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10 Free Things to Do in Marseille in 2024

City Guide January 24, 2024

 

 

Marseille, a radiant port city in southern France, is a treasure trove of culture, history, and natural beauty. For those looking to explore Marseille for free and on a budget in 2024, there are ample opportunities to immerse in its charm. Whether you plan to visit Marseille for a short time or stay in Marseille for an extended period, this guide is tailored to help you discover the best free things to do in this vibrant city.

From strolling through the charming streets of Le Panier to visiting the highest point at Notre Dame de la Garde for breathtaking views, each experience promises to enrich your stay without straining your wallet.

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Free Activities in Marseille

1. Wander through Le Panier

Le Panier, the charming old quarter of Marseille, is a delightful maze of history and culture. As you wander through its narrow, cobbled streets, you'll be enchanted by pastel-colored houses, quaint boutiques, and lively cafes. This area, filled with artistic flair, is a haven for photographers and culture enthusiasts looking for an authentic slice of Marseille life.

 

Highlights in Le Panier

Place des Moulins: The historical center of the neighborhood, once home to several windmills.

Vieille Charité: A beautiful baroque building now hosting museums and exhibitions.

Le Panier is easily walkable and close to the city center. The area is pedestrian-friendly, making it perfect for exploration.

 

2. Visit Notre Dame de la Garde

Perched on a limestone outcrop, the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde is Marseille’s most iconic landmark. Known as "La Bonne Mère" to locals, this basilica offers a 360-degree panoramic view of the city, the Mediterranean Sea, and the surrounding hills. Inside, the basilica is just as impressive with its ornate decoration and religious art.

 

Visiting Tips

The Climb: For those up for a hike, the walk to the basilica is steep but rewarding.

Guided Tours: Available for those interested in learning more about the history and significance of this site.

The basilica is accessible by public transportation – the bus stops right at the top. Alternatively, a brisk hike up the hill offers a more adventurous route.

 

3. Explore Marseille’s Street Art

Marseille’s street art scene is a dynamic expression of the city’s creative energy. The streets are adorned with murals that range from political and social commentary to whimsical and abstract designs. This ever-changing urban gallery showcases the talents of local and international artists.

 

Street Art Hotspots

Cours Julien: Known as a cultural hotspot, it’s filled with colorful murals and street art installations.

Le Panier: Along with its historical charm, this area boasts street art, adding to its bohemian vibe.

The street art in Marseille is concentrated in areas known for their cultural significance, such as Cours Julien and Le Panier. Exploring these neighborhoods offers a unique way to experience the city’s artistic side.

 

4. Relax at Fort Saint-Jean

Fort Saint-Jean marks the entrance to the Old Port and is a historical monument with roots dating back to the Middle Ages. This fortification provides a historical journey and stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea and the Vieux Port. The interconnected gardens and walkways make it an ideal place for a relaxing stroll.

 

Features of Fort Saint-Jean

Museum Exhibitions: Often hosts temporary exhibits and cultural events.

Scenic Gardens: Perfect for a walk with views of the sea.

The fort is easily accessible on foot from the Vieux Port and is often free to enter. Check for any special exhibitions or events during your visit.

 

 

5. Discover the Cathédrale de la Major

Cathédrale de la Major, with its grandiose architecture, dominates the Marseille skyline. This 19th-century cathedral, one of the largest in France, showcases a unique blend of Romanesque and Byzantine styles. The interior is equally impressive, with high vaulted ceilings and intricate mosaics.

 

Inside the Cathédrale

Art and Architecture: Explore the richly decorated interior and the unique architectural design.

Panoramic Views: The area around the cathedral offers spectacular views of the sea and the nearby MuCEM.

Located close to the MuCEM and the Vieux Port, the cathedral is open to visitors most days and is free to enter. Its location makes it an easy addition to any itinerary in Marseille.

 

6. Stroll around Le Vieux Port

Le Vieux Port, or the Old Port, is the pulsating heart of Marseille, encapsulating the essence of the Mediterranean lifestyle. A stroll around this historic harbor is an experience featuring a vibrant mix of fishing boats, yachts, and ferries. The port has various cafes and restaurants where you can enjoy local cuisine or a refreshing drink while taking in the lively atmosphere. Street performers, local artisans, and the daily fish market add to the charm of this bustling area.

 

Highlights of Le Vieux Port

Fish Market: Witness the age-old tradition of local fishermen selling their daily catch.

Ferry Ride: Take a short ferry ride within the port for a unique view of the city from the water.

Le Vieux Port is easily accessible by public transportation, including metro, buses, and trams. It’s a great area for people-watching and soaking up the local culture.

 

7. Visit the Musée des Beaux Arts

Art enthusiasts should not miss the Musée des Beaux-Arts in the stunning Palais Longchamp. The museum offers free entry to its permanent collections, which include European art, particularly from the 16th to 19th centuries. The collections give visitors a glimpse into the artistic movements that have shaped European art history, with works ranging from classical paintings to sculptures.

 

What to See

European Paintings: The museum houses an impressive collection of paintings by French, Italian, and other European artists.

Sculptures and Artifacts: Explore a variety of sculptures and historical artifacts that enrich the museum's collection.

The museum is located within the Palais Longchamp, a monument worth exploring in itself. Check the museum’s opening hours in advance, as they can vary.

 

8. Enjoy the Scenery at a Fishing Village

Marseille's traditional fishing villages, like Vallon des Auffes, offer a peaceful escape from the city's hustle and bustle. These charming villages are characterized by their small fishing boats, traditional “pointus,” and quaint houses. The villages are not only picturesque but also provide insight into the maritime culture and history of Marseille.

 

Exploring Vallon des Auffes:

Photography: The village is a perfect spot for photographers looking to capture the essence of Marseille’s maritime life.

Sunset Views: Enjoy breathtaking sunset views over the Mediterranean.

Vallon des Auffes and other fishing villages can be reached by bus. They are ideal for a tranquil afternoon or an early evening stroll.

 

 

9. Hike in the Calanques National Park

With its dramatic limestone cliffs and crystal-clear turquoise waters, the Calanques National Park offers some of the most stunning natural scenery in the Marseille area. Hiking in the park is popular, with trails leading to hidden coves, panoramic viewpoints, and secluded beaches. The natural beauty of the Calanques is a must-see for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

 

Hiking Tips

Trail Difficulty: Trails range from easy walks to more challenging hikes, so choose one that matches your ability.

Preparation: Bring plenty of water, wear comfortable hiking shoes, and don’t forget sun protection.

The park is accessible by public transportation, but some starting points for hikes may require a short bus or car ride from the city. Plan your route and be mindful of the park’s preservation rules.

 

10. Experience the Count of Monte Cristo’s Château d'If

A visit to Château d'If, made famous by Alexandre Dumas’s novel “The Count of Monte Cristo,” is a fascinating experience. While the ferry ride to the island is not free, you can enjoy magnificent views of the fortress from various points along the Marseille coast. The silhouette of the château against the backdrop of the Mediterranean Sea makes for a striking view.

 

Best Viewing Spot

End of the MuCEM: This modern museum offers an excellent vantage point for viewing Château d'If.

Fort Saint-Jean: Located at the entrance of the Vieux Port, it provides panoramic views of the fortress and the surrounding sea.

The best spots to view Château d'If are easily reachable on foot from the Vieux Port. The ferry to the island departs from the port if you decide to visit the château.

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