explore Marseille, France
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Explore Marseille, France

Explore Marseille the second most populated city of France (and third most populous urban area) the biggest Mediterranean port and the economic hub of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region.

Marseille has a complex history. It was founded by the Phoceans (from the Greek city of Phocaea, now Foça, in modern Turkey) in 600BC and is one of the oldest cities in Europe. The town is a far cry from the Cézanne paintings and Provençal clichés of sleepy villages, “pétanque” players and Marcel Pagnol novels. With around one million inhabitants, Marseille is the second largest city in France in terms of population and the largest in terms of area. Its population is a real melting pot of different cultures. It is also said that there are more Comorian people in Marseille than in the Comoros! Indeed, the people of Marseille have varying ethnic backgrounds, with a lot of Italians and Spanish having immigrated to the area after the Second World War.

For people not afraid to discover a real place with real people, Marseille is the place. From colourful markets (like Noailles market) that will make you feel like you are in Africa, to the Calanques (a natural area of big cliffs falling into the sea – Calanque means fjord), from the Panier area (the oldest place of the town and historically the place where newcomers installed) to the Vieux-Port (old harbor) and the Corniche (a road along the sea) Marseille has definitely a lot to offer.

Forget the Canebière, forget the “savon de Marseille” (Marseille soap), forget the clichés, and just have a ride from l’Estaqueo Les Goudes. You will not forget it.

What to see. Best top attractions in Marseille, France

  • le Vieux Port(old harbor): watching fishermen selling their stock by auction is a must. Arriving to Marseille in the Vieux-Port on a summer evening is something you will never forget… You can watch this show by going to Frioul islands or Chateau d’If and going back late in the afternoon. there is also a nice view on the harbour from the Palais du Pharo (Pharo Palace). The famous Canebière avenue goes straight down the harbor. However the Canebière is not that interesting despite its reputation.
  • Le Panier, old city right next to the Vieux-Port. Panier means basket in French, but in Marseille it is the name of the oldest area of the town. In the middle of this area there is the Vieille Charité, a wonderful old monument, now hosting museums and exhibitions. This area is like a village of the Provence right in the city center. Lots of craftmen, creators, handmade shops and restaurants in beautiful places. You can enjoy a beautiful walk there walking down the narrow streets with colored old building until the cathedral La Major and the new museum MuCEM. The website of this neighborhood Le Panier de Marseille gives details and maps.
  • la Major: gigantic cathedral on the coast. It is the only cathedral built in the 19th century in France, its massive architecture of new byzantin style make it a wonderful place to visit inside and outside, with a brand new large esplanade (2016).
  • MuCEM, the 2013-opened Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations is now famous for its unique architecture and integration with the Fort Saint-Jean, castle which is now a free part of the museum, acting as a park in the city with breathtaking views.
  • Musée d’Archéologie méditerranéenne(Archéologie-Graffiti-Lapidaire), the wonderful olf monument in le Panier. Centre de la Vieille Charité, 2 Rue de la Charité, 13002 Marseille. Tel: 04 91 14 58 59, Fax : 04 91 14 58 76
  • Musée des Docks romains(Archéologie-Graffiti-Lapidaire) (the old harbour from Phoenician and Roman times), Place Vivaux, 13002 Marseille. Tel: 04 91 91 24 62
  • Notre Dame de la Garde: the big church which overlooks the city. Old fishermen used to have their boats blessed in this church. You can still see many boat models hanging around in the church. From there it is one of the nicest view of the city. You can use the tourist train from the Vieux Port to reach the church – you can get off the train, look around and board a later train back to the port. It is about 15-20 minute walk from the port, but it is quite steer uphill.
  • Noailles: The area around the Noailles subway station is one of the city’s most interesting. Lined with Arabic and Indo-Chinese shops, some of the streets could be part of a bazaar in Algeria. A fascinating area.
  • le Cours Julienand la plaine: a hangout area with bookstores, cafés, fountains, and a playground for the small ones (metro stop Cours Julien/Notre Dame du Mont). It is a trendy area of Marseille, with lots of graffitis. Lots of bars and restaurants at night. La Plaine is the local name for Place Jean Jaurès close to Cours Julien. Every Thursday and Saturday morning the Plaine market is the place to shop. On Wednesday morning, you can enjoy the market with local farmers with organic fruits and vegetables.
  • Boulevard Longchamp and Palais Longchamp(Longchamp casttle and avenue). From the Réformé church (up the Canebière) you can follow the Boulevard Longchamp where you can see nice example of old upper-class buildings to arrive to Palais Longchamp. The palais is worth visiting though it won’t take you long. You can visit the “musee des beaux arts” as well as the natural history museum.
  • la Corniche: a walkway and a road by the sea that provides lovely views of the sea, the Chateau d’If to the south, and les Calanques to the east. Vallon des Auffes, small pitoresque port under a viaduc, is particularly remarkable.
  • Parc Borély(Borely park). A large and great park, 300 meters from the sea. After a siesta in the park go have a drink at Escale Borely (a place with numerous restaurants and bars on the beach) to see the sunset.
  • Several beachesexist in Marseille. The most typical are Catalans, Prophètes, Pointe-Rouge and Corbières. However, after a big rain, some of them might be polluted and then closed. Nice places to swim and relax on the sea are also to be found on the Corniche, on the rocks ahead of Vallon des Auffes, and next to the military camp in Malmousque.
  • Unité d’Habitation: designed by Le Corbusier. The building is called “la maison du fada” (the house of the foolish) by local people. The building contains a shopping street, a church, children’s school and housing. You can access the roof and enjoy the breathtaking view of Marseille between hills and sea (10am-6pm). There is a bar/restaurant/hotel on the 3rd floor too.
  • Stade Velodrome: the stadium where the local football team “Olympique de Marseille” plays. Football matches are one of the highlights of Marseilles life. Whilst L’OM have fallen on rather lean times the former champions of Europe are the biggest football team in France. The atmosphere at the stadium is fantastic and whilst visitors are unlikely to get tickets for the popular Virage Nord or Sud seats in the Tribune Ganay offer an excellent view and a chance to soak up the atmosphere. Best games involve teams with some travelling support such as St Etienne, Lens or the grand-daddy match of them all against the evil Paris St Germain. Tickets can be bought (ideally several days before the game) either on-line or from the L’OM shop at the Vieux Port.
  • Mazargues War Cemetry, On the way to Luminy. A war cemetery dedicated to WW I and WW II martyrs from the Allies, especially the Indian and Chinese gunners and runners. A very serene place, it is the perfect place to spend some time thinking about the people who laid down their lives and the madness of war.

