Paris vs. Nice: Which Should You Visit?

July 10, 2022

 

Paris and Nice are two of France’s top destinations. If you only have time to visit one, it’s a tough decision to make. Paris is home to the world-famous Eiffel Tower, Louvre, and Notre Dame, while Nice offers beaches, a colorful old town, and more outdoor adventures.

As someone who’s lived in France and visited both cities more than once, here are the reasons to choose one over the other.

Paris vs. Nice: Main Considerations

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1. Proximity to nature

While Paris has some lovely parks and green spaces, you’re not going to find anything like Nice’s beaches and nearby mountain ranges. If you’re into hiking, skiing, or swimming, Nice is definitely the better choice. 

For hiking close to Nice, you can trek up to Èze Village, a nearby mountaintop village overlooking the sea. The hike is called the Nietzsche Path and starts at sea level near the Èze-sur-mer train station, taking around an hour. Another nearby hiking area is the Baou de Saint-Jeannet, which is a 40-minute drive from Nice and offers sweeping views of the valley.

The view from the Jardin Botanique d’Èze

If you’re arriving in the winter, skiing is a popular activity, with the Auron ski resort attracting many visitors and locals alike. Just under 2 hours from Nice, Auron is home to beautiful, snow-capped mountains and trails of all difficulties (though keep in mind that this is a real mountain range, and the trails are going to generally be more difficult⁠—I learned the hard way!).

If you’re not as active of an adventurer, you’ll find more things to do in Paris, ranging from museums to historic sites to shops. For your fix of nature, you can still visit the city’s expansive parks, including the Jardin du Luxembourg, Jardin des Tuileries, and the Jardin des Plantes.

2. Size

Paris is a big city, while Nice has more of a relaxed, coastal feel with colorful buildings and orange roofs. There are over 2 million residents in Paris and only 343,000 in Nice. As a result, there’s a larger variety of things to do in Paris, as well as more ethnic and food diversity (in particular, there’s a decent amount of Asian, North African, and Middle Eastern food).

View from the steps of the Sacre Coeur in Paris

On the other hand, Nice is extremely walkable, and you may not need to take the metro or buses very often, depending on where you’re staying. You’ll almost certainly need the metro in Paris, as the popular sites can be pretty far apart.

3. Cost

Paris housing tends to be more expensive than that in Nice. While it’s possible to do both cities on a budget, it’s easier to travel cheaply in Nice, especially as a solo traveler⁠—I’ve paid under $40/night for an Airbnb private room. In Paris, splitting housing with friend or staying in a hostel is usually the solution for a lower-cost stay.

View of Paris from a window at sunset

It may be cheaper to get tranportation into Paris vs. Nice, though. Paris has two airports⁠—Charles de Gaulle (CDG) and Orly (ORY), while Nice only has one (NCE). Paris also has 6 train stations, while there are only 2 in Nice. 

A note on currencies: If you’re coming from a different country and need cash, I recommend the Wise free borderless account. It allows you to hold 50+ currencies and withdraw the equivalent of 100 USD from ATMs for free each month. If you don’t have the local currency in your account, they’ll draw from the currency that’s the cheapest for you and use the real exchange rate. I personally have an account and have used it to buy Euros at the real exchange rate when I studied abroad and lived in France.

4. Weather

Nice is known for its sunny days and warmer temperatures⁠—it’s the South of France, after all! If you’re looking for milder weather in the non-summer months, the average low temperature never makes it below 45°F (7.2°C) in Nice. The monthly low in Paris can be as cold as 36°F (2.2°C) in the winter. Of course, Paris in the snow is quite romantic though.

Keep in mind that many French/European apartments don’t have air conditioning (and sometimes even hotels), so plan accordingly as you look for housing in the hotter months.

View of the Sacre-Coeur between buildings

5. Friendliness

Parisians have a reputation for being rude. This isn’t always the case⁠—in fact, someone on the metro once helped my very lost family when a train line was under construction and my family didn’t have data to look up directions. But, reputations exist for a reason, and I will say that people can seem a bit brusque, especially the staff in busy touristy shops (I’m guessing they’re just stressed). If you want to practice your French, Parisians are also more likely to respond to you in English if you have an accent, so keep that in mind.

The locals in Nice seem more relaxed, and I’ve even had extended conversations with shop owners and servers. One of my Airbnb hosts even took me hiking and swimming, and cooked meals for me. 

6. Food

If you’re plant-based or vegan, there are way more vegan restaurants in Paris; HappyCow lists almost 90 uniquely vegan spots for Paris, but only 7 for Nice. Of course, this is partially due to the size of the cities, but the ratio of vegan restaurants to residents is still significantly higher in Paris.

Beyond that, Paris has a lot more ethnic cuisines, so there are even more non-vegan restaurants with vegan-friendly options. (By the way, I have a whole post on being vegan or vegetarian in France, in case you’re wondering how challenging it is).

Some of the amazing vegan food I had in Paris⁠—the first photo is from L’As du Fallafel, and the second is from a restaurant that’s now unfortunately closed

If you’re a seafood lover, Nice is definitely your place. Being close to the sea, you’ll be able to get fresh fish in many restaurants, or in open-air markets if you prefer to cook yourself.

7. Nearby attractions

Within a couple hours of Paris, you can reach another global city: London. You don’t even have to fly⁠—the Eurostar train only takes 2 hours. 

Just 45 minutes outside of Paris, you’ll find Giverny, the village where Claude Monet lived and painted. You can stroll around Monet’s garden and admire the water lillies. The ornate Palace of Versailles is another popular destination within an hour of Paris, and it’s easily accessed by train. 

From Nice, you’ll be able to visit several other picturesque towns along the French Riviera, including Cannes, Saint-Tropez, and Menton. For historic mountaintop villages, stop by Saint-Paul-de-Vence and Grasse. 

The glitzy Monaco and Monte-Carlo are also a short train ride away. If you want to country hop, Italy is actually half an hour from Nice by car, with trains also running to border town Ventimiglia in under one hour. From there, Milan is 4.5 hours away. 

Learn more about the prettiest day trips you can take from Nice (without a car!) in my blog post.

The Bottom Line

Being an international city, Paris has something for everyone, offering a multitude of attractions and cuisines. If you want to visit all the iconic sites and keep a busy itinerary, it’s probably a better choice for you.

If you’re looking for a more relaxing vacation with access to more nature, Nice is the better option. 

Personally, after two visits to Nice, I’m no longer super inclined to go back, but I would consider staying in other towns along the French Riviera. On the flip side, after visiting Paris four times (and passing through many other times), I would absolutely be happy to go back.

If you’ve been to both, let us know your thoughts on Nice vs. Paris!

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2 Comments

  • Nina | Lemons and Luggage July 28, 2022 at 10:07 am

    I love both cities and especially all the amazing day trips from Nice (hiking up to Eze is just such a lovely experience), but at the end of the day, Paris is Paris. I might go back to Nice for a second time, but I’ve been to Paris six times and still looking forward to going to Paris plenty more times.

    • Lily July 28, 2022 at 10:36 am

      Oh I love that you’ve done the Eze hike as well! I totally agree that Paris will always be a place worth visiting and revisiting.

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    I'm Lily, and I run races and go places (& blog about it). I also try to advocate for the planet & its people.
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