Last Updated on 2023-09-16
Discover what to visit in Marseille in 2023 and embark on an unforgettable journey through the heart of the Mediterranean. Located in the south of France, Marseille is the country’s second-largest city and a must-visit destination for tourists.
With its rich history, vibrant culture, and proximity to Portugal (just a few hours by plane), it’s no surprise that many Portuguese choose to holiday here.
Marseille dates back over 2,600 years, founded by Greek settlers from Phocaea (which is now part of Turkey). As such, it is the oldest city in France!
Thanks to its strategic location on the Mediterranean, Marseille has been an important commercial port for centuries, connecting Europe with North Africa and the Middle East. This diverse cultural heritage is reflected in the city’s architecture, cuisine, and way of life.
Visitors to Marseille can explore a fascinating blend of historic landmarks, cultural activities, and relaxing walks along the seafront. Beach lovers will also find plenty of hidden coves to discover, while foodies can indulge in iconic dishes like bouillabaisse as well as Italian and North African-inspired cuisine.
Best things to See and Do in Marseille France
Marseille is a city of immense charm and beauty, steeped in a rich history and culture that is truly unique. From the stunning Calanques to the vibrant Porto Velho, this Mediterranean jewel offers an abundance of sights and activities for visitors to enjoy.
As a city with deep roots in its past, Marseille boasts a number of historic landmarks and cultural attractions that are sure to captivate and inspire travelers of all ages. From the ancient Fort Saint-Nicolas to the iconic Notre-Dame de la Garde, there are many historical and cultural sites to explore in this city.
But Marseille is more than just a destination for history buffs. It’s also a city of vibrant markets, mouth-watering cuisine, and breathtaking natural beauty. Whether you’re browsing the colorful street markets of Cours Julien or admiring the panoramic views of the Calanques, there is always something new and exciting to discover in Marseille.
If you plan on staying in Marseille for several days, it may be worth considering the CityPass Marseille card. Prices start at €27 and include a tour on the tourist trains, entry to the Chateau d’If, access to Regards de Provence and Mucem, and unlimited transport.
Here are some tips on what to visit in Marseille:
Vieux-Port: the Old Port of Marseille
The Vieux-Port, or old port, is one of the most iconic places in Marseille and the heart of the city where everything happens. Over the centuries, the port has been expanded and modified several times to accommodate growing trade and maritime activities.
Today, the Vieux-Port is a vibrant and bustling place, full of attractions and things to do. One of the most popular activities is strolling along the waterfront, watching boats come in and out of the harbor.
Although the Vieux-Port is primarily used by small vessels, large cruise ships dock a few kilometers away in the modern port.
In the mornings, fishermen arrive on their boats and set up a bustling fish market, frequented by locals and restaurant owners alike.
Visitors can stop at one of the many cafes and restaurants along the way to enjoy a coffee or a meal while taking in the picturesque views. Restaurant Miramar is particularly famous for its bouillabaisse, a traditional fish stew.
During the summer months, the Vieux-Port hosts various events and festivals, including the Festival de Marseille. This music and dance event takes place every year in July, with performances at various locations around the port. In 2023, the festival will run from June 17th to July 9th, transforming the port into an open-air stage.
The Château d’If
Chateau d’If is an ancient fortress located on Isle d’If, a small island in the bay of Marseille and part of the Frioul archipelago.
Construction of the chateau began in the 16th century, as a defense against possible attacks on the city. Over the years, the Chateau d’If has been used for different purposes, including as a prison, hospital and, during the Second World War, as a point of defense against invaders.
The Chateau d’If is located on the island and the 1.5 kilometers to Marseille are made by boat, tickets for which can be purchased at the Vieux-Port.
This castle inspired Alexandre Dumas’s novel “The Count of Monte Cristo” and daily tours depart from the Vieux Port to visit this fortress located on an island
Notre-Dame de la Garde Basilica
The basilica is located at the highest point in Marseille and offers a wide view of the city. From here, visitors can see the center of Marseille, including the old port (Vieux-Port), the ferris wheel, and the main monuments, as well as the more recent port that receives large cruise ships.
To reach the top of the hill, visitors can take bus number 60 (yellow line) and walk the last few meters. Alternatively, they can choose to take a 2-hour Segway ride from the center to the Basilica, which includes a visit to Marseille’s most emblematic places.
The MUCEM, Musée des Civilizations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée, is a museum located next to the promenade in the city of Marseille and opened in 2013.
