Best Things to do in Marseille

by Ontravlex
Best Things to do in Marseille

Marseille, the vibrant port city on the Mediterranean coast, is a treasure trove of cultural richness, stunning landscapes, and culinary delights. Whether you’re a history buff, a nature lover, or a foodie, Marseille has something to offer everyone. In this comprehensive Travel Guide France, we will explore the best things to do in Marseille, taking you on a journey through its charming streets, picturesque landscapes, and rich cultural heritage, while also discovering some fun facts about France along the way. As you wander through the captivating streets of Marseille, one cannot ignore the tantalizing aromas wafting from local eateries. Traditional French food is abundant in this city, and you can savor classic dishes like bouillabaisse, ratatouille, and tarte Tatin, right where they originated. Don’t miss the chance to dine at a local bistro and indulge in the flavors that have made French cuisine famous worldwide.

Best Things to Do in Marseille

Explore the Old Port (Vieux Port): A Journey Through History

Old Port and Basilica of Notre Dame - Marseille France

Old Port and Basilica of Notre Dame – Marseille France

The Old Port, or Vieux Port, is the heart and soul of Marseille. This historic harbor, buzzing with life, is where the past and present of Marseille blend seamlessly. As you wander along the docks, you’re walking in the footsteps of countless generations who have gathered here for over 2,600 years.

The Old Port is not just a scenic spot; it’s a living, breathing part of the city’s history. The sight of fishermen selling their catch at the traditional fish market, the Quai des Belges, is a daily ritual and a must-see. Here, the vibrant colors of the boats, the Mediterranean Sea, and the fresh seafood create a sensory feast that’s quintessentially Marseille.

You’ll find an array of charming cafes and restaurants lining the port, offering the perfect spot to indulge in a café au lait while people-watching. The atmosphere is electric, with the blend of locals and tourists, the hustle of daily life, and the serene backdrop of the sea.

The architecture around the port tells its own story. From the modernist marvel of the MuCEM, stretching out over the water, to the historic Fort Saint-Jean, each building adds a chapter to Marseille’s narrative. And let’s not forget about the Ferris wheel, offering panoramic views of this picturesque scene.

At night, the Old Port transforms. The lights reflecting off the water, the lively bars, and the street performers make it a vibrant hub of nightlife. Whether you’re looking for a romantic evening stroll or a night out with friends, the Old Port is the place to be.

For those interested in maritime history, a visit to the nearby maritime museum is a must. It offers a deep dive into the seafaring traditions that have shaped Marseille.

In summary, a visit to the Old Port is a journey through time, culture, and the heart of Marseille. It’s a place where every corner has a story, every scent carries a memory, and every view is a postcard in waiting.

Notre-Dame de la Garde: A Panoramic View of the City

Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral, France

Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral, France

Notre-Dame de la Garde, affectionately known as “La Bonne Mère” (The Good Mother) to the locals, stands as a protective symbol and the highest point in Marseille. This majestic basilica, crowned with a gilded statue of the Virgin Mary, offers a spiritual retreat and the most breathtaking panoramic views of the city and the Mediterranean Sea.

The journey to Notre-Dame de la Garde is an experience in itself. You can choose to hike up the hill, a rewarding endeavor that offers glimpses of the cityscape unfolding below. Alternatively, take the tourist train for a more leisurely ascent, allowing you to soak in the scenery without the exertion.

Once at the top, the basilica’s impressive architecture captivates visitors. Built in the 19th century in a Romano-Byzantine style, it features intricate mosaics, vibrant frescoes, and detailed sculptures that are a testament to the artistic heritage of the region. The interior of the basilica is just as stunning, with its ornate decoration and serene ambiance, inviting visitors to take a moment for reflection and admiration.

The outdoor terrace surrounding the basilica is where the magic of Marseille truly unfolds. The 360-degree views from this vantage point are unparalleled. Gaze out over the terracotta rooftops, the bustling Old Port, the rugged Calanques, and the endless blue of the Mediterranean. It’s a perfect spot for photographers and daydreamers alike.

Visiting Notre-Dame de la Garde also offers a historical perspective. The site has been a lookout and a place of worship since ancient times, and the basilica itself has withstood periods of turmoil, including significant damage during World War II. Today, it stands not only as a religious icon but also as a symbol of resilience and hope for Marseille’s people.

Whether you are seeking spiritual solace, historical insights, or simply the best views in Marseille, Notre-Dame de la Garde is a must-visit. Its blend of cultural significance, architectural beauty, and natural splendor makes it a beacon for travelers and locals, embodying the spirit of Marseille in its purest form.

Calanques National Park: A Nature Lover’s Paradise

Breathtaking viewpoint on the cliffs, Calanques D'En Vau bay, Calanques National Park near Cassis fishing village, Provence, South France, Europe

Breathtaking viewpoint on the cliffs, Calanques D’En Vau bay, Calanques National Park near Cassis fishing village, Provence, South France, Europe

Calanques National Park, a unique geological formation stretching between Marseille and Cassis, is a haven for nature enthusiasts and adventurers alike. This stunning area, where rugged limestone cliffs meet the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean, offers some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the region.

