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10 Best Things to Do in Marseille, France

Marseille, the second largest city in France, is a port city that’s praised for its rebelliousness and vibrance, but also shamed for its grittiness. 

It isn’t a picture-perfect Provençal destination packaged for tourism, but rather an authentic and complex melting pot, rife with people making their living, experimenting, and welcoming change. 

At first, Marseille may feel loud and overwhelming, full of commotion. But look beyond the surface and you’ll find that Marseille is intoxicating, alive, and animated by people from all across the Mediterranean. 

This is a city of immigrants and a city of possibilities. The Marseillais are friendly, welcoming, and open-minded. Locals are chatty and converse willingly, even if you don’t speak French. 

Our impression of Marseille is very much formed in relation to our experience of living in Vienna, a city that is immaculate and safe, but also distant and cold. After the first few days, we realized just how “malnourished” we were for smiles, eye-contact, and warmth. In Marseille, blood, not ice, flows through people’s veins. 

We visited Marseille for a week in early-mid May to hike in Calanques National Park. We had a fabulous time and wholeheartedly recommend visiting Marseille between October and May to experience this dynamic Mediterranean destination and one of the most spectacular coastlines in Europe.

Cours Julien, Marseille, France

Where is Marseille

Vieux Port Marseille, France

Marseille is located in Southern France along the Mediterranean Sea, west of Côte d’Azur.

It’s the capital of the Bouches-du-Rhône department and the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region.

Marseille is not part of Côte d’Azur (the French Riviera), which has no official boundary, but roughly stretches between Saint-Tropez and Menton in the southeast corner of France, located at the Italian-French border. 

There are direct trains to Marseille from Paris (3:30 hours), Avignon (45 minutes), Aix-en-Provence (40-50 minutes), and Nice (3 hours). 

1. Experience Marseille’s Booming Food Scene

Marseille is a hotspot for foodie tourism. Here, pioneering chefs feel free to experiment, defy culinary boundaries, and pursue their visions. Marseillaise nouvelle cuisine is free and colorful and made with pizazz. 

This article in the Guardian by Vérane Frédiani will convince you to visit Marseille for the food alone.  

Marseillais restaurants are intimate and personal, set in small dining spaces that are understated in their charm. In Marseille’s finest establishments, walls are mostly bare and decorations are minimal. All time, energy, and artistry is poured into the cuisine and the art of hospitality. 

The owners and chefs are present, working with their staff side by side. When we ate at the Lebanese restaurant Mouné (Google Maps), owned by Chef Najla Chami and Serje Banna, Serje welcomed and served every guest personally. And, yes, the food was delicious. 

There’s something so vital and ephemeral about eating out in Marseille. It feels like a dining experience can’t be replicated a month later, or even a week later. The eco-friendly, 5-course gourmet menu at Ourea restaurant (Google Maps) changes weekly. It’s sensational!

The farm-to-table, gourmet canteen Caterine (Google Maps) concots a new menu each week as well, depending on what’s available from their local suppliers. 

Widely-celebrated La Mercerie creates a 5-course surprise dinner menu, which changes regularly. 

Grand Bar des Goudes, Les Goudes, Marseille, France
Grand Bar des Goudes

For the freshest fish, visit the fishing village of Les Goudes, south of the city center. Eat at Grand Bar des Goudes, or Chez Paul

Reservations | It’s vital to make dinner reservations several days, or even several weeks in advance. 

Opening Hours | Opening hours are limited. Many restaurants are closed on the weekend, or at least 2 days/week. Some restaurants are only open for lunch (12 pm – 2:30 pm), while others are only open for dinner (7 pm – 10 pm)

Table Water | Unlike Italy, Germany, and Austria, tap water is served to the table and there’s no stigma around asking for tap water. 

Payment | Payment is processed at the restaurant’s register, not at the table. Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere. 

Faux pas | Ordering coffee with your meal, rather than after your meal. 

2. Eat, Drink, and Hang Out in Cours Julien

Cours Julien is Marseille’s bohemian district, attracting an alternative and artistic crowd. Decked in street art and graffiti, this colorful and lively neighborhood is brimming with bars, tattoo parlors, restaurants, bakeries, shops, and venues. 

We recommend visiting during the day, in order to take in the vibrantly painted streets, enjoy the laid-back atmosphere and shop opening hours. On Wednesday mornings, there’s a farmer’s market. 

The heart of the neighborhood is the pedestrian square around the Fontaine du Cours Julien (fountain), best accessed from the Escaliers du Cours Julien stairs (Google Maps), where Limmat is located. From this café-lined square, a maze of side streets fan out, each boasting interesting shops. 

While ambling through the neighborhood, order an ice cream from L’Eléphant Rose à Pois Blancs (Google Maps), with a storefront on Rue des Trois Rois and window on Rue André Poggioli. 

Vegans will like Mariposas, but expect frosty service. For a quick bite to eat, you can always head to Un Mexicain a Marseille for a 6 EUR burrito.  

