As officially the sunniest place in France, with the greatest number of sunshine hours (264 days), Marseille makes for a terrific year-round destination.
There’s heaps to do in this colourful city on the edge of the Mediterranean and in the last few years its been cleaned up, spruced up and tuned up with new museums, shops, restaurants and bars. Best way to find your bearings: Take a tour. You might like the “petite train”, there are two routes, the Notre Dame de la Gare one is best and saves you climbing some very steep hills. Pick up a city pass from the tourist office which will give you coverage on public transport, entry to major attractions and includes a guided bus tour or boat ride – it’s a bargain.
Here are 5 of our Marseille must-sees
Vieux Port – the old Port of Marseille
Anchors clanking, Wedgewood blue sky, turquoise waters, wide boulevards lined with restaurants that are teeming with people lingering over coffee and pastries in the morning, long long lunches, afternoon refreshment and late late dinners. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking no one goes to work in Marseilles since bars, cafes and restaurants around the Port seem to be permanently buzzing! Watch the fishermen selling fresh fish direct to the public from the quayside, admire the fabulous Norman Foster-designed Miroir Ombriere, an enormous mirrored shade and soak up the ambiance in one of the most exciting areas of Marseille.
Eating and Drinking: Around the bay is very picturesque and tends to be pricier. Head off the main tourist tracks to experience real Bouillabaise, the ubiquitous fish dish of Marseille and expect to pay around 40 Euros a head, it’s worth it, a memorable dish.
Vieux Ville – the old town of Marseille
Head up to Le Panier, the old town to explore the little lanes, boutiques and art galleries. It’s a great place for lunch (not for dinner, the choice is less).
Notre Dame de la Garde
The view from the Basilica is simply breath-taking as you see Marseille spread out below and around you. You can easily pick out the white dome of the football stadium where the local football team Olympique Marseille play, but what really strikes you is the way the town looks almost Roman, with terracotta roofs galore and pastel coloured buildings that reflect the sun. Here, with the smell of pine trees, is an air of tranquillity despite the hordes of tourists staggering around with selfie sticks. You almost feel as though you’re on the edge of a bowl in which Marseille is contained.
They say in Marseille that La Bonne Mère, the gold statue atop the Church, looks after believers on the way up, making sure they’re safe climbing those hills and stairs, struggling to reach her and praise her. Apparently she takes no notice on the way down so watch your step!
Unveilled in 2013 to mark Marseille’s role as European Capital of Culture, the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations is a waterfront spectacle crafted by local Algerian-born "starchitect" Rudy Ricciotti. Linked by footbridge to Fort Saint-Jean, a maze-like 17th century stronghold constructed for Louis XIV. MuCEM is a spectacular sight with its fishnet style concrete walls. A terrific permanent collection, superb temporary exhibitions, café at Fort St-Jean and cookery school and gastronomic restaurant on the roof of MuCEM run by 3 Michel star chef Gérald Passedat. Don’t miss this one.
Relax on the beach
You could head to the Calanques National Park by boat from the Vieux Port (about 40 mins) or by bus. The turquoise coloured crystal-clear waters that are the stuff of dreams. Situated between Marseille and Cassis, this place has wow factor in bucket loads, great for swimming, walking, boating or just drinking in those magnificent views.
Or relax on Marseille’s city beaches. We like La Corniche, a picturesque seaside roadway that meanders along the Mediterranean coast. This 5 km stretch includes a three-kilometre segment that was renamed in honour of President Kennedy. Head down to the area below the Corniche where you’ll find rocky inlets and sandy beaches and the Vallon des Auffes, a little fishing port that retains a traditional feel with little huts and some really great restaurants – here is where you’ll find some of the best bouillabaise.
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