The Calanques, with their dramatic cliffs and hidden coves, are accessible both by land and sea. Hiking in this national park is a truly rewarding experience, with trails leading to secluded beaches, panoramic viewpoints, and lush Mediterranean vegetation. The paths range from easy walks to more challenging treks, catering to all levels of hikers. Remember to carry water and wear appropriate footwear, as the Mediterranean sun can be intense, and the terrain can be rocky.

For a different perspective, consider a boat tour from Marseille or Cassis. These tours offer a chance to see the Calanques from the water, revealing hidden corners and inaccessible beaches. Kayaking is another popular way to explore these natural wonders, allowing you to glide through the clear waters and perhaps even spot some of the local wildlife, like the Peregrine falcon or the Bonelli’s eagle.

The Calanques are not just a summer destination; their natural beauty can be enjoyed year-round. In the spring, the landscape is awash with wildflowers, while autumn brings a quieter, more reflective ambiance. Swimming in the secluded coves is a refreshing escape during the warmer months, with Calanque d’En-Vau and Calanque de Port-Miou being among the most popular spots.

The park is also a place of ecological significance, home to diverse flora and fauna, some of which are endemic to the region. Visitors are encouraged to respect the natural environment, adhering to the park’s guidelines to preserve its beauty for future generations.

Whether you’re a hiker, a photographer, or simply someone who appreciates natural beauty, Calanques National Park is a must-visit when in Marseille. It’s a place where the grandeur of nature leaves a lasting impression, reminding us of the wonders our planet holds.

Le Panier: A Walk Through Marseille’s Oldest Quarter

Le Panier, Marseille’s oldest district, is a maze of narrow streets, colorful buildings, and charming squares. Discover artisan shops, street art, and cozy cafes. Visit the Vielle Charité, a former almshouse now home to museums and exhibitions.

MuCEM: A Modern Twist on Mediterranean Cultures

The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations (MuCEM), located at the entrance of Marseille’s Old Port, is a marvel of contemporary architecture and a symbol of the city’s cultural resurgence. Opened in 2013, MuCEM is dedicated to showcasing the diverse and rich cultures of the Mediterranean region, blending history, anthropology, and art in a modern context.

Designed by architect Rudy Ricciotti, MuCEM’s building is a masterpiece in itself. The structure, made of fiber-reinforced concrete, features a striking latticework façade that casts intricate shadows and plays with the Mediterranean light. The museum is connected to the historic Fort Saint-Jean by an elevated footbridge, symbolizing a link between the city’s past and present.

MuCEM’s exhibitions are as captivating as its architecture. The museum offers a permanent collection and temporary exhibitions that explore various aspects of Mediterranean civilizations. Themes range from historical events and religious practices to contemporary social issues, providing a comprehensive and insightful look into the region’s shared heritage.

One of the most impressive features of MuCEM is its Mediterranean Garden, located on the rooftop of Fort Saint-Jean. This garden offers not only a peaceful retreat with its lush plants and trees but also stunning views of the sea, the port, and the city. It’s a perfect spot to contemplate the beauty and complexity of the Mediterranean world.

The museum’s approach to displaying its collections is innovative and interactive, making history and culture accessible to a wide audience. Multimedia installations, hands-on exhibits, and educational workshops engage visitors of all ages, encouraging a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Mediterranean’s cultural richness.

MuCEM also serves as a vibrant cultural hub, hosting a variety of events, including film screenings, concerts, lectures, and debates. These events further its mission of fostering dialogue and understanding among the diverse cultures of the Mediterranean basin.

Dining at MuCEM is an experience in itself, with options ranging from a casual café to a high-end restaurant, each offering spectacular views and a taste of local and Mediterranean cuisine.

In summary, MuCEM is not just a museum; it’s a journey through time and culture, a place where history meets modernity, and a must-visit destination in Marseille for anyone seeking to understand the essence of the Mediterranean spirit.

Savour Provençal Cuisine: Gastronomic Adventure

Marseille’s cuisine is a delectable reflection of its rich cultural tapestry and Mediterranean setting. Known for its bold flavors and fresh ingredients, the culinary scene in Marseille is a paradise for food enthusiasts. From traditional dishes to modern interpretations, the city’s gastronomy is as diverse as its history.

No culinary exploration of Marseille is complete without tasting Bouillabaisse, the city’s most famous dish. This hearty fish stew, originally a meal for fishermen using the day’s catch, has become a symbol of Marseille’s cuisine. Made with a variety of local fish, and shellfish, and seasoned with saffron, fennel, and garlic, Bouillabaisse is served with rouille, a spicy mayonnaise, and crusty bread. It’s not just a meal; it’s an experience, often enjoyed in a convivial setting overlooking the sea.

