3 Days in Marseille: Everything You Should Know

Published by: Bounce28 June, 2022

One of France's biggest cities and the largest metropolis on the French Riviera, Marseille has always been a place of adventure. As one of the oldest ports on the Mediterranean Sea, Marseille and its Vieux Port have roots to go back to the very beginning of European and Mediterranean civilizations. That makes this old port a fascinating place to visit for fans of history.

But that doesn't mean you have to spend all your time in a museum when you visit Marseille. The location of the city in southern France on the Mediterranean coast means you will have plenty of outdoor activities to engage in. For instance, the city is right next to Calanques National Park, an incredible location that preserves some of the most amazing coastal scenery in all of Europe.

As a major port, Marseille has been a center of immigration for centuries, and so it maintains a unique blend of different cultures. Along with incredible French cuisine, you'll find delicious food from North Africa and the Middle East, and eating your way through Marseille can easily feel much like a culinary tour around the world.

There is so much to do in the city that three days isn't possibly enough to explore it all. However, if you're pressed for time, this Marseille itinerary can guide you on how to spend a long weekend in the city so you'll see at least some of its most famous places and get a sense of what makes the city so special. The first thing you need to do is drop off your bags at a luggage locker in Marseille so that you can explore this magical place unencumbered.

Day One

Morning

On your first day in Marseille, you're going to need your energy for a busy itinerary. However, you won't want to waste too much time finding breakfast, so grab a croissant and coffee in any of the hundreds of charming cafés in the city center before beginning your adventure.

The Vieux Port or Old Port should be your first stop. As the historic heart of Marseille, this is where you'll find some of the city's most iconic landmarks. Take a stroll along the waterfront, stopping to snap pictures of the Hôtel de Ville, the Old Port Clock Tower, and the beautiful Notre-Dame de la Garde Basilica.

If you're feeling up for it, you can even walk up to the top of Notre Dame de la Garde for incredible views over Marseille and the Mediterranean Sea. Alternatively, there is a tourist train in the summer months that can take you up there, though you'll miss out on a beautiful walk through the park that leads up to the church. Inside, you'll find tributes and offerings from fishermen and their families in a tradition that goes back centuries. You'll also see the scars of war in the bullet holes on the outside of the church. The combination of beauty and damage is characteristic of Marseille, so it's no wonder the unforgettable church of Notre Dame de la Garde is such an icon of the city and the perfect place to start exploring Marseille.

Afternoon

In the afternoon, it's time to explore some of Marseille's other neighborhoods. Head to Le Panier, the city's oldest district dating back to the 16th century. A labyrinth of narrow streets and staircases, this is one of the most atmospheric places to stroll in Marseille. You'll find charming squares, beautiful fountains, and plenty of boutique shops and cafés to duck into.

Make your way to Rue des Augustins where you'll find the famous market street Marché des Capucins. This covered market is a great place to pick up some souvenirs or try out some French delicacies. After working up an appetite, stop for lunch at one of the many restaurants surrounding the market.

If you're interested in learning more about Marseille's history, you can visit the Musée d'Histoire de Marseille. This is one of the best museums in Marseille and covers everything from the city's Greek roots to its more recent past as an important port and center of immigration. You'll learn about the different people who have called Marseille home throughout the centuries and see how their cultures have shaped the city into what it is today. A Marseille city pass will get you reduced admission to this museum, and its central location makes it hard to miss. It's helpful if you have some basic French to understand the exhibits here, but not necessary, as many are in English as well.

Evening

No trip to Marseille would be complete without indulging in some of the city's famous seafood. For dinner, make your way to one of the restaurants lining the Vieux Port. You can't go wrong with any of them, but Le Miramar and Chez Fonfon are two of the most popular options. If you want something a little more low-key, La Cantinetta is a great choice for reasonably priced, delicious Italian food.

After dinner, take a walk along the waterfront to digest your meal and enjoy the views of the city at night. If you're up for it, there are plenty of bars open late where you can keep the party going. Otherwise, head back to your hotel and get some rest for another busy day tomorrow.

Day Two

Morning

Start your second day in Marseille with a visit to the Palais Longchamp. This impressive monument was built in 1869 to celebrate the completion of the Canal de Marseille, which brought fresh water to the city from nearby mountain springs. The two large wings of the building house a museum of fine arts and a natural history museum, both of which are definitely worth exploring.

