Last Updated on September 6, 2023 by April | Dreaming in French
Located on the Mediterranean coast of France, Marseille is a vibrant and beautiful city that offers a unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. Whether you’re a history buff, foodie, or outdoor enthusiast, Marseille has something for everyone. From exploring ancient landmarks to indulging in the city’s culinary delights, there are countless activities to enjoy during your visit. So, pack your bags, grab your camera, and get ready to discover what to do in Marseille, France!
Where is Marseille located?
Marseille is the capital of the historic region of Provence in Southern France. Marseille is the oldest city in the Hexagone and the oldest seaside city in the world. It is located in the Bouches-du-Rhône department, which is part of the Provence–Alpes–Côte d’Azur region.
Why visit Marseille?
Known in English as Marseilles, or Marseille in French, Marseille is the second most populated city in France after Paris. If you count the surrounding urban areas, Marseille would be ranked third after Lyon.
With sometimes scary crime statistics, and a gritty exterior, the city has suffered a bad reputation for decades. Many travelers prefer nearby towns such as Aix-en-Provence, or the charming fishing town of la Ciotat instead.
In fact, Marseille is the complete opposite of Nice; there are no fancy boulevards, nor is there much luxury shopping to be found. Instead, there is a shimmering turquoise sea and a mixture of cultures and traditions.
Marseille is a city with over 1500 years of history. From the Ancient Greeks to the present day, Marseille is awash with history.
Everywhere you look, there is something to see, from the Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica atop a nearby mountain to an ancient prison on an island nearby.
There are no shortage of museums, galleries, and street arts in Marseilles, which was named European cultural capital of the year in 2013.
Marseille is becoming a must-visit location along the Provençal coastline, as its reputation begins to change. For more inspiration, check out our one-day itinerary for Marseille.
What is Marseille known for?
Besides being one of the oldest cities in France, Marseille is also one of the largest (second only to Paris). As well as its Romanesque-Byzantine Basilique Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde, the city is well known for its fishing industry. It lies in the French region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.
It was also here that chef Meynier, of the restaurant La Maison Dorée in Marseille in 1880, invented olive tapenade (an olive paste mixed with anchovies and garlic served on toast).
You might also be interested in reading: The Best Things to Buy in Marseille Today
Best things to do in Marseille
Visit the iconic Notre-Dame de la Garde
No visit to Marseille is complete without a trip to the iconic Notre-Dame de la Garde. Located on a hill overlooking the city, this stunning basilica offers breathtaking views of the Mediterranean and the city below. The basilica’s ornate interiors are also a must-see, featuring intricate mosaics, stained glass windows, and a stunning altar. Visitors can also take a guided tour to learn about the basilica’s history and significance to the people of Marseille.
After exploring the basilica, take a walk around the surrounding gardens and enjoy the panoramic views of the city. There’s also a small museum on site that showcases the history of the basilica and the city.
Explore the historic Vieux-Port (Old Port)
The Vieux-Port (Old Port) is the historic heart of Marseille, and a visit here is like taking a step back in time. The port has been in use since ancient times and has been the center of trade and commerce in Marseille for centuries. Today, it’s a bustling hub of activity, with fishing boats, yachts, and ferries jostling for space in the harbor.
Take a stroll along the quayside and soak up the atmosphere of this vibrant district. Be sure to stop at the fish market, where you can sample some of the freshest seafood in the city. There are also plenty of restaurants and bars in the area, making it a great spot for lunch or an evening drink.
Take a boat tour of the Calanques
The Calanques are a series of spectacular limestone cliffs and coves that stretch along the Mediterranean coast between Marseille and Cassis. The best way to experience the Calanques is by boat, and there are plenty of options available for guided tours or self-guided excursions.
From the water, you’ll be able to see the stunning rock formations up close, as well as the crystal-clear waters and hidden beaches. Many boat tours also include stops for swimming and snorkeling, so be sure to bring your swimwear.
