Marseille, the second-largest city in France, is a vibrant and diverse destination with a rich history, culture and natural beauty. From ancient ruins to modern museums, from the bustling Old Port to the serene Calanques National Park, Marseille has something to offer for every type of traveler. Whether you’re a history buff, a food lover, or a beach-goer, this guide will help you plan your trip and make the most of your time in the city. Here are the top 10 things to do in Marseille that you shouldn’t miss.
- Visit the Old Port of Marseille, one of the city’s most iconic landmarks and home to a lively atmosphere, restaurants, and shops.
- Take a day trip to the Calanques National Park, a stunning coastal area known for its clear waters and rugged cliffs.
- Explore the street art scene by taking a walking tour through neighborhoods like La Plaine and Le Panier.
- Try the local specialty dish, bouillabaisse, at one of Marseille’s traditional seafood restaurants.
- Visit Notre-Dame de la Garde, a grand basilica known for its impressive architecture and panoramic views of the city.
- Enjoy the beach at Plages du Prado, one of the most popular beaches in Marseille.
- Visit the MuCEM, the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations, a modern museum that explores the history and culture of the Mediterranean region.
- Take a stroll through Le Jardin des Vestiges, a public garden that is home to ancient ruins and artifacts.
- Visit the Château d’If, a fortress island located just off the coast of Marseille that was famously used as a prison in Alexandre Dumas’ novel “The Count of Monte Cristo”.
- Take a shopping trip to the Marché des Capucins, one of the city’s most popular markets, to find fresh produce, souvenirs and local specialties.
1. The Old Port of Marseille: A Window into the City’s History and Culture
The Old Port of Marseille, also known as the Vieux-Port, is one of the most iconic and picturesque areas of the city. Located at the heart of Marseille, it has been a hub of activity for centuries and is still a central point of the city’s economic, cultural, and social life. The port is surrounded by historic buildings and monuments, including the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) and the famous Notre-Dame de la Garde basilica, which offers panoramic views of the city.
The port itself is home to a lively atmosphere, with a variety of restaurants, cafes, and shops lining the quays. Visitors can take a boat tour around the port to admire the historic ships and the impressive Fort Saint-Nicolas, or simply stroll along the quays and enjoy the view. The Old Port is also a popular spot for locals and tourists alike to gather in the evenings, making it a great place to experience the city’s nightlife and catch a glimpse of the city’s different cultures and communities.
It’s important to note that the Old Port has recently undergone renovations in order to modernize the neighborhood and increase visitor appeal. New pathways will be built as part of the renovations, and the Place du Nouveau-Port will be transformed into a new square with a fresh look towards the port. By 2023, the renovation projects are expected to be finished.
2. Discovering the Calanques National Park
The Calanques National Park is a stunning coastal area located just outside of Marseille, known for its clear waters, rugged cliffs, and unique Mediterranean vegetation. The park covers over 20,000 hectares and includes several small villages and coves, as well as the famous Calanques, a series of narrow inlets and steep cliffs. The park is home to a diverse array of flora and fauna, including Mediterranean pine trees, wild herbs, and a variety of birds and marine life.
Visitors to the park can enjoy a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, rock climbing, and swimming. There are a number of marked trails that offer breathtaking views of the coastline and the Calanques themselves. There are also several beaches within the park, including En-Vau and Sormiou, where visitors can sunbathe and swim in the crystal-clear waters. Some of the beaches are only accessible by boat or by foot, which makes the experience even more special.
The Calanques National Park is also a popular destination for boating and sailing, with several marinas and boat rental facilities located nearby. Visitors can take a boat tour to explore the park’s hidden coves and inlets, or even rent their own boat to explore at their own pace.
Although the park is open all year long, the best time to come is between the months of April and October because the park is closed from December to March. It’s advised to schedule your visit in advance because the number of people is restricted during the busy season in order to safeguard the environment.
3. Exploring Marseille’s Street Art Scene
Marseille has a vibrant street art scene that reflects the city’s diverse cultures and communities. You can find street art in many neighborhoods throughout the city, but some of the most famous areas are La Plaine and Le Panier. These neighborhoods are known for their colorful murals, graffiti, and street art that adorn the walls of buildings, bridges, and even entire streets. The street art in Marseille is a reflection of the city’s history, culture and social issues, and it’s a great way to learn more about the city and its inhabitants.
