Considered to be the “melting pot” of France, Marseille is a large and dynamic city located on the shores of France’s Mediterranean coast. It is the third largest city in France in population (after Paris and Lyon), and has long served as an important port city in France. It is in fact one of the oldest cities in Europe, being established by the Phoenicians sometime around 600 B.C.
While its terracotta-roofed buildings, sun-drenched promenades, pétanque-playing inhabitants, and Mistral-whipped sail boats in the port may make you feel like you’ve stepped into a Marcel Pagnol novel, Marseille is certainly not the type of Provençal city you picture when you see a Cézanne or Van Gogh painting. It may be a gritty, grimy city to some, but Marseille still has a gloriously rooted soul of sorts.
It should be noted that Marseille is not typically a city you fall in love with immediately. In fact, many first-time visitors (including myself) find this city to be overwhelming, which can be more easily accepted when you begin to discover the enticing blends of cultures here. Sometimes called the first Arabic City in France, Marseille’s Mediterranean location and proximity to northern Africa means that there are a huge number of Northern African immigrants living in Marseille. There are also significant immigrant populations from Spain, Italy and other Mediterranean countries—all which combine to create the diverse, multi-cultural feel of this French city.
If you find yourself in France for Bastille Day and wondering if the national anthem (called La Marseillaise) has anything to do the city of Marseille, well, it does. The historically fiercely independent Marseille was a big supporter of the French Revolution, sending 500 troops marching to Paris. On their way north, the volunteers sang a march recently composed in Strasbourg, but that would forever be renamed for the city.
What to do in Marseille
The best way to experience the fusion of cultures in Marseille is to head to the outdoor street markets, where you will Provençal produce stalls mixed with Moroccan souk-like bazaars and fresh seafood straight from the boat at the seafood markets along the Vieux Port, where boats have been docking for more than 26 centuries.
Make sure you don’t miss heading to Marseille’s oldest section in the historic La Panier neighborhood, located just north of le Vieux Port.
Don’t miss out trying Marseille’s signature dish, bouillabaisse, a seafood stew of sorts that tastes especially delicious when eaten within sight of the fishing boats unloading the ingredients in the stew.
If you are an Alexandre Dumas fan and want to check out the island prison that held the Count of Monte Cristo, take a boat from the Vieux Port to Château d’If, a 16th-century fortress-turned-prison that held many French political prisoners.
Make sure you buy up some of Marseille’s traditional soaps, which are milled in the city and usually scented with Provençal products like lavender or sage.
Getting to Marseille
Marseille’s airport is located about 26 km from town and has many daily flights from international destinations and Paris. Shuttle buses link the airport to town, leaving every 20 mins and taking about an hour (cost approximately €8.50).
Quick search for flights to Marseille (MRS) from Paris (CDG), London (LON), and Barcelona (BCN):
By Boat or Ferry
The Société Nationale Maritime Corse-Méditerranée links Marseille to Corsica, Sardinia and Tunisia as well as serving ports in Algiers, Annaba, Bejaia, Oran and Skikada in Algeria, though visitors hoping to take the ferry from Marseille to Algeria should be aware that political troubles sometimes cancel these boats.
Marseille’s passenger train station, Gare St-Charles, is served by both of Marseille’s metro lines.
By far the easiest way to get from Paris to Marseille is by train, as the city is connected to the capital via the high-speed TGV, which runs 17 times daily and only takes only 3 hours.
There are also many daily trains from Marseille to nearby Nice (2.5 hours), Avignon (30 mins), and Lyon (3.25 hours).
If you are coming to or from Marseille and another city in Provence, taking the bus can actually be an easy way to travel. The bus station is located directly next door to the train station, Gare St-Charles. Buses leaving from here travel to Aix-en-Provence (35 minutes, 17 daily), Avignon (2 hours, 1 daily), Cannes (2 hours, 4 daily), Nice (2.75 hours, 3 daily) and more.
Eurolines also offers buses from Marseille to international destinations in Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Italy and more.
If you are renting a car in France, Marseille is very well connected to most French cities through numerous highways. As always in France, those highways are expensive but practical, comfortable and fast. Marseille is around 8 hours from Paris by car, 2 hours from Nice, 1h30 from Montpellier, 4 hours from Toulouse and 3 hours from Lyon.
Weather in Marseille
The weather in Marseille is typical of the southern Mediterranean coast of France—long hot summers, a pleasantly mild spring and autumn and temperate winters with plenty of sunshine all year ’round.
Marseille weather is affected by the Mistral winds, which bring cool weather in late autumn and winter but also help to make Marseille summer temperatures more comfortable.
It can rain in Marseille at any time of year. Fortunately, Marseille rainfall often arrives in short heavy downpours. June and July are the driest months. Spring is marginally drier than autumn.
>>Read more about the weather in France and get average temperatures for this region.
- The French Riviera
- Day Trips from Nice
- Marseille overview
- Hotels near the Vieux Port in Marseille
- Day trips from Marseille