Are you looking for the best things to do in Marseille? This guide has you covered – keep reading!
Marseille is one of the largest cities in France and has so many incredible places to visit.
This guide includes the top Marseille attractions, including museums and more!
Did we miss out on any of the best landmarks in Marseille? Let us know in the comments. Thanks!
Best Marseille Tours & Tickets (to Maximize Your Time!)
If you’re looking for something more organized when in Marseille and the surrounding area, here are some awesome Marseille tours and tickets you should check out.
These tours will help you maximize your time, which is especially important if you only have a short amount of time in the city! We listed a variety so that you can pick which one is most suitable for you (and many include multiple places!):
- Calanques 5-Hour Cruise and Lunch (top-rated Marseille tour!)
- Sunset Cruise with Dinner (another popular tour!)
- Mucem Skip-the-Line Entry Ticket
- Panoramic Tour of by Hop-On Hop-Off Colorbus
- Marseille CityPass: 24 Hours, 48 Hours, or 72 Hours
Best Things to Do in Marseille
1. Discover the Historic Le Vieux Port
Le Vieux Port finds its history dating back to 600 B.C. when Greek settlers from Ionia’s Phocaeus region found the port ideal.
The name Marseille seems to originate from the ancient Massalia, the name given by the Phocaeans and their king Nannos.
This makes Marseille the oldest city in France, and the emphasis on Mediterranean culture can still be found today.
The Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean, otherwise known as MUCEM, is a prominent national museum elaborating on the Mediterranean people’s cultural heritage and influence not only within Marseille and France but to the rest of Europe and throughout the world.
The traditional fish market of Marseille takes place along the Old Port every morning and overlooks the various fishing boats and vessels facing the sea.
Lined all around the port are a plethora of bars, restaurants, hotels, clubs, and cafes which make it a picturesque location for a promenade or social gathering.
It’s essentially the heart of the city full of pedestrian streets that lead to other major points of the city. The Old Port is an absolute must on every Marseille itinerary.
2. Photograph the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde
The Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde is the emblem of Marseille and was designed in the Romanesque revival style by prominent architect Henri-Jacques Espérandieu.
The cathedral is known as la Bonne Mère locally. It was originally constructed in the early 13th century before it was rebuilt numerous times into the minor basilica it is today.
The interior was expanded to be large and spacious in order to accommodate pilgrimages, and its beauty is highlighted by the use of red marble from Brignoles and white marble from Carrara.
The church’s floor is embellished in mosaics of geometric patterns, and the ceiling and mural mosaics are presented in an illustrious and vibrant Byzantine style.
The mosaics depict both the story of the city, showing the arrival of the Phocaens on the apse of the church, and the Annunciation and devotion to the Virgin Mary depicted above the apse.
You’ll find the big dome right above the choir, with four angels encircling a large crown of flowers. On its outside is the golden statue of the Madonna and Jesus.
Address: Rue Fort du Sanctuaire, 13006 Marseille
3. Visit the Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean (MUCEM)
Looking over the Le Vieux Port is the Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean, also abbreviated as MUCEM.
It is an important museum housing objects elaborating on the Mediterranean culture and its influence on the region.
The architecture of the building does not depict Mediterranean architecture, but its contemporary style is an interesting contrast to the adjacent port lined with historical buildings.
The grounds of the museum include three sites: Fort Saint-Jean, the J4, and the CCR.
The CCR is the ochre-colored building hosting over one million objects and is where researchers are able to study, conserve, and restore treasured collections.
The J4 building is the black cube part of the building and houses a large permanent collection and usually temporary exhibitions.
The JV’s roof terrace grants panoramic views over Fort Saint-Jean and the sea and is connected to it by a footbridge with a length of 135 meters.
There are over 350,000 objects inside, including artifacts of weapons, agricultural equipment, armor, and ancient garments, in addition to art and documents.
Address: 1 Esp. J4, 13002 Marseille
4. Go Shopping at Les Halles de la Major
Les Halles de la Major is an excellent hall full of markets and dining establishments overlooking the Mediterranean.
You’ll find just about every flavor palette and cuisine in the hall mostly made with fresh local produce, cheese, bread, and fish.
It’s in close proximity to the Cathédrale de la Major, hence the name, between the Panier district and the Joliette district, which are great places to go for a walk to discover the historic city.
Inside, you’ll find signs with Patissier, Fromager, Boucher, Primeur, Brasserie, Épicerie Fine, Glacier, and a whole lot of other fancy French words, for prepared food to go, places to sit and eat, produce, meat, pastries, and ice cream.
