The Côte d’Azur is a great place to be for Christmas with plenty of fun, unusual and traditional events taking place throughout the festive period. Blessed with 300 days of sunshine a year, many of which fall over the Holidays, this is a lovely time to be in Nice and the surrounding area. Here’s a short list of 6 top things to do in and around Nice at Christmas suitable for families, couples and individuals of all ages. And best of all my suggestions won’t break the bank, most of them are absolutely free.
See the decorations at Lucéram
For a hefty dose of Christmas cheer you can’t do better than spending the day in the pretty hill village of Lucéram, around 30 kilometres from Nice, for in December it comes alive with a Circuit des Crèches (Nativity scenes). Literally every little lane, balcony, doorway and every nook and cranny is decorated with nativity scenes in every conceivable shape and size. These scenes (the crèches) are made out of anything and everything including wood, paper, glass, pinecones, traditional santons, wool, twigs and even bread. They come in every size from minuscule to a 10m long replica of the village and even the village’s numerous fountains are decorated with their own floating crèches. You won’t see gaudy displays of brightly coloured plastic here; in this magical setting you’ll be transported to another era, a simpler and more traditional time, you can’t help but be charmed. The decorations start in early December and last till 6 January, the visit is FREE, for more detail click here.
Skate on the famous harbour in Monaco
There are plenty of ice-rinks to choose from at Christmas on the Côte d’Azur but my family loves the rink at Monaco where the pool on the famous port is transformed into a rink for 3 months every winter. Skating to the backdrop of sailing boats and super yachts, under a cloudless sunny sky in mid-winter is an unbeatable experience. The Monaco ice-rink is much larger than the average pop-up rink but best of all, unlike many of the other rinks, it’s rarely crowded, you aren’t limited in time and you don’t have to book. There’s a small kiddie’s rink for beginners/tiny kids attached to the main rink. New for 2016: curling equipment is available to use for free! 6.50€ flat fee, free for under 5s. Check opening hours here.
Visit a Christmas market in a vineyard
There are many lovely Christmas markets on the French Riviera. The ones in the big towns and cities tend to last throughout the month of December while the smaller towns have their own fairs and markets usually for 1-4 days. Our favourites are in the villages of Le Rouret and Valbonne (both about 30 kms from central Nice). Check for dates here. However for something rather unusual why not visit a Christmas market in one of the famous rosé wine vineyards nearby for a particularly Provencal experience. You can find links to vineyards which hold Christmas events here (the article is from 2015 so the dates are not current but the links still work). FREE.
Visit a “Foire aux Santons”
Now here’s another typically Provencal tradition at Christmas that appeals to all ages: visit a Foire aux Santons, a fair selling clay figurines for Nativity scenes. Santons come in all shapes and sizes and depict traditional characters from the Nativity as well as more original characters from village life. They are used to decorate houses at Christmas time and are available at most Christmas markets as well as at specialist fairs. Kids enjoy looking for, and picking out, funny and unusual characters such as the village idiot and the “crapper” (depicted with a bare bottom and a poo, yes really!) Find out more about Santons here (plenty of photos.) The main market is in Marseille but closer options are Mouans-Sartoux and Valbonne. FREE.
Take a ride on a big wheel
Christmas time sees the installation of ferris wheels in many towns along the coast of the French Riviera but my favourite has got to be the one in Nice for the fabulous views it offers over the town. Try to plan your ride for just before sunset so you can really take in the sweeping views of the old town, Promenade du Paillon, Christmas village and seafront Prom as the sun goes down and the sparkling Christmas lights come on. Once you’ve had your ride and it’s dark walk into the park for beautiful reflections of the wheel in the water mirror. There is a fee for the ride.
Watch or take part in a Christmas swim
Several towns along the coast hold Christmas “ice-breaker” swims “bain de noël” in the sea during December. These are jolly, noisy occasions where many people dress up or at least wear a Christmas hat, but you won’t see wetsuits. Check town websites for dates and information. Popular places are Nice, Cagnes sur Mer and Villeneuve-Loubet. Check out this news report from France 3 to see what it’s all about.
