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Visit Marseille in Provence
Marseille is far from other postcard-perfect cities and towns in Provence. Still, with 2,600 years of history, unmissable heritage, and culinary specialties, nobody will blame you if you decide to stick around town just a little longer.
Wondering what to do in Marseille for a day, weekend, or a longer stay? Here’s the list of the best things to do in Marseille, France. From iconic landmarks to hidden gems, these are our favorite activities you can’t miss in Marseille.
How to Get to Marseille in Southern France
Marseille-Provence (MRS) is one of the top international airports in France, covering many destinations in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Middle-East via regular or seasonal flights. If your next French trip does not include Paris, consider flying directly to Marseille.
Marseille is one of the main transportation hubs in Southern France, and it is well connected to the main French by TGV trains. Trains leave Paris from Gare de Lyon train station, and the ride to Marseille St. Charles takes 3.5 hours. Count on it taking 1hr 44 min from Lyon, 4hrs 48 min from Lille, and 2 hrs 40 min from Nice.
Regional trains from Marseille cover the main towns and cities in the region.
Where to Sleep in Marseille
We recommend staying center, close to the proposed places to visit in Marseille. The area between the train station and the Old Port is central and safe.
For a unique stay in Marseille, book at Hotel la Résidence du Vieux Port. With the perfect location right on the Old Port banks and the perfect view, this charming hotel is the ideal base to explore Marseille. The hotel has a good breakfast with a view and a restaurant on-site, and the rooms are colorful and very comfortable.
Top Things to Do in Marseille France
Here’s the list of top things to see in Marseille, France. This Marseille attractions list includes historical sites, cultural attractions, and natural wonders.
TIP: If you don’t know how to organize your time in the city, you can also steal our Marseille itinerary, which includes most of these places to see in Marseille, and it comes with suggestions on where to eat and our best tips.
Basilica Notre Dame de la Garde
This impressive stripped building with the perfect setting on the top of the Garde Hill represents one of the most iconic views of Marseille together with the Old Port.
Notre Dame de la Garde was built in the 19th century on a sacred site for the last eight centuries. It features a roman-byzantine architectural style with an interior decorated with beautiful marbles, mosaic tiles, and ex-votos. The basilica is crowned by the Virgin Mary statue, the ‘Bonne Mère,’ who watches over the sea and all her children.
This is a beautiful place to visit, both for the views over Marseille and the sea and the building itself. However, it is very touristy and gets very crowded pretty fast, so we recommend visiting first thing in the morning before 10 am.
Address: rue Fort du Sanctuaire, 13281 Marseille. It opens at 7am.
Marseille’s Old Port
The Old Port is Marseille’s beating heart, the city’s main gate to the Mediterranean Sea and the far East. In the 19th century, all the commercial port activities were moved further north, and today the Old Port is a lively picturesque marina and a popular gathering place amongst locals.
In the port, don’t miss the Fish Market, every morning from 8 am to 1 pm at Quai de la Fraternité. Also, have a look at Place Thiars, with its special ‘Venetian campo’ atmosphere.
The long buildings facing Notre Dame de la Garde (out of frame in this picture) are the Consignes Sanitaires, the buildings used for quarantining boats arriving in Marseille in the 18th century.
Le Panier Neighborhood
The second district – Le Panier – is Marseille’s oldest district and also the most picturesque. Le Panier is built on a hill, and it is a maze of cobbled streets, little squares, and colorful architecture.
Le Panier is one of the best places to visit in Marseille and a great place for a stroll or an apéritif on a sunny terrace. There are also many artists’ workshops and beautiful frescoes here and there.
When you visit Le Panier, don’ miss La Vieille Charité – a magnificent 16th-century building home for poor people -, and Place des Moulins – Marseille’s oldest square. Place des Pistoles, with its numerous restaurants and terraces, is our place to go at lunchtime.
Cathédrale La Major
Marseille’s Cathedral ‘La Major’ is the main religious building in the city. One of the top things to see in Marseille, the cathedral is located in the historic neighborhood of Le Panier, not far from the MuCEM.
Sainte-Marie-Majeure has the particularity of being the only cathedral in France built in the 19th century. The construction works started in 1852 and lasted 44 years. However, on this site, there’s a religious building since the 4th century, and on the east of the current building, you can still see the remains of the Paleochristian Roman church.
The cathedral is built in roman-byzantine style, with a series of domes and cupolas that remind us of Istanbul. After all, Marseille was for the French the main gate to the East. The intricate interiors include mosaic floors and red-and-white marble banners.
Address: Place de la Major, 13002 Marseille. It opens at 10 am
The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations (MuCEM) was built for Marseille 2013 – when the city became the European City of Culture. It is located in Le Panier, next to Fort Saint-Jean and facing the cathedral.
The building’s design is fascinating, a block made of glass and grey-blue concrete mocharabieh. Inside, the permanent exhibition is focused on the four pillars of the Mediterranean civilizations: agriculture, democracy, religion, and the sea. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions, debates, concerts, and other cultural shows.
Address: 1 Esplanade JA, 13002 Marseille.
This imposing 12th-century fortress was home to the Knights of Saint-John (later Knights of Malta). The architectural ensemble is composed of a 15th-century square tower, a small chapel, and a 17th century round tower which was used in the past to light up the entry to the Old Port.
Over the centuries, Fort Saint-Jean had different uses, from garrison to prison. During WW2, it was used to store the German army’s munitions, and it exploded in 1944, causing major damages.
Fort Saint-Jean was beautifully restored on the occasion of ‘Marseille 2013’ events. It only opens on special occasions, but the area is a popular place for locals to hang around.
This beautiful Second Empire monument was built to celebrate the arrival of the water from the Durance river to the city via the Canal de Marseille. This project – key for the city, especially after the big cholera epidemy -, took 10 years of hard work to complete, and it consisted of an 85 km canal and 10 aqueduct bridges.
The Palais de Longchamp has three main parts: the central château d’eau, the east wing, and the west wing. Today, the east wing houses the Musée des Beaux-Arts while the west wing is home to the Museum d’Histoire Naturelle.
The palace is surrounded by a beautiful park great for a stroll. Don’t miss Palais de Longchamp at night, when the building and water basins and fountains are beautifully illuminated.
Address: Boulevard Jardin Zoologique, 13004 Marseille.
Vallon des Auffres
The Vallon des Auffres is a picturesque fishing port lost in time and one of Marseille’s most iconic places. It’s just off the Corniche Kennedy, nestled between two cliffs, and it consists of a small, pretty creek with fishermen’s cottages and colorful boats.
In the 19th century, thanks to the construction of the Corniche Kennedy and the bridge that spans the valley, the once isolated fishermen’s village was linked to Marseille. Today it is an easy 20-30 min walk from the Old Port, but you can also take a local bus. While you are here, take the time to explore the lesser-known creeks nearby.
The Vallon des Auffres is also one of Marseille’s most beautiful settings for a sunset drink or dinner. For a special treat, book at L’Epuisette or Chez Fonfon, two restaurants renowned for their excellent bouillabaisse.
Location: 2.5 km south-west of the Old Port.
Consider a Day Trip to the Calanques
This list of best things to do in Marseille wouldn’t be complete without a day out to the Calanques National Park. This ensemble of creeks and archipelagos, far from the city’s hustle and bustle, is the perfect destination for a hiking day or a catamaran tour.
Marvel at the landscapes’ stunning beauty and stop for a swim in one of the secluded beaches between Marseille and Cassis.
TIP: this top-rated catamaran cruise with lunch always gets great reviews!