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From Landmarks To Beaches: 18 Things To Do In Marseille

Marseille, France’s oldest city, is a captivating destination that seamlessly weaves together its rich historical heritage, lively cultural scene, and stunning Mediterranean vistas. The city’s kaleidoscope of colorful Old Port, tantalizing culinary delights, and fascinating landmarks ensures there’s something for every kind of traveler. Its winding streets invite exploration, while sun-kissed beaches provide a serene retreat. Marseille’s distinct appeal stems from its harmonious blend of tradition and innovation. With this guide, you’ll discover the best experiences in Marseille, including iconic sites like Fort Saint Jean and Palais Longchamp, as well as delectable bouillabaisse tastings and visits to Le Panier, the historic old town. From popular tourist attractions to hidden gems, there’s plenty to get acquainted with this captivating city.

18 Best Things to Do in Marseille

Visit the Old Port (Le Vieux Port)

The Old Port in Marseille is a vibrant epicenter where the past and present converge. This historic hub is filled with fishing boats and surrounded by notable landmarks like Fort Saint Jean, showcasing the city’s rich heritage.

With a history dating back to the 6th century, the port has transformed from an ancient Greek trading post into the bustling destination it is today. Visitors can experience the lively atmosphere by indulging in a cup of coffee at one of many inviting cafes or by observing the daily catch being sold at the fish market.

As a departure point for excursions to Chateau d’If, L’Estaque, and the Calanques National Park, The Old Port also serves as a gateway to exploring the surrounding area. Its unique blend of past and present makes it an unforgettable experience in this captivating city.

Explore the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde

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Perched atop the city like a beacon of hope, Marseille’s Notre Dame de la Garde has been standing tall since the late 19th century. Locals affectionately refer to it as ‘La Bonne Mère’ or ‘The Good Mother’, reflecting its significance as a symbol of spiritual identity in the Mediterranean metropolis. The views from its terraced perch are breathtaking, offering panoramic vistas of the city below. But the interior is equally stunning, with intricate Byzantine-Romanesque architecture and captivating mosaics that transport visitors to a place of quiet contemplation. For those seeking to conserve energy, a tourist train provides a convenient alternative to the uphill climb, whisking visitors directly to the summit.

Visit the MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations)

Nestled at the entrance to the Old Port, the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations stands out as much for its grand architecture as it does for the treasures within. Since its opening in 2013, this cultural gem has been offering visitors a comprehensive journey through the diverse and rich heritage of European and Mediterranean civilizations. And with just one ticket, you’ll gain access to not one, not two, but three incredible sites – J4 Esplanade, Fort Saint Jean, and the Centre for Conservation and Resources. Among these, Fort Saint Jean is undoubtedly the standout. This 17th-century fortification, built by Louis XIV to reinforce the Old Port, has since become a top attraction in Marseille. But that’s not all; the museum’s rooftop also offers breathtaking views, while the restaurant, expertly managed by renowned chef Gérald Passedat, is a culinary hotspot you won’t want to miss.

Explore the Calanques National Park

Just an hour away by bus lies the breathtaking Calanques National Park, a serene oasis waiting to be discovered. This natural wonder has been delighting visitors since its establishment in 2012. The park’s dramatic limestone cliffs dramatically plunge into the crystal-clear turquoise waters of the Mediterranean Sea, creating a visual spectacle that will leave you in awe. As you explore the area, you’ll encounter a diverse array of flora and fauna, well-marked hiking trails, secluded beaches, and ample opportunities for rock climbing enthusiasts.

Visit the Palais Longchamp

Initially constructed to commemorate the arrival of water from the Durance River in Marseille during the 19th century, Palais Longchamp boasts an impressive array of architectural features. The exterior is characterized by a striking water fountain, ornate sculptures, and beautifully manicured gardens. But what truly sets this palace apart is its dual role as home to two of Marseille’s most esteemed museums. Firstly, the Fine Arts Museum offers a rich collection of European paintings and sculptures, while the Natural History Museum provides a fascinating journey through geology and biodiversity, making it a haven for nature lovers.

