The charming coastal city of Marseille was already founded in antiquity. The once important trading port is now populated by tourists who are enchanted by the worthwhile mix of old and new, highlife and relaxation, city and sea.
According to legend, picturesque Marseille on the Mediterranean was founded by Greeks and Celts and is the oldest city in France. Even in the times of the ancient Greeks and Romans, the city on the south coast of France was an important trading port.
Today, Marseille impresses with its historically valuable architectural monuments and is an ideal starting point for excursions to Provence and the French Riviera.
The city is very well connected in terms of transport. You can travel to Marseille individually by boat, train, car or plane:
- The TGV stops directly at the Saint Charles main station in the centre of the city. Travelling by train from Paris, 750 kilometres away, takes around three hours.
- By plane, you land at Marseille Provence Airport in Marignane.
- By car, the journey to Marseille from the airport takes just under half an hour. It's best to follow the signs to Vieux Port, which will take you directly to the centre.
- Ships dock in the old or new port of Marseille. The Vieux Port (old harbour) borders directly on the charming old town and is in close proximity to some of our top 10 Marseille sights.
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Old Port (Vieux Port)
The Old Port of Marseille is one of the oldest port facilities in Europe. Archaeological finds date its origin back to the 7th century BC. Even in ancient times, sea trading ships and huge galleys sailed in and out of here every day. The natural harbour of Marseille was also a sought-after sheltered spot on the rocky coast of southern France.
Today, sleek yachts and sailing boats still meet at Marseille's Vieux Port. However, these hardly ever bring goods to the enchanting city of Marseille, but mainly tourists, because the port has too little draught for large freighters.
Holidaymakers use the Old Port as an ideal starting point for sightseeing in Marseille. Directly at the harbour are the two fortresses Saint-Jean and Saint-Nicolas, as well as the Château d'If on one of the Frioul Islands. A walk along the harbour promenade leads to the old town hall, the small church of Saint-Ferreol, markets, museums and the Théâtre de la Crièe.
Marseille's nightlife also takes place at the Vieux Port. In the mild nights of the south of France, music of all decades and styles resounds from the bars and the illuminated harbour promenade inevitably creates a holiday feeling.
Saint Jean Fortress and MuCEM
The Saint-Jean Fortress sits enthroned at the entrance to the old port of Marseille. It was built in the 17th century by order of the Sun King. Officially it was to fortify the important trading port of Museum, unofficially to keep the self-confident inhabitants of Marseille under control.
Today, the fortress is part of the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisation (MuCEM). Together with the neighbouring modern "Museum of Stone, Water and Wind", it is the only museum in the world devoted exclusively to Mediterranean cultures.
There are around one million art objects to see, numerous plants in the "Jardin des Migrations" and a wonderful view from the museum's restaurant and café.
Another fortress worth seeing on the coast of Marseille is the notorious Château d'If on one of the offshore Frioul Islands. The former state prison became world-famous through the novel "The Count of Monte Cristo", is now a listed building and can be visited.
Visiting the island is free of charge, but if you also want to see the fortress from the inside, you have to pay an entrance fee. Inside Château d'If, a small museum tells the story of the fortress and the tragic end of Europe's first rhinoceros.
Basilica Notre Dame de la Garde
From the Vieux Port, a long stone staircase leads up the hill with the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde, visible from afar. The landmark of Marseille is visited by around 2 million people every year. A fortress once stood here too, but today the Basilica Notre Dame de la Garde is an important place of pilgrimage.
Its lovingly decorated façade and opulently decorated interior bear witness to the typical architecture of Napoleon's time. Also worth seeing is the museum of sacred art and the sensational view from the terrace on "La Garde".
Cathédrale de la Major
The majestic Marseille Cathedral with the seat of the Archbishop is also just a stone's throw from the Old Port. It dates from the Napoleonic era, making it one of the world's largest cathedrals built after the Middle Ages.
The horizontal stripes and the many domes and arches are typical of the Byzantine architecture, which is also continued in its interior. The enormous interior under the equally impressive dome can accommodate 3000 worshippers. Every year on 15 August, about twice as many people celebrate the feast of Mary here with a solemn procession.
Canebière and Palais Longchamp
Shopping fans should definitely have seen it: the Canebière is THE shopping street in Marseille. The similarity of its name to cannabis is no coincidence, as there was once a lively trade in hemp here. It runs about 1 km from the harbour in a north-easterly direction to the Église des Réformés and is lined with shops of all kinds and several magnificent buildings.
One of these magnificent buildings is the Palais Longchamps at its end. The prestigious moated palace dates from 1869 and was built to celebrate the completion of the Canal de Marseille. This makes it one of the most important buildings of the Second Empire in Marseille. The imposing fountain also symbolises the long-awaited arrival of water.
The zoological garden adjacent to the moated castle is an inviting place to stroll. Inside it are the Fine Arts Museum and the Natural History Museum - ideal destinations for a family outing in Marseille.
Calanques National Park
The Vieux Port is also the starting point for boat trips to the Calanques, which can otherwise only be reached on foot. These enchanting bays have cut into the steep limestone walls of the south coast between Marseille and Cassis.
The pine- and rosemary-scented natural paradise is criss-crossed by numerous hiking and cycling trails, and the sparkling blue bays invite you to swim, swim and dive. Such crystal-clear water is rarely found anywhere else in Europe!
Tip: If you also visit Cassis, you should book a tour to the Calanques there. Cassis is not as touristy as Marseille and therefore the prices are a little cheaper.
Le Panier district
Le Panier, or more precisely Place Lenche, is the birthplace of Marseille. This is where the Greeks and Celts founded the city of Massilia around 2600 years ago. Today, Le Panier fascinates with its winding alleys, colourful artists' workshops and tiny shops.
By the way, the old quarter looks really old. Very few of the buildings have been restored, sometimes even the plaster is crumbling and the graffiti on every corner adds to the magical appearance of the Panier - authenticity at its best.
To the north of Le Panier is the Vieille Charité, which is also interesting. The former 17th century hospice houses the Archaeology Museum and a museum of African, Amerindian and Oceanic art behind its arcaded façade.
Insider tip: Vallon des Auffes harbour
Vallon des Auffes is about 3km from the centre and used to be a neighbouring village of Marseille. In the meantime, the enchanting harbour in its steep rocky bay belongs to the city area. With its traditional fishermen's huts, colourful houses and small restaurants, it is an insider's tip among the sights of Marseille.
In front of the Vallon des Auffes, a 5-metre-high Art Deco bronze statue of a woman stretches her hands towards the sky. The monument was inaugurated in 1927 and commemorates the "victims of the Army of the East and the Far Countries".
Tip: Another Marseille insider tip is Le Docks Village, also located directly on the water. The long, historic building houses a restaurant and a shopping centre, but is worth seeing above all for its creative shops and artistic architecture.
The Stade Velodrome - home of the celebrated football club Olympique Marseille - is the second largest stadium in France after the Stade de France in St. Denis. It was opened in 1937 and expanded for the 2016 European Championship. The impressive sports venue is one of our top 10 football stadiums in France and can be visited without attending a match.