Last Updated on 08/02/2024 by secretmoona
Visiting the South of France and looking for the best things to do in Marseille? Nestled in the heart of the French Mediterranean coast, Marseille is a vibrant city that offers a delightful mix of culture, history, and natural beauty. Marseille is known as a European Capital of Culture and has many exceptional sites and breathtaking panoramas, from the charming alleyways of the old town to the Calanques and the Old Port. Discover and enjoy the sun, azure sea, and Mediterranean gastronomy without any moderation. So pack up your bags and immerse yourself in the local scents and Provençal charm.
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The Top 18 Things to Do in Marseille, France
If you’re visiting Marseille for the first time and wondering what to see, do, and where to eat, you’ve come to the right place. Our guide will provide you with essential information on the best things to do in Marseille, whether you’re there for a weekend or as part of a road trip through the South of France.
Marseille is a large city, so it’s best to plan ahead to ensure you get the most out of your visit. Take a look at our list of must-see attractions and things to do in Marseille, France.
Explore Le Vieux Port – Marseille’s Old Harbour
Immerse yourself in the typically Mediterranean atmosphere of the Old Port, an iconic and must-visit location in Marseille. The Vieux-Port has been the main focal point of Marseille for centuries. Although commercial shipping moved elsewhere long ago, the port remains a hub where locals gather to socialise, celebrate, and have fun. The buzz of the crowds, mixed with the gentle sound of the waves, creates a warm and welcoming ambience typical of Southern France.
Take a stroll along the quays lined with colourful boats of all sizes, and then treat yourself to a relaxing break on the terrace to watch the sailboats come and go while people watch. You can also stop at Glacier Vanille Noire to taste one of the best ice creams in Marseille. The Old Port is the perfect place to capture the essence of Marseille and enjoy an authentic experience.
Step into the Musée du Savon
When you visit Marseille, the soap museum is a must-see. It’s located near the Old Port and is easily recognisable. You will learn about the history of soap making from its inception to the present day and even watch a demonstration, personalise your own soap bar, and find out how much of a “nose” you are in the sensory area. The entrance fee includes a small soap as a souvenir, or you can buy soap in various scents such as the iconic “provence”, honey, rose, and more from the shop next door.
Visit the MUCEM: Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations…
No visit to Marseille would be complete without stopping at the must-see museum: MUCEM, which stands for the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations. Located on the coast, this museum boasts contemporary and daring architecture that truly symbolises the city. The MUCEM is more than just a simple museum; it’s an exceptional location that offers exciting exhibitions, taking visitors on a journey through Mediterranean cultures and European civilisations.
As you walk on the quays to the museum entrance, you’ll be mesmerised by the museum’s incredible iron structure made of iron. It was designed by architect Rudy Ricciotti in 2013, and the stunning design creates beautiful shadows. You can stroll along the quays and the museum’s terraces to admire the beautiful scenery in front of you. You can also wander in the hanging gardens for a moment of relaxation.
The MUCEM offers both permanent and temporary exhibitions within the museum walls and outside. Walking around the MUCEM on the large quays along the water is a very pleasant experience. On the roof, you can enjoy a pretty restaurant that offers a breathtaking view of Phocaean City. You can also access Fort Saint-Jean, included in the ticket price, which is very close and accessible via a bridge.
This is an enriching and enjoyable visit that will delight lovers of art, history, and architecture. It is possible to visit the museum without paying any admission fees but keep in mind that this does not include access to the exhibitions.
…and Fort Saint-Jean
Fort Saint-Jean is a significant landmark of Marseille. It is located in a military complex which was built in the 17th century to defend the port of Marseille against invaders. The monument now stands tall as a symbol of the city’s resilience.
The site is open to visitors without any charge, and you can explore the area and take a stroll around the fort grounds. However, if you want to see the exhibitions, you’ll need to purchase a ticket for MuCEM. The exhibitions showcase the military history of Marseille and provide an in-depth understanding of the city’s past.
To reach Fort Saint-Jean from MuCEM, you can use a pedestrian bridge that connects the two locations. The bridge offers a stunning view of the fort and the surrounding area, making it a great spot for photos. Once you reach the fort, you can explore the different parts of the complex, including the chapel, the courtyard, and the various exhibits.
