Marseille is a vibrant and diverse city on France’s Mediterranean coast where you will find culture, nature, history and some of the best food around. Marseille is France’s oldest and second-largest city and one that is ever popular with tourists. It’s location on the Mediterranean Coast offers the city temperate weather and spectacular landscapes. The city is surrounded by the Calanques National Park, within which are series of rocky inlets and coves that are perfect for hiking, kayaking or swimming. But if the sea isn’t for you, Marseille also has excellent golden sandy beaches to relax and unwind on.
As an ancient city, Marseille has been influenced by a wide variety of cultures and civilisations. Across the city are reminders of its history, from the ancient Greek and Roman ruins to the medieval abbey of Saint-Victor and the iconic Notre-Dame de la Garde basilica. Explore the city’s history in more depth in its museums. Marseille is also a cultural melting pot where you can experience the influences of different communities that have shaped its identity over the centuries. Enjoy trying a variety of local traditional dishes such as the famous bouillabaisse fish stew. For those looking for nightlife Marseille has an excellent club scene with plenty of venues and live events to choose from. To help with your travel plans, here are the best things to do in Marseille.
- Marseille, France
- Plan Your Trip
- 20 Things To Do In Marseille
- 1- Taste The City On A Foodie Walking Tour
- 2- Basilica Of Notre-Dame de la Garde
- 3- Explore The Old Town
- 4- Mucem
- 5- Visit The Islands
- 6- Palais Longchamp
- 7- Play Pétanque
- 8- Old Port Of Marseille
- 9- Step Back In Time At Chateau d’If
- 10- Marseille History Museum
- 11- Admire The Buildings Along La Canebière
- 12- Vallon des Auffes
- 13- Eat Your Way Across The Open Air Markets
- 14- Cosquer Méditerranée
- 15- Enjoy Bouillabaisse
- 16- Get Into Nature At Les Calanques
- 17- Shop In The Bohemian Quarter
- 18- Relax On The Beach
- 19- Admire Modern Art At Museum Of Contemporary Art
- 20- Explore Fort Saint-Jean
20 Things To Do In Marseille
1- Taste The City On A Foodie Walking Tour
One of the best ways to experience a new city is by exploring on foot, and what better way to do this than by eating your way around.
Marseille is a city filled with gastronomic delights from traditional French cuisine to more Mediterranean flavours.
On a walking tour of the city knowledgeable guides will take you to some of the best food destinations including restaurants, food stands and markets.
Try tapas along the coast or sample the freshest fish by the port all while learning about the city and its history.
There are many food walking tours across Marseille that can be booked in advance, or on the day through tourist information centres.
- Marseille: Colorbüs City Sightseeing Bus Tour
- Marseille: Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour & Panier Walking Tour
- From Marseille: Luberon Markets & Villages Full-Day Trip
- Marseille or Aix: Private Cote de Provence Wine Tasting Trip
2- Basilica Of Notre-Dame de la Garde
One of the most beautiful religious buildings and architectural sites in Marseille is Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde.
The cathedral is often referred to as La Bonne Mère, or the Good Mother, as it overlooks the city from the hilltop.
From the hilltop where the cathedral sits there are stunning views out across the city and towards the sea.
The cathedral is best accessed via the tourist train that takes you on a relaxing journey up the hill allowing you to have more time to take in the views.
The first religious site on the hill dates back to 1214, with the first stone of the current cathedral being laid in 1853.
After admiring the beauty of the surroundings and the cathedral, head into its museum to learn more about its history, and the history of the hill it rests on.
Basílica of Notre-Dame de la Garde is at Rue Fort du Sanctuaire, 13006 Marseille.
3- Explore The Old Town
Marseille’s Old Town is known as Le Panier, and exploring it is a great thing to do when in the city.
The streets are narrow and cobbled with plenty of cosy cafes, flower-laden terraces and colourful street art.
Le Panier is filled with many of the city’s most popular attractions and must-visit sites, such as Maison Diamantée, a former home of wealthy Spanish and Italian traders.
The house gets its name from its stunning diamond shaped stones on its facade.
Le Panier is at 13002 Marseille. You may also like to explore by bike.
A visit to Mucem is a great thing to do in Marseille to learn more about the city.
The museum is unique as it is dedicated to the city’s historical roots from ancient times to the present day.
There are many cultural programs offered by the museum that cover anthropology, archaeology, art history and more.
Mucem houses a vast collection of around 350,000 artefacts, objects of interest and works of art from across the city’s history.
2024 sees Mucem celebrating its 10th anniversary with a series of 10 events planned for the year including a festival and special exhibitions designed to reflect the best of the museum.
Mucem is at 7 promenade Robert Laffont (esplanade du J4) 13002 Marseille.
5- Visit The Islands
Located just off the coast of Marseille are several small islands and archipelagos that are well worth a visit during your trip.
