Nice may be the birthplace of salad Niçoise, but there’s more to this French city than meets the eye. Here are some obscure, forgotten, little-known and fun facts about Nice, France you probably didn’t know.
Interesting Facts about Nice France (you probably never knew)
Besides being a popular tourist destination in the south of France with some of the French Riviera’s best-known landmarks, how much do you really know about Nice?
I’ve put together a list of little-known, forgotten and fascinating facts about Nice that many travel blogs neglect to mention.
You may be familiar with some, but I guarantee you’ll learn something new about this lovely Mediterranean city.
Let’s start with the city’s name.
1) Why Nice is pronounced the way it is?
Are you pronouncing Nice correctly?
In case it’s not obvious, “Nice” is pronounced /Neece/ in French.
Notice how the letter “I” is pronounced with the long E sound /ee/, like in the word bee?
That’s the way the letter I is pronounced in French words.
Here are a few more examples.
- Richard /Ree-Shard/
- Brie /Bree/
- Acide /A-Seed/
- Citrique /See-treek/
- Illusion /ee-Looh-Zeeyone/
You might be interested in reading: 15 Things I Love To Do and Eat In Nice, France
2) Nice is the 4th poorest city in France.
When it comes to wealth, the gap between the haves and have-nots is not as wide in France as in some other countries, but don’t ever think that inequalities don’t exist because they do.
These inequalities were the
Living under the poverty line in Nice
According to Observatoire des inégalités, after Paris, Marseille and Toulouse, Nice takes 4th place as the city with the most people living below the poverty line, roughly 74k people.
Homeless in Nice
The exact number of homeless people in Nice is hard to know, but thanks to “Nuit de la Solidarité” (Night of Solidarity), hundreds of social workers and volunteers from various charities now patrol the streets of Nice once a year to get a headcount of Nice’s homeless population and to get a clearer understanding of their most pressing needs.
In January 2022, the total numbers tallied at the end of the night came to 820 people: 195 people were sleeping on the streets, while 625 others were refugees staying in emergency shelters or temporary accommodations provided by the state.
January 20, 2021, was the first time “Nuit de la solidarité” patrolled the streets of Nice.
Paris was the first city to launch this unique event in 2018, acting as a test program. The hope is that more French towns will participate.
You might be interested in reading: Cost of Living In France: How Much It Cost Us To Live in France For 1 Year
3) Nice is France’s 5th largest city.
After Paris, Marseille, Lyon and Toulouse, Nice is France’s largest city in terms of population, with over 300k residents.
4) People in Nice spoke Niçard, and many have a Niçard regional accent.
Another interesting fact about nice France is that many locals speak with a distinctive Niçard accent which almost sounds like French spoken with an Italian accent.
In fact, every region of France has their own way of speaking.
To understand why people in different regions around France sound different, you have to understand how languages developed in France.
French was not the primary language of France.
You have to remember that before the 1500s, French was not the official language spoken in France.
French wasn’t even the primary language spoken throughout France.
Linguists estimate that there were at least 75 different regional languages spoken throughout France before the king forcefully imposed the French language on France’s inhabitants.
You may already be familiar with a few, such as Breton, spoken in the north, Basque, Corsican, Alsatian in the Strasbourg area, and Occitan (langue d’Oc).
Nice and its surrounding areas developed their own language or dialect influenced by the Occitan Language called Niçard /Nee-Sar/.
Occitan is a romance language which was widely spoken in what is now western and southern France. Occitan is also spoken in parts of Italy and Spain.
Some linguists classify Niçard as its own language with its own grammatical rules, while others believe it’s a subdialect of Provençal, a dialect of Occitan.
Niçard is also known as Nissart, and Provençal Niçard (nizzardo in Italian).
Essentially, after French became the official language, people had to learn to speak French.
As you know, when you learn a new language, you usually speak that second language with an accent.
Meanwhile, people still spoke their regional language and mother tongue at home and with locals well into the 20th century.