It’s dedicated to the exhibition and exploration of the cultures of Europe and the Mediterranean, with a special focus on the cultural interactions and influences between these regions.
The MUCEM is made up of three interconnected buildings, including a former 17th-century fortress and a modern concrete and glass structure.
The museum has a large collection of historical artifacts, documents and works of art, as well as temporary exhibitions on various topics related to the history and culture of Europe and the Mediterranean.
MuCEM tickets cost €11, but to avoid the queues at the entrance I suggest you buy the museum ticket online.
Cathédrale de la Major (Cathedral of Marseille)
The Cathédrale de la Major, or Cathedral of Marseille, is a cathedral built in the Neo-Byzantine style in the 19th century.
The cathedral is impressive in its size and unique architecture, with a large cross-shaped dome and four towers rising above the city.
Construction of the cathedral began in 1852, in an area where an ancient Romanesque cathedral had been built centuries before.
The new cathedral was designed by architect Léon Vaudoyer, and construction was completed in 1893. It features spectacular mosaics and colorful stained glass windows depicting biblical and historic scenes.
The Cathédrale de la Major is an important historical and cultural landmark in Marseille, attracting visitors from all over the world. In addition to serving as a house of worship for the faithful, the cathedral is also a popular venue for musical performances and other cultural activities.
Admission is free and there are also guided tours if you want to join a group.
The Vallon des Auffes
Not far from the center of Marseille there is this incredible place! It is a small fishing village that seems to have stopped in time.
The restaurants are family-run, but popular because of the freshness and simplicity of the fish dishes.
Take bus number 83 from the Vieux Port and ride to Vallon des Auffes. The ticket can be bought on board (it costs €2) and the trip doesn’t take long.
Calanques National Park stretches from Marseille to Cassis, but the most dramatic cliffs are close to Marseille.
We took a cruise to the Calanques on an ecological boat that left from Vieux-Port, but you can explore the hillside by land if you prefer.
Don’t forget your bathing suit, as there are coves that invite you to take a dip in the Mediterranean.
Best things to Do in Marseille in 2023
Watch the fishermen arrive at the Vieux Port
Marseille is a city steeped in history and tradition, and one of its oldest traditions is artisanal fishing. Despite the modernization of the fishing industry, there are still fishermen in Marseille who use traditional methods to catch fish and seafood, and they bring their catch straight to the Vieux Port every morning.
Watching the fishermen at work is an awe-inspiring experience, as they skillfully bring in their catch using methods that have been passed down through generations. And if you’re lucky enough to be in Marseille in the morning, you can witness the hustle and bustle of the port as the fishermen sell their catch to eager restaurant owners and transport vans.
The fish caught by these artisanal fishermen is some of the freshest and most delicious you will ever taste, and many of Marseille’s top restaurants source their fish directly from the Vieux Port. So, if you’re a seafood lover, don’t miss the opportunity to taste the fruits of this age-old tradition and savor the flavors of Marseille’s culinary heritage.
Buy handmade soaps
Marseille soap is not only a cleansing product, but also a part of the city’s rich cultural heritage. For centuries, local artisans have been making this soap by hand, using pure, natural ingredients like olive oil and lavender. Today, Marseille soap is known worldwide for its gentle yet effective cleansing properties and has become a symbol of French craftsmanship.
If you’re visiting Marseille and want to experience the city’s artisanal culture, buying traditional Marseille soap is a must. You can find it in many markets and specialty shops throughout the city, each with their own unique blend of fragrances and ingredients. Whether you choose the classic solid soap or the liquid soap, you can be assured that you’re getting a genuine product by looking for the “Savon de Marseille” label.
Beyond its traditional form, Marseille soap has evolved to include various scents and textures, including olive oil soap and lavender soap, which are also produced locally. These natural soaps are perfect for those with sensitive skin and are great for personal hygiene and home cleaning.
So next time you’re in Marseille, be sure to take a piece of the city’s cultural heritage home with you by buying traditional Marseille soap. It’s not just a soap, but a testament to the city’s rich history and craftsmanship.
Accommodation in Marseille
The center of Marseille is a good place to stay, not least because it has a wide range of options, from budget hotels to luxury options.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Marseille Saint Charles, a four-star hotel located opposite the train station and a 10-minute walk from the old port and we recommend it.
In any case, you can see other accommodation options in Marseille here: Hotels in Marseille.