One of the most famous islands in this stretch of the Mediterranean is Îles du Frioul.
This tiny archipelago was made famous by Alexandre Dumas and his novel The Count of Monte Cristo.
Visit this fortress and prison island for a unique thing to do in Marseille to not only uncover history and culture, but also to admire spectacular views back across the sea towards the city.
The islands aren’t just for history lovers however, as they are a popular base for water-sports such as waterskiing and paddle boarding.
6- Palais Longchamp
Visiting Palais Longchamp is a great thing to do in Marseille.
The historical monument is set inside a lush green park and is filled with water.
Franz Mayor, an architect, designed a new method to bring clean water into the city in 1835 following a cholera epidemic caused by a water shortage.
Palais Longchamp was designed as a way to bring water from the Durance River via a purpose built canal into the city to provide citizens with clean drinking water.
Henry Espérandieu, another architect who is renowned for his work on the Notre Dame basilica, was tasked with designing the building itself.
Palais Longchamp houses two museums either side of the reservoir; the Museum of Fine Arts and the Natural History museum.
Palais Longchamp is at Bd Jard. Zoologique, 13004 Marseille.
7- Play Pétanque
A traditional French lawn game is pétanque, and what better place to play than in its origin city.
Ernest Pitiot, a cafe owner, invented pétanque in 1907 to aid a player of another game, jeu, to continue playing lawn games despite rheumatism.
The game, which consists of a player throwing or rolling a ball along a long and narrow pitch, fast brought in many interested players with the first official tournament being held in 1910.
The game has fast become one of the most loved sports in the country with international tournaments now held annually in the city.
There are many destinations across Marseille to play pétanque at including dedicated pétanque clubs, or simply enjoy a game in the park.
8- Old Port Of Marseille
The Old Port of Marseille is a must-visit part of the city during your trip and is filled with great things to do.
Marseille has its roots in Phocaean history as the Ancient Greek settlers landed on the coastline here.
The port has existed since this time and has to this day remained the heart of the city.
The old port is home to the bustling fish market and many excellent restaurants specialising in sea food.
As one of the oldest parts of the city, the Old Port is filled with ancient buildings that merge seamlessly with the trendy and modern restaurants of today.
9- Step Back In Time At Chateau d’If
In the waters surrounding Marseille is the archipelago of Frioul, home to the infamous Château d’If.
King Francis I ordered the chateau be built in the 16th century and served as a military deterrent along France’s coastline.
Following its military period, the chateau then became a prison for political and religious prisoners.
It soon gained notoriety as a key setting for The Count of Monte Cristo, written by Alexandre Dumas in the 1840s.
The château was fully demilitarised in the late 1890s and has been open to the public since.
Other famous literary visitors have also spent time in the château including Mark Twain.
Château d’If is at Embarcadère Frioul If, 1 Quai de la Fraternité, 13001 Marseille.
10- Marseille History Museum
With such a varied and ancient history, it is no wonder that Marseille has many museums with historical collections.
Marseilles dedicated history museum focuses on the entirety of the city’s history set within one of the most ancient part of the city.
The museum was founded in 1983 in the Old Port area of the city.
It’s architectural design incorporates the city’s ancient port by highlighting its presence through an unusual screen printed window so it can be seen from the museum, and by transforming the area around the ancient port into a garden.
The museum covers 26 centuries of Marseilles’ history through a range of interactive exhibitions, artefacts and an increasingly growing number of collections powered by technology and augmented reality.
The museums augmented reality features allow visitors to step back in time by enjoying a fully immersive experience.
Marseille History Museum is at 2 Rue Henri Barbusse, 13001 Marseille.
11- Admire The Buildings Along La Canebière
La Canebière is a beautiful street in Marseille and exploring its shops, cafes and restaurants is a great thing to do in the city.
The street is 1 kilometre long (0.62 miles) long and dates from the mid-17th century.
Over the centuries the street was widened and luxury shops and restaurants began to move in.
All along La Canebière are attractive 17th, 18th and 19th century buildings, and a recent restoration of the street has made it attractive and welcoming to pedestrians.
The streets are lined with leafy trees and there are plenty of benches to watch the world go by from.
Along this famous shopping street are fashion boutiques, patisseries, bookshops and independent shops and cafes.
12- Vallon des Auffes
A great thing to do in Marseille is to explore the old fishing port of Vallon des Auffes.
This picturesque and pretty small port is lined with colourful and traditional fisherman’s houses with boats bobbing in the water.
One of the best places in Vallon des Auffes for a view is over the 60m (196.85ft) long 19th century bridge.
While in Vallon des Auffes, grab a bite to eat at Chez Jeannot, a pizzeria dating in 1949.
