20 Unmissable Attractions in Marseille

The Calanques in Marseille are one of the citys must-see attractions
The Calanques in Marseille are one of the city's must-see attractions | © Ludovic Lubeight/Flickr
Alex Ledsom

Marseille is often overlooked on a visit to the French Riviera but it has lots of delightful places to visit. Here’s our list of the top 20 must-see attractions.

1. Corniche Kennedy

Natural Feature

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© Fred Bigio/Flickr
Named after the famous US President, the “corniche” as locals call it, is the seaside avenue that skirts the coastline of Marseille, southwards. On one side are plenty of rocky beaches, where you can tuck yourself away from sight and lounge facing the sea. On the other are parks, grand hotels, restaurants and the odd shop. It’s a great place to bike along to head to the wider town beaches beyond.

2. Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde

Building, Cathedral, Church

2. Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde
© S-F/Shutterstock
This opulent church is the crowning point of Marseille; it looks down on the city from every angle because it was built at the highest point. It’s definitely worth a look but don’t take the car up there in the summer; parking is limited and it’s the most recognised point in the city. Take the little train from the Vieux Port instead.

3. Le Vieux Port

The Old Port is now the city’s harbour and a key destination. You’ll find the fish market here every morning from 6am onwards and it’s a great place to take a ride on the Ferris wheel, have an ice-cream and watch the buskers. A great place to have lunch, dinner or an “apéro” (pre-dinner drink).

Le Vieux Port, Marseille

5. Cours Julien

Market, Theatre, Bookstore, Store

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© PopH/Flickr
This is one of Marseille’s coolest streets to hang out in. The Cours Julien used to be very run-down and now is full of bars, ice-cream shops, a cinema, a club and some shops. Regeneration of inner city centres at its best.

6. Parc Borely

Park

Every city has its wonderful park to stroll in when the weather’s good – and in Marseille, you get 300 sunny days a year. Head to the lake to hire a boat, the ice-cream kiosk to quench your thirst or just laze on the grass and watch the parents tow their kids out on their bikes. A great Sunday afternoon picnic spot.

7. Palais Longchamps – Musée des Beaux Arts

Museum

This palace is beautiful and now houses the art museum, with a collection spanning the 1500s to 1800s. It’s stunning and a must-see on any itinerary.

7 Rue Edouard Stephan, Marseille

8. Natural History Museum

Art Gallery, Museum

Also at the Longchamps Palace, you’ll find the Natural History Museum. It’s not very big but has enough to merit a visit, with lots of fossils on permanent display as well as some interesting temporary exhibits.

9. Parc Longchamp

Park

This is a lovely park to escape the beach crowd or the city heat. Take a picnic after visiting one of the nearby museums.

Boulevard Jardin Zoologique, Marseille

10. Museum of European & Mediterranean Civilisations (MUCEM)

Museum

The walkways through the MUCEM in Marseille
© Gilbaud Stan / Shutterstock
If you don’t go anywhere else in Marseille – although it would be a shame – you must head here. Newly designed and built, it’s an astonishingly brave piece of architecture at the corner of the old harbour. After looking round all the different exhibitions, head to the roof for a drink and a great view.

12. Parc Valmer

Park

Head to the small Parc Valmer along the seafront; it has a nice playground, tennis courts and lots of nooks and crannies to picnic. There’s also a grand old villa to visit.

13. Cathédrale La Major

Building, Cathedral, Church

The Cathédrale La Major is in a spectacular location as well as being unmissable in its own right
© T1o/Flickr
This beautiful cathedral was built in the 1800s and is a great example of neo-Byzantine architecture. Check out the murals and mosaic, then head to lunch at one of the great new restaurants below.

14. Le Panier

Historical Landmark

Le Panier, Marseille, France
© Patrick Donovan / Getty
The district of Panier is the oldest in Marseille, just behind the Old Port and the new MUCEM museum. It’s full of little winding streets and very old buildings.

15. Corbusier's Unité D'Habitation (Housing Unit)

Apartment

Corbusier was a legendary architect who built a concrete city in the 1950s to house everyone cheaply after the war. Called the “Cité Radieuse” it’s a great example of Brutalist architecture (which literally means, “made out of concrete”). A lovely place to walk around and it offers great views over the sea.

280 Boulevard Michelet, Marseille

16. Friches Belle de Mai

Theatre

La Friche is a wonderful cultural centre in an old tobacco factory by the railway station
© Voyages etc./Flickr
This is an old tobacco factory tucked away alongside the railway tracks of the famous St Charles railway station (the main one in town). It’s a gigantic arts and community building housing bars, playgrounds and offices. You’ll find something different every weekend – a gigantic music festival, kids’ art workshops, skateboarders or people just having a coffee in the wonderful arty bookstore. A lovely place to get a feel for a lively city. Head here for drinks on the roof with DJs in the summer months.

17. Les Goudes

Goudes is a little fishing village that locals call “the end of the world”. It’s the last place you reach along the coast before you get to the Calanques and a great place to hike, swim (if you can brave the rocks) or just contemplate life.

Les Goudes, Marseille

18. Les Calanques

The Calanques are one of France’s natural wonders – little inlets of water amongst beautiful cliffs. There are lots of them along the coast on either side of Marseille but people love the Calanque Sormiou because of its great swimming and restaurants.

Calanque de Sormiou, Marseille

19. Chateau d'If

Building

This old fortress was turned into a prison and became the setting for the classic book, The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s a few minutes off the coast of Marseille by ferry and worth a stop.

Château d’If, Marseille

20. Iles de Frioul

If you take the ferry a little further out from Château d’If, you reach the island of Frioul. It doesn’t have many residents, and is mostly a nature reserve and a great place to swim and have lunch. Take proper footwear and lots of water.

Iles de Frioul, Marseille

landscape with balloons floating in the air

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