What to see in Marseille: guide with practical tips about the city

Who I am
Martí Micolau

wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

Author and references

Between Italy and France, since time immemorial, there has been a heated rivalry.
From the Sicilian Vespers to the famous Zidane head in Materazzi, arrows have flown from both sides. Despite this, we continue to call them "our French cousins" and Marseille seems to confirm this relationship. Defined as the Naples of France, it is a welcoming and warm city that is very reminiscent of the Italian lifestyle.
Here is a small guide with 10 things to see and do e advice on how to visit Marseille.


  1. The Cathedral of Notre-Dame de la Garde
  2. The Old Port of Marseille
  3. The Le Panier district
  4. The Church of the Vieille Charité
  5. The New Riva of Marseille
  6. The Cathedral of Santa Maria Maggiore (the Major)
  7. The Calanchi Natural Park
  8. The Cité Radieuse
  9. MUCEM
  10. The Castle of If and the Frioul Islands
  11. Other attractions to visit
  12. 5 things to do in Marseille
  13. User questions and comments

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1 - The Cathedral of Notre-Dame de la Garde

The Cathedral of Notre-Dame de la Garde, of Romanesque-Byzantine style, is famous for the statue of the Madonna, nicknamed Bonne-Mère. It is a place of worship rich in art and history that offers splendid panoramic views of the whole city, it is the best place to start our tour.

The "Good Mother", protector of fishermen and all Marseillais, is the main attraction of the city, together with the area of ​​the old port. Located in About 150 meters above the sea level, its location also makes it one extraordinary vantage point, both from the square in front of the church, and above all from the 60-meter bell tower.
There are actually two churches: the upper one, visible from all over the city, and the lower one, in the shape of a crypt.
The devotion of citizens towards the Bonne Mère is also testified by the many ex-votos on the interior walls, which decorate the cathedral together with frescoes, polychrome marbles and mosaics with a gold background.

  • Bus 60 from Porto Vecchio; Little train from Porto Vecchio (€ 8,00) - Get directions
  • Mon-Sat 7: 30-19: 00
  • Free, free visit

Reach the hill on foot, by train or by Segway: to reach the Cathedral you can take a nice walk, not too steep, of about 1 km, and then arrive at the church square with a long staircase. Alternatively, the tourist train leaves from the old port and arrives directly at the square, at a cost of around € 6,00. An original alternative can be the Segway tour, with a guide who, during the journey and then at the top, will tell stories, anecdotes and curiosities about the cathedral and Marseille.

2 - The Old Port of Marseille

The lighthouse, the boats that land loaded with fish, fish markets with the screams of fishmongers in the background. The Old Port of Marseille it is the soul of the city. It is full of monuments and ancient shops, but also of quick-handed thieves. Watch out for your wallet!

It is here that daily life takes place and also the evening stroll. especially following the renovations in 2013, which completely reconfigured the Vieux Port, making it more orderly and modern. Among other things, the highlight of the 2013 renovation was the work of Norman Foster Ombrière Miroir, a sort of "artificial sky" of reflective stainless steel, which produces a mirror effect. It is the most suitable point for sensational photographs!
It was not affected by the modernization works fish market, centuries-old traditions that are still consumed in this area today.

  • from Gare Routière Saint-Charles Bus 82S towards Pharo Catalans - Get directions
  • always accessible
  • Free, free visit

Take a free ride on the Ferry Boat: a solar-powered boat departs from the quay of the Town Hall and goes around the port for free, passing by the forts of Saint Nicolas and Saint Jean. The latter is connected to the Mucem by a bridge, also built in 2013.

3 - The Le Panier district

People who return from the market, passing through clothes hanging and smells of home cooking, this is the Le Panier district. Once the most popular and infamous place in Marseille, today it is the most Hipster area, thanks to the redevelopment of the neighborhood in 1983. This is where you will find the main trends in the city: art, fashion, local crafts, they will give you an unmissable taste of vintage . It is also the multicultural area of ​​Marseille, where the locals live with African and Corsican immigrants.

Main attractions of the neighborhood are the Church of the Accoules and the church of the Vieille Charité, a complex that houses two important museums: the Museum of Mediterranean Archeology and the MAAOA (Museum of African, Oceanic and Amerinde Arts).
We recommend visiting the neighborhood with a guided walking tour of the old city or by segway that will guide you safely in the most picturesque corners and streets of the Le Panier district and then visit the old and new port.

