The Insider Guide to Marseille
What ended the last century as a city in dire need of regeneration is now an underrated gem of historical architecture, brand-new restaurants and magnificent harbours. Marseille is a refurbished hotspot just aching to win you over.
The Main Attractions
The story of Marseille starts 2,600 years ago with the arrival of the Greeks. Since then, the streets here have been shaped by waves of traders and invaders from across the world. Their influence combined with that of artists and bohemians to create a unique blend of culture, cuisine and creativity. However, by the 1990s, Marseille had fallen from grace (and the guidebooks). The 1995 Euroméditerranée project began to reinvent it; come 2013, it was declared the European Capital of Culture, boasting a swanky transport system, fancy hotels and amazing museums. The beating heart of the city, Vieux Port, is where the magic begins. Head down La Canebière to the harbour for a sunset stroll. Or, even better, go on a boat trip to the 16th-century Château d'If – the imposing fortress inspired literary classic The Count of Monte Cristo. Head to the Îles du Frioul for some off-shore sightseeing. On the way you’ll catch a perfect vista of Le Panier – the old city – and the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde rising up from the sea. You don’t have to go too far from the harbour to see the sights either, with plenty of the top attractions centred around the old town, such as the majestic Byzantine Marseille Cathedral and la Vieille Charité. A perfect example of neoclassical architecture, this 17th-century almshouse is now home to the Musée d’Archéologie Méditerranéenne and Musée d’Arts Africains, Océaniens et Améridiens. Fancy more museums afterwards? Then MuCEM (the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations) should be your first port of call, with the Musée d'Histoire de Marseille scooping up second. Other sites of interest include la Cité Radieuse – a Unesco World Heritage site and fascinating example of 20th-century communal housing. Don’t forget the character-filled neighbourhoods of Le Cours Julien, La Plaine and La Belle de Mai. If you fancy a swim, Vallon des Auffes is for you. Need more reasons to visit? Then read on.