Teeming with over a thousand years of eclectic history and culture, the port city of Marseille is the second largest city in France, next to Paris. This European capital of culture is not as popular as other French cities such as Paris or Nice. But, give it a chance and you will be pleasantly surprised. Bestowed with a natural harbour, beautiful history, and towering cliffs, Marseille is a great place to explore. If you are wondering how to do it, here are the 8 best things to do in Marseille that will make you come back for more.
And for planning, this is the place to go!
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1. Gaze at the wonderful views from Notre-Dame de la Garde
Sitting atop a hill overlooking the old port, the Notre-Dame de la Garde is a Romanesque style Catholic Basilica in Marseille. The iconic cathedral is located at the highest point in the city, resting on the foundation of an ancient fort which adds to its stunning setting. The inside of the cathedral looks as appealing as the impressive facade. Look out for some colourful marbles, sandstone mosaics, and incredible murals.
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When you are here, cross the drawbridge to enter the crypt and have a peek at the replica of the church. Check out the impressive statues in place, and climb up the stairs for a magnificent view of Marseille. Incredibly popular in Marseille, Notre-Dame de la Garde is visited by over a million visitors every year and without doubt, visiting Notre-Dame de la Garde is one of the best things to do in Marseille.
Address: Rue Fort du Sanctuaire, 13281 Marseille, France
2. Re-live the history of Mediterranean civilizations
Built primarily of stone, wind, and water, the National Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations (MUCEM) is devoted to the significance of the European and Mediterranean Civilisations. Housed in a honeycomb-like concrete structure, the museum looks offbeat and you are immediately drawn to the starkly brilliant building. Adding to the modern aesthetics is a footbridge that connects the museum with the 17th century Fort Saint-Jean.
Take a stroll across the futuristic building, get closer to the exhibits that best reflect art and culture of the Mediterranean civilization, and immerse yourself in the exciting history on offer. Spread across two levels, the museum showcases permanent and temporary collections, along with an auditorium in the underground. There is also a restaurant on the rooftop that offers splendid views of the Bay of Marseille.
Address: 7 Prom. Robert Laffont, 13002 Marseille, France
3. Experience the authentic vibe of Old Port of Marseille
When you are in Marseille, it is quite mandatory that you visit the Old Port. This Old Port is the heart and soul of Marseille and ties together the city just as thousands of boats are tied closely to each other. It is from here that Marseille grew roots into the colourful city it is now. Guarding the port entrance are two sturdy landmark structures – Fort Saint-Nicholas and Fort Saint-Jean, standing tall and welcoming you to the port.
Go for a stroll across the natural harbour stopping by the restaurants, cafes, and the quaint bars along the way. Always buzzing with some activity or the other, Old Port of Marseille is lively and gives the city its distinctive character.
Address: You can’t miss the Vieux-Port de Marseille!
4. Enjoy the best of nature at Calanques National Park
Characterized by turquoise waters, sheer cliffs that dominate the landscape, and idyllic beaches, Calanques National Park is an interesting mix of land and water. So abundant in nature, the park is one of the most natural sites to visit in the city and stretches between Marseille and Cassis.
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Pack a picnic, hike the gorgeous site of Calanques National Park, get around on a catamaran, plunge into the tranquil blue waters, and make sure to capture the lovely coastline on your cameras. Sublime with rich biodiversity and unspoiled nature, Calanques National Park is truly a paradise and if you are a person who loves nature, then you will want to stay here forever!
Address: Bât A4, Parc Valad, Impasse Paradou, 13009 Marseille, France
5. Catch an electrifying game at Orange Vélodrome
A big fan of football who is interested in catching a live match in one of the world’s best stadiums? Marseille’s Orange Vélodrome is the place for you. Enormous in size with over 67,000 seats to occupy, the whole atmosphere is electrifying and just to be in the midst of all the fans makes it a memorable experience.
Not a big fan of football? You can still experience the best of Orange Vélodrome by taking a tour. Booking here for a tour will take you through players changing rooms, lounge area, press conference room, presidential box, and the pitch side. Orange Vélodrome is also known for hosting cycling championships, athletics, boxing, and rugby matches.
Address: 3 Boulevard Michelet, 13008 Marseille, France
6. Tour the Château d’If
Set away from the city of Marseille, floating on the island of If is the fortress of Château d’If, which is now used as a prison. The fortress owes most of its popularity to author Alexander Dumas for being featured in the amazing literary work of ‘The Count of the Monte Cristo’, following which the visitors to the site increased multifold.
Château d’If is just a short trip from Marseille and the impressive architecture is something that will floor you right away, not to forget the breathtaking views. Heavily guarded, Château d’If is the only place on the island If. The rest of it is uninhabited.
Note: The fortress may also remind you of ‘The Shutter Island’, so be ready to be spooked.
Address: Embarcadère Frioul If, 1 Quai de la Fraternité, 13001 Marseille, France
7. Visit the famous monument of Palais Longchamp
There was a time when Marseille faced serious water storage issues and Palais Longchamp, formerly a palace was built in the late 19th century in celebration of the arrival of water from the Durance River to Marseille. Taking over 30 years to complete, Palais Longchamp is one of the famous monuments in Marseille today and also houses Musée des beaux-arts de Marseille and Museum d’Histoire Naturelle.
Gain access to the wonderful views of Marseille by climbing the monumental stairs, take a leisurely stroll across the park or go jogging if you are feeling energetic. There is also a lot of photo opportunities within the park. So be sure to be all dressed up. The centrepiece of Palais Longchamp includes four bulls & three women and makes for a good backdrop to click photos.
Address: Boulevard Jardin Zoologique, 13004 Marseille, France
8. Get around Marseille on the Les petits trains de Marseille
What is the best way to explore the attractions in Marseille? Should you go for a walk or is there any other way to get the best of the city? The answer to this is to go riding on the Les petits trains de Marseille. Incredibly convenient and affordable, the small tourist train offers you the best of sightseeing in the easiest way possible.
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There are three different routes to choose from – Notre Dame circuit, Old Marseille circuit, and Frioul circuit. Based on the circuit, the scenery changes from the scintillating waterfront to alleyways to historic forts to magnificent monuments. Carry your video cameras along to capture the intriguing landscape. Great way to build memories.
Address: 176 Quai du Port, 13001 Marseille, France