More importantly, Les Halles de la Major boasts of being a center for the gastronomic market where artisans and producers work together to create exceptional products for tourists and locals alike.
The building is full of stalls spread throughout two floors, but can also accommodate large events in its venue, which can be organized with the personnel. Wherever you go, ask for the dish of the day!
Address: 12 Bd Jacques Saade, 13002 Marseille
5. Take a Day Trip to Aix-en-Provence
Aix-en-Provence is a stunning university city renowned for its higher-end ambiance and affluent charm, well-preserved historic buildings, curved streets lined with plane trees, and beautiful squares with many fountains.
Numerous pedestrian-only streets are found in the heart of the city, some of which include Rue Gaston de Saporta, Rue des Tanneurs, Rue Tournefort, Rue de la Vallerie, Rue Marechal Foch, and Rue Gibelin.
The Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur d’Aix-en-Provence is a token of the city, with architecture influenced by the Gothic style, a bell tower, carved doors, and Roman columns.
The Musée du Vieil Aix is a 17th-century mansion housing the cultural heritage of Aix. It portrays the aristocratic life of the city, with a painted entrance, dome, and grand staircase, and showcases a collection of art and objects.
There is a regular market throughout the week from 8 a.m. to 12.30 p.m., south of the Hotel de Ville plaza in La Place Richelme, called Le Grande Marche.
The Place de l’Hôtel de Ville hosts the town hall, a tall clock tower, and a Roman column monument.
This is one of the best day trips from Marseille!
6. Walk Around Palais and Parc du Pharo
The gorgeous views of the Old Port can be further admired at the Parc Emile Duclaux. The park includes the Palais du Pharo, which has a classic French lawn and stunning coastal views.
Its six hectares of land grants panoramic views of all of Marseille, including views of the major attractions: the Mucem, the Notre-Dame de la Garde basilica, the Fortress of Saint Jean, the Saint-Ferréol les Augustins church, and many other Marseille monuments.
Surrounding the Palais du Pharo is the Jardin du Prado, which was commissioned by Louis Napolean Bonaparte to be made for Empress Eugénie in the 19th century.
The gardens have an ideal view over the sea and the Old Port where all passing boats and vessels can be spotted along scenic backdrops.
Additionally, the garden is family-friend with large shaded lawns and merry-go-rounds.
Today, the Palais functions as an international congress center for conventions, symposiums, and congresses, with 900 seats.
Additionally, there are options to rent a bike to journey through the park, or go for a pleasant stroll or run.
Address: 58 Bd Charles Livon, 13007 Marseille
7. Explore the Le Panier Neighborhood
Le Panier consists of historic narrow streets and steep alleys in a hilly neighborhood and is the oldest district of Marseille.
It is notable for its closely packed buildings decorated in murals and frescoes, its small bistros, concept stores, creative stores, and boutique shops of specialty local items, antiques, and crafts.
Some of the most authentic Marseille experiences can be found in the Quartier du Panier. Consider the Petit Train if you’re not looking forward to the slopes and stairs.
At the center of the district is the Vieille Charite, which was once an almshouse, but today serves as a cultural center and museum for Mediterranean and Celto-Ligurian archaeology.
Its Baroque-style architecture, ellipsoidal dome, Corinthian columns, and a courtyard full of colonnades make it a stunning sight to behold.
Numerous pleasant squares are formed by the intertwining, connecting alleys, including the Place des Pistoles, which has terraces and popular restaurants, and the Place de Lenche, home to the Lenche theater, an excellent view of Notre Dame de la Garde, and many restaurants and bars.
8. Visit the Famous Chateau d’If
About 1.5 kilometers offshore from Marseille is Île d’If and its chateau and it is what makes the area one of the best weekend breaks in France!
It is the smallest island in the Friuli archipelago and is most attractive for its famous Chateau d’If, which is only a short ferry ride from Marseille.
The castle was built in the 16th century to defend the coast from invasions, and thus its architecture consists of high walls, drawbridges, three towers, and a keep.
The fortified structure was designed to receive heavy artillery and military reinforcements– hence the gun platforms– as well as to survey and supervise the sea and the royal galleys.
The three-storied castle is on limestone that rises steeply from the ocean surrounding it.
Throughout the course of its history, the Chateau d’If served as a center for other reasons, including as a prison until the 19th century.
From the Vieux Port, the island is about twenty minutes away, and grants great views of Friuli’s Fort, as well. Take a ferry with Frioul-If-Express ferries any day of the week! Entrance into the castle is €6.