Cours Julien bleeds into the Notre-Dame-du-Mont Neighborhood, home to Caterine, a gourmet, farm-to-table canteen (Google Maps).

More places to check out: Matza for Levantine cuisine (Google Maps), PAIN PAN ! Boulangerie bio de quartier (Google Maps) for baked goodies, and Livingston for 3-round shareable plates and wine (Google Maps). 

3. Le Panier District

Le Panier District, Marseille, France

Le Panier District occupies the hill north of Vieux-Port. With its narrow pedestrian streets and tucked-away squares, lined with pastel-painted buildings, it’s by far the most charming area of Marseille. 

This hilltop was settled by the Greeks in 600 BC, making it also the oldest part of the city. 

Bursting with artists’ studios, shops, and cafés, it’s a lovely neighborhood to wander through, on your way from the Old Port of Marseille to the baroque Cathedral of The Major, or Mucem museum. 

The Panier’s most significant building is Vieille Charité, completed in the 17th century. Today, it houses a museum of archeology and a museum of contemporary art. 

Stop by Vanille Noire (Google Maps) for their refreshing basil ice cream. 

4. Old Port of Marseille (Vieux-Port)

Old Port of Marseille (Vieux-Port) Fish Market

The center of Marseille is the Old Port, swarming with traffic and commotion, fish markets, ferries, and tourist restaurants. 

Ferries link the Old Port with popular attractions, like the 16th century Château d’If fortress, located on Île d’If island just off the coast of Marseille. This fortress prison served as the setting for Alexandre Dumas’ fictional The Count of Monte Cristo

Ferries also link the port to other islands in the Frioul archipelago, including Ratonneau. 

There’s also a seasonal ferry that runs between Vieux-Port and Les Goudes, the fishing village that serves as a gateway to Calanques National park. 

5. Visit Les Goudes

Les Goudes, Marseille, France

The fishing village of Les Goudes, still part of Marseille, is situated south of the city center. There are numerous reasons to visit Les Goudes: fresh fish and seafood, coastal walks, and delicious views of île Maïre. 

Local favorites are Chez Paul and Grand Bar des Goudes (reservations recommended). 

Les Goudes lies within Calanques National Park and is thus a great starting point, or ending point for hikes in the Calanques. We hiked from Luminy University to Campus to Les Goudes along the GR 98-51

Don’t miss Chemin des Croisettes, a chiseled narrow path that leads to Cap Croisette and La Baie des Singes.

6. Hike in Calanques National Park

Sugiton Viewpoint, Calanques, France

Calanques National Park extends across land and sea between Marseille and La Ciotat. It comprises the Marseilleveyre (433 m) and Puget-Gardiole (573 m) coastal mountain ranges. 

The bright, pearl-white limestone coast of Calanques National Park harbors numerous calanques (steep-walled bays), which are only accessible by foot, or boat. 

The dramatic scenery of the Marseille calanques is a love story of white, green, and blue, best witnessed on foot. Follow the rugged coast from Cassis to Marseille for the most soul-enriching adventure that will surely leave an indelible mark on your heart and soul. 

Recommended HikesCalanque d’En Vau hike, Calque de Sugiton Hike, Devenson Cliffs Hike, and Calanque de Sormiou – Les Goudes Hike

Learn more: Calanques National Park Hiking Guide

7. Explore Corniche Kennedy and Vallon des Auffes

Explore Corniche Kennedy and Vallon des Auffes, Marseille, France

Vallon des Auffes is an enclosed fishing harbor, bordered by restaurants and bars.

This picturesque spot off the Corniche Kennedy Road harbors some culinary gems like the fine dining restaurant L’Épuisette and the sushi restaurant Tabi

Chez Fonfon is the family-run institution that is widely known for their bouillabaisse.

8. Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde

Basilica of Notre-Dame of la Garde, Marseille, France

Marseille’s most famous landmark is Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde, the conspicuous neo-Byzantine church that crowns the hill south of Vieux-Port. 

The interior is bedazzled with intricate mosaics, gilded arches, and marble columns. 

It’s worth making the pilgrimage up to Marseille’s most famous landmark to not only marvel at the resplendent interior (restored between 2001 – 2008), but also to take in the far-reaching views of Marseille and the sea. 

Bus 60 connects Vieux-Port to the Basilica in 20 minutes. There’s also a tourist train, “Circuit Panoramique Notre Dame de la Garde” which links Vieux-Port to the Basilica via the seaside Corniche Kennedy road. 

Entrance Fee | Free

9. Buy Savon de Marseille, the Ultimate Marseille Souvenir, at Maison Empereur 

Maison Empereur, Marseille, France

Marseille has been producing olive-oil based soaps for over 600 years. 

In the Middle Ages, crusaders brought back soap manufacturing secrets to Provence from present-day Syria and the Levant region. That’s why Marseille’s traditional soap making process is very similar to that of Aleppo. 