Get lost in the Panier neighbourhood, the oldest district in Marseille
Le Panier is the oldest district in Marseille, making it one of the city’s top attractions. This lively and picturesque area is where locals, artists and artisans come together. In recent years, the district has become more trendy, featuring pretty concept stores, workshops, and a wide variety of restaurants. Take some time to explore the streets and admire the colours of the region. The district is filled with narrow stairs, flights of stairs, sun-kissed squares, and independent shops.
Visiting Le Panier is like immersing yourself in the soul of Marseille, resulting in an unforgettable experience in the heart of the southern city. Hence why, it’s one of the top things to do in Marseille. Before you leave, make sure to stop by the Centre de la Vieille Charité, a multicultural complex that houses museums, a cinema, and exhibitions. Please be aware that this area is quite hilly, so be sure to wear good shoes!
Admire the imposing Cathedral of the Major
As you make your way down from Le Panier to the Vieux-Port in Marseille, make sure to stop by the stunning Cathedral of the Major. This magnificent neo-Byzantine structure sits proudly on the quays of the port and boasts a rich cultural and artistic heritage. The cathedral, which was built in the 19th century, is both imposing and elegant, providing a peaceful refuge amidst the hustle and bustle of the city. Take your time exploring its vast spaces and marvel at the intricate mosaics. If you happen to get hungry during your visit, be sure to check out Les Halles de la Major, a concept kitchen café.
Visit La Canebière and Noailles, the city’s multicultural hub
La Canebière (named after the cannabis fields that were used for harvesting hemp during the Middle Ages) is often considered as the iconic avenue of Marseille. However, don’t expect to see something similar to Paris’ Champs Elysées or Nice’s Promenade des Anglais. Along the street, visitors can admire some historical landmarks and buildings, such as the Opera or the former luxurious Hotel Noailles, which has now been converted into a bustling police station. Although La Canebière can be a pleasant spot for a stroll, it can be quite dirty, and there aren’t many shopping options available there. Most of the nicest shops are actually located near the port and towards the Le Panier district.
Close to La Canebière is Noailles, which is Marseille’s most cosmopolitan neighbourhood. Here, visitors can explore the Marché des Capucins food market as well as various North African shops.
Uncover street art at Cours Julien
A trip to Cours Julien should be at the top of your list of things to do in Marseille, particularly if you’re a fan of street art. The area around Cours Julien is a hub for graffiti and street art walls, doorways, and shop shutters decorated with vibrant colours. The area is packed with stylish bars, cafes, art galleries, small independent boutiques, thrift shops, and, of course, street art. The whole place is pedestrian-friendly, and you’ll find many cafes and bars with terraces full of people enjoying a drink or two.
During the warmer months, you’ll come across many street artists, creating a lively and entertaining ambience. It’s worth noting that Cours Julien is situated in the working-class area of Marseille in Noailles and off La Canebière, which might not be as fancy as some other spots, but that’s what makes it attractive. The Marseille Tourist Office provides guided street art tours to help you learn more about graffiti, street art, and the artists.
Climb to admire the Basilica of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde
One of the top things to do in Marseille is visit Notre-Dame de la Garde, which stands high on a hilltop and overlooks the city. This basilica, also known as La Bonne Mère, is located at a height of 150 metres above sea level, making it an ideal spot to enjoy stunning views of Marseille and its port.
You can reach the basilica by taking the tourist train or bus #49, followed by less than a 10-minute walk. Upon arrival, make sure to look up at the large statue of the Virgin Mary sitting atop the bell tower, keeping watch over the sailors and citizens of Marseille.
Head to Jardin du Pharo for a stunning panoramic view
The Palais du Pharo was built to serve as the residence of Napoleon III in Marseille, but it was never actually used for this purpose. Instead, when her husband passed away, Empress Eugénie offered the Pharo Palace to the city of Marseille. The palace was repurposed over the years and served as a hospital and medical faculty, and eventually became the Institute of Tropical Medicine of the Armed Health Service. Today, the Pharo Palace has been converted into a convention centre.
