Things to do in Marseille
I’ve been going to Marseille from London on and off since I was a kid. But this last trip I fell in love with France’s second largest, but coolest, city all over again. Not least because since being bestowed with a European City of Culture title for 2013, Marseille has had something of a wash and brush up.
Whilst the gritty realness of Marseille remains – and it still certainly has its issues, this Provencal melting pot of a city is busting out with cool things to see and do. Yet still not overrun with plane loads of tourists 😉
This particular trip to Marseille I was with my husband and our four year old daughter. Here’s a rundown of our weekend to share with you some great ways to while away a couple of days in Marseille.
Where we stayed:
Hotel La Residence du Vieux Port
If it’s your first time in Marseille I wholly recommend staying in the Vieux Port area of Marseille, see below for more details.
If you can, opt for a hotel on the quayside itself, we stayed at the Hotel La Residence du Vieux Port, a recently renovated and effortlessly stylish hotel in a mid-century modern block. The entire hotel is styled with a retro 50s and most have a balcony overlooking the Vieux Port. Find out more about the hotel here.
Things to do in Marseille:
Le Vieux Port
The Vieux Port (The Old Port) was the original harbour of Marseille and is very much a popular place to hang out, particularly since swathes of it became pedestrianised in 2013. There are various markets through the week, but it’s in the evening that it really comes alive. As the sun goes down, the Vieux Port is abuzz with families, couples and groups of friends.
Le Vieux Port Pavilion
Le Vieux Port Pavilion is a polished steel canopy that reflects visitors walking underneath. Designed by Foster + Partners, it is quite literally a reflection of its surroundings.
Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée (MuCEM)
Situated at the entrance to the Vieux Port, MuCEM seemingly floating between sea and sky, this new museum (opened in 2013) is dedicated to the cultures of the Med, their history and civilisation. Yadda yadda, all that aside, it’s a great architectural sight to behold and experience, not to mention a great place to visit for a coffee or spot of lunch.
Just behind the Vieux Port to the North is Le Panier, the oldest area of Marseille. It’s often dubbed the Montmartre of Marseille, once a working class area, it’s now decidedly more bohemian and artisan. Check out the higgledy piggledy off-beat beauty of the ochre washed and shuttered houses and buildings.
Buy from local designers, artists and boutique owners and if you’re there at mealtime, pay a visit to the Au Coeur du Panier restaurant.
Restaurant: Au Coeur du Panier
Slap bang in the middle of Le Panier – hence the name – Au Coeur du Panier is a tiny restaurant with maybe five tables inside and a couple outside. But if you can bag one of them, you’re in for a gastro-treat. Modern Provencal cooking at its finest. They even cooked up a special off-menu dish for a tired and grouchy (too much sun, not enough sleep) four year old.
Address: 18 Rue Panier, 13002 Marseille.
Restaurant: Le Café des Épices
We had lunch here on our first day in Marseille. Yum. Interesting modern combos of food and out of this world presentation. Le Café des Épices is located in a square that has been made over with giant plant pots and if you sit at the right table, you can see out to Le Vieux Port.
Address: 4 rue du Lacydon, Marseille.
Visit the Cours Julien area. It’s the equivalent of London’s Hoxton, but on a very small scale. Graffitied walls, achingly cool cafes, bars and night spots, it’s a hipsters paradise. But even if you aren’t a beardy hipster or his belle, it’s worth a visit to experience the delightful food of Cafe Vian.
Restaurant: Cafe Vian
Situated in a seedy looking, graffiti splattered street, not much bigger than an alleyway, we weren’t sure at first if we were going to stop to eat. But having been recommended by someone in the know, we took our seats at Cafe Vian and were. not. disappointed.
I had possibly the finest tasting, most melt in the mouth fillet steak ever and I had to fend both my husband and our daughter off my dessert of profiteroles filled with caramel ice cream and dripping in hot chocolate sauce. Best of all, this place does not break the bank by a long shot. Our bill for three courses plus a bottle of wine came to around 80 Euros.
Address: 12, Rue Vian 13006 Marseille
Le Corbusier’s La Cité Radieuse
La Cité Radieuse was and is, ubber architect, designer and town planner, Le Corbusier’s, experimental city in a building. The first and the most famous of his Unité d’Habitation (housing units). As testament to the genius of its designer, remains to this day a desirable place to dwell.
You’ll need to take a guided tour to experience life in La Cité Radieuse. You’ll see a high street within a tower block, complete with shops, restaurant, cafe and a hotel. There’s also work spaces, a school and of course apartments.
La Cité Radieuse is located in south Marseille, it’s a bit of a trek if you’re staying in the Vieux Port area, but if you’re a design and culture vulture, it’s well worth a visit.
Book a tour: Marseille Tourisme
Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde
Of course a trip to Marseille wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde, the most iconic building in the City.
Notre Dame de la Garde is tear jerkingly beautiful. It’s a bit of a trek up hill to see it, but once you get there the spectacle of the Basilica itself and the views from it make the huffing and puffing all worthwhile (Don’t worry, you don’t have to walk, you can drive or take Le Petit Train) .
Le Petit Train
And finally, a quick note about Le Petit Train. It’s a tourist ‘train’ that trundles round the roads of Le Panier, Le Vieux Port and up to Notre Dame de la Garde. We didn’t take it, cos it’s not our kind of thing, but it is a useful way to get to know Marseille.
And finally… this post catches the flavour of Marseille perfectly…