Marseilles waterfront
By the water, Marseilles (Photo credit: Frederic Raux)

Marseilles Travel Guide

QUICK FACTS

  • Second largest city in France, with a population of about 1.6 million.
  • Strategically located on the country’s south-east Mediterranean coast, Marseille is the largest commercial port of France.
  • As the capital of the beautiful Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region, the city attracts tourists from all over the world.
  • Nicknames: Marselha, Massalia, Massilia.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

  • Currency: Euro (EUR).
  • Spoken languages: French is the official language.
  • Best time to visit: ideally from April to October. While the climate is pleasant all year round, summers in Marseille can get very hot.
  • Arriving via airport: the airport is 25 km from the city center. The shuttle bus runs from the airport to the Marseille Saint-Charles rail station every 20 minutes and costs EUR 8.50. A taxi will cost around 40 to 50 Euros.

WHERE TO STAY

Vieux Port is the central spot for sightseeing and will have the most convenient locations. The area around Saint Charles train station also has some good accommodation options.

GETTING AROUND

  • Note: most of the important sights (e.g. Notre Dame de la Garde) are within walking distance from the Vieux Port. It is best to explore on foot to absorb the real spirit of Marseille.
  • The metro (subway), tram and the bus network run by the RTM provides an affordable and convenient means of transport. Single ride tickets can be purchased on board buses, from vending machines at the metro stations, and at tram stops. RTM also offers a Carte 10 Voyages card – buy 10 rides at a time to save some money.
  • Taxis can be pre-booked on +33 4 42 14 24 44 (a deposit of €15 is required).

MARSEILLES NIGHTLIFE

  • Drinking age is 18, last call is 2 AM.
  • Hip/local scene: bars in the Vieux Port, Place Thiars and the Escale Borely.
  • Trendy scene: le Cours Julien is the trendy square in Marseille, replete with cafés, bars, and bookstores.
  • College crowd: Le Canebiere (just off the Vieux Port) and Le Mystik (5 kilometers away from the city, attracts student crowd from the nearby university campus).

UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT

  • The Old Port (Vieux Port). This is the historical heart of Marseille. You can also book a boat excursion from the Vieux Port to the Calanques, a series of miniature fjords to the south of Marseille (near Cassis). The boat trip will take approximately three hours, and offers a spectacular view of the fjords.
  • La Panier (Old Town, or quarter) is the oldest part of the town, and is lined with traditional French outdoor restaurants. Don’t miss Vielle Charite, a former almshouse which now functions as a museum and cultural exhibition center.
  • The Notre Dame de la Garde is located on a hill overlooking the city. Hike to the church from Vieux Port (alternatively, take the metro to the Notre Dame stop and walk over). Once up there, take in the spectacular views of the city.
  • If-Castle (Château d’If). Book a boat excursion from the Vieux Port to this famous landmark, immortalized as the once-prison of Jose Custodio Faria (from Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo). Originally a fortress built by Francois I in the 16th century.
  • When you’re done exploring If, check out the other famous Frioul islands: Pomègues, Ratonneau, and Tiboulen. Known for their picturesque beaches, creeks, and cliffs, the islands are a protected conservation area. Marvel at the crystal clear water and unique floral species in the area.

INTERESTING WALKS

  • Walk around the old town (La Panier), taking in the historical spirit of the city.
  • Stroll around the lush, green Park Borely, with its French style geometric gardens. An absolute treat on a sunny day.
  • Stroll around le Cours Julien, which contains the city’s trendiest cafes, bookstores, and fountains.
  • Walk along the Boulevard Longchamp to the Palais Longchamp, where the Museum of Fine Arts and the Natural History Museum are located. At the end of the walk, check out some of the older aristocratic houses.
  • For a unique shopping experience, walk through Noailles and observe the multitude of Arabic and Indo-Chinese shops.

LOCAL WISDOM

  • Knowing some French is very useful when travelling in Marseille. It is difficult to ask for directions or order food at restaurants without any French. Remember to bring along a pocket dictionary.
  • Where to find good cheap eats: at the restaurants lining the Vieux Port. The fixed menu will cost around EUR 18-20. Don’t miss the chance to try Bouillabaisse, a traditional Provencal French stew.
  • Dangerous areas: some consider Marseilles as one of Europe’s most dangerous cities. Downtown Marseilles is quite poor (with a large immigrant population), but the most dangerous neighbourhoods are on the north side of town. Stay alert, and try to stick to the more affluent areas on the beaches and south side.

RECOMMENDED MARSEILLES GUIDE BOOKS

Recommended trip duration: 2-3 days


SEE ALSO:
Marseilles Travel Guide was last modified: September 25th, 2016 by Nick
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