Explore the neighbourhood during the day and take a swim in the cool waters under the bridge arches, or return in the evening to enjoy areas friendly neighbourhood vibe and relaxed restaurants.
13- Eat Your Way Across The Open Air Markets
There are many excellent open air markets in Marseille that specialise in food.
One of the best markets in the city is Prado Market is one of the biggest and most popular in the city.
Here you will find locals stocking up on fresh groceries, household items and clothes.
The market also has many excellent food stalls selling delicious freshly made street food dishes.
For something a little more exotic head to Le Marché de Noailles where a variety of Mediterranean, African and Asian cuisines and ingredients are offered.
14- Cosquer Méditerranée
For a unique historical thing to do in Marseille visit Cosquer Méditerranée.
This incredible landmark is a recreation of a piece of Palaeolithic cave art found in the Cosquer cave.
The artwork depicts a variety of sea life including penguins, seals and whales.
The artwork is visitable via a series of automated vehicles which tell the tale of man’s relationship with the Mediterranean Sea during these early years.
Cave paintings also include depictions of a rising tide or sea levels and some showing people diving.
Cosquer Méditerranée is at Promenade Robert Laffont, Esp. J4, 13002 Marseille.
15- Enjoy Bouillabaisse
When in Marseille make the most of the Mediterranean location and enjoy its most famous regional dish, bouillabaisse.
Bouillabaisse began as a dish commonly made by fisherman who, on saving part of their catch for themselves and their families, added various fish, herbs, spices and wine to create a simple yet delicious dish.
It is believed to be of Greek or Roman origin and has over the centuries gradually become based around shellfish.
The dish is served typically with fish to one side, allowing guests to add pieces of fish to the broth should they wish, or to simply enjoy the two as separate complimentary dishes.
16- Get Into Nature At Les Calanques
Step out of the city and explore the beautiful natural landscape of Les Calanques.
Les Calanques has a myriad of landscapes including pristine sand and pebble beaches, lush green forests and pools of turquoise water.
Les Calanques also extends out over a section of the Mediterranean where kayaking and sailing can be enjoyed.
One of the best ways to explore the area is by taking a gentle hike to explore the beautiful surroundings.
Guided walking tours or days exploring the area are also available.
Les Calanques runs along the Mediterranean Coast in Bouches-du-Rhône.
17- Shop In The Bohemian Quarter
One of the trendiest areas in Marseille is Le Cours Julien.
Between the Old Port and the district of Noailles, Les Cours Julien is filled with colourful streets lined with murals and graffiti.
The area originally served as a marketplace for fruits and vegetables in the mid-1800s.
After undergoing redevelopments in the 1960s Les Cours Julien has been transformed to include many art galleries, clubs and independent shops ran by creatives.
The area hasn’t lost its market history however, as it has a weekly organic farmers market held on Wednesday mornings.
Les Cours Julien is at Cr Julien, Marseille.
18- Relax On The Beach
Marseille makes the most of its warm Mediterranean climate through its culture and its food, but there are also stunning sandy beaches to small up the sun along this beautiful stretch of coastline.
There are many beaches along Marseille’s coastline, all offering something different.
For one of the best natural beaches, venture inside Les Calanques.
Here you will find the hidden cove of Calanque d’En Vau, a small white sand beach leading to crystal clear waters that is only accessible after a challenging at times hike.
The beach at the end is however worth the journey for its tranquility and picturesque location.
Another excellent beach to visit in Marseille is Plage des Catalans.
This beach is in the heart of the city and overlooks the port.
Plage des Catalans does get very busy during tourist heavy seasons due to its close proximity to the centre, however it offers golden sands, beach loungers and relaxing and inviting bars.
19- Admire Modern Art At Museum Of Contemporary Art
Visiting Marseille’s Museum of Contemporary Art is a great thing to do in the city.
The museums permanent collections are free to all, however a small fee is payable to some of its temporary exhibitions.
The museums permanent collection has a variety of works of art from the 1960s to present day.
In the collection are sculptures, installations, films and photographs.
The museum frequently has guest collections from other famous French contemporary art collections including Centre Pompidou and the International Centre for Research on Glass and Plastics.
Museum of Contemporary Art is at 69 Av. d’Haifa, 13008 Marseille.
20- Explore Fort Saint-Jean
One of the most popular historical sites in Marseille is Fort Saint-Jean, an imposing and fortified structure at the entrance to the Old Port area.
Louis XIV had the fort built in 1660 after locals expressed their fondness of other impressive fortresses in neighbouring regions.
The fort was attacked in 1790 after a revolutionary mob stormed it.
During the French Revolution the fort was used as a prison housing many members of the nobility
Today the fort is a historical museum dedicated to European and Mediterranean civilisations.
Fort Saint-Jean is at Prom. Robert Laffont, 13002 Marseille.
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