The Top Things To Do and See in Marseille, France

A visit to Les Calanques is a must-do on a trip to Marseille
A visit to Les Calanques is a must-do on a trip to Marseille | © JohanSjolander / Getty Images
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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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Admire the spectacular Notre Dame de la Garde

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.

Vue en plongée de la calanque d’En-Vau, l’une des plus spectaculaires calanques du Parc National. Photo prise en avril 2015.

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.

Wander around the Vieux Port

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.

Swot up the city’s Mediterranean history at MuCEM

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.

If Mediterranean culture interests you then how about booking one of our trips in Italy, Spain and Greece.

Appreciate Cathédrale de la Major’s beautiful domed towers

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.

Take a trip to Marseille’s Old Town, Le Panier

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.

Discover Marseille’s oldest museum, Palais Longchamp

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.

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

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.

Sample a traditional tipple of ‘pastis’

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.

Wander through the city’s biggest avenue, La Canebière

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.

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