With a bustling waterfront and a vibrant urban vibe, Marseilles appeals to those seeking an original travel experience. Besides being France’s oldest and second-largest city, this one is also one of its liveliest and most cosmopolitan.
From the red-tiled rooftops of the homes to the fishing boats docked in the harbor, the city exudes a decidedly Mediterranean vibe. If you’re in Marseilles, you’re never far from the calm blue waters, whether you’re strolling along a picturesque old street with a view or just enjoying the city’s famous sea breeze.
Marseilles is a remarkable destination because of its colorful, multiethnic history. Marseilles, France, is home to a sizable Algerian diaspora because of its location as a connecting point between Europe and North Africa. Like a good French bouillabaisse, you can easily locate authentic Arab souks.
Top 10 tourist attractions in Marseille
Find out more about the major attractions and how to spend your time in this city with our list of the finest attractions in Marseilles.
- Notre-Dame de la Garde
- Old Port
- Château d’If
- Le Panier District
- MuCEM (Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée)
- Marseille Cathedral (Cathédrale La Major)
- La Vieille Charité
- Palais Longchamp
- Fort Saint-Jean
- Les Calanques
Notre-Dame de la Garde
One of the city’s most recognizable attractions in Marseille city is this chapel called Notre-Dame de la Garde, which may be found high above the rooftops of Marseille and the Mediterranean below. Since getting there on foot is a tiring climb to the top, using one of the buses that leave the Vieux Port every twenty minutes or so is the most convenient option. The buses drop you off directly in front of the church. The mosaics inside are almost as stunning as the city views, and admission is free.
Notre Dame de la Garde is a landmark and a symbol of Marseille, and visitors should not miss the opportunity to see the city from its viewpoint. The basilica was built in a Roman-Byzantine style with mosaics and a wide variety of colorful stones. An enormous statue of the Blessed Mother watches over visitors from atop the bell tower.
- Address: Rue Fort du Sanctuaire, 13006 Marseille, France.
- Timings: every day from 7 AM to 6 PM.
The Old Port, also known as the Vieux Port, is a prominent tourist attraction in Marseille and a natural port that has been in use since the ancient Greeks built Marseille 2,400 years ago. The Old Port used to welcome more than 18,000 ships annually.
Taking a leisurely stroll around Old Port and relaxing with a glass of wine at a sidewalk café is a perfect way to spend an afternoon. Along with the Roman Dock Museum and the lighthouse, St. Victor’s Abbey is one of the earliest Christian churches in France.
Alongside ancient structures like the Sainte Marie lighthouse and the Maison Diamantée, it is today a bustling commercial hub with several restaurants, cafés, and hotels. The vibrant marina has various attractions, such as a fish market and a ferry service.
Le Panier District
Originally named Massala when it was created by the Greeks in 600 BC, Marseille’s Le Panier is the city’s historic area. During World War II, Nazi invaders blew up around 1,500 homes in Le Panier. Even though the neighborhood is going through a period of renovation at the moment, its vivid liveliness has not been lost, and it is considered to be one of Marseille’s top attractions.
You should wear shoes that are suitable for walking since exploring the historic center of Marseille is a leisure activity. Ground-level plaques make it simple to enjoy a self-guided tour without getting lost.
You may find plenty of art galleries and shops selling handmade goods in this area. The local boutiques, gourmet food stores, and art galleries in this charming area are waiting to be explored. Restaurants specializing in traditional Algerian cuisine are also available.
Just two miles from Marseille’s historic Old Port, on an island in the Mediterranean Sea, sits the stronghold of Château d’If. Almost the whole island of If is taken up by the fortifications. It was constructed in 1524 to protect Marseille against a potential navy attack. This was accomplished with great success. This is lucky since the fortress’s many gun platforms were poorly constructed.
Later it served as a jail for political prisoners, but today it is most known as the setting for Alexander Dumas’s classic 19th-century book, “The Count of Monte Cristo and one of Marseille’s top attractions. Visitors can get there by boat from Marseille.
- Address: Embarcadère Frioul If, 1 Quai de la Fraternité, 13001 Marseille, France.
- Timings: Tuesday to Sunday from 10 AM to 6 PM. Closed on Mondays.
MuCEM (Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée)
There is nothing antique or historical about the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations. Indeed, it’s surprising if you’ve been exploring the city’s historic landmarks. The cube-shaped structure, which delivers a contemporary aesthetic, includes a museum devoted to the cultures of the Mediterranean. Those in search of a more modern taste should include it as part of their Marseille tourist itinerary as it is one of its best attractions.
