Welcome to Marseille, France!
First settled by the Phoceans over 2,500 years ago, today Marseille is France’s second most populous city and one of the most important ports on the Mediterranean. A melting pot of French, Arabic, Spanish, and African cultures, what the city perhaps lacks in finesse, it sure as heck makes up for in character.
With an array of sights, sounds, tastes, and smells that could almost be overwhelming, it takes a real worldwide local to properly get to grips with Marseille. Here are our top tips for getting under the skin of this fantastic city.
Where to Begin
After arriving at Marseille Airport, start your visit with an early morning stroll through the Vieux Port (Old Harbor) to see dozens of fishermen auctioning off that morning’s catch to the locals. A short walk inland from the harbor lands you in the heart of Marseilles old town, known locally as Le Panier, literally meaning The Basket. Narrow cobbled streets, charming cafes, and colorful buildings make this one of Marseilles more attractive neighborhoods and the perfect place to soak up some of those feel-good provencal vibes. A stroll through the stunning Byzantine Cathedral provides welcome relief from the often-intense heat and activity of the streets.
Worldwide Local Tip: A steep 20-minute walk uphill from the old harbor, brings you to the church of Notre Dame de la Garde. While interesting, as the church where local fishermen used to have their boats blessed, the real draw here is the stunning views from the grounds looking over the city.
To really experience the city in all its raw untamed glory, is to travel by foot whenever the Marseille weather permits. A fully integrated network of buses, trams, and underground railway connects the more distant parts of the city. Tickets can be purchased from stations, onboard buses, and even a lot of cafes, and are valid for unlimited transfers within an hour. With these options, it’s easy to get around from any of the Marseille hotels. There’s even a small ferry boat that shuttles passengers to-and-fro across the harbor, offering a fascinating new perspective of life in the port city.
Worldwide Local Tip: The good news is that Marseille has an extensive bicycle rental system, known as Le Velo. Memberships cost 1 Euro per year, can be purchased using the dedicated app, and the first 30 minutes of every rental is free. The bad news is that cycling through the crowded streets of Marseille can be challenging for the uninitiated.
Can’t Miss Neighborhoods in Marseille
Jump into the heart of multicultural Marseille in the diverse neighborhood of Noailles, around the metro station with the same name. Arabic, Chinese, and Indian influences come together in a bazaar-like setting, with food vendors, market traders, and more, all competing for your attention. You might overhear a conversation between three people of different nationalities, all debating the merits of the popular Marseille FC. For a more gentrified experience, the trendy area of Cours Julien is home to many of Marseille’s artistic community with cafes and bookstores aplenty.
Worldwide Local Tip: Take a stroll along Boulevard Longchamp to the magnificent Longchamp palace to see yet another side of this diverse city, known as the royal side. Superb architecture and landscaped gardens will make the markets of Noaille feel a world away.
Eat Like a Local in Marseille’s Incredible Food Scene
As you would expect from a city with such cultural diversity, the food scene in Marseille is as varied as the people who live there. Fish and seafood are, naturally, the stars of the show, and the world-famous Bouillabaisse de Marseille is not to be missed. A bowl of indulgent fish soup, completed with garlic and saffron sauce and crusty bread, does not come cheap but is worth the investment. For more budget-friendly eats, indulge in some of the excellent Arabic or North African food available along La Canebière, one of the main roads running inland from the old harbor.
Worldwide Local Tip: There is no such thing as good and cheap when it comes to Bouillabaisse de Marseille. When shopping around, ask how the Bouillabaisse is served--it should come in at least three courses, with the fish ideally filleted for you at the table. If you are asked to make a reservation in advance, you may just have found the real deal!
Enjoy Your Stay!
It’s fair to say that your first visit to Marseille can be exhausting. By sticking to your principals as a worldwide local, you will soon adjust to the pace of life and begin to be drawn into this fascinating city, so much so, you may never want to leave.