Top 12 things to do in Marseille.
Updated: Feb 27
When you mention the South of France most people think of Nice or St Tropez, but if you brush over Marseille, you are making a mistake. Like with all large cities, use your common sense and keep your wits about you and there's no reason you can't fall in love with this beautiful city.
Like with most European cities, you have to want to appreciate the history and culture that enraptures Marseille to really make the most of your visit. The people of Marseille are extremely proud of their city and will tell you exactly why if you ask them. They absolutely love it if you try and speak French and show respect for their language. If you really don't know any French, just say allez l'OM (pronounced alay lo-em) and you'll probably get a drink bought for you.
There is no wrong time to visit Marseille. It's cold in winter but you are almost guaranteed some sun. From February, temperatures start to rise from 12 degrees and on some days, you would be forgiven for thinking it was summer when the sun is shining. It gets warmer and warmer through to summer. July and August are obviously the hottest but that shouldn't stop you exploring. You might get some storms in August but they only last 1 or 2 days and bring a fresh feel to the very humid summer.
Read on for the top 12 things to do in Marseille while you're there.
Vieux Port You won't find a tour guide for Marseille that doesn't mention the Vieux Port as a must see. The old port. The centre of tourist Marseille, and well worth a visit. Grab a drink and watch the world go by at one of the many places along the edge of the port. If you're looking for fresh fish you won't get much fresher than the Marché aux Poissons right in the heart of the Vieux Port - people travel from all over Provence to get their fish from here. The Vieux Port has an amazing atmosphere and from here you can access most of the must see areas of the city via bus, boat or foot.
Île de Frioul Catch the ferry from Vieux Port to Île de Frioul - a beautiful island in the Frioul Archipelago. Take your time wandering around taking in the views. Enjoy some history by exploring the abandoned German defences from WW2. Be careful of the sea birds nesting all along the tops of the cliffs, you might be lucky and see some of the fledglings trying to take flight for the first time. There are some beautiful areas for you to relax, take a dip and enjoy the calmness of this small island close to the bustling city. A return ticket is about €11, for about €17 you can get a return visit to include a trip to Château d'If on the island next to the Frioul.
Vallon des Auffes A 45 minute walk along the coast from Vieux Port and you can find yourself at Vallon des Auffes. A tranquil gem that can make you forget you're in a city. You'll walk past one of Marseilles 2 sandy beaches, and find the entrance to this little area opposite the war memorial. There's an old metal sign which tells you you're heading in the right direction but it is easily missed. Down the stairs you'll walk out into a small fishing square, with colourful fishermans houses and fishing boats moored up. Grab a drink at one of the restaurants along the edge, sit outside looking out at the 19th century arched bridge and watch the world go by.
Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde If you're based in Vieux Port without a car you can take a little train through the streets of Marseille, admiring some of the best parts before getting off at Notre-Dame at the top of the city. There is a car park if you have vehicle. The cathedral was damaged in the fight against the Germans for French independence in WW2. They have left some of the damaged walls as a reminder for what the city went through. Free entry, beautiful views and well worth a wander round.
Les Goudes Picture perfect les Goudes is so worth a day trip. Drive or take a bus 30 minutes south to a place that seems to have been perfectly preserved away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Sat between second world war bunkers on the cliff side and the gorgeous turquoise waters of the sea, take your time to explore or relax on the beach with the locals. One of my favourite things to do is grab a drink at 20,000 Lieu's Sous la Biere (a pint of beer or a pint of cosmo, whichever you prefer) and watch the sunset. It's a must do.
Parc Nacional de Calanques Ok, if you've made it this far you've made it to my favourite thing to do when I'm in Marseille. The Calanques. Pristine waters will greet you every step of your way along the coastline. Park up at Parking de la Presqu'île and walk up the road until you see the start of the trail - turn left down a rocky footpath and you'll find the way. First you'll come across Port Miou which is where the track starts. In peak season there are toilets here but if you come off peak you will have to have a nature wee if you need one. The walk can be done in sandals but it's best to have trainers. My favourite place to relax for the day is Port Pin, this is the second place you will come across on the trail after about an hours walk from the beginning. It can be busy but you will always find a peaceful spot on the cliffs around the inlet. Jump in the crystal clear waters and swim or snorkel to your hearts content. I would make sure you have some aqua shoes if you're climbing in and out the water on the rocks. A lot of people continue the walk along to Calanque d'En Vau, the most popular area to spend the day. It takes about 2-3 hours to reach this part of the park but it is so worth the hike. You will be rewarded with beautiful views and a place to cool off and you should definitely pack a picnic. If you have only one opportunity for a day trip out of Marseille this must a be a priority. Kayaking around the Calanques is also an option.
Cassis The closest community to the Calanques is Cassis. A beautiful little township on the coast. After a day in the Calanques you can spend the evening here, grab a meal at one of the restaurants or get an ice cream and enjoy it on the beach as the sun goes down. Surrounded by the sea and vineyards, well known for their rosé wine and overlooked by a French Château. Charming and quaint, you can't not love Cassis.
Sunset at La Pointe Rouge If you're near the sea then you'll be able to find a great sunset spot. My favourite in Marseille is La Pointe Rouge. Order a pizza from the beach side pizza van and bring your own wine. Settle down on a picnic blanket and enjoy a perfect sunset whilst drinking wine and eating pizza. If you need to pee, you can use the toilets at the Irish bar over the road - just confidently walk in as if you're a customer and they won't ask questions. TIP: When you're picking your picnic spot, check for ants.
Le Panier The oldest and one of the most vibrant areas of Marseille. Streets adorned with flowers and houseplants, shops full of little treats such as Marseille soap. In some ways it's a tourist trap, in others its a chance to enjoy an area alive with culture. I loved wandering the streets and would recommend to anyone visiting Marseille, at any time of year.
Le Jardin des Vestiges Just a stones throw from the Vieux Port (literally a 2 minute walk, probably less) you'll find Le Jardin des Vestiges. In the middle of a bustling area, this is a pocket of Marseille's rich history and a must for any history lovers or those interested in understanding the importance of Marseille through time. Discovered in the 1960s, it is now a historical monument showing the remains of the ancient Greek port and city walls. I found it to be a very peaceful area to wander round and imagine how the city has changed over time.
Stade Vélodrome This year (2023) the rugby world cup comes to France. Some of the games, including one of England's, will be played at the Stade Vélodrome in the centre of Marseille. If you're a sport fan you won't want to miss this multi purpose stadium. Check if there's a game on when you're here. From football to rugby there is usually something on that will satisfy your sporting needs. On game days the local bars and restaurants set up pop up bars a short walk from the stadium for you to enjoy the atmosphere of the crowd - not for the faint hearted. You are guaranteed chaos but you are also guaranteed to feel part of the community and a good time.
Mucem - The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations Beautifully connecting the history of the mediterranean and the cultures around Europe, the Mucem is a must see for a cultural experience. Right in the heart of the Vieux Port you don't have to go far to get lost in here. Split into 3 different sections, immerse yourself in art, history and popular traditional displays.