The Côte D’Azur, or French Riviera, is one of France’s most popular holiday destinations – and rightly so. With its stunning beaches, warm climate, and expansive views of the glittering Mediterranean sea, it’s no wonder that tourists have been coming here to unwind since the 18th century. Wondering which part of the French Riviera is right for you – join us as we debate the question: Marseille or Nice, which city is better?
Nowadays, the Côte D’Azur has a bit of a reputation as a playground for the rich and famous, with the glamor and glitz of destinations such as Cannes and Monaco attracting punters to swanky restaurants and luxury hotels. But both Nice and Marseille offer something a little different, making for a more affordable holiday for those without the money to spend on private beach clubs and jetskis.
From each city’s general vibe to their beaches, nightlife and prices, join us as we compare two of the French Riviera’s most loved cities.
Marseille and Nice may be close to one another, but they are very different places to visit. Marseille or Nice: which city best suits your vibe?
Nice is a relatively small and polished city, with plenty of attractive scenery, high-class restaurants, and interesting, artistic history. The seaside city has been attracting tourists since the 1700s, due to its balmy climate and proximity to the Mediterranean sea. Most notably, the famous French painter Henri Matisse called Nice his home for 37-years. The legacy of the city’s artistic past is evident in its beautiful architecture and many great galleries. A city of stunning sea views, artistic pedigree, and plenty of swanky hotels, bars, and restaurants, Nice is certainly a destination that appeals to those with a taste for the finer things in life.
Marseille is much larger than Nice. In fact, it’s the second-most populous city in France, with a population of about 1 million. Nice, in comparison, has a population of around 350,000 people. Where Nice has a smaller town and at-times touristy feel, Marseille has all the metropolitan characteristics of a large city. Nicknamed ‘the City of 100 Neighborhoods‘, Marseille is France’s oldest, and most culturally diverse city. It’s a vibrant place where the cuisine, music, dance, and traditions of many different parts of Africa and Europe converge. A port city with a chaotic charm, Marseille has drawn comparisons to the likes of Naples and Liverpool. If you’re after a manicured, picture-perfect holiday setting, you may prefer Nice over Marseille. But for those in search of a bustling, culturally rich environment to explore, Marseille is the spot for you.
Marseille or Nice: which city has better beaches?
Marseille has many brilliant beaches within its city limits. There are a number of beaches accessible by foot from the city center. Plage des Catalans, for example, is a bustling stretch of sand which is only a fifteen-minute walk from Le Vieux Port, making it the most central beach in the city. Plage des Catalans is the destination for beach volleyball, having played host to many international competitions over the years. Head here as the sun sets to enjoy a drink from one of the snack bars, listen to music and soak in the lively atmosphere. Further outside the city, there is a great variety of beaches that are accessible via public transport. Plage du Prophète, for example, is under 3km from the center of Marseille. This popular beach is one of the most loved in all of the city, due to its clear waters, family-friendly nature, and close by bars and restaurants.
Nice boasts a great variety of beaches, both close to the city center and in the surrounding areas. For those looking for a more luxurious experience, there are a good number of private beaches in Nice such as Blue Beach, Castel Plage and Opera Plage, where guests pay entry to spend a day soaking in the sun, with cocktails, delicious food, and excellent service. While many of the beaches near to Nice are pebbled, hop on a 15-minute bus to Villefranche and you’ll be greeted with glorious, fine sand and warm waters. Similarly, Eze-sur-Mer is a short drive from Nice center, but well worth the effort for a spot of seclusion, calm waters and some of the best swimming on the French Riviera.
All in all, both Nice and Marseille have a great variety of beaches to explore. Marseille offers more by way of sandy beaches, whereas Nice has more pebbled beaches. The beaches in Nice are also slightly easier to access than those in Marseille, while you’ll also find a greater variety here – including swanky private beach clubs and open-to-all family-friendly affairs. But don’t get us wrong, the south of France is known for its great beaches, and neither destination will disappoint.
Nice or Marseille – where’s better for sightseeing?
