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Marseille, France’s oldest city, offers a thrilling blend of rich history, vibrant culture, and breathtaking Mediterranean views. With its colorful Old Port, tantalizing culinary scene, and fascinating sites, there’s something for everyone here. Its narrow streets beckon you to explore, while its sun-soaked beaches offer a relaxed retreat. Marseille’s unique charm lies in its blend of old and new, tradition and innovation. So, if you’re looking for the best things to do in Marseille, this guide has you covered.

The Vallon des Auffes - fishing haven with small old houses, Marseille, Provence, France
Photo credit: Olena Znak / Shutterstock.

You’ll visit iconic landmarks like Fort Saint Jean and Palais Longchamp, try bouillabaisse, and visit Le Panier, the historic old town. There are popular tourist sites to get you acquainted with the city as well as some hidden gems.

The Vallon des Auffes in Marseille city.
Photo credit: Stockbym/Shutterstock.

18 Best Things to Do in Marseille

1. Visit the Old Port (Le Vieux Port)

The Old Port (Le Vieux Port) of Marseille is a bustling hub of activity that serves as the heart of this vibrant city. Dotted with fishing boats and surrounded by historic buildings like Fort Saint Jean, it’s a place where the past meets the present.

Aerial panoramic view on basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde and old port  in Marseille, France
Photo credit: Sergii Figurnyi / Shutterstock.

The port has been in use since the 6th century. It initially served as a trading post for the ancient Greeks and has evolved into what you see today.

From the myriad of inviting cafes to fishermen selling their daily catch at the fish market, there’s a lot going on here. It’s also a departure point for trips to Chateau d’If, L’Estaque, and the Calanques National Park.

The old Vieux port of Marseille with Notre Dame de la Garde at back.
Photo credit: Gurgen Bakhshetyan/Shutterstock.

2. Explore the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde

Much like Lyon’s must-see attraction, Notre Dame de Fourvière, and Paris’ Sacré-Coeur, Marseille’s Notre Dame de la Garde overlooks the city.

It was built in the late 19th century and stands as a symbol of hope for the city. In fact, it’s often referred to as “La Bonne Mère” or “The Good Mother” by locals.

Intereer of Notre-Dame de Garde Basilica, Marseille, France
Photo credit: Oleg Golovnev / Shutterstock.

From its terrace, you’ll be rewarded with sweeping panoramic views of this Mediterranean city.

But that’s not all. The inside is just as spectacular. From the intricate Byzantine-Romanesque architecture to the stunning mosaics, it’s an intimate setting that will show you a glimpse into Marseille’s spiritual identity.

Insider Tip: It’s an uphill climb to get to Notre Dame de la Garde, so if you want to save time there is a tourist train that will take you to the top.

3. Visit the MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations)

Located on the waterfront at the entrance of the Old Port, the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations (MuCEM) is monumental both in its architecture and the treasures it holds.

Opened in 2013, the museum offers a deep dive into the diverse and rich cultural heritage of European and Mediterranean civilizations. And with one ticket you’ll have access to three incredible sites – J4 Esplanade, Fort Saint Jean, and the Centre for Conservation and Resources.

Marseille, France - June 30, 2015: MUCEM, civilizations museum of Europe and the Mediterranean.
Photo credit: Grisha Bruev / Shuterstock.

Of these three, Fort Saint Jean is easily the best.

It was built in the 17th century by Louis XIV to reinforce the Old Port and it has since become one of Marseille’s top attractions.

Then, there’s the museum’s rooftop. The views are incredible and the restaurant, managed by the renowned chef Gérald Passedat, is a culinary hotspot.

4. Explore the Calanques National Park

Less than an hour by bus is the ever-magnificent Calanques National Park (Parc National des Calanques). It offers a tranquil and naturally stunning escape from the busy center.

Calanque "d'En-Vau" in the Calanques National Park next to Marseilles in Provence, southern France. The French Fjords.
Photo credit: marako85/ Shutterstock.

The park was established in 2012 and features dramatic limestone cliffs plunging into the sparkling turquoise waters of the Mediterranean Sea. There’s a wide variety of flora and fauna, well-marked hiking trails, and secluded beaches.

And, if you’re the adventurous type, there are tons of places where you can rock climb.

Calanque of Morgiret on the Frioul archipelago with lots of pleasure boats anchored in the green water of the Mediterranean Sea off Marseille, France.
Photo credit: JeanLucIchard/Shutterstock.

Insider Tip: For sweeping views of the limestone cliffs and a bird’s eye view of Calanque de Morgiou head to the Belvédère de Sugiton.

6. Visit the Palais Longchamp

Palais Longchamp was initially built to celebrate the arrival of water in Marseille from the Durance River in the 19th century.