Address: Embarcadère Frioul If, 1 Quai de la Fraternité, 13001 Marseille
9. Take a Provence Sightseeing and Wine Tasting Tour
Discover the highlights of Provence on a minibus tour departing from Marseille.
Within a duration of nearly 12 hours, you’ll be able to tour the medieval city of Avignon, where you’ll see the picturesque Palais des Papes and the Pont d’Avignon, which is officially known as the Saint Benezet Bridge.
Drive along the docks along the river Rhône overlooking the famous bridge as you head over to the illustrious castle, which functioned as the official seat of Popes from the 14th century.
As you navigate through the Rhône Valley, you’ll notice vineyards towered by the castle ruins in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where you’ll be able to sample the local wines and delicacies in a complimentary session after finishing a tour of the winery’s cellar.
The next stop is the French Rome—the city of Nîmes – which is renowned for its numerous Roman archaeological ruins and sites.
You’ll see the mighty Pont du Gard aqueduct prior to continuing on your way to the Alpilles Mountains. In its valleys, you’ll be transported back to the Middle Ages as you explore Les Baux de Provence.
10. Check Out Calanques National Park
Located between Marseilles and Cassis are the Calanques massif, with clear turquoise waters enclosed by rock formations covered by lush green vegetation.
The best entrance into the Calanques National Park would be near the beaches and ports of Cassis, at locations such as the Port Miou and Port Pin.
Start the Calanques de Cassis hike from either of the two ports or directly from the Calanque d’En-Vau, which is often raved to be the most magnificent of the Calanques.
If arriving by car, parking is available at the Parking de la Presqu’île, and it includes a hiking trail leading up to the grand sights.
The Calanques each have their own name, as there are so many of them in the stunning landscapes of Marseille.
Some of them include Les Goudes and Sormiou. A few include the Calanque de Podestat, Calanque de Marseilleveyre, Calanque de Callelongue, Calanque de Queyrons, Calanque de Morgiou, and Calanque de Sugiton.
The Friuli archipelago is another part of the massif and includes sights of the famous Isle of If and its chateau.
11. Step Back in Time at the Marseille History Museum
For the local history of Marseille, visit the Musée d’histoire de la Ville de Marseille. It is connected to the Centre Bourse shopping center and is free to visit.
The museum is organized in chronological order from the times the Phocaean settlers reached the city’s shores in 600 BC and established Massila, which gradually leads up to the 20th century.
There are models, artifacts, and maps on display, as well as several ancient wooden boats that have been recovered or excavated.
The museum venue is close to the Old Port and covers 3500 m². It includes an auditorium, exhibition space, and documentation center in addition to the permanent exhibition space where everything is showcased.
Marseille’s history dates back 26 centuries, and you can intimately learn the history of Marseille with your smart device throughout the museum with the museum’s exclusive app: “Musée d’Histoire de Marseille.”
There is also the Cosquer Cave exhibition, which elaborates on the curious inhabitation of Marseille prior to the settlement in 600 AD. There are thousands of engravings and paintings inside the cave.
Address: 2 Rue Henri Barbusse, 13001 Marseille
12. Marvel at Cathedrale de la Major
Near the Vieux Port and between the Panier and the Joliette is the iconic Cathedrale de la Major.
The cathedral combines Roman and Oriental styles and is classified under the Roman-Byzantine revival.
There are numerous materials used in the construction of the cathedral: green stone from Florence, white marble from Cararre, stone from Calissane and Gard, onyx from Italy and Tunisia, and mosaics from Venice.
The religious building is particularly renowned for the importance of its interior and exterior decorations and use of mosaic cycles.
The balustrades and domes are ornamented with elements inspired by the cathedrals of Lucca and Siena.
The façade is decorated with statues of numerous saints from Provence, including the bishop of Marseilles from 1720, Monseigneur de Belsunce, alongside statues of Christ and the apostles.
The cathedral’s dimensions categorize it as one of the largest in the world, with the main dome nearly 70 meters in height and 18 meters in diameter, and the total length of the structure amounting to 146 meters.
Thus, the major cathedral has a major impact on the city.
Address: Pl. de la Major, 13002 Marseille
13. Stop by the Marseille Soap Museum
The Marseille Soap Museum is a popular attraction in the city and elaborated on the history of soap whilst presenting soap-making demonstrations with objects and artifacts on display.
The museum was founded by Josette and Vittorio Quittard, who are two residents of Marseille who wrote a book, had 93 exhibitions and produced two films in addition to creating the museum.
There are nearly 250 objects on display in the museum’s three spaces, such as stamps, old soaps, washing boards, beaters, vats, photographs, and advertisements.
