The greatest attractions of Marseille are located mostly around the Old Port. The city also tempts with its other historic buildings and ancient temples, as well as numerous natural interesting places. The very location of Marseille is attractive, as it lies on the Cote d’Azur, on the Mediterranean Sea, in the Provence region. Although there are many attractions here, there would certainly be more, if not for the destruction caused by World War II.
Marseille stands out from other cities in France because of the highly cosmopolitan nature of the local society, which is also reflected in the local architecture. There are many interesting buildings on site that will surely delight lovers of urban development. There are also sandy beaches here, where you can enjoy the sunny weather and over 700 hectares of urban greenery in the form of numerous parks. Marseille is also full of attractions for people who like to visit interesting museums or the remains of defensive structures. There will also be groups of friends who like to discover the charms of nightlife. So which attractions in Marseille are worth paying attention to?
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A short, even only weekend getaway is enough to explore Marseille. Unless someone intends to get to know the attractions of this place more and also plans to sunbathe. Then it is worth booking about a week for yourself, so that you have enough time for everything. The more so because it is the Cote d’Azur, where there are many other fascinating cities.
When it comes to a specific date, you can visit Marseille practically all year round. The local climate is so mild that even in winter the temperatures are pleasant. The best weather can be expected from May to September. Then we have a practically guarantee of sunny days, so needed when getting to know a new place. However, July and August itself are not a good time to come for people who hate hot weather. However, from October you have to take into account frequent rainfall.
You can visit Marseille simply by walking, as most of the attractions are located near the Old Port. However, it is a large city and moving around it is much easier by public transport. In Marseille, there are metro, trams, buses and ferry services, as well as water taxis operating in the season. Which makes sightseeing much easier, especially since the city is set in undulating terrain.
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Monuments in Marseille
Let’s start exploring Marseille with the most interesting and greatest monuments of this city.
The Old Port of Marseille is the tourist heart of this city, where every traveler finally arrives. Its history dates back to the 6th century BC. when the first marina was built here, while the quays themselves were fortified only in the 15th century. The present Old Port of Marseille has undergone a minor revitalization relatively recently, during which it has been fully adapted to pedestrian traffic.
It is here that there are many charming cafes, bars and restaurants. In addition, there are attractions such as the fish market, the Abbey of Saint Victor and the Forts of Saints John and Nicolas in close proximity. Tourist ships also depart from the Old Port, taking a cruise to the Frioul archipelago or along the Calanques National Park.
Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde
Another important monument on the map of Marseille is the Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde towering over the entire city. The temple dates from the 19th century and is situated on one of the hills, which makes it a good vantage point with a panoramic landscape. The basilica itself is built in the Neo-Byzantine style, which means a large number of decorations.
At the top of the 9-meter high belfry there is a gilded statue of the Virgin Mary with Child. The entire facade is covered with colorful marbles, and the crypt carved in the rock is decorated with Byzantine frescoes and mosaics. It is also worth paying attention to the over 8-tone bell. We can get to the Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde on foot, climbing a 162-meter hill, or we can use public transport that goes here (bus).
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The Longchamp Palace is also a landmark in Marseille. The whole building is also located on one of the hills of this city, and its body consists of two buildings connected by colonnades, with a large fountain in the middle. In fact, Longchamp Palace was built in honor of the city’s connection to the sewage system in 1869.
Currently, there are two city museums here – the Fine Arts Museum in one wing and the Marseille History Museum in the other wing. In the first one there are collections of paintings from the 16th to the 19th century and sculptures by the famous caricaturist Honoré Daumier, as well as drawings by artists from Italy and France. However, in the Marseille History Museum, you can see exhibits from archaeological excavations dating back to antiquity, which are directly related to the city. The Longchamp Palace is also surrounded by a beautiful garden that can be visited completely free of charge. This facility was awarded by the Ministry of Culture in France.
Cathedral of La Major
One of the most important monuments in Marseille is also the Cathedral of La Major. It is one of the largest temples in all of France. It was built in the years 1852-1893 in the Romanesque-Byzantine style at the behest of Napoleon III himself. The entire facade is decorated with alternating marble and porphyry. It is also worth taking a closer look at the external sculptures, and inside the cathedral you can pay attention to the chancel and the altar itself.
The entire temple is 142 meters long and 70 meters high. Right next to it is the remnant of the previous cathedral from the 12th century, which was built in the Romanesque style. It was it that replaced the new La Major, the construction of which cost 14 million francs.
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Tourist attractions in Marseille
What tourist attractions await us apart from the previously mentioned monuments?
The island and castle of If
One of the biggest tourist attractions in Marseille is the castle on the neighboring island of If. Initially in the 16th century, it was to be part of the city’s defensive fortifications. However, later it was turned into a prison, mainly for political prisoners and revolutionaries. As legend has it, no one has ever escaped from it.