The exterior features a spectacular water fountain, intricate sculptures, and lush gardens.

Marseille, France - September 24, 2018: The Palais Longchamp houses the Fine Arts Museum and Natural History Museum of Marseille in France
Photo credit: saiko3p/ Shutterstock.

The palace also houses two of the most important museums in Marseille.

The first is the Fine Arts Museum, which hosts an impressive collection of European paintings and sculptures. Then, there’s the Natural History Museum. It’s a paradise for nature enthusiasts with fascinating exhibits on geology and biodiversity.

6. Stroll Through Le Panier

This quaint and artistic neighborhood is full of winding streets and pastel-colored buildings. It’s a place where you can step into the past and see what life in France is like. Not only that but Le Panier is the oldest district in town.

Marseilles, France - March 2022 : Historical district Panier in sunny weather, HDR Image
Photo credit” mehdi33300 / Shutterstock.

As you wander around, you’ll pass sites like La Vieille Charité, a 17th-century building that, now, houses museums and cultural exhibits. Other top attractions include the atmospheric Place de Lenche, a buzzing square, and Rue du Panier, the most colorful street.

There are also tons of local artisan shops, charming cafés, and street art that are worth checking out.

Insider Tip: The best street art is along Traverse de la Charité. There are several different murals painted on the sides of the surrounding buildings.

7. Tour the Chateau d’If

Chateau d’If is located on the smallest island in the Frioul archipelago. It was built in the 16th century under the orders of King Francis I as a defense against sea invasions.

It was turned into a prison and later a tourist site at the end of the 19th century.

Marseille, France - June 2021 : Chateau d'If, a fortress and former prison located on the Ile d'If, the smallest island in the Frioul archipelago offshore from Marseille
Photo credit:JeanLucIchard/ shutterstock.

But it’s most known for its role as a prison in Alexandre Dumas’ novel, The Count of Monte Cristo.

Today, a short ferry ride from Marseille’s Old Port takes you to the chateau, where you can explore its cells, including the one that housed Edmond Dantès.

As you wander the castle, information boards recount its history, while the rooftop provides stunning views. It’s easily one of the top things to do in Marseille.

Insider Tip: Since this is one of the top tourist attractions you’ll want to arrive early in the morning. Keep in mind that trips to Chateau d’If depend on the weather. If the currents or waves are too strong, all trips will be canceled for the day.

8. Discover the Vallon des Auffes

Nestled between two cliffs, Vallon des Auffes is a traditional fishing port that offers a taste of authentic Marseille.

This picturesque enclave, with its quaint, colorful boats has preserved much of its old-world charm. It’s most known for its history of fishing and local eateries like Chez Fonfon. So, if you want to try some traditional dishes like bouillabaisse, this is the place to do it.

Traditional fishing harbor Vallon des Auffes with picturesque houses and boats, Marseilles, France
Photo credit: Boris Stroujko/ Shutterstock.

The iconic Kennedy Corniche surrounds the area, offering breathtaking views of the Mediterranean Sea. There are even a few secluded beaches where you can swim without any other tourists in sight.

9. Stroll Around Parc Borély

This 17th-century park is the perfect escape from the city’s bustle. It boasts paved walking paths, a beautiful lake, and the grandiose Château Borély at its heart. It’s a green oasis right in the heart of Marseille.

View of the historic park "Borely" of Marseille in South France
Photo credit: Zyankarlo/Shutterstock.

Get lost in the most remarkable gardens, go for a stroll, or bring a packed lunch for a picnic. In short, there’s no wrong way to visit Parc Borély.

Of course, no trip here is complete without visiting Château Borély. Not only is it home to the Museum of Decorative Arts, Earthenware, and Fashion but it has retained much of its original decor.

10. Visit the Cathédrale de La Major

Built in the 19th century, this grand cathedral stands as a testament to Marseille’s historical and religious heritage. Its majestic interior is full of extravagant mosaics, marble pillars, and soaring domes. In fact, it was the largest church built since the Middle Ages, which shows you just how impressive it is.

Saint Jean Castle and Cathedral de la Major and the Vieux port in Marseille, France
Photo credit:Sergii Figurnyi/ Shutterstock.

You can tour the inside and from its terrace, you’ll have stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea.

It also sits above Quai de la Joliette, so after your visit, head down to one of the seaside cafés or restaurants.

11. Watch the Sunset from Le Palais du Pharo

Perched atop a vantage point that overlooks the Old Port of Marseille, you’ll find Le Palais du Pharo. This grand edifice was initially conceived by Napoleon III in 1858 who offered it as a gift for his wife, Empress Eugenie. It’s an impressive building that shows the wealth of 19th-century France.