Outside of the town

  • The Calanques. The Calanques are a series of miniature fjords in the south of Marseille near Cassis. From Marseille these are best accessed from Les Goudes and from the University campus at Luminy. The ‘fjords’ are amazing with wonderful blue sea and spectacular lime stone cliffs. The walk along the coast from Cassis to Marseille is spectacular, it can be done in one day at a fast pace. The trail (GR) is clearly marked (red and white strips). From Luminy, you can turn left to Cassis or right to Callelongue. From June to September some of the Calanques can be closed due to high risk of fire.
  • The Château d’IfThe Château d’If is built small island off the city, initially as a defensive structure and was later used a prison. It is most famous for its place in the novel The Comte de Monte-Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Tourist boats leave from the Vieux Port for a 15 minute ride. The boats do get full, especially on a weekend, so if you want to leave on a specific boat, you’re advised to arrive an hour before the trip to buy the tickets (they are issued for a specific time). Then you can kill the time before the ride by visiting the nearby attractions; a Notre Dame church is around 15 minutes away by foot if you are good walking uphill. Both the island and the castle are small, and everything there could be seen and photographed in 20 minutes. But due to the boat schedules you will spend at least an hour there until the boat picks you up, so don’t rush. There are no shops there, so pack your lunch and drinks. A toilet is available. Both the castle and the island offer very limited access to wheelchair users. The entrance to the Castle costs 6 Euro. The whole exhibition is focused around the Count of Monte-Cristo novel, so unless you’re a fan, you’d consider it waste of time.
  • Allauchand Plan de Cuques are communes on the outskirts of Marseille, both blessed with beautiful countryside. Take a picnic and go for a walk in the hills, the views of Marseille and the Mediterranean are stunning.
  • L’Estaque and côte bleueL’Estaque is fishing port that is just starting to exploit its tourist potential through its connections to Cézanne.

You can visit the fabulous restaurants and cafes. You can go and do many adventurous things such as diving and hiring boats! The calanques (fjords) between Marseille and La Ciotat are a very popular sports climbing area. And of course, if the weather is fine, you can simply go to the beach!

Cultural Events

As European Capital of Culture 2013, Marseille is planning great cultural changes and events for the coming years. However, this does mean that many of the museums and galleries are currently closed for

  • The festival Avec le Tempsthat occurs every spring at the Espace Julien (one of the main concerts halls in town) consists in many concerts of French artists, in many genre (Pop, Chanson, Rock, Folk…)
  • Le FDAmMor Festival de Danse et des Arts Multiples de Marseille, is the main dance festival in Marseille and lasts all summer.
  • Le festival du Plateau, at the Cours Julien, in September.
  • The electronic and urban music festival Marsatacoccurs in the end of September and was created in 1997. Artists who performed there were for example Public Enemy, Nouvelle Vague, Mogwai, Peaches, Laurent Garnier, Aphex Twin…
  • La Fiesta Des Suds, at the Dock des Suds, in October is a famous festival dedicated to World music. You can attend concerts of artists such as Asian Dub Foundation, Buena Vista Social Club, Cesaria Evora…
  • La Foire aux Santonsis a very picturesque Christmas market held from late November near the Canebière and Vieux Port. Provence is the home of santons, terracotta figurines used in nativity scènes known as crèches. Some merchants and many churches display impressive crèches of their own.

Night Life

In recent years lots of new places have opened in Marseille, at night, three main districts are interesting (besides beaches between april and october where people go and spend the night – there are also nice bars – Sport Beach, thursday beach parties at Le Petit Pavillon during summer, sunlight yacht club…):

Unsurprisingly, Marseille’s cuisine is focused on fish and seafood. Its two flag-bearing specialties being the famous fish broth “bouillabaisse” and “aïoli”, a garlic sauce served with vegetables and dried cod.

You must also see

  • Aix-en-Provence: Easily reached by Cartreize coach or SNCF train. There is a dedicated express coach from St Charles station which takes 30-40 minutes.
  • Cassis: attractive sea resort south-east of Marseille.

Official tourism websites of Marseille

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