Let’s face it, it is impossible to do and experience everything while visiting Marseille for the first time, but you can try to do as much as possible in a short break here. It is fair to say, France’s second largest city, Marseille, is one of the country’s most exciting destinations. It is also the oldest one, rich in history, pulsating with cutting-edge creative and multicultural spaces. It is truly bubbling over with life and beautiful surroundings. No wonder it is so popular. Here you can have everything your heart desires for your perfect holiday: amazing food, great shopping, sandy beaches, attractions, history and modern life.
When visiting a great big city like Marseille for the first time, there is so much to see and do that the question is where to start and what to prioritize? Here are three top attractions not to miss out on:
1. The Old Town – Le Panier
You can learn much about a place by going back in history. For Marseille, it means visiting the Old Town, Le Panier, founded by the Greeks in 600BC on this very site. Just hike up to this fantastic quarter from the Vieux Port. Its architecture is really unique. It’s like being on a movie set as you walk past tall narrow houses draped with washing, and streets with steep cobbled steps crossing each other.
The quarter was heavily damaged during World War II and afterwards rebuilt. Today, it is a mix of lanes hiding all kinds of exciting places to discover, like artisan shops, ateliers and terraced houses. Along your way, buy some of the local produced scented soaps, olive-wood carvings, homemade biscuits or chocolate. Make sure you also try Provençal drink ‘pastis’. At the top of Le Panier, you will find the Place des Moulins. It was originally the site of 15 flour mills, but today only two remain. These mills are now residential homes. The square is lined with buildings, freshly painted in shades of yellow, blue, cream and lavender. Although there are no cafés, there are several benches in the area, perfect for a small picnic.
2. Discover the city by bike
Renting a bike is maybe one of the best ways to discover a new place. In Marseille, you can pick up a bike at ‘Le Vélo’ hire stations, which can be found all over the city. At each stand you will find between 10 and 20 bikes. Various private companies also offer pedal or electric bikes, scooters and even Segways rentals. It could be smart to hire an electric one so you can cover plenty of ground without feeling tired. If you don’t want to explore the entire city by yourself, it is recommended to join in on one of the many guided bike tours in the area. Guided tours also show you secret streets and places that perhaps only the locals knows about. Make sure to take a ride around Cathédrale La Major, the towering figure that dominates most of the city centre. Or visit MuCEM, the glittering glass museum of the Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean.
Psst! Check out this guide to the ultimate road-trip through the French Riviera!
3. Vieux Port – Old Port
Being a seaport city, the Old Port of Marseille is not to be missed. This picturesque part of town has been at the heart of Marseille for 2,600 years. The Old Port is still a favorite spot for locals and tourists alike. This is the best place to drink, eat and enjoy life. It also has a very long history, as it was an important part of founding the city as trading port. Along the port, you find all sorts of terrace restaurants, bars and cafés. With an amazing view of the harbor area, you will also find the Radisson Blu Hotel, Marseille Vieux Port, offering a perfect base for city exploration. The area is crammed with fishing boats, big yachts and lots of people. In the morning you can also find a small but lively fish market here.
Looking for perfect day trips around Marseille, it could be great to benefit from one of the boat shuttles from Vieux Port to beautiful places nearby, like Château d’If, Pointe Rouge and L’Estaque. Marseille is undoubtedly an exciting city to visit. The suggestions above will definitely show you some of the most important highlights.