Marseille on a budget: 7 travel hacks to save on your trip
France's second city is practically a world unto itself. One of the oldest cities in Europe, this is a place that has been shaped by the ever-evolving patchwork of European and Mediterranean civilisations that have called it home. Its rich history, from the heyday of Phoenician traders to the still-visible bullet holes from World War II, can be seen throughout the city center, especially in the Old Port or Le Vieux Port of Marseille.
But Marseille is no museum. Life in the city is informed by the past but by no means eclipsed by it. Marseille is still one of the most vibrant cities in France, and it remains a center of immigration and trade from around the world, just as it has always been.
Along with fascinating history and some remarkably affordable restaurants serving fresh seafood, Marseille also offers a chance to encounter the incredible natural environment of Provence. With the glittering Mediterranean right outside and Calanques National Park close to the city, Marseille combines top cultural attractions like its fascinating museums with some really incredible scenic places. Plus, the countryside around Marseille is full of equally fascinating towns that make incredible places to spend some time when you visit Marseille.
With all that going for it, you would think visiting Marseille would cost a fortune. And it can if you want it to. But expensive is relative. Although Marseille is a major European city and, as such, far more expensive than places in Asia and South America, for example, Marseille is a positive bargain compared to Paris. Budget travellers are often surprised by just how easy it is to visit Marseille on a budget.
Drop off your unneeded bags at a Bounce luggage storage in Marseille, and you'll be able to explore the city and take advantage of all the cheap things there are to do here. Traveling light makes it much easier to use public transportation and enjoy the rich history and delicious food of this beautiful, vibrant, occasionally maddening city.
Cheap places to stay in Marseille
Marseille's tourist season takes place in the summer, specifically toward the end of July and into August when the children are off school. This is the hardest time of year to find a hotel room, and it's when you'll pay the highest price for a place to stay, even in budget hotels. For that reason, and also for the sake of avoiding the tourist crowds, it's better to try, if you can, to visit Marseille either earlier or later in the year. The weather is good here in spring and well into fall, and the sea remains swimmable in September, and even into October, so it's definitely worth considering the shoulder seasons.
Marseille also has a good public transit network built around Gare St Charles Train Station in the city center, so it's worth considering staying outside of the city center and traveling in to see the top attractions. Check out our guide on where to stay in Marseille to get a sense of the different neighborhoods the city has to offer. You don't have to stay within walking distance of the Old Port to enjoy your time in Marseille, and you can even take advantage of free public transportation as well as reduced admission to some of the top tourist attractions by purchasing a Marseille City Pass.
If you're looking to save money on accommodation in Marseille, here are some hotels you should consider looking into:
Vertigo Hostel Vieux-Port
If you insist on staying in the heart of the action, you can't do much better than this. Located right next to the Old Port at the foot of the city's highest point and the famous church of Notre Dame de la Garde, this hostel makes the ideal base for exploring the heart of the city or taking a food tour through the great seafood restaurants you'll find in the area. It's also close to MUCEM, the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations, which is one of the city's top attractions, along with the attached Fort Saint-Jean.
In the middle of August, a bed in a mixed dorm here will cost you €27 a night. You can also upgrade to smaller dorms with fewer beds for €33 a night. Unusually, the dorms are decorated by local artists, which gives them a more homey feel than the usual bare-bones hostel aesthetic. The hostel also offers washing machines and computers with printers if you need to get some work done while traveling.
Résidence Carpe Diem
You really can't stay much closer to the public transportation hub of Gare St Charles than this. Situated on a hill overlooking the city, the train station is close to the Palais Longchamp with its beautiful park and fascinating museum, and there are also tons of restaurants in this area ranging from kebab shops all the way to high-end bistros and the occasional cocktail bar. The central location makes this a great place for exploring not just central Marseille but also towns and villages beyond, as the access to the train station makes it easy to jump on a high-speed train to Nice, Aix en Provence, Cannes, Antibes, Avignon, or further afield.
This homestay location offers rooms with a kitchenette that can save you some money by making your own meals. A 20 m² studio with a single bed and private bathroom costs just over €50 a night, but there is a two-night minimum to stay here. Still, it offers an affordable place to stay in a convenient area for exploring all of Provence.
Hôtel Hermès Vieux Port
Another great option if you want to stay close to the Old Port area, this two-star hotel offers a cheap place to stay close to the action. A six-minute walk to the ferry terminal, it's also an ideal place to embark on a boat tour of the beautiful coastline and visit lovely islands in the Mediterranean Sea. It's also just a short stroll from the Musee Cantini, a local modern art museum, and well within walking distance of MUCEM. Plus, from here, you can take the petit trains for a guided tour of the city's top attractions or rent bicycles to explore under your own steam.