Stroll Through Le Panier

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Immerse yourself in the charming streets of Le Panier, the oldest district in town. This picturesque neighborhood transports you to a bygone era with its winding lanes and pastel-hued buildings that seem plucked straight from a French fairy tale. As you meander through the area, landmarks like La Vieille Charité – a 17th-century building now home to museums and cultural exhibits – will catch your eye. Don’t miss the vibrant Place de Lenche, a bustling square, or Rue du Panier, the most colorful street in town. Explore local artisan shops, cozy cafés, and vibrant street art that adds to the district’s unique charm.

Insider Tip: For the best street art, head to Traverse de la Charité, where several murals adorn the sides of surrounding buildings.

Tour the Chateau d’If

Located on the smallest island in the Frioul archipelago, Chateau d’If has a rich history dating back to the 16th century when it was built under the orders of King Francis I as a defense against sea invasions. Over time, its purpose shifted from fortification to imprisonment, and later, it became a tourist attraction at the end of the 19th century. However, it is perhaps most famous for its role in Alexandre Dumas’ novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, where it served as a prison cell for Edmond Dantès. Today, visitors can reach the chateau by taking a short ferry ride from Marseille’s Old Port and exploring its cells, including the one that once housed Dantès. As you wander through the castle, informative boards recount its history, while the rooftop offers breathtaking views of the surrounding area. With its unique blend of history and fiction, Chateau d’If is undoubtedly one of the top things to do in Marseille. For visitors, an insider tip is to arrive early in the morning to beat the crowds, and to be prepared for the possibility that trips may be canceled due to weather conditions, such as strong currents or waves.

Discover the Vallon des Auffes

Vallon des Auffes, nestled between two cliffs, is a traditional fishing port that embodies the authentic essence of Marseille. This quaint and colorful enclave has remarkably preserved its old-world charm, with its rich history of fishing and local eateries like Chez Fonfon. For a taste of traditional cuisine, this is the place to sample dishes like bouillabaisse, a true Marseille staple.

The iconic Kennedy Corniche wraps around the area, providing breathtaking views of the Mediterranean Sea. The scenery is further enhanced by secluded beaches that offer exclusive swimming spots, free from the crowds and chaos often found at more popular tourist destinations.

Stroll Around Parc Borély

Escape the urban chaos in this 17th-century haven, boasting well-manicured pathways, a serene lake, and the majestic Château Borély at its core. As you meander through the lush surroundings, discover a tranquil retreat nestled in the heart of Marseille.

Whether you’re seeking adventure or simply looking to unwind, Parc Borély welcomes all with open arms. Take a leisurely stroll, indulge in a picnic with a loved one, or get lost in the park’s winding trails – there’s no wrong way to experience this enchanting oasis.

Of course, no visit would be complete without a visit to the awe-inspiring Château Borély. Not only does it house the Museum of Decorative Arts, Earthenware, and Fashion, but it has also retained much of its original grandeur, offering a glimpse into the past. Allow yourself to be transported by the elegance and charm that permeates this historic gem.

Visit the Cathédrale de La Major

This majestic cathedral, built in the 19th century, embodies Marseille’s rich historical and religious heritage. Its resplendent interior boasts intricate mosaics, marble pillars, and awe-inspiring domes that stretch towards the sky. With its grand scale, it was the largest church constructed since the Middle Ages – a true marvel of architecture. Visitors can explore the cathedral’s interior, then ascend to its expansive terrace for breathtaking views of the Mediterranean Sea. As you gaze out at the water, consider strolling down to Quai de la Joliette afterwards, where the city’s seaside cafés and restaurants await, offering a delightful conclusion to your cultural excursion.

