Visiting Marseille – A City Guide
Marseille is a vibrant European destination. As a port city, it combines the best of French food and culture with influences from all around the Mediterranean. Local life revolves around the waterfront – you can dine on fresh seafood at the port and enjoy watersports on the beaches.
Marseille: city layout
Marseille’s heart is its Vieux Port (Old Port), a busy harbour that welcomes boatloads of tourists and fresh fish from the Mediterranean. The quaysides are packed with lively bars and restaurants – perfect places for a relaxing drink before a stroll down La Canebière, a central thoroughfare and prime shopping street that stretches east from the port.
North of the port is Le Panier, a historic district with bustling alleyways and shops.
Set on a small hill south of the port, the Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde basilica dominates the skyline. The nearby Opéra district hosts Marseille’s glamorous boutiques; head to the quirky Cours Julien, an elongated square 10 minutes’ walk east of the port, for independent shops.
Drive south along La Corniche, the coastal road, to get to Marseille’s beaches, about 20 minutes from the city centre.
Top attractions in Marseille
Explore the 17th-century fortifications at the Fort Saint-Jean, a short stroll from the Vieux Port. From here, you can take the walkway to the MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations).
Art and architecture fans should visit the Musée d'Art Contemporain and La Cité Radieuse, pioneering architect Le Corbusier's housing complex in the south of the city. Also to the south are the beach and the Nouveau Stade Vélodrome, home of the Olympique Marseille football team.
You can get out on the water with a boat trip from the Vieux Port. Just offshore lies Château d’If, made famous by Alexandre Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo”. The Calanques, narrow coastal inlets with clear swimming waters and steep limestone cliffs, are about 14 km south of the city.
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Hotels in Marseille
Marseille has a range of options for city-centre accommodation, whether you are looking to make the most of the nightlife or want to kick back and relax.
Business travellers, or those staying for a short weekend break, appreciate the Saint-Charles district, close to the main Marseille train station. The bustle of the port and the shops of La Canebière are a short walk away. This area is also close to the Belle de Mai district, where you’ll find cultural centre La Friche, and the ornate Palais Longchamp, home the Musée des Beaux-Arts.
Close to the Vieux Port and MuCEM, the narrow streets of Le Panier are home to chic independent boutiques, lively restaurants offering local and North African fare and the best bars in town. Some hotels here boast dramatic views of the port and the basilica.
Eating Out in Marseille
Marseille has a wide range of restaurants to suit every palate and pocket. The city is best known for its fresh seafood and French classics, but many dishes have a strong North African influence.
The streets around the Vieux Port such as Rue Saint-Saëns are packed with busy restaurants and many offer fixed-price menus at lunch and dinner. The Place de Lenche has a selection of mid-priced restaurants with outdoor seating.
The Cours Julien is dotted with relaxed bars and restaurants at a range of prices. For more stylish (and expensive) restaurants, try Rue Paradis, which runs south from the port.
L'Epuisette on the seafront and La Boite à Sardines on the Canabière both serve excellent seafood. No-frills Chez Etienne, a pizzeria in Le Panier, is a local institution.
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Shopping in Marseille
As France’s second-largest city, Marseille offers a mix of high-end shops, familiar chains and stylish boutiques. Bustling markets around the city are the perfect places to shop for local food and gifts.
The hottest local and international designer boutiques are concentrated in the Opéra district, particularly streets near the Rue de Rome and the Rue Paradis. For a broader, more budget-friendly range of shops, visit the Terrasses du Port and Centre Bourse indoor shopping malls.
You’ll find independent shops along the streets north of the Vieux Port in the Le Panier district, and offbeat boutiques surrounding Cours Julien square. Head to Marseille’s lively outdoor markets, such as the Marché de la Plaine and the Rue Longue des Capucins, for fish fresh off the boat and exotic fruits and vegetables.
Top souvenirs from Marseille
Culture & Nightlife in Marseille
Whether you prefer a night at the opera or clubbing into the early hours, you’ll have plenty to choose from in Marseille. Waterfront bars and restaurants around the Vieux Port draw late-night crowds. Just a few streets away, you’ll find galleries, theatres and museums.
Marseille was European Capital of Culture in 2013 and the city still has a vibrant cultural life. Theatres La Criée and Théâtre de la Lenche are a short walk from Le Panier, while La Friche arts centre, which offers a range of performances and exhibitions, is near the Saint-Charles district. The Opéra Marseille season runs from September to June.
Night owls head to the Vieux Port or slightly farther along the Corniche towards the bars and clubs around the Plage Borély. Hardcore partiers from around Europe gather in Marseille every August to hear superstar DJs spin at the Positiv festival.
Marseille Museums and Galleries
Visiting Marseille with a Family
The streets of Marseille’s bustling city centre are great fun to explore, as are its family-friendly museums and galleries. The waterfront has something for all ages with its busy port, boat trips and nearby beaches.
Taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the Vieux Port and wandering the nooks and crannies of the nearby Le Panier district is great fun. The MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations), a short walk from the port, has a Children’s Odyssey exhibit which leads kids through a virtual, interactive tour of the Mediterranean.
Boat trips run regularly from the port to the nearby Château d’If, of “The Count of Monte Cristo” fame, as well as the îles du Frioul. These tiny limestone islands are home to rare plant species and seabirds, making them an ideal place for a nature walk.
The Palais Longchamp, near the Saint-Charles district, houses the Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle de Marseille, where the whole family can learn about the local wildlife then relax in the nearby Parc Longchamp.
Marseille’s supervised beaches, such as the Plage Borély, are a short trip from the city centre and offer a range of watersports.
Things to do outdoors in Marseille