Marseille's inner city is a sprawling urbanization that covers an area on France's Côte d'Azur for a total of more than 90 square miles. Add all of its suburbs to that already large figure, and Marseille stretches to a remarkable 1,500 square miles. It's a city you need to know how to get around, so you don't get lost or spend all of your precious vacation time just getting from one part of the city to another.
Thankfully, Marseille has a fantastic public transport system which, once you know how it works, can get you around both efficiently and cost-effectively. Land at Marseille Provence Airport or arrive at St Charles train station, and you'll need to be able to make your way from there to your accommodation. Yes, you could grab a cab, but why spend money you don't need to?
When you've settled in at your hostel or hotel, you'll be ready to set out and explore this old port city. There are many ways you can do that, including on foot, by using the local bus service, on its very efficient metro service, or its super sleek tramway system, to name just a few.
Sightseeing and baggage really don't go together, or at least not if you want to do it comfortably. If you've somehow managed to get stuck with your bags, don't let it spoil your day. Drop what you don't need at one of the Bounce locker storage facilities in Marseille. You can leave your bags in a Bounce luggage locker for as long as you want, and they'll be safe under lock and key while you head off to find out what's so exciting about escargot l'ail.
The Different Ways To Get Around Marseille
Marseille, France's second-largest city, has a great public transport network so keep reading and you'll find out how to make the most of each service that's available and the best tickets to purchase so you save money.
How To Get Around Marseille By Train
The Gare Marseille Saint Charles station is right in the city center and is the city's main transport hub as that's where the bus station is also located. It's a station that has 16 platforms, and that receives trains from all over France as well as the international service, Eurostar.
The main reason you're likely to want to catch a train in Marseille is if you want to make day trips to somewhere like Nice or Perpignan. You might also want to catch the train to Cassis if you’re hoping to go to the Calanque National Park, where some of the best hikes in Marseille are located.
There is no direct train connection from Marseille Provence Airport to the city. It is possible to catch a train into the city if you take a shuttle ride from the airport to the Vitrolles station and then swap services there. Honestly, doing that is just wasting your time as getting the bus directly from the airport to Marseille is a much quicker and cheaper way of doing your airport transfers.
Marseille Metro System
The Marseille Metro is an inner-city rapid transport system operating on two lines in Marseille. The Metro works partly underground and partly on the surface. It's one of the city's quickest and most efficient ways of getting from A to B.
The Metro's blue line is the longest of the two metro lines and is the line with metro stations in Vieux Port, in the Castellane district where the Cathedral Notre Dame de la Garde is located, and at Gare St Charles, the main train station so it is by far the best line to use for sightseeing.
As the metro operates services for 20 hours a day, starting at 5 am and terminating at 1 am, it's also a good way of getting home after a night out. Keep this in mind as you explore all the unmissable things to do in Marseille at night.
Single journey ticket costs less than two euros and can be purchased from automatic ticket dispensers at the metro stations. You can also purchase a multi-trip ticket for ten journeys which works out at around half price. Metro tickets are also valid for use on the inner-city bus lines and the tram service, which operates in the city center if you catch the bus or tram within an hour of first using the ticket.
If you're going to spend three days in Marseille or more, you should consider purchasing a Marseille City Pass. You can purchase passes that are valid for 24, 48, or 72 hours, which gives you unlimited travel on all of Marseille's public transport.
Along with unlimited travel, the Marseille City Pass gives you free entry into several of the Marseille museums, a free ferry ride to the Frioul Islands, a free ride on the ColorBus, the city tour bus, plus great discounts on other activities like the mini train. You can purchase passes at the tourist office in the city center.
The trams in Marseille are a great way to get around the city using public transport. It's a fully modern service that operates completely above ground, and the trams have super panoramic-style windows so you can sightsee while you ride.
The trams run on three different routes where there are a total of 32 stops. The three tram lines are known as T1, T2, and T3. The best line to jump aboard for seeing the main sights like the Notre Dame de la Garde, the Vieux Port area, and some of the best shopping in Marseille is T2. That said though, it’s worth boarding any and taking yourself on a mystery tour, especially if you’ve purchased a Marseille City Pass to use during your stay, as it allows you to take unlimited trips to wherever the mood takes you.
