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Though no longer exclusively the preserve of stinking rich aristocrats – its demographic is these days much more diverse, in line with its status as France’s fifth largest city – Nice still has an undeniably sophisticated touch, with its café terraces and emblematic, palm-lined seaside promenade stretching for several miles along the water. Nice may have changed over the years – gaining something of a reputation for its graffiti-covered urban ghettos – but it remains consistently popular with tourists, on account of its enviable climate and beautiful setting against the Baie des Anges.

The heart of the old town – Nice’s most colourful quarter – lies behind the seafront, along cours Saleya. A tour on a mini-train from the seafront, in front of Hôtel Meridien, takes in the flower market, the old town and Castle Hill gardens. Lively cours Saleya has a daily market selling fruit, vegetables and flowers, and antiques on Mondays. The Chapelle de la Miséricorde offers shade, tranquillity and a wonderful example of baroque architecture, with frescoes, gilt inlay, lavish chandeliers and a magnificent Bréa altarpiece. North of the market lies the lovely 17th-century baroque Cathédrale de Ste-Réparate (place Rossetti), flanked by its own 18th-century bell tower and known for its glossy ceramic-tile dome. North-east is the quirky, Genoan-style Palais Lascaris (15 rue Droite, 04 93 62 72 40, closed Tue), a treasure trove of 17th- and 18th-century furniture and paintings.

Westward, Nice takes on a very different look, featuring 18th- and 19th-century stucco villas, neo-classical hotels and a series of garden squares with fountains. The Musée des Beaux-Arts (33 avenue des Baumettes, 04 92 15 28 28, www.musee-beaux-arts-nice.org, closed Mon) has the original plaster of Rodin’s Le Baiser (The Kiss). More art is on show at the white-marble Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain (MAMAC, Promenade des Arts, 04 93 62 61 62, www.mamac-nice.org, closed Mon), including pieces from the École de Nice (Arman, César, Klein). Galerie de la Marine (59 quai des Etats-Unis, 04 93 62 37 11, closed Mon) holds temporary exhibitions. For cutting-edge conceptual art, head to Villa Arson (20 avenue Stephan Liegeard, 04 92 07 73 73, www.villa-arson.org, closed Tue). The onion-like domes of the Orthodox Cathédrale St-Nicolas (boulevard du Tzarewich, 04 93 96 88 02) also entice curiosity.

North, the hill-top district of Cimiez is the most luxurious of Nice’s quarters, accessed via bus (No.15) from place Massena. Start at the Musée National Message Biblique Marc Chagall (avenue du Dr Ménard, 04 93 53 87 20, www.ac-nice.fr, closed Tue), which houses a stunning collection of Chagall’s late works, superbly displayed in a modern structure bathed in light, then walk over to the Musée Matisse (164 avenue des Arènes de Cimiez, 04 93 81 08 08, www.musee-matisse-nice.org, closed Tue) to admire an equally impressive collection.

The Opéra de Nice (4-6 rue St-François-de-Paule), built on the site of the old municipal theatre, and renovated in 2000, is worth a peek.

• Tourist information: 5 Promenade des Anglais (08 92 70 74 07, www.nicetourisme.com); branch at the airport.

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