Marseille is a city on the up. And just like many cities undergoing massive regeneration, many of its old, disused, and unloved spaces are being reclaimed. La Friche is an old tobacco factory next to the city’s station (St. Charles) that is now a cutting-edge cultural space. It’s massive and home to a skateboarding park, a playground, startup offices, a cool bookstore, and a wonderful terrace bar and restaurant. You’ll find a different cultural event every weekend. Alternatively, head to the Cours Julien, which is one of the edgiest neighborhoods (that you want to be hanging out in). It’s full of some of the best bars, clubs, and restaurants in the city.
Marseille has some wonderful beaches. They’re a little bit harder to find and access than some of the other Riviera resorts (like Nice or Cannes, which pivot around their beaches) but this makes discovering them more rewarding. The main family beaches at Plage de Prado are wide and open and a great option for kids (there are playgrounds, climbing walls, and skate parks). But if you have older kids or no kids, then head along the Corniche Kennedy and find a beach off the beaten track. Climb out to a boulder, spread out your towel, and you’ll feel like you have your own piece of paradise. Just watch your valuables.
It’s sometimes hard in Marseille to discover the great buildings, as it can be a hard to get around (there is so much construction work still going on). The Natural History Museum and the Art Museum are both housed in the Palais Longchamp and are not to be missed. Alternatively, the Villa Valmer is a great place to camp out for an afternoon along the Corniche Kennedy. If you’re after seaside architecture, head to the Palais Pharo, built by Napoleon III for his Princess Eugenie.
Marseille has some lovely choices for art. For street art, head to the edgy Cours Julien—everything that is bolted to the floor has some spectacular graffiti on it somewhere. The MUCEM, along the seafront, has some fantastic modern art exhibitions, while the Musée des Beaux Arts houses paintings from 1500 to 18oo.
The Riviera is known for its fantastic Mediterranean food and Marseille has a lot of options. Head to the Old Port (le Vieux Port) for a fantastic meal with a spectacular view over the harbor. Or you can try the local delicacy Bouillabaisse in one of several fantastic locations around the town.
Marseille isn’t thought of as a green city, but it has some wonderful parks. The Parc Borély is one of the biggest with its lake and bike tracks (you can hire little four-wheeled carts). It’s where you’ll find everyone on a Sunday afternoon. The Parc Longchamp is a great pit stop after visiting the nearby Palace. Or try the small but perfect Parc Valmer along the seafront. It’s a great place to get some shade from the seaside sun.
Marseille has lots of historical buildings to discover but it’s also home to some rather modern gems too. In the 1950s, the French architect Corbusier built the Cité Radieuse in Marseille. At the time it was a way of housing lots of people cheaply after the war, because it was built out of cement. Now, the flats inside are really sought after and very expensive. It’s an entirely self-contained city with a supermarket, school, doctor’s office, nursery, library, and café. The other modern architectural wonder is the Museum of European and Mediterranean Culture (MUCEM) and the Fort St. Jean, next door. Both have been connected via a metal walkway that will take your breath away. Both buildings showcase some great art, but they’re worth visiting for the architecture alone.
Marseille is a great place to shop. The new Terrasses du Port is the must-go destination of the moment. It’s a new three-story mall that has all the high street stores as well as high-end fashion. Head to the roof for spectacular views and good restaurants. If you want the same kind of shops, but don’t like malls, head to the Old Port area, and the rue Saint-Ferréol. For a more alternative experience and more independent shops, head to the Cours Julien and wander the winding streets.
The locals love a good party. Start your evening with an apéro (a pre-dinner drink) in one of the fantastic bars or trying the best local wines from Provençal vineyards. Alternatively, most weekends in summer, there’s a bar and DJ on the massive roof of the old tobacco factory at La Friche (by the St. Charles station).
Marseille is a melting pot of European and African culture and it’s a great place to immerse yourself in something a little different. You’ll find lots of couscous restaurants down by the Old Port and Noailles area, which offer great value. If you want to go even more local, head to one of the grill shacks by the St. Charles station for even cheaper food. The streets to the East of the Cours Julien are a great place to try a sit-down African dinner that maybe you wouldn’t have thought about trying; it has food from just about every country.