Tickets and passes for the tram service can be purchased at any Metro station and from authorized points of sale such as newsagents, shops, and tobacconists.
If you're only going to be using the tram for a day, consider getting a 24-hour pass which will cost you around five euros and is valid for 24 hours from the moment of its first use. If you're in Marseille for three days, then consider getting the XL72 pass which costs just over ten euros, offers unlimited trips from the first validation for a continuous 72 hours, and you can use it on the metro too. It's an absolute bargain.
Marseille's Le Petit Train
On days when it's too warm to walk around Marseille, or you're just feeling lazy, one fun way of seeing the city is on the petit train. The mini-train runs three different routes around the city all starting from the seafront in the Vieux Port.
How To Get Around Marseille By Bus
When you're in Marseille city center, you can forget about boarding buses as the tram and metro are the best ways of getting around the inner city. That's not to say there isn't a bus service in Marseille; there is. RTM, the company that controls Marseille's public transport operates around 80 different routes, including night buses, with more than 1,000 stops.
If you're waiting for a tram and a bus comes along there's no reason why you shouldn't jump on it, especially if you have a pass, as the ride won't cost you any extra. The one disadvantage of using the bus is that it could get stuck in traffic. Sticking to the trams is by far a better idea.
If you decide to use the bus for a day trip outside the city, you'll find the main bus station next to St Charles train station. From there you can catch buses to most major cities, to the outlying suburbs, and even to Barcelona in Spain.
How To Get Around Marseille By Car
When you have an international driving permit, you may well be tempted to rent a car for the duration of your stay. If you're not planning on going outside of central Marseille, car rentals aren't really worth the expense or the stress you'll go through dealing with the heavy city traffic while driving. That's nothing but a nerve-racking experience you can totally do without.
A rent a car is a good option for visiting places like the Calanques National Park as you won't be reliant on when the buses run. There are so many great hikes in the park so having the freedom and independence a car gives you means you'll be able to explore as much as you want and without time restrictions.
How To Get Around Marseille On Foot
The way to get around Marseille on foot is pretty much the same as you'd do it anywhere else, and that's by the simple process of putting one foot in front of the other. Joking aside, Marseille is a great place to explore on foot, whether you go on any of the organized walking tours or do it self-guided.
You can pick up a map from any of the tourist offices or the town hall which will show you the locations of all the main attractions. You'll find that it will take you around half an hour to walk from the Cathedral Notre Dame de la Garde to the Vieux Port area, which is a manageable stroll even if you're not overly fit.
One part of the city that absolutely begs to be explored on foot is the seafront area known as the Plage du Prado. There are several beaches backed by promenades along this stretch of coast, and plenty of cafes where you can sit and take a rest should you feel inclined. Also ideal for leisurely strolls is the Parc Borely, a large public park on the seafront.
Alternative Ways To Get Around Marseille
Marseille doesn't have a well-established cycle path network, so although renting a bike and pedaling around the city might sound like a good idea, you'll need to be prepared to deal with the traffic. If you're determined to go sightseeing on two wheels, consider doing it on a cycling tour led by a local guide. They know the best routes around the city's narrow streets and how to avoid the mayhem of vehicles that often clogs the city center.
Le Ferry Boat
When you're out sightseeing in Vieux Port and can't be bothered to walk around the length of the harbor area, you don't have to. You can board Le Ferry Boat for a five-minute sail from the Quai du Port to the Quai de Rive-Neuve on the opposite side. If you have a city pass, then the crossing, which is less than 300 meters long, is free. Without a city pass, each trip on the ferry will cost you 50 cents. The service runs every ten minutes, from either side, from 7:30 am to 8:30 pm.
Riding a segway is not something you can do in Marseille unless you do it on a guided tour. Most segway tours last for around two hours, taking routes through quiet park areas and to the main attractions via quieter streets. It's not the most economic way of going sightseeing in Marseille, but it can prove to be great fun once you've got your balance.
Public transportation is, without a doubt, the best way to get around Marseille. Forget car rentals, as RTM's tram and metro systems are clean, modern, efficient, and economical. Using Marseille's public transportation, you can do your sightseeing in a more environment-friendly way without it costing you a fortune. It doesn't matter if you buy tickets for single trips or unlimited rides as neither will break the bank. That's a win-win situation all around.