Why You Should Visit Marseille

Thursday, 18 July 2019

When you tell people you’re going on holiday to the Côte d’Azur (or French Riviera), they very rarely assume you’ll be spending your time in Marseille. Despite being France’s second-biggest city, Marseille is often overlooked as a major tourist destination, holidaymakers often preferring the likes of Paris, Bordeaux or Toulouse for their French city breaks. Not us! We spent 4 nights exploring the very best that the city has to offer, which, by the way, is a hell of a lot. Without further ado, here’s our travel guide to Marseille - enjoy!

What to do?

Basilica Notre Dame

In our opinion, one of the very first things you should do when you arrive in a city is to get your bearings - get a feel for the size of the place, where you might want to go, or just as importantly where you might want to avoid! A walking tour is always a safe bet but in Marseille, we took for the shorter but steeper walk up to the Basilica de Notre Dame, where you can enjoy 360-degree views of the city, and not a bad looking church too if you’re into that kind of thing! It takes about half an hour to walk up and like all sweaty uphill activities, is best to be avoided in the heat of the afternoon sun.

Le Panier

If Marseille had a designated tourist district, this would be it. Old cobbled, windy streets are lined with colourful houses, cafes and boutique shops - it’s undeniably one of the cities prettiest areas. 

Musée Cantini

If you’re into museums, this would be our pick of the bunch! For us, it ticks all of our museum boxes: It’s a good size (long enough to feel you’ve got your money’s worth but you won’t get bored!), it’s cheap (only €xx or free on the xxx), it’s weird (see pictures below) and it’s got great air conditioning (I know that makes us sound like right queens but when it’s 40* outside these things matter!).

Cours Julien

This is without a doubt the coolest area we visited in Marseille. The walls are covered in street art, and the streets are lined with individual vintage shops, cool cafes, and bars. Apparently, there’s a market which goes on Monday to Saturday in the mornings at Place Jean Jaurès, but in true ‘no idea’ fashion we couldn’t find it. The steps leading into Cours Julien are an attraction in themselves and should not be missed.

Marseille Cathedral

You’ll very rarely find 2 churches on our list of top things to do in a city because, to be totally honest, we find most to be underwhelming and a little bit boring. Some, however, are architecturally impressive and just look a bit different to your usual church, which just about makes them worthy of a spot on our Marseille top 10.

Boat trips

We love a good boat trip and luckily for us, Marseille has plenty to choose from. Here are the main ones:

  • To the prison

About 20 minutes on the boat from the Vieux Port, you’ll find the island of If, and its fortress, chateaux d’If, famous for featuring in Dumas’ novel ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’. You’ll have to pay around €6 for entry and a further €11 for a return boat trip to the island.

  • To Ile de Frioul

Just a few minutes further than the prison you’ll reach another, larger island called Frioul. If you’re not going on peak holiday time or at the weekend then this is really worth the trip as there are some great places to swim and not too many people around. It costs just a couple more euros than the trip to If and in our opinion made a good day trip activity. Head to Calanque de Morgiret for reduced crowds and a really nice stretch of (coarse) sand beach. It’s rocky getting into the water though, so take water shoes if you have them!

  • Tour of Les Calanques

This is more of an excursion/day trip and so naturally costs a lot more, coming in at €30 pp or €35 if you want to go for a swim. The tour takes about 3.5 hours and is supposed to be beautiful, but of course not in everybody's price range. For more information on this tour, see here.

Also - Be wary, boat trips from Marseille often don’t run if there is are strong winds, so it's worth checking the day before at the ticket office (they were honest enough to tell us not to buy a ticket for the next day as it was expected to be very rough).

Le Vieux Port 

This is where it's all going off. Three streets surround the old port in a horseshoe shape, each lined with fancy hotels, cool bars, and cafes. This is where you can catch a boat to the Calanques or the Frioul island as mentioned above, but even if you just fancy hanging around the city and taking in the atmosphere this is the best place for just that. A lot of the streets and squares that run off the old port are worth visiting too and are good places to go for something to eat in the evening, although bear in mind that in general, it seemed that the closer to the port you were the more expensive everything became.


Naturally, one of the major selling points of Marseille is the fact that it's right on the water, and with that, comes the beach. Whilst there are plenty of places to go for a swim near the centre of the city, we found a great place to go was Plage du Prado about 20 minutes on the bus from the centre. We got off at Parc de Boreli which is pleasant for a little walk before you lie down in the sun for the next few hours. When we were there we were (un)lucky enough to stumble upon the Petanque world championships (although who really plays Petanque other than the French?)


Last, but certainly not least, is MUCEM (The museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations), which is in many people's eyes the star attraction of Marseille. The architecture is really impressive and it's certainly worth going to have a look at, even if it's just from the outside. There is a bridge you can walk across which connects the Mucem to just by the Old Port, but be warned - it's shut on Tuesdays!

Getting Around Marseille
You're spoilt for choice when it comes to getting around Marseille. First of all, everything we've listed above (all of the touristy stuff) is in the centre of town by the Old Port and it is all quite walkable. If you're there for a few nights though, you'll probably not going to want to walk constantly, especially in the summer heat, and so you'll want to check out one of these transport options:


Buses are a really good way of getting around town. Like Paris, you pay a set fee to use the bus (€2) no matter how far you're going, which makes it really easy for tourists. If you're there for a few days it would make sense buying tickets in bulk, as if you buy 10 journies you save around €5. They go all around the city, have great air conditioning (woo!) and go regularly. We found that using google maps for bus times worked really reliably.


There is actually a metro in Marseille, but unlike the French capital, it doesn't appear to be the main provider of transport. There aren't many stops connecting the tourist locations (as they are all fairly close to the centre) however it can be useful if you're planning on venturing further inland into the city, such as to the Velodrome, or even if you're going to the central train station, which can be easily accessed just two stops on the metro from the Old Port. 

Yes, that's right. Scooter. Depending on where you call home, you will either be amazed or totally unimpressed, but Marseille is one of those cities which have adopted an electric scooter uber-like system, where you can just sign up to the app and pay as you go. You can then drop the scooter off wherever you like and get on with your day. There is a €10 minimum loading amount but if you're confident enough and you're there for more than a day then we think it's a really good option. Bare in mind though that it seems these things came along before anyone had the chance to right up the rules. A lot of the locals will use them on the roads, but you should try to always use cycle paths where possible and failing that, you're probably best sticking to the paths. They cost €1 to start and then €0.15 per minute. Oh and also, make sure your phone is charged as you'll need it to end your ride.

Taxi / Uber

We were traveling as a group of five in Marseille and so we would have needed to take an Uber XL to fit us all in. These didn't seem to exist in Marseille and so if we ever needed a taxi we simply went to the taxi rank to find one. We also noticed that unlike most cities, Uber didn't seem to be any cheaper than regular taxis, but we'd always say it's worth going on the Uber app to check what you should really be paying before taking a regular taxi, to make sure that you're not getting ripped off. That said, taxis seemed to all just run on the meter. 

Is Marseille expensive?

Yes. We'd love to tell you that it's much cheaper than you would expect and you can get by on €15 a day etc etc... but sadly it was actually more expensive than we thought. You need to treat it like you would Paris or London and then you won't be too disappointed. You'll be lucky to find a pint for under €5 and shopping at local convenience stores may often feel extortionate. However, it is not all doom and gloom. This is France remember - home of the €1 baguette and €2 bottle of vino. Stick to these two staples and you'll be just fine. 

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