For more options, you can check out this list of Hotels in Marselha.
Gastronomy and restaurants in Marseille
Food is undoubtedly an integral part of any travel experience, and Marseille is no exception. As such, I’d like to share some tips that I believe are essential when it comes to dining out in this beautiful city.
When it comes to prices, I found that restaurants in Marseille were generally affordable, although they may be slightly more expensive than those in Portugal, for example.
One thing to keep in mind is that many tourist restaurants offer a menu of the day, or formule du jour, which typically includes a starter and a main course, with an option for dessert, all for a fixed price.
If you’re looking for something different, there are plenty of Italian options like Splendido and Trattoria Marco, as well as Moroccan eateries like Le Souk and Les Délices du Maroc, all of which offer excellent value for money.
For those on a budget, fast food options like Le Bistro Du Panier (known for their burgers) and Chez Angèle (which offers a menu of the day as well as pizza) are great choices. So, whether you’re looking for a gourmet meal or a quick bite, Marseille has something to offer for every taste and budget.
Transport in Marseille
Marseille’s transport network is quite complete and includes bus, metro and tramway. Tickets can be used on all public transport and are valid for one hour.
With regard to prices, expect to pay €1.70 for the single ticket if purchased at vending machines, but if you buy the ticket directly from the bus driver, you pay €2.
If you prefer tickets for 10 journeys, then consider paying €15.
In addition, there is a day pass that includes ferry travel, with a 24-hour pass costing €5.20 and a 72-hour pass costing €10.80.
Marseille’s bus network includes 80 lines and vehicles run between 5 am and 1 am, meaning you can go almost anywhere by bus.
The metro is also a good way to get from one place to another. There are two metro lines, Line 1 and Line 2 and the main station is Gare de Saint Charles.
The Tramway is a surface metro, it runs every day from 5:00 am to 00:30 am and has 3 lines:
- Line 1: from Noailles to Les Caillols
- Line 2: from Arenc Le Silo to La Blancarde
- Line 3: from Arenc Le Silo to Castellane
If you’re looking for a more unique way to explore Marseille, consider taking a ferry ride. The city’s coastline and harbor are beautiful and there are several ferry routes that will take you to different destinations, including the Calanques National Park.
Finally, in Marseille there is Uber if you want to order transport using your mobile phone.
How to get from Marseille Airport to the center?
The best way to get from Marseille-Provence Airport to the city center is by bus.
You can take the L091 line to Gare Saint-Charles, Marseille’s train station, and arrive in about 30 minutes. It is a direct route and the ticket costs €10. The bus departs from the airport every 10 minutes and operates from 4:10 am to 1:30 am.
If you arrive after 1:30 am, you can take a taxi to the center of Marseille, but expect to pay around €60.
Alternatively, you can take the train, but it’s not a direct route. You need to take the L13 bus to Vitrolles Station and then transfer to the train to Gare Saint-Charles. In this case, you need to pay for both the bus ticket (€1.70) and the train ticket (approximately €6).
How many days to visit Marseille?
If you’re planning a trip to Marseille, two days is the perfect amount of time to see the city’s main attractions. But, there is so much more to discover! If you’re a museum lover, be sure to dedicate at least one or two extra days to explore the many interesting museums that Marseille has to offer. The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations, in particular, is a must-see.
Don’t miss out on the opportunity to explore the stunning natural beauty of the region with a visit to the Parc National des Calanques (National Park of the Calanques). This half-day tour will take you through breathtaking landscapes of rugged cliffs, hidden coves, and crystal-clear waters. Be sure to bring your camera and take plenty of photos!
And let’s not forget about Marseille’s world-famous culinary scene. Take a food tour and explore the city’s delicious offerings, from fresh seafood to traditional Provençal cuisine. Indulge in some bouillabaisse, the famous Marseille fish soup, or try some pastis, the local anise-flavored aperitif.
With all of these incredible experiences awaiting you, it’s easy to see why Marseille is such a popular destination. So go ahead and add a few extra days to your itinerary to truly immerse yourself in all that this vibrant city has to offer.
Do I need travel insurance to visit Marseille?
Although it is not mandatory, I highly recommend purchasing travel insurance before visiting Marseille, and here’s why.
There is often confusion between having the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) and having travel insurance. While the EHIC provides access to healthcare in the EU, it does not cover all costs, especially in France where there are user fees for medical treatment.
