Best places to sunbathe and swim in Nice

With summer upon us, it seemed like a good time to put together this insider’s guide to the 4 best places to sunbathe and swim in Nice. It contains current and detailed information about my favorite places to cool off and mellow out during the warmer months.

As a city spread out along the Mediterranean, there are a huge number of beaches and coves where you could go to take advantage of the weather. But many of the more obvious ones tend to be packed with tourists whenever the sun comes out.

The beachfront along the Promenade des Anglais and the Quay des Etats Unis is the most accessible and hence the most popular. But it’s not somewhere I’d recommend heading to. Aside from getting overrun with tourists, the beach slopes down steeply into the water in most areas, making it difficult to get in and out of the water. Add in its exposed angle to the summer swells and a quick drop-off into deep water, and the result can be surprisingly rough water and unpleasant swimming.

The four beaches listed below are places I head when I want to enjoy a day by the sea. Each has it’s own appeal, as you’ll find out as you read the descriptions.

Best places to sunbathe and swim in Nice

Aerial photo courtesy of Google Maps, 2019

Plage des Bains Military

This tiny beach is located beside Le Plongeoir restaurant just at the seaward entrance to Nice Port.

It’s an okay beach most of the time, but on a bad day, I’ll be honest, it can be kind of awful. The area consists of a tiny v-shaped cove bounded on one side by the coastal road and on the other by the man-made seawall of the port. The beach is composed of fist-sized stones, as is common for all Nice’s beaches. On a good day, it’s not overly crowded and the water is crystal clear, flat, and comfortably warm. During the height of summer, both the water and the beach can be chock-a-block with locals. If the wind is blowing onshore, the water will also end up with a lot of debris in it, such as bits of plastic and paper as well as plants uprooted by the currents.

The reason I recommend this spot is that the massive Nice-Corsica ferries enter and leave the harbor less than 500 feet from the water’s edge. The largest of these ferries can transport 700 vehicles and 2,200 passengers, so if you’re underwater when one of those goes by, the thumping of the engines and the sight of the hull gliding by makes for a heart-pounding experience.

The best time to head to this beach is between 9 and 11, which is usually before the locals show up and the wind starts to blow. The beach is south-facing, so the sun hits it for much of the day. There are no concessions at the beach, but there is a freshwater shower to rinse off after a dip.

La Reserve Beach

This beach doesn’t have an official name; it’s just known as La Reserve. As soon as you walk past La Reserve Restaurant heading away from the port, there’s a set of stairs leading down to the water’s edge. Halfway down, there’s a flat area where you can opt to turn right or go straight ahead and continue down the stairs.

Turning right takes you to a small, narrow stretch of rocky beach tucked against the seawall. If you get there early enough to stake out a spot for yourself, it makes for a great place to lie out and get a tan or to slip easily into the warm Mediterranean waters.

If you proceed straight ahead, you end up on a slightly larger, wider rocky beach. It, too, provides easy access to the water. This little stretch also has a freshwater shower, allowing you to rinse off after a dip.

Jardin Felix Rainaux

The Jardin Felix Rainaux is the small park that you can see about 250 yards further east along the coast from La Reserve. The water’s edge of the park is a favorite spot of local preteens and teens as most older locals prefer the rocky beaches of the first two sites we’ve listed. There are no beaches, rocky or otherwise, at the Jardin Felix Rainaux, but there are lots of flat areas on the rocks where you can spread out a towel and get a tan. The waters here are warm and calm and because of the direction of the prevailing wind, you rarely if ever get debris of any kind in the water.

The only downside if you’re looking for peace and quiet is that the crowd is much younger and noisier than at any other beach in this list.

Plage des Marinières

This beach is not in Nice, but it’s not far away and is my favorite. It’s located in the town of Villefranche-sur-mer.

If you’ve got time and energy, you can walk to it from Nice Port in about 40 minutes. Or you can catch bus #100 from the top of Nice Port (beside the church called Notre Dame du Port), heading in the direction of Menton. The cost is 1.50 euros and you’ll need to get off at the bus stop called Barmassa. From there, head downhill through Villefranche to the water. When you reach the water’s edge, turn left and walk about 200 yards to the large beach tucked against the base of the hill.

If you’re starting from elsewhere in Nice, it’s much quicker to catch the train at Nice Ville or Riquier station and get off at Villefranche-sur-mer station. The trip, which costs less than 2 euros each way, takes about 16 minutes from Nice Ville and 8 minutes from Riquier. The beach is at the foot of the stairs as you exit Villefranche station.

Bus and train routes to Villefranche

Aerial photo courtesy of Google Maps, 2019

The great thing about Plage des Marinières is that it’s sandy, the water is shallow and warm, and there are loads of restaurants, kiosks, and beach supply stores right beside it. Having these readily available makes spending a day at the beach that much more enjoyable and convenient.

Like most local beaches, Marinières tends to get quite crowded starting in late morning, but it’s a family-oriented place so the atmosphere is usually very mellow and friendly. The beach faces due south, so it gets full sun for most of the day. Toilets are provided in the parking lot at the edge of the beach.

My #1 Recommendation for a Fantastic Beachside Lunch

During the height of summer (from late May until late September), a restaurant operates literally on the sand at the beach. Called Déli Bo les Bains, it’s my absolute favorite place to bring out of town guests. It’s not cheap, but the food is fresh, wholesome, delicious, and beautifully presented. Add in picturesque views of the surrounding hills, the azure waters of the Mediterranean, and the long sandy beach and you’ve got all the ingredients for a terrific afternoon.

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