  • a few minutes walk from the port - Get directions
  • always accessible
  • Free, free visit

4 - The Church of the Vieille Charité

In the heart of Le Panier there is one of the most beautiful architectural complexes in Europe: the Vieille Charité. In the past it was an old hospice and its restoration made possible the rebirth of the district itself. It is an architectural work in perfect Italian Baroque style. Today the architectural complex houses, among other things, the MAAOA (Museum of African, Oceanic and Amerinde Arts) and the Museum of Mediterranean Archeology.

Inside the rectangular courtyard with 3-storey buildings overlooking this large courtyard, stands the chapel, with a columned facade (more recent, dating back to 1863) and the old ovoid apse.

  • on foot, in the historic center - Get directions
  • Tue-Sun 10: 00-18: 00
  • Free, free visit

5 - The New Riva of Marseille

At the expense of the name, the Riva Nuova of Marseille has very ancient origins. Located in front of Porto Vecchio, right in front of the Le Panier district, on the opposite side from the Vieux Port, this remained a marshy and unhealthy area until the construction of the old arsenals in 1400. In the past, here lived the convicts destined to be embarked in the warships and living in terrible conditions.
Today the area is a thriving tourist center, among majestic buildings, green areas, restaurants, bistros and cafes.

  • walk, minutes from the port - Get directions
  • always accessible
  • Free, free visit

6 - The Cathedral of Santa Maria Maggiore (the Major)

One cannot fail to notice this mammoth work in the port area: 146 meters of marble make up one extraordinary cathedral in Romanesque-Byzantine style, of large proportions, able to accommodate as many as 3.000 faithful. In reality, even here, as in the case of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de la Garde, there are two churches: the Antica Major (from 1100), which cannot be visited, and the Nuova Major, commissioned in 1850 by Napoleon III, and which is the part currently open to visitors. The materials used are of great value, such as Carrara marble, Italian onyx, Venetian mosaics. Here an early Christian baptistery was found, considered among the largest and most beautiful in Europe, but it was inexplicably reburied.

  • walking from Porto Vecchio - Get directions
  • every day 10: 30-18: 30, closed on Tuesday
  • Free, free visit

7 - The Calanchi Natural Park

On the way to Cassis you come across the Calanchi Natural Park, amazing cliffs overlooking the sea. The jagged rocks with their whiteness stand out against the intense blue of the sea giving life to a breathtaking panorama, worthy of a photo and many likes.

20 kilometers of white limestone cliffs paint a unique scenario, not only from the landscape point of view but also from the environmental point of view: the gullies are in fact a treasure trove of biodiversity, and are thehabitat of many species.

  • Proceeding towards Cassis - Get directions
  • Depending on the weather conditions, entry on 3 risk levels: Orange (free access all day), Red (from 6:00 to 11:00, in the 200m coastal strip) Black (access prohibited for the entire day)
  • Free, free visit
  • Calanques National Park: Catamaran Tour and Lunch Calanques National Park: Snorkeling and Diving

Visit the badlands by boat or electric bike: the best way to visit the Calanchi park is a boat tour, including stops for swimming and snorkeling. There are different formulas, such as catamaran tours with lunch included, Sunday cruises with picnics or experiences entirely dedicated to snorkeling and diving. Alternatively, for the more sporty there are trekking routes, even demanding ones, or excursions by electric mountain bike.

8 - The Cité Radieuse

This arises from the modern architectural concept of Le Corbusier, known as Maison du fada (House of the madman) gigantic concrete building about 165 meters long and with 12 floors it houses 337 apartments, a kindergarten, a rooftop swimming pool, shops and a contemporary art center, all designed to stimulate sociality.

Despite its architecture considered by many to be "brutalism", it obtained UNESCO protection in 2016.

  • from Gare de Marseille Saint Charles by metro, M2 towards Ste Marguerite Dromel - Get directions
  • Mon-Sat 9: 00-18: 00
  • Free, free visit


Dedicated to the civilizations of the Mediterranean, the Mucem was designed to host many cultural initiatives, musical and theatrical performances, exhibitions and film screenings. This is where the inauguration of the year dedicated to Marseille, capital of culture 2013 took place.

Inside of the museum hosts exhibitions of anthropology, art history and archeology on three levels, showing the dialectical relationship between the civilizations of the Mediterranean in their cultural unicum towards the rest of Europe and the world. We should also focus on the architecture of the complex, the work of Rudy Ricciotti: the result is a sort of monolith in steel and glass but covered with what appears to be a sort of filigree cement "skin", which creates a surprising play of lights and shadows that recalls the ripples of the sea on the sandy bottom.

As this is one of the main attractions in Marseille, we recommend that you purchase priority entrance to the museum for avoid endless queues.