There is a room with a cauldron in which viewers can witness the saponification process first-hand of the various stages of Marseille’s specific method in the heart of the museum and factory.
Additionally, after completing a tour of the entire factory, the museum presents a complementary soap of 100 grams with a choice of 10 various scents, or for an additional €2.50 you can customize and personalize your soap by stamping it yourself.
The souvenir shop also has a selection of specialty soaps to choose from, such as the Marseille Soap, the Aleppo Soap, and the Black Soap.
Address: 25 Quai de Rive Neuve, 13007 Marseille
14. Relax on a Sunset Cruise with Dinner
Depart from the port of Marseille for a lovely sunset cruise on the Mediterranean Sea.
Set sail in the early evening and watch the sky altar through a medley of colors—deep oranges, purples, and reds—whilst you take in the tranquil ambiance of the breeze and sound of the waves.
On the open-air deck of the catamaran Le Levantin, you will anchor in a secluded cove where you will savor an enjoyable dinner.
The craft is large and stable for all riders to enjoy the views with contentment.
The crew is kind and fun and is happy to answer questions or point out the best spots in the surrounding landscape as you cruise on by them.
The cruise lasts for 3 hours, and after the completion of dinner, you will be brought back to the port in the late evening.
15. Rejuvenate in Parc Borely
Louis Borély was a wealthy shipowner from Marseille that desired to create a splendid bastide that surpassed those of others, so he started the project and his son finished it by refining the gardens.
One of Marseille’s most popular parks is Parc Borely, particularly known for its expansive green spaces reaching a size of 17 hectares.
You’ll find ducks and swans in the canals of the public park, families enjoying their time playing games or picnicking, and couples enjoying the romantic scenery of the stunning architecture and gardens.
The gardens are actually divided into a few parts: the first in which presents a typical French-style garden, and the second vitalizing a typical English-style park, whereas the waterfront has a racecourse for the horses that were once housed there.
Parc Borely actually has over 3,500 plant species covering 12,000 m² due to the relocation of the Carthusian Botanical Garden and Chinese garden added into its gardens.
The expansive sea of green meets the Mediterranean on the Escale Borély side, which is popular for scenic walks, jogging, rollerblading, and cycling.
Address: Av. du Parc Borély, 13008 Marseille
16. Photograph the Palais Longchamp
The Palais Longchamp is perhaps the most enchanting monument in all of Marseille.
Henry Espérandieu, the architect of the Notre Dame Basilica, elegantly constructed the water flowing from the aqueduct bridges to the Palais Longchamp monument.
Thus, the monument’s neoclassical architecture is actually a graceful façade of a water reservoir designed to bring water into the city.
An 85-kilometer canal was constructed from the Durance river all the way to Marseille in the 19th century, and after a decade, 18 aqueduct bridges were built in order to bring drinkable water into the city.
So, not only is it a monument, but the Palais Longchamp was a lifeline for the people. The most notable features of the fountain are the sculptures of the four large bulls and three women.
Each wing of the structure leads you to additional attractions within the city: the right-wing directs you to the Natural History Museum, and the left wing to the Musee des Beaux-Arts.
Behind the Palais Longchamp is a park that is equally as popular for those looking to relax during the day.
Address: Bd Jard. Zoologique, 13004 Marseille
17. Take a Calanques Cruise with Lunch
Explore the magnificent Calanques via a catamaran cruise over a duration of 5 hours. Depart from Levantin Catamarans at the Quai du Port on the Vieux Port—right in front of the City Hall.
Take in the stunning sights of the Calanques National Park along the creeks. Stop by at the best spots for a chance to catch a quick swim, or take your time snorkeling along the reefs before taking your lunch break.
Over the course of 5 hours, you’ll discover 20 kilometers worth of rocky coastline between the town of Cassis and the La Madrague by venturing along the Les Goudes and Callelongue.
Sunbathe on the boat, enjoy the refreshing breeze, sight-see, and go swimming in the picturesque coves. For lunch, the star of the show will be Spanish plancha in addition to side dishes and some dessert.
During the Marseille winter, the menu may vary. There are various itineraries to choose from: the Friuli Archipelago on the small catamarans, the National Park of the Calanques on the maxi catamaran, and the Calanques on the Blue Coast.
18. Discover Fort Saint-Jean
Fort Saint-Jean was an important part of Marseille’s military history, dating all the way back to the Crusades when it functioned as the starting point for troops journeying to Jerusalem.
The fort has lived numerous lives and experienced numerous reconstructions. The complex includes the Commandery, which consists of a church, a chapel, a hospital, and the Commander’s palace, which was completed in the 14th century.
