Here’s a list of the 15 best things to do in Marseille (France), along with famous landmarks, museums, and other points of interest.
Notre-Dame de la Garde
Notre-Dame de la Garde is an impressive Catholic basilica built on a limestone hill overlooking much of the city. The church was built in the 19th century and consists of a Romanesque lower church and a Neo-Byzantine upper church decorated with many mosaics.
One defining feature of the church is the gigantic statue of Madonna and Child located on top of a 41 m high bell-tower. Another highlight of the Notre-Dame de la Garde is its beautiful crypt made of Gollfolina stone and Spanish marble.
Watch a football game (Olympique Marseille)
Olympique Marseille is one of the best football clubs in France and is at home in the city’s Stade Velodrome, one of the best stadiums in the country. The team is regularly playing in the Champions League and challenges for the French League title.
Many great players have played for this prestigious cup such as Didier Drogba and Franck Ribery. The State Velodrome offers a capacity of around 70,000 and is known to be one of the most atmospheric stadiums in France due to the fanatical support of Olympique Marseille fans.
Football fans shouldn’t miss the chance of experiencing the attractive combination of professional football and the passionate French football culture.
Le Panier is Marseille’s Old Town and considered the most historic neighborhood of the city. It is located on a hill at the center of Marseille and offers a charming mix of small alleys, beautiful squares, and historical landmarks.
Needless to say, this is one of the top attractions in Marseille, which is also a lovely place to stroll. The streets and alleyways are lined with colorful facades and beautiful frescoes.
Many local artists have come here to open up a gallery, making Le Panier one of the best places to explore art and interesting handicraft made in Marseille and its surroundings.
Château d’If served both as a fortress defending the city’s harbor against invading armies as well as as a prison housing some of France’s most dangerous criminals.
The little island is around 1.5 kilometers offshore and can only be reached by boat. There are also many guided trips offered in Marseille that take you to the island.
The famous story “The Count of Monte Cristo” was set here. The Château d’If is open to the public and can be explored freely.
Marseille’s most elegant structure, the Palais Longchamp, serves as a Museum of Fine Arts and a Natural History Museum and also features a fantastic garden listed as one of the “Notable Gardens of France”.
The Palais Longchamp was built in the 19th century on the order of the Duke of Orleans. The fantastic structure is an example of the unbelievable splendor of the past.
Today, it’s hard to believe that the only purpose this marvelous structure served was built for was the celebration of the Canal of Marseille. The combination of two museums, the beautiful Palais Longchamp and the elegant botanical gardens surrounding it makes it a must-visit when coming to the city.
Vallon des Auffes
The fishing neighborhood of Vallon des Auffes is one of the city’s most scenic areas and at the same time a great place to experience the traditional culture of the country’s fishermen.
There are many fishing boats parked here and many of the residential houses here belong to families that have been living off catching fish for generations. Needless to say, there are several excellent seafood restaurants found here.
They offer some of the freshest fish you will ever eat. The Kennedy Bridge is a great place for taking pictures or just enjoying the view over the Vallon des Auffes and the Mediterranean Sea, don’t miss it.
Calanques National Park
Calanques National Park is just a short drive away from Marseille and offers spectacular natural beauty and virtually untouched nature ideal for hiking. The national park consists of a mountain range stretching along the coast and the maritime area surrounding it.
It is known for its breathtaking cliffs, rock formations, and fantastic turquoise colors of the water. Nature-lovers will love exploring the park on marked trails leading along with many fantastic viewpoints. There are also a few secluded bathing spots located here.
Cathedrale de la Major
The Roman Catholic Cathedrale de la Major is a national monument of France and shouldn’t be missed when visiting Marseille. This incredible structure was built in a Byzantine-Roman style of architecture in the late 19th century and measures an impressive 142 meters in length and 70 meters in height.
It also has one of the biggest capacities of all religious buildings in France at 3,000 seats. The façade of the Cathedrale de la Major is characterized by its twin-towers, one of the biggest symbols of Christianity in Marseille.
Calanque de Sormiou
The Calanque de Sormiou is a famous inlet situated in the Calanques National Park. It is known for offering a beautiful sandy beach as well as for being a great spot for climbers.
There is a small village located here as well that offers some basic refreshments. The white rock formations in the background and the beautiful blue hue of the sea make it a great destination for nature-lovers and photographers.
Calanque de Sormious is also a great example of a small, romantic French seaside village that seems like it’s almost too picturesque to be real.
The Abbey of Saint-Victor was built during the Roman period and is dedicated to the soldier saint and martyr Victor of Marseilles. Even though this building is a former abbey its appearance resembles a fortification more than a religious site as it features many fortified walls and a tower.
An interesting aspect of the abbey is that its crypts used to contain artifacts of the Greek period. The abbey is situated right at Marseilles’s harbor and is easy to visit when taking a walk through this scenic area.
Palais du Pharo
The beautiful Palais du Pharo is an imperial residence built by Napoleon III in 1858. The Palais served as a residence for Eugénie de Montijo but was later handed over to the city and then turned into a school of medicine.
Today the Palais du Pharo is used as an event venue that offers more than 7000 m² of space. It is used for exhibitions, business conferences as well as private events. The building is not open to the general public.
Centre de la Vieille Charite
The Centre de la Vieille Charité is a unique building that used to serve as an almshouse but was later turned into a museum complex and cultural center. It is known all over the city for its unique ovoid dome.
It was built in a Baroque style of architecture between 1671 and 1749. The site’s main attractions are the Museum of Mediterranean Archaeology as well as the Museum of Art of Africa, Oceania, and Amerindia. There are also temporary exhibitions found here as well as a research center.
Mucem is one of the world’s best museums dedicated to the Mediterranean Sea. The museum highlights the area’s function as a cradle of civilization and offers both exhibitions as well as cultural programs aimed at combining history, art archaeology, and anthropology.
The museum was inaugurated in 2013 and is situated in a stunning modern building characterized by the use of a latticework shell consisting of fiber-reinforced concrete. The Mucem is adjacent to Fort Saint-Jean and is one of the major landmarks in Marseille.
The village L’Estque is located just south of Marseille on a cliff overlooking the city and coastline. The village is known for being one of the most popular spots for artists during the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist periods.
When visiting the village it is not hard to imagine what drew them here, the view of the bay and the city is just marvelous. Some of the works that were created here are at home in the Fondation Monticelli which was set up in the village.
Musée des Docks Romains
The Musée des Docks Romains showcases ancient artifacts dating to the Roman era. It is located in a conserved shipping warehouse right next to Marseille’s harbor.
Many of the artifacts related to the commercial activities in the harbor and the trading that took place here. The museum is one of the best places in the city to learn about its history and get a glimpse of how its residents lived centuries and millennia ago.
Want more recommendations on things to do in Marseille, France? Leave a comment below!