Marseille is France's oldest and second-largest city, a vibrant port with a rich history and culture. Whether looking for stunning scenery, delicious cuisine, artistic treasures, or lively nightlife, Marseille has something for everyone. Here are ten must-sees and dos when you visit this Mediterranean gem.
Explore the Vieux Port (Old Port)
This is where Marseille was founded by the Greeks in 600 BC, and it remains the heart of the city. You can admire the boats, watch the fishermen sell their catch, enjoy a coffee or a meal at one of the many cafes and restaurants, or take a ferry to the nearby islands.
Discover the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations (MuCEM)
This modern museum is dedicated to the cultures and civilizations of the Mediterranean region, from ancient times to the present day. It features permanent and temporary exhibitions, a rooftop terrace, a garden, and a footbridge connecting it to Fort Saint-Jean.
Stroll around Le Panier
This is Marseille's oldest quarter, where you can find narrow streets, colourful houses, quaint shops, and street art. It is also home to historical and cultural attractions, such as the Vieille Charité, a former almshouse turned museum, the Hôtel de Ville, City Hall, and the Cathédrale de la Major.
Taste the bouillabaisse
Marseille's signature dish is a hearty fish stew made with local seafood, saffron, garlic, and herbs. It is traditionally served with crusty bread and rouille (a spicy mayonnaise). You can find bouillabaisse in many restaurants around the city but be prepared to pay a premium price for this delicacy.
Visit the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde
This 19th-century neo-Byzantine church is perched on a hill overlooking the city and the sea. It is adorned with mosaics, marble, and gold and crowned by a statue of the Virgin Mary. From the terrace, you can enjoy a panoramic view of Marseille and its surroundings.
Relax at the Prado beaches
Marseille has several beaches where you can enjoy the sun and the sea. Still, the most popular ones are located along Prado Avenue. They are sandy, clean, and well-equipped with showers, toilets, lifeguards, and snack bars. You can also rent a bike or a rollerblade and explore the coastal path.
Experience the nightlife at Cours Julien and La Plaine
These two adjacent squares are the hub of Marseille's alternative and creative scene. You can find bars, clubs, concert venues, art galleries, bookstores, and markets here, as well as street performers and graffiti artists. The atmosphere is lively, eclectic, and festive.
Shop at the Marché des Capucins
This is Marseille's largest and most diverse market, where you can find fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, spices, cheese, meat, fish, and more.
Visit the Château d’If
This is a 16th-century fortress on an island off the coast of Marseille. It was used as a prison for political and religious prisoners until the 19th century. It is famous for being the setting of Alexandre Dumas' novel The Count of Monte Cristo. You can tour the cells, dungeons, and courtyards of the castle.
Enjoy the view from La Cité Radieuse
This is an innovative housing complex designed by Le Corbusier in 1952. It consists of 337 apartments arranged in a vertical village with communal facilities such as a rooftop terrace, a gymnasium, a kindergarten, and a library. You can visit some of these spaces and admire the architecture and art of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
How to travel to Marseille
Marseille is well-connected by air, rail, road, and sea. You can fly to Marseille Provence Airport, 27 kilometres (17 miles) from the city centre. You can take a shuttle bus or a taxi to downtown Marseille in about 30 minutes.
You can also take a train to Marseille Saint-Charles Station in the city's heart. You can find high-speed trains (TGV) from Paris (three hours 40 minutes), Lyon (1 hour 40 minutes), Nice (2 hours 30 minutes), Barcelona (4 hours 30 minutes), Brussels (5 hours) and other major European cities.
You can also ferry to Marseille from Corsica, Sardinia, Algeria, Tunisia, or Morocco. You find the ferry terminal near the MuCEM and Fort Saint-Jean in the Joliette area.
General travel advice
Marseille is generally a safe city, but you should be careful of pickpockets and scams in crowded areas, especially around the Vieux Port and the tourist attractions.
Marseille has a Mediterranean climate, with hot and dry summers and mild and wet winters. The average temperature in July is 24°C (75°F) and in January is 9°C (48°F). The best time to visit Marseille is from May to October when the weather is pleasant and sunny, and the sea is warm enough for swimming.
Marseille is a multicultural and multilingual city where French, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, and other languages are spoken.