Under Louis XIV, Marseille was granted a monopoly of soap production in France. Under the “Edit de Colbert” in 1688, soap manufacturing methods were formalized, mandating that soap makers only use pure olive oil (not animal fats) and utilize cauldron cooking. 

Traditional Savon de Marseille only contains four raw materials: 72% vegetable oil (olive oil), sodium hydroxide, water, and sea salt. Marseille soaps do not contain perfume, dye, preservatives, animat fat, or synthetic additives. 

We thought it would be easy to locate and identify authentic Marseille soaps. But, the city is littered with shops selling a rainbow array of soaps, most of which are inauthentic and full of perfumes, coloring, and other additives. 

Unfortunately, Marseille soap doesn’t benefit from legal protection to defend its origin, composition, or method of manufacture, which is why there are so many “fake” Marseille soaps. 

If you want to buy an authentic Marseille soap, look for the “Savon de Marseille” logo of the l’Union des Professionnels du Savon de Marseille (UPSM). Only buy soap from these producers: Savonnerie Fer à Cheval, Savonnerie Marius Fabre, La Corvette Savonnerie du Midi, and Savonnerie Le Sérail

Also, Rampal Latour produces an authentic Marseille soap using an eco-friendly method. 

The best place to buy Marseille soap is in Maison Empereur, an iconic, old-fashioned hardware store selling cookware, antique toys, clothing, perfume, and tools (Google Maps).

10. Get around Marseille with Public Transit

Vallon des Auffes, Marseille, France

Marseille has an excellent, easy-to-navigate transit system, which is managed by Régie des transports Métropolitains (RTM). 

The city has two metro lines (M1 and M2), an extensive network of buses, 3 tramway lines (T1, T2, and T3), and several ferry routes (seasonal). Transit is intuitive, clean, reliable, and frequent. 

All transit is synced with Google Maps, making it rather effortless to get around. Bus stops are clearly signed with bus line numbers and time tables. 

7-Day RTM Pass

If you’re staying in Marseille for several days, we recommend getting a RTM 7-Day Pass (Pass 7 jours Pour tous), which only costs 15.50 EUR per person. 

In order to purchase this transit pass, you must first obtain a La Carte RTM card at a RTM reception desk. You need a passport photo and proof of identity (passport) to create this transit card, which is free of charge.

After procuring the card, you simply load it with the RTM 7-Day Pass at the RTM pay station (located at every metro station). 

We went to the RTM reception desk in Saint-Charles (train station and metro station), which is located at the metro entrance. 

We stayed in Marseille 7 nights and used our RTM card daily to navigate around Marseille and to various gateways of Calanques National Park, including Cassis, Les Goudes, Luminy, and Les Baumettes. It was so relaxing to navigate the city without having to buy transit tickets every day. 

Note: The RTM 7-Day Pass does not include the bus ride to the Marseille Airport. 

Where to Stay in Marseille

Hôtel Le M, Marseille, France
Hôtel Le M

Midrange | Hôtel Le M is a comfortable 3-star hotel located on Rue Paradis, a safe commercial street, near the Estrangin metro station and walking distance to both Vieux Port and Castellane. All rooms have air-conditioning and are equipped with a coffee machine and tea kettle. Staying here is very relaxing and uncomplicated: luggage storage is provided, breakfast is available (you can decide each morning whether you’d like breakfast), check-in and check-out is efficient. 

Midrange | Le Pythéas – Vue Vieux-Port avec terrasse et clim is a light-filled spacious apartment in Vieux Port. We loved the location and layout of the apartment. However, it would need a few upgrades (more towels, towel racks, more efficient self-check-in). Also check out this similar apartment: Le Pythéas Vieux Port Marseille

Budget-Midrange | Top-rated Les Appartements du Vieux Port offers a wide array of clean, modern, air-conditioned apartments in a central location in Vieux Port. 

Maisons du Monde Hôtel Suites, Marseille, France
Maisons du Monde Hôtel & Suites

Luxury | Maisons du Monde Hôtel & Suites – Marseille Vieux Port stands prominently across the ferry terminal of Vieux Port. This chic portside hotel offers air-conditioned rooms, lovingly furnished with Maisons du Monde decor. Book a room with a harbor view. Breakfast is available. 

Top Choice – Luxury | Housed in a 19th century private mansion, the stylish boutique Hôtel C2 stands out with its bright contemporary rooms, spa, fabulous breakfast, and phenomenal service. 

More accommodations in Marseille: Maison Juste (midrange-luxury), Boutique Hôtel Provencia (midrange), and Hotel Sofitel Marseille Vieux Port (luxury).

Look for accommodation in Marseille.

Southern France Travel Guides


Calanques National Park:

Best Things to do in Marseille, France

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Moon & Honey Travel is an independent blog created by two passionate hikers. We are able to provide free content to you, because of ads and affiliate links. When you make a purchase using one of these links, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Happy travels and happy trails, Sabrina and Kati

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