Is Marseille worth visiting ?

Is Marseille worth visiting ? What to visit in Marseille for 1, 2 or 3 days? a complete guide

Before coming to the South, I had no prejudices about Marseille. For me, it was a city like any other, like Toulouse, Bordeaux or Grenoble. And I didn’t ask myself any more questions when I applied for the preparatory course, I went to the nearest town that offered the preparation I wanted in a public high school. So I ended up in Marseille. But is Marseille Worth visiting ? This is a comprehensive guide to Marseille.

Is Marseille worth visiting
Is Marseille worth visiting

And that’s when his bad reputation came to my attention. It was also during this period that I really became friends with people from the South, who are themselves very divided on the Marseilles issue. One of the questions that comes up very often in Provence is: « Are you more of an Aix (-en-Provence) or Marseille? ». It’s quite a deal to compare these two cities so much, they’re so different. It’s a bit like choosing between the 16th and 11th district of Paris.

However, to this question, for me the choice is obvious, I always answer Marseille of course! ^^^ Attention, Marseille and I it was not love at first sight. She and I had to get used to each other. Because contrary to what I thought, Marseille is far from being a city like any other. Marseille does have its own identity. An identity closely linked to its geographical location as a Mediterranean port. Don’t try to compare Marseille with Paris or Lyon, it’s impossible. If you want to find cities equivalent to Marseille, it is on the Mediterranean side that you have to turn once again. Barcelona, Genoa, Athens, these are cities comparable to Marseille.

I am not necessarily objective in choosing Marseille against Aix, since I lived in one 2 years and never in the other. However, Marseille has many objective assets that Aix does not have. First of all, history, founded more than 2600 years ago by the Greeks, which makes Marseille the oldest city in France. Marseille is one of the largest ports in the Mediterranean since then and still today.

The city is distinguished by its geography, between sea and hills, between town and countryside, like the Calanques National Park, which occupies 20 of the 57 km of its seafront. Finally, Marseille is also distinguished by its multiculturalism, a port city, Marseille has always been a city of transit, arrival and departure, favouring its cultural bouillon. It has also experienced many waves of immigration from Italy, Spain, the Maghreb countries, Armenia and Corsica. Marseille is definitely one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe at the crossroads of East and West.

Practical informations

Transportation

Parking in Paris, Lyon or Marseille, same fight, it’s very complicated, I strongly advise you to use public transport.

The RTM is the transport company in Marseille

The 24-hour pass costs 5€20 and the 72-hour pass costs 10€80. Be careful, it is indeed a 24-hour pass and not a day pass that stops at midnight as in Paris.

To consult all the transport rates in Marseille

Accomodation

To find accommodation, avoid the Saint-Charles station district (not always very frequent in the evening), prefer the Old Port, the Joliette and République district or towards Castellane and the Prado roundabout. You will find plenty of affordable Hotel. Marseille being a young and dynamic big city, Airbnb and apparhotel are numerous and affordable. This is the way I advise you to stay on site, they offer the best quality / price ratio for me.

Fire and Safety

The Massif des calanques is a national park with a fragile ecosystem. Many fires take place in the summer. Please take care to bring back a bag that will serve as bins and throw your waste in a suitable bin (on the car parks at the beginning of the Calanques). And of course no cigarette butts on the floor. Marseille pays for its 300 days of sunshine per year by a huge drought, so imagine that all the plants you see are straw!

Security level, Paris vs Marseille, same fight again ! During the day, be careful with your bag and laptop when you are on and around public transport and in the Saint-Charles train station. In the evening, again avoid the corner of the Gare Saint-Charles. It can be misleading, because in some cities stations are in good neighbourhoods, but not in Marseille! The districts that move at night are those of the Old Port, the beaches of Prado and since recently towards La Joliette and La Friche de la Belle de mai. These are also neighbourhoods where you can go without worries.

Day 1 in Marseille – the must-see

For this first day in the city of Marseille, I advise you to do everything on foot to feel the unique atmosphere of the city. The visit begins with the heart of the city, the Saint-Charles station. Take the time to admire its architecture and especially its large staircase. Stop on the terrace to observe the view.

The main staircase of the Saint-Charles station
The main staircase of the Saint-Charles station

And then begins to go down the stairs, and the rue de la gare until arriving at La Canebière, the city’s largest artery. Continue your way down the Canebière, if you want to visit the Tourist Office this is where it is located. At the bottom of the Canebière, impossible to miss, the Old Port extends before your eyes. In the morning, some fishermen sell their harvest of the day in the main square. It’s time to take a deep breath and breathe the sea air and take pictures under the large mirror of the square. Seen from the old port, we can observe the particular situation of the city between mountain ranges, large urban centres and the sea.

Marseille old port
Marseille old port

And then we walk along the old Port, admire the boats and don’t let yourself be tempted by one of the restaurants on the seaside (#attrapetouriste) ! You will arrive in front of the town hall of Marseille, we still move forward a little further to finally start turning and join the rue des loges and take the various large stairs that will lead you to the famous district of Le Panier.

The district is famous for its street art, that inspired the one of Plus Belle la Vie but above all the old typical fishing district. At that time, take the opportunity to get lost in the streets. Have a goal, though, the Old Charity and the place just in front, which is the nerve centre of the Basket. I also advise you to settle in this area for lunch, there are plenty of good restaurants there!