For instance, if you go to a hospital, you will need to pay 16 € plus 20% of the cost of the intervention. As a result, medical bills can add up quickly, leaving you with a hefty bill to pay.
Furthermore, if you rely solely on the EHIC, you may have to go to public hospitals and face long waiting times. In contrast, having travel insurance provides you with comprehensive coverage and assistance, including access to private clinics, prompt treatment, and direct billing to your insurer.
I personally use IATI Travel Insurance, which I find to be both affordable and comprehensive, with Portuguese-language assistance available. In case of an emergency, all you need to do is call the number provided, and the insurer will arrange for you to receive medical attention without any out-of-pocket expenses.
To ensure a stress-free trip, I recommend doing a quick simulation to see how much travel insurance for Marseille would cost and avoid traveling without proper insurance coverage.
What to do in Marseille on a cruise stop
If you are taking a Mediterranean cruise from Barcelona, it is highly likely that your itinerary will include a stop in Marseille. Typically, cruise ships arrive in the port of Marseille in the morning and depart in mid-afternoon, providing you with only a few hours to explore the city. To maximize your time in Marseille, you have the option of taking a tour organized by the cruise company or venturing out on your own.
While cruise tours are convenient for those who prefer a structured itinerary or are concerned about missing their ship, they can be pricey and limit your flexibility. If you prefer more independence, you can hire a taxi from the Port of Marseille or take a bus to the city center.
It’s worth noting that Marseille is a vibrant and bustling city with many attractions, such as the Old Port, the Notre-Dame de la Garde basilica, and the MuCEM museum. However, if you’re visiting during the lavender flowering season (mid-June to early July), I highly recommend taking a trip to Valensole to see the beautiful lavender fields in bloom.
How to get from the Cruise Port to the center of Marseille
Getting from the Cruise Port to the center of Marseille is easy and affordable. The port is located about 8 km from the city center, and you have a few transportation options to choose from.
If you’re in a hurry and want to get to the center of Marseille quickly, taking a taxi or ride-sharing service is the best option. A taxi ride from the port to the city center takes about 10 minutes and costs around €20, depending on traffic.
If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, taking a bus is a great choice. Bus 35 departs from Terminal Maghreb and runs approximately every 20 minutes. The journey to the city center takes about 30 minutes and the ticket costs €1.70. Keep in mind that bus schedules may vary on weekends and public holidays.
Overall, taking the bus is a convenient and affordable way to get from the Cruise Port to the center of Marseille. It’s also a great way to see more of the city and its surroundings during your visit.
What Cruise Lines Visit Marseille
Marseille is a popular stop for many cruise lines, including MSC, Costa Cruises, and Norwegian.
MSC has a range of ships that visit Marseille, including Grandiosa, Poesia, Fantasia, Seaview, Orchestra, and their newest additions, MSC World Europa and Seashore.
Costa Cruises offers the Costa Fortune, while Norwegian visitors can enjoy the Norwegian Epic. The presence of so many cruise companies is a testament to the appeal of Marseille as a tourist destination.
How to get to Marseille from other European cities
Finding affordable flights to Marseille is crucial to keep your travel costs under control. Luckily, there are direct flights from several European cities to Marseille, making it easier to find low-cost fares if you book in advance.
From Lisbon, you can fly directly to Marseille with Easyjet, Ryanair, and Flytap. Easyjet has direct flights on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday, while Ryanair operates daily flights (operated by Malta Air) to Marseille. Tap Air Portugal also offers direct flights to Marseille.
The journey takes approximately two and a half hours, making it an ideal getaway destination.
If you’re leaving from Porto, Ryanair is your best low-cost option, with daily direct flights to Marseille.
Once you arrive at Marseille-Provence Airport (MRS), taking the bus (line L091) towards Gare St Charles is the best way to get to the city center. The bus takes about half an hour and has no stops until it reaches the center of Marseille. You can buy your ticket directly from the driver.
If you’re traveling from other French or European cities, consider checking out bus timetables and prices. This may be an affordable way to reach Marseille.
Travel video in Marseille (France)
This video from Marseille is a few years old, but it gives you an idea of what a family holiday in this amazing city is like.
The historic center is very pleasant to walk around, as is the promenade area.
At the beginning of the day, watch the boats arrive at the old port, or Vieux Port, and before nightfall, do as the locals do and secure a spot on the port to watch the sunset.
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