The Top 47 Things to Do and See in Marseille, France

| Elisa Schmidt on Unsplash
Alex Ledsom

Marseille is famously the gateway to the French Riviera. Explore the charming Vieux Port, marvel at the Notre Dame de la Garde and jet off on a boat towards the Parc National des Calanques. We’ve compiled a list of the best things to do in Marseille.

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1. Admire the spectacular Notre Dame de la Garde


Notre Dame de la Garde - Marseille
© PJPhoto69 / Getty
This church is one of Marseille’s most famous landmarks, situated on the top of a hill overlooking the city and the sea. It is most easily accessed by bus, since going there on foot means having to face the weary climb to the top, and there are buses that depart every twenty minutes or so from the Vieux Port and take you right up to the church’s doors. It is free to visit, and the mosaic interior, like the beautiful views of the city, are incredibly impressive.

2. Take a boat ride to Les Calanques

Natural Feature

view of Calanques National park near Cassis fishing village, France
© JOHN KELLERMAN / Alamy Stock Photo
Weather permitting, a relaxing boat ride to the beautiful Calanques – a stretch of coast between Marseille and Cassis – is a must for anyone visiting the city, especially in the summer. Soaring views and beautiful beaches are some of the highlights that you will be able to enjoy whilst visiting the Parc National des Calanques.

3. Wander around the Vieux Port

Historical Landmark

DYC France
Courtesy of Dream Yacht Charter
The Vieux Port (Old Harbour) is probably the most important part of Marseille, where all travellers head to take photos, eat fresh fish, watch the boats or ride the Ferris wheel. It is part of the city’s old town and a great location from which to head to all of the city’s main attractions, so it’s definitely worth a visit. Sunsets during the summer are particularly awe-inspiring, so stick around the area until early evening for some beautiful views. Sample the food on a foodie tour.

4. Swot up the city's Mediterranean history at MuCEM


The walkways through the MUCEM in Marseille
© Gilbaud Stan / Shutterstock
Also known as the MuCEM, this is the city’s best museum. It explores Mediterranean civilisations and history, and provides an insightful look into the way they developed until they became what they are today. Apart from exhibitions, there are also mini films or lectures to help visitors better comprehend Mediterranean culture, and the museum spans three entire buildings. Gods, spices, travel routes and gardens are just a few of the diverse topics covered in this eclectic museum.

5. Appreciate Cathédrale de la Major's beautiful domed towers


Cathedral in Marseille
© Baloncici / Getty
Marseille’s cathedral is of course worth visiting, being one of the city’s most important buildings. Overlooking the sea, this spot is perfect for views and photographs. Its imposing structure, composed of several domed towers, with the highest reaching a height of 16m (52ft), and the use of green and white limestone might remind some of Florence’s Duomo, but the interior has been decorated in a completely different style. Fortunately, the cathedral is also free to visit.

6. Take a trip to Marseille's Old Town, Le Panier

Historical Landmark

Le Panier, Marseille, France
© Patrick Donovan / Getty
Marseille’s Old Town is one of the most picturesque neighbourhoods visitors will find anywhere in France. It is easily accessible from the Vieux Port, as it is situated on a nearby hillside. It was first inhabited in 600 BC, when the Greeks settled here, so it truly is the oldest part of the city. The colourful neighbourhood is known for being the most multicultural part of the city, making it a unique place to spend an evening or to go for a walk.

7. Discover Marseille's oldest museum, Palais Longchamp

Museum, Park

Parc Longchamp - Marseille
© btrenkel / Getty
The majestic Palais Longchamp is the site of the city’s Musée des Beaux Arts, the oldest museum in Marseille. The gallery is home to an impressive collection of work by Italian and Provençal artists, and most of the paintings and works of art date from the 17th century to the present day. Apart from the beautiful artwork, the palace also has a splendid park that locals flock to when they want to enjoy the good weather, as it is one of the few green areas in the city centre.

