According to a legend, Marseille was founded, as greek sailors landed at the place of the present-day Marseille, while a Celtic king named “Nann” was looking for a spouse for his daughter “Gyptis”. But instead to choose a Celtic husband, Gyptis chose one of the greek newcomers. They married, and the Greeks and Celts founded a settlement called “Massalia” which today is known as Marseille. Each legend has a bit of truth, and indeed, in the 7th century B.C., Greek seafarer used the south coast of France as a dock to trade with the Ligures. Thank to this, this city is full of history and several great things do in Marseille. In this article I’d like to show you my six favourite places you should visit. So read on, folks.
Things to do in Marseille
We won’t waste much of time by beating around the bush and get straight into this. The first thing what to do in Marseille is:
Visit the Château d’If
I dedicated an own article about the Chateau d’If and therefore, I’ll give you here a brief summary about it. If you would like to get more details, you can read my article about Château d’If, folks.
Château d’If was originally designed as a fortress and became later a prison. The fortress was built between the years 1524 and 1531. It first role was to be a deterrent for the enemies. In the middle of the 16th century, the fortress became a prison, usually for political and religious “enemies”. In other words for all who have been uncomfortable for the ruler(s). Maybe, Château d’If wouldn’t become such famous when Alexandre Dumas, didn’t write this classic book “The count of Monte Cristo“*.
How to get there and how much does it cost:
You need to go to the Old Port and take a boat shuttle. Just check the details in my article about Château d’If.
Explore the MuCEM
MuCEM is one of Marseille’s new architectural achievements very close to the Old Port. It’s a museum with a wide range of themes, an interdisciplinary place if you will. You will find here exhibits about archaeology, history, anthropology, history of art, and about contemporary art. The MuCEM provides a cultural, scientific, social and also a political glance at the diversity of the civilizations which gave their own stamps to the Mediterranean.
In total, the MuCEM consists of 2 sites. The first site is a modern building in a shape of an ashlar which is located at the former pier called “J4”. The building was inaugurated in the year 2013 for 190 Million Euro on the occasion of Marseille’s designation as the European Capital of Culture. The designer of this building was the French architect Rudy Ricotti.
Things to do at MuCEM
You will find a gallery of the Mediterranean and several temporary exhibitions in the modern consruction.
The second part of the MuCEM is in the restored Fort Saint-Jean adjacent to the J4. But you don’t need to leave one building to get into the other one. For there is a bridge at the height of the roof, connecting both buildings together so you can walk easily from J4 to Fort Saint-Jean.
Here, you will find a Mediterranean garden you can walk around, and visit several exhibitions about the art and folklore. Besides that, Fort Saint-Jean is the place where some open air events are taking place. You will also find a café and another bookshop there.
To check the current exhibitions, please visit the website of MuCEM.
How to get there
- By foot, if you are in the vicinity: The MuCEM is located at the ““. Click here to navigate to that place.
- By e-scooter: In Marseille you can rent e-scooters. Just download the app here. When done, click here to navigate to the MuCEM
- By rental car*: you can park in one of the parking garages around the area of MuCEM, e.g. at the place called “Parking Indigo“. Click here to navigate to this storey.
- By bus: Line 82, 60 or 49. Stop: Fort Saint-Jean. If you need to know, where the bus stops are located, please visit the website of RTM. If you are a user of an Apple device: you can download the RTM app here.
- By tram: Line T2. Stop: “Sadi Carnot” would be the most comfortable one. From that point, you would need to walk about 15 min to the MuCEM. Click here to navigate there.
- By metro: Line M1, Stop: “Vieux Port”.
Opening times of the MuCEM
– Until 6 July 11 am—7 pm
– 6 July to 2 September 10 am—8 pm
– 3 September to 4 November 11 am—7 pm
– Adults: €9.50
– Reduced price €5,-
– Family pass €14,- (valid for up to five children and two adults)
Cathédrale La Major
The “Cathedral de la Major” or “Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-Majeur” rises majestically on an esplanade by the sea, an exceptional place. It’s located just a stone’s throw away from the MuCEM.
