Last Updated on 03/02/2024 by secretmoona
Looking to spend 3 days in Marseille? Read on.
I have always been fascinated by the multiculturalism of Marseille and have been looking forward to visiting the city. For my first trip, I decided to go during the off-season in November for a period of 5 days. This was the perfect time for me to explore the city at my own pace without the summer crowds and to explore the nearby cities. Marseille is the largest city in the South of France and an excellent base for a short weekend break in Marseille or a longer, more relaxed trip.
The old port is one of the city’s most beautiful features, where fishermen sell their catch directly on the quay. The city’s cultural wealth is a mix of grand cathedrals, modern architecture, street art, winding streets, and Mediterranean beauty that you can immerse yourself in. If you’re planning a weekend in Marseille, I recommend following this 3-day itinerary to make the most of your trip.
Why Should You Visit Marseille in 3 Days?
This 3-day itinerary is designed to start in the afternoon, but if you arrive in Marseille earlier in the day, feel free to adjust the schedule to suit your needs. Regardless of how you arrive in Marseille, whether by train or plane, you will most likely end up at Marseille Saint-Charles station, except for those travelling by car who will go straight to their accommodation. Upon arriving at Saint-Charles station, take the opportunity to admire the view from the top of the monumental staircase, which offers breathtaking views of the Notre Dame de la Garde basilica. From here, we made our way to the famous La Canebière, a long avenue that leads to the Old Port and can be considered Marseille’s version of the Champs Elysées.
Is Marseille worth visiting?
Marseille is the second-largest city in France and is also the oldest city in the country, with a rich history spanning over 2,000 years. The city was founded on the site of the ancient Greek colony of Massalia around 600 BC. It is situated on the beautiful Mediterranean coast of France and offers visitors a rich tapestry of history, culture, and stunning landscapes, making it an irresistible destination for a 3-day trip. Marseille’s Old Port is one of the city’s main attractions, and visitors can explore the lively markets and seafood stalls that offer the freshest catches of the day.
Visitors can also enjoy iconic landmarks like the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, which offers breathtaking panoramic views of the city and the sea beyond. Marseille’s diverse neighbourhoods, from the historic Le Panier to the trendy Cours Julien, showcase a perfect blend of tradition and modernity, offering a delightful exploration of both past and present. The city offers delectable Provencal cuisine, charming cobblestone streets, and a Mediterranean ambience that fills every corner, making it an ideal destination for those seeking a perfect balance of relaxation and cultural immersion. Marseille was designated as the European Capital of Culture in 2013 and has since become a cultural destination for visitors from all over the world.
Day 0: Get your bearing – La Canebière
This itinerary is designed to start in the afternoon but can be adjusted to suit your needs if you arrive in Marseille earlier in the day. If you arrive by train or plane, you will most likely end up at Saint-Charles station, except for those travelling by car who will go straight to their accommodation.
Upon arriving at Saint-Charles station, take the opportunity to admire the view from the top of the monumental staircase, which offers breathtaking views of the Notre Dame de la Garde basilica.
After checking in at your hotel and dropping off your luggage, explore the surrounding area and downtown Marseille. If your hotel is located in La Canebière, that’s the primary area to explore. Constructed in the 17th century, La Canebière is home to various shops and restaurants, including the famous Noailles Market. The market is a great place to immerse yourself in the oriental atmosphere of Marseille. As you explore the market, you’ll be greeted by the sights and smells of fresh fruits, vegetables, and spices.
For dinner, visit Gingembre Noailles, a cosy Vietnamese restaurant on Rue d’Aubagne, just a short distance from the Old Port. It’s the perfect place to relish tasty food, and the best part is the warm welcome you receive from the staff, coupled with excellent value for money.
Day 1: Old Port, Mucem, Major, Panier and Cours Julien
Start your morning with a hearty breakfast at your hotel or one of the lovely cafes in Marseille. We went to Pétrin Couchette to enjoy their delicious coffee and breakfast while sitting on their terrace. Then we headed to the Old Port, which is the most iconic part of the city. Exploring the harbour and some of the attractions, such as the Fish Market, where fish are sold daily from 8 am to 1 pm, is one of the top things to do in Marseille and should not be missed. The Musée du Savon is also located around the port, where we tried making our own Marseille soap.
