As the 2nd largest city in France, Marseilles has more than a few attractions to offer! The city offers an exhilarating combination of the old and the new. Marseilles was founded over 2,600 years ago, which makes it the oldest city in France. This can be seen in the different architecture throughout the city: from the ancient Abbey of St. Victor to the Hôtel de Ville and Notre Dame de la Garde, Marseilles’ history is all around. Contrastingly, Marseilles is also very much a city of the new: it is known for its French hip hop and rap music, for example. The Mediterranean city boasts many cultural influences, and has become quite the melting pot. In 2013, Marseille will even be the European Capital of Culture! There’s no better time to visit Marseille, but where to begin?
To give you a little taste of what the city has to offer, we’ve assembled a guide to spending 48 hours in Marseilles!
10 am – Notre Dame de la Garde
Start your first day in Marseilles by visiting the Notre Dame de la Garde. This a great place to view the city from. The church is situated on a 149 meters (490 feet) tall peak, which makes Notre Dame de la Garde the highest point of Marseille. The church itself is one of the most magnificent buildings in the city. Notre Dame de la Garde was built in 1864, and designed in a Neo-Byzantine style. The Roman Catholic church is the most-visited site in Marseille, and has become one of the best-known symbols of the city. The locals refer to the church as “the good mother”, as it is seen as ever protecting Marseille. To visit the Notre Dame de la Garde, you can take a bus from Le Vieux Port. However, if you don’t mind a little exercise, you can also climb up the hill yourself, entering from the north or the south side.
2 pm – Vieux-Port and La Canebière
Go back to the Vieux-Port, or Old Port, at lunchtime. The ancient harbor of Marseilles has a plethora of cafes on the waterside, where you can enjoy lunch with a glass of wine while taking in the amazing view. Watch the boats sail in and out of the harbor, and don’t forget to admire the buildings on the edges of the Vieux-Port. It’s hard to miss the two imposing forts that guard Le Vieux-Port: Fort Saint-Nicholas and Fort Saint-Jean.
After lunch, explore the area around the harbor. North of Vieux-Port you will find the Hôtel de Ville, or City Hall, as well as the imposing Marseilles Cathedral. The Cathedral’s official name is Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure de Marseille, but it’s often referred to by its shorter name: Cathédrale de la Major. The gigantic Cathedral was built in 1896, and is a national monument of France. After exploring the north side of the harbor, make your way east. At the east side of Vieux-Port, you’ll find the famous daily fish market at the Quai des Belges. Watch the locals haggle over the fish prices, and then stroll to the famous avenue La Canebière, where you will find numerous shops.
7 pm – La Plaine district
After you’re done window-shopping and reach the end of La Canebière, head south down the Rue Curiol. This will take you to the Place Jean Jaures, which is also known as La Plaine. Along the streets around the square and the Cours Julien you will find great restaurants where you can enjoy a late-night dinner. If you still got energy after dinner, swing by one of the many bars or clubs, as the La Plaine district is famous for its lively nightlife!
When you’re starting to get tired, it’s great to have your own place nearby where you can get some sleep after a long day of exploring the city. By renting a vacation rental apartment in Marseilles, you get to stay among the locals and immerse yourself in the city life, while having access to all the same comforts you have in your own home. For example, most of our apartments come with a fully-equipped kitchen, where you can try your hand at creating real Provencal meals. Visit one of the local produce markets, or get fresh fish at the Vieux-Port market, to get all the ingredients you need. Need some inspiration? Check out this article about famous southern French cuisine.
9 am – Les Calanques de Cassis
Get up early for a nice trip out of the city! This area of Provence is famous for Les Calanques: steep-walled coves that form amazing small natural harbors sheltered from the Mediterranean Sea.
The calanques in Provence stretch between Marseille and Cassis, which is a picturesque town about 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of Marseille. The calanques near Cassis are the most beautiful, and there are many boat tours that leave from the town. These tours often also allow you to swim in the calm blue waters of the calanques, so be sure to pack a bathing suit! A boat tour is the best way to discover the calanques, but for experienced hikers it can also be quite a thrill to see them from above. Whichever way you choose, be sure to get back to Cassis at lunchtime to enjoy a real Provencal meal. To get to Cassis from Marseille, you can take a train from St Charles station in Marseille to the Cassis train station, or you can take a bus.
Another great way to spend an afternoon out of Marseille’s city center is to explore the nearby Château d’If. This fortress lies on a small island in the Bay of Marseille. The fortress used to be a prison, and was made famous when Alexandre Dumas used it as a setting for the novel The Count of Monte Cristo. Nowadays, Château d’If is a popular tourist destination. Boats to Château d’If leave all day long from the Vieux-Port.
4 pm – Le Quartier du Panier
Back in Marseille, pay a visit to the scenic Le Panier neighborhood, north of Vieux-Port. The hillside district has many pedestrianized cobbled streets, which take you along beautifully colored buildings.
Apart from being a historic district of Marseille, Le Panier also inspired the famous French TV show Plus Belle la Vie. Take a stroll around the neighborhood and soak in the distinctive atmosphere. The 1st District used to be the home to sailors and fishermen, but nowadays the neighborhood is one trendy multicultural blend. There are many cute shops and cafes all around the alleys.
6 pm – Bouillabaisse in Marseilles
Perhaps the most famous dish of the region originated in Marseilles. Bouillabaisse is a seafood soup or stew that is prepared according to a very strict recipe. If you want to try a truly traditional bouillabaisse, there are several restaurants in Marseilles that you can go to. Le Rhul, Chez Fonfon and Le Miramar, for example, all prepare bouillabaisse in their own traditional ways. There’s no better end to the day than sitting in a nice restaurant, eating great food and watching the sun go down over the Mediterranean Sea.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this quick tour of Marseilles! Of course, there are many more sites to see and things to do in this Mediterranean city. What’s your favorite thing to do in Marseilles?
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