Marseille is a chic and refined coastal city that’s a little rough around the edges. While classy museums and trendy restaurants seem to be constantly popping up, the city still holds onto its characteristic edginess that makes it unlike any other place in Europe!
As a historic city, 21st-century Marseille is doing a fine job of recapturing the brilliance of the 19th century, when the city was alive with trading and activity. Never forgetting its roots, which stretch all the way back to 600 BC, Marseille is a contrasting mix of young and old, classic and progressive, simple and sophisticated.
Thanks to its long-standing history, melting pot of cultures, and popularity as a tourist destination, there are countless things to see in Marseille. From innovative art galleries, stylish museums, and well-preserved gardens to ancient markets, incredible gastronomy, and plenty of fantastic outdoor attractions, you’ll never be stuck for what to do in Marseille!
With such a great choice of things to see and do, it’s almost impossible to know where to begin. To help you get started, we’ve put together a list of the absolute best things to do in Marseille. Follow these fun Marseille bucket list recommendations, and you’re guaranteed to have an amazing time exploring this lively port city.
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15 Fun and Unique Things to Do In Marseille
1. Wander the streets of La Panier
La Panier, just a short walk north from Vieux Port, is one of the oldest parts of Marseille with a history that dates back to 600 BC. Back then, it was known as the Greek colony of Massalia. This is where many immigrants settled and is the neighborhood that helped Marseille become the bustling, spirited neighborhood it is today.
Not too long ago, La Panier was one of the poorest parts of the city. But today, it’s a totally different story. The streets are lined with artisan craft stores, independent fashion boutiques, and lively family-run cafes.
Here you can happily get lost in the long winding streets, sun-kissed squares, and clandestine stone stairways. Keep an eye out for the creative street art and stunning frescoes that add an extra burst of life to the colorful ochre walls.
It’s a wonderful place to enjoy a leisurely walk while imagining what Marseille used to be like centuries ago.
2. Hike up to Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde
The Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde is one of the best sights in Marseille. While the iconic landmark can be seen all the way from Vieux Port, it looks even more spectacular if you climb the hill to see it up close.
Standing at almost 500 feet above sea level, the church is the highest building in the city and dates back to the 19th century. It features an impressive neo-Byzantine design, with a big statue of the Virgin Mary at the top to watch over Marseille.
If you don’t care to hike, or the hot weather makes it impossible, you can ride to the top using public transport. There’s a bus service leaving Vieux Port every 20 minutes, but you still need to climb for seven minutes to reach the top.
Instead, we recommend you catch the train from Vieux Port. It will take you straight to the doors of the church without any extra walking or climbing.
Even if you’re not particularly interested in churches or architecture, this landmark is still worth a visit for the incredible views you get all across the city!
3. Party at the Delta Festival
If you’re planning to visit in summer, one of the coolest things to do in Marseille is to check out the Delta Festival. Held at the end of June or beginning of July each year, this high-octane festival turns Marseille’s Prado beaches into party hotspots!
For one long weekend, the city’s coast comes to life with everything you could ever want in a festival. Themed villages are created and dedicated to everything from food, drink, dance, and music to sustainability, art, sport, and international cultures.
Giant stages are set up for hundreds of incredible artists that attract massive crowds of thousands of people. If the sunshine and dancing get to be too much for you, there are plenty of water sports on offer to help you cool off.
If you want to treat yourself, you can sign up for one of the VIP passes. This will get you access to exclusive panoramic terraces, privileged bars, table service, the cloakroom, personal locker, VIP toilets, and a VIP makeover service.
4. Learn a little bit of everything at MuCEM
Whatever you’re into, one of the top fun things to do in Marseille is to spend a few hours at MuCEM. The Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean might not sound all that great, but it’s a state-of-the-art gallery filled with a little bit of everything.
From one-of-a-kind artwork, gorgeous photography, and genuine artifacts to insightful movies, interactive exhibits, and thoughtful questions, the museum’s exhibits are amazingly diverse and captivating.
Although they cover all kinds of topics (love, football, and recycling habits are just three that come to mind), the exhibits and displays work together to help you discover a little more about the culture of the Mediterranean and how it developed.
The museum is also home to two incredible restaurants. Le Môle is an elegant and high-end dining spot that offers an all-you-can-eat buffet, while La Table is a more communal restaurant with long tables that can cater to up to 20 diners at a time.
Your MuCEM ticket includes entry to the fort connected to the museum by two bridges. It was built by Louis XIV and is worth a look if you’ve got some extra time.
5. Swap French fries for panisse
If you only try one new thing in Marseille, it’s got to be panisse! These chunky sticks might look like fries, but they’re so much better.