Some of the most famous street artists in Marseille include Jef Aérosol, Miss.Tic, and C215. Their works can be found throughout the city, and they have become an important part of Marseille’s cultural identity. Visitors can take a walking tour to explore the street art scene and learn more about the artists and their works.
Street art is not only found on the walls, but also on the streets, you can find several street art festivals and events that take place in Marseille throughout the year, such as the Festival de la Belle de Mai and the Festival de Marseille. These events showcase the work of local and international street artists and provide visitors with a chance to see live performances and exhibitions.
It’s important to note that while street art is prohibited in some regions, it is permitted in many Marseille districts. Additionally, as some street art installations are transient and subject to change or removal over time, it is advisable to check for updates before making travel arrangements.
4. Bouillabaisse: A Tasting Guide to Marseille’s Traditional Fish Soup
Marseille is known for its delicious seafood cuisine, and one of its most famous local specialty dishes is bouillabaisse. This traditional fish soup is made with a variety of fish and shellfish, such as cod, monkfish, red mullet, and rascasse, along with vegetables like leeks, onions, and tomatoes. The dish is typically served with rouille, a garlic and saffron mayonnaise, and crusty bread.
The origins of bouillabaisse can be traced back to the ancient Roman Empire, and it has been a staple of Marseille’s seafood cuisine for centuries. The recipe for bouillabaisse varies depending on the chef and the restaurant, but it is usually made with a base of fish stock and white wine, and flavored with herbs like thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves.
To taste the true bouillabaisse, it is important to look for a restaurant that serves it the traditional way. Some restaurants may use cheaper fish and add other seafood such as squid, mussels, and shrimp, which are not traditional ingredients. Also, some restaurants may serve it with a rouille sauce separately, but traditionally it should be served with the soup.
Many restaurants in Marseille serve bouillabaisse, but to find the best, it’s recommended to ask locals for recommendations or look for a restaurant that has been around for a while. Some famous places that serve traditional bouillabaisse are La Cantina, Chez Fonfon, and Le Miramar.
5. Notre-Dame de la Garde: A Cultural and Historical Guide to Marseille’s Iconic Basilica
Notre-Dame de la Garde, also known as the “Bonne Mère” (Good Mother), is a basilica located on the highest point of Marseille, offering panoramic views of the city and the Mediterranean Sea. The basilica is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Marseille, and it is known for its impressive architecture, as well as its religious and historical significance.
The current basilica was built between 1853 and 1864, and it is a blend of different architectural styles, including Romanesque, Byzantine and neo-Byzantine. The basilica is adorned with colorful mosaics, frescoes and sculptures, including the statue of the “Bonne Mère” herself, which is said to protect the city’s inhabitants.
Visitors can climb the 343 steps to the top of the basilica to admire the views, or take the elevator. Once at the top, visitors can admire the panoramic views of the city, the sea and the surrounding area. Inside the basilica, there are several chapels, including the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal, which contains a replica of the medal of the same name, and the Chapel of the Sacred Heart, which contains a replica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
6. Plages du Prado: A Guide to Marseille’s Best Beaches for Swimming, Sunbathing, and Water Sports
The Plages du Prado is a group of beaches located in the southern part of Marseille, France. These beaches are known for their wide stretches of fine sand, clear blue waters, and the variety of activities they offer. The Plages du Prado is a popular spot for swimming, sunbathing, beach volleyball, and other beach activities. It is also a great spot for windsurfing, kitesurfing, and other water sports.
The beaches of Prado are divided into several sections, each with its own particularity. The Plage des Catalans is a wide sandy beach with a lively atmosphere and a variety of bars and restaurants. The Plage des Mascaret is a more peaceful place, ideal for families and people who want to relax. The Plage du Pointe Rouge is a popular spot for windsurfing and kitesurfing due to its location and wind conditions.
The Plages du Prado also has a variety of facilities, including showers, toilets, and lifeguards. There are also areas designated for dogs, playgrounds, and beach sports. There are also several beach clubs and beachfront bars, which offer a great spot to relax and enjoy a drink or a meal.
It’s worth noting that the Plages du Prado is a very popular spot during the summer months, and it can get crowded. Also, it is a good idea to check the weather and tide conditions before going, as some beaches may be closed due to strong winds or high tides.
7. Discovering the MuCEM
The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations (MuCEM) is a museum located in the port area of Marseille, France. The museum is dedicated to the history, art, and cultures of the Mediterranean region and Europe, and it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Marseille. The MuCEM opened in 2013 and is the first national museum to be created in France in over a century.
