City Guide: Marseille – A Dynamic Port City with a Rich History

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The busy port city of Marseille has undergone something of a transformation in recent years, with the addition of several new museums and cultural attractions helping to entice visitors from all corners of the globe.

Marseille is a multicultural city and its bustling streets, stylish boutiques and ancient monuments attract thousands of visitors each year. If you’re planning a trip to Marseille as part of a Mediterranean cruise, this guide is for you. We’ve put together a complete introduction to the cultural, culinary and historical highlights of Marseille to ensure you get the most from your time in the city.

How to Get Around Marseille

Marseille is the second biggest city in France, but don’t let that put you off exploring – getting around is a breeze. The city benefits from an excellent public transport system, with two metro lines, three tram lines and over 50 bus routes serving it. All services are fully air conditioned too, so getting from A to B is a pleasure; you can simply relax and unwind as you take in the sights.

Announcements are made in both English and French, and tickets are relatively inexpensive. As an added bonus for visitors, the public transport system is fully integrated and some bus and tram routes now run as late as 1am.

marseille public transport tram

Alternative Transport

As well as excellent tram, metro and train links, the city also runs a popular batobus boat shuttle service. The shuttle service runs between April and late September, and transports tourists and commuters between the Old Port and Pointe Rouge. A second service also operates between the Old Port and L’Estague.

The city’s hop-on, hop-off (HoHo) tourist bus runs throughout the summer and takes in most of the major tourist attractions. Travelling with kids? Why not jump onboard the Petit Train, a fun, child-friendly tourist train that runs throughout the summer months? Marseille’s “le vélo” bike hire scheme is also an excellent option for those who want to explore the city at their own pace.

Marseille’s Must-See Attractions

Wondering what to see and do in Marseille? There are plenty of attractions in this buzzing port town. Here we list Marseille’s essential highlights.

People-watch at Vieux Port

Marseille’s Vieux Port, or Old Port, is a popular tourist attraction, with sightseers eager to take a stroll (or boat) across the ancient port. The imposing forts of St-Nicolas and St-Jean flank either side of the harbour. The Old Port is the ideal spot for people watching, and to the south side of the quay you will find an impressive selection of bars and cafes where you can sit back, relax and enjoy the spectacular sunset.

vieux port marseille

 Shop for Fresh Produce at the Wonderful Marché de la Joliette

Why not enjoy a sunset picnic before heading back to the cruise ship for the evening? There are plenty of great public spots to sit and marvel at the sky as the sun goes down, and you won’t struggle to find delicious local produce either.

Located just to the north of the Le Panier neighbourhood you will find the old maritime neighbourhood of La Joilette. Place de la Joilette is the home of one of Marseille’s busiest fresh produce markets, the bustling Marché de la Joliette. Locals and tourists congregate here to marvel at the wonderful selection of fruits, flowers and vegetables for sale.

Celebrate Culture at MuCEM

The Museum of the Civilisations of Europe and the Mediterranean (MuCEM) opened its doors in 2013 and celebrates the many varied cultures of the Mediterranean. The striking honeycomb-like cube structure houses an intriguing selection of both permanent and rotating exhibitions and boasts a wonderful sun deck that’s perfect for taking in the local area.

le panier marseille

Explore the Ancient Le Panier Neighbourhood

Believed to be the oldest urban quarter in France, the Le Panier neighbourhood is located just to the north of Vieux Port. Here you will find La Vieille Charite, an astonishing 17th century building that now houses two museums – the Mediterranean Archaeology Museum and the Museum of AfricanOceanic and American Indian Arts.

Admire the View from the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde

Built between 1853 and 1864, the magnificent Romano-Byzantine basilica Notre Dame de la Garde sits atop the city’s highest hill, La Garde. From this excellent vantage point you’re free to take in the spectacular 360-degree panorama of the surrounding city without anything to interrupt your view. The bell tower is crowned by a 30ft gilded statue of the Virgin Mary; locals believe her to be the guardian of the city.

basilique notre dame de la garde

Visit Marseille Cathedral

Marseille’s Cathedral is one of the most recognisable buildings in the city. A national monument of France, the extravagant architecture and iconic green and black stones attract visitors from all corners of the globe.

Where to Eat in Marseille

Marseille boasts an impressive selection of bars, restaurants and casual eateries. Here are a few of our favourites.

L’Arôme

Don’t let the modest surroundings fool you, there’s nothing ordinary about this superb bistro. In fact, you must book ahead if you hope to secure a seat. Expect flavoursome Mediterranean dishes expertly prepared using organic local ingredients.

Les Arcenaulx 

Les Arcenaulx isn’t your typical dining venue. Located in the former warehouse of the Navy shipyard, this stylish restaurant also incorporates a bookshop and deli. Expect Provençal cuisine and an upmarket crowd.

french seafood moules marinieres

Le Péron

Le Péron is a Marseille hotspot and something of a local institution. The restaurant’s location is a big draw (it overlooks the ocean), with fresh seafood and local delicacies served amid spectacular surroundings. Expect stylish and contemporary surroundings and exceptional service.

Pizzeria Chez Etienne

Chez Etienne specialises in authentic, hand-thrown pizza. Expect delicious dough topped with garden-fresh herbs, homemade tomato sauce and creamy mozzarella. What’s not to love?

Keen to pay Marseille a visit?

Take a look at our collection of cruise breaks in the Mediterranean or give us a call on 0808 250 1896 and we’ll help you find the perfect cruise for less.

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City Guide: Marseille – A Dynamic Port City with a Rich History
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City Guide: Marseille – A Dynamic Port City with a Rich History
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From breathtaking cathedrals and basilicas to beautiful neighbourhoods and an amazing foodie scene, Marseille has it all. Use our complete travel guide to get the most out of your stopover in this amazing city.
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Cruise1st
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Claire Wilde

Claire has worked in the travel industry since leaving college in 1994. One of this blog's most regular contributors, Claire covers cruise news and industry trends.

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