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Visit Marseille, France
Despite its varicolored reputation, often polluted by stories of crime and corruption, Marseille is one of the most endearing cities in France and also the most exotic.
Marseille is rough, loud, proud, rebellious but also it is unique and – above all – Mediterranean.
Marseille is the capital of the region Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. It is the second-largest city in France and also the oldest (600BC).
Since its nomination as European City of Culture in 2013, Marseille has undergone a renaissance of all kinds and it shows up more beautiful than ever: the famous Old Port has been renovated, and one of the most exciting museums in Europe has opened its doors.
Don’t expect, however, postcard-perfect scenes found all over Provence. This is the “independent republic of Marseille”, with its culture, its particular accent, and a strong identity.
Many people arrive at Marseille on the way to somewhere else but this is a city that deserves much more than a few hours before taking the next train or cruise ship. Located on the Mediterranean coast, and with 300 days of sunshine and laid-back vibe, it is possible to travel from Paris to Marseille for a weekend getaway in only 3,5 hours by TGV train.
If you are planning a trip to Marseille, you have come to the right place. Whether you prioritize sightseeing and ticking landmarks off of your bucket list, or simply soaking in the atmosphere of a city, this 2 days in Marseille itinerary will show you what to do, the best places in Marseille to eat and stay, and our best tips for a fantastic weekend in Marseille.
OUR TIP: For this Marseille 2-day itinerary we recommend arriving on Friday night so you have 2 full days to visit Marseille.
Things to Do in Marseille Map
Two Days in Marseille, Day 1
AROUND THE OLD PORT
Basilica of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde
This Marseille 2-day itinerary starts from above, at Basilica of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde, for the most incredible view over Marseille.
It is impossible to dissociate Marseille from Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde: this beautiful striped building is for Marseille what the Sugarloaf is for Rio. Built in the 19th century on a sacred site for the last eight centuries, the “Bonne Mère” (the good mother) watches over all her children.
The Basilica’s architectural style is roman-byzantine and the interior is decorated with beautiful marbles, mosaic tiles, and ex-votos from everywhere. This is a magical place that deserves to be visited in peace.
Being one of the main tourist attractions in Marseille, Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde gets very crowded with tourists and pilgrims after 10 am. We suggest arriving early in the morning (it opens at 7 am) to visit without the herds of tourists.
OUR TIP: to enjoy the view and get a breath of fresh air, we recommend getting there by the many paths starting at the foot of the hill. However, the climbing can be difficult for some and the Basilica is also accessible by bus (line #60).
The Old Port and the Fish Market
The Old Port is Marseille’s beating heart, where everything began 2.600 years ago.
The Old Port was the economic center of Marseille, open to trade in the Mediterranean sea and then in the French colonies. In the 19th century the commercial port activities were moved further north to the basins of the Grand Port Maritime and the Old Port lost its trading function.
Today, the Old Port is a picturesque marina, a myriad of colorful pleasure-boats, and a popular gathering place amongst locals.
In the Old Port don’t miss Place Thiars, with its special “Venetian campo” atmosphere, and of course the Fish Market! Located on Quai de la Fraternité, the mythical Fish Market is held every morning from 8 am to 1 pm. The fishermen come here just after their night fishing to sell their fresh fish caught nearby. Due to its central location, the Fish Market is also a kind of tourist attraction.
For a casual lunch in the area, head to La Passarelle (rue du Plan-Fourmiguier). Sit in its beautiful garden, under the arbor, and expect good Mediterranean cuisine prepared with fresh products and served with a smile.
THE OLD PORT AND VALLON DES AUFFES
Abbaye Saint-Victor and Palais du Pharo
After lunch continue to the end of the dock, you will find the imposing Abbaye Saint-Victor that hosts a remarkable collection of sarcophagi, Christian, and pagan. Then push on to Palais du Pharo and its beautiful garden.
Built on the headland Tête de More, and overlooking the entrance to the Old Port, the Palais du Pharo was commissioned by Napoleon iii in 1858 but it was finished after his fall. The Empress Eugénie took the city of Marseille to court to get it back, won the trial and . . . finally she decided to give it to Marseille in 1883.
From the garden, there’s an amazing view of the Old Port, the Mediterranean Sea, and visitors can also see the islands of If and Frioul. Château d’If is the grim island-fortress off Marseille where the Count of Montecristo was imprisoned in the famous novel by Alexandre Dumas.
