Marseille travel guide

About Marseille

Marseille in Provence Côte d'Azur is the second largest, and the oldest, city in France and is situated on the sunny south coast.

A city over 2,600 years old but with archaeological finds showing that humans have inhabited the area for the last 30,000 years, Marseille has seen lots of civilizations come and go. Trace Marseille's history from its Roman and Greek origins, with traces of a Greek settlement near the Old Port, Port Vieux, to its medieval religious architecture, 16th century fortifications, houses of the 17th and 18th centuries and prestigious buildings of the 19th century all the way through to modern day contemporary buildings like the Tour CMA CGM which dominates the city's skyline. The largest commercial port in France, Marseille is an important port for trade and tourism to the south of France. Walk the coastal route of the Corniche du John F Kennedy to enjoy the wonderful coastline, or why not wander down to one of Marseille's many small beaches? Sitting out at sea not far from the coast is the Château d'If on one of the four Frioul islands. Famous as the prison in which Alexandre Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo was kept, the Château d'If is an imposing fortress built by François I. Regular boat excursions take you to the island and the others in the archipelago for a visit of this captivating stronghold where the fictional hole dug by Dumas' Count can mysteriously be found. On the mainland, two other fortresses, the Fort St Jean and the Fort St Nicholas, are also worth visiting and showcase how important Marseille was to the French monarchy in the 16th and 17th centuries.

As such a large, ancient city, Marseille, much as you would expect, has some wonderful religious architecture with two cathedrals - the 12th century old cathedral built of pinkish stone in the Romanesque style and the new cathedral, a Byzantine Romanesque construction in the shape of the Latin cross built in the 19th century. Also, don't miss a visit to the beautiful Notre Dame de la Garde, a, basilica on a hilltop that was once home to a fort and affords great views of the city and the sea beyond. The city also has several châteaux and palais, some of the best include the Palais Longchamp containing both the Fine Arts Museum and the Natural History Museum, and a spectacular garden, and the Palais de Pharo built by Napoleon III on a rocky promontory. Wander around the docks of the Old Port, in Old Marseille, and visit the remarkable Vielle Charité which was built as a poorhouse in the mid-18th century and has a striking domed chapel at its centre. With over 20 museums in Marseille, an opera house and several theatres, there is always something interesting to experience in this cultured city which hosts lots of festivals throughout the year. Marseille has many great options for sightseeing with guided tours, an open-deck bus tour, tourist trains, a tourist taxi service for a more private tour and boat excursions to the Frioul archipelago and around the bay. Relax with a walk around some of Marseille's many lush parks and gardens. Some of the best are Jardin de la Colline Puget - dating from 1801 it is the oldest garden in the city, and the Parc Valmer, an idyllic spot overlooking the sea. Enjoy free access to 14 museums, free subway and bus journeys and lots of discounts with the Marseille City Pass available from the Tourist Office as a 1 day (€22) or 2 day (€29) pass.

Marseille has some fantastic shopping on offer with luxury brands, small boutiques and high-street labels as well as lots of gift shops and art galleries around the Old Port. The city also has lots of markets selling fresh produce, local products and clothing. Don't miss out on some delicious Provençal and Mediterranean cuisine with olives, garlic and seafood all popular ingredients here. Taste the city's signature dish, the fish soup bouillabaisse, in some of Marseille's restaurants or take cooking classes to learn how to make your own. Other local specialities include the boat-shaped orange blossom flavoured biscuits called navettes which are traditionally eaten at Christmas, tapenade, and pieds et paquets, a dish of tripe and sheep's trotters. Enjoy an apertif of a glass of Pastis, an anise-flavoured liqueur that is mixed with water and is used in several local cocktail recipes, followed by some wonderful AOC Provence wines with your meal. Spend the evening out at some of Marseille's excellent bars and clubs with lots of themed bars, music cafés, jazz clubs and piano bars to choose from as well as nightclubs and bars offering live performances.

Why visit Marseille?

  • Château d'If and the Frioul Islands
  • Arts and Culture
  • The Architecture
  • Shopping
  • Food and Drink 


  • Country: France
  • Region: Provence Côte d'Azur
  • Department: Bouches-de-Rhône
  • Population: 860,000
  • Coordinates: 43.320182,5.365242

Coordinates shown are based on the WGS84 system, please check driving directions before departing.

Places to visit nearby

Nîmes in Languedoc Rousillon is the home of some of the best preserved Roman monuments in the world and is especially famous for its amphitheatre.

St Tropez in Provence Côte d'Azur is a sophisticated resort that is popular with the European and American jet set.

Montpellier in Languedoc Roussillon is a thriving and modern city near France's sunny south coast that was voted one of the New York Times' 'Places to go in 2012'.

Nearby attractions

The Museum of Mediterranean Archaeology contains a vast collection of important artefacts from ancient Mediterrenean civilisations.

The Fort St Jean is an imposing structure built between the 15th and 17th centuries to guard and protect the port from attack. It was used as a garrison but later became a prison during the Revolution.

On the other side of the quay is the impressive Fort St Nicholas, which was constructed during the 1660s and was used as much to keep the locals in line and loyal to the throne, as to deter invaders.