8. Explore the 16th-century castle, Château d’If

Natural Feature, Historical Landmark

view on Château dIf from Marseille
© olhainsight / Getty
Those who have read Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Montecristo will undoubtedly find the name of this island familiar. Although some guides suggest the events actually happened, the fictional count was never actually imprisoned here, although this makes Château d’If no less fascinating: visitors will be able to learn all about the 16th-century castle’s history as a prison for real life political enemies of the state. There are boats that leave daily from the Vieux Port.

9. Sample a traditional tipple of 'pastis'

Bar, Restaurant, French

Whilst France in general might be known for its elegant and sophisticated cuisine and drinking scene, Marseille is particularly well-known for its pastis – an anise-flavored apéritif. Also known as ‘pastage’ by Marseille’s residents, there are plenty of spots across the city to sample this traditional tipple. Typically the apéritif is served with a jug of water, so drinkers can dilute the beverage to make it as strong or weak as they like. For an extensive selection, head to Pastis and Olives, where you can choose from 16 variations, or join a foodie tour of the city to discover the finest pastis in town.

10. Wander through the city's biggest avenue, La Canebière

Historical Landmark

The Palais de la Bourse in Marseille, located on the Canebiere in Belsunce district, is the headquarters of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and houses the Marine Museum.
© olrat / Alamy Stock Photo
Close to the Vieux Port and Le Panier, La Canebière is another of Marseille’s most important areas. It is the city’s biggest avenue, and it represents the wealth that Marseille once possessed. The huge, ornate buildings and elegant hotels that once stood on each side of the street have now mostly been converted into restaurants, shops or offices, but they still conserve some of their previous grandeur. The avenue stretches almost one kilometre from the Vieux Port, and leads to the lively Capucin neighbourhood, among others.

11. Eat Bouillabaisse, the Local Soup Delicacy

Restaurant, Market, French, European

The dining room at Chez Fonfon | © Courtesy of Chez Fonfon
© Chez Fonfon

Bouillabaisse is a fish soup that comes specifically from Marseille and the surrounding coastline. Fishermen used to make soup with the rockfish they caught that they couldn’t sell in the market. They added Provençal herbs and simmered it over a period of a few hours. Nowadays, it’s a cultural delicacy – order it in advance (sometimes 48 hours) at the best restaurants, expect to pay at least €40 per head and most restaurants only take orders for more than 2 people. Read our guide on where to eat the best bouillabaisse, or book the Beyond Bouillabaisse experience to dedicate a day to this iconic delicacy.

12. 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.

13. Corniche Kennedy

Natural Feature
© 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.

14. Cours Julien

Market, Theatre, Bookstore, Store
© 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.

15. Parc Borely

© Yan R./Flickr
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.

16. Parc Valmer


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.

17. Fort St Jean

Historical Landmark, Architectural Landmark

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.

18. Corbusier's Unité D'Habitation

Architectural Landmark

© Dontsov Evgeny / Shutterstock
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.

19. Friches Belle de Mai

Bookstore, Building, Theater

La Friche (the Wasteland)
© Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo
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.

20. Noailles market

Architectural Landmark

Noailles market (also known as the Capucins Market) is an explosion of vibrant colours and aromas, with market stalls packed with fruits, spices and North African delicacies.

21. Picnic outside the Hotel Dieu

Chain Hotel, Hotel

The Hotel Dieu - now the Hotel Intercontinental - was the citys hospital for over 800 years | © eFesenko / Shutterstock
© eFesenko / Shutterstock | © eFesenko / Shutterstock
The Hotel Dieu used to be the city’s hospital for over 800 years, before it was converted into a hotel to coincide with Marseille’s crowning as the European Cultural Capital in 2013. It is now an actual hotel, run by the Intercontinental Hotel Group. The steps in front of it lead to the Old Port and are a great place to picnic or chill out during a sight-seeing break (MUCEM is five minutes away).

