Marseille is France’s second-largest city and the heart of the southern region of Provence. Located along the Meditteranean coastline, Marseille boasts both excellent year-round weather and beautiful scenery, making this one of the country’s premier holiday destinations along the French Riviera.
Marseille is a city that offers something for everyone. You can enjoy the beaches, the views and the excellent restaurants and bars, or you can delve deep into the museums and cultural institutions of France’s second city. There are offshore islands to visit, where you can find snorkelling and boating opportunities, as well as Chateau D’If, the fortress which inspired the famed novel, The Count of Monte Cristo.
There’s a lot waiting to be discovered in Marseille, and to inspire your trip to the south of France, here’s our ultimate guide to the city!
This ultimate travel guide to Marseille will show you all the most beautiful places in Marseille, what to expect when visiting, where to stay in Marseille and things to do in Marseille which will help you in planning a trip to Marseille.
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Table of Contents
How to get to Marseille
Being France’s second-largest city, Marseille is incredibly well connected to the rest of the country, and to the rest of Europe. This is the transport hub for the French Riviera, and as such, it’s a busy and popular place to visit.
The main entrance point to Marseille is the Marseille-Provence International Airport, which is located outside of the city itself. There are budget flights to most major European cities, and long haul flights further afield to North America, and other selected destinations. There are regular shuttle buses from the airport to the city.
Marseille’s central station has fast connections across France, and you can reach Paris in just 3 hours on the high-speed TGV network. There are also regional connections along the French Riviera, to cities such as Nice or Montpellier.
The bus network isn’t quite as fast as the rail network, but there are cheap fares available across France, and internationally towards Spain and Italy.
Marseille is a popular cruise ship destination too, and you can find the city on many Mediterranean itineraries.
What to expect in Marseille
When you arrive in the city, if you are looking for more Marseille travel advice or for local maps, then you can find great information at the tourist information centre. Some parts of Marseille have a reputation for crime or danger, but to answer the question, is Marseille safe, in general, yes.
The touristy areas of the city are certainly safe to visit, but always be aware of pickpockets and petty thieves, especially on public transport or while walking along crowded streets. When you’re visiting the beaches along the coast, always be aware of your belongings, and don’t leave them unattended to go for a swim.
The main language of Marseille is French, and while plenty of locals speak English – particularly in restaurants and the tourist industry – French people prefer it when you speak their language, even if you aren’t particularly adept at it.
The main currency of France is the Euro, and you’ll find ATMs and money changers at the airport, train station and across the city centre.
How to get around Marseille
Marseille is a big, sprawling city, but in terms of tourism, there are several distinct parts of the city where you will be spending most of your time, which are easy to visit and to get around, including the Old Port, the seafront and the historic centre.
The city has a good public transport network, but you might want to take your Marseille travel guide or map with you to help you traverse the streets, buses and metro system.
The metro system is the easiest way to get across the city, and there are two underground lines which connect the major points in Marseille. Bus routes extend further and to parts of the city that the metro doesn’t, while the local tram system has two lines which you can make use of too.
Boats and ferries operate in the harbour area, while you can also join boat tours further out to the nearby islands, which are a wonderful day trip away from Marseille.
The best time to visit Marseille
Located along the southern coast of France, Marseille enjoys one of the best climates in the country. The beautiful Mediterranean weather ensures that the city enjoys warm temperatures through most of the year, with summer being particularly hot, and temperatures regularly hitting 40 degrees celsius.
The good weather brings lots of tourists to Marseille and to the wider Provence region, but things are always particularly busy during the peak summer season, between June and August.
Accommodation and flights are much pricier during the summer, and especially during any school holidays. If you can, it’s best to avoid the summer season if you want to keep costs down and enjoy a more peaceful atmosphere.
September to November tends to be much quieter in Marseille and all along the French Riviera, and this can be the best time to visit the city, as the weather is still warm and you’ll avoid the crowds. Spring can also be a great time to visit, but try to avoid the middle of winter, when it’s usually colder, and there’s plenty of rain too.
Things to do in Marseille
If you’re wondering what to do in Marseille when you first arrive, then the first place to visit is Vieux Port. This is the Old Port, and it’s one of the most famous attractions in the city.
The Old Port is where Marseille was founded thousands of years ago, and for centuries it’s formed the heart of the city. It’s the most historic place you can visit in Marseille, and in recent years, much of the harbourfront has been pedestrianised and revamped.
In the mornings, you can buy fresh fish from the local fishermen, while at night, the Old Port is spectacularly lit up and illuminated.
Fort Saint-Jean is a landmark of the Old Port, built in the 17th century to defend Marseille’s important harbour. You can explore the towers and walls to learn more about Marseille’s strategic location and history.
Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde
One of the best things to do in Marseille is to visit the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde. This is the best church in the city, and it’s found in a dramatic location atop Marseille’s highest hilltop.
It’s an integral part of the city’s skyline, and it dates back to the 1860s. You can admire the church from afar, but you can also explore the interior, where you’ll find lavish sculptures and architectural designs.
Vallon des Auffes
Vallon des Auffes is another historic part of Marseille, that’s found along the coast, outside of the city centre. This is an old fishing village that’s been swallowed by the city, but that still retains much of its rustic, French charm.