The MuCEM features a permanent collection, temporary exhibitions, and special events. The permanent collection is divided into three main sections: the Mediterranean, Europe, and the World. The Mediterranean section explores the history and cultures of the Mediterranean region, with a focus on the ancient and medieval civilizations. The Europe section focuses on the history of Europe from the Middle Ages to the present day. The World section explores the relationship between Europe and the rest of the world.
The MuCEM is also home to several temporary exhibitions that change regularly, covering a wide range of topics such as art, archaeology, ethnography, and contemporary issues. The museum also has a library, a research center, and an auditorium, which hosts various cultural events and conferences.
The MuCEM is an architectural masterpiece, with its unique design inspired by the Mediterranean light and its surrounding environment. The building is made of white concrete and glass, creating a harmonious connection between the museum and the sea. Visitors can enjoy the views of the Mediterranean Sea from the terrace and the rooftop, and also from the inside the building.
8. Exploring Le Jardin des Vestiges
Le Jardin des Vestiges is an archaeological garden located in the heart of Marseille, France. The garden is situated in the ancient Greek port of Marseille, and it is built around the ruins of the ancient city. The garden is home to the remains of the ancient city’s fortifications, including the city walls, towers, and gates, as well as the remains of public buildings, such as the theater and the agora.
The Jardin des Vestiges offers visitors the opportunity to discover the history of Marseille and the ancient Mediterranean world. The garden features a variety of interactive exhibits and multimedia displays, which provide information about the history and culture of the ancient city. The garden also has a café, a gift shop and a tour guide service, which provides guided tours of the garden and the ancient city.
The Jardin des Vestiges is a great spot to visit for anyone interested in history and archaeology. It is also a great spot for families, as it offers a variety of activities and exhibits that are suitable for children. The garden is open all year round, but it is best to check the schedule before visiting, as the garden may be closed on some holidays.
It’s important to note that the Jardin des Vestiges is a location where tourists can immerse themselves in Marseille’s old history while simultaneously admiring the splendor of the gardens and the surrounding Mediterranean scenery.
9. Visiting Château d’If
The Château d’If is a fortress located on the island of If, just off the coast of Marseille, France. The fortress was built in the 16th century as a prison and it is best known as the setting of Alexandre Dumas’ famous novel “The Count of Monte Cristo.”
The Château d’If was used as a prison for political prisoners and religious dissenters, and it was known for its harsh conditions and high mortality rate. The most famous prisoner was Edmond Dantès, the protagonist of Alexandre Dumas’ novel, who was falsely imprisoned there.
Today, the Château d’If is open to visitors and it is possible to explore the prison and learn about its history through guided tours. Visitors can also see the cells where prisoners were held, the guards’ quarters, and the torture chamber. The fortress also features several exhibitions that provide information about the history of the prison and the lives of its prisoners.
The Château d’If is also a popular spot for tourists, as it offers a great view of the sea and the city of Marseille. Visitors can take a ferry from the Old Port of Marseille to get to the island of If, and the journey takes around 20 minutes.
It’s worth noting that the Château d’If is a popular spot during the summer months, and it can get crowded. Also, it is a good idea to check the schedule before visiting, as the fortress may be closed on some holidays.
10. Exploring the Marché des Capucins
The Marché des Capucins is a large open-air market located in the heart of Marseille, France. The market is known for its wide variety of fresh produce, such as fruits, vegetables, and seafood, as well as its local specialties, such as cheeses, olives, and herbs. The market is also a great place to find regional products and to taste the local flavors of Provence.
The Marché des Capucins is a popular spot for both locals and tourists, as it offers a great opportunity to experience the local culture and to buy high-quality products at good prices. The market is held every day except for Monday, and it is open from early in the morning till early afternoon.
Visitors can find a wide variety of products at the market, from fresh fruits and vegetables, to local cheeses and olives, to crafts and souvenirs. The market also has a variety of street food vendors, where visitors can try the local specialties such as the famous “panisse” and “socca” or a bouillabaisse sandwich.
The Marché des Capucins is also a great spot for people watching, as it’s a place where locals come to do their daily shopping, and it’s also a popular spot for tourists. The market has a lively and bustling atmosphere, with vendors shouting out their wares and locals haggling over prices.
It’s worth pointing out that the Marché des Capucins is best visited in the early morning when there are less people and the fruit is at its freshest. Also, keep in mind that not everyone speaks English, so be prepared to bargain over costs and brush up on your French.
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