Last updated on January 17th, 2019 at 08:50 pm
Our Eurotrip Madrid, Lisbon, Algarve, Seville, Ibiza and Gozo in Malta will not be complete without a visit to France, a dreamy and romantic country with excellent cuisine, progressive people and a very rich culture. Each city has its own unique flavor but no other place is more of a cultural melting pot than Marseille. There are many things to do in Marseille that showcase the city’s diversity. After all, it is France’s second-most populated city and its people come from all parts of Europe and the world.
Aside from its multiculturalism, the city is also known as a maritime destination, with some of the best places to visit in Marseille resting by bodies of water like Vieux-Port, Calanques and Corniche. Though the city may not be as elegant as Cannes, as glamorous as St-Tropez or as romantic as Paris, Marseille stands out as a colorful and vibrant destination with many things to do in Marseille for travelers of all kinds.
For those who would love to visit this wonderful city, here’s our complete Marseille travel guide. Enjoy!
How to get to Marseille
The city of Marseille can be easily accessed by plane through the Marseille-Provence International Airport which is only 30 km away from city center. We were coming from Ibiza and our flight last an hour. From here, you can take the bus, taxi or train to get to the city. There are also shuttle buses that go from the airport to the train station for around €8.
If you want to travel by train, the Marseille St. Charles is the primary station that you will use. The station has 2 subway lines and all buses make stops on this station. It is very accessible to most destinations in and out of Marseille. You can take the train to and from other French cities like Paris for 3 hours, Nice for 2 hours and Lyon for less than 2 hours.
The train also goes between Marseille and other European cities like Geneva, Brussels, Strasbourg and Frankfurt. If you’re traveling from Barcelona, you can connect to Marseille from Cerbere. Sleeper trains are also available for those who love traveling at night and arriving in their destinations early the next morning.
Located next to St. Charles train station and through Platform N is Marseille’s bus station with trips to and from Barcelona, Tangier and Prague. Ticket prices for buses that go between Barcelona and Marseille range from €14-42. Buses to Nice our next destination after Marseille are €8 for 2 hours and a half journey to Nice.
Road trips across France are quite common for many travelers as car rentals abound in the country. Some destinations like Montpellier are just nearby at less than 2 hours away, while Paris is 8 hours from Marseille by car.
Marseille has a big ferry terminal called the Gare Maritime that receives boats from different locations. There are direct ferries to Marseille from other European destinations like the French island Corsica and Sardinia in Italy. There are also direct ferries to and from the North African countries of Algeria and Tunisia. Traveling on a ferry last 12-24 hours depending on the destination.
Transportation around Marseille
Most of Marseille’s public vehicles are supported by a transport system called Régie des Transports de Marseille (RTM) which has more than 70 bus lines, 2 underground metro lines and 2 tram lines. Tickets to these vehicles can be bought at the metro station, on the bus and even in cafes. Buses only travel throughout Marseille until 9:30 PM while both the trams and the trains have trips until 12:30 AM. Riding a taxi is also an option for those traveling much later in the night, but do be careful! Bringing your own car is actually not advisable, though, since it’s easier to navigate Marseille’s transport system than to take on its busy streets. We recommend you by foot, bicycle, metro or bus to go around Marseille and explore all the things to do in Marseille. By bicycle you can Use Le Velo, there are bicycles for rent in the main touristic points in Marseille.
Travel tip: You can buy the very practical multi-journey tickets that cover 10 trips for only €13.60!
Best time to visit Marseille
Marseille is a city with a Mediterranean climate so summer is its high season among tourists. However, this doesn’t mean that this is the best time to visit Marseille. Weather- and budget-wise, autumn would be the perfect time to enjoy this French city. Why? While the weather during fall is still warm and dry, temperatures and room rates have dropped considerably compared to the peak season. So, the best time to visit Marseille is actually from September to November. You can even go to the Marseille International Fair during these months.
ATMs & Currency in Marseille
Like all cities in France, Marseille uses the euro as its currency. The exchange rate between the dollar and the euro is approximately €1 = $ 1.16 USD. Click here to know the exact exchange rate of your currency to euro. ATMs are widely available in Marseille. As with any foreign destination, banks in the city have a withdrawal fee plus a 2 or 3% tax for your transactions. For those who need to exchange money, there are exchange bureaus in Marseille that offer better rates than banks. Credit and debit cards are widely accepted in Marseille’s hotels and restaurants but many B&B’s may deal in cash transactions only.
