5. A day at the beach
You can’t think “South of France” and not think “beach!” so make sure you have your sun cream and bikini packed. Plage de la Pointe Rouge probably steals the title of best beach near Marseille. It’s in easy reach of the city, so it’s a great pick for families or travellers who want to spend the morning exploring and the afternoon lapping up the sun. A little further afield into the area of Cassis and pebbly beaches like Bestouan beach offer a different type of charm.
The surrounding Calanques of Marseille make for a fun alternative to sandy white sand, with stunning sheer cliff faces and turquoise waters that are a picturesque way to take in the natural beauty of the area. Boat tours will take you around all the best bits of the coast so have your camera ready for a sunny selfie. Calanque de Morgiou is one of the largest and offers rock climbing up its steep peaks over sparkling blue waters, sure to get your pulse racing. Cosquer Cave and its prehistoric cave paintings are also located here, just one of the ways you can…
4. Go back in time
Marseille’s attractions offer plenty in the way of history. Start at the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations, also known as MuCEM. A treat for lovers of architecture, this modern museum is built over the water with a façade that is playfully transparent and which, viewed by night, can rival the stars in the sky for sparkle. Musée d’Histoire de Marseille has a more curated collection of historical relics, or get immersive with the past at Musée des Docks Romains where you can discover the remains of an ancient Roman warehouse.
Notre-Dame de la Garde remains the leading site in the city and is known as the symbol of Marseille. It was started in 1852 and not completed for 21 years. The basilica is full of beautiful sculptures and mosaics and boasts stunning architecture from every angle.
If you prefer a more active approach then La Corniche is a waterfront road that stretches from the old port of Marseille along the coast and was renamed in honour of J F Kennedy. Jog down its length solo, cycle with a friend or make it a family drive, the path will take you past the areas of the city both old and new, with enviable sea views the whole way.
3. Set sail for the Frioul archipelago
Head out to sea from Vieux Port to Frioul Archipelago, a cluster of four islands located approximately two miles from Marseille’s coast. Château d'If makes for the perfect starting point and has plenty of history to explore. A sea fortress that eventually became a prison, the structure spreads over almost the entirety of Île d'If, the smallest of the four islands and is most famed for its role in The Count of Monte Cristo.
Ratonneau makes for the ideal next stop and offers gorgeous beaches and its own dose of history, having played a part in mooring Roman invaders and as a quarantine site for cholera victims. A unique spectacle at the edge of the island involves several crosses but don’t be scared – this would-be cemetery is just an unfinished fortress!
From Ratonneau you can experience (almost) walking on water by crossing over the stone mole that connects it to the island of Pomegues. There’s a walking trail here that lets you be surrounded by stunning ocean views on all sides, just remember to bring a sun hat as there aren’t many trees to shade yourself under.
Tiboulen du Frioul completes the four, with a lighthouse to admire and a rocky terrain.
2. Food, glorious food
French cuisine is known as some as the best in the world, and Marseille definitely helps it retain that title. Food in Marseille, unsurprisingly, taps into its coastal location, with ultra-fresh seafood right on your doorstep, no matter where you stay in the city.
We recommend you start your culinary crawl with a suitable aperitif, and in Marseille that means Pastis. Originally crafted as an alternative to absinthe after the green tipple was banned, this anise-flavoured spirit is diluted with water for a cloudy drink that’s perfect for rousing your appetite.
In no dish is the city better represented than in Bouillabaisse, a rich fish stew where the fruit of the sea is perfectly simmered and then served – broth and fish separate – with fresh crusty bread. Usually prepared for at least five diners, this is delicious, social food to share with friends and tastes all the better when paired with the city’s stunning sea views.
Make sure to satisfy your sweet tooth after dinner with some Navettes, cute boat-shaped biscuits that come in endless delicious variations.
1. The Old Port of Marseille
No trip to the city is complete without visiting this sea-front location. Dating back to ancient times, this port used to be the main gateway to the city for trade, with plenty of historical sights showcasing its rich history. In more modern times, the port has been almost completely pedestrianised and given an injection of cosmopolitan charm, with cute cafes, boutique hotels and endless eateries lining the waterfront.
Arrive early in the morning and take in the hustle and bustle of the daily fish market or hop on a ferry from one side of the port to the other. For the most breathtaking vista points in the area though, the towers of fifth-century Saint Victor’s abbey are hard to beat, especially at sunset.
The historical heart of the city, almost any way you choose to spend your time in Marseille is sure to lead to this location, so make sure you spare a moment at one of its bars to toast a fantastic city break.
Is Marseille a good place to visit?
Based on our top 5, we’d say so! It’s a great addition to any France itinerary you have as well, being easy to get to from the popular cities of France. If you made the capital your gateway by taking the Eurostar to Paris, you’ll be pleased to know that the train from Paris to Marseille St. Charles Station only takes a little over 3 hours. Or, if you travel directly to the south coast via Nice Côte d'Azur Airport, then the journey is even shorter, with the fastest train from Nice to Marseille taking just 2.5 hours.