1. Sip pastis in the Vieux Port
The Vieux Port (old port) is the beating heart of the city, where luxury yachts bob along quite happily next to grubby motor boats. This is where Marcel Pagnol, son of Marseille, set some of his best-known works. Grab a terrace seat at Bar de la Marine, one of the playwright’s favourite haunts, and savour the salty air while sipping on a pastis. Also worth a try is l’Unic, a kitsch bijou of a bar, popular among arty types. If you’re still around next morning, you can head to Quai des Belges and watch local fishermen selling their wriggling catches fresh off the boat.
Opening Hours for Bar de la Marine: 7am-2am Address: 15 Quai de Rive Neuve, 13007 Marseille
2. Step back in time
Head to Le Panier, the oldest neighbourhood in the city, where the Greeks set up shop 2,600 years ago. Funny to think this charming maze of alleyways used to be a haven for criminals dodging the long arm of the law. Now, it’s gone boho: the sun-washed honey and pastel buildings house galleries, workshops, organic cafes and chic eateries. Wander through and you might pick up a vintage treasure or find yourself watching an art film in a disused bar. Sample a tasty tagine at Les Treize Coins, featured in the detective novels of Marseille writer Jean-Claude Izzo.
Address: 13002 Marseille
3. Visit Cours Julien
Marseille’s hippest area, ‘Cours Ju’ is decorated with a constantly morphing display of the city’s edgiest graffiti, its warren like streets full of brightly coloured shops, art galleries, music venues, fashion boutiques and bistros. Visit Oogie, a psychedelic ‘lifestyle store’, where you can buy vintage togs, browse through some vinyl and get your hair cut. Also recommended is La Licorne, purveyors of Marseille soap, a city speciality since the twelfth century. Think lavender, vervein and mimosa. The shop makes its soaps the traditional way, with olive oil, pressing the products with an antiquated iron contraption.
Address: Cours Julien, Marseille
4. Stuff yourself with seafood
Marseille is a fish-lovers paradise. The city’s signature dish is bouillabaisse, once a humble fisherman’s supper made with whatever was left over from the day’s catch, now a gourmet four-fish concoction served on two plates. If you’re in the mood to splurge, you might want to try the ultimate version served up at Le Miramar in the Vieux Port. Otherwise, wherever you go in this city, there are oysters, sea urchins and plates of langoustines on ice aplenty. If you’re looking to snack, go for an anchoïade dip made from anchovies, olive oil, vinegar and garlic.
Opening Hours: 12pm-2pm, 7pm-10.30pm Address: 12 Quai du Port, 13002 Marseille
5. Sample some world-class culture
Marseille is still basking in the afterglow of its reign as European City of Culture 2013, an occasion marked with a slick €660 million makeover. The indisputable queen of the show was MuCEM, or the Museum of the Civilisations of Europe and the Mediterranean. Located just across from the seventeenth century Fort Saint-Jean, MuCEM is a rather impressive sight – a perfect square with a black filigreed facade overlooking the sparkling bay. Its exhibitions, some of which are free, cover an ambitious sweep of anthropology, history, archeology and art.
Opening Hours: 11am-6pm, closed on Mondays Tickets: €9.5 per adult, €5 per child Address: 7 Promenade Robert Laffont, 13002 Marseille
6. Visit the Cité Radieuse
The Cité Radieuse (Radiant City) is a brutalist hulk of a building that never fails to divide opinion. Designed by French architect Le Corbusier in the late 40s to house people displaced by the Second World War, it was an experiment in social housing, containing everything residents could ever need – from shops to a school. People called the architect a madman, but today he’s having the last (posthumous) laugh, as his creation is now totally des res. The addition of a sculpture garden on the rooftop, designed by wunderkind architect Ora-Ïto, has only increased the building’s iconic status.
Opening Hours: 9am-6pm Tickets: Free Address: 280 Boulevard Michelet, 13008 Marseille
7. Rock the casbah
Follow La Canebière, Marseille’s glorious main drag, right to the very end and you’ll suddenly find yourself immersed in a souk-like sensory overload of spices, fabrics and exotic foodstuffs. Le Marché des Capucins pretty much sums up multicultural Marseille, selling everything from couscous steamers to saris. This is the perfect place to throw together a picnic of fruit, olives, cheese and flatbreads. Or, simply to stop for a mint tea and watch the world go by…
Opening Hours: Daily Address: Rue Canebiere, 13001 Marseille
8. Take in the view
It’s a stiff climb to the top, but Notre-Dame de la Garde offers an unparalleled view over the city. Topped by a gilded Virgin Mary glinting in the sun, this Romano-Byzantine beauty is impossible to miss from below. Pop into Eau-Vive, the basilica’s in-house cafe, where nuns from around the world serve refreshments to the weary.
