Originally a Greek colony turned into Roman city, Marseille is now the second-largest city in France. It serves as France’s largest port, which leads to a bustling economy. However, the city remains beautiful, despite its age, size, and economic significance.
Movies like Bourne Identity and Count of Monte Cristo have been filmed in the Mediterranean city, further increasing the tourist draw. Being tourists ourselves, Layton and I got to explore Marseille when our cruise boat docked nearby for the day. Having only a few hours to explore this historic and famous city is tough! However, if you are willing to walk a bit, you can see a lot of the highlights of Marseille. Below you’ll find our favorite spots during our day trip to Marseille.
Tip: The easiest, cheapest, and fastest way to get around Marseille is by using the metro. Bus, metro or tram tickets (one/10 trips €1.70/14) are available from machines in the metro, at tram stops and on buses.
The Palais Longchamp, meaning Longchamp Palace in French, is a monument created to celebrate the construction of the Canal de Marseille. This canal connects Marseille to the Durance River, which was significant because it finally provided the city with a reliable source of freshwater and opened the city to new trading routes.
Palais Longchamp houses the Museum d’Histoire Naturelle (Natural History Museum) and the Musée des Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts Museum). It is a Baroque-inspired building, with a colonnade and central fountain known as Château d’eau (Water Castle). The fountain is a chariot pulled by bulls carrying food with three female figures above it. Given the monument was built to celebrate the new source of water, the fountain is an appropriate symbol of fertility, life, and prosperity.
When you visit, you will be amazed by how photogenic Palais Longchamp is. From the beautiful flowers to the columns and statues surrounding them, you won’t have a problem finding a spot for a picture or two, or three.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t busy when we were there. It may have been too hot for some people, but I don’t even think you need to go early in the morning to find a good spot.
Overall, Palais Longchamp was beautiful, fun to explore, and an excellent place for pictures.
Old Port Of Marseille (Vieux Port)
The birthplace of Marseille, Vieux Port (old port) has been the heart and spirit of Marseille for more than a century. Vieux port was the original landing spot of the Greek colonists. It has been a part of history, from the French Revolution to WWII, and will continue to be. Vieux Port is the central location of Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo.
For tourists, you could easily spend the entire day in Vieux Port. Between the forts St-Jean and St-Nicolas, bars, brasseries, and cafes, the action continues from early morning to late at night. You will find interesting art pieces, like the ceiling mirror, and historical buildings, like the Roman Catholic church: Saint-Ferréol les Augustins.
The old port is a fantastic place to grab a drink and bite to eat as you explore Marseille.
Notre-Dame De La Garde
Probably the first thing you’ll see in Marseille due to its prestigious location towering on top of the hill, the Catholic basilica Notre-Dame de la Garde (Our Lady of the Guard) is a beauty to view from afar as it is up close. Construction of the basilica began in 1852 and lasted for 21 years. The basilica consists of a lower crypt, carved from the rock, and an upper church decorated with mosaics.
Notre-Dame de la Garde is the most visited place in Marseille. Why? It hosts panoramic views over the city, port, and Mediterranean sea. Be warned; it is a climb to get to it if you don’t take the tourist train. It will be busy, and it will be hot. Be prepared to bump shoulders and bring water. At the same time, the views are remarkable, and 100% worth the effort.
Old Town (Le Panier)
Le Panier is the old city of Marseille. Originally built on site of the ancient Greek Massalia, Le Panier feels like a typical Mediterranean town. Colorful buildings line narrow cobblestone streets, leading tourists and locals around a tight maze of beautiful boutiques, delicious fragrances, and pleasant park squares.
There are several buildings and streets you must visit during your stroll of Le Panier. La Vieille Charité is a museum which used to be a home for the poor. It has a beautiful architecture. Place des Moulins is the largest square in Le Panier and makes for an excellent spot to relax on a bench in the shade. Walk down either the Rue du Panier or Rue du Petit-Puits to get a feel for the old town while appreciating the street art and murals all over Le Panier.
Gare de Marseille St-Charles
I’m sure you are wondering why a railway station would be on the list of places to visit. For two reasons:
- It’s historical and beautiful by itself.
- The views of Marseille are remarkable from Gare de Marseille-Saint-Charles.
Gare de Marseille-Saint-Charles was built in 1848 (nearly 30 years before Grand Central Station in NYC). It was the hub for tourists from Europe traveling to the Mediterranean to board ships to Africa, Asia, and America. It sits high on a hill, allowing you to get views of the port and beyond.
If you aren’t flying into Marseille, you will most likely be traveling through Gare de Marseille-Saint-Charles, and you should budget some time to walk around this historic building and soak in the views inside and out.
Whether you plan on making Marseille your home base for a French Mediterranean vacation, or if you have a few hours to explore this ancient city, you will have a wonderful time. Enjoy the sights and embrace the atmosphere.
For more travel guides and tips in Europe, check out “The Lovely Escapist Destinations: Europe“.