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What to Do in Marseille, the Capital of 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, to get the most out of the city. From iconic landmarks to hidden gems, these are the Marseille attractions and must-dos you cannot miss!
Are you planning your Marseille trip last minute?
Below are some of the best Marseille tours, hotels, and more!
Top Experiences and Tours in Marseille
- City walk – with a local for a superb experience
- Hop-on Hop-Off Tour – a super way to see France’s sunniest city
- Get further afield with a Segway tour (it’s so much FUN!)
Top Marseille Accommodation and Lodging
Don’t forget your travel insurance!
SafetyWing offers travelers insurance that combines medical and travel-related coverage for long and short trips (minimum of 5 days)
Top Things to Do in Marseille, France
If you want to visit Marseille, what to do? Here’s the list of the best things to do in Marseille. This Marseille 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 Marseille things to do, and it comes with suggestions on where to eat and our best tips.
Visit 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 7 am.
Take the Time to Explore 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.
Get Lost in Le Panier Neighborhood
The list of what to do 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’ 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.
Visit 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. Opens at 10 am
Get Cultured at the MuCEM
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 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.
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 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 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.
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.
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 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. 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.
Location: 2.5 km southwest of the Old Port.
Enjoy the Apéritif Like the Locals
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
You’ll need at least two days to visit Marseille for enjoying everything that this amazing city has to offer. If you have more time available, why not focus on exploring other places on day trips?