Marseille is France’s second largest city and its oldest. It was founded by Greek traders in 600 BC and it has dominated the Mediterranean ever since. The Greek ruins of old Massalia are still preserved in the city centre but Marseille has moved on a lot since then. This edgy lively city is surrounded by the romantic countryside of Provence but it is more multicultural melting pot than rural idyll. Marseille famous for its football and hip-hopis packed with vibrant cultural centres art galleries restaurants and historical sites. With enough beaches within easy reach to satisfy the most dedicated sun-worshipper Marseille is happening now.
Areas & Neighbourhoods in Marseille
Vieux Port — It may be known as the old port but it’s just as active as ever. The yachts and pleasure boats are joined by fishermen who sell their catch from the boat particularly to the wide range of seafood restaurants on the quayside. You can also catch ferries from here to the islands off the Provence coastline.
Le Panier — The old traditional French town was destroyed by bombing in World War Two although some exquisite 17th buildings survived including Centre de la Vieille Charité the Hôtel de Ville and the Hôtel de Cabre. With plenty of cafes dotted among the narrow streets there’s lots of opportunities to stop and admire the rebuilt homes in styles from around the French-speaking world.
La Canebiere — The centre of Marseille is defined by the long wide boulevard of La Canebiere which is lined with trees and street traders. There are also plenty of mainstream shops and boutiques cafés and restaurants and local colour to be found as the road takes you down to the port for a great view across the water.
Corniche — Marseille’s beaches are joined by a seafront road that rambles along the coastline. The nearest beach to the city centre is Plage des Catalans but the one that most Marseillais flock to is Plage du Prado a long sandy beach with plenty of action.
Things to See in Marseille
A walking tour of the Vieux Port and Le Panier is a great way to find your feet in Marseille. Take in the La Major – more properly known as the Cathedral of Sainte-Marie-Majeure – on the seafront. Look for La Vieille Charité in Le Panier a former 17th century almshouse that is an architectural gem. The Hôtel de Ville is a fine example of a Baroque city hall and further afield you’ll enjoy marvelling at the Basilica of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde an enormous 19th century creation. For a better understanding of early Christianity visit the Abbey of Saint-Victor with a 5th century crypt that was used for early Christian martyrs. Don’t forget the beaches and the Calanques National Park a coastal area of outstanding natural beauty on the outskirts of the city.
Things to Do in Marseille
Around the Vieux Port are eight museums within a short walk all of them are perfect ways of getting to grips with the history and culture of this fantastic city. Poke around at the Musée des Docks Romains has plenty of Roman and Greek artefacts and visit the Marseille history museum which has equally ancient items in its collection including a sixth century boat. You’ll also want to visit the Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée for its exposition of Mediterranean history and culture. With the best nightlife in France outside Paris you won’t be short of places to party while many restaurants are proud to serve the local dish Bouillabaisse. Don’t forget to shop in La Canebiere and La Butte watch some cycling in the New Velodrome Stadium and of course bake on one of Marseille’s fabulous beaches.