What do you think? Would you like to spend Christmas on the Côte d’Azur?
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I would think getting to the vineyards by bus would be almost impossible I’m afraid! Driving in France is easy….really!
Lovely blog. We have booked Nice for Christmas 2017, really looking forward to it. Would love to visit the Christmas markets in the vineyards- is easy to get there via public transport? Not sure about driving in France!
I would happily do all of them except the swim brrrr far too cold for me. The photo of the Ferris wheel looks pretty magical. A great area to be this time of year. Thanks for linking #citytripping
Phoebe, you always have amazing ideas on your blogs…thank you and I can’t wait until the next xx
I love the idea of a Christmas market in a vineyard- and that’s such a fab photo of the Santa swim. #citytripping
Yes the crèches are very special. Come back again one day Oana!
Pleasure Dawn, will you being doing any of these this year?
Great tips. Thanks
You live in such a beautiful part of the world, I loved Nice when we visited years ago and I would love to return at Christmas, especially to see the creches!
The markets in vineyards are very original….:)
Lucéram is a real favourite, it’s just so different.
Yes that’s a really good one!
It’s going to be much much warmer than your water Erin, I think it’s around 13°c!
It is a lot of fun Louise.
There are a lot of similarities between California and the Côte d’Azur Lolo.
Wow – this really is celebrating Christmas in style! Those decorations look incredible. How impressive that the whole place joins in. And I would LOVE to visit a Christmas market in a vineyard!
Great idea for a post, Phoebe. These Christmas suggestions all sound really good. I particularly like the idea of seeing the decorations at Lucéram. Thanks for sharing this with us on #FarawayFiles
It all looks fab but I especially love the idea of ice skating in Monaco x
Curling makes me laugh with all that manic sweeping but I am sure sweepers are actually very skilled in what they do. Please do take photos when JF has a go!
Looks delightful. Just out of curiousity – what is the average temp of the water for the winter dip? They do that here in Copenhagen too – I think I would prefer the Southern French version! Cheers from Denmark and thanks for linking with #FarawayFiles this week, Erin
I bet Christmas swims are much nicer in Nice than the Boxing day dip here!
Christmas in Nice sounds divine and so many fun activities going on. Love it! x
Oh haha Christmas on the beach reminds me of growing up in California! #FarawayFiles
Ah no! You’ll note that the title is “watch or take part in” – I do the watching though who knows, maybe this year might be the start of a new tradition! I’m not sure I’ll try curling but I know JF will, he loves it (weird I know!)
So you take a Christmas dip as well? The boys went ice skating at Eden last year and got the hang of it quickly. My dodgy back and I chose to watch from the side lines! Are you going ti have a go at curling?
Perhaps Richard…watch this space!
It’s a riot, but I must admit I only ever watch.
I hope you enjoyed your NYE in Nice Tanja!
Happy to Frenchify you Katy!
It is lovely in Nice! Yes I go skating Rosie, all these suggestions are things we do every year and skating in the often hot sun is such a joy. (I’ll let you in on a secret, the person in the middle of the photo with a pale blue long sleeved t-shirt is me!)
My boys have been known to swim on Boxing Day … and we are in Normandy!! I do think the French do Christmas so well with just the right amount of build up and much less commercialism than other countries I can think of! It looks lovely in Nice, even if snow is unlikely. Do you go ice skating? #FarawayFiles
You had me at Christmas in Nice! But I especially like the idea of the markets in the vineyards. Very civilised. so French. There is no way I’d do the swimming though! Feeling Frenchified thankyou Phoebe for joining #FarawayFiles
nice ideas! I’ve spent New Year’s in Nice:) had a ride on the big wheel:) #farawayfiles
The Christmas swim looks fun, but I am shivering just thinking of it.
Will you be having a Christmas swim, Lou?
I love to spend any time in and around Nice. Christmas would be wonderful. Maybe one day.