Today, many of these regional languages and dialects are slowly fizzing out, with fewer and fewer native speakers. However, the remnants of each region’s language can be heard in the way locals speak.
For example, in the Nice region, the final vowels are pronounced because of the Occitan influence, whereas, in standard French, the final vowels are not pronounced.
This and other differences give locals in the south of France their famously distinctive accent that almost sounds like a French person speaking with an Italian accent.
Below is a video demonstrating how the Niçard language sounds.
Today a handful of regional languages are still taught in schools around France but as a second language.
5) Nice’s nickname is “Nice the beautiful.”
The city of Nice is sometimes referred to as “Nice the beautiful, “Nice la Belle” in French or “Nissa La Bella in Niçard,” which is also the title of the unofficial anthem of Nice.
A Niçois poet named Francesco-Domenico Rondelly wrote the song for the anthem in 1903 in the Nissart language and originally called it “A la mieu bella Nissa” (to my beautiful Nice).
It was made famous by the Nice football (soccer) club OGC Nice and is usually played during the match where everyone sings it in the Niçard language.
6) Nice became part of France in 1860 (for good)
Nice is French but with Mediterranean influence and loose ties to Italy.
Nice was never officially part of Italy, but for 169 years (1691 – 1860), Nice was shuffled back and forth between France and the house of Savoy seven times.
The house of Savoy controlled the country “Duchy of Savoy” (French: Duché de
In 1720, Savoy became part of the Kingdom of Sardinia (also called “Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia” and “Kingdom of Savoy-Sardinia”). Then in 1861 became The kingdom of Italy during the Italian unification.
But don’t forget that the county of Nice had already been annexed to the French Empire in 1860, one year prior to the Italian reunification.
By the way, 1860 was the same year that France bought the town of Menton, which shares a border with Italy from Monaco.
The Kingdom of Savoy-Sardinia allowed the French Empire to annex Nice in exchange for France’s support to unify the kingdoms of Italy. Ever since then, Nice and the other cities that made up parts of Nice County have been a part of France.
And that’s why Nice has a Mediterranean heritage mixed with French and Italian culture, which you can see in its lifestyle, cuisine, and architecture.
7) Nice Is Named After the Greek Goddess of Victory
Nice was founded by a colony of Greek mariners from Phocaea around 350 BCE. The Greek Phocaeans also founded Massalia (now Marseille) and Velia, Aleria on Corsica.
It’s important to remember that the Greeks colonized the entire French Mediterranean coast, naming their conquered territories in their own language afterwards. For example, the French city of Antibe is from the greek word Antipolis, literally “opposite city” in reference to its location to nice.
To create these colonies, the Greeks did battle with the people already living on the land they wanted. In the case of Nice, the Greeks fought the Ligurians and eventually won.
Some historians think it’s possible that the founding Greek settlers named the city “Níkaia”(ancient Greek word for victory) in honour of their victory over the Ligurians and in honour of the winged goddess of victory of the same name.
Other variations of the name for Nice include: Nicaea, Nikaïa, Niké, Nissa, and Nice.
Did you know that the Nike shoe company also gets its name from the Greek goddess of victory, Nike and the swoosh logo was inspired by her wings.
Greek “k” words are often spelled with a “C” in Latin.
8) Nice is located on the French Riviera.
The French Riviera, known as the Cote d’Azur in French (Azure Coast), with its stunning Mediterranean coastline and beautiful weather, is a popular destination for tourists.
Although there’s no official boundary, This long, narrow strip of land along the coast of France’s Mediterranean Sea is generally believed to extend from Toulon or Saint-Tropez to Menton at the France-Italy border. It measures around 180km long or 112 miles.
Other popular cities and towns along the French Riviera include:
Toulon, Cannes, Antibes, Saint-Tropez, Menton, Cassis, La Ciotat, Villefranche-sur-Mer, Grasse, Juan-les-Pins, Cagnes-sur-Mer, Le Lavandou, Bandol, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, and Hyères.
9) Get access to secret cultural sites and venues on heritage day.