After you've visited the museums, take some time to enjoy the gardens surrounding the Palais Longchamp. With fountains, sculptures, and beautiful plants, it's one of the most pleasant places to relax in Marseille. When you're ready to move on, walk through the park toward Saint-Charles train station.

This is the main train station in Marseille, and it's worth a visit even if you're not taking a train. The main hall is an architectural masterpiece, and the view from the front steps is one of the best in the city, allowing you to see all the way to Notre Dame de la Garde and the sea beyond it.

If you have time, take a quick detour to explore some of the neighborhoods surrounding the station. This is a great area to do some shopping, as there are plenty of stores selling everything from clothes to cosmetics.

Afternoon

In the afternoon, make your way to La Canebière, Marseille's most famous street. This was once the city's main commercial thoroughfare, and it's still lined with shops and cafés. It's also one of the busiest streets in Marseille, so it's a great place to people watch. There's also some great street art in this area, and if you're interested, you can explore more of the city's counterculture with a street art tour.

At the end of La Canebière, you'll come to the Old Port, where you can take a boat ride out to one of the nearby islands. If you're short on time, you can just take a walk around the port and enjoy the views.

Evening

For dinner tonight, try some of Marseille's famous bouillabaisse. This fish stew is typically made with several different kinds of seafood, and it's definitely worth splurging on at least once during your stay in Marseille. Le Vieux Port and Chez Fonfon are two great places to get this dish.

After dinner, head to one of Marseilles' many bars or clubs for a night out on the town. If you want to keep it low-key, Le Bistrot des Docks is a great option. For something a little more lively, check out L'Embargo or Club Jailbreak.

Day Three

Morning

When you only have 3 days in Marseille, it might seem strange to leave the city. But there is so much worth seeing in the area around Marseille that on your final day, it might be a good idea to get out of the city and see a little more of Provence. For instance, just an hour away, the town of Aix en Provence is definitely worth a visit.

This charming town is home to a large university, so it has a young and vibrant atmosphere. It's also very picturesque, with plenty of pedestrian-only streets lined with cafes and shops. And if you're a fan of art, you'll be happy to know that Aix is where Paul Cézanne was born, and there are several museums dedicated to his work.

After you've explored Aix, take the short drive to Cassis. This small fishing village is one of the most popular day trips from Marseille, and it's easy to see why. With its crystal-clear water and pretty pebble beaches, Cassis is a great place to relax and enjoy the Mediterranean atmosphere.

If you're feeling active, you can go for a hike or a bike ride in the famous calanques, the dramatic limestone cliffs that line the coast near Cassis. Or if you just want to sit back and enjoy the views, take a boat ride out to sea and enjoy the coastline from the water.

Afternoon

If you've made the journey to Aix en Provence, Cassis, or a nearby medieval hilltop village like Les Baux-de-Provence, you'll want to spend your afternoon the same way you spent your morning: exploring your out-of-town destination. Aix and Cassis are both great places to stroll around, do some shopping, and grab a bite to eat. And if you're in Les Baux, be sure to visit the Château des Baux, a medieval castle perched on a rocky outcropping with sweeping views of the countryside.

Evening

After a busy day of exploring, head back to Marseille and relax over dinner at one of the city's many excellent restaurants. If you're in the mood for seafood, Le Vieux Port is a great option. Or if you're looking for something a little more traditional, try La Cantine du Panier.

Wherever you go, make sure to try a glass of pastis, Marseille's signature anise-flavored spirit. Traditionally drunk as an aperitif before dinner, this licorice-tasting drink has become an emblem of the city and a classically Provençal way to while away a sunny afternoon and evening.

Conclusion

There's so much to do in France's second-largest city that three days is never going to be enough to see it all. In fact, you could probably quite easily spend three days just in Calanques National Park by itself. But hopefully, this Marseille itinerary will give you some good ideas of what to explore in the city. And that's without mentioning Marseille's Cathedral, MuCem, the Museum of Mediterranean and European civilizations, or the ancient monument of Fort Saint-Jean.

It's easy to see that Marseille is a city that deserves more than just a couple of days of exploration. But if three days in Marseille is all you have, you can still get a good sense of what makes the city so special. At the same time, it's important not to try to do too much. After all, one of the best things to do in Marseille is just to relax, unwind, and enjoy the incredible scenery and the lively atmosphere of this old port town. Traveling light can help you do that, so don't forget to drop off your bags at a secure luggage locker in Marseille. That will make it much easier to get around this beautiful city and see just what makes it such an unforgettable place to visit.

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