After that, it was time to discover the must-see museum of the Phocean city: the Mucem, Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations. The museum is located at the northern entrance to the Old Port and is impossible to miss. In addition to the various permanent exhibitions, the museum offers varied and very well-done temporary exhibitions. We had the pleasure of discovering the exhibition on “Fashion Folklore“, which had a very beautiful collection of 300 pieces of traditional costumes and haute couture! There was also an interesting exhibition by Mohamed El Khatib titled “Renault 12” that traced the annual trip of many North African families to the “bled” (home country in Arabic). El Khatib travelled across France and Spain every summer to go to Morocco.
Do not hesitate to stroll around the Mucem, which is as pleasant to discover inside as outside since it offers a breathtaking view of the sea and the Frioul islands.
After visiting Fort Saint-Jean, a 12th-century defensive fortress, we headed towards Le Panier, one of Marseille’s most emblematic and charming districts. On the way, we passed by the Sainte-Marie-Majeure Cathedral, also known as “La Major” by the locals. Its impressive dimensions and architecture are worth seeing, so don’t hesitate to take a look inside.
After a few minutes’ walk, we arrived in Le Panier, the oldest district of the city, famous for its colourful and winding streets. The neighbourhood was initially home to North African and Italian immigrants. To explore it, there is no particular route to follow; just let your feet guide you. Get lost in the maze of streets and alleys, and you will discover the hidden gems that this neighbourhood has to offer. Every corner of the district has a restaurant, café or small shop. Au Vieux Panier is a delightful little shop that sells souvenirs and is worth a visit.
We also visited the Centre de la Vieille Charité, the cultural centre of Marseille located in the heart of Le Panier, which surprised us with its rectangular courtyard and arcades. It’s worth noting that the Marseille Tourist Office offers guided tours of Le Panier every morning. These tours are a great way to get a better understanding of the neighbourhood.
In the evening, we went to Cours Julien, which is an ideal area in Marseille, to grab a drink or a bite to eat. It’s also where you can see the most beautiful street art in the city. We highly recommend stopping by during your visit to Marseille to enjoy the lively atmosphere of the esplanade and the many bars and restaurants around the area. However, we suggest avoiding the alleyways if travelling solo, especially at night.
For dinner, we went to La Cantinetta, a trendy restaurant that was packed with locals. The menu, which is written on a big chalkboard, changes frequently. We had a great time there; the food was amazing, and the atmosphere was fantastic. Going to this restaurant from the Old Port allowed us to experience the “diversity” of Marseille.
Where to Stay in Marseille
During our weekend stay in Marseille, we chose to stay at the Mercure Canebière Vieux Port Hotel. The hotel is conveniently located on La Canebière and is just a short walk away from the Old Port. Despite being located in a busy area, we were pleasantly surprised that the outside noise did not disturb us during our stay. The hotel is housed in a beautiful building and has a modern interior with elegant decoration. The restaurant provided a nice dining experience.
Although the hotel was perfect for our needs, if we were to visit Marseille again in the future, we would try to stay at the Grand Hotel Beauvau Vieux Port. This hotel offers a breathtaking view of the port and has tasteful decorations throughout that match the image of the MGallery brand. We went to the Grand Hotel Beauvau Vieux Port for drinks since it is part of the same hotel chain as Mercure, and we were impressed by the ambience and the view.
Day 2: Palais du Pharo, Vallon des Auffres & Notre Dame de la Garde
After enjoying a hearty breakfast, we set out to explore the eastern part of Marseille. We began from the Old Port and walked towards the Palais du Pharo. As the weather was good, we made the most of it. The palace was constructed in the 19th century at the request of Napoleon III for his wife Empress Eugénie. However, she never used it, and the palace was gifted to the city. It has since been used for various purposes, such as a hospital and a university. Today, it serves as a venue for various events.