While it’s currently used as a conference center, its stunning gardens are open to the public.

Palais du Pharo in a summer day  in Marseilles, France
Photo credit: Sergii Figurnyi/ Shutterstock.

Here you can take in the mesmerizing views of the cityscape or picnic on the lawn.

The best time to visit is at sunset when the sky fills with hues of pink, orange, and yellow. They bounce off Fort Saint Jean and the Old Port creating the perfect photo. It’s one of the most unique things to do in Marseille.

12. Walk the Painter’s Trail in L’Estaque

Located within Marseille’s 16th district lies the scenic village of L’Estaque. This charming location became a haven for artists like Auguste Renoir, who found inspiration in its coastal beauty.

You can explore the history of the area by following what is known as Chemin des Peintres or the Painter’s Walking Trail. This trail will lead you to the houses of these artists and provide insight into the landscapes that sparked their creativity.

Village of L'Estaque, district of Marseille. L' Estaque was for the painters the Mecca of the artistic creation.
Photo credit: Alain Lauga/Shutterstock.

Then, finish your visit by treating yourself to panisse from a local seaside vendor. This fried chickpea pancake is simple yet full of flavor. It’s an absolute must if you’re in this part of town.

Insider Tip: The most accessible place to start the Painter’s Walking Trail is at Place François Maleterre. There are signs with arrows, so you won’t get lost.

13. Shop at the Noailles Market

The bustling Noailles Market, also known as “Marseille’s belly”, is full of stalls selling fresh produce, spices, cheeses, olives, dried fruits, and flowers.

It’s a diverse array of goods from around the globe and reflects a mix of African and French culture.

View of Marseille's Noailles quarter with African shops and boutique lined along the street. Marseille, France, January 2020
Photo credit:Francesco Bonino/ Shutterstock.

As you wander around, you’ll be treated to the intoxicating blend of exotic spices, freshly baked pastries, and local chatter.

And don’t miss the opportunity to practice saying hello in French. It’s undoubtedly one of the most immersive things to do in Marseille.

14. Tour Abbaye Saint Victor

Abbaye Saint Victor dates to the 5th century and is a fantastic place to learn about the history of Marseille.

Inside the church, there’s a crypt that houses early Christian sarcophagi and a Black Virgin statue. You can tour the abbey on your own or download a free self-guided audio tour from the abbey’s website.

eligious monument. spiritual retreat and reflection in the abbey, France
Photo credit: sebastien hovaguimian / Shutterstock.

After your visit head to the small bakery next to the church, Four des Navettes. This is the oldest bakery in Marseille. Not only that but it’s the best place to try a navette – a dry biscuit flavored with fleur d’oranger.

15. Visit the Musée d’Histoire de Marseille

This is no ordinary museum. It was actually created by accident. In the 1960s, a new shopping center was being built. And while they were digging, the workers uncovered ancient Greek and Roman remains.

MARSEILLE, FRANCE, JUNE 9, 2017: Museum of history of Marseille, Francec
Photo credit: trabantos/ Shutterstock.

Not long after the Musée d’Histoire de Marseille was established.

Here you’ll find exhibits dedicated to Marseille’s history. There are even several artifacts that were found during the excavation. Some date as far back as the 2nd century. Then, there’s the Jardin des Vestiges. This is where you’ll be able to visit the excavation site up close. From ramparts to different kinds of buildings, it’s an impressive finding.

Insider Tip: The Musée d’Histoire de Marseille has free access to all its permanent exhibits including the Jardin des Vestiges.

16. Relax on the Beach

One of the best things to do in Marseille is relax on the beach. And there are a ton of options, depending on what you’re looking for.

The most popular is undoubtedly Prado Beach. Here you’ll find a sandy beach where you can relax under the warm sun or go for a dip in the Mediterranean. There’s also a grassed area where you can picnic.

Insider Tip: Prado Beach has two kinds of beaches a sandy one and a pebble one. The pebble one is less crowded, but also not as comfortable as the sandy one.

Since Prado Beach is so popular, it can be difficult to find a quiet area. So, if you want something more secluded there are a few other options.

Marseille, France - August 2019 : Prado Beach in summertime, HDR image
Photo credit:mehdi33300/Shutterstock.

The first is Calanque de Sugiton, located in the Calanques National Park. You’ll have to walk about 45 minutes downhill to get there, but it’s worth it. Here the waters are crystal clear, the waves are minimal, and the area is surrounded by breathtaking scenery. You won’t find a more relaxing spot.

The second is Calanque de la Crine on Îles du Frioul. It’s a 30-minute ferry ride from Marseille’s Old Port followed by a 30-minute walk, but you won’t regret it. The water is a perfect turquoise, and, if you get there early, you’ll have the place to yourself.

