Marseille Travel Guide
Introduction to Marseille
Founded by the sea-faring Phoenician civilization more than 2,600 years ago, Marseille is one of the oldest cities in Europe. Despite this moniker, many pass over France’s third largest city, as many are put off by its relative grittiness compared to the polished gems that dot the rest of the Cote d’ Azur.
Those that give this place the respect that it deserves will find a city filled with hard-working people and magnificent historical and cultural sights, along with easy access to one of France’s best kept secrets when it comes to natural sights.
Cultural Experiences in Marseille
An imposing structure that dominates the skyline in the old part of Marseille, Notre-Dame de la Garde is a natural choice for those looking to begin their day of sightseeing in this classic French city.
Built in the Neo Byzantine style, Notre-Dame de la Garde sits at the highest natural point within the city of Marseille, making its 135 foot high bell tower with a 27 foot high statue of the Madonna stand out all the more.
Gilded with gold leaf, its a hard sight to miss. The inside is no less impressive, as a Romanesque crypt, mosaics depicting several key events in the Old Testament, and various interesting side chapels will keep enthusiasts of churches busy exploring for hours on end.
Located at the entrance of the Old Port, Fort Saint Jean served as one of the main defensive points for Marseille after being built by King Henry XIV in the 17th century.
Only turned over to the citizens of Marseille in 2013 after a major reconstruction, the aging cannons and massive ramparts aren’t the only attractions that can be found here.
Within its walls, the Garden of Migration details the agricultural and botanical history of France’s Mediterranean coast, and MuCEM houses a museum that tells the story of civilization and how it unfolded along Europe’s Mediterranean coast.
Fans of modern and contemporary art will want to swing by Musée Cantini during their visit to Marseille, as it contains France’s largest collection of art from the first half of the 20th century.
Housed inside the ornately designed confines of a 17th century mansion, highlights here include André Derain’s Pinède, numerous works by Picasso, and despite the focus on modern art, there is also a detailed exhibit on 17th to 18th century Provençal art as well.
Other Attractions in Marseille
A full day should be spent in the Vieux Port, which has served as a trading hub since people started living here in the 6th century BCE.
The fish market is the biggest attraction, as it is where the bounty of the sea is brought in every morning to be sold to discerning chefs of the region’s best restaurants, and a marina filled with boats that sail to nearby islands and natural attractions is another draw for tourists as well.
Of course, there are the usual assortment of bars, restaurants and boutique shops; located within the area’s winding historical streets, there is much to discover, so take your time and explore it properly.
Reached by many tourists from the aforementioned marina in the Vieux Port of Marseille, Parc National des Calanques is a series of fjord-like inlets that make for a spectacular escape from the sometimes gritty nature of this city.
Located 20 kilometres to the west of Marseille, these aquamarine inlets are towered over by limestone cliffs and hardy pine trees that cling to their sides.
At the end of some of these inlets, beaches can be found, and while they can get crowded during the peak of the tourist season, it is a gorgeous place to spend the day during the heat of mid summer.
Another outstanding place to spend a great day in Marseille is at Palais Longchamp. Home to one of the most notable gardens in the country, as well two museums, there is plenty to love here for most people in your travel party.
French and English gardens can be found throughout the complex, along with a series of amazing fountains. When you have had your fill of the outdoors, check out the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Marseille, which contains sculptures, drawings and paintings from the 16th to 19th centuries, or the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle de Marseille, which focuses on the flora and fauna found in this part of France.