11 Best Things to Do in Marseille

What is Marseille Most Famous For?

    Marseille is the second-largest city of France, located on the Mediterranean coast in the south of the country. Blessed with a moderate climate, Marseille is also the sunniest major city in the country, and a popular travel destination all year round. The history of Marseille goes back to 600 BC, so you can expect to walk among old streets, castles, churches and museums. In more recent times, Marseille has been home to many famous bicycle races, football matches and international sports events.

    No visit to Marseille would be complete without trying some of the local specialties: Bouillabaisse is the best-known dish, while Pastis is a famous anise liquor that goes perfectly with the hot summer days, playing petanque under the trees of the Old Town. If you’re looking for a nice souvenir to take home, Marseille is famous for its soap, simply called ‘Savon de Marseille’.

    What are the best things to do in Marseille?

    1

    Start the day at Le Vieux Port

    Le Vieux Port is an old and immense harbour mostly used to shelter leisure boats and a few fishing boats. This is where most people start their first visit, casually strolling along dozens of cafes and restaurants. With more than 2000 years of history, the Old Harbour is surrounded by historical buildings from 18th century and older. This is where you’ll catch a ferry to visit the famous Chateau d’If and to the Calanques.

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    2

    Get a panoramic view from Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde

    As soon as you approach the centre of Marseille, you will spot the basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde, majestically perched at the top of the highest hill. Built between 1853 and 1864, in Neo-Byzantine style, this immense church is dominated by an impressive gilded Madonna, standing high at the top of the belfry. The fantastic panorama over the city from the church terrace makes this a ‘must visit’. The basilica is easy to reach using one of the many local buses.

    Location: Rue Fort du Sanctuaire, 13281 Marseille, France

    Open: Daily from 7am to 6.15pm

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    3

    Must See: cathedral of Saint Mary Major

    Cathedral of Saint Mary Major, or Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure, is another important landmark in Marseille, and one of the largest in France. It can welcome up to 3,000 people. Built in Byzantine-Roman style with alternating green and white limestones, this Roman Catholic Cathedral resembles Florence’s Duomo.

    Location: Place de la Major, 13002 Marseille, France

    Phone: +33 (0)4 91 90 52 87

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    4

    Shop at La Canebière

    This famous avenue is the wealthy shopping heart of Marseille. It’s sometimes compared to The Champs Elysees in Paris, where luxury brands alternate with cafes and restaurants. This wide street starts from Le Vieux Port and stretches all the way to the Capucin neighbourhood. La Canebiere is not as glamorous as it used to be but is still one of the most important streets of Marseille and was featured in the movie French Connection 2.

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    5

    Must-See: MuCEM (Musée des Civilisations de l'Europe et de la Méditerranée)

    MuCEM, as it’s locally called, is a museum built partly in a 12th-century fort (Fort Saint Jean) and partly in a modern complex with an intricate design. Here, visitors can learn about the history of Mediterranean civilizations, but also discover the rich past of Marseille through thousands of photos, postcards, films and exhibits. One of the highlights is a 115m suspended bridge that connects the museum to the Fort Saint Jean.

    Location: 7 Promenade Robert Laffont, 13002 Marseille, France

    Open: Tuesday – Sunday from 11am to 6pm, closed on Mondays

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    6

    Explore the Calanques National Park

    The Calanques are a set of scenic white limestone cliffs in the southern and eastern parts of Marseille, on the way to nearby Cassis town. The superb panoramic views, beaches, and clear blue water of the creeks hiding between high cliffs are worth a day trip. The Calanques are accessible both by land and sea from the Old Harbour, and the best time to visit them is obviously summer. Kayaking and bicycle tours are easy to find if you prefer an active and eco-friendlier visit to this national park. The Corniche des Crêtes and Cap Canaille offer the most spectacular views.

    Location: Bât A4, Parc Valad, Impasse Paradou, 13009 Marseille, France

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    7

    Discover the old Marseille at Le Panier neighbourhood

    Le Panier is a very attractive neighbourhood of Marseille found in the north of the Old Port district. It has been inhabited for more than 2000 years. Once considered the poorest part of town, it has recently become trendy, with a lot of typical small shops and cafes. Le panier is a good place to wander around for a half a day and take photos of the small alleys and stone stairways lined by ochre stone houses.

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    8

    Get a glimpse of La Plaine and Noailles

    La Plaine and Noailles are two other neighbourhoods in the north of the Old Port district, but with a different style. This part of town is where previous generation of Algerian immigrants settled, so you can expect to find a lot of kebabs, sweet oriental cakes, and flatbread. The market that runs on weekdays is worth a visit and reminds us of the souks of North Africa. Every March, this neighbourhood hosts the very popular Carnaval de la Plaine et de Noailles, where everyone is welcome to dress up and party in the streets.

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    photo by émoi et moi (CC BY 2.0) modified

    9

    Must-See: Palais Longchamp

    Palais Longchamp is an impressive monument built in 1869, best known for its magnificent fountain, water features, and colonnades. The Palace is worth visiting on its own but is also a chance to explore two of the most important museums of Marseille: the Musée des Beaux-Arts and the Museum of Natural History. Behind the Palais, don’t miss the Parc Longchamp – a beautiful ‘Garden a la Française’ that used to be a zoo. You can easily reach it by tramway or Metro.

    Location: Boulevard Jardin Zoologique, 13004 Marseille, France

    Open: Daily from 8am to 6.45pm

    Phone: +33 (0)4 91 55 25 51

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    10

    Try the most famous Bouillabaisse soup

    Bouillabaisse is Marseille’s most famous dish, and the way they serve it here is surprisingly different from what you may have seen outside the Provence region. Here, the broth is served separately from the fish, and the stew is made with 3 local, bony fish that originally could not be sold at the market. Many restaurants around the old harbour serve it the traditional way, but don’t be surprised if it’s not as cheap as you may think.

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    11

    End the day at La Caravelle in the old harbour

    End the day at the harbour where you started it, with a traditional anise-flavoured spirit from the south of France called Pastis. A great place to conclude your exploration of Marseille is by relaxing on the terrace of La Caravelle, with a view of the Vieux Port and the illuminated basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde. The bar also hosts jazz concerts 3 times a week.

    Location: 34 Quai du Port, 13002 Marseille, France

    Open: Daily from 7am to 2am

    Phone: +33 (0)4 91 90 36 64

    • Nightlife
    Paul Smith | Compulsive Traveller

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