Watch the Sunset from Le Palais du Pharo

Standing majestically above the Old Port of Marseille, Le Palais du Pharo commands a breathtaking panorama that honors its 19th-century French heritage. Initially conceived by Napoleon III as a gift for his wife, Empress Eugenie, this grand edifice is an architectural masterpiece that exudes opulence. Although now utilized as a conference center, the gardens are open to the public, offering a tranquil oasis amidst the bustling city. Stroll through the lush greenery, take in the captivating views of the cityscape, or simply relax on the lawn with a picnic. For a truly unforgettable experience, visit during sunset when the sky is painted with vibrant hues of pink, orange, and yellow, casting an enchanting glow over Fort Saint Jean and the Old Port. It’s an extraordinary experience that awaits in Marseille.

Walk the Painter’s Trail in L’Estaque

Immersed within Marseille’s 16th district lies the picturesque village of L’Estaque, a haven that has inspired many an artist. Auguste Renoir, one such luminary, found solace in its breathtaking coastal scenery, which served as the catalyst for his creative endeavors.

For those seeking to delve deeper into the area’s rich history, the Painter’s Walking Trail is an absolute must. This meandering path weaves through the homes of these artistic visionaries, providing a glimpse into the landscapes that sparked their imagination and fueled their craft.

As you conclude your journey, treat yourself to a delicious panisse from one of the local seaside vendors. This humble yet flavorful fried chickpea pancake is an absolute must-try when in this charming part of town.

Insider Tip: For ease of navigation, begin your Painter’s Walking Trail adventure at Place François Maleterre, where clear signs and arrows will guide you along the way.

Shop at the Noailles Market

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Marseille’s Noailles Market, affectionately dubbed ‘the belly’ of the city, is a sensory feast that will leave you wanting more. The market’s diverse stalls offer an international array of goods, harmoniously blending African and French cultures. As you navigate the bustling atmosphere, your senses are treated to the intoxicating aromas of exotic spices, freshly baked pastries, and lively local chatter. Don’t miss the opportunity to practice your French phrases, making it one of the most immersive experiences Marseille has to offer.

Tour Abbaye Saint Victor

Dating back to the 5th century, Abbaye Saint Victor in Marseille offers an unparalleled opportunity to delve into the city’s rich history. The church itself is a treasure trove of artifacts, featuring a crypt that houses ancient Christian sarcophagi and a majestic Black Virgin statue. Visitors are free to explore on their own or take advantage of the abbey’s complimentary self-guided audio tour, available for download from its website. Following your visit, be sure to stop by Four des Navettes, the oldest bakery in Marseille, where you can indulge in a navette – a dry biscuit infused with the sweet essence of fleur d’oranger – at this beloved institution.

Visit the Musée d’Histoire de Marseille

Unbeknownst to many, the Musée d’Histoire de Marseille was born out of a chance discovery in the 1960s. As a shopping center was being constructed, construction workers stumbled upon ancient Greek and Roman remains. This unexpected find led to the establishment of the museum not long after. Today, visitors can explore exhibits showcasing Marseille’s rich history, featuring artifacts unearthed during the excavation process. Some of these treasures date as far back as the 2nd century. For a unique experience, step into the Jardin des Vestiges, where you’ll have the opportunity to get up close and personal with the excavation site itself. Marvel at the remnants of ramparts, buildings, and other structures that tell the story of this ancient civilization. Insider Tip: The best part? All permanent exhibits, including the Jardin des Vestiges, are free to access, making it an accessible and unforgettable experience.

Relax on the Beach

When seeking relaxation in Marseille, beach activities are a must. With numerous options available, finding one that suits your preferences is easy. The most popular option is Prado Beach, where you can unwind on the sandy shores or take a refreshing dip in the Mediterranean. The adjacent grassy area provides an ideal spot for picnics.For those seeking a more secluded experience, there are alternatives to explore. Calanque de Sugiton, located within the picturesque Calanques National Park, is one such option. This tranquil retreat requires a 45-minute downhill hike, but the crystal-clear waters, minimal waves, and breathtaking scenery make it well worth the effort.Alternatively, head to Calanque de la Crine on Îles du Frioul. To access this gem, take a 30-minute ferry ride from Marseille’s Old Port followed by a 30-minute walk. The turquoise water and potential for solitude if you arrive early make this destination truly unforgettable.Insider Tip: Don’t forget your sunscreen and umbrella when visiting Îles du Frioul, as shaded areas are scarce.