Every year for one weekend, you can discover and celebrate French heritage and get public access to rarely-seen places, sights and technology at some of the most prestigious cultural sites and venues.
Some examples of things you can do and see include ruins, underground crypts, tunnels, boats and wrecks. Also participating are theatres, cinemas, museums, churches, shops and more. There are special events such as book readings, musical performances, guided tours and artisan workshops.
The event is called Journées du Patrimoine (Heritage days), and it usually takes place on the third weekend of September. It was first organized in 1984 by the Ministry of Culture and Communication in France.
The event happens not only in Nice but in many cities all across France.
The idea of an entire weekend dedicated to a country’s Heritage has been adopted by more and more countries, and in 1991, the Council of Europe adopted the event as European Heritage Days.
There are 50 countries that celebrate heritage days now, including Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Slovenia, and Switzerland.
The easiest way to find out what is happening in Nice and other cities on heritage days across France is to visit the Ministry of Cultures website, which has a handy map tool to help you find local events and activities.
Simply enter your location, and the map will show you what’s happening in your area.
Here is a partial list of places in Nice that have participated in heritage day in the past.
- Archives de Nice
- Association Tram & Bus de la Côte d’Azur
- Ateliers de livres-reliures
- Bibliothèque Louis Nucéra
- Centre de maintenance tramway Charles Ginésy
- Cimetière Israélite de la colline du Château
- Crypte archéologique
- Église Holy Trinity Church
- Église Notre-Dame-Auxiliatrice Don-Bosco
- Église Saint-Barthélémy
- Église Saint-Nicolas
- Fort du Mont-Alban
- Forum d’architecture et d’urbanisme
- Gare de Nice-Ville
- Grande synagogue de Nice
- Hôtel de Ville
- Laboratoire de préhistoire de la Côte d’Azur
- Les Galeries Lafayette Nice Masséna
- Musée d’archéologie de Nice
- Musée de préhistoire de Terra Amata
- Musée des Beaux Arts Jules Chéret
- Musée international d’art naïf Anatole Jakovsky
- Musée national du Sport
- Musée Marc Chagall
- Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle
- Palais des rois Sardes
- Palais de l’agriculture
- Palais Lascaris
- Théâtre Françis Gag
- Tour Saint-François
- Université Côte d’Azur
- Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur
- Villa Arson
- Bibliothèque Raoul Mille
- Musée Matisse
10) Nice has a lot of sister cities around the world.
A sister city or twin city is a long-term partnership between two places, usually between two provinces, cities or towns. To become a sister city, a high-ranking official from both places must sign an agreement that signifies the commitment of both locations to work together for a better future.
Here’s a list of Nice’s sister cities.
- Cape Town
- Edinburgh (Scotland)
- Laval, Quebec
- Palma de Majorque (Spain)
- Phuket (Thailand)
- Rio de Janeiro
- Saint-Denis, Réunion
- Saint Petersburg
- Santa Cruz de Tenerife
- Xiamen (China
11) Nice’s public library is housed in the world’s first inhabitable sculpture
French artist Sacha Sosno designed a massive 85 feet (30 metres) high sculpture titled “Thinking Inside the Box” for the Central Library.;
Louis Nucéra library is located on the Promenade des Arts in Nice, France, and is a popular spot for selfies because the library is housed in a massive block head sculpture with a protruding chin.
The building is often referred to as “Tête Carré” (square head) for obvious reasons.
12) Why is Nice’s historic square called Place Masséna?
Place Massena, aka masséna square, is the s heart of the city and the most famous square in Nice. With its palm trees, Italian stone pine trees and colourful buildings, visitors are always impressed.
Being the city center, Place Massena is well connected, only a short walk to many hotspots such as the Promenade des Anglais, the old town of Nice, aka Vieux Nice, and avenue Jean Médecin, a popular shopping area.
It also hosts large concerts, festivals and celebrations such as the Nice Jazz Festival, Fete de la Musique, the Bastille Day Parade, and the annual Carnival of Nice.
But why is it called Place masséna?
The square, which we now call Place Masséna, was completed in 1850 and designed by French-Italian architect Joseph Vernier who drew inspiration from the Rue de Rivoli shopping street in Paris, specifically the buildings with arcades lining the street.
At first, the locals called the square “Place du Faubourg,” then “Place Carré” (square place). Then In 1852, the municipality decided to rename it after André Masséna.
André was born to poor parents in Nice when it still belonged to the Kingdom of Savoy-Sardinia (né Andrea Massena, May 6, 1758 – April 4, 1817).
André Masséna became a talented general and one of the original French army marshals to Napoleon during the Napoleonic Wars. He was well-known throughout France as a
The Village of Massena in New York is also named after André Masséna.
13) Seven men sit on poles in Nice for a reason.
Seven giant resin statues perched on 15m (50 ft) high poles above the pedestrian-filled Massena square, Nice’s geographic centre.
Some call them “the Buddhas,” others “the prayers,” and like the
Many people don’t realize that this art installation created by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa represents the seven continents, and it’s called “conversation à Nice” (conversation in Nice).
At night the statues are illuminated with smoothly changing colours as if the seven figures are speaking to one another. In reality, the changing colours represent communication between societies across the globe.
14) Nice Is Host to Carnival of Nice: One of the World’s best Carnivals
The Nice Carnival, which dates back to the middle ages, takes place annually in February and attracts visitors from all over France and other parts of Europe.
It’s one of the most prestigious carnivals in the world, alongside the Brazilian Carnival, Venetian Carnival, and Mardi gras held in the city of New Orleans.
In France, it’s the biggest, most well-known and oldest carnival celebration.
Initially, the carnival posed an opportunity for the lower class to wear masks and mock the upper class or those in power. Today, the carnival is organized to suit a specific theme and includes elaborate floats, figurines, dancing, and a large, colourful parade. The carnival
15) The most important attraction in Nice is Promenade des Anglais
The Promenade des Anglais (the English walkway), known to the locals as “le prom,” is a 7km paved seaside walkway that runs along Nice’s coastline from the Nice airport to the other side of the Baie des Anges (bay of angels).
It has uninterrupted views of the bay of Angels and its surroundings and is home to many art galleries, museums, shops, restaurants and hotels. A bike path runs throughout its entire length, but you can also see runners, skate borders, roller skaters and performers along the path.
It was initially called the “Strada del littorale,” or “coastal road or shore road,” but was renamed La promenade des Anglais in 1844 after the English aristocrats who built and financed the walkway for English upper-class tourists who wanted to walk comfortably along the seaside in the warm climate. The coastline was uneven and rocky at the time.
16) Bay of Angels is named after a fish, or is it a saint?
The Bay of Angels is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful scenery and clear waters stretching from Nice to Cap d’Antibes.
There are several legends about how the bay of angels (Baie des ranges) received its name.
The fish story
The first legend is that the bay was named after the large population of angel sharks that once roamed its waters. When the local fishermen saw these winged sea creatures, they must have thought they resembled angels. Angel sharks are no longer found in the waters in Nice.
17) The Christian martyr story about Saint reparate
Some say that the Bay of Angels in Nice was named after the patron saint Reparata (French: Sainte Réparate), whose story is well-known in Christian history.
As the legend goes, this 15-year-old Palestinian girl from Caesarea, a Roman Province, was tortured and killed by the Romans for her religious beliefs.
Supposedly, she was to be burnt alive at the stake, but the rain saved her. Some stories say she was forced to drink boiling tar, while others say boiling lead was poured over her to persuade her to sacrifice to the Roman gods. In either case, she was unharmed, so she was beheaded, but a dove flew out of her neck.
Her body was set adrift on the Mediterranean Sea in a small boat and guided by angels to the bay of Nice.
Her bones are located in the Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate de Nice, a place of prayer for the people of Nice and a popular tourist destination. It’s also been registered as a Historic Monument since1906.
The official feast day of Saint Réparate is October 8, and
18) There is a replica of the statue of liberty in Nice, France.