Opening Hours: 7am-6.15pm Tickets: Free Address: Rue Fort du Sanctuaire, 13281 Marseille
9. Visit the islands
Jump on the ferry to Château d’If, the most famous of the small islands dotting the Marseille coastline, immortalised in Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. The island fortress was built by Francois I in the sixteenth century to keep out invaders, but later served as a prison right up until the end of the nineteenth century. In Dumas’ book, Edmond Dantès stages a daring escape, getting himself lobbed over the walls in a body bag. In real life, no prisoners ever escaped this veritable hell on earth.
How to get to Château d’If: Catch the Frioul Express from the Old Port. Tickets: €6 per person for the ferry, €6 entry to the castle on the island
10. Go eagle spotting in Calanques
Les Calanques, to the west of the city, is a spectacular stretch of limestone cliffs rising out of azure waters. The only way to get here is by boat, from the nearby port of Cassis. Bobbing along in the crystal-clear inlets, the scent of pine in the air, you might be lucky enough to spot a rare Bonelli’s Eagle soaring above the shining cliffs. It’s easily one of the most beautiful coastal areas in Europe; as close to heaven as it gets.
How to get to Les Calanques: You can use public transport or a hire car. If you’re using public transport, catch the metro to Rond Point du Prado, then catch the 22 bus. The final stop will drop you near the start of Calanques hike.
11. Stroll Palais Longchamp
In the nineteenth century, Marseille had a serious issue obtaining water for the city (worsened by a cholera epidemic, and only 2 days of rain a month). Thus, the city built 80km worth of canals connecting Marseille to Durance, and the Palais Longchamp was the crowning jewel to celebrate their new water system. The impressive facade is one of the main attractions on this site, but you can also check out the Museum of Fine Art and the Natural History Museum in each of the wings.
Opening Hours: 8am-7pm daily Tickets: Free to see the Palais Address: Boulevard Jardin Zoologique, 13004 Marseille
12. Duck into Marseille Cathedral
This is a Romantic Catholic cathedral, built in a Roman-Byzantine style, which is why the build is so unique. At almost 470 feet long, you can’t miss it – it’s in the heart of the Old Port. As it’s free entry, it makes a refreshing break if you’re on a walking tour of the city. The mosaic floors and green-white striped facade make it a big attraction for photographers!
Opening Hours: 8am-8pm Tickets: Free entry Address: Place de la Major, 13002 Marseille
13. Get your French Press at Torréfaction Noailles
If you’re in France you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to pastries, and Torréfaction Noailles is the perfect place to get your caffeine and chocolate fix. Choose your coffee beans, tea leaves or just select from the rainbow of macarons in the glass cabinet.
Opening Hours: 7am-7pm, 8am-6pm on Sundays Address: 56 la Canabiere, 04100 Manosque
14. Get to the beaches near Marseille
If you are, understandably, wanting to cool off from Marseille’s heat, there are a number of beaches you can reach on the bus. The beach at Pointe Rouge is perfect if you want restaurants, bars, kitesurfing and more water sports facilities whilst you kick back on the sand. The Plages du Prado is another seaside park with 10 hectares of beach for you to throw your towel down on. If you want to get off the beaten path, Les Calanques has a number of rocky coves on their hiking trails. Renting a car is the best way to get around Provence’s beautiful countryside.
15. Attend Festival de Marseille
Marseille is a multicultural place, and the festival is when it comes to a head through light, song and dance. Expect plenty of French cinema, theatre, installations and dance workshops.
When is Festival de Marseille? Usually held at the end of June and start of July for 2 weeks Tickets: You can purchase tickets for individual events online. There are usually free events in the city too. Address: Events are held all over the city, but many are held in MuCEM and local theatres.
How to get to Marseille
Fly direct to Marseille from Bristol, London, Glasgow, Manchester or Edinburgh. There are multiple connecting flights from other U.K cities too. The flight will take around 2 hours, depending on connections.
You can reach Marseille city centre with a 25 minute metro ride from the airport, available to book online. This will cost €8.30. A taxi direct to Marseille will cost €50 (more during holidays and night time).
Where to stay on a city break in Marseille
If you’re looking for a hostel:
If the all you can eat French brekkie doesn’t entice you into Vertigo, we’re not sure what will. Add in the central location (or Vieux Port location) and you’ve got yourself a winner.
If you’re looking for a hotel:
With plenty of options for twins, doubles or family rooms, Grand Tonic Hotel is a great place to stay in Marseille. You’ll be one block away from the port.
If you’re looking for luxury:
From the plush spa to the floor to ceiling windows in Hotel C2, you’re going to feel looked after. Check out their breakfast bar and larger-than-life kingsize beds.