  • from Gare Routière Saint-Charles, bus 82S towards Pharo Catalans - Get directions
  • Lun-Mer-Sab 10:00-20:00, Gio 10:00-19:00, Ven 10:00-22:00
  • Full € 9,50, reduced € 5,00, Family Pass € 14,00

Don't miss the evening light show: of the three floors that make up the MUCEM, the roof is a fundamental portion. In fact, it is possible to walk on it for a truly unique view of the port. Then in the evening, an extraordinary light show is projected, which creates a marine atmosphere with plays of shadows in the colors of the blue and turquoise sea.

10 - The Castle of If and the Frioul Islands

Have you read "Il Conte di Montecristo"? The intricate events of Dantès and his daring escape from the prison in which he was locked up? That prison was located in the Castle of If, in the Frioul Islands. Think that a hole was made in the wall of a cell, in memory of that escape. Literature aside, that archipelago offers visitors dreamy beaches and crystal clear waters.

These are 4 islands with white outlines sculpted by the Mistral wind, of which the Island of If is the most famous for the events of the Count of Montecristo. The others are Pomègues, Ratonneau and Tiboulen. The trait d'union is their absolutely barren and uncontaminated feature: the islands are in fact all 4 uninhabited. Even the Island of If has been so since 1871, or since the Castle ceased to perform its function as a prison.
During the summer there are many boats that from the port of Marseille, in about twenty minutes, reach the islets for tours with diving, snorkeling or for a tan in absolute relaxation immersed in the most authentic nature.

  • Ferry from the Old Port. Frioul If Express Company - Get directions
  • 06:30AM - 00:00PM
  • Ferry € 5,50; If Castle € 5,50

Other attractions to visit

In a city like Marseille there are certainly more than 10 things to see. Let's start from Saint-Laurent church, the oldest Christian place of worship in Marseille, where the Black Madonna is located. The Prado Seaside Park it is a huge green area, with sandy and pebble beaches, children's areas and playgrounds. Almost adjacent is the Parc Borély, a botanical garden complete with navigable lakes and 2 museums: that of Decorative Arts and that of Contemporary Art.
Still, don't miss the Palais Longchamps, a splendid structure built to celebrate the creation of the Marseille Canal, which brought water to the city. Here too there are 2 museums: that of Natural History and that of Fine Arts.
Don't miss the i too Docks of Marseille, not far from the Major Cathedral. They are an urban redevelopment project of old disused buildings and warehouses converted into shops, offices and urban areas that are very pleasant and usable for citizens.
Finally, the beaches: above all, the plage des Catalans, closer to the center and more suitable for young people, and the Plage de l'Estaque, in the port area of ​​the same name, which is actually a succession of 3 large beaches.

5 things to do in Marseille

  1. Walk along the Corniche
    It is the Marseilles seafront, the road that crosses the entire old port and passes from the picturesque Vallon ds Auffes to the Prado Seaside Park. Romantic, lively, one of the ideal spots to take super photos!
  2. Eat a bouillabaisse at Vallon des Auffes
    Along the Corniche, stop at Vallon des Auffes, a small fishing village-marina, where you can eat the best bouillabaisse in Marseille, a freshly caught fish soup!
  3. Visit the Prado Seaside Park
    At the end of the walk along the Corniche, stop at the Parc Balnéaire du Prado, 30 hectares of greenery with 6 beaches, parks, skate parks, playgrounds. There is even a reproduction of Michelangelo's David!
  4. Stroll along the Canebière
    It is the most important road in the center of Marseille, a road that goes from the Vieux-Port to the Church of the Reformed. Here, in its kilometer long, you will find historic cafes, fish restaurants, but also stalls and a Middle Eastern bazaar always open!
  5. Excursions in the surroundings
    Marseille is located in one of the most beautiful regions of France. Do not miss the opportunity for a tour of the lavender fields among the villages of Provence such as Sault, Roussillon, Gordes, but you can also take a tour of the French Riviera of Nice, Eze and Monaco and finally visit Avignon, historic residence of the Popes (here the best day trips around Marseille).

Plan your stay in Marseille: flights, hotels and tours

With hundreds of hotels and apartments available, it won't be a problem to find where to stay in Marseille. We advise you to orient yourself towards the area of Old Port, both for the more affordable prices and for the strategic position. From there, in fact, you can move comfortably both on foot and with public lines and enjoy all the joys that only Marseille can offer.
Consider purchasing the Marseille City pass, especially if you are planning to stay several days and visit many attractions.

  • starting from € 29,96 - compare flights
  • hotel and b & b starting from € 60,00 per room -

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