Thanks to its many museums of art, history and folk traditions, which can also be visited free of charge, Nice is rightly considered the artistic and cultural capital of the Côte d'Azur.
With its extraordinary beauty, picturesque Nice has always captivated artists, including famous names such as Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall. Today, the works of numerous national and international artists from various epochs can be discovered in around 20 art museums. In addition, history and archaeology museums present the city's past from a variety of perspectives.
Tip: With the Musées de Nice pass, you can visit the museums of Nice with free admission. Unfortunately, this pass is only issued to people who live in Nice or the surrounding area.
Table of contents
Musée des Beaux Arts
The Fine Arts Museum is located in the centre of Nice on Avenue des Baumettes and primarily displays works by French artists created between the late 16th century and the mid-20th century.
The predominant styles on display in this magnificent Genoese villa include Rococo, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism and Fauvism.
The Musée Matisse in Nice's Cimiez district was opened in 1963 in the Genoese Villa des Arènes. Located on the Avenue des Arènes de Cimiez, it displays over 700 prints, sculptures, drawings, paintings, photographs and illustrated books by Henri Matisse.
The master of classical modernism lived in Nice from 1917 until his death in 1954. He owned a flat on Place Charles-Félix and stayed as an elderly gentleman at the Hotel Régina, which is clearly visible from the museum.
A large part of the exhibits come from the private collection of Henri Matisse himself, while others, such as ceramics, glass windows or documents, are everyday items from his possession that the painter left to the museum. In addition to the permanent collections, special exhibitions are also shown in the elegant 17th century villa.
Musée Message Biblique Marc Chagall
Also in the Cimiez district, on Avenue du Docteur Ménard, is the Chagall Museum of Nice, opened in 1973. The collection consists of 17 works by Marc Chagall, thematising the biblical books of Genesis, Exodus and the Song of Songs, and was assembled during his lifetime.
Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain (MAMAC)
The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art is located in the old town of Nice opposite the National Theatre on the Promenade des Arts. Sculptures and works of art on the square in front of the museum, such as a figure of the Loch Ness Monster, already give a taste of the works inside.
Opened in June 1990, the museum presents art from the 1960s to the present day through some 400 works behind its futuristic façade of Carrera marble.
The most frequently represented styles include New Realism with Yves Klein, Christo or César, Pop Art with Roy Liechtenstein or Andy Warhol and American abstraction, for example by Frank Stella or Sol LeWitt. Various changing exhibitions complete the cultural offer of the MAMAC.
Musée des Arts Asiatiques
On the Promenade des Anglais in the Parc Phoenix botanical garden opposite Nice airport is the Museum of Asian Art, which seems to float on an artificial lake.
It features not only the classical and contemporary art of Asian countries, but also their culture, ethnology and history. The fascinating building also has a small bookshop and a tea house, which can be reached via a walkway.
The modern complex made of white marble is the only museum building in Europe by the Japanese architect Kenzō Tange, who died in 2005. Its shape of square and circle is reminiscent of a Tibetan mandala and represents the Asian symbols for heaven and earth. The four cubes stand for Chinese, Indian, Cambodian and Japanese civilisation, the stag and deer symbolise Buddha's first sermon.
The contrast between the completely light-flooded museum hall with its glass pyramid and fantastic view of the lake and the completely windowless exhibition pavilions is particularly interesting.
Musée International d'Art Naif Anatole Jakovsky
This museum focuses on fascinating works of naïve art (amateur painting) from the 17th to the 20th century. The museum opened in 1982 and is largely made up of donations from the private collection of the couple Anatole and Renée Jakovsky.
The villa that houses the museum was owned by the Coty family of perfumers until 1973 and is surrounded by an idyllic botanical garden with sculptures by Fréderic Lanovsky.
The Musée Masséna on the famous Promenade des Anglais displays works of art from Nice's annexation to France to the end of the Belle Epoque.
What is special about the Musée Masséna? Each exhibit has its own story. For example, you will find Napoleon's death mask, the gift from Prince Joachim Murat, Napoleon's brother-in-law, to the then Empress of France, or the book on the Côte d'Azur written by Stéphen Liégard in 1887.
The building itself is also a work of art. The magnificent turn-of-the-century villa was built between 1898 and 1901 by the Danish architect Hans-Georg Tersling. It has housed the Masséna Museum since 1921 and was named after André Masséna, Duke of Rivoli and Prince of Essling, whose grandson used the palace as his winter residence.
Musée du Sport
Art aside: The Nice Sports Museum has one of the largest collections of sports in the world, taking you through the history of sport from its origins in Greece to the present day. Founded in 1963, it has been housed in the Allianz Riviera football stadium since 2014, one of our top 10 football stadiums in France.
Among the approximately 45,000 exhibits are jerseys, mascots, trophies, equipment, paintings, posters, photos and films. The only thing that comes up a bit short is interactivity - trying out or playing sports yourself is unfortunately hardly possible.
Museums about Nice's history
The Musée de la Résistance azuréenne tells of the regional resistance against the German occupation of National Socialism.
The Musée d'Histoire Naturelle de Nice not only presents the flora and fauna of Nice's surroundings, but is also the oldest museum in the city thanks to its opening in 1846. It is now located in the Cité des Sciences et de la Nature.
Archaeology Museums in Nice
The palaeontology museum in Nice takes you even further back in time: the oldest known dwellings in western Europe can be marvelled at in the Musée Paléontologie Humaine . The remains were discovered in 1965 above the old harbour and dated to an age of 400,000 years.
Other archaeological finds from the former Roman settlement of Cimiez are exhibited in the small Musée Archéologique de Cimiez, where the excavation site itself can also be visited.
With the Musée de la Marine and the Musée Prieuré du Vieux-Logis, a ship and furniture museum complete the extensive offer that Nice's museum landscape has to offer.
Tip: About 25 kilometres from Nice, nestled in the beautiful hilly landscape of the Côte d'Azur, is the Fondation Maeght. This privately run museum displays modern art and impresses with a sculpture garden worth seeing.
PICTURES: The Top 10 Museums of Nice
Photo gallery: The top 10 museums of Nice
Official website of the MAMAC in Nice
Official website of the Musée des Beaux Arts
Official website of the Musée Matisse
Official website of the Musée Message Biblique Marc Chagall
Official website of the Musée des Arts Asiatiques
Opening hours of the Musée International d'Art Naif Anatole Jakovsky
Opening hours of the Musée Paléontologie Humaine
Opening hours of the Musée Archéologique de Cimiez
Official website of the Musée d'Histoire Naturelle de Nice
Official website of the Musée du Sport
Opening hours of the Musée Masséna
Opening hours of the Musée Prieuré du Vieux-Logis
Official website of the Fondation Maeght