Panisse is one of Marseille’s foodie specialties. It’s made from chickpeas and has a texture similar to pancakes. But instead of being served up with maple syrup for breakfast, it’s dished up as a side dish or snack with a selection of dipping sauces.
Panisse is often cut into chunky sticks before being fried then baked to golden, crispy perfection. But it’s sometimes cut into thick rounds, too.
You’ll find panisse in pretty much every restaurant in Marseille. La Boite à Panisse was one of our favorite spots for the classic snack. This restaurant specializes in fresh seafood accompanied by the perfect panisse.
Make sure you order yours with aioli, a rich mayonnaise flavored with lemon, garlic, and olive oil. It’s the best dipping sauce for panisse!
6. Wander along Boulevard Longchamp
When you need a break from all the Marseille sightseeing, enjoy a slow stroll along Boulevard Longchamp. One of the city’s most beautiful walks, this street takes you by magnificent 19th-century mansions and their strikingly beautiful gardens.
Our favorite way to do this is to start at Canebière station and head up toward Palais Longchamp. The more you walk, the more of the glamorous landmark will come into view, teasing you until you finally arrive. The imperial 19th-century palace and its ornate garden are truly beautiful.
Not only is the palace stunning, but it’s also home to Musée des Beaux-Arts, the oldest museum in Marseille. Here you’ll find a remarkable collection of Italian and Provençal artwork from the 17th century up until today.
The city’s Natural History Museum is located inside the palace, too. With charming botanical gardens, prehistoric exhibits, a fascinating observatory, and lots of fun playgrounds, it’s a great place to spend the day with kids.
7. Celebrate summer with the Marseille Festival
One of the must-do things in Marseille if you’re visiting during summer is to see what’s happening at the Marseille Festival. Held on various dates throughout June, July, and August each year, the festival brings together artists, performers, and audiences from all across the world to celebrate diversity, energy, and happiness.
From music acts, dance performances, and theatrical shows to art installations, cinema showings, and informative talks, there’s absolutely loads going on during the Marseille Festival. Even when there’s nothing currently happening in the program, you can be sure there’ll be a street party going on somewhere!
The idea is that by combining a mix of local and international performers with emerging and well-known artists, the festival will be incredible as well as approachable. While anyone can join in and enjoy the events, the festival particularly targets people who rarely visit cultural institutions, proving to them that art, literature, and culture can (and should!) be exciting.
The lineup and entertainment are so different each time that you could go every single year and never get bored.
8. Hang out at La Friche
La Friche is one of Marseille’s lesser-known attractions, making it a great choice if you love doing things a little off-the-beaten-track. Once a tobacco factory, today, this popular local meeting place is a cultural arts center that hosts all kinds of interesting festivals and events during the summer.
Even if you’re not visiting Marseille during the warmer months, you’ll find plenty going on throughout the year at La Friche. From a cool and quirky bookshop that sells some of the best coffee in Marseille to pop-up art galleries displaying experimental art from local creators, there’s always something going on here.
If there are any food trucks when you visit, grab yourself a bite to eat and head to the rooftop where you can watch a fantastic sunset. If you’re lucky, a local DJ might even be playing a set to wind down the day.
The only downside to La Friche is that it’s in a residential neighborhood, so things tend to wrap up pretty early. Visit in the afternoon, while there’s still a great vibe, to make the most of your time here.
9. Indulge your sweet tooth with madeleines
When a sweet craving hits you, one of the best things to do in Marseille is to head for the nearest bakery. No matter which one you choose, you’re guaranteed to find madeleines, Marseille’s specialty sweet treat.
These instantly recognizable shell-shaped sponge cakes have a mild almond flavor and are at their most delicious when they’re fresh from the oven. Because of this, we definitely recommend you buy them from a bakery instead of a supermarket. Dive straight in as soon as you get them!
The bite-sized delights have been around since the 1700s. At this time, a young girl in Commercy in Lorraine was standing in as pastry chef to the Duke of Lorraine, Stanislas Leszczyński. She only knew how to bake one thing – the small cakes her grandmother had shown her.
She made them for the Duke, and he loved them so much he named them after her. More than 300 years later, madeleines are every bit as popular!
10. Get back to nature at Calanques National Park
If you love being outdoors, you’ll find some of the best things to do in Marseille at Calanques National Park. This beautiful, natural wonder is filled with white towering cliffs, dazzling azure water, and so many outdoor activities that you’ll be spoiled for choice.
From swimming, snorkeling, diving, and kayaking to hiking, cycling, climbing, and just sunbathing, there’s so much to do here.