Daily Budget to visit Marseille
There are many ways to explore Marseille, mostly depending on your time and your budget. If you want to explore the city without burning a hole in your pocket, there are meals in Marseille at local restaurants for as low as €10-15. Those who want to eat something a bit fancier can have a meal at a mid-range restaurant for around €20-40 or even less if you have someone to split the bill with. Dinner at a top restaurant in Marseille can go for €70-150.
There are all sorts of accommodations in Marseille. From hostels and B&Bs to apartments and hotels, you’re sure to find one that fits your budget. For example, staying at a hostel or booking a dorm bed goes for around €25-35. A room at a mid-range hotel or a nice apartment can cost around €50-150. Luxury hotels in Marseille can charge €200 and higher. If you want to stay somewhere comfortable and safe minus the cost, you can always try AirBnB in Marseille. There are entire apartments that go for as low as €25. We think that’s especially lucky because you can click here to get €25 off your first booking with AirBnB!
Things to do in Marseille
1. Try Marseille Cuisine
As a maritime city, Marseille’s local cuisine relies heavily on seafood. Marseille is home to humble dishes like aïoli provençal complet (dried cod and shellfish served with garlic sauce and vegetables) and tapenade (puree made of anchovies, black olives, capers, garlic and olive oil eaten with croutons). That’s just the tip of the iceberg, though, as we have more dishes to share with you later!
We really loved breakfast on the table where you share the food with a few people: cheese, olives, bread, croissant, milk and cereals. A complete and lcoal breakfast is the best way to start the day in Marseille.
2. Go to Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde
Located in the highest point of the city is Basilique Notre Dame, a Roman-Byzantine basilica that is one of the best places to visit in Marseille. The building is beautifully designed with colored marble and decorated with stunning mosaics and murals. Basilique Notre Dame has a campanile with the statue of La Bonne Mère (“The Good Mother”), a guardian for sailors and fishermen. You can visit this basilica daily from 7 AM-6:15 PM.
It takes 30 minutes to go up by foot from the old port and it´s easy to get there, well indicated with the signs. There is free entrance, and it´s a perfect place to see the vies of the city.
3. Enjoy Vieux Port
What was primarily a commercial port for boats coming from Africa has now been revitalized as a destination for cruise ships as well. Vieux Port is still a thriving fishing port but now receives many yachts and tourist boats. There are plenty of nice bars, cafes and lots of restaurants here where you can eat fresh seafood. There are also street performers and a ferris wheel in Vieux Port, making it a perfect afternoon to early evening spot.
You can visit the old port anytime of the day. It´s always beautiful and with people around. At sunset and at night was our favorite time to visit the old port.
Have an adventure at Les Calanques
Looking for the perfect place in Marseille to enjoy sunny weather? Les Calanques is one of the best places to visit in Marseille because of its idyllic vibe and natural beauty. Apart from being a gorgeous coastal destination, it is also the perfect site for mountain lovers. There are cliffs that offer panoramic views of Les Calanques and boat cruises for €80 that go around the fjords.
The boats departure is from the old port can cost around €20-30 depending of the duration of the trip and if it´s including stops.
4. Visit Cathedrale de la Major
Another marvelous church in Marseille is the Marseille Cathedral, or Cathedrale de la Major. The stone work of this romanesque-style cathedral is very impressive and the mosaic floors are a delight, too. This huge church is open to the public daily between 10 AM and 7 PM. Admission is free!
The Cathedral is close to Le Panier and the MUCEM is in a 15 minutes walking distance.
5. Check out Le Panier
An Instagram-worthy spot (especially for artsy millennials) in Marseille is Le Panier, the oldest quarter in the city. It was originally occupied by Marseille’s Greek residents and had to be rebuilt after being destroyed in World War II. Le Panier’s narrow streets are filled with artisan shops, bars and restaurants. Le Panier is both laid back and vibrant. It’s a bohemian district that’s great to walk around in and taking pictures.
6. Visit Palais Longchamp
Home to Musée des Beaux-arts and Muséum d’histoire Naturelle de Marseille, Palais Longchamp is an iconic site in the city. It is surrounded by Parc Longchamp, one of the Notable Gardens of France. Palais Longchamp is open daily for free from 8 AM-8 PM. Fun fact: Palais Longchamp is also a concert venue! Obviously, visiting Palais Longchamp is one of the best things to do in Marseille! Don’t miss out on the impressive collection of art and beautiful statues here.
