Sunny day at Vallon des Auffes, Marseille, with colorful boats moored in the clear turquoise waters, and the historic stone arch bridge in the background, embodying the charm of Marseille's seaside attractions.

Top Things to Do in Marseille for Every Traveler’s Bucket List!

Last Updated on April 15, 2024 by April Nicole

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Marseille, a vibrant port city on the southern coast of France, never fails to enchant with its dynamic blend of culture, cuisine, and stunning seascapes.

Having visited Marseille several times, I’ve personally experienced the city’s magnetic allure, from its bustling markets to serene coastal paths. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a lover of fine food, or an avid hiker, Marseille offers a plethora of activities that cater to every interest.

When visiting Marseille, consider the Marseille City Pass. Valid for 1-3 days, this pass offers unlimited public transportation access, a tourist train tour to Notre-Dame de la Garde or through Old Marseille, and entry to top attractions like MUCEM and the Regards de Provence Museum. It includes visits to Frioul Island and Chateau D’If on If Island. The pass also provides discounts and free entry to municipal museums, plus a guided city tour. See details here.

In my this blog post on what to do in Marseille, I’ll share a curated list of must-visit attractions and hidden gems that I’ve discovered during my travels.

Expect insider tips on how to make the most of your visit, from savoring the local bouillabaisse to exploring the historic Le Panier district. Stay tuned for a guide that will help you capture the essence of this captivating city!

If you are in a hurry, here’s a summary of things to do in Marseille:

Historical and Cultural Attractions

Le Vieux Port (Old Port)

The bustling Old Port of Marseille, brimming with sailboats and yachts, set against a backdrop of terracotta-roofed buildings and the iconic Notre-Dame de la Garde basilica, illustrating a quintessential maritime activity for visitors compiling their list of things to do in Marseille.

Le Vieux Port, the historical epicenter of Marseille, is more than just a bustling marina; it’s a living museum of the city’s maritime heritage. As you wander along the dock, you’ll find the air filled with the scent of fresh fish and the sound of seagulls, while local fishermen hawk their catch of the day against a backdrop of yachts and traditional boats.

The port is also a focal point for local festivities and markets, where you can immerse yourself in the lively Provençal culture. The nearby traditional “navette” bakeries, serving Marseille’s famous boat-shaped cookies, offer a delicious taste of local history.

Notre-Dame de la Garde

Regarded as the guardian of the city, Notre-Dame de la Garde provides a spiritual and panoramic high point to any visit to Marseille. The basilica, with its stunning Neo-Byzantine architecture, is adorned with elaborate mosaics, marble statues, and an imposing golden statue of the Virgin and Child on its bell tower.

Climbing the hill to the basilica or taking the tourist train offers a reflective journey with expanding views of the city, culminating in a 360-degree vista that stretches from the rugged calanques to the bustling city center. Inside, the walls are bedecked with ex-votos, left by worshippers over centuries, reflecting the deep spiritual connection locals have with this site.

  • Explore Marseille with this comprehensive full-day sightseeing tour! Your adventure begins at the stunning Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica, followed by visits to top attractions like MuCEM, Villa Méditerranée, and the historic Saint-Victor Abbey with its 4th-century crypt. Expect a day packed with incredible sights and rich history.

Le Panier

The charming facade of 'Bazar du Panier' in the Le Panier district of Marseille, featuring pastel-colored walls with green shutters and flower boxes, inviting visitors to explore the local shops and culture as a part of their things to do in Marseille.

Le Panier invites visitors to meander through its history-soaked alleys where the pastel-colored facades of ancient houses lean slightly as if whispering secrets of the past. This quarter boasts a compelling artistic scene, evident in its numerous galleries and studios that showcase contemporary art alongside traditional crafts.

The Place de Lenche, a square on the site of the ancient Greek agora, is now lined with quaint bistros and offers a perfect spot to enjoy a café au lait while soaking in the ambience of this historic neighborhood. Don’t miss La Vieille Charité, a beautifully restored almshouse that now hosts museums and exhibitions.

  • Experience the charm of Marseille’s historic district on this guided audio tour of Le Panier. Explore the iconic Vieux Port, the majestic City Hall, Saint Nicolas and Saint-Jean forts. Cap off your adventure with a visit to the revered Notre Dame “Bonne Mère” Basilica.

Vieille Charité

Located in Marseille’s historic Panier district, Vieille Charité is a stunning 17th-century former almshouse that now serves as a cultural hub. This architectural gem houses the Museum of Mediterranean Archaeology and the Museum of African, Oceanic, and Amerindian Arts within its elegant arched galleries and serene courtyard.

At its heart, the baroque chapel features a striking dome designed by Pierre Puget. Visitors can explore diverse cultural exhibitions, participate in events, or relax at the onsite café, making Vieille Charité a must-visit for art, history, and architecture enthusiasts.

MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations)

Visitors approach the striking, modern facade of MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations) in Marseille, with a large face sculpture reflected on the glass and an intricate concrete lattice, symbolizing cultural exploration among the things to do in Marseille.

The MuCEM, a masterpiece of modern architecture designed by Rudy Ricciotti, is a celebration of Mediterranean cultures. Encased in a striking lattice of concrete, the museum bridges the old Fort Saint-Jean to the new building across the sea, symbolizing a gateway between East and West.

Inside, its exhibitions delve deep into the historical and cultural crosscurrents that have shaped the Mediterranean basin. The rooftop terrace, with its stunning views of the sea and Marseille’s skyline, hosts film screenings and concerts, providing a cultural feast that is as visually stunning as it is intellectually stimulating.

  • Bypass the crowds and dive straight into the heart of Mediterranean culture at MuCEM! Book your skip-the-line ticket today and explore this architectural marvel and its fascinating exhibits without the wait.

Outdoor and Recreational Activities

Calanques National Park

The Calanques National Park, a geological wonder between Marseille and Cassis, offers some of the most dramatic landscapes in the Mediterranean. These rugged limestone cliffs give way to hidden bays with turquoise waters that can be explored by hiking or by joining guided tours that respect the fragile ecosystem.

Adventurous visitors can engage in rock climbing or diving to discover the rich underwater fauna. For a more serene experience, small boat tours allow intimate access to these natural marvels, often stopping in secluded spots perfect for a swim or a picnic, surrounded by the breathtaking scenery.

  • Embark on an exhilarating Calanques Sailing Cruise with Lunch, where you’ll witness the breathtaking coast and quaint fishing villages nestled along the shoreline. It’s a fantastic way to discover the scenic beauty of the coast.

Prado Beach

Sunny day at Prado Beach in Marseille with people lounging and swimming, the sandy shore dotted with colorful towels and umbrellas, against a backdrop of the city and limestone hills, a popular seaside retreat among the things to do in Marseille.

Stretching along the Marseille coastline, Prado Beach is the city’s largest public beach, framed by the scenic Parc Balnéaire du Prado. This urban beach, created in the 1970s, has evolved into a vibrant spot for both locals and tourists, featuring well-maintained facilities, children’s play areas, and vast lawns that host frequent concerts and sports events.

The nearby skate park adds a youthful energy to the area. As the sun sets, the beach becomes a picturesque spot, with local families and groups of friends gathering for barbecues against the sound of waves.

Palais Longchamp

The majestic Palais Longchamp in Marseille, with its intricate stone fountain and cascading water, surrounded by lush greenery and reflected in a tranquil pond, a historical site that is a must-see for those interested in the architectural things to do in Marseille.

The Palais Longchamp, constructed in the 19th century to celebrate the arrival of canal water into Marseille, stands as a monument to engineering and artistic elegance. The grand water tower at its center spills water into cascading fountains, leading to an ornamental pond that is a delight to behold.

The surrounding park, with its shaded walkways, exotic plants, and tranquil zones, is a popular spot for cultural events and casual strolls. The two museums housed within the palace, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Natural History Museum, offer a dive into artistic masterpieces and natural wonders.

Food and Drink

Local Cuisine

Bouillabaisse dish at Restaurant Miramar in the Le Vieux Port area, Marseille, Provence, France.

Marseille’s culinary scene is a reflection of its rich, multicultural port history, offering a palette of flavors that are robustly Mediterranean. The star of Marseille cuisine is undoubtedly the bouillabaisse, a rich fish stew that originated as a fisherman’s meal but has since been refined into a gourmet experience.

Essential to this dish are local catches like rascasse and sea bream, simmered with a blend of Provencal herbs and saffron. Other must-try local dishes include panisse (chickpea fries) and navettes (sweet biscuits). For a truly local experience, head to a traditional “bouillabaisse” restaurant where the meal is often served with an ocean view.

Noailles Market

Bustling scene at the Noailles Market in Marseille, with locals and visitors browsing through colorful stalls of fresh fruits under the shade of red and yellow canopies, nestled among traditional French architecture, a lively experience for food enthusiasts exploring things to do in Marseille.

Noailles, often called the stomach of Marseille, is a bustling market district where the diverse cultures of the city come alive. Here, you can wander through colorful stalls laden with exotic spices, North African pastries, and fresh local produce.

The market is not just a place to buy food; it’s an experience, offering a taste of local life and the opportunity to chat with friendly vendors. Don’t miss the chance to try some fresh dates, purchase homemade tagine, or sip on mint tea at one of the vibrant cafes surrounding the market.

Wine Tasting

Two glasses of rosé wine from Côtes de Provence stand on a white tablecloth, set against the serene backdrop of a blooming lavender field, reflecting the region's culinary delights as part of the gastronomic things to do in Marseille.