The MuCEM, or the Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe, is a museum that focuses on the history and culture of the European and Mediterranean regions, spanning from Beirut to Gibraltar. In fact, it was constructed on ground that was formerly underwater. When Marseille was selected as the European Capital of Culture in 2013, it opened close to the historic Fort Saint-Jean.
- Address: 1 Esp. J4, 13002 Marseille, France.
- Timings: Wednesday to Monday from 10 AM to 6 PM. Closed on Tuesdays.
Marseille Cathedral (Cathédrale La Major)
The high ceilings and beautiful mosaics of this Catholic cathedral, called Cathedrale de la Major, are among the reasons why tourists visit. Visitors are encouraged to take in the stunning harbor views, which are supposedly worth the trip alone. Cathédrale La Major is, without a doubt, one of the best attractions to visit in Marseille.
The Byzantine Romanesque style cathedral was constructed in the nineteenth century and is the most recent example of this architectural style. Although Notre Dame de la Garde is more well-known, this French national monument is the oldest cathedral in the city.
The cathedral is large enough to accommodate three thousand people and has breathtaking views of the ocean. It’s built on top of a church that dates back to the 5th century. There are elaborate light fixtures and statuary, as well as mosaics and inlaid marble flooring, within.
- Address: Pl. de la Major, 13002 Marseille, France.
- Timings: Tuesday to Sunday from 10 AM to 7 PM. Closed on Mondays.
La Vieille Charité
Vieille Charité was established in the 17th century as an almshouse to care for homeless people, but it is now a museum and cultural center and one of Marseille’s top attractions. The French Foreign Legion used it as a barracks later on. The structure had deteriorated throughout the ages and had been restored by the 1970s.
The Museum of Archaeology and the Museum of Art of Africa, Oceania, and Amerindia are both located here now. The latter has engraved human skulls from South America and African masks, among other works of art. There is also a Baroque chapel in the complex’s courtyard that is often regarded as Pierre Puget’s finest work.
- Address: 2 Rue de la Charité, 13002 Marseille, France.
- Timings: Tuesday to Sunday from 9 AM to 6 PM. Closed on Mondays.
The Canal de Marseille, which carries water from the Durance River to Marseille, was honored by the creation of the monument Palais Longchamp. It took 30 years to complete the elaborate structure, which opened to the public in 1869. When lit up at night, the building is a sight to behold.
The city’s museum of fine arts and natural history is now located there. Also, The famous French park, Parc Longchamp, is located inside the property. Those interested in seeing the remains of the park’s former zoo might do so at the present time. The park has a traditional French garden, as well as a man-made grotto with running water. All of these amazing features helped Palais Longchamp to become one of Marseille’s best attractions.
- Address: Bd Jard. Zoologique, 13004 Marseille, France.
- Timings: every day from 7 AM to 8 PM.
Fort Saint-Jean is another one of Marseille’s best attractions that you must visit on your trip to this magical city. The best views of the Notre Dame de la Garde and the city can be had from Fort Saint-Jean, a fortification built on a hill at the entrance to the Port of Marseille.
It is situated right next to the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations, to which it is linked by a bridge. The commandery of the Knights of Saint John and the tower of Provence’s first monarch, René I, from the 15th century are both incorporated into this 17th-century construction.
The huge coastal stronghold of Fort Saint-Jean guards the entrance to the Old Port. Like Fort Saint Nicholas on the other side of the harbor, this fort was also built by order of King Louis XIV. During the French Revolution, it housed political prisoners, and subsequently, it served as a training center for the French Foreign Legion.
Near Cassis and to the south of Marseille, you’ll find a chain of little bays known as Les Calanques, which is one of Marseille’s greatest attractions. Limestone and dolomite form the sheer cliffs that enclose the small inlets, making for stunning scenery.
One may easily spend a day hiking the rocky cliffs that overlook the Mediterranean Sea and its fjords. In the summer, the heat makes it unsafe for people to walk around, but a boat can make its way through the inlets in less than an hour.
South of Marseille, on a rocky beach and a favorite of scuba divers, lies the calanque of Samna. With a length of 20 kilometers and a breadth of four kilometers, the Massif des Calanques is a wild and mountainous coastline that stretches from the ninth arrondissement of Marseille to the east, in the direction of Cassis. Mont Puget, at 565 meters, is its highest point. Since 2012, the region has been part of a national park.
Final words about Marseille’s top attractions
Marseille’s ancient old town and its interesting collection of architectural styles make it a place custom-made for sightseeing. While a trip to Marseille’s historic sites is enjoyable at any time of year, the city is at its best when the weather is warm and bright.