Visit Les Goudes

Just beyond the city limits of Marseille lies the charming fishing village of Les Goudes, a haven for those seeking an authentic Mediterranean experience. As you meander through its narrow streets, you’ll be surrounded by breathtaking scenery, rustic eateries, and untouched natural splendor – a world away from the bustling Vieux Port. Watch as fishermen unload their daily hauls or take a leisurely stroll along the waterfront, sampling the day’s catch at one of the many on-site restaurants. A top Marseille attraction, Les Goudes is naturally a popular destination, but savvy travelers know to time their visit wisely – either dawn or late in the season when the crowds dissipate and the village takes on an even more intimate charm.

Try Pastis

In Marseille, Pastis is more than just an anise-flavored drink – it’s an integral part of the local culture. Its rich history dates back to the ban on absinthe, which led Paul Ricard to create an alternative, Pastis Ricard 51, also known as Pastis de Marseille. When you visit the city, diluting this beverage with water is a traditional and essential step in bringing out its smooth, milky flavor. Taking a moment to sample some Pastis at one of the many local restaurants or bars is a must-do experience. However, for a truly authentic feel, there’s no better place than sitting on a charming terrace in Le Panier or overlooking the Vieux Port with a glass in hand, surrounded by the sights and sounds of this vibrant city.

FAQS About Things to Do in Marseille

Marseille’s reputation is built around its picturesque Vieux Port, where cafes and restaurants line the waterfront. The city’s rich history is also on full display through iconic landmarks like Notre- Dame de la Garde and Palais Longchamp. For nature lovers, Calanques National Park offers breathtaking landscapes and opportunities for outdoor adventures. Meanwhile, Le Panier, Marseille’s oldest district, serves as a testament to the city’s storied past and is its most well-known neighborhood. When it comes to local cuisine, Marseille’s claim to fame is undoubtedly bouillabaisse, a traditional Provençal fish stew that combines at least three varieties of fresh fish with shellfish, herbs, and spices. The dish is typically served with rouille, a spicy mayonnaise, and toasted bread. As for the city’s affordability, Marseille can be as budget-friendly or luxurious as you prefer. Compared to Paris, it tends to be more affordable, especially when it comes to accommodations. However, opting for high-end restaurants, luxury hotels, and paid attractions can increase costs. Ultimately, Marseille is a city that caters to a range of budgets, making it an attractive destination. To experience everything Marseille has to offer, I recommend spending at least three or four days exploring the city’s highlights, indulging in local cuisine, and venturing off the beaten path. If time constraints apply, you can still visit the key attractions in a single day. As for getting around, Marseille is generally walkable, with pedestrian-friendly streets in neighborhoods like Le Panier and Le Vieux Port. However, be prepared to tackle some hills, which may require taking public transportation or wearing comfortable walking shoes. The city’s spread-out layout also means that most attractions are not within walking distance of each other.

Plan to See the Top Marseille Attractions

With every step, Marseille unfolds its rich tapestry of past and present. The historic Palais Longchamp and charming Le Panier neighborhood invite exploration, while the waterfront offers a chance to indulge in fresh seafood and take in the breathtaking views. Each corner seems to hold a secret, revealing the city’s intricate cultural heritage. A convergence of history, landscape, and French flair makes Marseille a destination that effortlessly captivates visitors from all walks of life. Whether you’re drawn to ancient ruins, savoring local cuisine, or simply basking in the Mediterranean sun, this vibrant city has something for everyone. Start planning your adventure today.