The Villa Massena Museum

Villa Masséna qui abrite le musée. Elle fut édifiée entre 1898 et 1901 par l’architecte danois Hans-Georg Tersling (1857-1920).

The Villa Massena Museum is housed in a sumptuous seaside mansion surrounded by lovingly manicured gardens… it’s an elegant oasis of tranquility right on the Promenade des Anglais.

How to best see the Museum

Their printed English descriptions are rather thin, so I highly recommend using their audioguide in English, free with your admission.   I also recommend skimming my Fascinating Facts about Nice page before you go to give you a quick background, as it’s a little snappier than the audioguides.

The first floor is decorated with artwork and antique furnishings, and features a really interesting photo and art collection depicting Nice’s humble origins.

The second floor is consecrated to the military elements of Nice’s history from the 19th century through just before WWII, including military memorabilia and uniforms.  A particularly interesting display has personal effects from Napoleon and Josephine including a dress and tiara that she once wore, some of their letters, and even Napoleon’s death mask!

The third floor is my favorite, with surprising photos, paintings, vintage posters, floats and artifacts from the Nice Carnaval …which is a must-see especially if you are here in February for the Nice Carnaval!    This is also where the temporary exhibits can be found.

Vintage photo of the Casino de la Jette in NiceAnother room is dedicated to the Casino de la Jette, often called the Phantom of the Prom, a belle epoch casino-on-the-sea which used to be the symbol of the opulence of the French Riviera.  The Germans tore it down for scrap metal during the WWII occupation, so all that’s left of its glory is right here in this room, including a giant wall mural, a reconstructed model, menus and programs, interesting artifacts, and rare photos inside and out that fuel the imagination of Nice in the Golden Age.

Hours: 10am to 6pm; closed Tuesdays, May 1, Easter, Christmas and Jan. 1.

Tickets: Tickets are 10€ for adults, but for just 5€ more you can get the 4-day all museum pass for 15€ which gives you access to all 10 municipal museums in Nice.  The museum is free for children under 18, students of any age with student ID, locals with the blue Pass Musée, or with the French Riviera Pass.  Audioguides in English included.

How to get there:  From the line 2 tramway get off at the Alsace-Lorraine stop, then walk a couple of blocks down to the seaside and take a left.  You can also get here on Bus #8 or #12 which both go down the Promenade des Anglais, and you get off when you get close to the pink-domed Hotel Negresco.  Or you can also get here on the new bus #99, that makes a wide figure-8 through the middle of downtown, looping every 15 minutes… get off at the Rivoli stop.

The museum is across the street from the iconic pink turrets of the Hotel Negresco.  The entrance to the gardens is on the seaside, but the actual museum entrance is from the back side, off Rue de France, so just wind your way to the back through the gardens..  You get your ticket from the gift shop out building.

While you’re in the neighborhood…

Right behind the museum on rue de France is a one of the best coffee houses in Nice, Café Frei, open until 7pm.

I also recommend going next door to another type of museum, the famous Hotel Negresco, one of Nice’s most eccentric hotels. This time your ‘ticket for admission’ to get past the top-hat-and-tights-wearing doormen is simply to have an over-priced cocktail is the wonderfully clubby bar.  Then you can wander around the iconic palace, an amusing mix of elegance and quirky kitsch, all lovingly chosen by its eccentric owner.  Don’t miss the ballroom with the Gustave Eiffel designed cupola and an enormous Baccarat crystal chandelier made for a Russian Tsar …which is complemented by a giant pop-art sculpture by Niki de Saint Phalle of a big woman with a tiny head, spinning on a pedestal.   Or the salon with the giant portrait of Louis XIV showing off his legs, …or the bathrooms, …or the elevator, …or the breakfast room… This hotel is truly a museum in its own right!

Photo credits: Musee Massena by Cayambe, Negresco by TPS58,all licensed under Creative Commons. Casino de la Jetée courtesy of the photo archives of  Philippe Biancheri.

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