In the following century, the large square tower was built by decree of King René, whereas the round tower was built during the mid-17th century.
It was during the 17th century that the fort began to take on the shape that we see today. Under Louis XIV, the Tour du Fanal or Tour Ronde was built, and in the following centuries functioned as a state prison and an ammunition depot.
Fort Saint-Jean is along the right side of the Old Port and is one of the architectural highlights of the city.
Tickets to the Fort Saint can be purchased together with tickets to the Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean MuCEM.
19. Learn About the Vieille Charité
La Vieille Charité was designed by Pierre Puget by decree of the king to serve as a general hospital and housing for the poor and beggars.
The complex’s dormitories are divided to separate men and women, and in the center of the courtyard, there is a chapel with an ovoid dome, which is characteristic of authentic Italian Baroque styles.
Near the end of the 19th century, the charity became a hospice for children and the elderly until it was occupied by the army for the world wars.
Today, it is a center used for scientific and cultural vocation and events for the city. The layout of the structure includes four wings, and although they are closed on the outside, they are opened by the rectangular courtyard near the galleries.
The Vieille Charité has three floors of arcades and galleries, and the inner courtyard opened to them is where the Baroque-style chapel is, enclosed by colonnades.
The façade of the building has a porch supported by Corinthian columns, and the windowless structure is built with pink and white stones.
Address: 2 Rue de la Charité, 13002 Marseille
20. Visit the Luberon Markets and Villages Day Trip
Take a scenic day trip from Marseille to the Luberon region of France and discover the many hilltop villages on their colorful landscapes.
Depending on the day of your trip, you may find yourself in Gordes, Roussillon, Lourmarin, or L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
The duration of the trip lasts nearly 12 hours and gives you plenty of free time to venture through your town’s narrow streets and alleyways lined with antique shops and historic monuments.
The traditional markets in every village are full of an abundance of local delicacies, delicious flavors, and aromas.
After meeting at the Radisson Blu Hotel near the Vieux Port, you’ll depart for one of the aforementioned villages.
On Tuesdays, you’ll arrive at the village of Gordes, which is a popular fairytale-esque destination known for being built of dry stone.
Otherwise, on other days of the week, you can stop by for a panoramic photo op.
On Thursday, you’ll see Roussillon’s colorful houses, on Friday you will see Lourmarin’s Renaissance castle, on Saturday, you’ll sample Apt’s famous candied fruits, and on Sunday, you’ll visit L’Isle sur Sorgue.
21. See the Lively La Friche
The Seita tobacco factory was refurbished into the cultural and innovative hub of La Friche la Belle de Mai.
There are 70 organizations consisting of 400 artists, and a plethora of art events, youth workshops, and large festivals that take place at La Friche annually.
The complex is more than just rooms and offices for creatives— there are 5 concert venues, a crèche, a bookshop, a restaurant, a 8000 m2 roof terrace, a 2400 m2 of exhibition space, shared gardens, as well as a training center and a sports arena.
The facility is open every day during the year and is utilized for everything, including exhibitions, entertainment, lunches, and training sessions.
It’s also raved to have some of the city’s best street courses and consists of numerous obstacles for skaters.
Address: 41 Rue Jobin, 13003 Marseille
22. Explore Abbaye Saint-Victor
Just a stone’s throw away from the iconic Vieux Port is the Abbaye Saint-Victor, an important religious site of the city.
The tower of the abbey has been a landmark for the people of the city for many years and grants a marvelous view over the city and the Old Port from the South Bank.
The historical, fortified church hosts fascinating relics, crypts, sarcophagi, and chapels throughout. It is renowned as a jewel of Early Christian art and is important to Marseille’s history as France’s oldest city.
It was founded in the 5th century by John Cassian, which the bishop of Marseille, Proculus, was happy to include in the city’s growing religious ambiance.
The Abbey is named after the martyr of Marseille from the 4th century, who was persecuted for his rejection of idol worship.
The location of his burial is around where mass and other religious services are organized and held. The abbey is an important stop for pilgrims visiting Marseille and Southern France.
Every year on February 2nd, otherwise known as Candlemas Day, a religious procession takes.
Address: Pl. Saint-Victor, 13007 Marseille
Where to Stay in Marseille
If you’re looking for a great place to stay in Marseille, here are some top picks!
- App-Arte Marseille Vieux-Port (best option!)
- La Residence Du Vieux Port (amazing view!)
- Terrasse by MaisonMars (great location!)
Did we miss any of the best things to do in Marseille for first-time visitors? Let us know your favorite Marseille attraction in the comments!
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