Although you cannot visit the magnificent Napoleonic palace, it is still worth the trip due to its stunning architecture and the park surrounding it, which offers breathtaking views of the old port and the northern coast of Marseille. One of the best things to do in Marseille is to visit the Jardin du Pharo, which provides a stunning panoramic view of the sea, the Frioul islands, and the entrance to the Old Port. Take your time walking around the garden, and make sure to stop and appreciate the monument to the heroes and victims of the sea, which pays tribute to the sailors who lost their lives during the First World War. However, be cautious of the strong winds that can blow through the area.
The Calanques of Marseilles: for swimming or hiking
If you’re looking for an adventure, we highly recommend a hiking trip to the creeks to explore the natural wonders of Marseille. The Calanques, as they are known in French, are a series of rocky inlets cutting into pale limestone cliffs that stretch along the coast between Marseille and Cassis. Getting there is easy, either by car or taking a guided tour with a knowledgeable local guide.
Upon reaching the Calanques, you will be amazed by the stunning natural beauty surrounding you. You will come across breathtaking panoramas while exploring the park’s scenic trails. The crystal-clear waters of the Mediterranean will be a temptation to take a swim, while the rugged terrain will offer some of the best hiking trails in the region. The short hiking trails take you to secluded beaches where you can relax and soak up the sun.
To truly immerse yourself in this natural wonderland, we suggest that you take a boat tour. There are many options available, from small fishing boats to luxury yachts. You’ll be able to explore hidden coves, inlets, and caves and see the stunning cliffs and rock formations up close.
Things to do in Marseille on a sunny day? Hit the beach
Marseille has some amazing beaches located towards the Calanques. You can easily access all these beaches by bus or by hiring a bike. Your journey should start from the Corniche Kennedy, which is a three-mile walk that offers a beautiful view of the Mediterranean and the Îles de Frioul archipelago. The first beach that you will come across is the Plage des Catalans. After that, you can visit Prophète, which is suitable for families, and Anse de Maldormé, as both these beaches are well sheltered from the wind. Finally, the Prado beaches are also an excellent option with a mile-and-a-quarter pebbly strand and are very popular among tourists.
Discover Charming Vallon des Auffes
The Vallon des Auffes is a charming small port that’s worth a visit. It is tucked away between cliffs and a viaduct, making it an authentic Provençal fishing village that is both picturesque and tranquil. When you visit this place, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time. The colourful houses, traditional boats, delicious fish and seafood restaurants, and peaceful atmosphere will provide you with a unique experience that is far from the hustle and bustle of the city. This spot is a favourite among locals in Marseille, and we regret not discovering it sooner.
Take a boat trip to Château d’If
Take a boat trip to the Frioul Islands and Château d’If, which are located less than 30 minutes from Marseille’s Vieux Port. The Frioul Archipelago was built as a defensive fortress to protect Marseille. On If Island, you can visit the 16th-century Château d’If, which was converted into a prison in the 19th century and was famously featured in the novel “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas. Although no one ever managed to escape the prison due to the strong waves and winds, the novel’s hero, Edmond Dantès, who was wrongly imprisoned, did escape. After acquiring wheat, he took revenge on those who framed him.
You can take the Frioul If Express ferry to If Island and then onwards to Frioul Island for a round-trip ticket price of 10.80 euros. The visit to the Frioul Islands offers a breathtaking view of Marseille, but be sure to wear comfortable shoes due to the gravel paths. If you are travelling during the summer months, bring sun lotion, water, and hats with you since there is not much shade available near the abandoned prison.
Admire the Cité Radieuse
Explore the UNESCO-listed Cité Radieuse Le Corbusier, a housing complex made of rough-cast concrete and instantly recognizable primary-coloured panels. It was built by the renowned architect Le Corbusier in 1952 and is also called the “Maison du Fada” due to its seemingly crazy design. In 2016, it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a historic monument by the French Ministry of Culture. The complex has various public areas, including a rooftop MAMO art gallery (only available in summer), a new bookshop, a nursery school, and the 21-room Hotel Le Corbusier. You can enjoy watching the Mediterranean sunset while sipping a drink on the outdoor terrace of the hotel’s restaurant, Le Ventre de l’Architecte.
