Marseille is a beautiful and fascinating city, with incredible architecture, medieval alleyways and trendy cafés and boutiques. I was only there for a couple of days and really felt as though I’d seen the city and experienced the culture. I’d been to France before, but really only Paris and a small village close to Bordeaux, but not the actual city, so coming to Marseille was a whole different ball game. I’m a big fan of seeing cities by walking, so I always do my best to figure out the best way to do things to get as much done as possible all while seeing the city on foot.
Marseille does have a metro, trams and buses, so if public transport is your preferred mode of transportation you’re totally covered. We stayed in a hostel just off of the Vieux Port, which is the most central part of the city and probably the best location to stay since it’s pretty much equidistant from all of the major attractions.
While there’s so much to see and do in Marseille, it can be done in a day but with a weekend you can truly experience everything it has to offer. To learn more about everything I talk about in this post, click on each place on the map and it will give you a little blurb about each place.
The best place to start in Marseille is the Vieux Port, which is the Old Port of Marseille. Dating back to the 6th century, this is a beautiful area of town near the ferris wheel and has wonderful views of the city, which is built more or less on several hills.
After seeing Vieux Port the very first thing you should do is make your way up to Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, which is the iconic symbol of Marseille. The name means Our Lady of the Guard and it’s as beautiful inside as the views you get of the city. There are multiple viewing areas where you can get amazing 360 views of the city, from the port and the ocean to the spectacular mountains on the other side of the city.
This should be done early on in the day because the hike up is really quite exhausting and it’s best to do if you’re fresh and awake. You could take a taxi if you don’t want to walk or have small children, as there is a road leading up to it, but I think the walk is very rewarding and gets the blood flowing. Once you get to the top though, all of your hard work will be rewarded and going down is a lot easier than the way up.
From here you have a few options on where to go next. It depends on how quickly you’re trying to see everything, but if you have a couple of days head to the other side of the Vieux Port and stop by the Pavilion M and make your way to the Marseille Cathedral. We pretty much spent most of an afternoon in that area because it has so many cute cafés and lots of beautiful areas to just sit and enjoy the beautiful weather that Marseille is lucky to have most of the time.
The Pavilion M is a wide open square right off the port and has lots of places to sit and enjoy the sunshine, as well as a large metal M that you can sit in and have your photo taken in. We walked along Rue Caisserie and saw so many soap and perfume shops. Marseille is known for its soap so you can find lots of stores pretty much at any point in the city, however, we found this particular area was home to many more authentic ones rather than tourist traps. The prices were reasonable and the quality was great.
The cathedral is just a short 5 to 10 minute walk from there and is huge and impressive. Unfortunately, they’re restoring parts of it so there was a lot of scaffolding on the front, but the rest of it is beautiful and impressive. Part of the cathedral remains from the original building constructed in the 12th century and the rest was added on in the 19th century, culminating to one very large, beautiful and pretty unique cathedral.
Near the cathedral is the historic district of Panier, which dates back as far as 600 BC. What I love about this area was the narrow alleyways that are reminiscent of the medieval layout of the city, as well as some of the architecture which looks different to the rest of the city. I found Panier to be a much quieter and low-key area than the rest of Marseille with lots of reasonably priced boutiques and cafés (this is France after all, there are cafés everywhere).
Depending on how much time you have left in the day you may head to Palais Longchamp or save it for the next day along with Cours Julien. We did Palais Longchamp and the park the next day and I couldn’t get over how impressive it was. Approximately a 30 minute walk from the Vieux Port, Palais Longchamp was built in in 1839 to commemorate the construction of the Canal de Marseille and today houses two museums. There’s a large fountain in the middle and directly behind is Parc Longchamp, which until 1987 had a zoo.
The best part of Palais Longchamp is the architecture and the view of the city. Since it’s built on a slight incline and it is quite tall, you get wonderful views of the basilica on the hill on the other side of the city.
The final thing you should see in Marseille is Cours Julien- the trendy district of town. From Palais Longchamp it takes about 30 minutes to walk to, but brings you quite close to Vieux Port, so you’re sort of making a large circle.
Cours Julien is known for its graffiti and it has a very different feel to the rest of Marseille. It’s obvious that the younger crowds have made this area their home and a lot of places are a little edgier and more modern than you would fine in the older parts of the city. There’s nothing specific to be seen here, but it’s a cool area to explore and if you’re in the market for any clothes or items this could be a great place to look.
Marseille is a beautiful and old city, but apart from the few major landmarks, it’s a wonderful city to walk around and explore. Spending time in cafés and boutiques are the main things to do, and finding food isn’t difficult. Here are a few suggestions of great cafés and restaurants dotted around the city. All are more than affordable, have great food and a wonderful atmosphere.
For Coffee or Lunch:
- Coogee: This café plays great music and has a sort of hippy chic vibe. Slightly pricey coffee, but worth it for the environment.
- The Cup Of Tea: This adorable café is affordable but also doubles as a bookstore, talk about heaven.
- Au Vieux Port: Mainly Italian food, this restaurant serves very cheap pizzas to share as well as pasta and other dishes.
- La Carbone: Focusing on the cuisine of Brittany, this restaurant was beyond affordable and had a really cozy atmosphere.
- Restaurant Lilin: If you’re looking for something a little less French, this Chinese restaurant was cheap and incredibly tasty. Wine was a bit expensive considering, but the food itself was beyond affordable.
Marseille is a city with a unique culture that’s not typical French and is the kind of city you go to to see the few major sights and spend the rest of the time sipping coffee in a café overlooking beautiful views of the hills, sea and city buildings. If I were to go back to France I wouldn’t hesitate to visit Marseille again.