However, the greatest popularity of the island and the prison was brought by the novel Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas, in which the protagonist was held in this place. Now you can see his cell and the hole through which he was supposed to escape. The island of If can be reached by ferry from the Vieux Port or by private water taxi.
Another big attraction in Marseille is undeniably the MuCEM Museum (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilization). Its shape attracts attention with concrete openwork decorations, and the whole thing is very modern. Inside, there are collections related to the culture, history and tradition of the entire Mediterranean region. It is the first facility of its kind in the world where such exhibits are collected.
The MuCEM Museum is divided into four thematic blocks: The Birth of Agricultural Cultures, Jerusalem – the City of Three Religions, Citizenship and Human Rights, and Beyond the Known World. Interestingly, the exhibits are not arranged chronologically here. At first glance, you can see the contrast when the ancient vase stands next to modern machines. It is also worth knowing that the building of the MuCEM Museum is connected by a 115-meter footbridge with the Fort of St. John.
Fort St. John
As mentioned above, the body of the extremely modern building of the MuCEM Museum is cleverly connected to the historic Fort of St. John. This fortification was built in the 17th century and its primary purpose was to protect Marseille from the northern part of the Old Port.
Today it is a popular place among tourists, mainly due to the panorama of the city, seen from the water.
Abbey of St. Victor
Another frequently visited historic attraction in Marseille is the Abbey of St. Victor. It was founded by St. John Cassian in the 5th century, at the burial place of St. Victor. Few people know that it is one of the first places of Christian worship in Europe. Unfortunately, the Abbey of St. Victor suffered during the French Revolution.
Currently, you can only visit the renovated church with crypts with empty sarcophagi. You can also see the relics in the side naves of the temple, which were brought here by sailors from all over the world over the years.
What’s worth seeing in Marseille?
What else is worth seeing and visiting in Marseille?
One of the places worth seeing in Marseille is definitely the oldest part of the city called Le Panier. It was here, in the old days, that the Greek Agora and the Roman Forum were located. Currently, it is an atmospheric place, full of pubs and narrow streets, often decorated with murals. Unfortunately, such a tangle of streets and buildings meant that during the war German soldiers decided to blow up most of them. To have more control over the guerrillas and the city itself.
Now Le Panier attracts more and more artistic bohemia, and you can buy original souvenirs from Marseille in the nearby shops. In this district, it is worth paying attention primarily to two historic buildings – Hotel Dieu, a five-star facility that previously served as a hospital, and La Vieille Charite, a complex that used to be a shelter for beggars and a hospice.
La Vieille Charite
A place worth seeing in Marseille is the aforementioned La Vieille Charite. The facility that once served as a shelter for the homeless and the sick. It was built in the 17th century and consists of four wings overlooking an arcaded courtyard. Inside, there is a baroque chapel with a characteristic oval dome.
Currently, La Vieille Charite has educational centers and museums. One of them is the Museum of Mediterranean Archeology with exhibits of Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Minoan culture and the Museum of Art of the African, Oceania and American Indians, devoted according to the name to African art, or that from Oceania and Latin America.
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Calanques National Park
During a trip to Marseille, the Calanques National Park is definitely worth seeing. The calanques themselves are just small coves that are carved into quite high limestone cliffs. For the purposes of their protection, they were included in the area of the National Park created here. There are designated walking routes on the spot, for pedestrians.
You can also go by cruise ship to see this natural wonder from the sea.
Interesting places in Marseille
We have monuments and tourist attractions behind us. Now it’s time for interesting places in Marseille?
La Cite Radieuse
One of the most interesting places in Marseille is La Cite Radieuse (The Radiant City). More precisely, it is an original building, designed by a famous architect from France – Le Corbusier. From the outside, it looks like a large block of flats, known also from larger housing estates, built of the so-called large slab. However, this building was to be self-sufficient. It has been equipped with shops, offices, pubs, a kindergarten, and even a park on the roof. Part of the block can be visited as it has been made available to tourists. It seems to be nothing special, but it fascinates and interests many architecture lovers.
Another interesting place in Marseille is the Velodrome Stadium. It is a well-known sports facility with original architecture and a characteristic white wavy roof. It will certainly interest football fans, as it can be visited with a guide, along specially arranged routes.
During which you can enter the players’ dressing rooms, visit the stadium rooms, or the tunnel through which the players enter the pitch. However, the most impressive will certainly be the stand, which can accommodate over 67,000 fans.
Parks in Marseille
The parks in Marseille are a place where we will definitely rest after the long day of sightseeing. There are as many as 68 of them here, so everyone will surely find something for themselves. They are usually shared with interesting, historic buildings.
The most recommended place by tourists is the Borely Park, which surrounds the Borely Palace. While walking, you can see a botanical garden with numerous exotic plants, or parts of the park decorated in English, French or even Chinese styles. Borely Park is an ideal place for walks, but also good for roller skating, cycling and of course jogging.
Marseille tourist attractions map
On the tourist map below you will find the most interesting and important tourist attractions, monuments and interesting places in Marseille: