Nice Carnival Guide, France
Mirror people, Bataille de Fleurs, Nice Carnival, France 2018.
Getting to Nice
The trains up and down the coast from Italy to Marseille are sensibly priced and reasonably reliable so that’s one option if you’re coming from nearby. From further abroad stick with flying into Nice airport, which is at the other end of Promenade des Anglais, then take an Uber, Tram 2 (from July 2019), or even walk the lovely 6 kms (4 miles) along the prom, if the sun is shining – which is the default condition.
Nice’s tram system is very efficient and costs €1.50 per ride unless you get a book of 10 rides which costs €10 (buy from machines at most tram stops). From July 2019 it runs two routes through the center of town, one of them being port to port (airport to sea port via Jean Medecin, Nice’s main street).
Car Parking in Nice
Note that parking in this area is very difficult to find and expensive even at the best of times and Carnaval is the worst of times. Forget about street parking, that would be like winning the lottery.
If you insist on driving here you will have to navigate to an underground garage, not a problem on a non-parade day but practically impossible on an afternoon parade day. This is especially difficult during Bataille de Fleurs as the parade will block at least one Vielle Ville parking entrance. The core area of Nice has six sizeable car parks that will cost over €25 per day if you can get there and find a space.
If you really must drive then it’s best leave your car in a park elsewhere, such as one of the out-of-centre parks near a tram stop. Check on a Nice Google Map.
Alternatively look for car parks well away from Nice’s Vieille Ville.
If an event is cancelled due to rain refunds are given or tickets exchanged for another event if there is space available.
Weather at this time is generally a bit chilly so if the sky is blue a jacket will be needed by most.
Parades last about 1hr 30m and usually start about 15 minutes late.
Looking for accommodation during the busy Carnival time?
Check this large, spectacular, exotic apartment conveniently located 5 minutes walk from the rail station (easily visit Menton Lemon Festival, Monaco, Eze, Cannes, Antibes etc. by train while you’re in Nice!), main tram stops (including the airport tram), 10 minutes walk from Place Massena, 15 minutes walk from the sea and Promenade des Anglais. Rated 5***** on Airbnb.
A free event, Lou Queernaval.
In 2015 free events were: Opening Festivities; La Parada Nissarda; Lou Queernaval (LGBT); Closing Festivities including fireworks.
Some of the free (gratuit) parades can be seen easily from the street, especially from Jardin Albert 1er and Ave. de Verdun as it leads into The Promenade. Since the police have a relaxed attitude to audience mixing with performers and blasting each other with air-propelled plastic string, this seems to the Bugcrew a good way to experience this easygoing spectacle on a budget.
The Carnival Parades are brilliant, amusing, colourful and imaginative and thoroughly enjoyed by the participants as well as local spectators. We had a lot of fun too though we can’t speak for all foreign visitors. A lot depends on the weather of course and at this time of year it’s a little unstable.
Catching free flowers during the free, standing, Bataille des Fleurs.
Sitting (Tribune) or Standing (Promenoir) Costs and Locations
Carnaval events including Bataille de Fleurs/Flower Parade run from Place Massena down the east side of Jardin Albert Premiere, along about 200m of Promenade des Anglais, then back up the west side of Jardin Albert 1iere back to Place Massena. And repeat.
Tiered seats (known as Tribune) are set up along Place Massena and cost about €24 (aim for a seat low down to get close to the floats and performers. Low letters are best, e. g. pole position is A; B and C are also good).
Standing tickets, known as Promenoir, cost €12.
Get into the standing area at least an hour, maybe more, before it all kicks off in order to get up against the railing for prime viewing in the case of Bataille de Fleurs. There will be also be a line of up to 30 minutes going through the gates due to security checks.
Nice Carnaval started in the 13th century and by the end of the 19th century it had become an officially organized event. Now it is one of the biggest and liveliest street festivals in Europe and is regarded as the most authentic carnival in the world.
Menton’s Lemon Festival runs for 18 days during the Nice Carnival. It’s just half an hour along the coast towards Italy, the trains are cheap and run from Nice Ville or Nice Riquier (both easy to get to via tram) to Menton along the coast. It’s small but cute, as is the town.
Corso carnavalesque, Carnival parade
Our favourite float in the parade seen from the seating area in Place Massena.
For our third Nice Carnival session in 2015 – the Corso carnavalesque – we decided to try out the reserved seating (known as Tribune) in Place Massena at a cost of €20 pp.
We checked the weather forecast in advance and bought seats with our backs to the sun as low down as possible, which was row B in Phocéen section (see map). Sitting on the opposite side would mean looking/photographing directly into the sun. ‘A’ seating would have been better but was sold out.
The seats were quite small and tightly packed but pretty good as seats go though IMHO the experience is way better at street level even if you do have to stand for about two and a half hours. Not only can you change position but you are very, very close to the floats if you get there early enough. 30/40 minutes beforehand should mean front row, toes on the tramway/road edge.
Also Promenoir tickets are always available so you can afford to wait until the weather forecast indicates a fine day before buying your standing ticket.
For this parade starting in Place Massena we feel that the best standing position must be beside the fountain in Place Massena, where you can look all the way down Massena and Ave. Jean-Médecin as far as the snowy Alpes-Maritimes as the parade approaches you.
A few days after writing that we attended the Queernaval and found that the main musical act and event compere were in that very location. The parades turn right at the fountain and head towards the sea/Promenade des Anglais before circling back up the other side of the Paillon/Jardin Albert 1er.
Don’t buy tickets in advance!
At the end of each Carnival parade there’s some clearing up to be done and everybody needs a good lie down.
For visitors coming to Nice from abroad the safest option would be to buy standing tickets in Nice on the day before or day of the event in order to avoid nasty surprises from wobbly weather.
There are several billetteries/ticket offices/kiosks scattered around though not necessarily in the places marked on the map, and not necessarily open either – remember this is La France where the establishment encourages the people to work less!
Take a stroll along the section of Promenade du Paillon opposite the big wheel and there’s a wooden tourist office next to the massive rectangular fountains area. They sell tickets there, are very agreeable and informative, speak English and are open when the kiosks are not!
The main tourist office also sells Nice Carnival tickets of course. It’s on the Promenade des Anglais (across the road from the promenade) about 100m east of McDonald’s/the Casino.
If you really need a seat then try to wait until the weather forecast for that day is less than 10% chance of rain. Here in Nice forecasts for up to 5 days are very reliable, but 10 days less so. If your event is washed out you can exchange it or get a refund, but it will be a considerable hassle.
Parade of Lights, non merci!
We took a look at the Nice Carnival Corso carnavalesque illuminé from the outside just in case it was worth paying to enter. It wasn’t.
Basically it featured exactly the same floats as the afternoon Corso carnavalesque (there’s our favourite Mantis, there in lights) with some quite nice illuminations.
But it was distinctly chilly at 7C (hey! that’s considered near freezing on the Côte d’Azur! ) and visitors in the Massena seating area had to suffer through an over-amplified commentator shouting inanities ceaselessly. Paid by the word presumably. If I had paid for a seat there it would have driven me to drastic action. As it was we just walked away.