Staying longer in Marseille? Other things to do and see in Marseille
Explore more museums
If you enjoy cultural travel, you’ll be pleased to know that Marseille has around thirty museums to choose from. These museums cover a wide range of topics, from the city’s history to modern times. For a glimpse into Marseille’s significant role as France’s southern gateway, a visit to La Vieille Charité is a must. This 17th-century former almshouse built in pinkish stone is located on the edge of Le Panier and is worth a visit not only for its beautiful architecture but also because it houses two interesting museums. The MAM museum covers Mediterranean archaeology, featuring Egyptian statues and Roman and Greek vases, while the MAAOA is dedicated to African, Oceanian, and Native American art, including masks and bronzes. Other excellent museums to add to your itinerary are the Musée des Beaux-Arts at Palais Longchamps, which exhibits fine arts, the Musée Cantini, which showcases paintings and sculptures, the Musée d’Histoire de Marseille, and finally, the Musée de la Mode.
Marvel at Cassis’ Colourful Port
For those seeking a charming coastal destination, Cassis is a true gem located along the Mediterranean coastline. The town is easily accessible with a scenic drive from Marseille and boasts a picturesque harbour lined with colourful fishing boats and pastel-hued buildings. Cassis is renowned for its Calanques, a series of stunning limestone cliffs and turquoise inlets that serve as a perfect backdrop for hiking or boat excursions. Visitors can enjoy fresh seafood at one of the many waterfront bistros, take a leisurely stroll along the quays, and watch the beautiful sunset casting a warm glow over this seaside haven.
Take a Day Trip to Aix-en-Provence
Located just a short drive away from Marseille, Aix-en-Provence is a charming town that is famous for its tree-lined streets, beautiful squares with fountains, and historical architecture. It’s a great place to visit if you want to explore lively markets and wander through boutique-filled streets. You can also immerse yourself in the artistic spirit that once captivated Cézanne by exploring his studio or simply relax and enjoy the serene atmosphere at a café terrace. Aix-en-Provence perfectly captures the essence of Provencal allure and provides a peaceful contrast to Marseille’s dynamic vibes.
Where to eat in Marseille?
Marseille is a great destination for food and drink lovers. The Vieux Port is an ideal spot to enjoy a café terrace as the sun sets. If you are on a budget, then the streets around Marseille’s Saint Charles station, the Canebière, and Cours Julien are great places to find affordable food and drinks, particularly on Rue des Trois Rois.
Bouillabaisse, a fish dish, is a must-try when it comes to food in Marseille. You can find this dish in many restaurants around the port for less than €40. Italian cuisine also has a strong presence in the city. If you’re looking for some great places to eat and drink in Marseille, here are some recommendations:
- Pétrin Couchette: This trendy coffee shop is not far from the Vieux Port. They serve breakfast and lunch, including some vegan options. Be sure to grab a coffee and a tasty focaccia and sit on the terrace to enjoy them.
- La Fiancée: If you’re looking for brunch or a light lunch, this café is a great option. They serve delicious food and freshly squeezed juice. It’s located between the Vieux Port and Noailles.
- Gingembre Noailles: This restaurant brings a taste of Vietnam to Marseille. The staff is friendly, and the atmosphere is nice. All the food and desserts are stunning.
- Bistrot Pernod: This restaurant is right on the Vieux Port and is known for its seafood, particularly Moules-Frites. The food is delicious and reasonably priced, and the staff is friendly and attentive.
- La Cantinetta: Located in Noailles, this restaurant may not be in the most fashionable area of Marseille, but it delivers food, atmosphere, and service. Highly recommended.
- La Goulette: For some North African cuisine, head to this small Tunisian restaurant close to the Vieux Port. It may be packed with tables, but the food is delicious, and the portion sizes are good. Be sure to try the lamb and sausage couscous and wash it down with a sweet mint tea.
Hotels in Marseille?
When planning for a trip, it is important to secure the best hotels with favourable conditions, such as security and cancellation policies. To help with this, we recommend using either Booking.com or Agoda.com to browse through available hotels before your departure. Taking this step can help you avoid paying for an overpriced room or settling for a less desirable hotel. Utilising the filters provided on these websites can also help you sort hotels based on their ratings.
