Unlike Paris, you probably won’t find a tried-and-true list of things you must do in Marseille. Instead, Marseille is a city that reflects a traveler’s personal interests – whether it’s hiking, eating, art, history or culture. That being said, here are my picks for the top things to do in Marseille. Once you’re there, you’ll surely find many more!
To get an idea of what to expect, check out this Marseille overview.
Visit the Vieux Port
There certainly is no dearth of ports along the French Mediterranean coast, and there are many that are adorable and quaint. This is not one of them. The Vieux Port is a massive area that is alive with working fisherman in the morning, boats coming to and from the Iles Frioul during the rest of the way, and restaurants, bars and plenty of people watching all day and night. It’s a great way to spend the day.
Get lost in Le Panier
This is the section of Marseille where you won’t be able to stop taking pictures every five feet. Its tiny, winding streets are so freaking picturesque, it’s ridiculous. And it’s a fun neighborhood to hang out in as well.
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Head up to Notre Dame de la Gard
If you arrive in Marseille by train or bus and head out of the station through the upper level, this is the church you see up on the hill in a distance. While it’s worth a visit in its own right – fisherman used to bring their boats there to be blessed, and there’s ample evidence of this – the view of Marseille from up there is nothing short of breathtaking.
Feel hip in the Cours Julien
You could spend a whole week in this little neighborhood, discovering its hidden secrets. Kim from imarsCreative, who has lived there since 1987, has an exhaustive guide you can download as a PDF for your favorite device, and there’s no way I can do better than that, so feel free to use all of her excellent info.
Sail to the Iles du Frioul
You’ll often hear that visiting the Château d’If is a must for any visit to Marseille, and this is where you’ll find it. But truth be told the small island chain just off the coast has to much more to offer, especially if you love hiking or just being outdoors in an unspoiled environment without going to the ends of the earth.
Learn at the Musée des Docks romains
This archaeological museum is a unique way to learn about the history of Marseille. Between you and me I’m not a big fan of museums – grade school field trip flashbacks – but many people are unaware of just how rich a history this city has, and it’s worth it to take the time to learn about. (Note, it’s closed on Mondays.)
If you’ve spent more than 5 minutes on this website you’ll know that I find it totally legitimate to visit a place just to eat something that’s there. And for Marseille, bouillabaisse is it. It’s a fish stew that comes with croutons and aioli, a garlicky creamy concoction, and is the quintessential meal to have here. If you’re a seafood fan, get ready to meet your maker.
Absinthe used to be a big thing… until wormwood, its main ingredient, became illegal. Far from being defeated, though, absinthe makers simply found a new drink to produce – pastis. It tastes like fennel and is served in a glass with a carafe of water. You pour the water into your glass, turning the clear amber liquid a milky yellow. It’s an acquired taste, but refreshing and very, very Marseille. Don’t be surprised if you see fisherman drinking it at 7AM. And don’t underestimate the punch it packs.
Now that Marseille has surely been added to your itinerary, let me enable you further by giving you some helpful links:
- Cheap flights to Marseille
- Budget Airlines that Fly to Marseille
- Getting from Paris to Marseille
- Getting from Nice to Marseille
- The French Riviera
- Day Trips from Nice
- Hotels near the Vieux Port in Marseille
- Day trips from Marseille
Photo: alpha du centaure