France's second-largest city is an ideal choice for those who want to visit the French Mediterranean but would rather skip out on the overly glamorized and heavily touristic seaside resorts along the Riviera. The city's Greek origins, Italian settlers, and North African influence all contribute to Marseille's distinctly Mediterranean flair. Moreover, plenty of beautiful beaches can be found both in town and nearby National Park!
Good to Know:
- Getting There: Marseille's airport connects the city to most major European airports and around the Mediterranean Sea. But, of course, you can also arrive by train, e.g., from Paris or Lyon.
- Getting Around: Marseille has a cheap and reliable public transport system, comprised of the metro, trams, and buses. Using those will be sufficient for most of your inner city transfers and the occasional day trip. However, if you're planning to explore the region further and want to stay flexible, consider renting a car for your time outside the city.
- Where to Stay: The Vieux-Port District is the most versatile place to stay in Marseille. The area is gorgeous and lively, and most sights are within walking distance. Stay in La Corniche or La Plage if you prefer ocean-side hotels and don't mind being a bit further out from the bustle of the city.
- When to Visit: July and August make up Marseille's high season. Temperatures hover at around 30°C (86°F) during the day, and the city is packed with tourists. A better time to visit is during May/June and September when the sea is warm enough to swim in, but temperatures are milder.
- How Long to Visit: A trip to Marseille could be as short as four days if you just want to get to the major sights. However, a seven-day trip is better suited to see more of the region and get some time on the beach.
- Day Trips: Consider visiting Aix-en-Provence or Cassis for a day.
- More: Check out our trips on the Côte d'Azur and Monaco for more!
The Vieux-Port ("Old Port") forms the heart of Marseille. Though the port is no longer the city's economic hub, as it was for most of Marseilles's history, it is still the liveliest part of town. As a result, the port will likely be the starting point for most of your excursions. Here, you can buy tickets for the mini-train or bus sightseeing tours. Ferries to La Pointe Rouge, L'Estaque, and the islands also depart from the old port. On each side of the entrance to the harbor stands a fort, both constructed in the 1600s under Louis XIV. They were not intended to protect the city against intruders - the forts' cannons instead point at the town itself, which at the time of construction experienced an uprising of the people. Visit Fort Saint-Jean to learn more about Marseille's history and get a great view of Marseille's old town. A fun way to tour the harbor further, or to cut down on walking times, is to hop on the small ferry that runs between both sides of the old port!
Vallon des Auffes:
It is just a half-hour walk down the Corniche from the Old Port to the secluded fishing harbor that has kept its traditional charm. This beautiful port is the perfect location to enjoy Marseillaise seafood while watching the sun set over the Mediterranean Sea.
Experience the Marseillaise charm at its finest in the city's oldest district. Le Panier is a colorful maze of steep, narrow streets and staircases, which covers the hillside next to the Old Harbor, and is Marseille's cultural center. Take some time to stroll through Le Panier, with its quaint little cafés, boutiques, and soap shops. At the top of the hill is La Vieille Charité, a beautiful baroque complex centered around a courtyard in which a chapel stands. Formerly an almshouse, it is home to various museums and a small café.
Many spectacular churches throughout Marseille are worth a visit. Ahead of all the others, though, is the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde. Situated on top of a hill, the Roman-Byzantine church is visible from any corner of the city, making it Marseille's most prominent landmark. An 11 m (36 ft) tall statue of the Madonna and Child, encased in gold leaf, adorns the tip of the Basilica's bell tower.
Besides the Basilica, you must visit the Cathédrale da La Major down by the Old Port. The gigantic Roman Catholic Cathedral, another example of Roman-Byzantine architecture, was completed in 1896 and has since been the seat of the Archdiocese of Marseille.
A unique feature of the coastline between Marseille and Cassis are the many captivating inlets carved into steep cliffsides, the so-called Calanques. On a day trip to Calanques National Park, you can hike along the shore for spectacular views and enjoy the tranquility of this natural attraction. Some Calanques end in small beaches and can be swum in, such as the Calanque En-Vau.
Catch a ferry from the Old Port out to Les Îles ("The Islands"), an archipelago of four islands just off the coast of Marseille. The most notable sight is Chatêau d'If, another medieval fort and the setting of Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte-Cristo. Until 1890, the fort was utilized as a prison, thanks to its secluded location. While the other archipelago islands also house forts to visit, you will mainly want to experience their natural sights. As part of the National Park, there are even more stunning Calanques to explore and swim in here!