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Best Things to Do in Marseille, France


Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
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What to Do in Marseille, the Capital of Provence

Marseille is one of the most beautiful cities to visit in Southern France. The capital of Provence (and pastis!) boasts an interesting cultural scene, beautiful landmarks, and 300 days of sunshine.

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.

Marseille is one of the 2024 Olympic Cities (sailing and football competitions), so it’s the perfect excuse to discover or re-discover the city this year. Keep reading to discover our suggestions for things to do in Marseille for an unforgettable holiday.

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Top Things to Do in Marseille, France

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. This Marseille things-to-do list includes historical sites, cultural attractions, and natural wonders. Spend two days in Marseille to cover the best places to visit in Marseille and get a good taste of what the city has to offer. Spend more time if you are willing to explore the city’s surroundings on day trips.

Take a Guided E-bike Tour

This guided e-bike tour is a great introduction to the city of Marseille. In three hours or so, we visited the main Marseille landmarks and sights, from the Vieux-Port to Palais du Pharo and the most picturesque neighborhoods along the corniche (Vallon des Auffres included).

The bonus was having a local guide with us, who helped us navigate through chaotic Marseille and entertained us with the history of the city and some fun anecdotes.

Riding an e-bike meant that we could easily climb up to Notre Dame de la Garde with zero effort for a quick visit to la Bonne Mère. The tour ended in the Le Panier neighborhood, and following our guide through those tortuous and narrow streets was fun.

This guided e-bike tour is one of the most unique things to do in Marseille, and I highly recommend it! – Click here to book this guided e-bike tour of Marseille

Visit Basilica Notre Dame de la Garde

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 marble, 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 in Marseille, both for the views over the city 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 7 am.

Take the Time to Explore Marseille’s Old Port

Marseille - France

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.

Get Lost in Le Panier Neighborhood

Le Panier - Marseille

The list of things to see in Marseille continues not far from the Old Port. The second district – Le Panier – is Marseille’s oldest and most picturesque district. 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’t miss La Vieille Charité – a magnificent 16th-century building home for poor people –and Place des Moulins – Marseille’s oldest square, which had some windmills in the past. Place des Pistoles, with its numerous restaurants and terraces, is our place to go at lunchtime.

This Marseille walking tour covers the Vieux Port and Le Panier. Visit the historical neighborhood while learning the history and admire its pretty plazas, houses, shops, and street art.

Visit Cathédrale La Major

Marseille’s Cathedral ‘La Major’ is the main religious building in the city. One of the top things to do 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 the 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. Opens at 10 am

Get Cultured at the MuCEM

MuCem - Marseille

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 the Le Panier neighborhood, next to Fort Saint-Jean and facing the cathedral.

A must-do in Marseille, 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 – Click here to buy your tickets to the MuCEM

Address: 1 Esplanade JA, 13002 Marseille.

Fort Saint-Jean

Fort Saint-Jean - Marseille

Your Marseille sightseeing will probably take you to Fort Saint-Jean, an imposing 12th-century fortress that 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 damage.

Fort Saint-Jean was beautifully restored on the occasion of the Marseille 2013 events. It is part of the new MuCEM, to which it is connected by an imposing ultra-modern footbridge overlooking the sea. Its garden section can be visited for free. On the other hand, you will have to buy a ticket to the MuCEM to access the exhibition rooms inside the fort and the museum.

Rent a Boat in Marseille (with or without a skipper)

Why follow the tourist crowds if you can craft your own boat tour? Rent a boat in Marseille and plan a day out admiring the city from the water or visiting places like the Frioul Islands and the Calanques de Marseille. Between the creeks, the cornice, and the unique charm of Marseille, this city is the ideal destination for sailing.

Given that Marseille is a very popular holiday destination, there are plenty of boats available to rent. Keep in mind, however, that during the high season in the summer, there are many tourists in the city, so we recommend booking well in advance to find the perfect boat for you. And if you don’t have a boat permit, don’t hesitate to ask for the services of a professional skipper – Click here to rent a boat in Marseille

Palais Longchamp

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 epidemic –took ten years of hard work to complete, and it consisted of an 85 km canal and ten 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.

One of the most beautiful places to visit in Marseille, the Palace is surrounded by a beautiful park great for a stroll. Don’t miss Palais de Longchamp at night, when the building, water basins, and fountains are beautifully illuminated.

Address: Boulevard Jardin Zoologique, 13004 Marseille.

Visit the Fortified Abbey of Saint-Victor

The fortified Abbaye Saint-Victor, in the neighborhood of the same name, is one of the key landmarks of the history of Marseille. It is one of the oldest and most powerful abbeys in Europe, covering more than 1600 years of history.

The Abbey was founded in the 5th century by Jean Cassien near the tombs of the martyrs of Marseille, including Saint-Victor de Marseille, who gave it his name. Destroyed by the Saracens, the Abbey was rebuilt in the 11th century and then fortified by Pope Urban V in the 14th century before being secularized in the 18th century.

Inside, the central nave is Romanesque, with pointed barrel arches. In the side aisles, the transept and choir are in Gothic style. Don’t miss the crypt, one of the most interesting things to see in Marseille, with beautiful Paleochristian and Christian sarcophagi.

The view of the harbor from the site is absolutely stunning and almost worth the trip on its own. The nearby Four des Navettes is the oldest bakery in Marseille, baking delicious navettes (typical cake of Marseille) since 1781. Address: Place Saint-Victor, 13007 Marseille

Vallon des Auffres

Vallon des Auffes - Marseille

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 connected 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.

Exploring the Vallon des Auffres is one of the best things to do in Marseille, France. The area 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, one of the most famous foods in Provence. Location: 2.5 km southwest of the Old Port.

Enjoy the Apéritif Like the Locals

Pastis - Marseille

The apéritif is a real institution in Marseille. The apéritif can take place with your family, friends, or colleagues in the evening after work, on Sunday lunchtime, or during the holidays. In Marseille, there are many bars to drink the apéritif, but a lot of locals like to enjoy the aperitif at the seaside.

The apéritif is, above all, a moment of sharing that takes place around a drink – Pastis or a glass of rosé wine – sometimes offered with small olives, pistachios, and peanuts. The particularity of the apéritif in Marseille is that it can last hours because “the longer it goes on, the better it is!”

Explore Marseille’s Surroundings on a Day Trip

Calanques Marseille Port Miou - France

You’ll need at least two days to visit Marseille to enjoy everything that this amazing city has to offer. If you have more time available, why not focus on exploring other places on day trips?

In addition to all the unique things to do in Marseille, you can visit the lovely town of Cassis, sail to the intriguing Château d’If, or explore the Calanques National Park for a hiking day or a catamaran cruise.

If you’re ready to go on some fun day trips from Marseille, here’s the full list of our favorite Marseille day trips.

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