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Visit Marseille, France
Despite its varicolored reputation, often polluted by stories of crime and corruption, Marseille is one of France’s most endearing cities and the most exotic.
Marseille is rough, loud, proud, rebellious but also unique and – above all – Mediterranean.
Marseille in Southern France is the capital of the region Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. It is the second-largest city in France and also the oldest (founded in 600BC).
Since it was nominated the European City of Culture in 2013, the city has undergone a renaissance of all kinds, and it shows up more beautiful than ever: the famous Old Port was renovated, and one of the most exciting museums in Europe (le MuCEM) opened its doors.
Don’t expect, however, the postcard-perfect scenes found all over Provence. This is the ‘independent republic of Marseille,’ with its culture, particular accent, and a strong identity.
Many people arrive at Marseille on the way to somewhere else, but this city deserves much more than a few hours before taking the next train or cruise ship. Located on the Mediterranean coast, with 300 days of sunshine and a laid-back vibe, it is possible to travel from Paris to Marseille for a weekend getaway in less than 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 the city, this 2-day itinerary will show you the best things to do in Marseille and our best tips for a fantastic weekend in Marseille.
Weekend in Marseille: Where to Stay?
Wondering where to stay in Marseille? For your 2 days in Marseille, we recommend staying central, close to the proposed sights. The area between the train station and the Old Port is central and safe.
Hotel la Résidence du Vieux Port: this charming hotel – with the perfect location right on the banks of the Old Port and the perfect view –, is the ideal base to visit Marseille. The rooms are colorful and very comfortable, and the most expensive ones come with a balcony with an amazing view of the Old Port and Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde. The hotel offers a good breakfast with a view and a restaurant on-site.
Alex Hotel & Spa: this is a contemporary hotel, conveniently located next to the train station. We love the rooms’ contemporary design, with spacious bathrooms and soundproof windows. The breakfast (buffet) is great, with eggs or pancakes prepared under request. The staff is very professional and always smiling.
Le Petit Nice – Passedat: this is a luxury hotel ideally located by the sea, featuring a bar, a beautiful terrace, a seawater outdoor pool, and a 3-star Michelin restaurant with excellent cuisine and sea views. The bright rooms are spacious, with chic décor and spectacular sea views. Le Petit Nice is the perfect hotel for a weekend getaway in Marseille, combining sightseeing and relaxation.
How to Spend 2 Days in Marseille – A Detailed Marseille Itinerary
Marseille is on our list of best weekend getaways in France! For this Marseille 2-day itinerary, we recommend arriving on Friday night, so you have two full days to visit Marseille.
TIP: the 24hrs, 48hrs, or 72hrs Marseille Pass includes access to the city’s main museums, public transportation tickets, and tastings.
Two Days in Marseille: Day One
Basilica of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde
This Marseille itinerary starts from above, from Basilica of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde, for the most incredible views.
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.
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.
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. One of the most famous castles in Southern France, Château d’If, is the grim island-fortress off Marseille where the Count of Montecristo was imprisoned. The Count of Montecristo, by Alexandre Dumas, is one of the most famous novels set in France.
Vallon des Auffes
Finish the day at the charming fishing port of Vallon des Auffes. Nestled between two cliffs and 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 Auffes 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. This is also one of the most beautiful settings to dine in Marseille, perfect for your Saturday dinner if you are here for the weekend (see our proposals at the end of the post).
Two Days in Marseille: Day Two
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 welcome any disembarked sailor who showed up unexpectedly.
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.
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 – book your tickets here. 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.
Spend Three Days in Marseille (if you can …)
If you can make it to spend 3 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.
This Frioul Islands tour is also a popular day trip from Marseille. It explores the breathtaking scenery of the Frioul archipelago and includes a visit to Châeau d’If.
Practical Information for your Marseille Visit
How to Travel to Marseille
BY PLANE: Marseille-Provence (MRS) is one of the main international airports in France, and it covers many international destinations in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and America via regular or seasonal flights – Click here for flight schedules and prices. From Marseille, it is also possible to fly to Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean.
BY TRAIN: Marseille is well connected with other main cities in France. Count on taking it 3h 35 min for a Paris-Marseille, 2h 43 min for a Marseille-Nice, and 1h 44 for a Marseille-Lyon. Click here for schedules and prices.
2 Days in Marseille: Where to Eat
LA PASSARELLE: For a casual lunch in the area, head to La Passarelle (52 Rue Plan Fourmiguier). Sit in its beautiful garden, under the arbor, and expect good Mediterranean cuisine prepared with fresh products and served with a smile.
UNE TABLE AU SUD: Head to Quai du Port for a good meal with a view. On the first floor of a building, Une Table au Sud (2 Quai du Port) has an amazing view of the Old Port and 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 also open on Sundays.
LE MOLE: This is the MuCEM’s rooftop restaurant, which offers meals with great views of the Old Port.
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 (158 Rue du Vallon des Auffes) and the historic Chez Fonfon (60 Cor Président John Fitzgerald Kennedy), both well-known for their bouillabaisse.
CHEZ JEANNOT: Also at Vallon des Auffes, Chez Jeannot (129 Rue du Vallon des Auffes) 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.