Nice has 19 museums and galleries which is not so bad for a seaside city more known as a resort than a cultural centre. Although museums and galleries can be busy in the summer, there's never a line to get in and advance reservations are unnecessary.
Bear in mind that most explanatory material in Nice museums is in French only although in some museums you can buy guides in English. In the Chagall museum, admission includes a free audio guide in English.
Rather than paying for each museum, the city proposes a multi-visit pass for €15 which gives access to all municipal museums and galleries (which excludes the Chagall museum) for 72 hours. You can buy the pass in any museum, tourist office or online by clicking here.
Admission is free for those under 18 and students as well as Nice residents (with a special card) and various municipal employees.
The turn-of-the-century villa was built in 1901 for Victor Masséna, the grandson of Maréchal Andre Masséna. The rectangular entrance hall is an eye-popping display of classical Greek style. The friezes, moldings, inlaid wood, sculpture, chandeliers and art objects in the ground-floor rooms are a tribute to the19th-century taste for the ornate. The rooms upstairs are devoted to tracing the history of Nice through portraits, drawings and paintings. Don't miss the representations of old Nice including a rustic Promenade des Anglais, Place Masséna, the first Anglican church in Nice, a tree-lined avenue Jean Médecin and a sleepy Port Lympia. (closed Tuesday)
MAMAC is Nice's largest and most prestigious art museum. Focusing on art from 1960 onward, the museum is an excellent place to explore the works of Yves Klein, Arman, Ben, César, Martial Raysse and Niki de Saint Phalle. Known as the Ecole de Nice, these innovative Nice-based artists drew inspiration from Pop Art, New Realism, Fluxus and Supports/Surfaces. Works by Warhol, Lichtenstein, Frank Stella and Ellsworth Kelly are included for comparison. Show up at 4pm Saturday (daily in July and August) and get a guided tour (€6) in English of the museum. In the museum's entrance garden is a memorial to the victims of Nice's 2016 terrorist attack. And don't miss the rooftop terrace with its sweeping views of Nice. (closed Monday)
Begun in 1878 for the Ukrainian Princess Elisabeth Kotschoubey, the Neo-Renaissance style of this glorious villa echoes the great palaces of Saint Petersburg. The city of Nice purchased it in 1925 and transformed it into the Musée des Beaux-Arts Jules Chéret after the painter who lived and died in Nice. The restful English garden in front is ornamented with date and palm trees and outfitted with benches. The eclectic collection displayed on two floors concentrates on artists linked to the region including Raoul Dufy, Michel de Tarnowsky, Jules Chéret, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux and Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Take the staircase to the second floor and you'll immediately encounter an original plaster version of Rodin's The Kiss. (closed Monday)
Anatole Jakovsky Museum of Naive Art (Musée d'Art Naïf)
Lodged in the 19th-century Chateau Sainte Hélène, the Naive Art Museum was redone in 1904. The art museum lies behind a forbidding iron gate in the midst of a sprawling park strewn with sculptures. The museum is a fun and “un-museumy” place to visit. Naïve art favors the spontaneity of an individual vision where each visitor is invited into an imaginary journey. Paintings, sculptures, drawings and posters trace the evolution of this art form through the works of its most famous painters: Bauchant, Bombois, Vivin, Séraphine, Rimbert, Lefranc, Rabuzin, Ivan and Josip Généralic, Lackovic, Grandma Moses, O 'Brady, Haddelsey, Ligabue, Vivancos, Douanier Rousseau and more. (closed Tuesday)
Matisse's stay in Nice is memorialized in his masterpieces Tempete a Nice (1919) and Odalisque au Coffret Rouge (1926). Also notice his most famous paintings from the 1930s which include Fenetre a Tahiti and Nymphe dans la foret. Throughout the museum, the life and personality of the artist is evoked through displays of the objects he admired enough to paint as well as photographs of Matisse, his wife and his models. (closed Tuesday)
Marc Chagall Museum
Dedicated to the works of Marc Chagall, it’s one of the few museums where the artist himself had a hand in its design. Chagall loved the region and moved to nearby Vence in 1950. It was there that he created the Biblical Message cycle, composed of 17 large paintings on Old Testament themes. His donation of these paintings to France inspired the creation of this museum. Chagall wanted the building to be a place of spirituality, not exactly a museum and not exactly a chapel but a serene environment for prayer and meditation. The clean, sober lines of the building and oblique lighting keep the focus on the master’s vivid colors and striking forms, just as he wanted. (closed Tuesday)
Archaeological Museum of Cimiez
Entrance to the Archaeological Museum includes a visit to the Roman baths. The museum displays objects from ancient Cemenelum as well as the entire region, drawn from archaeological excavations and private collections. Statues, stelae, sarcophagi, vases, dishes, jewelry and more evoke the practical and spiritual life of the ancients. Sculpted hairpins and earrings dropped in the ladies baths are a poignant reminder of beauty rituals throughout the ages. Particularly impressive is the faune dansant, a bronze from the 1st century AD with a remarkably detailed rendition of muscles, hair and beard. Multiple panels outline the history of Cemenelum and the Baths (in French).
Pass through the museum to visit the Roman baths. For the Romans attendance at a public bath was a social occasion. People discussed the events of the day, flirted, closed business deals and, oh yes, bathed. There were three zones in the thermal baths of Cimiez: North, East and West. The North baths were the first and largest, probably built sometime between the 1st and 3rd centuries AD. All were constructed with brick on the outside and marble walls and floors inside. (closed Tuesday )
The Palais Lascaris is an outstanding example of a Genoese baroque palace. Built as a residence for Jean-Paul Lascaris in the middle of the 17th century, the City of Nice purchased the property, restored it and turned the palace into a museum. In addition to the frescoes, stuccoes, paintings and sculpture, the Lascaris Palace also displays an important collection of ancient musical instruments. Just a (free) glimpse of the entrance hall with its colorful ceiling frescoes, arches and sculpture whets the appetite to see more. Consistent with Genoese style, the second floor is the piano nobile, which contains the opulent residential and reception rooms. Despite the Flemish tapestries, delicate instruments and classical art, the compact rooms with soft lighting and high ceilings create a warm, intimate atmosphere. It takes about an hour maximum to visit the palace and there are detailed explanations in English of each room.(closed Tuesday)
Designed by the Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, this modern museum is located in the verdant Parc Phoenix. There's a tea ceremony, beautifully-presented Asian art and special events around the Lunar New Year. See the website for more info. (closed Tuesday)
The Museum of Prehistory of Terra Amata is installed on the archaeological site that has yielded the oldest hearths in the history of mankind, dating back 400,000 years. The museum presents the behaviour and way of life of the first inhabitants of Nice who located their huts on a beach and hunted elephant, rhinoceros and deer. (closed Tuesday)
This cave was inhabited by small groups of nomadic Neanderthals around 170,000 years ago. Excavations revealed human and animal remains as well as the tools used to butcher the deer, fox and rodents that were hunted for food. A clever lightshow illuminates the lifestyles and habits of these hunter-gatherers and adjacent exhibits explain (in French) the region's flora, fauna and topographical features.(closed Monday, Tuesday; avoid Wednesday and Thursdays when schoolkids visit)
It's an art school, art center, media library and artists' residence designed to showcase contemporary art. Look for special exhibitions or just come to enjoy the unique architecture, gardens and the sweeping views over Nice. (closed Tuesday)
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