The Palais du Pharo is worth a visit not only because of its great architecture but also because the palace garden offers incredible views of Marseille, the port, the Mucem, Major, and, on clear days, the Frioul and If Islands.
We then continued towards Vallon des Auffes, a small traditional fishing port located on Corniche Kennedy. The journey can be completed in 10 minutes if you take Bus 83 or in 20 minutes if you walk on foot. Take your time exploring the charming port, well-sheltered behind large arches and between cliffs. Vallon des Auffes is a picturesque and serene location that offers a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Be sure to discover the views from both the bridge level and the ground level. Although we visited during the day, it is recommended that you come here at the end of the day to enjoy a magnificent sunset. The area is perfect for a romantic dinner, and Chez Fonfon, the famous restaurant where you can taste Marseille bouillabaisse, is also located here.
After lunch, we headed to one of the most iconic places in Marseille, visible from all four corners of the city – the Notre-Dame de la Garde basilica, also known as “Bonne Mère”. It is situated on Garde Hill, 154 metres above sea level. It is the best place to enjoy the incredible 360-degree view of the city, as well as the Frioul islands and the Château d’If. The Roman-Byzantine style basilica was constructed in the late 19th century and is topped by a nearly 11-metre-tall statue of the Virgin Mary.
We began our exploration by entering the Basilica. You can’t but admire the intricate mosaics, beautiful stained glass windows, and exquisite decorations that adorn this religious landmark. The breathtaking panoramic views from the Basilica’s terrace are not to be missed. Take the time to appreciate the picturesque landscapes of Marseille, the Old Port, and the surrounding hills. This is an ideal location for photography, so don’t forget your camera or portable charger. Notre-Dame de la Garde boasts beautifully landscaped grounds. Take a leisurely stroll around the area and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. You will discover extra viewpoints that offer different perspectives of the city.
Day 3: Day trips to Cassis or the Frioul Islands
For the third day in the city of Marseille, you have the freedom to choose any activity based on your preferences. However, I would like to suggest two options: a day trip to the picturesque port city of Cassis or a day trip to the Frioul Islands.
Option 1: Cassis
Cassis is a charming fishing village nestled less than an hour away from Marseille. You can choose between a leisurely 45-minute TER train ride from Marseille Saint Charles station or a scenic 35-minute drive to reach Cassis. Once you arrive, Cassis promises a unique Provencal escape that you won’t find anywhere else. The town is renowned for its unique beaches along the French Riviera, as well as the breathtaking Calanques National Park, making it a haven for hiking enthusiasts.
To start our adventure in Cassis, we hopped on a shuttle bus from the train station to the city centre. While roaming around the old town, we stumbled upon a vibrant market and indulged in some delectable cheese. We then secured a baguette from a local bakery for a perfect on-the-go snack. The picturesque streets adorned with colourful buildings led us to the stunning Cassis Port. The port captivated us with its expansive promenade, cafes, and restaurants, offering us a delightful setting to observe lively Petanque games.
Our journey to Cassis continued to the entrance of Calanques National Park, which was just a 15-minute walk from the port. We spent approximately three hours exploring the mesmerizing Calanques de Marseille-Cassis, marvelling at the rugged limestone cliffs, crystal-clear waters, and panoramic landscapes. As we hiked along well-marked trails, we paused at scenic viewpoints and basked in the serenity of secluded beaches. Cassis left an indelible mark on us, an unforgettable experience of natural beauty and coastal charm that will be cherished forever.
Option 2: Frioul Islands
Instead of visiting Cassis, you might want to consider taking a day trip to the Frioul Islands, which are located across from Marseille. Getting there is easy, thanks to a regular river shuttle that departs from the Old Port. To make the most of your visit, it’s best to get up early and avoid the crowds of tourists that arrive later in the day. During the summer, the shuttle schedules are extended so that you can enjoy the islands until late in the evening. However, please note that strong winds and bad weather may cause shuttle rides to be cancelled at times.
The Frioul archipelago consists of four islands: Pomègues, Ratonneau, Tiboulen, and If, and is part of the Calanques National Park. The fortress on the Ile d’If was constructed by François 1st in the 16th century, and its prison became famous thanks to the Count of Monte Cristo, the protagonist of Alexandre Dumas’ novel.
