Marseille should definitely be on your list of places to visit in France. We had so many people, some who hadn’t even been, (including friends who lived in Bordeaux at the time) try to convince us not to go. Too dirty, too gritty, too ethnic. The list went on and on. Thank goodness we didn’t listen. We found the city beautiful, the people really nice, and the history fascinating. You shouldn’t listen to the naysayers either. I always find it better to experience places for yourself. For instance, I didn’t love Amsterdam, definitely not like l had expected based on what others had told me, including Federico who had been at least a couple of times prior, but l am certainly not going to dissuade you from visiting. I can only relay my experience. Here’s is a kick-ass guide to Marseille for the bold :-) .
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Marseille France Weather: Mostly Awesome
Marseille has great Mediterranean climate. Mild humid winters (average 54 degrees) lead to warm, mostly dry and hot summers averaging 81 degrees. It is also the sunniest major city in France, officially. You can see why it’s a desirable place to visit and live, even in the summer. Our visit to Marseille city happened in December. For us, it was a perfect time to enjoy this very vibrant and historical city. There were fewer tourists like us, so we didn’t have to fight crowds.
Getting to Marseille City:
There are plenty of options to get you to Marseille from anywhere in the world. From the U.S for instance, American Airlines, Turkish Airlines and Air France are just a few of the various airlines that stop in Marseille. A lot of times, the first stop on a vacation is the city of love, Paris and then an onward journey. If you are in Europe already, there are also plenty of budgets airlines that serve Marseille. Our flight was with Ryanair. Another great option is to take a train from Paris to Marseille. The journey takes about 3.5 hours and if you book early enough, your ticket price can be as low as $25. I love the man in seat61 for all train related information. Everywhere! Coming from London? No problem, Eurostar operates a London to Marseille train for most of the year. With all these amazing options, getting to Marseille is pretty easy.
Getting from the airport to Marseille city itself is a breeze with the metro to the Old Port which was where we stayed. It was the perfect base from which to explore. The bus system was just as easy to use and was a great way to see things above ground. Each bus ride is less than 2 dollars if you don’t have the Marseille City Pass.
Where to Stay in Marseille:
We booked an AirBnB location right in the heart of the Old Port of Marseille and it was perfect. It was really close to a metro stop. We would definitely recommend it. The host was really nice and organized. Little pamphlet of what to do and where to eat in the area as well as fast internet speed. Feel free to use our link to get $31 off your first stay as a new AirBnB client.
For those people who prefer hotels, there are plenty of hotels near the Old Port of Marseille. Here is the one we would have booked.
Escale Oceania Marseille Vieux Port: A great option
With free WiFi and breakfast buffet in addition to the excellent location, you can’t go wrong. The price is not so bad either.
Marseille France Points of Interest: What Places to Visit
Notre Dame De La Garde:
Related Blog Post: Notre Dame de la Garde visit
We visited the Notre Dame Basilica on the little train. From there, you had a panoramic view of Marseille. With the pass which allows you to visit a bunch of places of interest (in addition to the metro and bus access). We visited a couple of museums from the extensive list, and they were very nice.
Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilization:
The building itself is a work of art. The layout is also a treat in itself as the stairs and design lead you along in a square maze of sorts. There are arrows on the floor directing you, and it was fun to discover different art work as you veered off the line. Make sure to pick up a free map at the tourist office right at the port. It’s quite handy when you get lost (which we did). Just hop on bus and ride around till you figure things out. Our French is rudimentary at best and consists of sign language :-), but people were very friendly. As soon as l would start with my basic french, they would switch to English if they could. The policeman we stopped once even got his partner to use his mobile which had internet capability (yeah..don’t be like us, remember to carry a power charge bank ) to translate and ended up recommending a fabulous restaurant.