If you continue walking along the promenade des Anglais, the pathway turns into Quai des États-Unis where you’ll discover a small 80kg statue of liberty on a podium in front of the Opera house facing the sea.
This statue of liberty is an original by Bartholdi himself, the same person who made the world-famous statue of liberty in New York.
It’s believed that Bartholdi made many smaller statues like this one as models before creating the larger one in New York City. This statue was installed at its current location in 2017 and cost around 100k euros.
It’s no coincidence that the statue is located on Quai des Etats-Unis. Originally called Quai du Midi /Kay-dzu-Mee-Dsi/, the street was built in the early 19th century, around the same time as the Promenade des Anglais but was renamed in 1917 to Quai États-Unis in honour of the United States’ decision to join the Triple Entente in World War One.
If you’re interested in seeing other replicas of the statue of liberty in France, read this. It includes a map.
18) Site of a terrorist attack in 2016
Have you heard of the Nice France truck attack?
On July 14, 2016, a terrorist attack occurred in Nice, France, resulting in 86 fatalities and 458 injuries.
Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel deliberately drove his huge cargo truck into a large crowd celebrating Bastille Day on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France.
20) A fake canon shot is blasted every day at noon.
Everyone in Nice knows about the “canon de midi” (the noon canon) that has gone off like clockwork since 1861.
As the legend goes, Sir Thomas Coventry, a former military man and his wife were living in Nice.
Frustrated that his wife would habitually return home late from her morning walks along the bay of angels, Thomas approached the Mayor with an unusual idea.
Sir Thomas Coventry proposed a cannonball fire at noon to remind his wife that it was time to come home. Sir Thomas offered to provide artillery and finance the costs.
The Mayor of Nice agreed, and the midday alarm continues today, but a firework has replaced the cannonball. Every day, an appointed fireworks technician goes to the lower terrace of the Chateau, the same place as the original cannon, ignites a large firework’s fuse and throws it several dozen meters into the air before exploding in a loud bang reminiscent of the famous noon cannon shot.
There are a few occasions when the noon shot is changed or cancelled.
July 14: France’s national day
The Mayor of Nice cancelled the traditional noon canon firing in 2017 on July 14 as a tribute to the victims of the terrible terrorist attack on the Promenade des Anglais that killed 86 people on July 14, 2016.
In 2022, the canon firing was reinstated, but six shots were fired instead of one shot to mark the six years that had passed since the tragedy. The victims’ families had been calling for 86 shots to be fired, one for each person killed: six was a compromise.
April 1: April fool’s day
Every year on April 1, the city of Nice offers its residents an annual April fool’s day prank. The traditional noon cannon is fired at 11 am sharp! The history of this tradition is unclear, but it’s said that many of the city’s residents take part in the fun by eating an hour earlier than usual.
You can read more about April fool’s day in France, which is called Poisson d’avril (April fish day.)
21) Birthplace of Ratatouille; once considered disgusting (Rat stew?)
A true Mediterranean dish, ratatouille, aka Ratatouille niçoise, is a stew of sun-drenched vegetables and olive oil that you can eat hot or cold. Recipes and cooking times differ widely, but common ingredients include tomato, garlic, onion, courgette, eggplant, bell pepper (capsicum),
Although ratatouille is very popular today, and people from Nice are proud of the fact that it’s one of the many dishes associated with Nice, it took some time to establish itself as one of France’s appreciated dishes.
The word “Ratatouille” is from the Occitan word “ratatolha,” which has etymological links between two old French words, “tatouiller” and “ratouiller,” both meaning to mix, stir or agitate, which is precisely how this vegetable stew is cooked.
Soldiers and prisoners ate ratatouille because it was quick, easy and inexpensive to cook. It was a dish typically associated with poor populations and often ridiculed by wealthier individuals who would never dream of eating it.
It was served to military soldiers.
The first written mention of ratatouille dates back to 1831 in a journal about the military rather than a cookbook: “Journal des sciences militaires des armes de terre et de mer.”