Experience the ‘blue hour’

Many people come to the South of France to paint, thanks to the luminous quality of the light. It’s caused by the mixture of dry climate, high temperatures and the crazy Mistral wind. For about an hour most days, at dawn and at dusk, the sky takes on an ethereal, blue quality, which is beautiful to witness and great to photograph or paint.

22. Play empress at the Jardin du Pharo

Natural Feature

Pharo’s Palace was built at the end of the 19th century as a gift from Napoleon III to his wife, the Empress Eugenie. After the fall of Napoleon’s empire, the palace became a hospital, and now its six hectares of gardens are open to the public, and packed on balmy days. It’s an ideal place to get views of the city’s most notable landmarks.

23. Have an authentic hammam experience

Architectural Landmark, Health Spa

Marseille has a huge Northern African influence, of which massages and hammams are an institution. People love the Bastide des Bains, near the Old Port area. It’s respectable and upmarket but great value. Have a massage in a private cabin and then head to the communal hammam to relax and unwind.

24. Experience African-French cuisine

Train Station

Provence is loved for its Mediterranean cuisine but Marseille also offers some wonderful North African cuisine with a French twist. Head to the couscous restaurants by Noailles metro station or by the main St Charles train station. The food here is quick and cheap at many of the sit-down restaurants. For something a little more upmarket, head to the Cours Julien area, where you’ll find some interesting and varied types of African restaurants. The area is edgy but lively and fun.

25. Pointe Rouge

Natural Feature

All the way east along the coastal road from Marseille’s Old Port (“le vieux port“) you’ll find a little stretch of sand called Pointe Rouge. It’s a cute locals beach, where teenagers hang out with their friends or kids play on the sand, while their parents sip wine at the local restaurant tables. Get the bus to stop Pointe Rouge.

26. Sentier Pédestre de l'Huveaune

Architectural Landmark

The Sentier Pédestre de l’Huveaune is a riverside passage (along the small river Huveaune) that leads to the Parc Borély and the seafront from the centre of town. It’s great for a walk, a run or even on your bike.

27. The Crazy Zoo

Amusement Park

Twenty-five years ago, there used to be a real zoo in the grounds of the park next to Palais Longchamp. It was recently brought back as a “crazy zoo” with animal statues locked up inside the old animal cages. It’s a locals park where you’ll find families with small kids taking rides on the real horses around the grounds or couples asleep in self-hung hammocks.

28. Phare de Sainte-Marie

Architectural Landmark

Built in 1855, the Sainte Marie lighthouse on the esplanade de la Joliette marks the northernmost point of Marseille’s harbor. The cylindrical turret is an impressive 60 feet high and is encased from top-to-bottom in brilliant white local limestone. The lighthouse, which was electrified in 1922, is now inactive but still makes a great photo opportunity as the dazzling white of the limestone contrasts against the azure blue of the cloudless sky and the Mediterranean Sea. Recommended by Laura Broomhead.

29. Ride the ferry boat

Architectural Landmark

A picturesque little ferry boat sets sail from Marseille’s town hall several times a day, going from one side of the Old Port to the other. The ferry, which was originally steam driven, has now been replaced with a more eco-friendly version equipped with a solar propeller, so you can ride the waves without a heavy conscience. Recommended by Laura Broomhead.

30. Saint-Ferréol les Augustins


This Roman Catholic church is situated on the Quai des Belges at the eastern end of the Old Port of Marseille. The history of the church goes back to when the site was owned by the Knights Templar in the 12th century. The building has been added to and altered ever since, with the addition of the Italian-style bell tower and the neo-baroque facade. The mish-mash of styles and influences, in fact, works to great effect and this is a stunning addition to the already beautiful Old Port. Recommended by Laura Broomhead.

31. Saint Victor’s Abbey


This Roman Catholic church, founded in the fifth century by Christian monk and theologian Jean Cassien, is estimated to be one of the oldest places of worship in France. The church has many interesting archeological and architectural elements, but the highlight is probably the view from the towers onto the port below. Recommended by Laura Broomhead.