Insider Tip: There are not a lot of shaded areas on Îles du Frioul, so be sure to wear sunscreen and bring an umbrella.

17. Visit Les Goudes

At the edge of Marseille is a quaint fishing village called Les Goudes.

Here you’ll find picturesque scenery, quaint restaurants, and unspoiled natural beauty. And compared to the Vieux Port, there’s a slightly more authentic feel here.

View of the coast and beach "Les Goudes" of Marseille in South France
Photo credit: Zyankarlo/ Shutterstock.

Take a leisurely stroll through the narrow lanes or watch the fishermen haul their catch of the day. And if you love fresh fish, this is the place to try some.

Keep in mind that this is one of the top Marseille attractions, so it gets crowded in the afternoon. If you want to enjoy the place to yourself visit either early in the morning or during the low season.

18. Try Pastis

Pastis is more than a popular anise-flavored aperitif; it’s part of the local culture here in Marseille.

Its origins trace back to the ban on absinthe. And, to fill the void in local drinking customs, Paul Ricard created an alternative, Pastis Ricard 51 – Pastis de Marseille.

MARSEILLE, FRANCE - MARCH 15, 2018: Close of on a Ricard jug and a water bottle with its logo. Ricard is a pastis, an anise and licorice flavored aperitif typical from Southern France
Photo credit: BalkansCat / Shutterstock.

The beverage is traditionally diluted with water, which gives it a milky appearance and smooth taste.

Trying Pastis in its place of origin, is an absolute must while visiting Marseille. It will add that extra touch of authenticity to your trip.

You can sample some at any restaurant or bar, but there’s nothing like sitting on a terrace in Le Panier or on the Vieux Port with a glass in hand.

FAQS About Things to Do in Marseille

What is Marseille best known for?

Marseille is best known for its Vieux Port, lined with cafes and restaurants. The city is also famous for its rich history, reflected in landmarks like the Notre-Dame de la Garde and the Palais Longchamp. Then, there is Calanques National Park, offering stunning landscapes and opportunities for outdoor activities. Lastly, Le Panier, Marseille’s oldest district, is where the story of this fascinating town began and is the most well-known neighborhood.

What is Marseille’s most famous food?

Marseille’s most famous food is undoubtedly bouillabaisse, a traditional Provençal fish stew. This dish is a flavorful blend of at least three varieties of fresh local fish, shellfish, and aromatic herbs and spices. The broth is typically served with a side of rouille, a spicy mayonnaise, and toasted bread.

Is Marseille an expensive city?

Marseille can be as affordable or as expensive as you want it to be. Compared to Paris, it is relatively cheaper, especially the accommodation. But, if you opt for luxury hotels, high-end restaurants, and paid attractions, the costs can add up. In general, Marseille can cater to a variety of budgets, which is what makes it worth visiting.

How many days should you spend in Marseille?

If you want to experience everything Marseille has to offer, you’ll need at least three or four days. Like this, you’ll be able to see all the highlights, indulge in the local cuisine, and even get off the beaten path. However, if you don’t have that much time you can visit the key attractions in a single day.

Is Marseille a walkable city?

Yes, Marseille is, for the most part, walkable. The neighborhoods around Le Panier and Le Vieux Port offer pedestrian-friendly streets. But Marseille is very hilly and requires a good amount of climbing, so if you’re not used to it, you may want to consider taking the bus or metro. Not only that but most attractions are not near each other. So, if you plan on exploring Marseille on foot, it’s a good idea to wear a comfortable pair of walking shoes.

Saint Jean Castle and Cathedral de la Major and the Vieux port in Marseille, France.
Photo credit: Sergii Figurnyi/Shutterstock.

Plan to See the Top Marseille Attractions

From exploring Palais Longchamp and wandering around Le Panier to enjoying fresh seafood at the water’s edge, there’s no shortage of activities to do here. Each corner offers insight into this historic city. It brims with an enthralling past, picturesque landscapes, and a unique French culture.

Marseilles. Notre Dame de la Garde Cathedral on a sunny day.
Photo credit: kavalenkau / Shutterstock.

Whether you’re a history buff, a foodie, or an outdoor enthusiast, this Mediterranean marvel has something for everyone. So, pack your bags and get ready to explore the best things to do in Marseille.

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Jen Ciesielski

Jen is the creator of Dabbling in Jet Lag, a blog focused on traveling and living in France. Her goal is to inspire others to get off the beaten path and explore some of the lesser-known places. On Dabbling in Jet Lag, she shares her experience as an expat in France as well as the best things to do around the country.

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