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Best Things to Do in Marseille, French Riviera

Marseille is one of the most beautiful coastal cities in Europe, a destination that can’t be missed.

This city has something for everyone with an incredible view of the Mediterranean sea and the Capital of Côte d’Azur.

Whether you are looking to party with friends or enjoy some time off on your own, there are many things to do in Marseille.

There is no shortage of adventure, from great food to epic views when it comes to this French city!

When we decided to visit Marseille, we didn’t know it was a city with such ancient history. Marseille is more than 2600 years old!

Marseille. A City with History

This time we decided to go without a plan, so we had a loose schedule. We wanted to slow down and see what was around us.

In fact, if we couldn’t get to see everything, it wouldn’t matter. We could see it another time. We wanted to travel without haste. You should try it on your trips.

Our trip to Marseille was part of our southern road trip of France, but you can also make it a weekend getaway by plane.

Must-Visit Places in Marseille

The fish market

Fisherman in the port of Marseille, France

You have to start early in the morning to make the most out of the day. So by 09:00, we were already having breakfast and starting our tour.

It is advisable to start on the esplanade of the old port of Marseille. Here, the fishermen sell the fish they have just caught directly without going through the fish market or any health checks from the boat to home.

They put their little stalls, a couple of tables, three at most, an umbrella, and start selling to the customers.

They clean the fish right there and throw the remains, including scales, intestines, etc., into the water…

The stalls have all kinds of catch: octopuses, fish that I don’t even know, some soles I thought I saw, and a lot of the trays with some fish still blowing because they lack air.

I thought it was very authentic, and I was fascinated for a while; on the other hand, Vero had her stomach stirred and thought about becoming a vegetarian…

Fisherman cleaning fish at Marseille market

The esplanade is presided over by the Great Ferris Wheel.

We didn’t think it had anything special, so later, when they opened it to the public, we decided not to ride on it. In this same esplanade is l’ombriére, which is a huge roof made of polished metal that acts as a mirror.

The Ferris Wheel of Marseille

Marseille’s Old Port

Old port of Marseille

From where the Ferris wheel is located, to the right on La Canebiére street, is the tourist office of Marseille. Here, you can find out about some interesting excursions, buy the ticket for the tour bus, or the Marseille City Pass.

The truth is the pass is worth it, it has access to a lot of museums, free public transport, and quite a few discounts and the most interesting part is that it includes the visit to the Island of If and the Chateau d’If.

We head to the Town Hall Square, going down again towards the old port on the right bank or the north bank.

The shore you’re walking along is the north bank, and this is where the city was founded in 600 BC by the Greeks. On your right, you will find Town Hall Square.

The Marseille Ferry

In front of Town Hall Square, you can take the ferry crossing from one shore to the other. The journey is very short and once it was free, but now it has a cost of 0.50 euros.

You have to walk the old town; it’s pretty nice.

Le Panier in Marseille

Marseille's Le Panier district

Touring Le Panier is one of the activities that you should spend a couple of hours at least.

You can see some of the city’s oldest and most historic buildings, such as the Hotel Dieu, which was the old hospital, the town hall, the Lenche Square, the Cathedral of the Major, or the Vieille Charite.

It is a charming neighborhood where many of the streets are for pedestrians, and you can find some of them full of plants that take care of the inhabitants of the neighborhood or with some fascinating alternative shops.

There is also room for street artists and some painters who exhibit their work by hanging the paintings in the middle of the street.

Marseille painter working, road trip in the south of France

It is a very entertaining walk in which there will also be room for charming alleys, antiques, of course, and some other painter who we were able to “spy” in the full creative act in his studio. Without a doubt, totally recommendable.

We returned to the Town Hall Square to take the ferry and cross to the other side of the old port, and we found a different Marseille.

Marseille Soap Museum and Factory

Marseille, soap museum

On this shore, we find the soap museum. It is a small museum in which they explain how the famous Marseille soap was made.

You can see the traditional process, but it also has a small factory with modern machinery to make real soap.

Normally, there is no access, but we were lucky that one of the factory people was explaining to some children and let us go with them. The entrance is economical, only 2€, and includes a 100-gram Marseille soap pill.

Le Palais Du Pharo

Marseille Lighthouse Palace, road trip south of France

The lighthouse palace was a palace commissioned by Louis Napoleon to establish an imperial residence in Marseille.

Still, he never used it and eventually ended up being donated to the city by the Empress.

Today, it is a congress palace, but it is interesting to approach and visit it because it has a beautiful view of the old port of Marseille, as you can see below.

The Island of If and the Count of Monte Cristo

The Island of If and the Count of Monte Cristo, Marseille

This island on the coast of Marseille is the prison where Edmundo Dantés’ fictional character is imprisoned in the Count of Monte Cristo; the Iron Mask Man was never imprisoned and was a fort, a prison, and even hosted a rhino in the 16th century!

Basilica of Notre-Dame de La Garde

Marseille, Church of Notre Dame de la Garde seen from below

Notre-Dame de La Garde is the pretty girl of the Marseillaise. They have a very special affection for this church. It means Our Lady of the Keeper.

In this location since the twelfth century, there has been a chapel or a church with this name. However, the current one is from the mid-19th century.

This basilica presides over Marseille and is seen from many of its sites.

One of the most beautiful photos I could take of this church is from the north bank of the old port, where you take the ferry at night.

Marseille Night
Marseille Night

Les Goudes. Les Calanques

Actually, it’s Marseille, and it belongs to Marseille, but it’s a little far away. Les Calanques is a natural park in the south of Marseille and is a district of Marseille.

We went during the sunset as there are some very nice coves and we arrived at Les Goudes, a beautiful set of houses.

Marseille Les Goudes
Marseille Les Goudes. 20000 lieues.

Here, we found an Irish bar that we loved known as 20,000 lieues (20,000 leagues). You can order yourself a few pints while enjoying the beautiful sunset in the Mediterranean; it was full of people.

It was a fantastic colophon to our day that we won’t easily forget.

Marseilles, sunset on the coast

Marseille seemed to be a beautiful city, full of history and customs. We loved it, and it left us with a special taste. We’ll definitely be back!

Where to Sleep in Marseille?

Marseille has lots of accommodation for all tastes and budgets. As always, we look for our hotel in Booking.com. Check the link and get the prices for your trip.

In the case of Marseille, we went by car, so the accommodation had to have parking (or be able to park easily in the area) and be well connected to the center.

If you do not go in a car, it’s best to get closer to the center or the public transport. You know, check out Booking to see the best hotels for your trip date.

Your next stop is Nice, the capital of the Côte d’Azur.

Plan Your Trip to the South of France

What to do in Marseille
Best things to do in Marseille

Last Updated on 5 October, 2023 by Veronica

Disclosure: Some of the links on this post are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.

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