Are you off to Marseille for the holidays? Discover the best things to do and see in the sunny Phocaean city
The city of Marseille, located in the South of France on the warm Mediterranean coast, is France’s 2nd largest city with 858,000 inhabitants, after Paris and right before Lyon. This cosmopolitan, typically Mediterranean city has much to offer: steeped in history, culturally diverse, and home to spectacular beachside scenery, Marseille invites you to relax in true Provençal fashion. While its beaches, idyllic coves, and historical monuments will undoubtedly seduce you, there’s more yet to discover. Marseille is a Provençal city that has remained faithful to its traditions, an aspect that shines through its gastronomy and local delicacies. Time for an exceptional holiday under the Southern sun.
Here’s our selection of the best things to do in Marseille!
Opened in 2013, the MuCEM (Museum of European Civilizations and the Mediterranean) is Marseille’s must-see museum. Designed by architect Rudy Ricciotti, the newest part of the museum is a striking edifice that consists of an impressive cube surrounded by a latticework shell of fiber-reinforced concrete. Built on the site of 17th-century Fort Saint-Jean, the museum hosts an array of exhibitions that invite the most curious travelers to discover the different civilizations that have shaped Mediterranean arts and culture from prehistoric times to the present day. One of the best things to do in Marseille is to visit the Mucem.
2. Strolling around the Old Port
Photo credit: Flickr – François Schwarz
Wondering what to do in Marseille? How about taking the time to enjoy the Old Harbor’s atmosphere, famous for its fish market, its boats, its age-old buildings in the background, and its array of restaurants and cafés lining the quays. Take a seat and relax on one of the port’s terraces, and enjoy the authentic, sun-bathed scenery.
3. Contemplate Marseille’s Cathedral
Of the many monuments that comprise Marseille’s heritage, Cathedral of La Major (“Cathédrale de la Major” in French) is one of the most prominent. Its unique architecture, a blend of Romanesque and Byzantine influences, is worth the detour. While the cathedral’s exterior offers an eyeful of striped facades and splendid domes, the interior’s impressive dimensions will surprise you. Discover the cathedral’s arcades, statues, mosaic inlays, and an infinite number of small details that make the place so unique.
Marseille’s Vieux Port (Old Harbor) will take you far into the history of Marseille: this is the very birthplace of the city, which began as a Greek port around 600 BC. Among the city’s must-see historical monuments, the magnificent 19th-century Catholic basilica of Notre-Dame-de-la Garde, more commonly called the “Bonne Mère“, (“Good Mother”), is definitely on top of your list. Well preserved and recently restored, you will be able to visit it for free even though it is a very active church that even has its own refectory that is also open to the public. Climb to the top of the Bonne Mère and discover beautiful panoramic views of the rooftops of Marseille.
5. Tour the iconic Cité Radieuse
A a visit of the recent and modernist “Cité radieuse” designed by Le Corbusier, will be the pinnacle of your trip to Marseille. While both an aesthetically and architecturally marvel, it is rather the thought process behind it that makes it such an interesting place, rather than its photogenic value. Designed as a city within a building, with shops, a school, delivery services and many common areas, its inhabitants were also selected to create a diverse and mixed environment. We warmly recommend you get a guided tour or visit during the yearly “journées du patrimoine” or you will miss out on most of the interesting parts, including many that are closed off to the public as they are private apartments with people living in them.
6. Wander along the heritage-infused “Le Panier” (Old Town)
“Le Panier” (Marseille’s Old Town) is one of the city’s most visited quarters, the oldest of Marseille. It is located in the heart of the city’s historic center, a stone’s throw from the Vieux Port (Old Harbor). You will immediately fall under the spell of its narrow streets that climb the hill, its tall picturesque buildings, and its authentic atmosphere. Take the time to explore this picturesque part of Marseille that inspired the successful French soap opera “Plus belle la vie.”
7. Feel the thrill of a soccer game at the Velodrome Stadium
The Olympique de Marseille is a legendary soccer club in France, boasting the only Champion’s League Cup and a revered legacy. To this day it remains a major player in the French national soccer league and its fans are renowned for being some of the most passionate in France, both fervent supporters and ardent critics of their own team. Sitting in the Velodrome Stadium will guarantee a unique atmosphere and a
8. Stroll down the Canebière
The Canebière is the city’s most famous avenue, connecting the Old Port to the Reformés neighborhood. A little under a mile long, it is bordered by shops, some dating back to the 19th century when the Avenue was first developed. It is in many ways the Champs Élysées of Marseille and many large events take place in this iconic location.
9. Experience the trendy new Docks
Even if you have never been through their doors, their name is probably necessarily familiar to you. Emblems and symbols of the city, the docks of Marseille have been part of the city’s landmarks for centuries. It was in London, that Paulin Talabot drew his inspiration and he took his vision across the Channel. The French engineer completed the Docks de Marseille after nearly 20 years of work in 1856 at La Joliette, with the aim of promoting maritime trade and he created a massive commercial hub that thrived until their decline in the 1940s and the advent of cargo aircraft.