7. Learn at Musée d´Histoire de Marseille
What better way to learn more about Marseille’s rich history than to visit its local historical and archeological museum? Musée d´Histoire de Marseille is actually the first town museum in France ever! Among the many amazing collections you will see here is the best preserved hull of a ship that dates back to the 2nd century. Pretty cool, right? For €6, you can visit this historical museum in Rue Henri-Barbusse that is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 10 AM-6 PM.
8. Explore La Corniche
On a beautiful coastal road in Marseille is La Corniche, with a monument that was named in honor of John F. Kennedy. It is 5 km long and has spectacular views of the Mediterranean Sea, the Prado beaches and Iles du Frioul. You just have to ride a bus from Vieux Point to go to one of the most beautiful places to visit in Marseille where there are also nice restaurants nearby. Take lots of photos when you get here!
9. Visit the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations (MUCEM)
The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations was opened in 2013 and covers events from the past ages up to modern day European and Mediterranean cultures. The building itself is very modern, is made up of 2 levels, has a bookshop and a restaurant, and has an underground auditorium. The museum houses permanent and temporary exhibitions and celebrates the city’s diversity. It solidifies Marseilles status as the European Capital of Culture. You can visit this amazing site from 11 AM-7 PM with ticket prices starting at €9.50.
10. Get artsy at L’Estaque
Art enthusiasts and fans of the Impressionist movement will love visiting L’estaque, a village resting on Marseille’s northern outskirts. This is the place that inspired many paintings by Paul Cezanne from his room in the village. You can also follow a trail of footsteps by other artists like Braque, Dufy and Renoir. L’Estaque is one of the quieter and more romantic places in Marseille to walk around in. There are local street food to try here like panisses, Marseille’s chickpea and flour cakes.
Enjoy nature at Calanques National Park
Just a quick bus ride from Marseilles is Calanques National Park, a beautiful site with gorgeous landscapes where you can be one with nature. What do you need to bring to the park, you ask? Don’t forget your hiking shoes or walking boots as the hike can be quite steep in some places. Biking is also a great activity to do in the park. Don’t forget your bathing suit, a towel and a change of clothes. Finally, bring lots of water and snacks so you can just relax and chill for a whole day in Calanques National Park.
11. Shop at La Canebiere
Located in the old quarter of the city, La Canebiere has been dubbed the “Champs-Élysées of Marseille.” Fun fact: Canebiere actually got its name from Cannabis, as Marseilles used to be one of the most important growers and traders of hemp used for baskets and ropes. Now, it is a bustling street filled with all sorts of shops and restaurants. La Canebiere also leads to many interesting destinations all over Marseilles.
12. Hang out Cours Julien
Tired of the idyllic and old-worldly vibe of Marseilles? We understand. Luckily, there’s a place in the city that’s sure to spark your interest. Cours Julien is a neighborhood filled with vibrant street art, a variety of restaurants and bars, bookshops, tattoo parlors, cafes, independent shops that sell eccentric items, with the occasional concerts and art exhibits. It is basically Marseille’s bohemian hotspot.
Here’s a tip: Go to Cours Julien on a Wednesday or a Saturday to see Cours Julien’s beautiful flowers on sale at the neighborhood square. Collectors can visit the area on Sundays to buy stamps and antique books.
13. Walk around Fort Saint-Jean
The entrance to Marseille’s Old Port is called Fort Saint-Jean. It is connected to Le Panier and to the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations. This is also one of the best places to visit in Marseille for those who love walking around and absorbing a city’s rich history. The best thing about Fort Saint-Jean is it gives you different vantage points to see Marseille. The second best thing? The entrance is free!
14. Bike around Parc Borély
One of the best things to do in Marseille is to just bike around the city, especially in Parc Borély. This public park is also listed among the Notable Gardens of France and actually has 3 different gardens: a French formal garden, an English landscape garden and a race track. Not only can you rent a boat to tour the park for hours, you can also extend your stay by riding a boat on the lake. This 17-hectare park is so much fun to explore and relax in.
15. Watch the sunset in Les Goudes
Where else can you get a better view of the sunset in Marseille than in a lovely fishing village? Les Goudes is less than an hour away from Vieux Port and comes before Calanques. Fun fact: The French expression “va te jeter aux Goudes” literally translates to “throw yourself to Goudes” as this village is the perfect place for a quiet escape. You can visit Les Goudes late in the afternoon, go to the small beach or chill at a bar overlooking the water as the sun sets. Other place that you can get a colorful sunset is the old port if you are walking around the city center, it´s great to take a look!
