Marseille is a city with a long and colorful history that has much to offer those looking for a true French holiday experience. From art galleries to stylish museums, a vibrant food scene and plenty of outdoor attractions, this lively port city has it all.
It also has one of the best preserved ancient nooks and crannies in France. The ancient streets and clandestine stairways of Le Panier are a must-see for those interested in exploring how Marseille used to be centuries ago.
1. Visit the Palais Longchamp
The Palais Longchamp is one of Marseille's most popular attractions. It houses the city's natural history and fine arts museums, as well as the Parc Longchamp garden.
Designed by Henri Esperandieu, the monument opened in 1869 after 30 years of construction. The building is centered on a monumental fountain known as the Chateau d'Eau, or Water Castle.
A young woman representing the Durance River stands at the top of the fountain, which is surrounded by statues symbolizing wheat and vines, symbols of abundance and fertility. It is a beautiful work of art that celebrates the construction of the Canal de Marseille, which brought water from the Durance to Marseille.
The palace also houses the Musee d'Histoire Naturelle, which is home to four sections dedicated to prehistory and evolution, osteology (skeletons and skulls for you), the flora and fauna of Provence and a "safari room" that showcases exotic animals. The museum is a definite highlight of any trip to Marseille.
2. Visit the Old Port
At the end of La Canebiere, Marseille’s main street, is the Vieux Port (Old Port). This harbor has been in use since antiquity.
The first settlers from Phocaea, Greece arrived here in 600 B.C. and a trading post was built at the northern end. Quays and a shipyard were constructed during the 15th and 16th centuries by Louis XII and Louis XIII, who also erected forts St Jean and St Nicolas at the harbour’s entrance.
Today, you can stroll along the quays to take in the view of historic buildings like St Victor’s Abbey and the Hotel de Ville or enjoy a drink at one of the many bars and brasseries. You can also catch a cross-port ferry to explore the Calanques.
The Old Port is the ideal starting point for exploring Marseille. You can easily visit restaurants, shops, museums, the Calanques, the island of Notre Dame de la Garde or go on any excursion. The area suffered from German destruction in World War II but has since been renovated and made a vibrant place for locals and visitors alike.
3. Take a Day Trip to the Calanques
The Calanques are a unique part of the Provence coastline that locals love. They are a series of narrow inlets and islands that are surrounded by steep cliffs and rocky hillsides.
They are a must-see for any visitor to Marseille or Cassis and are also an ideal spot for hiking. There are numerous trails in the park with varying difficulty and stunning views over cliffs, sea creeks and the Mediterranean Sea beyond.
You can explore the calanques from either a boat or by foot. If you're visiting in the summer, it can be cold and windy at times, so bring a jacket!
A great way to discover the calanques is by hiring a bike or taking a tour with a local company. There are a range of tours that include stops at various Calanques and some also include picnics, swimming, and even guided hikes.
4. Visit the Rove Tunnel
Marseille is a beautiful and bustling port city full of fascinating things to see. From its stunning architecture to its delicious cuisine, this is a city where you can enjoy every moment of your trip.
The Rove Tunnel is a must-see when visiting this charming city. It is the longest canal tunnel in the world and was built to link the Old Port with the Rhone River.
It is a four and a half mile long tunnel that connects Berre Lake in Marseille with the canal and Martigues. It was built between 1911 and 1916.
When it was opened, the tunnel enabled about two ships to pass inside. The masonry was reinforced to overcome the limestone and marly lands that it crossed. It also included a cutting that carried the canal from its northern entrance to the Etang de Berre.