Guides Marseille What to Do in Marseille for a Day: Tips for a Fun Day

What to Do in Marseille for a Day: Tips for a Fun Day

City Guide January 24, 2024



Marseille, the oldest city in France, is a vibrant blend of culture, history, and natural beauty, enriched by its association with its storied past that stretches back to the 19th century. Whether you're visiting Marseille for a day or planning an extended stay, this bustling port city on the French Riviera offers an abundance.

From the historic Vieux Port, a hub of maritime activity since ancient times, to the breathtaking Calanques National Park and the iconic Cathédrale de la Major, a 19th-century architectural masterpiece, here's your guide to making the most of your time in this European Capital of Culture. Marseille's rich tapestry weaves together the intrigue of the Count of Monte Cristo's tales and the timeless allure of its Mediterranean setting.

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Morning Activities

Vieux Port and Surroundings

The Vieux Port, or Old Port, is a fantastic starting point to immerse yourself in the essence of Marseille. As the city's historical and cultural epicenter, it's bustling with activity from dawn. Stroll along the quayside, watch the fishermen return with their catch, and observe the boats docked in the marina. A morning coffee at one of the waterfront cafes offers a picturesque view of the port, perfect for people-watching and planning the rest of your day.


Highlights Around Vieux Port

Fish Market: Experience the traditional fish market where locals and chefs buy the day's freshest catch.

Ferry Ride: Take a short ferry ride across the Vieux Port for a different perspective of the port.


Notre Dame de la Garde

Visiting Notre Dame de la Garde is a must for any traveler to Marseille. Known as "La Bonne Mère" to locals, this basilica sits on the city's highest point and is visible everywhere in Marseille. The church's interior is as impressive as its panoramic views, with intricate mosaics and a rich history. The climb to the basilica is a rewarding experience, offering spectacular vistas of the city and the sea.


Activities at Notre Dame de la Garde

Scenic Hike: For those who enjoy walking, the hike up to the basilica is invigorating and offers stunning views.

Historical Insights: Inside, learn about the basilica’s history and its significance to the people of Marseille.


Le Panier District

Le Panier, Marseille’s oldest neighborhood, is a labyrinth of charm and history. This area, just a short walk from the Vieux Port, is a colorful tapestry of Marseille’s past and present. Its narrow streets are lined with a mix of historic buildings, vibrant street art, artisanal shops, and cozy cafes. The district's relaxed atmosphere is perfect for leisurely exploration.


Must-Visit Spots in Le Panier:

Vieille Charité: A stunning 17th-century almshouse that now hosts museums and exhibitions.

Local Artisans: Discover unique souvenirs and art pieces in small shops and studios.



Afternoon Delights

Lunch in Le Panier

Le Panier, with its quaint and colorful streets, is an ideal location for a calm lunch. The neighborhood has various charming eateries where you can sample local Marseille cuisine. Bouillabaisse, the famed Marseille fish stew, is a must-try here. For something sweet, indulge in some artisanal ice cream or traditional French pastries, perfect for a mid-day treat as you wander the historic streets.


Lunch Recommendations:

Local Bistros: Discover bistros serving Provençal and Mediterranean dishes, often with outdoor seating for an alfresco dining experience.

Street Food: Don't miss the chance to try local street food for a quick yet authentic taste of Marseille.


Fort Saint Jean and MuCEM

Fort Saint-Jean, located at the entrance of the Old Port, offers a journey through Marseille’s rich history with stunning views of the sea and city. After exploring the fort, visit the adjacent MuCEM - the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations. This architecturally striking museum hosts exhibitions that delve into the diverse cultural heritage of the Mediterranean region.


A Stroll to La Vieille Charité

In the heart of Le Panier, La Vieille Charité is a historical and architectural marvel. This former almshouse, built in the 17th century, now serves as a cultural center housing several museums and art exhibitions. Its serene inner courtyard and elegant chapel add to the allure of visiting this historic site.

Some exhibitions and museums within La Vieille Charité may require a ticket. Check the opening times before your visit to plan accordingly.


Evening Exploration

Sunset at Calanques National Park

Experience the breathtaking beauty of the Calanques National Park at sunset. The Calanques' dramatic limestone cliffs and crystal-clear waters take on a golden hue as the sun sets, creating a truly picturesque scene. It’s a perfect location for nature lovers and photographers alike.

The Calanques are best reached by bus or through an organized tour. If you plan to hike, wear comfortable shoes and carry water. Keep in mind the time needed to return to the city.


Dinner and One Night in Marseille

Marseille's diverse culinary scene comes to life in the evening. End your day with a delightful dinner at one of the city’s restaurants. Choose from seaside eateries offering fresh seafood dishes, traditional bistros serving local fare, or upscale restaurants for a fine dining experience.


Dining Options

Seafood Restaurants: Located near the Vieux Port, offering the day's freshest catch.

Cozy Bistros: Scattered throughout the city, perfect for a more intimate dining experience.


Late Night Walk and Views

A late-night stroll along Marseille's waterfront or a visit to the illuminated Notre Dame de la Garde provides a serene end to your day. The panoramic views of the city and sea under the starry sky are enchanting and offer a peaceful moment to reflect on your Marseille experience.

If you plan to visit Notre Dame de la Garde at night, check the public transportation schedule for the return journey or consider booking a taxi. The waterfront, particularly around the Vieux Port, is lively and safe for an evening walk.



Top Tips for Your Day in Marseille

Getting Around

Public transportation in Marseille is efficient and covers most tourist areas. Make use of buses, trams, and metro services for an easy way to navigate the city.


Staying Safe

While Marseille is a safe city for tourists, like any major city, it's wise to stay aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded areas.


Enjoying Local Culture

Immerse yourself in the local culture by visiting street markets, trying local dishes, and interacting with residents. Marseille’s rich history as a port city makes it a melting pot of cultures and traditions.

Try to learn a few basic French phrases; locals appreciate the effort.


De Marseille with Love

Don't forget to pick up some souvenirs from your day in Marseille. Local artisan shops in Le Panier offer unique gifts and crafts that reflect the city’s culture and heritage.

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