Spreading along the Mediterranean coast of south-eastern France, Marseille has been a multicultural melting pot for hundreds of years. Due to its key location, Greek, Italian, North African and Corsican immigrants have seen it as the main gateway to France through the centuries. Today the city’s heritage includes elements from several cultures, which are captured in the local cuisine, music scene and its many colourful festivals throughout the year.
Featuring a picturesque waterfront and scenic old town, Marseille is France’s second most popular tourist destination after the capital. Visitors flock to take glimpse of Mediterranean lifestyle, visit the brand new Museum of European and Mediterranean civilizations and taste delicious local dishes, such as Bouillabaisse (fish soup).
Marseille’s metro only features two lines, but an efficient bus network complements the city’s public transport system. The same ticket can be used in both buses and the metro and it is valid for one hour. Day bus routes and the metro stop operating at 9pm, but night buses are available, while all metro stations are served by special buses from 9.25pm to 12.30am. Taxis are easy to find.
Things to see and do in Marseille
Before you start extensive sight hopping, take some time to stroll around some of the city’s most charming areas. Begin with Vieil Aix, where you can walk down lovely narrow lanes, pass by Renaissance mansions and enjoy a cup of fresh hot coffee at one of the many lively cafes.
Cours Julien is decorated by colourful graffiti and houses several interesting open markets, from Flower Market on Wednesday to Old Book Market on Sunday. International eateries and street artists are scattered all around the area. Le Panier, on the other hand, is a hilly scenic neighbourhood occupied by artisan shops and beautiful buildings.
Built in 19th century, Basilica Notre Dame de la Garde stands on the city’s finest view point, from which you can have a bird’s eye view of Marseille’s lovely terracotta roofs. Featuring Romano-Byzantine architecture, it is decorated with fascinating mosaics and colourful frescos.
Also dating back to 19th century, Palais de Longchamp was constructed to celebrate the completion of Marseille’s water system. Featuring grand fountains and surrounded by the namesakes park, it is a popular pick-nick destination for Marseillais. Beaux Arts Museum is housed in Palais de Longchamp.
Freshly opened in 2013, Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations occupies a contemporary building near the port. Its collections include artefacts from different time periods, all focusing on European heritage. If you are interested in different cultures you can also pay a visit to the Museum of African, Pacific and Indian Civilizations. The museum occupies a part of Centre de la Vieille Charité, which also houses the Mediterranean Archaeological Museum.
A great example of urban cultural centre, La Friche La Belle de Mai is a former tobacco factory turned into a fascinating artistic complex. Featuring exhibition spaces, concert halls, studios and skateboard ramps, the complex hosts all kinds of cultural events, from contemporary art exhibitions to Dj sets.
If the weather is nice take the ferry from Vieux Port to get to nearby If Islet. The tiny island is occupied by a 16th-century fort, which was the setting of Dumas’ famous novel “The Count of Monte Cristo”. Once a defensive fortification, the construction was later turned into a prison for political enemies of the French state during 19th century. Today you can explore parts of the fortress and discover the secrets of its dark history. The ferry ride is about 20 minutes long and 15 daily routes are available during high season.