What to see and do in Marseille

Our Guide on What to See and Do in Marseille

If you’re planning a trip to Marseille you’ll no doubt be looking for things to see and do. Marseille is an incredibly vibrant and diverse city, steeped in history and with plenty to explore. Our guide will help you plan your trip and discover different parts of the city.

Marseille is France’s 2nd biggest city and has a lot of unknown areas, monuments and cultural attractions that you should see. Many ask if it’s worth a visit for a weekend or even longer and I always say yes. During my frequent visits I always discover something new and frequently go back to top tourist attractions. The ambience, people, culture make it well worth a trip to spend a holiday or a short weekend. So read on to discover the top things that you can do and see whilst in Marseille.

8 of the Best Things to See & Do in Marseille

Read on to discover 8 of our favourite things to see and do in the beautiful coastal city of Marseille!

Visit the Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde

The Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde is a Catholic basilica and arguable the city’s most well known attraction. Situated high up (500ft) above the city and to the south of the Vieux Port, it’s a symbolic monument of Marseille.

Basilica Marseille
Photo by Stephanemartin

Surprisingly it’s a relatively a modern basilica with construction starting in 1853 and only first opening 40 years later, in 1893. The site of a yearly pilgrimage on the French bank holiday – the ‘day of Assumption’ – it’s popular destination for French catholics and tourists. The building itself is beautiful with a green & white contrasting limestone exterior. The cathedral itself is free to visit but many come just for the incredible views down to the city from outside the front of the basilica.

Explore the Calanques of Marseille

The Calanques of Marseille are an incredible array of naturally formed bays and inlets where limestone crashes down into crystal clear blue water. Designated as a National Park by the French government, the Calanques stretch from Marseille to the pretty port town of Cassis. There are also some calanques in the other direction towards the North West of the city. Not known by many, for me it’s one of the must-dos when visiting Marseille – they’re dramatic and absolutely stunning.

what to see and do Marseille calanques

The calanques are accessible by public ferry, private boat hire or you can drive and hike there. There are so many beautiful spots I’d recommend hiring a boat and exploring the wondering array of bays.

Discover one of Marseille’s oldest cooking shops

If you’re a big fan of cooking like me, Maison Empereu is a must see. It’s the city’s oldest cooking and homeware shop first opening its doors in 1827. Maison Empereu an institution to foodies and locals alike and there’s plenty on offer including their own brand soap (of which the city is known for!). It’s amazingly still a family run business and it’s in its 6th generation of ownership. With over 30,000 cooking, hardware & homeware on offer in its multiple rooms, you’ll certainly find a souvenir to bring back from your travels. It’s worth noting that there’s a great Marseille speciality coffee shop next door (Pétrin Couchette) that you can pop into for a great cup of coffee after shopping.

what to see and do Marseille maison empereur
Photo by Georges Seguin (Okki)

Wonder around the streets in Le Panier / Old Town

To the north of the Vieux Port, you’ll find the Le Panier (the old town). With its winding, charming old streets there’s plenty to take in and lots of small shops selling artisan products. I’d recommend starting by eating at Chez Etienne with Marseille locals then heading west via rue du Panier. Explore the small quaint streets and then head south past the Hotel Dieu and get some ice cream at Vanille Noire.

Visit MuCEM

MuCEM or the Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean is an incredible museum which explores local and Mediterranean history. There’s plenty of permanent and temporary exhibits on offer and it’s a great place to explore if the weather’s not so great during your trip.

Go to Port du Vallon des Auffes

Another must see during your trip to Marseille is the Port du Vallon des Auffes. A beautiful, quaint port away from the city centre, it’s a real life postcard and certainly worth the trip over from the Vieux Port. The tiny port is filled with old fashioned fishing boats (that are still used) which are surrounded by colorful houses. It’s also the absolute perfect place to try Bouillabaisse at Chez Fonfon, a traditional soup made from locally caught Mediterranean rock fish. If you go back up onto the main road, you’ll also be able to see the striking Monument aux Morts which is dedicated to French armed service personnel.

port du vallon des surfes

Walk along Marseille’s majestic coastline

After seeing the Port du Vallon des Auffes you can continue to walk (or cycle) southwards. A few minutes down the road you’ll see the beautiful anchorage called Mouillage de Malmousque. Further down you’ll then hit the Port de Malmousque which is similar to the Port du Vallon des Auffes but much smaller. Continue even further round the headland and you’ll eventually get to Le Petit Nice Passedat – which is a famous hotel in Marseille. The coastline surrounding this area is beautiful and the rocky shoreline means it’s relatively easy to sunbath and take a swim. Note that it can get very windy at some points in the year.

coastline Marseille
Photo by Jddmano

Take a ferry to the amazing Frioul Islands

The Frioul Islands are a set of 4 islands a few miles off the coast of Marseille. They’re accessibly by daily ferries that run from inner end of the Vieux Port. Ferries run hourly and tickets are around €11 return. Note that weather conditions can vary and Marseille can get very windy so make sure to check the weather before if you easily get sea sick!

frioul islands
Photo by Dronepicr

There’s plenty to the see on the islands and you can start with the Château d’If. This is a fortress dating back to 1516 where King Francis decided that it was an excellent location to build defences to protect Marseille. Later on the castle turned into a prison. The village of Port-Frioul is worth a visit and there’s plenty of restaurants to eat at with a view over the marina. The Pomègues island is beautiful and if you like hiking it’s a great place to explore and take in the rugged, rocky landscape. There’s an easy signed trail which takes around 45 minutes and has stunning views across the islands.

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