One of the world’s most beautiful and compelling cities, Marseille has old world charm with its strategic location on the Mediterranean Sea. The city is a unique and magical place; most of the time you’ll be sharing that magic with hundreds of other visitors. But there’s a reason why they come – its architectural wonders, the biggest port in France, French cuisine, historic gardens and parks, great coffee, classical music, as well as its centuries-old Notre Dame de la Garde. There’s simply no end to reasons why Marseille charms everyone who visits. This itinerary will lead you to the city’s famous tourist attractions and some of the best places to eat. Depending on your traveling priorities, you can certainly fine tune this itinerary to suit your needs. Feel free to skip an attraction if you feel the pace might be a bit breathless. Enjoy Marseille!
Things to know before traveling to Marseille, France:
Speak French first – People who start babbling in English without even attempting to speak French first are seen very rude in France. Learn to say some basic French greetings and ask politely whether the person speaks some English. Neglecting to greet a person in French, whether you are asking the cost of a particular stuff or just asking directions, will likely get an undesired response. When you enter or exit a store or restaurant, do not forget to say “bonjour” and “au revoir”. Remember these handy phrases:
Bonjour. S’il vous plaît… (Hello, please…)
Parlez-vous anglais ? (Do you speak English?)
Merci (Thank you)
Currency Exchange – France uses euros, the same currency now used by most Western European countries with the exception of the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Norway. Prior to travelling, you can buy some euros (enough for one day or whatever your preference) and then exchange your money in the banks to get the best rates. You can also use the ATMs at all main squares of every town, major airports and train stations.
Etiquette – For first time visitors, it is important to remember some do’s and dont’s to enjoy a faux pas free journey in France. Always greet with titles unless you’re on familiar terms with them. In France men are addressed as Monsieur (Mister) and women as Madame (Mrs./Ms.) or Mademoiselle (Miss). The French eat slowly. When eating at restaurants, the French servers will never ask “are you finished with that?” because for them, eating is a pleasure, not a task.
Getting Around – Marseille can be easily explored on foot or on a bicycle. You can either bike on your own or you can join one of the guided biking tours offered in the city. Also, traveling using public transportation in the city is relatively easy as all roads are well-maintained and the public transport system is one of Europe’s finest. If you want to wander a little further from the central, then you may get around using RTM card, an integrated transport smart card from Régie des Transports de Marseille, which provides unlimited bus, metro, and tram travel within Marseille. You can purchase 1-day, 3-day and 1-week cards to experience convenient and safe travel. For more information, you may visit their official website.
Accommodation – There are many types of holiday accommodation in Marseille, from luxury hotels to cheaper accommodation like bed and breakfasts and inns. The most frequent question from first time travelers is, “What’s the best area to stay in when visiting Marseille?” Without a doubt, the best area to stay in is the waterfront of the Old Port to get easy access to most attractions and to get more hotel options. La Corniche and La Joliette are also excellent neighborhoods for either a quick weekend getaway or a longer visit in the city.
Hotels to consider in Marseille:
InterContinental Marseille – Hotel Dieu
Hotel La Residence du Vieux Port
Grand Hotel Beauvau Marseille Vieux Port – MGallery Collection
Escale Oceania Marseille Vieux Port
Day by day itinerary: 3 days to discover Marseille, France
Our first matter of business is breakfast. Obviously, the first meal of every trip should be solid. So, we recommend some top-quality, artisanal baguettes, which are long, thin loaf of French bread with a crunchy crust and soft fluffy crumb. One of the best places to get baguettes is at Eric Kayser Restaurant, which has several shops in Marseille.
After breakfast, set out this morning to see some of the most beautiful attractions in the city. Head to your fist destination, which is the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde, a Byzantine Revival-style church located up from the city’s highest point, La Garde. Spend the rest of the morning at the church’s bell tower, where you can get a stunning panoramic view of Marseille.
Reward yourself with a sumptuous lunch at one of the top-rated restaurants in Marseille such as the Le Toigou (68 Avenue de Mazargues) and Grand Bar des Goudes (29 Rue Désiré Pelaprat). After lunch, continue your historic and cultural tour of the city.
In the evening, you may watch a performance in Randonnees theatrales Marcel Pagnol Cie Dans la cour des Grands. For performance schedule and ticket prices, visit their official website. After your historic tour, make your way back to your hotel and get a good night sleep so you have energy for a whole day of adventure the next day.
On day 2, satisfy your hunger pangs with a morning visit to Marché Place Jean Jaurès, an open-air market which sells everything from food to household items. Another market you should definitely see is Marché au Poisson (a fish market), which is the oldest market in Marseille. Most visitors might not know it but the city offers inexplicable variety of seafood worth trying.
Spend the morning at Marseille’s Parc National des Calanques (Calanques National Park). Hike up to the top of Marseilleveyre Peak, which is about 430 meters above sea level. Considered as one of the best day hikes in the city, the trail pass through beautiful native bush with stunning sea view. The whole trek takes about 3 hours (return), depending on your pace. Most of the trail is uphill so assess your physical condition before you go.
In the afternoon, make your back to the town proper and continue your walking tour. This time, visit L’art de la fromagerie (The Art of Cheese at 20 Rue Saint-Michel), which is one of the best cheese shops in the city. Here, you can choose from so many limited-production cheeses like the fresh goat’s cheeses with peach, Comté cheese, Vacherin Fribourgeois (Swiss cheese), and Boulette d’Avesnes (French-Belgian cheese).
Your final day in the city can be spent on last-minute shopping and seeing those Marseille attractions that you haven’t yet had time for. Do not miss to take street art photographs in Le Cours Julien. Fit in one last amazing lunch or dinner in the town. You could even squeeze in some souvenir shopping before you travel back to Paris. You may opt to continue traveling independently, or extend your stay in Marseille. The decision is all yours!
Have you been to Marseille or anywhere else in France? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, you can leave your comments below.
Featured image: Old Vieux Port in the city center of Marseille, France (Boris Stroujko / Shutterstock.com)