32. La Maison Diamantée

Architectural Landmark

Located just behind the town hall, on Rue de la Prison, you will discover La Maison Diamantée, a beautiful 16th-century civilian palace with a facade featuring diamond facets. Redolent of the disappeared ancient city and patrician houses that were dedicated to the sea and trading, this architectural marvel served as the headquarters of the organizing association of Marseille’s Capital of Culture honor in 2013. Since 1925, its stairs and facade have been the subject of a classification as historical monuments, which makes it a veritable must-see in Marseille. Recommended by Andreea Pavaloiu.

33. La Vieille Charité

Architectural Landmark

Undoubtedly, the crown jewel of Le Panier is the Vieille Charité. Designed by the Marseille-born architect Pierre Paul Puget and built between 1671 and 1749, the building was originally intended to house the poor of the city, but eventually served as prison for the growing number of homeless people and beggars of Marseille in the mid 18th century. Today, Marseille’s architectural gem hosts a cultural centre, research units, museums and art galleries. But its ground floor hosts the most intriguing show yet: Être femme à l’époque grecque – just one of the many touring exhibition that grace the rooms here. Recommended by Andreea Pavaloiu.

34. Le Petit Nice

Restaurant, French

The terrace at Le Petit Nice, to curl up with a loved one | © Courtesy of Le Petit Nice / Richard Haughton
© Richard Haughton / Courtesy of Le Petit Nice
There is no better ending to a Marseillese day than with a well-deserved Mediterranean meal. A five minute walk from the cathedral will take you to Gérald Passédat’s Le Petit Nice, arguably Marseilles’ finest restaurant. Situated on a hotel’s ground level, this three-Michelin-starred venue overlooking the sea makes delicious food with oodles of imagination and technical mastery. The Chef’s fish dish makes sure his clients leave the restaurant in awe, and – of course – reservations are essential. Recommended by Andreea Pavaloiu.

The Best Day Trips to Take From Marseille

35. Avignon & Pont du Gard

Archaeological site, Building, Monastery, Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

The Palais des Papes was built by several consecutive popes and towers over the entire town of Avignon
© Artur Staszewski/Flickr
Avignon on the river Rhône was home to the Catholic Popes in the 14th century, during which time the Papacy built up the Palais des Papes (the Pope’s Palace), the largest gothic medieval palace in the world. Avignon is probably just as well known for its bridge, which lent its name to the marriage song, “sur le pont, d’Avignon“. It fell into disrepair at the time of Louis XIV and was deemed too expensive to rebuild. Not far away is the famous Pont du Gard, a Roman aqueduct with three tiers, built in the 1st century. Both are big tourist attractions (the Palais des Papes is in France’s top ten). Avignon is only 27 minutes away from Marseille on the fast TGV train service (1.5 hours by car). To visit Pont du Gard you will need a car or join a trip from Avignon town centre.

36. Sénanque Abbey

Building, Monastery

The Sénanque Abbey near Gordes is still home to a small number of monks
© Phillip Larson/Flickr
The Sénanque Abbey was built in the 12th century by monks, who still live there now under a vow of silence. They open their abbey to daytrippers and people who want to stay on a silent retreat and harvest honey and lavender. Their lavender fields are some of the best in the region. You must have a car to get to the abbey or join a coach tour. The abbey is about 100 km away from Marseille, taking about 1.5 hours. Check out the nearby town of Gordes if you have time or need provisions.

37. Fontaine de Vaucluse

Architectural Landmark

The town of Fontaine de Vaucluse is a perfect choice if you want to walk around a picturesque Provençal town and maybe do some kayaking. The source of the river Sorgue is a gentle walk along the river upstream of the town and there are some riverside restaurants to watch the kayakers if you don’t want to go in yourself. There are a number of kayak businesses downstream from where you can take a gentle and leisurely ride, stopping for a swim whenever you want. The train to Fontaine de Vaucluse takes just over 1.5 hours.