The Old Port:
Marseille is a historic city. It was founded in 600 BC as a Greek colony. After years as an independent colony, it ultimately ended up under Roman rule after its defeat in Caesar’s Civil War and it thrived for a long time. The Great Plague of Marseille wiped out a huge portion of the population in 1720. Currently, there is an eclectic mix of locals and citizens from previous French colonies. This cultural mix is evident in the restaurants and shops at the Old Port especially. Numerous accents and cuisine and the way the people dress. I think Marseille gets a bad rap. Show me a place that doesn’t have the same issues with theft. For a nice seafood meal, check out the market right at the port. It doesn’t get any fresher than when the fishermen bring their catch and the hawkers prepare it right there and then.
One of the best things to do in Marseille is to walk around the ancient areas of Old Port. It really does bring you back to the days of the pirates and stories of the vastly rich men and the poor people who had to serve them. There is so much history in this big beautiful city on the Mediterranean.
Longchamp Palace (Palais Longchamp):
A visit to the Longchamp Palace is also highly recommended. It is located in the 4th Arrondissement, so easily reached via metro, it has been in existence since 1869. It has a park of the same name and we saw a lot of locals having picnics or just enjoying the sun. It also seems to be very popular with fitness buffs. It is also home to the Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History (free entry also with the 48 hour pass). People were constantly running up and down the stairs (which are many by the way). At the top, you get a truly awesome view of the city. Beautiful! I’m positive it would be a nice area to live. It’s definitely worth visiting to people watch, picnic and to check out the museums.
The Marseille Cathedral is the current seat of the Archdiocese of Marseille and was designated as a Basilica Minor in 1896. It is still however, less famous than the Notre Dame. We tried to get in, but there were massive lines, so we skipped it. I would love to see the inside though, as l am sure it will be just as impressive as the outside.
A roughly half and hour cruise on one of the many tourist boats will get you to the infamous prison for the rich made popular by the author Alexandre Dumas in the classic novel, The Count of Monte Cristo. Now l can say l have been to the original one as well as the one used in the movie filmed in Malta. Your Marseille pass includes the cruise and tour of the prison. The best part was that it also allowed us to skip the really, really long line once there which made for a better overall experience.
Related blog post: Visit to the Chateau
Where to Eat in Marseille:
I am lamenting the fact that l don’t have any images to share from the places we ate at. The fact that l have any images at all is a miracle :-) . Thanks to our host and his superb book in the apartment, I had taken screen captures on my cell phone of the google map directions. Here they are:
Le Comptoir Dugommier:
Great place for breakfast or late lunch. Friendly staff and really tasty home cooked and authentic French food.
Fast food, but really delicious. I think l like their Belgian fries better than the ones we had in Brussels :-) . You must try them. There’s a bunch of them so take your pick.
Sushi Street Cafe:
A bit pricey, but the sushi is absolutely fantastic. Melted in your mouth and l am salivating as l write :-) . It’s just a tiny little place and we had a bit of a wait, but it was well worth it.
Top notch food in a cozy and romantic atmosphere. We really enjoyed our meal there and definitely recommend it.
Tipping in Marseille:
Like most countries in Europe, additional tipping is not required. Your bill already has a 15% tip that is required by French law. This is called “service compris” and should state so on your bill, along with the included VAT (tax) amount. So, for instance, if your burger is 10 euro, it already includes the VAT and tip, no surprise when it’s time to pay :-) . This tip goes to the owners who use it to pay the staff salary, so not all goes to your waiter. That being said, if you liked the service, a 5-10% tip is recommended and very much appreciated. All other service workers like taxi drivers should be tipped.
These are just a few of the best things to do in Marseille in addition to the beautiful Marseille beaches and of course shopping. Plenty of cultural sites in Marseille. One of the best things to do at night in Marseille is people watch at one of the numerous outdoor cafes or grab a bite to eat and see how the people live. Discover why Hemingway liked Marseille and the history of Absinthe at any hardcore pub.
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Have you ever been to France? If not, would you visit Marseille or would it be Paris?