Here are some hotel recommendations categorised by their price range to help you make an informed decision on where to stay in Marseille:
The Hotel-Dieu InterContinental is a stunning hotel that was built on the site of a former hospital. The beautiful architecture of the building is reflected in the hotel’s decor. In addition to the usual amenities, you will find a Michelin-starred restaurant and lovely views over the port. The Sofitel Marseille Vieux Port is another lovely hotel that offers an exceptional view over the Vieux-Port. It is situated in a convenient location, making it easy for you to access many of the nearby sights.
If you’re looking for a hotel in this price range, you might consider the Maisons du Monde Hôtel & Suites – Marseille Vieux Port. Additionally, the Grand Hotel Beauvau Marseille Vieux-Port – MGallery is located right in front of the Vieux-Port, offering some of the best views of the harbour. Lastly, the Mama Shelter Marseille is a great option for those looking for a more unique and trendy hotel experience.
For those on a tighter budget, the Hôtel Mercure Marseille Canebière Vieux-Port is a good choice. Another option is the Holiday Inn Express Marseille – Saint Charles, which is situated right by the train station. The hotel not only provides a convenient location for travellers but also offers complimentary breakfast and friendly staff to make your stay more comfortable.
Practical Information about Marseille, France
How to get to Marseille
We recommend checking the OMIO comparison platform to find the most suitable mode of transportation for your destination. This tool provides a comprehensive overview of all available transport options and allows for easy price comparison. Otherwise, here are some transportation options you can choose from.
-> If you prefer to travel by train, you can get off at Marseille Saint-Charles station, which is located at the heart of downtown Marseille. You can take TGVs from Paris, which operates daily and takes less than 4 hours. If you’re coming from other major cities, you can either take the TGV or the TER. Travelling by train to Marseille is scenic, relaxing, and relatively fast. Additionally, the station is conveniently located below metro lines M1 and M2, and there’s a bus station right next to it.
Flights to Marseille
-> If you are looking for convenience and prefer to travel by plane, you can land at Marseille Provence Airport (MRS), which is 27 kilometres away from Marseille. Shuttle buses (Lecar 91 line) are available to transport you back and forth to the train station in 25 minutes.
-> If you enjoy taking road trips and exploring new cities at a relaxed pace, travelling by car is the best option to reach Marseille. However, keep in mind that the drive from Paris to Marseille is quite long. The journey takes approximately eight hours on the A6 and A7 highways, provided that it is not during a busy holiday period. Additionally, the roads are in excellent condition, making the trip all the more enjoyable.
How to rent a rental car at the best price in Marseille?
If you are considering renting a car for your upcoming trip, we highly recommend checking out DiscoverCars. DiscoverCars is a reputable car rental platform that offers a wide range of rental options at competitive prices. By using their website, you can easily compare different rental providers and choose the best option that suits your budget and needs.
How to get around Marseille
Marseille is a city that is best explored on foot, as most neighbourhoods are pedestrian-friendly, especially the Vieux-Port and Le Panier. However, if you want to explore the coast and Prado area, it’s a good idea to rent a bike but avoid biking in downtown Marseille. Le Vélo, the city’s bike-sharing programme, is a great option starting at just €1 per hour. If you prefer using public transport, Marseille has two metro lines, numerous bus lines, and three tram lines available to take you to all the attractions within and outside the city.
Know before you go
Marseille is often linked with high crime rates, but in reality, the crime rates in Marseille are similar to those in other major cities. Some incidents of pickpocketing and bag snatching have been reported in crowded places like the Old Port. However, if you remain vigilant and aware of your surroundings, you will likely be safe, just like in other urban areas.
This was our guide to the best things to do in Marseille. Despite its reputation for being unsafe, the city offers a lot for all kinds of travellers, including history, culture, and natural beauty. From the charming streets of Vieux-Port to the beautiful Calanques, make sure to wear comfortable shoes and fully immerse yourself in the plethora of activities that Marseille has to offer. Whether you are a history buff, a foodie, or a nature enthusiast, you will find plenty to enjoy in the second-largest city of France. Please share your favourite attraction in Marseille by leaving a comment below!
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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.