The Villa Massena Museum is housed in a sumptuous seaside mansion surrounded by lovingly manicured gardens… it’s an oasis of tranquility right on the Promenade des Anglais.
Hours: 10am to 6pm; closed Tuesdays, May 1, Easter, Christmas and Jan. 1.
Tickets: 15€ for adults, but your ticket gives you access to all 10 municipal museums in Nice for 48-hours. Free for children under 18, students of any age with student ID, locals with the blue Pass Musée, or with the French Riviera Pass. Click here for more info on the ticket/museum pass including which museums you get access to, suggested ways to group them, and some strategy to make the most of your 48 hours.
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. The museum is just after the iconic pink turrets of the Hotel Negresco. The entrance to the gardens is on the Prom side, but the actual museum entrance is from the back side, off Rue de France. You get your ticket from the gift shop out building.
You can also get here on the new free city shuttle, the Coeur de Nice Navette. It is a bright red electric bus (you can’t miss it) that makes a loop through the center of town every 15 minutes, and you just hop on and hop off. For the Musee Massena, hop off at the Gambetta/Promenade stop.
What to see:
Unfortunately this museum doesn’t have an audioguide and their English descriptions are rather thin, but read my Fascinating Facts about Nice before you go to give you a quick background.
The first floor is decorated with artwork and antique furnishings, and features a fascinating photo and art collection depicting Nice’s 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 amazing photos, paintings, posters, floats and artifacts from the Nice Carnaval (read more on the Nice Carnaval here). Another room is dedicated to the Casino de la Jette, often called the Phantom of the Prom, a mythic 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.
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!
- Back up to main History Museums page