To have an aperitif in the panier's district in Marseille
To have an aperitif in the panier’s district in Marseille

If you like exhibitions, look at the program of the Old Charity and if you are tempted by an exhibition, take the opportunity to be there to do it. Otherwise we left again, this time we go back down to the sea again. We pass by the Cathedral of the Major and then we head towards the MUCEM by the entrance of Fort Saint-Jean, avenue Vaudoyer. Walk around the fort until you get to the MUCEM. Again a choice is offered to you, expo or not expo ? I let you choose according to your personal taste!

Marseille cathedral of the major
Marseille cathedral of the major
Major's Cathedral by night
Major’s Cathedral by night
Mucem Marseille by night
Mucem Marseille by night
Fort Saint-Jean Marseille
Fort Saint-Jean Marseille

To finish this first day towards the commercial port of La Joliette. Go down to the bottom of the Mucem and up the Tourette and Joliette docks. Here, it is the new Marseille, the modern and rehabilitated Marseille, just like the Docks, the terraces of the Port and the Silo. Then you can go down Republic Avenue and return to the Old Port for a drink ! (The place of oils is very nice in particular).

Day 2 in Marseille – The discovery of the Calanques

For this second day in Marseille, you will need a car or a bus ticket. Picnic, water and a good pair of shoes are provided. Depending on the time of year, don’t forget also the jersey and sunscreen. Early departure (9 am-10 am) to the Calanques massif. You will have understood it for the creeks: I advise you to go hiking there, it is for me the best way to really enjoy your day.

Marseille calanque of Sormiou
Marseille calanque of Sormiou

If you are part of the #TeamNoCar, no problem, my favorite creeks are accessible by bus. These are the Sugiton cove (Bus 21 to the terminus from the Prado roundabout) or the Sormiou cove (Bus 22 to the terminus from the Prado roundabout). On arrival then on the car parks, the different paths will be indicated, but I advise you to look before your visit at the access path on the site of the creeks: Access path for Sormiou des Baumettes and Access path for Sugiton de Luminy. If you are not familiar with the creeks, be careful, the gradients are important, prefer red paths to black.

If you have taken a 24-hour transport ticket, I advise you to come back from the calanques around 3pm to still be able to enjoy Marseille the rest of the day. Back at the Prado roundabout, if you are a strong OM fan, take a look at the Velodrome stadium, located just next door. Depending on your taste, then, two choices are available to you. The visit of the radiant city of Le Corbusier, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or the Borely Park, the largest park in Marseille, made famous by the writings of Marcel Pagnol.

marseille calanque de sugiton
Marseille calanque de sugiton

Finish your evening by walking along the cornice of President John Kennedy to the Pharo’s Palace at sunset. Stop in particular at the Vallon des Auffes The walk is quite long, but you can take a bus to the Old Port to go ahead or shorten your walk according to your desire.

Day 3 in Marseille – Marseille from every angle

It will be necessary for you again for this day to use public transportation. First of all, Notre-Dame de la Garde (bus n°60 of the Old Port), when you see the climb I saved you from taking on foot, think of me! ^^^ Take the time to go around the Bonne Mère, the entrance is free and the 360°C view of Marseille is incredible!

La bonne mère Notre Dame de la Garde
La bonne mère Notre Dame de la Garde

We take the bus n°60 again, but we stop a little before at the Puget Fortia or Breteuil Puget stop. The opportunity to admire the Tribunal d’Instance and the Préfecture, among the rare buildings in Marseille that were created under Napoleon III with a Haussmann inspiration. Then walk to the Cours Julien.

Marseille panorama from notre dame de la garde
Marseille panorama from notre dame de la garde source France3

The Cours Julien and the plain are considered as the artists’ district in Marseille. If you like street art, this is where you should go first. For my part, I propose that you eat there first of all, because as you will be able to see in the square, there is no shortage of food. Then take a walk in the small streets of the neighbourhood, there are many small designer shops in particular which are each more fun than the other.

Street Art at Cours Julien in Marseille
Street Art at Cours Julien in Marseille

If you wish, you can then take the metro or walk to 5 avenues-Longchamp (another part of the city). You will arrive opposite the Palace and the Longchamp Garden, another 19th century vestige created to celebrate the arrival of the Marseille Canal, which diverts the waters of the Durance towards the city. The garden consists of a zoo that is no longer in operation. It’s quite interesting to see all these cages that at the time imprisoned all kinds of exotic animals. I think it makes you think about zoo in general.

Depending on the time and your desires, you have 2 choices again :

The visit of the belle de mai’s wasteland (cultural area of 100,000 m2) which includes a café, a roof terrace, a skatepark in particular and which offers many evening activities.
The visit of the Abbey of Saint Victor (next to the Old Port) which dates back to the 4th century, the Fort of Saint Nicolas and the Gardens of the Pharo Palace if you haven’t had time to visit it before.

Are you staying in Marseille for a while longer ?

Take the opportunity to discover the Château d’If and the islands of Friuli, or the Painters’ Village of l’Estaque or the Goudes district (I recommend the privateer’s inn, Paul’s, for a seafood restaurant) !