Things to do in Marseille

Discover the magic of Marseille

A cosmopolitan paradise, Marseille boasts rich cultural sites, beautiful coastal views and a bustling café and restaurant scene. This inspiring list will help you decide exactly what to do in Marseille.

  1. Visit the lively port
  2. Explore one of the city’s oldest buildings
  3. Gaze at the golden basilica
  4. Learn about the city’s revolutionary past
  5. Explore this marvellous collection of art
  6. Get your shopping fix
  7. Travel along the city’s glorious coast
  8. Visit the city’s famous château

Founded some two and a half millennia ago, the most renowned and populated metropolitan area in France after Paris and Lyon has prospered over the centuries. This has left the city with a wealth of amazing historical sites and fascinating stories to uncover. Explore all this and more with these fantastic Marseille holiday packages.

In collaboration with
Rough Guides

1. Visit the lively port

The focal point of the city, this historic port is famous for its cafes, restaurants and daily fish market. If you have time to spare, the cafés provide a wonderful vantage point to observe the street life. The terraces on the north side see wonderful sunsets and amazing views out to sea. It’s the perfect place to start any exploration of the city.

En plus: You can’t go to the old port without going on the famous ‘ferry-boat’, a public institution that was quickly reinstated after its closure caused general uproar.

2. Explore one of the city’s oldest buildings

Marseille’s oldest church, the Abbaye St-Victor was originally part of a monastery founded in the 5th-century on the burial site of various martyrs. The church was built, enlarged and fortified – a vital requirement given its position outside the city walls – over a period of two hundred years from the middle of the 10th-century. It looks and feels like a fortress, though the interior has an austere power and the crypt is a fascinating, crumbling warren containing several sarcophagi, including one with the remains of St Maurice.

En plus: You can download a fascinating audio-tour from the Abbey of Saint Victor website straight to your phone for free.

3. Gaze at the golden basilica

One of the city’s most famous landmarks, Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde sits atop La Garde hill, the highest point of the city. It is crowned by a monumental gold Virgin that gleams to ships far out at sea. The breathtaking gold interior is a fantastic example of the Romanesque-Byzantine style and the views from the top offer an unparalleled panorama of Marseille.

En plus: Inside, model ships hang from the rafters while ex-votos depict the shipwrecks, house fires and car crashes from which the Virgin has supposedly rescued grateful believers.

4. Learn about the city’s revolutionary past

The Mémorial de la Marseillaise presents the story of France’s national anthem with some panache, in the old indoor tennis court in which it was first performed in Marseille. The building displays historical documents relating to the revolutionary march and the city’s famous hymn, information about all the main players involved in the revolution, and finally a full sensorial showdown throwing you into the thick of the battle. This is one of the best things to do in Marseille if you want to learn more about the country’s revolutionary history.

En plus: You can also listen to various versions of Rouget de Lisle’s 1792 anthem – which was paradoxically composed in Strasbourg, by a Royalist.

5. Explore this marvellous collection of art

The Palais Longchamp forms the grandiose conclusion of an aqueduct that once brought water from the Durance to the city. The palace’s north wing houses the Musée des Beaux-Arts with a fair selection of old masters, including paintings by Rubens, Tiepolo and Jordaens, plus works by the nineteenth-century painters Corot and Courbet. Well represented too are Provençal painters of the nineteenth century, including Félix Ziem.

En plus:The southeastern wing is occupied by the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle, where the oldest parts of the collection of stuffed animals and fossils date back to the eighteenth century.

6. Get your shopping fix

The prime shopping district of Marseille is encompassed by three streets running south from La Canebière: rue Paradis, rue St-Ferréol and rue de Rome. The most elegant boutiques and galleries cluster in the area around the Musée Cantini, a good little museum of modern art, with works by Matisse, Léger, Picasso, Ernst, Le Corbusier, Miró and Giacometti.

En plus: Cours Julien, with its pools, fountains, pavement cafés and boutiques, buried under graffiti and populated by Marseille’s diverse community.

7. Travel along the city’s glorious coast

The most popular stretch of sand close to the city centre is the plage des Catalans, a few blocks south of the Palais du Pharo. This marks the beginning of Marseille’s corniche avenue, later avenue J.-F.-Kennedy, which follows the cliffs past the dramatic statue and arch of the Monument aux Morts des Orients. South of the monument, steps lead down to a picturesque inlet, Anse des Auffes, where there are small fishing boats beached on the rocks and narrow stairways leading nowhere. The corniche ends at the Parc Balnéaire du Prado, the city’s main sand beach.

En plus: The Parc Borély,has a boating lake, rose gardens, palm trees and a botanical garden is just A short way up avenue du Prado from the beach.

8. Visit the city’s famous château

The Château d’If, on the tiny island of If, is best known as the penal setting for Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. Unlike the hero of Dumas’ classic, most prisoners went insane or died before leaving this grisly castle. The sixteenth-century castle and its cells are well preserved, and the views back towards Marseille are fantastic. Once you visit the chateau, you will see why it’s become one of the top things to do in Marseille.

En plus: Check out the cells where eerie graffiti has been etched into the bricks by past inmates.

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