Beaches to visit in Marseille
Plages de Corbeires
A trip to Marseille would not be complete without exploring at least some of the cities finest beaches, one of them being Plages de Corbeires, a beach with tranquil waters that’s great for families. It is located at Marseille’s western end and often gets crowded, so make sure to get there as early as you can.
Located at Marseille’s east side is Point Rouge, the largest beach in the area. This beach can be enjoyed by visitors with varied interests like surfing or clubbing. Point Rouge can get a bit crowded in the summer (as all beaches do) but it is still a great area for sunbathing and building sandcastles on a slow, relaxed day in Marseille.
Another wonderful family hangout in Marseille is Plage Bonneveine, a 500-meter bay protected by two dams. Bonneveine Beach is part of the Prado beaches with interesting places surrounding it. There are restaurants nearby at Escale Borély, beach volleyball courts and a skatepark for those who want to mix things up.
Plage des Catalans
If you want to go to the beach but still stay close to Vieux Port, head on out to Plage des Catalans. For a beach so close to town, it is clean and well-maintained though it’s pretty busy with volleyball-playing visitors. Weekdays are much quieter in this small beach in the city.
Food to try in Marseille
A staple among locals and a tourist favorite in Marseille is bouillabaisse, one of the best dishes the city has to offer. As a coastal town, Marseille has perfected this fish dish over the centuries. Bouillabaisse is cooked with 5 different kinds of fish, mostly choosing among local finds like conger eel, crayfish, monkfish, red mullet, red scorpion fish, spider crab or rockfish. There’s also a specific process of eating this meal. First, you get the broth. Then, the fish fillet comes with croutons and rouille placed on top or served on the side.
Here’s a tip: Don’t try to eat cheap bouillabaisse as you’ll probably be disappointed. The soup dish can really cost quite a bit but eating it is one of the best things to do in Marseille.
As part of the Provence region, the wonderful herbs like oregano, rosemary, thyme and many more are used in a seafood dish in Marseille. Commonly known as “sailors mussels,” moules marinière is served with plenty of garlic, onion and herbes de provence and the freshest mussels in the city.
Looking for a light yet tasty snack to eat in Marseille? Pissaladiere is a cross between a puff pastry and a pizza, with toppings like black olives, onions and anchovies but with an especially thin crust. You’ll definitely love munching on pissaladiere at the beach or in a nice restaurant.
Emerging from the ban on absinthe, pastis is a French apéritif that is dilluted in water and drank by locals all over the city. This drink is available in almost every restaurant, with brands like 51, La Maison du Pastis, Pastis Jeannot, and Pernod Richard being the most famous ones.
Where to stay in Marseille?
Our choice to stay in Marseille was Pension Edelweiss just in city center and 5 minutes walking distance from bus and train station St Charles. Apart from the location so convenient, we liked so much the vintage design of the rooms and the service. Every morning you can enjoy on the table breakfast from 9-10 am it means all the guests meeting together at breakfast is a great idea. Nancy from the Philippines took care of us preparing all the food and giving tips to go around Marseille.
Check out these shots of Pension Edelweiss and click here if you want to book your staying with them when visitng Marseille.
Festivals in Marseille
La Foire aux Santons
Late November heralds the opening of Marseille’s Christmas market near the Canebière and Vieux Port. The fair is open for visitors who love local craftsmanship and features all kinds of goods like jewellery, ceramics, wooden toys, candles, decorations and many more. La Foire aux Santons might just be the perfect venue to go Christmas shopping! During this time of year, many churches also display nativity scenes made from terracotta, a popular tradition in the Provence region.
A musical festival that began in 1997, Marsatac is a celebration of electronic music every end of September. The venue for this famous event has moved from one place to another over the years but has been held mostly at Dock des Suds. Marsatac welcomes tens of thousands of visitors each year.
La Fiesta des Suds
Another important festival held in the iconic Dock des Suds is celebrated every October in Marseille. La Fiesta des Suds is a four-day event that celebrates music from all genres. There are performances by funk musicians, soul singers, rappers, reggae bands and even regional music from different parts of Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. It is a great event that further celebrates diversity in Marseille.
So, there you have it: a complete guide to traveling in Marseille. We’ve told you all about our favorite places to visit in Marseilles and all the best things to do in Marseilles for tourists. What’s next, you ask? We definitely got more travels and guides you should watch out for! But for now, you can read all about our recent trip to Madrid, what we did in Lisbon,and the things we loved about Algarve.
Did we miss any of your favorite spots in Marseille? Let us know in the comments!