Tapenade, a savory paste made from olives, capers, anchovies, and olive oil, embodies the essence of Provençal cuisine. It’s typically served as an appetizer, spread on bread or crostini. Similarly, Aioli, a garlic-infused mayonnaise, is a staple in Marseille. It’s often served with vegetables, fish, or as a condiment, adding a punch of flavor to any dish.

Ratatouille, a colorful stew made with eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, tomatoes, and onions, is another Provençal classic. Infused with herbs like thyme and basil, this dish is a celebration of the region’s bountiful produce. Each bite is a testament to the freshness and simplicity of Mediterranean cooking.

For those with a sweet tooth, navettes, traditional Marseille cookies, are a must-try. These orange-flower-flavored biscuits are shaped like boats, symbolizing the city’s maritime heritage. Perfect with a cup of coffee or tea, navettes are a delightful treat any time of the day.

To truly immerse yourself in Marseille’s food culture, visit one of the city’s many markets. Places like the Marché de Noailles offer a sensory overload, with stalls piled high with fresh produce, cheeses, spices, and seafood. It’s an opportunity to taste local specialties, engage with vendors, and understand the importance of fresh, seasonal ingredients in Marseille’s cuisine.

No meal in Marseille is complete without a glass of local wine. The Provence region is renowned for its rosé, but you’ll also find excellent reds and whites. Enjoying a glass of wine while soaking in the Mediterranean ambiance is an essential part of the Marseille dining experience.

In Marseille, food is more than sustenance; it’s a way of life. It reflects the city’s history, its blend of cultures, and its connection to the sea and land. Whether you’re dining in a Michelin-starred restaurant or a quaint bistro, the flavors of Marseille will leave an indelible mark on your palate.

Château d’If: The Legendary Prison of The Count of Monte Cristo

Château d’If, made famous by Alexandre Dumas’s novel, is a fortress-turned-prison on a small island off the coast of Marseille. Take a boat trip to explore this historic site and learn about its fascinating history.

Street Art in Cours Julien: Canvas of Urban Creativity

Cours Julien is a vibrant neighborhood known for its street art, trendy shops, and lively atmosphere. Wander through the streets to discover a constantly evolving outdoor gallery of graffiti and murals.

Marseille Opera House: Night of Culture and Elegance

The Marseille Opera House, an emblem of the city’s rich cultural heritage, stands as a testament to the artistic spirit that permeates Marseille. Located near the Old Port, this magnificent 19th-century building is not only an architectural marvel but also a vibrant center for the performing arts.

The Opera House, originally built in 1787 and reconstructed in 1920 after a fire, boasts a splendid façade and an opulent interior. The grand staircase, ornate chandeliers, and plush red velvet seats create an atmosphere of elegance and grandeur. The building’s design, a blend of classical and Art Deco styles, makes it a visual delight, both inside and out.

The Marseille Opera House is renowned for its diverse and high-quality performances. It hosts a range of shows, including opera, ballet, and classical music concerts. The programming is a mix of traditional and contemporary works, showcasing both well-known classics and new creations. The acoustics and the intimate setting of the theater make every performance an unforgettable experience.

The opera performances at the Marseille Opera House are particularly noteworthy. With world-class singers and a superb orchestra, each production is a celebration of vocal artistry and musical excellence. Similarly, ballet performances are a visual spectacle, featuring talented dancers, stunning costumes, and beautiful choreography.

The Opera House is not just a venue for performances; it’s a place where the community engages with the arts. It offers educational programs, workshops, and behind-the-scenes tours, making the world of opera and ballet accessible to all. These initiatives foster a deeper appreciation of the arts and encourage cultural participation among the residents of Marseille.

Attending a performance at the Marseille Opera House is a cultural highlight for any visitor to the city. Dressing up for the evening, enjoying a glass of champagne during intermission, and being swept away by the music and drama is a truly enchanting experience. It’s a chance to step back from the hustle and bustle of daily life and immerse oneself in the arts.

The Marseille Opera House is more than just a theater; it’s a symbol of the city’s commitment to culture and the arts. It stands as a beacon of creativity and artistic expression, drawing both locals and tourists alike. Whether you are an opera aficionado or a first-time visitor, a night at the Opera House is a must-do in Marseille, offering a glimpse into the city’s soul and its enduring love affair with the performing arts.

La Corniche offers a scenic walk along the Mediterranean coast. Enjoy the sea breeze, take in the views of the Frioul Islands, and stop by the iconic Vallon des Auffes, a traditional fishing port.

Les Terrasses du Port is a contemporary shopping center with a wide range of shops, eateries, and a terrace offering stunning sea views. It’s a perfect spot for a leisurely afternoon of shopping and dining.


Marseille, with its rich history, stunning landscapes, and vibrant culture, offers an array of experiences for every traveler. From exploring ancient ports to indulging in local cuisine, there’s never a dull moment in this dynamic city. Plan your trip to Marseille and discover the best things the city has to offer, creating memories that will last a lifetime.

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