Looking at this neighbourhood today, you’d never guess it was a swampy backwater until the 18th century. Unlike Marseille to the west and Genoa to east, Nice never had a natural harbour suitable for large-scale commerce, so until the castle came toppling down in 1706, this city was a military stronghold, not a port.
Fast forward three centuries and everything’s changed. The port is packed with passengers bound for Corsica, Cannes and Monaco, while the streets around place Garibaldi have become Nice's trendiest neighbourhood, buzzing with restaurants, shops and nightlife.
Stretching from place Garibaldi in the north to the ferry port in the south, Le Port-Garibaldi is an animated, easily walkable neighbourhood.with a tremendous variety of restaurants, cafes, bars and nightlife packed into a very few blocks. Aside from the Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain, which deserves an hour or two of your time, there are no major sights here; the most rewarding experience is to simply stroll around and follow your whims.
The two most interesting areas for a wander are the port and the bar-restaurant-shopping district southeast of place Garibaldi. Both are especially enjoyable in mid- to late afternoon.
You couldn't ask for a lovelier Mediterranean photo op than the picturesque rows of boats floating in Port Lympia, backed by a sweep of ochre-hued port buildings, the columned façade of Notre-Dame du Port and the Alpine foothills north of town. Bars along the eastern side of the harbour, which get direct afternoon sunlight, make an especially nice place to take it all in.
Then there's the area around place Garibaldi. Parisians might scoff at the idea, but this district is lovingly nicknamed Le Petit Marais after the trendy Marais district in Paris. The compact tangle of streets wedged between place Garibaldi and Port Lympia buzzes with happening eating, drinking and boutique shopping spots, firmly off the tourist radar but in the address book of every trendy local. Stroll the lengths of rue Bonaparte, rue Bavestro, rue Lascaris and surrounding streets to catch the city’s latest new hotspot.
- Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain Discovering the 'new realism' of homegrown Nice artists such as Yves Klein, Niki de St-Phalle, Cesar and Arman.
- Trans Côte d'Azur Exploring France's most legendary stretch of coastline on a cruise to Villefranche-sur-Mer, Monaco or Cannes.
- Port Lympia Even if you don't have a ferry to catch, Nice's port is well worth a visit; it's especially photogenic in late afternoon, when sunlight plays on the red-ochre buildings surrounding the harbour.
- Café Paulette Part cafe, part wine bar and part tapas joint, this new kid on the block is yet another great reason to plan a night out on rue Bonaparte.
- Galerie Lympia Catching cutting-edge art exhibits in the port's recently converted prison.
As you wander down near the port, keep an eye out for signs of the neighbourhood's history. Many places down here, such as the Hierro Desvilles building at 4 rue Antoine Gautier, still retain the extra-wide doors and teeny superimposed inspector's windows used in the 19th-century when goods were delivered to the port by horse-drawn cart; others have deep basements carved into the native calcareous stone, handy for warehousing large supplies of merchandise.