Discover the vibrant street art scene
Marseille has a thriving street art scene, with murals and graffiti adorning many of the city’s buildings. The best way to explore this vibrant art form is by taking a walking tour of the city’s street art hotspots.
One of the best areas to explore is the Cours Julien district, where you’ll find colorful murals, stencils, and tags on almost every wall. There are also plenty of independent boutiques, cafes, and bars in the area, making it a great spot to spend an afternoon.
Stroll through the picturesque Le Panier neighborhood
Le Panier is Marseille’s oldest neighborhood, and a stroll through its winding streets is like taking a journey back in time. The area is full of charming old buildings, colorful shutters, and hidden courtyards, and is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
Be sure to visit the Vieille Charité, a stunning 17th-century former almshouse that now houses a museum and cultural center. There are also plenty of cafes and restaurants in the area, making it a great spot for lunch or a coffee break
Sample local seafood dishes at the fish market
Marseille is famous for its seafood, and there’s no better place to sample it than at the city’s fish market. Located in the Vieux-Port, the market is a bustling hub of activity, with vendors selling everything from fresh fish to oysters and shellfish.
Be sure to sample some of the local specialties, such as bouillabaisse, a traditional fish soup made with local fish and seafood. There are also plenty of seafood restaurants in the area, making it a great spot for lunch or dinner.
Visit the stunning Palais Longchamp
The Palais Longchamp is a stunning 19th-century monument that was built to celebrate the construction of Marseille’s new water supply. The monument consists of a grand fountain, a museum, and a botanical garden, and is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks.
Be sure to explore the museum, which houses a collection of fine art and natural history exhibits. There’s also a small zoo on site, making it a great spot to bring the kids.
Learn about Marseille’s history at the MuCEM museum
The MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations) is a stunning modern museum that explores the history and culture of Marseille and the Mediterranean region. The museum’s collection includes artifacts, artworks, and exhibits that showcase the region’s rich cultural heritage.
Be sure to explore the fortifications that surround the museum, which offer stunning views of the sea and the city. There are also plenty of cafes and restaurants in the area, making it a great spot for a coffee break or lunch.
Relax on the beaches of Prado or Pointe Rouge
No visit to Marseille is complete without a trip to the beach, and there are plenty of options to choose from. Two of the most popular beaches are Prado and Pointe Rouge, which offer clean sand, clear water, and plenty of amenities.
Be sure to bring sunscreen and plenty of water, as the Mediterranean sun can be intense during the summer months. There are also plenty of cafes and restaurants in the area, making it a great spot for a drink or a bite to eat.
Enjoy the nightlife in the trendy Cours Julien district
The Cours Julien district is one of Marseille’s trendiest neighborhoods, and a great spot to experience the city’s vibrant nightlife. The area is full of independent boutiques, cafes, and bars, and is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike.
Be sure to explore the area’s backstreets, where you’ll find hidden bars and clubs that offer a more intimate and authentic nightlife experience. There are also plenty of restaurants in the area, making it a great spot for dinner or a late-night snack.
How to get around Marseille
Being one of the largest cities in France, you won’t be able to see everything in a single visit. Many of the tourist attractions are located around the Vieux-Port and Le Panier districts and are best seen by foot.
It should also be noted that Marseille is also one of the only French cities, along with Paris and Lyon, to be divided into districts called arrondissements.
Public transport is fairly well developed and as well as buses and trams, there are two metro lines; M1 and M2 connect east to west and north to south.
Frequently Asked Questions about Marseille
Is Marseille safe?
Tourist areas in Marseille are generally safe. However, visitors should be aware of various scams that target tourists, as well as pickpockets. I personally suggest wearing a crossbody bag like this one at all times.
What are the best free things to do in Marseille?
Those visiting Marseille on a budget have plenty to do. Among the best free things to do in Marseille are visiting the old port, sitting on the rooftop at MUCEM, taking in the view from the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde, and relaxing on one of the many beaches in the area.