There is so much to do in Marseille, the second largest city in France, that three days may not be enough to explore everything. However, this itinerary for Marseille can give you some great ideas of what to experience in the city. Marseille is a city that deserves more than a few days of exploration. But if you only have one, two, or three days in Marseille, you can still get a sense of what makes the city so special. At the same time, it’s important not to try to do too much. After all, one of the best things to experience in Marseille is to relax, unwind and enjoy the incredible scenery and bustling atmosphere of this old port city.
Initially, we were unsure about the city but quickly fell in love with it. Our initial question of whether Marseille was worth it was definitely answered. We enjoyed the city so much that we realised three days in Marseille were not enough to fully explore it. Therefore, we are certain that we will return in the future.
Practical Information – 3 Days in Marseille
How to get to Marseille
If you’re planning to travel to Marseille, there are two main options for transportation: by plane or by train.
- By plane: Marseille-Provence (MRS) is a popular international airport in France with flights to many destinations in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and America. You can check flight schedules and prices by clicking here. If you need transportation from Marseille airport to the city, you can book it by clicking here.
- By train: Marseille is well-connected to other major cities in France, and you can reach Paris in 3 hours and 35 minutes, Nice in 2 hours and 43 minutes, and Lyon in 1 hour and 44 minutes. To check train schedules and prices, click here.
How to get around Marseille
When visiting Marseille for a 3-day trip, it is essential to know the most efficient ways to travel around the city to make the most of your time there.
Public transport is the best way to get around Marseille. Although some tourist spots are close to each other, walking may not always be the most practical option, especially on Day 2 of your itinerary. Therefore, it is advisable to become familiar with Marseille’s public transportation system, which includes metro, trams, and buses, which are modern and efficient. Marseille has two metro lines, three tram lines and many bus lines, covering the city extensively. Plus, by using public transport, you can go sightseeing in a more eco-friendly way.
TIP: The Marseille Pass includes access to museums and public transportation for 24, 48, or 72 hours.
How many days should you spend in Marseille?
I recommend planning at least three days in Marseille to explore the city and visit the Frioul islands and coves, which are truly magnificent. Marseille is full of vibrant neighbourhoods, magnificent classical architecture, and contemporary museums that all contribute to its unique character. It is slowly revealing itself in many ways. Also, being located at the heart of the French Mediterranean coast, there are plenty of opportunities for day trips to the surrounding villages, towns, and beaches of the French Riviera when you need a break from the city.
Is Marseille safe?
When planning our 3-day itinerary in Marseille, we were aware of the city’s bad reputation. Similar to other major cities, Marseille can be a bit rough around the edges. However, if you take the necessary precautions and stick to the main tourist areas, you should be fine. It’s best to avoid venturing into unknown areas, particularly the northern districts, at night. Just like in Paris or Nice, there is a risk of pickpocketing and petty theft, especially in busy areas. So, it’s crucial to be aware of your belongings and surroundings.
Travel Tips and Resources
Here are some of my favourite travel tips and resources.
- Flights: I’m all about snapping the best deals when it comes to booking flights. Therefore, I use Google Flights and Skyscanner to get the best deals each time. I use AirHelp to receive compensation for delayed and cancelled flights.
- Trains: I love using Trainline to book trains within Europe.
- Accommodations: Booking.com and Agoda are my favourite sites for great hotels and private home deals. They both offer a wide range of hotels, including luxury accommodations and private homes.
- Car Rentals: When it comes to travelling to remote destinations, renting a car is ideal, for these, I love renting cars through Discover Cars. They offer some great options for affordable rentals, and their customer service is one the best.
- Tours and Experiences: Visiting a new place also means getting to experience and do many things. I usually book tours via GetYourGuide or TripAdvisor. If you like doing things solo, WeGoTrip offers audio tours and excursions.
- Travel Insurance: Travelling without proper travel insurance is not recommended. I always travel with one. Use VisitorsCoverage to compare and get the best travel insurance policy for you.