The journal described ratatouille as a soldier’s meal of watered-down vegetables with some random floating bits of emaciated veal and bad mutton.
Le repas [du soldat] se compose de la ratatouille, c’est-à-dire d’un plat de légumes très délayés, parmi lesquels flottent ça et là quelques côtes décharnées de veau ou d’un mauvais mouton.
considered unhealthy food for prisoners
Fifteen years later, in 1846, Le Monde Criminel: Histoire Des Prisons D’etat by François Vidocq describes ratatouille as “a pitiful and fairly unhealthy dish.”
La ratatouille n’est donc qu’un met pitoyable et passablement malsain;
Described as a bad stew for rats
A few years later, In 1848, ratatouille was defined in the Provencal French dictionary as “Ratatouille (nf): A soup for rats, a bad stew.”
In 1952, ratatouille becomes elevated French food.
The first publication of a ratatouille recipe as we know it today appeared a century later, in 1952, in a transport magazine called La Vie du Rail.
The ratatouille recipe more closely resembled the Basque dish piperade and the Provencal dish bohémienne, both based on tomatoes and eggplants.
Ever since many great chefs have transformed the original ratatouille recipe into the refined dish we know today.
If you think the French are the only ones who have ratatouille, think again. This dish has many versions and variations, which go by different names in different places.
The Sicilians from Italy have a similar dish called caponata.
22) Nice has the 7th most hours of sunshine in Europe.
After Valetta, Marseille, Lisbon, Athens, Madrid and Monaco, Nice is the European city with the 7th most hours of sunshine.
Although that may seem like a lot, no place beats Yuma, Arizona, which receives 4015 hours of sunshine annually.
23) Elton John lives part of the Near in Nice, France.
Sir Elton John, born in England, is a world-renowned pianist, singer and songwriter.
In 1996, Elton and his partner purchased Castel Mont Alban for £5M.
Their stunning home, located at 16 Chemin du fort du mont Alban, Nice, France, is perched on Mount boron which overlooks the bay of angels in Nice, France.
Elton has welcomed many well-known celebrities into his yellow palace, including Meghan Markle, Prince Harry and Archie, the Beckhams, Neil Patrick Harris and more.
Elton redesigned this 1920’s home, originally built as an artist’s colony, into an extravagantly decorated Villa in his own style, complete with original artwork from Andy Warhol. Today their mansion is valued at over £17M.
24) The first woman to drive around the world did it from Nice France
On December 29, 1922, Aloha Wanderwell and Walter Wanderwell drove a modified Ford Model T Car around the world, starting and ending in Nice, France. Here’s a list of her stops along the way.
Aloha Wanderwell, whose real name was Idris Hall, was only 16 at the time.
The round-the-world journey lasted nearly five years and ended in January 1927.
Aloha took pictures along the way, and the success of their expedition helped popularise overland travel and paved the way for future generations of adventurers.
You could say that Aloha was the first travel blogger before it even existed.
25) Nice is home to one of the oldest known human-made shelter
Terra Amata, which means “Beloved Land” in Italian, is an important archaeological site located on Mount Boron hill in what is now Nice, France.
The site contains the oldest known evidence of human-made shelters dating back to the stone ages, around 400 000 years.
The artifacts were from a group of Neolithic people who would return to Terra Amata every spring and summer to hunt boar, deer, and other games. While at the site, they would build temporary huts out of tree branches and stones, each with a stone-ringed hearth inside.
The fact that they returned to the same location every year indicates that early humans, while nomadic, may have lived within relatively set territories.
The site was discovered by accident during the construction of an apartment near the port of Nice in 1966 and is now located under an apartment building and the Terra Amata Museum of Nice; you can see some discovered objects.
Around the year 2000, an even older artificial structure was found in Chichibu on a hillside north of Tokyo.
Get Your Francophile Fix With Annie André
If you found this article interesting facts about Nice France fascinating, be sure to explore 15 things I love to do or eat in Nice, France, that don’t involve visiting a museum.