Spectacular measures of the Cathedral: 142 m (465 ft) long, the towers of the portico are 60 m (196 ft) high, the ship with 20 m (65 ft), and not least the central dome with 17,5 m (57 ft) diameter and 70 m (229 ft) height.
The Cathédrale de la Major in also called “Sainte Marie Majeure”, and is often referred to simply as the “Marseille Cathedral”. This church was built between 1852 and 1893 to the plans of architect Léon Vaudoyer in the form of a Latin cross in Roman-Byzantine style. Mosaics and domes have Romanesque and Gothic elements.
This impressive construction is a must see in Marseille, if you ask me. It offers you also a great view over the sea, with the docks, the halls and the MuCEM.
How to get there:
You will see this church when you visit the MuCEM and hence, you can take the same means of transportation I mentioned in the section about the MuCEM. If your route is different, just click here to navigate to the Cathédrale de la Major.
Explore “Le Panier”
Very close to MuCeM, the next destination awaits you: Le Panier. This is the oldest part of Marseille where the first people settled down. In other words, it’s the historic part of Marseille. You will find there narrow alleys, shabby looking buildings and a lot of the old authentic charm of Marseille. It’s a place where in the one alley you might find rats, smell of urine, and drugs but just the next street shabby chic boutiques, neat cafés, souvenir shops, and alternative cinemas.
Actually, Le Panier is like a tiny village amid the pulsating city where the poverty, avant-garde, art, Zeitgeist, Arabian migrants, and old-established Marseillers making this place what it is.
Meanwhile, Le Panier is not an insider tip anymore. Some French are buying apartements at Le Panier and using them as a weekend accommodation. This leads to the fact, that Le Panier is turning slightly into a chic and trendy nest for the ones who want to show what they have, so the rumours.
How to get there:
Le Panier is located at the northern side of the Old Port, so you cannot miss it when you get to the port.
Visit Marseille’s Basilique “Notre-Dame de la Garde”
In the vernacular, Notre-Dame de la Garde is called “The good mother”, and it’s a very well sighted landmark of Marseille on the high ground.
This church is a magnificent construction in the Byzantin style. But it’s not as old as someone might expect. In the middle ages, at the same place where Notre-Dame de la Garde stands now, there was a wooden chapel. This chapel was extended several times, but there was still place just for about 70 persons.
In the early 16th century, the so-called knight king Francis I of France wanted to use the high ground (whose name is “la Garde”) as a strategic point and erected a fort around the wooden chapel.
The church you see today, was built about 330 years later! The reason for this was that since Francis I of France built the fort around the chapel, there are more and more pilgrims and others (like seafarers) came up to this place. Due to this, the chapel was no longer able to cope with this amount of people. Therefore, the bishop of Marseille, Eugène de Mazenod, initiated the construction of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde which is now the landmark of Marseille.
And in the year 1879, Marseilles’ Notre-Dame de la Garde got the status of the so-called Basilica minor. To get the status Basilica minor, there are no specific building criteria required. It just shall show the importance of the church for the surrounding area.
Even if you are not a friend of religions, I recommend you to visit this place, just for the sake of the architecture. Inside you will find impressive mosaic decorations on a golden basis which is, if you ask me, the main “attraction” there. But of course the construction itself in the Byzantin style is not less interesting, and also the several sculptures of marble.
How to get to Notre-Dame de la Garde:
- By foot: If you are not far away from Notre-Dame de la Garde and would like to go by foot, click here to start the navigation
- By car: There are some parking places nearby the church but it would be hard to get a parking place there unless you are willing to go very early to that place. I also didn’t find any parking garage close to the church. Therefore, I recommend you rather to walk or to use the public transportation.