38. St Tropez

Architectural Landmark

If you don’t want to stay in St Tropez, a day trip is just enough time to soak up the ambient glamour of this chic little village. Wander the cobbled streets of the old fishing district, La Ponche, try some local cake, the Tarte Tropézienne, and watch the mega yachts from a bar at the port. It’s rather complicated to get to without a car, but it can be done by taking a train to Sainte-Raphael, then a bus to Sainte-Maxime, then a ferry to St Tropez. The journey would probably take about 3.5 hours, compared to 2 hours in the car.

39. Arles

Natural Feature

Arles is most well known for being home to Van Gogh and you can still see the famous settings and his work in the Van Gogh Foundation. It also has a Roman amphitheatre where you can see concerts and bullfights. Arles is 50 minutes from Marseille on the train and probably an hour by car.

40. Cassis

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark

A colorful pedestrian alleyway in the picturesque resort town of Cassis in Southern France
© Francesco Bonino / Alamy Stock Photo

Cassis is a small fishing village on the coast between Marseille and St Tropez. It’s a good day trip because it has a great beach (with beachside restaurants), upmarket artsy fashion and souvenir shops, and a cute harbour where you can sometimes see water jousting or just have a good meal. The train takes about 30 minutes but you will need to wait for a bus down into the village (which might add another hour onto your trip). Take your bikes on the train if you don’t mind the journey back uphill or catch a taxi. If you drive, parking is always difficult unless you arrive early, so it might be best to use the park-and-ride schemes on the hill overlooking town.

41. Nice

Architectural Landmark

Nice is a big city so a day trip won’t do it justice, but it will give you an idea of why people love it so much. There’s so much to do here (other than the beaches) but if you only have a day, it’s best to check out the Roman remains of Cimiez, wander the iconic Promenade des Anglais and see some of Matisse’s artwork. He lived in the city for most of his life. Read our checklist of unmissable Nice attractions. Nice is just over 2 hours in the car and there are also fast trains.

42. Gorges du Verdon and Moustièrs-Saint-Marie

Natural Feature

The Verdon gorge and the lake Sainte-Croix are necessary stops |
© elementals / Shutterstock
The Gorges du Verdon is the largest canyon in Europe. It measures 25 km in length and can be 700m deep in places. You cannot get to it without a car (it takes 2 hours), but you can choose to explore it up high (around its rim road), or from below (where you can park then kayak or swim in). The nearby town of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is an obvious choice to stop for provisions. It has lots of restaurants, a couple of supermarkets and is classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France.

43. Éze

Natural Feature

The hilltop village of Éze (featured image) has been the backdrop for lots of films. It’s about 3 hours by car from Marseille so it would probably be best to share the driving with someone else or car share. The road from Nice to Éze winds its way along the coastline in a precarious fashion (so it’s often in movie car chases) before it dips down into Monte Carlo.

44. Les Goudes

Natural Feature

Harbour at Les Goudes near Marseille, France
© Invictus SARL / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

45. Iles de Frioul

Natural Feature

France, Bouches du Rhone, Marseille, Calanques National Park, archipelago of Frioul islands, Pomegues island, hikers on a trail and the Pomeguet tower built in 1860 in the background
© Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

46. Côte Bleu

Architectural Landmark

Everyone heads out of Marseille along the Còte D’Azur to discover the French Riviera or into the Luberon to see inland Provence. But the Côte Bleu is in the other direction (west from Marseille, towards the Camargues) and an absolute gem. Take the train that winds high up around the coastal cliffs and stop at any one of the lovely small seaside villages.

47. Ensuès-la-Redonne

Architectural Landmark

Just a few minutes outside of Marseille on the Côte Bleu, you’ll find the little port of Ensuès-la-Redonne. There isn’t a big beach but it’s picture perfect (rocky, not sandy) with a waterside restaurant or two. They hold a lot of seafood and fish festivals here that are packed full of locals trying the first catch of the season.

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