Marseille, Frances’ second largest city and its biggest port, was conquered by the Greeks and Romans respectively and became the French Empire’s principal port. The old harbour – Vieux Port, is still at the heart of the city today and not surprisingly fish and seafood are at the core of the city’s cuisine. Despite its gritty character and occasionally dubious reputation, Marseille is unlike any other destination in Provence. The most culturally and ethnically diverse city in France it is also a very down to earth destination lacking the pretension of most other French cities. An exciting destination, the metropolis sprawls over a substantial area but the tourist heart of the city is compact and can easily be explored in a day or two including a dip in the ocean and a plate of authentic bouillabaisse, Marseille’s most famous culinary creation.
Things to do
Occupying the highest point in Marseille the Notre Dame Basilica is a 19th century Roman Byzantine edifice offering magnificent views of the city. An active place of worship the Basilica attracts many visitors, a shuttle bus connects the Basilica from the old port offering an insight into suburban Marseille en-route.
One of Marseille’s more scenic buildings is the extravagant Palais Longchamp located on Boulevard Montricher, formerly housing an aqueduct it is no loner in use but features a spectacular fountain. Meanwhile in the Palace’s north wing is the Musee des Beaux Arts, a Fine Art Museum displaying an extensive collection of paintings.
The infamous prison Chateau d’If, best known for Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, is a fortress built in the 16th century to defend Marseille and its port and later housed the infamous state prison. Boats regularly leave for If from the Quai des Belges at the Vieux Port, the view back towards Marseille and the mountains afar are excellent.
If its sun worshipping you are after then the city’s most popular beach is the Plage des Catalans. For a less developed yet charming sunbathing destination head to the beautiful resort town of Cassis, just west of Marseille it is well worth a visit.
A holiday resort in its own right Marseille is also an ideal starting point from which to discover the beautiful villages and historic traditions of Provence.
An efficient bus and tram system operates in Marseille as well as an underground Metro network. Day tickets can be purchased allowing unlimited travel for a 24-hour period on all public transport. The Metro stations and tourist office will supply handy maps to help you navigate the city. There is also a miniature tourist sightseeing train covering the main attractions accompanied by multilingual commentary.
Recommended places and events to visit in Marseille