- By bus: At the Old Port, you need to take the bus Nr. 60 which will bring you to the foot of the church (every 20 minutes).
- By the “little train”: this one is a touristic train on wheels for tourists. It’s like a hop-on hop-off bus you know form large cities but just in a small format. The “little train” has two routes in Marseille. To visit Notre-Dame de la Garde, you need to take the Route Nr. 1. Please, check the fares on the website of the “little train“.
7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
It’s for free, as Notre-Dame de la Garde is still an active church with a church service.
Visit Palais Longchamp
This one is a monument, folks. And it’s an impressive one. Therefore, when you are looking for best things to do in Marseille, you need to go there!
Palais Longchamp was built to celebrate the completion of the water canal called “Canal Marseille” which is about 85 km (apprx. 52 miles) long. This canal was built in the 19th century, and it was very important for Marseille’s water supply, because water supply was always a rare commodity for this city.
Palais Longchamp was designed by the architect Henri-Jacques Espérandieu, the same guy who created the Notre-Dame de la Garde. The foundation stone was laid in the year 1839, but it took about 30 years to accomplish this construction due to several financial problems and difficulties with regulations.
What to do at Palais Longchamp:
This place is not just a monument but also a building. Therefore, you will find the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Natural History, an astronomic observatory, and a botanical garden there. At the Museum of Fine Arts (which was renovated in the year 2013) you will find paintings, sculptures and drawings from the 16th to 19th century. The Museum of Natural History offers rich collections with the main emphasis on flora and fauna.
The botanical garden: if you ask me, it’s rather a botanical park than a botanical garden. I’ve already mentioned in my article about things to do in La Ciotat. If you have been in a botanical garden, you would know the difference. Therefore, let’s go ahead with the term botanical park. What will you get there? Originally designed to a zoo, you will find there now a lot of places for recreation, especially after a longer visit of the two museums of Palais Longchamp.
In case you would like to explore the observatory at Palais Longchamp, you can get this opportunity for sure as this place is open for the public visits. For this, check the hours on the website of the observatory. It’s complete in french, but you could use an online translator.
How to get to Palais Longchamp:
- By foot: If you are not far away from this place and would like to go by foot, click here to start the navigation
- By car: I couldn’t find any parking garages in the close proximity. So the best way would be you take the public transport or go by foot (or take a taxi / cab)
- By metro: Line M1, Stop: “Cinq Avenues Longchamp”, Check out the map of the tram and the metro here
- By tram: Line 2, Stop: “Cinq Avenues Longchamp”
Both museums are closed on Monday. At the other days the hours are from 9:30 (Museum of Fine Arts) / 10:00 (Museum of Natural History) to 6 p.m.
The visit is for free at every first Sunday of the month. At the other days, you have to pay between 4,- and 6,- EUR, depending on the museum
How safe is Marseille?
Marseille has not a good reputation according to its safety. But is it really true? In my opinion, Marseille is not as dangerous as any other European city. I think that the bad reputation comes from the exaggerated media reports. And we all know that those guys prefer to show bad news because bad news keep the money rolling…
The other impression which lets Marseille seem to be more dangerous than elsewhere is the fact, that the poor parts of this city are very close to the rich parts. And this can make you feel more uncomfortable.
But in general it can be said that Marseille is an overall safe city for tourists, especially in the tourist areas (arrondisements Nr. 1, 4, 6, and 7). Nevertheless, this does not mean that you shouldn’t watch your wallets and bags.
Parts of Marseille you should avoid as a tourist are located in the north of Marseille. Those are the arrondisements 13, 14, 15 and 16. But as there are no tourist attractions anyway, you don’t have a reason to go there.
Okay, folks. That’s it. I wish you a great time in Marseille. If you still didn’t book a flight to Marseille, click here* to do this. If you just need a hotel, check this website*. Also read my other articles about France, for example about things to do in La Ciotat.
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