Marseille, the generous capital of southern Europe, immediately immerses you in the Provencal culture, where the accent is singing and popular folklore is part of life. A sunny city, which name transports you directly to Marcel Pagnol’s books and movies. Marseille can be visited for its Old Port, its renewed districts of Le Panier and the docks, its bouillabaisse, and other specialties, and its famous Pastis.
Named European Capital of Culture in 2013, Marseille intends to show all visitors the many faces and discoveries and top touristic attractions that the city has to offer. Marseille is a vibrant city nestled on the ledge of the deep blue Mediterranean Sea, with wild creeks, impressive monuments and its own Provencal way of life.
A little further out of the city, the Frioul Islands with the Château d’If complete a wonderful getaway in the land of the Good Mother as it is called by locals. So, what are the best things to do and see in the sunny Phocaean city?
To help you organize your stay in Marseille, we have listed the best visits and places of interest to discover in Marseille.
1. Basilica Notre Dame de la Garde
We start with one of the most famous places of interest in Marseille: the Notre-Dame de la Garde Basilica. Nicknamed the Good Mother, this emblematic monument of Marseille, built on a hill 150 meters above sea level, dominates the entire Marseille city. From the Notre-Dame esplanade, you can contemplate a 360 ° panorama of the city and the sea.
Great place of pilgrimage for 800 years, the basilica is dedicated to Mary, whose statue which is at the top of the bell tower is the protector of the city and the sailors. Covered with gold, it weighs more than 9700 kg!
The interior of the basilica, all in white and red marble, can be visited for free. There, you can admire beautiful Byzantine-style mosaics.
2. Le Panier District
Visiting the Panier is nothing less than discovering the oldest area of the city. The neighborhood suffered for a long time from his bad reputation, but the trend has now reversed, and it has become a must-see area on tour in Marseille.
Walking through the narrow and steep lanes of the Panier also allows you to discover craft shops and many small bistros.
What to see in the Panier district in Marseille?
- Place de Lenche and its view of the Good Mother
- Place des Moulins where you will see several mills
- La Vieille Charité, a former hospice which now houses 4 museums
- Place des Pistoles, ideal for lunch on the terrace
- The Rue du Panier
- Street Art
3. Le Vieux Port
You can’t miss the Old Port during your stay in Marseille. Symbol of the city (with the Good Mother), it is here that, in Antiquity, the Phocaeans who founded Massalia landed. Since then, the port has continued to see its activity develop until it became the second harbor in France in the 19th century.
Nowadays, industrial activity has been transferred to the new port of La Joliette, and the Old Port accommodates leisure boats. The quays of the Old Port, recently refurbished, have become an essential place for a walk in Marseille. A strip of cafes and restaurants borders the harbor, and the people of Marseilles like to gather there to watch sporting or cultural events. It is also where the Marseille fish market is held every morning.
Finally, the Old Port is the starting point for boat trips to visit the creeks, the Château d’If, or Frioul. We will tell you more about it below.
4. The MuCEM
You should absolutely visit the MuCEM museum when in Marseille. It is located at the end of the Old Port. Open since only 2013, the Museum of European and the Mediterranean Civilizations has quickly become a tourist attraction as essential as Notre-Dame de la Garde with more than 2 million visitors per year.
MuCEM is not the only museum to visit in Marseille. If you have decided to go to Marseille for a few days, it’s recommended that you discover other museums:
- The Marseille History Museum to find out all about the oldest city in France
- The center of the old charity which brings together the Museum of Archeology and the Museum of African, Oceanian and Amerindian Arts
- The Museum of Decorative Arts, fashion, and earthenware located in Borely park
- The Museum of Contemporary Art
- The Fine Arts Museum of the Palais Longchamp
- The Natural History Museum
- The Marseille Soap Museum where you can make your soap.
- The Marseille History Museum
5. The Major Cathedral
Another excellent tourist site in Marseille: the Major Cathedral, also called Sainte-Marie-Majeure Cathedral. It is located on the edge of the Panier district and not far from MuCEM.
Built-in the 19th century, this imposing Byzantine-style church is one of the largest in France. And for a good reason, its dimensions are very close to those of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. From the outside, with its white and green marble facade, it is very reminiscent of the magnificent cathedrals of Florence and Siena. And the interior, with its arcades, statues, and mosaics, is worth a look.
6. Le Cours Julien
The artists’ district is famous for its street art with numerous graffiti covering the façades between Cours Julien and Place Jean Jaurès. Very lively and with a bohemian atmosphere, the Cours Julien is also home to many shops of local artists and creators, thrift stores, second-hand booksellers, and dealers.
Depending on the day of the week, several markets are also organized there, such as the farmers’ & organic markets.
7. The Vallon des Auffes
During your trip to Marseille, don’t miss the” Vallon des Auffes.” This small port is very picturesque with its fishermen’s cabins and the typical Marseille fishing boats: the pointed ones. An authentic and typical atmosphere far from the bustle of the city center.
You can also enjoy excellent traditional cuisine in one of the renowned restaurants located there.