Vallon des Auffres
Finish the day at the charming fishing port of Vallon des Auffres. Nestled between two cliffs, at facing the sea, the Vallon des Auffes is one of the most picturesque places in Marseille and it offers the impression that time stopped many decades ago.
Vallon des Auffres is one of the most emblematic places in Marseille, a small peaceful haven so close and so far away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It is here that you will find one of the most beautiful settings to eat in a restaurant in Marseille.
Aperó Time and Dinner
Now that you are done with sightseeing, it is time to enjoy an aperitif, and in Marseille there’s nothing better than a glass of Pastis. The drink is a great refreshment for hot days and it is a great introduction to Marseille like a local.
For a special treat in the evening, the Vallon des Auffes boasts two of Marseille’s very top fish restaurants: the Michelin starred L’Epuisette and the historic Chez Fonfon, both well-known for their bouillabaisse.
We recommend Chez Jeannot, for more modest tastes and budgets. Chez Jeannot is a friendly family-owned pizzeria and a kind of institution in Marseille, whose history dates back to 1949. It has a pleasant terrace and a big space protected from the Mistral. Come to Chez Jeannot to taste its savory pizzas but also for the grilled fish and seafood.
Two Days in Marseille, Day 2
LE PANIER NEIGHBORHOOD
On the north of the Old Port, behind the former Hôtel Dieu’s façade (today Hotel Intercontinental), there’s the historic neighborhood of Le Panier where visitors can find the real spirit of Marseille.
Historically Le Panier was the immigrants’ neighborhood, inhabited mainly by Italians and North Africans. It was also the neighborhood of the sailors, at least when they were not sailing! An old tradition of this neighborhood was to keep a free bed in the house to be able to welcome unexpectedly any disembarked sailor who showed up.
Wander around the narrow streets of this charming neighborhood with no direction, there are beautiful corners everywhere. We love its Mediterranean atmosphere, it is like if we were in a village! Don’t miss, however La Vieille Charité, in the heart of Le Panier. It was built to host vagabonds and it is a superb example of civil architecture of the 17th century.
Head to Quai du Port for a good meal with a view. Une Table au Sud, on the first floor of a building, has an amazing view of the Old Port and an even more amazing cuisine. Its chef, Ludovic Terac, is one of the most inventive young chefs of Marseille. Don’t miss this restaurant, which is open also on Sundays.
Alternatively, you can eat in Le Môle, the restaurant perched on the roof of MuCEM (the next stop of this itinerary), and also with great views of the Old Port.
AROUND FORT SAINT-JEAN
The MuCEM, or museum of Mediterranean cultures, is Marseille’s striking new museum, inaugurated when the city was the European City of Culture in 2013. The architecture of the building is great to visit, without forgetting the interesting temporary exhibitions. The museum also proposes films, debates, concerts, and other cultural shows.
Fort Saint-Jean and Marseille’s Cathedral
This is a great area to explore in the afternoon. The Fort Saint-Jean is a splendid defensive construction of the 12th century, beautifully restored for the 2013 events. There are some vestiges Greco-Romans (non-visible), and it is composed of a small chapel, a square tower (15th century) and a round tower (17th century) used to light up the entry to the Old Port.
If you follow Quai de la Tourrette, you will reach Marseille’s Cathedral, Cathédrale La Major, which is also visible from the MuCEM. Probably by now, the Cathedral will be closed but it is well worth the short walk to see its architecture from outside.
This Marseille 2-day itinerary ends with another good meal. Tucked away in Le Panier, not far from MuCEM, there’s The Schilling, where Scottish chef Malcolm Gardner serves up a daily chalkboard menu from the open kitchen overlooking this easygoing restaurant. Gardner proposes an inventive cuisine based on fresh fish and shellfish and of course vegetables. The Schilling is also open on Sunday evening.
DO 3 DAYS IN MARSEILLE (IF YOU CAN…)
If you can make it to spend three days in Marseille, don’t miss the Calanques de Marseille – Cassis, they are wonderful! We visited part of the Calanques on a day hike with a picnic on-site and a cold beer at the end of the hike in Cassis, before going back to Marseille by bus.
A great way to visit the Calanques is to join this top-rated catamaran cruise with lunch. With the catamaran, guests have access to the most secluded creeks for a refreshing bath far from crowds.