As we mentioned before, Nice is a city for art lovers. It was a popular retreat for impressionists during the Belle Epoque period, and later, in the 1960s, became a breeding ground for the avant-garde with the establishment of the École de Nice, an experimental artistic movement. Visitors to Nice have the opportunity to experience its rich artistic heritage in some of the best art museums in France, such as the Matisse Museum and Chagall Museum. The nearby town of Antibes also has an excellent Picasso museum displaying the artist’s paintings and pottery drawings. There are also museums in the surrounding villages such as the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, the Renoir Museum in Cagnes-sur-Mer, and the Leger Museum in Biot.
Nice has much more to offer besides art, too. There’s plenty of spectacular old architecture in Nice, making it a truly delightful city to explore. The Orthodox Cathedral in Nice is considered one of the world’s most beautiful cathedrals and there’s also an archaeological museum sitting on an impressive Roman ruins site. The Nice old town area has many nice parks, historical buildings, churches, plazas and cobbled streets to wander around. It also has a brilliant culinary scene, which offers so much more than the city’s trademark Nicoise salad- though you absolutely have to try this when you visit Nice!
Marseille has a busier, working city feel than Nice, but there’s no shortage of things to do and sights to see here. The Vieux Port (Old Port) is the heart of the city – it’s a great starting point for any visit to the city, with bobbing boats, a lively atmosphere, and many a great place for an evening (or lunchtime) drink. The port is also the perfect place for eating a bouillabaisse, a local Marseille seafood stew fishermen initially made using fish they could not sell. The nearby Abbaye St Victor has stood on the city grounds since the 3rd century – giving an insight into the city’s lengthy history.
Built on an old fortress, The Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde Basilica overlooks Nice and the Mediterranean sea before. It’s well worth the hike up here to see stunning views of the city and across the sea. Another place worth visiting is the Palais de Longchamp, which houses both the Art Museum and the Natural History Museum. And there’s also the MUCEM, a relatively new museum dedicated to Mediterranean and European civilizations. It was opened in 2013, the same year that the city was crowned European City of Culture.
However, arguably, the best of Marseille is outside of its museums. Stroll the backstreets of Marseille and you’ll find a true mix of international influences, with businesses run by Algerian, Armenian, Vietnamese and Corsican settlers – amongst many other nationalities – giving the city a really culturally diverse feel.
All in all, there are plenty of sights to see in both Marseille and Nice. If you’re interested in art, Nice is a must-visit for you. But if you prefer a larger city vibe, that is less polished but arguably more vibrant, Marseille is the place for you.
Nice or Marseille – which city has a better location?
Nice and Marseille are pretty close to each other. Nice is around 160km to the East of Marseille or a 1-hour train journey that takes you on a scenic route along France’s south coast. Both cities are accessible from Paris via train and air travel. It’s usually relatively affordable to reach either city by train from Paris if you book tickets well in advance. If you’re flying, Nice airport is close to the old town. Marseille airport, on the other hand, is about a 20-30 minute drive from the city center.
There are plenty of brilliant day trips to be made from Nice. Monaco is an easy day trip from Nice. Regular trains run from Nice’s main station, with a duration of just 25-minutes, giving visitors the perfect opportunity to spend a few hours soaking up the glitz and glamor of Montecarlo without forking out for an exorbitant hotel! The famous locations of Cannes and St Tropez are a relatively short journey away from Nice. And if you fancy a day trip to somewhere a little low-key, the medieval hillside village of Eze is just 20km from Nice, accessible by a mountainous coastal road. It’s well worth a visit for the views alone. Standing more than 400 meters above the sea, the town’s vantage point offers a sweeping panorama of the coastline from Nice to Monaco, including the Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat peninsula.
Marseille also has a number of interesting destinations nearby. For fans of ancient history, there’s Nimes, which was once a main outpost of the Roman Empire and remains steeped in a rich history. The city is home to a 2000-year-old Roman amphitheater, as well as Musee des Beaux-Arts de Nîmes, which showcases 3,000 pieces of art with many dating back to its former Roman days. The historic city is a 1 hour and 20-minute train ride from Marseille. Another popular day trip from Marseille is Avignon, at just 30 minutes by train from the city. The Palais des Papes is its main attraction. This amazing building dates back to the 14th century, created when the Pope’s fled here from Rome.