8. La Corniche JF Kennedy
The Corniche Kennedy is a long landscaped-promenade along the seaside. It starts from Catalans beach and notably passes through Prophète beach, the Auffes valley, and ends at the Prado beach.
La Corniche JF Kennedy is very popular with Marseille residents who come to cycle, scooter or run. By taking the Corniche on foot, you can enjoy beautiful views of the islands and the Chateau d’If. You can also go up to the Valmer park to contemplate the panorama.
9. The Longchamp Palace
If there is one place that you need to see in Marseille, it is the Palais Longchamp. Its architecture is awe-inspiring, and it is one of the most beautiful monuments in the city. It was built in 1862 to celebrate the arrival of the waters of the Durance in Marseille, and there is, therefore, a monumental fountain representing abundance and fertility.
By taking the staircase that joins the top of the fountain, you can access the garden of the Palais Longchamp, which is one of the most beautiful parks in the city. It is one of the best places to go and have a walk when in Marseille.
10. The Frioul Islands
If you no longer know what to do in Marseille city center, I advise you to set sail to reach the Frioul islands. Sea shuttles depart daily from the Old Port. It takes about 25 minutes to cross for ten euros round trip.
The Frioul Archipelago consists of 4 islands
- Pomègues, which is the largest. It is known to house one of the most beautiful beaches in Friuli: Tahiti beach.
- Ratonneau is frequented for its creeks and beaches
- Tiboulen which is not served by shuttles
- If-Castle is also famous
11. The Calanques of Marseille
It is an essential activity to do in Marseille: a boat trip to discover the creeks. These mini cruises allow you to find the most beautiful places in the Calanques National Park. On the program: sumptuous natural landscapes and magnificent coves with translucent water.
From the Old Port, there are 2 circuits to visit the creeks of Marseille:
- The Integral Calanques tour where you will enter all the creeks from Marseille to Cassis. It lasts approximately 3 to 4 hours with a departure in the morning and one in the afternoon.
- The small circuit: The essential creeks, which lasts for 2 and half hours and allows you to go through the 3 most famous coves: Sormiou, Morgiou, and Sugiton.
Boat trips are the best way to discover several creeks in a day, but you can also choose to reach these magnificent coves on foot. Several hiking trails run through the national park and allow you to descend into the creeks. You only need to bring good shoes and lots of water.
12. The Beaches of Marseille
During your holidays in Marseille, it is very likely that you will want to enjoy a bit of the sea! Here is the list of places to go to the beach in Marseille and the surrounding area
- Catalans beach, not necessarily the prettiest but it is the closest to the city center and therefore the most practical
- The Prophet’s Beach, located below the Corniche is the most popular in Marseille. Ideal with children because the water is quite deep far enough.
- The Prado beaches is a succession of beaches over several kilometers.
- La Pointe Rouge, a long sandy beach well protected from the wind
- The tiny beach of Baie des Singes in the Goudes district
- Anse de la Maronaise beach, not far from the Baie des Singes
- The 3 beaches of l’Estaque, north of Marseille
- The beautiful beaches of La Couronne, very well appointed, they are ideal for families
13. The Chateau d’If
The same shuttles going to Ratonneau also stop at the islet of If. There you can visit the Castle of If. Its construction was decided in the 16th century by King Francois te First to defend the coast from invasions, but also to monitor the city which had just been attached to the Kingdom of France. With its towers, its ramparts and its moat, it is designed as a real fortress.
You can visit the Chateau d’If by yourself or through a guided tour. In all cases, you will have to pay an entry fee in addition to the price of the maritime shuttle. You can take your tickets on arrival or book in advance on the internet.
14. The Velodrome Stadium
Visit Marseille without going through the Vélodrome stadium is inconceivable for ant Olympique de Marseille supporters! The OM is the legendary soccer club and it is the pride of the whole city.
If you do not have the chance to attend a match during your stay in Marseille, you can catch up by visiting the interior of the stadium. The discovery of the dressing rooms, the private suites, and backstage booths is a unique experience, and a passage on the ground to trample the lawn!
This is also the opportunity to leave with a souvenir sold at the official store. A scarf, a jersey, a mug in the colors of OM, you will be spoiled for choice.
15. La Canebière
The emblematic avenue of the city connects the Reformed Church to the Old Port for almost 1 km. This long shopping street is lined with shops, restaurants, and cafes. You can also admire several historical monuments such as the Opera or the Noailles Hotel, a super luxurious hotel now transformed into a police station.
Bonus: Succumb to Marseille flavors
Discover its gastronomy! Whether you are a gourmet or a gourmet, take a break to discover local specialties. Freshly caught fish in the Mediterranean, southern vegetables, Provence herbs, and other spices will delight your taste buds. The famous bouillabaisse and the pistou soup are a must!
The markets of Marseille
You can also take a tour of one of the city’s markets to soak up the smells and flavors of Provence. Odor level, you will be served with the fish market, which is held every morning on the Old Port. Each district of Marseille has its dedicated market, and it is the best place to buy fresh morning caught fish!