Marseille Travel Guide

Marseille is the oldest and second largest city in France and one of the most ancient towns in Europe. It should be visited, explored, enjoyed. An ambitious coastal city, with stunning historic as well as modern architecture, a real melting pot of different cultures, nevertheless with true French flavor, Marseille is a wonderful destination. Boasting an international airport, TGV (high-speed trains) from many French as well as some European cities, budget-friendly Eurolines buses, well-connected highways you cannot miss this city. When there, you can easily get around by public transportation (buses, trams and underground), but there is also a very affordable and smart bicycle-hire scheme I would highly recommend.

Place Thiars near the waterfront in the centre of Marseille

Top Sights to See in Marseille

Basilique Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde

A gigantic Romanesque-Byzantine church overlooking the city, this basilica is the number one landmark of Marseille. The terrace of this magnificent edifice offers a fascinating view of the whole settlement and harbor. Wide stone steps lead up to this glorious vista running into fancy drawbridges which stretch over imaginary moats. Fishermen used to have their boats blessed in this church before starting on a journey, and old ones still do. You can see many votives as well as models of boats hanging on the inside of the church as signs of gratitude of those who had their prayers answered. The interior of the basilica is more a testament to the wealth of the city rather than an example of artistry.

Cathedrale de la Major (Cathedrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure de Marseille)

The Mayor’s Cathedral is very reminiscent of its sister, the Our Lady of the Guard previously mentioned. And for a reason: they were built simultaneously by the same architect. Built on the location of a baptistery dating back to the fifth century, this is the largest nineteenth-century church in France, and its splendid interior is famous for the works of arts that it is sheltering. Its visitation will nicely complement the previous religious location and will give the visitor a fuller picture of the spiritual past and present of Marseille.

Vieux Port (the Old Harbour)

Saint Jean Castle and Cathedral de la Major and the Vieux port in Marseille, France

Go early in the morning to the original heart of the city, a harbor which used to rival the biggest ports in the world during the Medieval period. Home in modern times to fishing boats, pleasure boats and yachts, it is the scene where you can see fishmongers auction off their catch each morning. The fish are offered to anyone bidding for them, so it is an easy and great way to purchase your local breakfast.

Grand Port Maritime de Marseille (New Harbour)

Having outgrown its old port, Marseille needed a new harbor. Being overlooked by two mighty fortresses, this place will nicely compare and contrast with the experience of its smaller brother. Head towards one of the fortresses from here, if you were tempted. Fort Nicholas, a seventeenth-century stronghold erected during the reign of the Sun-king (Ludwig the fourteenth) will be worth your time. It is a marvel on its own, but its upper courtyard offers a breathtaking view of the whole city.

Le Panier

Le Panier (meaning ‘basket’) is the oldest area of the city. Visit the Vieille Charité, a wonderful old museum situated in the middle of this historic district, currently hosting museums and exhibitions. But otherwise, just wander around the lovely little alleys, pop in quaint little shops, dine in deliciously cooking independent restaurants. You may rest in a small café and pick up local products or second-hand souvenirs in the only Old Town I have ever seen which retained its real-feel and seems not to exist only in order to serve tourists. Galleries and exhibitions will be bountiful in your way as well, so plan a little bit more than three hours for this venue of local color.


Saint Jean Castle and Cathedral de la Major and the Vieux port in Marseille, France

Visit anything and everything in Marseille which catches your attention, there are really so many other things to see: La Corniche (a famous walkway along the sea), Abbaye St-Victor (a fifth century, mystic-atmosphere fortified monastery church), L’Arc de Triomphe, Palais de Longchamp, and much more. If you are, however, for some modern sights I would recommend the MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisation). This place is famous for its unique architecture and offers a joint experience with Fort Saint-Jean, a castle with which it is integrated. And two truly modern landmarks to know about: Zaha Hadid’s CMA CGM Tower as Le Corbusier’s influential Cité Radieuse Complex. Drop by these modern venues after the old treasures to leave the glorious city of Marseille with a complex image of her.

Pictures of Marseille

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