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13 Things to Do in Marseille, France

April 2, 2023

Marseille is the second most populated city in France; it’s the most important and most populated along the Mediterranean and also one of the best cities to visit in France. This importance is nothing new to the sparkling gem of a place – with history stretching back to 600 BC and the Greek empire, and present-day culture, nature, and food, there is simply loads to do. If you’re overwhelmed with choice, start with these 13 must-dos in Marseille and then chat with a local to put together a curated trip plan just for you!

Table of Contents

Catch a gorgeous sunset

Sunset from the Notre-Dame de la Garde - Eddie Junior/Unsplash

Even though Marseille is located in southern France, it actually looks west out over the Mediterranean, making it an amazing location from which to catch epic sunsets. Sunset viewing spots can often get crowded, so one of the best ways to learn about the perfect, lesser-known locations is to get a local travel planner to give you some tips. Some spots to keep in mind are:

  • The J4 Esplanade

  • Notre-Dame de la Garde

  • Fort Saint-Jean

Eat everything

Forever one of the best things to do across France is to fill your stomach with local delicacies. Make sure not to miss Panisse (a delicious chickpea dish), Bouillabaisse (fish soup), and Moules Marinière (a simple plate of mussels in a white wine sauce). If any of those dishes sound appealing to you, ask a local Hero where they recommend finding them, and for even more recommendations of great local dishes. You might also consider asking them to help you put together a customized self-guided foodie tour.

Absorb history in Fort Saint-Jean

Marseille’s Fort Saint-Jean with the cathedral in the background - giuliaduepuntozero/Flickr

The well-preserved 17th-century Fort Saint-Jean sits at the mouth of the port and has quite an interesting history that is worth learning on your visit. As you walk through the fort you’ll learn more about it as well as Marseille’s history, but make sure you head all the way up to the top for some great views across the city (remember this is also a great place to land for sunset!). Another thing to note is that accessibility at the fort is great, so those with limited mobility should still be able to visit without issue.

Wander the Old Port

The entire reason the remarkable city of Marseille exists is because of this port. As such it has played an integral part in the city's history. Today you can still feel the bustling energy of the city here. Go for a stroll, stop in the fish market, or grab a bite to eat at Au Bout du Quai. You can also hire boats from the port and head out onto the Mediterranean for a few hours or even a day or two.

Go for a hike

Lots of people travel to Marseille to be close to the sea, and while spending time on the Mediterranean coast is one of the best things to do in France, the city has great land-based nature at its doorstep as well. To the east is Park Pichauris where you can head out on hikes like the one that takes you up Pic du Taoumé, which is considered a challenging climb. Alternatively, head north from the city and do an easier hike around the Bassin du Vallon Dol. There are lots of other options, and the best way to find out about them is to talk to a local and see what they recommend.

Immerse yourself in Parc National des Calanques

Speaking of hiking, there is a lot of hiking to be done in the gorgeous Parc National des Calanques to the south of Marseille. But the park also has great beaches (check out Plage Sauvage de Morgiou), spots for kayaking (you can take full-day or half-day tours leaving right from Marseille), and you can even go scuba diving in the park! The park also includes the Frioul islands to the west of Marseille, where you can visit attractions like Hôpital Caroline.

Go back in time at the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations

The impressive Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations brings you through the wild ride that is the history of civilization in Europe and the Mediterranean. The outdoor areas surrounding the museum are free to enter and have great views, but going inside is €11 for adults. Once inside you’ll learn about things like the Rosetta Stone, the Neolithic period, and the history of magic in Europe. All of this is inside a beautifully designed building right on the water.

Climb to the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde

Photo by Viktoriia Popova on Unsplash

There are lots of churches and cathedrals on the list of things not to miss in France, and this is one of them. The Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde is a 19th-century basilica, which is still a working church today, and is one of the most iconic monuments in Marseille. Keep in mind that there are quite a few steep steps that you have to go up to gain access to the church. Plus, the basilica is located at the highest point of Marseille, so you may want to consider getting a bus or a taxi there to save your legs. The Hop-On Hop-Off bus is also an option as it has a stop just nearby.

Check out Cathédrale de la Major

Make sure not to miss the Cathédrale de la Major, it is smaller, but still just as impressive as the basilica. Its exterior features a sort of striped pattern made of marble and stone, and the interior is characterized by an ornate Byzantine design style. Impressively, the Major Cathedral is comparable in size to St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and has a capacity of about 3,000 people. Note that the cathedral is closed on Mondays.

Catch a boat to Chateau d'If

Out on the Frioul Islands, you’ll find this misnamed fort on the smallest of the islands. After being built as a fortress, the chateau was transformed into one of the most notorious prisons – “the Alcatraz of France” – and that is the character it took on in Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo. Of course, since the fort is out on an island you can only reach it via boat, whether public transport or a private tour.

Chill out at La Friche de la Belle de Mai 

To the north of Marseille’s downtown, you’ll find La Friche de la Belle de Mai which is a former tobacco factory that has since been converted into a versatile performance and arts venue. Whether or not there is something on (a rooftop movie, a concert, or even a festival) the venue is always open and resident artists can be found working there daily. You can stop by for lunch or to check out one of the temporary art exhibits, and be sure to check the schedule to see if you can make plans to head to a show or a concert during your visit. There is just about always something exciting to do or see at this cultural center. 

Admire water at Palais Longchamp

You’ll need to head slightly outside of the city center to get to Palais Longchamp, but it’s worth the journey to get a glimpse at this extraordinary palace – which is actually a water reservoir and overall monument to water. The park surrounding the palace is home to the summer jazz festival, so it’s worth seeing if you can get tickets for that if it falls when you’re in town. But, if you're not able to snag a seat you could head to the park in the afternoons before the performances and hear the musicians as they rehearse their pieces. 

Sample pastis

A glass of pastis - cyclonebill/flickr

If you like anise, then you’ll like pastis, a liquor originally formulated in Marseille. The drink actually has quite a fascinating history which ties it closely to the recent history of France. As a sort of symbol of Marseille, there are plenty of opportunities to experience it, whether at the bar completely dedicated to the drink (La Maison du Pastis) or at a class where you can learn how to make it. If you want more recommendations of bars or restaurants that serve unique pastis cocktails, ask a local Marseille Hero what they recommend!

Now that you have these 13 great things to do in Marseille as the bones of your trip, it’s time to fill in the blanks. Get personalized advice on how to craft the ideal itinerary to fit your needs and interests

Read more about France:

Connect with a local trip planner

20 Things to Do in France (Local Recs)

Is Marseille Safe for Travel?

The 6 Best Cities in France (Recommended by Locals)

Everything You Need to Know to Travel to France as an American

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