But lo and behold, with a new century came a new breath! The Docks of Marseille have since then begun a renaissance, now housing shops / bars / restaurants and hosting museums and cultural events. This revolution came in 2015, with the creation of the Docks-Village, a new concept aimed at creating a unique living space where cosmopolitan atmospheres and universes offer a completely different vision of commerce. Three thematic areas: the Port (music, catering, design), the Market (local and organic products, bookshops, art galleries), and the Village (shops and personal services) coexist together on two levels and over 180,000 square feet of thriving activity.
10. Discover the coast
While Marseille offers an exceptional diversity of scenery, its coast alone is worth a visit. On top of the list: Marseille’s beautiful coves (“Calanques”), an invitation to escape and relax. If you’re keen for family walks along the beach or for a swim in the Mediterranean, head for the Prado seaside park, known for its many activity-filled beaches, its green spaces, and its skate park. Alternatively, let yourself be tempted by a short sea trip to Jarre Island or enjoy scuba diving on Riou Island.
Located just 15 kilometers from Marseille, the Calanques (are definitely one of the city’s worthwhile attractions, offering visitors an eyeful of wild nature in all its splendor. Discover this unique landscape, made up of impressive limestone cliffs and idyllic hidden coves (“calanque” translates to “cove”). The Calanques of Cassis are among the most beautiful in the region. They are located in the small and quaint town of Cassis, about twenty kilometers from the city center of Marseille. And then you have the Calanques National Park , slightly closer to Marseille city center. In the creeks of Morgiou or the Calanque d’En Vau, treat yourself with sweet hours of idleness or swim in the turquoise waters of this heavenly scenery, home to abundant plant species and wildlife.
12. Succumb to the mouth-watering flavors of Marseille
What to do in Marseille? Discover the local gastronomy! If you’re a food aficionado, treat your taste buds with some of Marseille’s best culinary specialties, especially seafood. There’s nothing like the combination of freshly caught fish from the Mediterranean, local south-grown vegetables, and herbs from Provence. Don’t leave town without tasting the famous bouillabaisse – a traditional Provençal fish stew – as well as the soupe au pistou, a local dish reminiscent of minestrone!
13. Take a look at the Château d’If
You can’t visit Marseille without visiting the Château d’If, a historical monument attracting 100,000 visitors per year. Only a short ferry ride away from the port of Marseille, this former fortress-prison dating back to the 16th century offers breathtaking views of Marseille. Set in spectacular scenery with protected coves, turquoise waters, pristine beaches, sandy creeks, and impressive limestone cliffs, the Château d’If inspired Alexandre Dumas for his famous novel The Count of Monte Cristo. Don’t hesitate to opt for a visit of the Castle’s interiors: a timeless experience.
Other ideas for things to do in Marseille
– If you’ve already visited Notre Dame de la Garde then you might as well continue your historical stroll through the 19th century by visiting the Château de La Buzine.
– Visit the imposing Palais Longchamp, a beautiful palace that is home to the Museum of Fine Arts and also the Museum of Natural History.
– In stark contrast to the richly decorated Cathedral and Bonne Mère, the austere and simple Abbaye Saint Victor will be a great way to visit an important historical and religious building without all the fast and pomp.
How to get to Marseille?
There are many ways to reach Marseille. You have the choice between traveling by car, by train or by plane to get to Marseille. It will all depend on where you leave from. The TGV (France’s intercity high-speed rail service) connects Paris to Marseille in just three hours: you will arrive in the center of Marseille, at Marseille-Saint-Charles station, which is very convenient. You can also opt for a flight, but your flight will land at Marignane airport, located about 24 km from Marseille. It is one of the larger airports in France though and you will find many flights from London , either Stansted or Heathrow, as well as from Edinburgh or Manchester. You can easily find a low-cost flight to these destinations on Skyscanner.
Many shuttles run between the airport and Marseille Train Station, in the center of the city. The public shuttle leaves every ten minutes and will get you from the airport to the train station in 25 minutes. Tickets cost 8,30€ for adults and 4,15,e for children. From the airport there are taxis that will bring you to the city center but you can also directly rent a car at the airport
Where to stay in Marseille?
There is an array of neighborhoods to stay in Marseille: choose your area according to your needs and desires! Visitors who are keen to visit Marseille on foot can begin their walk from the Old Harbor, an ancient harbor that gives visitors a feel for the city’s thriving Mediterranean atmosphere. The Canebière, a vibrant boulevard bustling with activity, offers close proximity to everything. The “La Plaine” quarter is ideal if you are looking for a young, central, and festive area. And finally, if you are looking for something more authentic and picturesque, Le Panier (Old Town) is definitely your best choice. Search this online hotel comparator to find an affordable hotel in Marseille.
It won’t take too long before you fall under the spell of Marseille: this destination has everything to please. Whatever your preferences, whether you’re more of a sun and beach person, a history buff, an art-and-culture lover, or a fine dining aficionado, the Phocaean city has everything to suit your needs. Still wondering what to do in Marseille?
Also read : The best areas to stay in Marseille
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