As a city with a fascinating history, Marseille is home to an abundance of interesting and quirky attractions. The city has something to offer both the foodie and the culture vulture, whether you’re just here for a few days to recover from jet lag or between explorations around Provence. To help you plan your trip to Marseille, here are a few tips for areas of the city that are easy to explore on foot.
Because let’s face it: no visit to Marseille is ever too long. In order to fully grasp the distinct personality of its various districts, it’s best to take the time to experience the city at the pace of its inhabitants.
The Old Port
If the Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde, built to watch over the people of Marseille, is one of the icons of the city, then the Vieux-Port is without a doubt another important symbol. Visitors come here to stroll along the quays and to visit the magnificent Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée (Mucem), which was inaugurated in 2013, the year in which Marseille was chosen as the European Capital of Culture. It’s impossible not to be captivated by Rudy Ricciotti’s lacy façade. You can admire the city from the magnificent terrace, as access to the site is free – only the exhibitions are not.
The area is also home to a number of very popular restaurants, including the Miramar, which is famous for serving one of the best bouillabaisses around. Contrary to popular belief, this traditional dish is not cooked by the locals on a regular basis. In fact, it’s a dish that’s rarely prepared at home because the preparation is extremely time consuming and the search for the right type of fish can be an adventure in itself. If you are wondering where to eat bouillabaisse in Marseille, we’ve got a few options.
The Grandes Halles du Vieux-Port, which opened in July 2022, is the perfect place to eat and drink on the terrace at a more reasonable price. Between Italian dishes, mezze, shellfish and vegan fare, the choice is hard (our recommendation: share!).
Situated at the foot of the famous Canebière, the Old Port is also the place for major events and gatherings. On the weekends, the atmosphere is particularly festive.
Do not forget to visit the Fish Market, which opens early every morning. And on Tuesday and Saturday mornings, the flower market is sure to be a treat for your eyes as well as your nostrils!
Not to be missed during a stroll in the area is the Ombrière by the British architect Norman Foster, a mirror work that reflects the quays and at the same time offers shelter.
Marseille’s oldest district is also one of the city’s most touristic. But that doesn’t mean that you have to miss out on all the fun! We love its brightly colored alleys, its streetart-adorned walls, and its many shops, some of which are dedicated to the famous Marseille soap. With its many staircases, it’s also the perfect place to exercise your calves.
The fascinating history of Le Panier takes you back in time. It is said that the Greeks chose this site for the creation of Massalia 600 years before Christ. It was the altitude and the proximity to the sea that led them to this particular area. The town developed first on the side of the Moulins hill and later, in medieval times, on the opposite side of the port. A hospital was established here in the 17th century.
Uncleanliness and prostitution undermined its reputation in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1943, during the Second World War, the Germans decided to demolish the quarter, which had been the home of many members of the Resistance. Renovation and redevelopment restored the area to its former glory at the end of the 20th century. Today, visitors can take a seat on one of the many terraces, stop in at an artist’s studio, or enjoy an ice cream while strolling through the maze.
Noailles and Cours Julien
Noailles, nicknamed “the belly of Marseille” because of its daily market, is located in the 1st arrondissement. It’s very multicultural and one of the most vibrant areas in the city. It’s not always on the list of places to see on a first trip to Marseille… and yet, what a history! It was a bourgeois neighborhood in the 17th century, as evidenced by the Haussmann buildings. Today, it is home to Marseillais from all walks of life.
A number of personalities who left their mark on history are linked to this district. Among them is La Fayette, who married Marie Adrienne Françoise de Noailles in 1774 in one of the 17th century mansions (now demolished). In 1931, having just been named “Man of the Year” by Time magazine, Gandhi also stayed in one of the prestigious establishments built at that time… accompanied by his two goats.
Today, some of these establishments have undergone a transformation and now offer a completely different experience to those of the past. This is the case of La Mercerie, located on the Cours Saint Louis, which, as its name suggests, is housed in what was once a shop. Designed by a trio of creative nomads, including sommelier Laura Vidal, who was raised and worked in Montreal, La Mercerie offers a “Feed Me” menu in five courses. This is a must on any trip to Marseille!
Take the stairs at 99 rue d’Aubagne, which spans the Cours Lieutaud and leads to the Cours Julien, to discover other trendy approved-by-locals spots.
A hotspot for designers and street artists, Cours Julien is the place to discover unique spots like Livingston, Marseille’s first orange wine bar. The lively terraces have an atmosphere that makes you want to extend the evening indefinitely! – the area, frequented by locals and tourists alike, has a festive atmosphere.