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.
Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde
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.
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).
Grande Roue de Marseille
It might be cheesy but one of the best views in Marseille is from the big wheel in the Old Port. It’s not cheap, but well worth the views.
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.
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.
Palais Longchamps – Musée des Beaux Arts
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.
Natural History 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.
This is a lovely park to escape the beach crowd or the city heat. Take a picnic after visiting one of the nearby museums.
Museum of European & Mediterranean Civilisations (MUCEM)
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.
Fort St Jean
The old Fort has had a facelift and now looks resplendent. It’s linked to the new MUCEM via a walkway that will take your breath away. It’s a great place for kids to run around the different tunnels and in and out of the old rooms.
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.
Cathédrale La Major
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.
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.
Corbusier’s Unité D’Habitation (Housing Unit)
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.
Friches Belle de Mai
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.