All in all, we’d say that Nice wins in terms of location – particularly if you’re partial to glitz and glamor- with the fabulous sights of Monaco, Cannes, and St Tropez just a short distance away.
If you’re a lover of outdoor pursuits, neither Nice nor Marseille will disappoint.
In Nice, you can do all sorts of outdoor activities. The huge Mercantour national park, which is about an hour’s drive from Nice, is a prime location for hiking. And if you’re more into your watersports, Nice offers many opportunities to go jet skiing, whale-watching, scuba diving, rafting, kayaking, paddleboarding, and kitesurfing. You name it, you can probably do it in Nice’s waters.
Like Nice, the Marseille area has great opportunities for water sports, including sailing, kayaking, and jet skiing. There are some great places to hike and camp in the stunning mountains of the Provence natural parks. If you’re into running or biking, there are some great trails in Parc Borély, while Parc Longchamp is also a nice place to work out. And undoubtedly the highlight of Marseille’s natural landscape is Les Calanques national park. Just a short journey outside of the city center, this park offers panoramic hikes and kayak tours in breathtaking landscapes with gorgeous steep cliffs and small coves on the Mediterranean.
In terms of which city is better, it’s a real toss-up. However, we’d say that Marseille just nudges it due to the nearby national park, Les Calanques, which is a truly awe-inspiring natural landscape to discover.
As a large and youthful city, Marseille has a great deal to offer when it comes to nightlife. The cool kids hang out in Cours Julien, a neighborhood with a great nightlife scene, featuring some of the most interesting bars and clubs in Marseille. This part of the time is also home to a great variety of restaurants, promising hungry diners the chance to sample dishes from all around the world, but with a particular emphasis on North Africa.
In Nice, the vibe is more swanky restaurants and expensive clubs than underground venues. The Negresco Hotel is a famous hangout for a drink, meanwhile the likes of Ma Nolan’s, Beer District, and Le Marlin are great watering holes for a more laid back evening in Nice.
All in all, Marseille is the better destination for partying, but Nice has plenty of bars and restaurants for those who like to see through an evening in style.
Marseille or Nice – which city is cheaper?
Data from Budget Your Trip suggests that Marseille is a bit more expensive than Nice. Taking into account accommodation, food, transportation, and entertainment, the website finds that the average daily cost (per person) in Nice is €105, while the average daily cost in Marseille is €117. Breaking this down a little, it finds that the average price for accommodation for two people in Nice is €94, compared with €112 in Marseille. Meanwhile, for food, the average price per day is €39 per person in Nice, compared with around €34 per day in Marseille for food, but obviously this is dependent on the type of restaurant and the amount of food ordered.
However, stats don’t tell the whole story. It’s generally considered that Marseille is a more affordable destination than Nice. This is because it’s a larger city, with many areas that exist outside of the tourist circuit where you will find cheaper accommodation and places to eat. With all its private beach clubs, luxury hotels, and swanky restaurants, Nice certainly has more of the glitz and glamor that the South of France is famous for. Therefore if you’re a budget-conscious traveler, we’d suggest your money will go further in Marseille.
So… Marseille or Nice, which destination is better to visit?
While geographically close together, Nice and Marseille are very different places. Nice offers tourists a more manicured experience of the South of France, complete with high-end fish restaurants, a well-maintained promenade, and private beach clubs. It’s got beautiful beaches, a fascinating art scene, and many natural areas to enjoy. Nice is also close to many other highlights of the Côte D’Azur, such as Monaco, Cannes, and St Tropez.
But while Marseille can’t rival Nice in terms of its polished put-togetherness, it has a rustic charm that we’d say makes it the most interesting destination of the two cities. As the oldest city in the country, and also the most culturally diverse, Marseille is alive with traditions old and new. Yes you have beaches and nice restaurants like everywhere else in the Côte D’Azur, but Marseille also offers visitors the opportunities to become acquainted with a side of France that you won’t see in Nice, Paris or Lyon.
However, the two cities are only a short, one-hour train ride away. Don’t take our word for it, visit them both and make your own mind up!