You’ll find life is very much laid back in Vallon des Auffes, and you’ll be able to watch the traditional fishing boats returning from the Meditteranean, while you watch the world go by from the harbour.
To experience a different side of the city, then head to Cours Julien, a neighbourhood that’s said to be the trendiest neighborhood in Marseille.
This is street art central, and you’ll find the walls and the pavements are awash with murals and graffiti. It’s a lively, artistic place to visit, and in the evenings, you’ll find busy bars spilling on the streets, and great places to eat out.
For an overview of the city’s beautiful shorefront, then take a stroll along La Corniche. This is the long boulevard the follows the Mediterranean along the city’s shorefront, and it’s a great place to explore.
Take a walk, go for a jog or ride a bicycle along La Corniche to see the best that the city has to offer.
What to eat in Marseille
France has a rich culinary tradition, and like other French cities, Marseille has a lot to offer when it comes to food. With an international flavour and plenty of immigration from across the world, Marseille is a unique melting pot when it comes to cuisine, and you can find restaurants from across the world in the city, as well as more traditional French dishes too.
At the Old Port, you can find fresh fish for sale every morning, while all along the waterfront you’ll find restaurants serving up the day’s best catches. Fish is a big deal in Marseille, and the city’s most famous local dish is Bouillabaisse. This is a two-course meal, consisting of fish soup, and the fish itself that was used to create the broth for the soup.
Another local speciality is called Pieds et Paquets, a dish that’s not for anyone with a weak stomach. This consists of sheep tripe and sheep feet, which are all cooked together into a hearty stew.
Where to stay in Marseille
Marseille has a great range of accommodation, and you’ll find hostels through to luxurious hotels and serviced apartments. Remember though, this is the French Riviera, and prices, particularly in peak season, can be more than other French cities. Airbnb is also a great option for short or long stays.
Hostel – The best hostel in Marseille is generally considered to be the Vertigo Vieux Port, which is located in Vieux Port. The hostel is new and sociable, while the same brand also offers Vertigo Centre, in the city centre.
Mid-Range – A great mid-range choice for those on a budget but not looking to stay in a hostel, is the Ibis, which has great branches in different locations, including the city centre and Vieux Port.
Luxury – Marseilles has some great luxury accommodation and two of the best, most upmarket offerings in the city are the Intercontinental and the Sofitel Vieux Port.
Tours to do in Marseille
Hop on Hop off Bus
A great way to see the best sights and attractions within Marseille is to buy a Hop on Hop off bus tour ticket. It’s an easy way to get around the city, as you can jump on and off at the designated stops, and will save time and hassle in comparison to using the public transport system.
Chateau d’If Tour
Chateau d’If is one of the most famous sights in Marseille, but it’s actually found on an island, just a short journey from Vieux Port. This imposing fortress dates back to the 16th century, and it was built to guard the port against enemy attack.
The fortress provided the inspiration for the Alexander Dumas novel, the Count of Monte Cristo, and on a tour to the island, you can see just why Chateau d’If proved so integral to the plot of the book.
An excellent way to see Marseille – particularly when the weather is good! – is by joining a bike tour. It’s an environmentally friendly way to get around the city, and you can even sign up for an electric bike tour if you don’t fancy pedalling all the time.
Day trips from Marseille
Calanques National Park
Just a short journey away from the city itself, you can experience the glorious natural scenery of the Calanques National Park. This is a spectacular area of wild and rugged cliffs and mountain peaks that stretches along the coast.
You can go hiking, you can explore the islands or the coast by boat, you can snorkel in the water and you can explore hidden caves. It’s a great way to escape the city and to experience the best of southern France’s nature.
Avignon is one of the most historic cities in southern France, and from Marseille, it’s just a one hour drive. Avignon is known for its preserved, medieval walls and fortifications, and walking through the small city is like taking a step back in time.
Admire the famed Avignon Bridge, explore the old Papal Palace, built when Avignon was the seat of the Popes, and visit the local churches and museums to be immersed in the city’s grand history.
Provence and the wider regions in southern France are famed for their great wineries, and across the area, you can visit some of the country’s best vineyards, including the likes of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
You can join guided tours from Marseille that will take you to the best wineries in Provence, where you can enjoy some excellent tastings.
Recommended tours in Marseille
- Marseille Electric Bike Tour
- Best of Provence Day Trip from Marseille: Avignon, Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Les Baux de Provence
- Perched Villages of the Luberon Day Trip from Marseille
- Electric Bike Tour to the Calanques from Marseille
- Provence Small-Group Sightseeing Tour: Marseille, Aix-en-Provence and Cassis
- Private Tour: Marseille and Cassis Day Trip
- Historical Center Walking Tour of Marseille
- Avignon and Luberon Villages Small Group Tour from Marseille
- Small-Group Lavender tour of Valensole, Moustiers Sainte Marie and Verdon from Marseille
- Marseille Shore excursion: Private Full-Day tour in Aix en Provence – winery and Cassis
- Marseille Street Art Walking Tour
- Full-Day Wine Tour around Aix en Provence from Marseille
- Full-Day Snorkeling and Guided Dive in the Calanques National Park from Marseille
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