Your options are pretty limited when it comes to getting to the Calanques National Park. There’s hardly any parking, so we don’t recommend taking a car. It’s also a challenging 11-hour hike to get there, so going on foot is out of the question.
Our favorite way to get from Marseille to Calanques National Park is by boat. This company will take you to the park from Marseille, and you’ll have the chance to swim and snorkel while you’re there. You’ll also get to use an underwater camera to take some awesome shots, and drinks are included throughout the tour.
11. Sip pink Cassis wine
Don’t get the smooth, delicate Cassis wine mixed up with the dark, rich crème de cassis blackcurrant liqueur. Although the names are similar, they’re two totally different drinks.
Marseille is located just a short distance from two of France’s most wonderful winemaking regions – Cassis and Bandol. These two regions are well known for their delicate white wines and extraordinary rosé wines.
Even if you’re not much of a wine lover, it’s hard not to fall in love with Cassis wine. The pink-tinted rosé goes perfectly with fresh seafood and local cheeses. Its crisp flavor and wild rose aroma make it a fantastic drink to sip in the Mediterranean sunshine on a lazy afternoon.
Most Cassis wines are only sold locally, so you may not have heard of them before. Be on the lookout for Bagnol – that was our favorite brand when we were there! You won’t find it in many restaurants, but it’s easy to pick up in most wine stores.
12. Go on a boat ride to Château d’If
One of the most unique things to do in Marseille is to visit Château d’If. Located on a secluded island, this fortress was originally designed to keep Marseille safe when it was built in the 16th century. By the 19th century, no one had attacked, so the fort was transformed into a secure prison.
Up until 1890, the castle was used for political enemies of the state. Thousands of prisoners were kept in terrible conditions in the dungeons with barely anything to live on. The higher floors were dedicated to richer prisoners who could afford to pay for luxuries such as fireplaces, beds, and sea views.
Boats travel between Château d’If and the Vieux Port daily. Don’t plan your trip for a Monday because that’s when the prison is closed. The journey takes around 20 minutes, and we recommend solid footwear, as a lot of the paths are rough and uneven.
13. Take a break at Parc Borély
If the hustle and bustle of Marseille gets to be too much for you, take it easy at Parc Borély. This stunning green space is one of the best places in the city to throw your itinerary to the side and enjoy some quiet time.
The park was built in 1768 by Louis Borély, a local merchant who had recently become rich in Egypt. He wanted to create a country house that would “surpass all others in terms of size and splendor.” Today, the park is designated as “one of the most remarkable gardens in France,” so it looks like he succeeded!
Here you can do as much or as little as you please. Enjoy a picnic on the grass, read a book under a tree, or rent a bike and explore the cycle routes. There are playgrounds for little ones, sports courts for groups, and plenty of opportunities for people-watching. If you’re quiet, you might even get to spot some of the ducks or badgers that live in the park.
14. Have your mind blown at the Musée d’Histoire de Marseille
One of the top things to do in Marseille is to step back in time at the Musée d’Histoire de Marseille. The city’s incredible history museum helps you make sense of Marseille’s remarkable past that goes back more than 2,600 years.
Just a short walk from Vieux Port, the museum is the largest urban history museum in France, and you could easily spend half a day exploring it.
Here you’ll find all kinds of intriguing artifacts from Ancient Greek times all the way up until the 21st century. There are models and maps showing you what Marseille looked like at various points in history, as well as displays of pieces of ancient ships, sarcophagi, and mosaics.
If you’re hungry for more, check out the connecting building. You’ll discover a genuine archaeological site full of ramparts, a necropolis, and port buildings.
Temporary exhibitions are held almost every month at the museum. So even if you’ve visited before, it’s still worth checking out to see what’s new.
15. Be awestruck by Cité Radieuse
Cité Radieuse is probably unlike any other neighborhood you’ve seen before. Built between 1947 and 1952 by Le Corbusier, it was designed to transform the houses, streets, and facilities that you’d find in a typical neighborhood into a solid 18-floor concrete block.
The idea was such a success that more than 1,000 people still live there today. Although it’s entirely residential, there are guided tours around the building every day.
Sign up, and you’ll have the chance to go inside one of the apartments, as well as explore the rooftop terrace and enjoy amazing views across the city. The tour will also take you past a doctor’s clinic, school, stores, and restaurants. If you’ve never seen a self-contained village before, you’ll be amazed!
If you’ve got some time to spare, it’s definitely worth going back after the tour ends to check out the stores, have a cup of coffee in a cafe, or enjoy a meal in a restaurant. It’s a great way to find out what life is really like inside this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Marseille. What’s your favorite thing to do in Marseille?
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