in Nice is Avenue Jean Médecin.  It’s the main thoroughfare that leads from the train station to Place Massena, but more importantly, to the people watcher, it is the main shopping street in Nice.  You will see people from all walks of life bustling through the often-thick crowds and into the various national and international chain stores that line the street.  Shopping is a favorite French pastime, so it really doesn’t matter when you show up to people watch, because the people are always there.  As a bonus, there are plenty of cafés where you can stop for a coffee or wine or beer if your legs get too tired.

Albert 1er Bus Stops

Nice is one of those rare big cities in Europe that sees tourists using some bus lines as much as the locals do.  Usually tourists take easier to understand public transport like subways or trams, but because the city buses in Nice run all over the Côte d’Azur and only cost €1.50 one way, you will see many tourists attempting to take the bus.  I mention this as a people watching spot because in order to integrate into a society, effortlessly using the public transportation is essential.  Again, this could prove as a “what not to do” or “how not to act” lesson as you watch clueless tourists try to decipher the bus schedule or figure out which bus goes to Antibes, Cannes, Cagne-sur-Mer, Vence or Grasse.

Parc des Arènes de Cimiez

Just outside the Musée Matisse and near the roman ruins is the Parc des Arènes de Cimiez.  Here you can watch the local men play pétanque, while the women socialize on nearby benches.  Pétanque games can get quite serious and you get a keen insight into the personalities of some of the players as you watch.  Further into the park is the main green space where you can watch families and couples while enjoying a picnic lunch.  The park is a little out of the way, but that means that it’s highly likely that you are seeing authentic Niçoise people.

Bar de la Degustation

This little bar that occupies a corner spot in the Place du Palais is always full, whether it’s for a mid-morning coffee, an afternoon Coke, or a cocktail in the evening, but it’s never too packed that you can’t get a nice table looking out on the square and all of its happenings.  You have a distinct advantage when people watching here, and that is the fact that Place du Palais leads to all the main arteries through old town, so there are always people meandering about.  The bar turns into a more “locals only” type of place as the evening wears on, and coming at this time can help your language skills.

Promenade des Anglais

No list of people watching locations in Nice would be complete without a stroll on the beach.  In Nice, the Promenade des Anglais is the perfect place for such a stroll and a perfect place to watch people as you go.  Adjacent to the pebbly beach, this pedestrian and bike only walkway goes this entire length of metropolitan Nice, a distance of over 3.5 kilometers.  Of course, you’ll see your fair share of tourists on your walk up and down the shore, but you also get to see a fair amount of locals (especially in the off season) walking to work, out for an afternoon jog, or on their way to their favorite beach spot.  Plus, you always have the shining Mediterranean to gaze at if the people get too boring for your tastes.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingDerek Noll is an American expat living in Spain. Blog description: I moved from Kansas City to Toulouse and write about the common and not so common aspects of life in Toulouse and SW France.
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Contest Comments » There are 8 comments

N. Prater wrote 10 years ago:

Derek, your blog gets my travel fever going! Michael and I would love to go to Europe, and this is giving us some great ideas.

Jamie Gladstone wrote 10 years ago:

This article describes the people watching experience as if it is a tourist attraction all it's own. My mind's eye pictures the masses sauntering by and I can almost sense the pot-pouri of smells eminating from the delicious local delights. People watching is definately an agenda item for the trip to Nice! Nice Nice Blog!

Jeff Dory wrote 10 years ago:

It has been many years (almost 20) since my last visit to Nice, France and upon reading this article I was brought back to the smells, sights and fabulous people watching that this charming city offers. A well written and fabulously descriptive article to be sure!

Connie wrote 10 years ago:

One of the best (and free) perks of traveling - people watching. After reading this Top 10, I'm ready to eat, drink and "watch" my way through Nice and wherever else my travels take me!

Alison Chino wrote 10 years ago:

Oooh I'm saving this list for sure! We're hoping for a winter trip to Nice to escape the lack of daylight in Scotland, so I'll be packing these tips for when we go! Thanks!

Danielle wrote 10 years ago:

Thanks for a wonderful article on people watching in Nice. Your descriptions make me want to sit, grab a drink, and watch the locals and tourists in Nice. Your article has all of Nice covered from the old town, the shopping district, the bars, the market, and the beaches. What a great idea for a top 10.

Michael wrote 10 years ago:

What a great article! Makes me want to head out to Nice the next time I am in France.

Jacob wrote 10 years ago:

Great descriptions! Feels like I'm right there!! Very impressive that you were able to find so many different locations!!

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