Things To Do in Marseille
For many years, edgy Marseille—France’s second-largest city—has been often overlooked for the elegance of fellow seaside towns such as Saint-Tropez and Cannes. Yet, Marseille has undergone a renaissance in recent years, and sparkling new structures and attractions have breathed new life into the centuries-old city. Complete with Roman ruins and Byzantine churches, Marseille is historically similar to many other French destinations, yet international influences have imbued the city with a more dynamic feel. A walk down the side streets is filled with the colors of West African fabrics, the sounds of Arabic music coming out of shops, and the aromas of North African cuisine wafting out of restaurants. A city that Alexandre Dumas once called “the meeting place of the entire world,” Marseille is where the ancient meets the modern and the gritty greets the stylish.
Areas & Neighborhoods
While Marseille is divided up into 16 arrondissements, the city is better understood by its smaller neighborhoods and major streets. Thanks to its mix of international and Millennial residents, as well as a host of new developments, you’ll find everything from the upscale to the countercultural.
Opéra and Vieux Port — The hub of activity in Marseille, Vieux Port has been the center of the city’s maritime culture for centuries. Located in the neighborhood of Opéra, today the area is not only filled with yachts, fishing boats, and mongers at the quay but also promenades lined with a bevy of restaurants, nightclubs, and bars. Near the west end of the main artery of La Canebière, find the Port Vieux Pavilion, a giant mirrored canopy built to reclaim the quayside as a pedestrian place and one of the projects completed for the city’s inauguration as a European Capital of Culture in 2013.
Le Panier — Just to the north of Vieux Port, the neighborhood of Le Panier is the oldest district in the city. Here, along its narrow winding streets are colorful buildings filled with artist studios, artisan shops, and hole-in-the-wall eateries. Enjoy a cup of coffee or a leisurely lunch beneath the shady trees in one of the charming plazas. The neighborhood is also an excellent example of the city’s mix of old and new. Just blocks from the lavishly decorated Marseille Cathedral, the Romanesque Church of St. Lawrence, and the 17th-century Fort Saint-Jean sits MuCEM, a museum with an intricate neomodern facade.
Joliette — Between La Panier and the harbor lies Joliette, a formerly run-down area that was once used mostly for ferries. Having undergone one of the biggest regenerations in all of Europe, Joliette is now a vibrant destination filled with chic eateries and upscale shops. It’s biggest draw is the Les Terrasses du Port shopping mall, boasting nearly 200 French and international brands. After a day of shopping, grab lunch or a drink at the rooftop restaurant, which offers sensational views overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
Belsunce and Noailles — To the north and south of La Canebière, the districts of Belsunce and Noailles are the heart of the city’s Arab, African, and Indo-Chinese communities. Along with restaurants serving couscous, tabbouleh, and doro wat, the area feels like one big bazaar with its spice sellers, tea rooms, and hammams.
Notre-Dame-du-Mont — To the southeast of Noailles, Notre-Dame-du-Mont is an artsy and cool area with a vibe that’s more rough around the edges than other parts of Marseille. Made up of a young and trendy crowd, the neighborhood is the place to find hip eateries, underground bars, independent bookstores, and quirky shops, especially around the area of Cours Julien. Numerous times a week, the Place Jean Jaurès plaza is taken over by an outdoor market filled with fresh flowers, organic produce, and handmade goods.
Cinq Avenues — Further west in Marseille is Cinq Avenues, the perfect place to find history and art. The district is home to one of the city’s most famous landmarks, the Palais de Longchamp, a stunning feat of architecture that houses both the Museum of Fine Arts and the Natural History Museum of Marseille. Around the palace are a selection of cute bakeries where you can pick up a sandwich or dessert for a picnic in the park.
Endoume — To the southwest of the city center along the water, Endoume offers visitors a picturesque beach experience with plenty of rocky bays to discover. The best way to tour this neighborhood is by renting a bike and going for a cruise along Corniche Kennedy. The street is a great place to find restaurants overlooking the ocean, and grants direct views out onto the 16th-century island fortress of Château d'If.
What to See in Marseille
See all of Marseille’s best landmarks on a tour with a private chauffeur. In half a day, visit the immaculate 19th-century Pharo Palace, admire the beauty of the lavish Palais de Longchamp, and soak in breathtaking views from the top of Garde Hill, upon which sits the ornate Notre-Dame de la Garde. If you’d rather explore the city solo, a hop-on hop-off bus pass lets you see Marseille at your own pace. Sitting on the open-air deck, you can scope out all the scenery along the coast and hop off at any stop along the way to explore on your own. Add even more fun by setting off on a scavenger hunt that takes you into the city’s beloved districts while you search for treasure.
Things to Do, Landmarks & Attractions
For Culture and History Buffs
Gain access to the city’s top cultural attractions with the Marseille City Pass. Take advantage of the all-inclusive card, which—on top of unlimited use of public transportation—allows complimentary entry into the city’s most important museums. Uncover centuries of stories at the Marseille History Museum or admire international work from the ‘60s onward at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The pass also includes a guided walking tour of the city, as well as a boat ride to the Château d'If fortress on the Frioul Islands.
Sink your teeth into the culinary side of Marseille to taste its signature seafood, pastries, and wine. On a mouthwatering walking tour, a local guide leads you to her favorite restaurants, bakeries, and wine shops in districts like Opéra and Le Panier. Munch on a flaky croissant as you stroll La Canebière, feast on fresh crab and fish stew at a few hidden haunts, and dig into delectable desserts at an artisan chocolatier. Your tour also includes samples of locally made wine and an anise-flavored French apéritif. To immerse yourself even further in the gastronomic delights of the region, get hands-on at a cooking class held in a local home.
For Wine Aficionados
It’s no secret that the French know their wine. Uncork the history and heritage of this winemaking tradition on a tour into the vineyard-filled valleys of Côtes de Provence. With a private guide behind the wheel, visit anywhere from 3 to 5 wineries to sample world-class varietals like oaky chardonnay and fruit-forward grenache. As you sip on bold reds, bright whites, and peach-hued rosés, bask in the beauty of the region’s sun-soaked terraces, medieval castles, and vine-covered fields.
For Travel Lovers
On top of everything else that Marseille has to offer, the city grants easy access to many other destinations in the south of France. On a full-day tour, travel into the awe-inspiring region of Provence to villages like ancient Avignon and beautiful Les Baux-de-Provence. Explore the cobbled alleys, stone houses, and cute shops that make this region unlike anywhere else in the world. If you prefer to live like an A-lister, travel to the resort destinations of Monaco, Cannes, and Nice. Keep your eyes peeled for celebrity sightings as you soak in the glitz, glamour, and seaside scenery of the French Riviera.