Provence is famed for its wines, and Marseille is ideally situated to explore this rich viticulture. Whether you prefer a full-bodied red or a crisp rosé, local wine bars and vineyards offer tastings that can introduce you to the region’s diverse offerings.

A visit to a vineyard typically includes a tour of the cellars, a walk through the vineyards, and a tasting session led by knowledgeable vintners. This is a perfect way to understand the subtleties of wine production and enjoy the landscape of Provence.

  • Savor the flavors of Provence with a wine tasting tour! Book now and indulge in a journey through lush vineyards, discover local varietals, and learn from passionate vintners.

Shopping and Nightlife

La Canebière

Everyday life unfolds on La Canebière, Marseille's historic high street, with pedestrians walking under green leafy trees, passing by a pharmacy and various shops, capturing the city's lively urban atmosphere as a part of the things to do in Marseille.

La Canebière, the historic high street of Marseille, stretches from the Old Port and is lined with shops, cafes, and historic buildings. This broad avenue is a shopping haven for those looking to purchase everything from high-end fashion to unique souvenirs. The street also hosts various cultural events throughout the year, adding to the lively atmosphere that defines Marseille.

Le Cours Julien

A person walks by a colorful street art mural in Le Cours Julien, Marseille, featuring vibrant caricatures and urban architecture drawings, reflecting the city's lively street art scene as one of the unique things to do in Marseille.

Le Cours Julien is the heart of Marseille’s bohemian and youthful spirit, known for its street art, independent boutiques, and vibrant nightlife. By day, the area is a shopper’s paradise, offering vintage clothing, vinyl records, and unique artisanal products.

As night falls, Le Cours Julien transforms into a lively scene with bars, clubs, and live music venues, making it the perfect place to experience Marseille’s nightlife. The open-air market and frequent cultural festivals add to its appeal, making it a dynamic place to explore both day and night.

Day Trips and Excursions

Château d’If

Historical Château d'If in the foreground overlooking the panoramic view of Marseille's coastline with sailing boats on the blue waters and the iconic Notre-Dame de la Garde in the distance, highlighting the must-visit places for things to do in Marseille.

The Château d’If, famous for its role in Alexandre Dumas’ novel “The Count of Monte Cristo,” is a fortress located on a small island just off the coast of Marseille. A short ferry ride from the Old Port, this historical prison offers fascinating insights into the history of French justice and penal systems. Tours of the château provide panoramic views of Marseille and the Mediterranean, making it a picturesque, if somewhat haunting, place to visit.

Aix-en-Provence

Just a short drive from Marseille, Aix-en-Provence offers a change of pace with its quiet, tree-lined boulevards and vibrant market squares. Known for its thermal hot springs and as the birthplace of painter Paul Cézanne, Aix-en-Provence is a delightful blend of artistic heritage and Provençal charm. The city’s cafes, galleries, and shops make it an ideal destination for a leisurely day trip.

  • Ready to explore the charm and elegance of Aix-en-Provence? Book your day tour today and immerse yourself in the beauty of tree-lined boulevards, vibrant market squares, and the artistic heritage of Cézanne’s hometown.

Lavender Fields of Provence

Stunning rows of purple lavender stretch towards an ancient stone building under a twilight sky in the Lavender Fields of Provence near Marseille, capturing the serene beauty and agricultural heritage, a popular experience for those exploring things to do in Marseille.

One of the most magical experiences near Marseille is a visit to the lavender fields of Provence, especially during their peak bloom from late June to early August. About an hour’s drive brings you to the Valensole Plateau, renowned for its vast, vibrant purple stretches.

For me, the lavender fields are a summertime favorite—the breathtaking aroma and the stunning view of lavender rows set against the sunset are unforgettable. The gentle rustle of lavender in the breeze and the serene atmosphere make it a quintessential Provençal experience, deeply cherished in my memories.

  • Don’t miss this quintessential Provençal experience! Book your guided tour now to witness the spectacular lavender fields in full bloom. Experience the beauty and tranquility of Provence firsthand – a perfect addition to your Marseille itinerary.

How to Get to Marseille

Marseille is easily accessible from various parts of France and international locations. Here are the main ways to reach this vibrant city:

  • By Plane:
    • Marseille Provence Airport (MRS): Located about 25 km northwest of Marseille, this international airport offers a wide range of domestic and international flights. You can reach the city center from the airport via taxi, rental car, or the direct shuttle bus service which operates every 15-20 minutes –Click here to book your flight tickets to Marseille
    • Traveling from Marseille Airport to the city can be incredibly convenient with a private transfer. This option is ideal if you’re part of a large group or carrying a lot of luggage. Simply relax and enjoy the ride while all the details are handled for you – Click here to book your private transfer in Marseille
  • By Train:
    • Marseille Saint-Charles Train Station: This is the main train station in Marseille, located in the city center. It is well-connected with major French cities like Paris, Lyon, and Nice through high-speed TGV trains. International connections include cities like Brussels, Amsterdam, and Barcelona. The station is also a hub for regional trains and local public transport – Click here to book your train tickets to Marseille
  • By Bus:
    • Various bus companies operate services to Marseille from cities across France and neighboring countries. The main bus station is integrated with the Saint-Charles Train Station, making it convenient for travelers to transfer between different modes of transport. Long-distance buses offer an economical way to travel, though they might take longer than trains – Click here to book your bus tickets to Marseille
  • By Car:
    • Marseille is well-connected by road and is easy to reach by car. The main motorways serving Marseille are the A7 (North), connecting to Lyon and Paris, the A55 (West), connecting to Montpellier and Spain, and the A50 (East), connecting to Toulon and Nice. Driving provides flexibility and the opportunity to explore the scenic routes of Provence at your own pace – Click here to book your car rental to Marseille with Discover Cars or AutoEurope

Where to Stay in Marseille

Since most of Marseille’s attractions are concentrated around the Old Port, if you are just visiting Marseille for a single day or more, you should try to stay as near to it as you can as it’s the best area to stay in Marseille.

I had the most amazing stay at the Hôtel Dieu Intercontinental Marseille! The location and views make up for the higher price, and it’s well worth it. Make sure you book a room with a view of Notre Dame; it’s one of the best hotel views I’ve seen of the city.

🇫🇷 READ NEXT | My review of staying at Hôtel Dieu Intercontinental Marseille

Additional Marseille hotel choices include:

How to Get Around Marseille

While exploring Marseille, I opted for a car rental which, despite the bustling traffic, proved to be a budget-friendly choice. I mostly parked and explored on foot to navigate through the city’s busy streets more easily. This mobility allowed me to enjoy both the urban center and the quieter outskirts without breaking the bank.

A Marseille City Pass is an excellent choice if you prefer not to walk. This pass grants you free access to Marseille’s public transportation. You can purchase passes for 24, 48, or 72 hours, which include:

  • Enjoy complimentary admission to several of Marseille’s top museums, such as the Marine Museum, Natural History Museum, Fine Arts Museum, Palais Longchamp, and others.
  • Enjoy tastings and receive discounts at certified boutiques.
  • Experience the charm of a train ride to Notre-Dame de la Garde or the historic Le Panier district.

Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Marseille

The variety of things to do in Marseille makes it a captivating destination for any traveler. From exploring the historic Vieux Port and sampling Bouillabaisse in local restaurants to hiking the Calanques and visiting the iconic Notre-Dame de la Garde, Marseille blends cultural richness with natural beauty.

Whether you’re soaking up the sun at Prado Beach or delving into history at the MuCEM, Marseille offers an unforgettable experience. Each activity not only promises adventure but also provides a deep connection with the vibrant local culture and stunning Mediterranean landscape, making Marseille a must-visit city.

France Travel Planning 🇫🇷

Accommodation 🛌

  • Booking.com – Find diverse accommodations, enjoy easy booking with great deals, and rely on real reviews and 24/7 support.
  • Expedia.com – With its user-friendly interface, it simplifies the process of booking hotels and holiday packages to France.
  • VRBO.com – Your go-to platform for unique and comfortable vacation rentals in France.

Transportation 🚘

  • DiscoverCars.com – Offers a seamless booking experience, ensuring you find the ideal car for your adventures in France.
  • GetTransfer.com – Is the ultimate solution for your travel transfer needs, offering an efficient, flexible service and comfortable transportation.
  • Trainline.com stands as a quintessential tool for savvy travelers seeking to navigate France’s extensive rail network with ease and confidence.
  • Skyscanner.com – Simplifies your travel planning with its user-friendly interface, offering a comprehensive comparison of flights.

Attractions, Activities and Tours 🇫🇷

  • Viator.com – Stands out as a trusted resource for travelers seeking unparalleled experiences across the globe.
  • GetYourGuide.com – Offers an extensive collection of tours, activities, and attractions in France.
  • ParisCityVision.com – This tour company specializes in crafting exceptional experiences across Paris and France.

Communication 📱

  • Orange Sim Card – Discover seamless connectivity on your French travels with an Orange Holiday Europe Sim Card, a top choice for tourists.
  • Airalo.com – The world’s first eSIM store that solves the pain of high roaming bills by giving travelers access to eSIMs (digital SIM cards).

Travel Insurance ✈️

  • SafetyWing.com – Travel with peace of mind knowing you’re protected in almost every corner of the world.
  • Travel Insurance Master – Visit their website to discover the ideal insurance plan that aligns with your travel dreams.

These are only a few of my favorites; for more, see my comprehensive guide to the top travel booking websites for France.

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