In the middle of summer, a soundproof room with a double bed will cost you around €100 a night. Breakfast is available for an additional fee, but in this location, it's so easy to grab a croissant and coffee from a local café that you really don't need it. The rooms are a little on the basic side but in a location this good, who cares?
Cheap things to do in Marseille
Marseille's fascinating history and Mediterranean climate give it a great variety of things to do, both indoors and outdoors. Enjoy a leisurely lunch in the Old Port watching the fishing boats come in, or explore some of the historic monuments and museums the city is famous for, and you'll be enjoying some of the top attractions in town. Many of Marseille's most notable buildings offer free admission, and even at those that don't, prices tend to be cheaper than you'd expect from such a big city.
Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde
This is probably the top tourist attraction in the whole city. Perched on the highest point of the city overlooking the Old Port, this church still has bullet holes in its walls from the Second World War. Inside, the church is filled with miniature boats, anchors, and other trinkets left over the centuries by local sailors hoping for a safe return. Although small, the church is a fascinating place to visit, and the views from the top are just as incredible. Known as la Bonne Mère or the Good Mother, the church can be reached on foot from the Old Port in around 40 minutes if you don't mind a climb. If you prefer to take public transport, bus number 60 can get you up there for only a couple of euros.
Sitting right next to the old harbour, Le Panier is one of the oldest parts of this ancient city. It's also the ideal place to spend a half day on a self-guided food tour. This area is full of traditional restaurants serving classic southern French dishes like bouillabaisse and moules frites, and there are also some great museums and art galleries to feed your mind as well as your body here.
This state-of-the-art museum uncovers the rich history of Marseille like nowhere else. Taking a broad view of civilization, this museum takes you through Phoenician, Greek, and Roman domination of the Mediterranean, then beyond into the present day. A single ticket for an adult costs €11, and a family ticket for two adults and three kids is only €18, representing a solid bargain given what it provides. Plus, entry is free if you've purchased a City Pass.
Cheap places to eat in Marseille
Like just about every French city, Marseille is a food-loving place. And in this immigrant city, you can find cuisines from around the world represented. Whether you want to keep your eating classically French while you're in town or branch out and try something new, there are some excellent affordable restaurants to try here — not to mention the best street food in the city.
Tucked away down a side street close to the Old Port, this is the place to come if you want a classic French bistro atmosphere. Madame Jeanne offers updated takes on classic French dishes, and the menu changes with the seasons, but there's always something delicious being made here. Main courses cost around €15, or you can treat yourself to a €45 tasting menu of five courses to sample the best seasonal food on offer.
La Boîte à Sardine
It might be located a little away from the harbor, but the nautical theme of this lively restaurant leaves you with no doubt about what's on offer. This is the place to come for affordable seafood, with shrimp, sardines, mussels, and whatever else has been caught that day, served up to hungry customers who know a good deal when they find one.
AM par Alexandre Mazzia
Ordinarily, traveling on a budget means avoiding any restaurant that has a person's name. And it definitely means avoiding Michelin-starred cuisine. But not in Marseille. At AM, an exquisitely prepared tasting menu with dishes that change each day will cost only €24, and even the Exception menu is only €33. That makes this an incredible bargain, considering what you get for your money.
Cheap bars in Marseille
As an old port town, Marseille is awash in cheap bars. Just about everywhere you go, you'll find locals sitting out in the sun with a glass of pastis, the anise-flavored liquor that was invented here. Get in on the fun at these affordable establishments:
For the quintessential French experience, grab an outside table at this fun bar. Located in the normally expensive Vieux Port area, this bar provides a lively atmosphere and cheap drinks whether you're looking for beer, wine, or aperitifs.
Little Temple Bar
Every thirsty traveler knows that there's always an Irish bar just around the corner no matter where you are in the world and that they often have the best deals on drinks. This Irish theme pub offers beers starting at less than five euros and even cheaper glasses of wine.
Le Champ de Mars
Come for the cheap drinks. Stay for the cuddly cats. This bar is well known for its friendly felines, who are more than happy to share a table with strangers. Aperitifs start at three euros, with small glasses of beer starting at €2.50 or €4.50 for a pint.
Bonus budget tips for Marseille
Eat like a local: Marseille is known for its street food, such as panisse (chickpea fries) and socca (chickpea pancake). Eating street food is a great way to save money while experiencing the local cuisine.
Visit local markets: Marseille has many local markets, such as the Marché des Capucins and the Marché de Noailles, where you can buy fresh produce and local products at affordable prices. These are especially useful if you have a kitchen in your accommodation and can make your own meals.
Walk or bike: Marseille is a very walkable and bike-friendly city, and exploring on foot or by bike is a great way to save money while discovering the city's hidden gems.
Full of old-world charm but with a lively modern culture, Marseille is a fantastic place to visit on any budget. Enjoy some of the best free things to do in the city and take advantage of affordable accommodation and cheap places to eat as you explore the second-largest city in France.