Marseille is the second largest city in France after Paris, and it’s gotten a reputation for being a bit gritty and seedy as a port town on the Mediterranean. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth, as the city is today a vibrant tourist destination, with top sights, amazing cuisine, and high-end shopping. It’s located in the Provence region of Southern France, right on the Mediterranean coast, and is famous for its handmade soaps, lavender fields, and delicious dishes. To help you make the most of your one day in Marseille, here’s a short itinerary with everything you need to know about this delightful city.
What’s the best time to visit Marseille?
The best time of year to visit Marseille is during autumn, between September and November, when the peak season from May to August is over and the hordes of tourists have left. There are fewer people on the beaches and at the top attractions, and it might be possible to get deals on accommodations. December to March is low season, with cold weather and few people in the city. Travelers might also enjoy going in April, with pleasantly cool weather, very small crowds, and discounts on fares.
A few facts about Marseille
Marseille is an interesting city, founded by the Greeks 2,600 years ago, which makes it the oldest city in France. It was named the European Capital of Culture in 2013, and the popular film “The French Connection” was filmed here. It’s made up of 16 arrondissements (similar to districts) and 111 different quartiers (similar to neighborhoods). This system has a good transportation network, which is outlined later in this guide.
One Day in Marseille Itinerary
Follow this guide to make the best of your trip, even if you are short on time. These are the top things you can do on your one day in Marseille.
Start your day in Vieux-Port
A visit to Marseille should start in the old port (Vieux-Port), which is the heart of the city squeezed between two forts at either entrance. The waters are filled with fishing boats, yachts, and sometimes a cruiser. Fiona Jones, a travel writer at Brit Student and Write My X, suggests that you “walk along the old part by the Quai des Belges at the start of the day and you’ll see the bustling fish market, a famed Marseille landmark. Fresh fish off the boat flop around in their buckets as you see local chefs picking up the catch of the day for their restaurants.”
Go to MuCEM
Once you leave Vieux-Port, walk 15 to 20 minutes towards a famous Marseille museum: MuCEM. It’s a massive museum with intriguing and varied gardens to explore. There are temporary and permanent exhibitions, including a piece of the Berlin Wall, Marseille scale models from antiquity, and a bookshop holding over 30,000 books. The walk to the museum itself is beautiful and includes some quaint footbridges perfect for getting to know the city.
Have Lunch in Le Panier Quarter
After that, it’s probably time to satisfy your grumbling stomach, and the best place to do it is near MuCEM in the amazing quarter of le Panier. The oldest quarter of the city, it’s the original place where the Greeks founded the city thousands of years ago. For lunch, you have your pick of any of the amazing restaurants there.
The signature dish in Marseille is bouillabaisse fish stew, but it’s worth spending more at an eatery which makes the authentic, amazing version instead of some of the cheap options available. One bouillabaisse recommendation is in Vieux-Port, Le Miramar, which serves a traditional, authentic bouillabaisse but also offers a cooking class a few times a month.
If fish stew doesn’t sound like your type of lunch, there are many other options like Italian, African and even Far Eastern restaurants that you can find in the city, including in le Panier. After lunch, walk through the neighborhood and take in all the facades that truly represent Provencal villages. There are also a lot of great graffiti art spots in that neighborhood, so you might find some great artwork along your walk, too.
Visit Notre-Dame de la Garde
Your next and final stop is Notre-Dame de la Garde. It’s an exceptional monument with an absolutely stunning view that gives you a 360-degrees panorama of the city. From le Panier, take the 60 Bus which will take you directly to the Notre Dame steps. It’s a basilica built on the highest point in Marseille called La Garde, and you’ll have surely seen it during your walk through the town. The basilica was built in the mid-1800s and was designed by the architect Henri-Jacques Esperandieu, in the Romano-Byzantine style.
The part of the structure that will draw your eye is undoubtedly the stunning 9.7m gold-leaf statue of Virgin Mary, which stands on a 12m pedestal at the top of the bell tower. She is considered to be the guardian of the city and is referred to by the citizens as the ‘good mother’. The view is incredible from outside the cathedral and there are some telescopes that you can view the city with, without even stepping inside this amazing edifice.
These activities should take you all day to get through, but if you still have extra time, or you skip one of the stops, consider adding Cathedral La Major to your route between Vieux-Port and MuCEM.
Alternatively, Fort Saint Jean and Saint Laurent Church are two buildings with magnificent architecture to explore. If you prefer squares and parks and open spaces, check out Place aux Huiles and the Jardin de la Colline Puget. After these adventures, you’ll be ready to head back to your accommodation and rest your tired feet!
Where to stay in Marseille?
NH Collection Marseille
37 Boulevard des Dames, 13002 Marseille
NH Collection Marseille is a beautiful hotel located in an old 1860s building in a safe area called La Joliette. It’s the business and leisure district of Marseille, close to the Old Port. It’s serviced by a metro station and only 8 minutes from the popular shopping center Les terrasses du Port. The hotel costs about 100 euros per night and represents exceptional value for your money in Marseille.
96 avenue de la Soude, 13009 Marseille
Although it is removed from the city centre, Hotel 96 is very much worth considering during your one day in Marseille. This is because it is located in a beautiful house from the 19th century which also has its own garden and a pool. The breakfast will also bring you French pastries, and the rooms are very well equipped. Given the reasonable price, this hotel is a great choice.
48 rue Roux de Brignoles , 13006 Marseille
Now, Hotel C2 is for those tourists who want nothing but luxury during their visit to Marseille. The building in which the hotel is located used to be a mansion from the 19th century and it also has a grand piano, which says a lot about what you can expect here. Marble floors, incredible rooms, the music playing softly in the background and occasional exhibition create an incredible atmosphere, and you can even get on the hotel’s chartered boat in the old port.
Hostel Vertigo Vieux-Port
38 Rue Fort Notre Dame, 13007 Marseille
Marseille doesn’t have many hostels so budget options are limited, but a good choice is Hostel Vertigo Vieux-Port, located in the center just 200m from Vieux-Port. There is daily breakfast, air conditioning, and WiFi access here. They also have a kitchen, which is a good option for budget travelers looking to cut costs.
Day trips from Marseille
Even though Marseille offers quite a lot of things to see in a day, still, there are some great things to see if you go for a day trip. Therefore, consider extending your stay for some day trips into the Provence countryside to visit lavender fields or explore the coastline.
It’s also worth leaving for a day trip from Marseille to visit Chateau d’If, a 16th-century island prison that serves as the Mediterranean version of the famous Alcatraz and was the setting for The Count of Monte Cristo. You can also get comfortable at a beachfront bar and grab a cocktail while watching surfers ride the Mediterranean waves.
Another cool thing to do on a day trip from Marseille is to visit Calanques National Park which has some beautiful sights and wonderful nature. You will witness some stunning cliffs and sea views that will surely impress you. You can also go on kayaking adventures.
Extra tips for visiting Marseille
Marseille is well-served by public transportation and has many pass options like the 24h pass for 5,20 euros which gets you unlimited access to public transport for a day in Marseille, including the bus, tram, tube, and ferry. You can also rent a bike with the bike service at a self-use docking station in the city center. It’s free to use for half an hour, then the cost is 1 euro per hour.
Marseille is a great city to visit, packed with culture, sights, history, and food. Although there’s a lot to see in France and along the Mediterranean, it’s possible to see Marseille in a day and do it justice.